ECM means time limit to Nissan ownership?

I’ve had my Nissan Sentra for 10 years and it’s in excellent shape…that is until last summer. After the “Service Engine” light came on, a visit to the dealership resulted in my O2 sensor being replaced. After the “Service Engine” light persisted, the folks in the service department informed me that it was in fact my ECM (electronic control module) that was the problem. It needed to be replaced. Apparently Nissan has found that this part goes out in this make and model after 8-10 years, which is conveniently post-warranty. Despite this, Nissan no longer manufactures this particular ECM, meaning the service department couldn’t get it for me. After a couple failed attempts to source used parts that required repair, the service folks told me there was nothing more they could do. Even contacting Nissan Consumer Affairs got me no where but a bad customer service experience.
I’ve looked on eBay and am attempting to source the part through a national junkyard network, but this part continues to be tough to find. I’m now on the brink of taking my car out of commission to remove the ECM and send it across the country for repair. If I don’t get a functioning ECM, then I won’t be able to pass my registration-required emissions test in a few months.

Are there any suggestions, ideas or similar experiences out there? I would be most appreciative of any and all input as Nissan seems to have a limit to how much they’ll help you.
Thank you.

I was going to suggest finding an online outfit to have it repaired and seems you have already figured it out. Just make sure you research them up and down. Also look on some Nissan forums to see what others have done, esp since you say this is a common problem.

Drive out to a junkyard or two and look around. If they don’t have it, likely they can get it. Are you sure it’s the ECM? I had an intermittant open loop problem on a '95 Sentra that swapping the brains didn’t solve. Knowing what I know now, I’d suspect a bad ground–all other sorts of electrical gremlins were showing up!

A number of auto parts sites show an ECM is available for your car at about 350 dollars; give or take. There’s a number of them on eBay for less than a 100 bucks. How cheap do you want?

Do not blame Nissan for this. You state you’ve owned the car for 10 years and in my opinion, modern car electronics are pretty darned reliable considering the temperature extremes and constant vibration they’re subjected to.

Nissan has to draw a line somewhere. Otherwise Nissan would be belly up because everyone on the planet wants a freebie at 10 years, 20 years, 150k miles, or what have you. They simply cannot open the flood gates to every good will request made of them.

There is no conspiracy going on either. ECMs are not designed to fail right after the warranty expires and the vast majority will never fail.

What malfunction code(s) are coming up in conjunction with the warning light? On a car this old, if the PCM is determined to truly be at fault, I would just not bother replacing it as long as the car runs right and fuel economy is normal.

@oblivion‌, he has emissions testing in a few months. With a false positive on a trouble code, it will not pass. In my area, you can get a waiver if you spend more than $750 trying to fix the problem, but that is only good for that one year. Next year, you need to do it again.

Sorry, didn’t realize. I’m lucky enough to live in a state where they don’t (yet) do such nonsense. It would still be good to know what the exact codes are that are coming up. It’s not like this would be the first time that a dealership has grossly misdiagnosed a problem as being “the computer”.

“I’m lucky enough to live in a state where they don’t (yet) do such nonsense.”

I fully agree with that sentiment. Emissions testing is not so much about cleaner air as it’s about generating money for the state. BTW…I’ve owned several Nissan Sentra’s and never had an ECM problem even though some of them were well past the 10 year mark. I also found several sources for replacement ECM’s for your vehicle… I think the dealership service department has morons running the show since their story is bogus. Remember that the next time you pass an independent mechanic and head for the goofballs at the dealership service department.

If the dealer installed a used ECM and the code was gone would that confirm that the ECM was the issue? The dealer sees many more sentras in a month than any independent garage. Joes garage might see 2? And the odds are it will be for other issues. The dealer mechanics see code, they attempt to fix it, they replace parts, code persists. A skilled tech might say they attended to all external parts that pertain to code yet it will not clear. A different ECM solves issue. I am not saying there is a pattern here but a new ECM does fix the problem

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. The company that I found specializing in fixing ECMs is called Klein Bottle Computer out of New York. Anyone familiar with it?

@ok4450‌ I realize that parts go out owing to wear and tear. I absolutely do not expect a free ride from Nissan on anything related to this fix. I’ve consistently paid them for their services and would continue to do so if they had a solution. My point is that leaving a customer without any course of action really sucks, especially when they’ve discovered that this part typically goes out in this make and model after a certain time frame.

As you’ve found, there are a number of places that will repair or rebuild your ECM. There are also aftermarket sources that show a rebuilt part available to you.

Aftermarket suppliers generally don’t have parts for a car that is 2 years old, and dealers often don’t have parts for cars that are over 10 years old. That’s just the nature of the business.

I see that there are still a number of options available to you. I think a competent independent repair shop should be able to help you.

@nissbg: You’re looking in the wrong direction.

You don’t need YOUR ECM repaired so much as you need ANY ECM from the same year, make, model, trim…as your car. There are plenty of these lying around (often literally) in junkyards.

When a car gets wrecked (or otherwise removed from service), somebody buys what’s left. They drive it out to a big field, and sell parts, piece by piece. Once they feel that everything of value has been sold, they sell what’s left as scrap metal.

THAT’S who you need to go see. Go out in that field and rip out an ECM from a wrecked Sentra (or, if you’re a bit too posh for that, pay a little more and get one that somebody else has removed.) I GUARANTEE you that there’s PLENTY of ECMs to choose from.

Let us know how this works out!

An ECM is a computer. Computers typically fail due to capacitors drying out and failing. I have fixed new LCD tv’s, car ecm’s and just about any electronic device by just replacing the caps. They used to be made here, then Japan, next was Taiwan. Now they are all made in China and are complete crap. Had to replace the starter caps for my blower in my house HVAC and the AC compressor starter cap. Both were made in China on my Trane HVAC.

^If he starts messing with the guts of the ECM, he may not have ANY working computer. My way, if it turns out it isn’t actually the ECM (which is, IMO, somewhat likely) he still has the old, proven ECM to swap back in (and is only out the $150 or so).

I’d sooner swap electronics than rebuild, esp. at that price, and esp. if I had no backup to the unit I’m fixing.

Caps that dry out over time are electrolytics. Those are normally used for supply conditioning where large capacitance values in a small package are required. The fact the car starts and runs means the ECM is functioning at the basic level. It is logging codes for something they felt was related to the O2 sensor. That says to me that the ECM is powered up and running but that some input or output driver has failed. This is a far more common failure mode as well since those devices interface to the often lengthy wire harness that can be subjected to transients or short circuits. All of this assumes the ECM is really the root cause of the problem. Although they do fail, it is far more common to misdiagnose them as the cause when it is actually an intermittent connection to the ECM or something external that has failed…

I wouldn’t hesitate to open one of mine up to try and repair it. However, I would much prefer to have a backup on hand before I even started unless I had absolutely no choice…

I would get a letter from the Nissan dealership stating that the required part is not available and that they are unable to repair the problem which is not really a problem at all…Take the letter to an emissions test station, contact the state referee and get a waiver allowing you to renew your registration…Or, like untold thousands before you, sell the car and move on…

If you disconnect a battery cable for a few seconds it should reset the CEL. After that, how long will the light stay off? Long enough to get it tested?

Sometimes a make or model of a computer will fail prematurely, always for the same reason. One part is over stressed or gets over heated too often. The early Apple Macintosh computers had a problem with an electrolytic capacitor. Early Mac users, those with electronic repair skills soon learned about this, isolated the issue and started using a beefed up version of this cap. The Mac never failed after this.

I had a 90 Dodge Colt (Mitsubishi) that had an ECM failure. Turned out it was a ground run on the main circuit board that would overheat and open up. The repair places would not just repair this run, but would beef it up as well. The computer reman places made a practice of beefing up all the known weaknesses.

I am pretty confident that if there is a known weakness in your ECM, the reman or repair shops know about it and a reman or repaired ECM will be better than a new factory unit and a lot better than any junkyard unit. I suggest that you take this path and get a reman from a reputable shop.

a well placed pc of black tape, sharpie scribble or bit of black nail polish often eliminates problems caused by check engine lights…

Doesn’t get it through the smog inspection though.

Not relevant but for the kids 96 Acura Integra, when it was at least ten years old, he got a letter from Acura to bring it in for a new ECM, plugs, wires, cap, rotor, oil change, etc. at no charge. Seems like the EPA was leaning on them for not meeting emissions and that was the settlement. Too bad I had just done the tune up not too long before that but what the hey.