Engine Problems



I have a 2003 Nissan Altima. My wife went to crank the car and it would not start. You heard the noise it made when it was trying to start the engine but it would not engage. I had the car towed to the local Nissan dealership and they said that the engine was not any good anymore beccause it did not have any compression in it. ??? They stated that the catalytic converter came apart and stuff went into the engine. Before that day the car was driving, cranking, etc, fine.( It has 113,000 miles on it) The dealership said that to replace with a new and even a refurb. engine it would cost me 4500.00 and above. What??? I spoke to a another mechanic and he could get me a used engine for approx. 1700.00.not including labor. WHAT???

I have told many people about my car problems and they are very skeptical of the problem because they are saying that Nissans, Toyotas, Honda, etc…are known to run for 200,000 plus miles… I feel like I am getting lied to here.( by the way I was laid off of my job and money is very TIGHT in my household so the thousands of dollars these guys are asking for is crazy)What do I do ??


Question, does the engine crank? If does is it slowly or is sound the starter trying to engage?

Catalytic conferters don’t blow back into the engine, the engine blows at it. Loosing compression form one day to another does not make any sense. They are trying to take what you may have left. I would start by checking the battery and working down to the strater before going to extremes.


In order to sleep at night you MAY to have to have the car towed to a different tech for a second opinion.

The person who talked to you was a tech or a ‘service writer’? The latter for the most part, don’t have a techs’ experience in diagnostics or repairs.

You don’t need to go to a dealership for repairs. An independent shop/tech can do the job likely cheaper and will also likely give you a straight answer the first time.

Write down word for word what the techs you talk to say so you won’t be misunderstood.

Either the person who explained the problem to you doesn’t have a clue or you have possibly misunderstood their explanation.

We need a LOT of information before we can even hazard a guess as to what is wrong.

Such as: engine size (for the techs) and exactly what did or did not occur when the attempt was made to start the engine.

Did the starter engage to turn the engine over or did the starter not work, etc.?


It is a 2003 Altima 2.5 Liter. The engine did not turn over. The starter is catching…I cannot make the engine turn sound by writing . You know the turning sound…It does not turn slowly. I was told that the cat. converter came off and stuff went back into the engine and the engine goes not have any compression. This what I was told.


Tow it off to another shop preferably and independent as Roadrunner metioned and just tell them that it won’t start.


Okay–so apparently the engine DOES turn over (Otherwise, you would not hear the noise of the starter turning the engine), but ignition does not take place. That could have a myriad of causes, and from a distance nobody can really narrow it down for you except to say that an engine does not go from having proper compression to having no compression unless something catastrophic has taken place. But, even if you had a situation like a broken timing belt, some of the cylinders would have compression, so I don’t buy the “no compression” story.

I agree that the “catalytic converter being sucked into the engine” story makes no sense, and I also agree that you need to have the car towed to a different shop. Ask friends and relatives for recommendations on a competent mechanic in your area.


Thanks everybody…I am mad as you know what because I have had this car sitting for about 4 months…I try to crank the engine every once in a while but get the same response. Before I kept seeing the check engine light come on and when I took it to the dearship about it they said that they checked it by send (smoke, or whatever) through it, and could not find a leak. They told me to make sure that the gas cap was on properly, I checked that all of the time but the light came back on. Does this say anything.


You should not be taking advice from people who are not mechanically inclined. If they knew what they were talking about they would gladly drop by and take a quick look at it.
The fact the car has a Honda, Nissan, or Toyota badge on it does not guarantee that it will last even 10k miles. They break all of the time; either on their own in some instances or with some outside help in the majority of cases.

Your complaint is pretty sketchy here and the fact the repair cost is high does not mean you’re being ripped off.
You have failed to provide any info about the circumstances behind the car refusing to run. Died while driving, any noises, engine full of oil, overheating, or what?
I also think there is a misinterpretation here of what you’re told. A converter breaking apart is not likely to cause coverter remnants to go into the engine.

If I guess at this based on what appears to be a starter motor cranking an engine over fast and no compression this would point to a problem in the valve train. Since your car should have a timing chain it would be rare for one to break at only 113k miles. It would be more likely that a chain tensioner broke or came apart, but you have not stated if there was any noise involved in any of this. Could this be the remnants in the engine?

If the converter came apart previously, clogged the outlet port up, and you continued to drive this vehicle, or attempted to, the engine can seriously overheat and roast the piston rings. This could cause a low or no compression problem.


To give you more information: Died while driving, any noises, engine full of oil, overheating, or what? I drove the car the day before without any issues. I pulled into my driveway that evening. The car did not die while driving.It would not cranking the next day. There were not any noises being made by the car previously. The car was full of oil. The car never overheated.The car was performing mormally, it never showed any problems.
It would be more likely that a chain tensioner broke or came apart, but you have not stated if there was any noise involved in any of this. Could this be the remnants in the engine? I will restate this… There was never any noise coming from the engine previously. the engine was running smoothly.
I also think there is a misinterpretation here of what you’re told. A converter breaking apart is not likely to cause coverter remnants to go into the engine.
If you are stating that I have misrepresented what was stated to me then you are incorrect…I was told I remember the converstation distinctly
They stated that the catalytic converter came apart and items from the converter went into the engine.
If you are mechanically inclined …then please pass along your interpretation of the problem. I do plan to get another opinion of this engine and work from that standpoint. But, I welcome your viewpoint.


They stated that the catalytic converter came apart and items from the converter went into the engine.

If that’s what they said, I wouldn’t trust them with my lawnmower.

Have it towed elsewhere. I get the feeling that English is not your first language and they may be trying to take advantage of you because of this. Shameful if thats the case.


If that is what they said, get your car away from them as quickly as possible. That is totally impossible. If that is not what they said, then ignore all the advice so far and please give us the real information.


OK Ramon, if I read your postings correctly, the car was running fine one day, parked overnight, no start the next morning. We need clarification of “the noise it made when it was trying to start”: just a click (no whirring), a sound like a small electric motor whirring, or a sound (and vibration) like the engine itself “turning over” but not “catching”. All of these mean different problems, but not all of them require replacing the engine. If the engine isn’t “turning over”, it’s possible that the starter is failing to engage (bad solenoid). Or (bad news), the engine is seized and the starter engages but can’t turn the engine. Can someone take out the spark plugs, put the transmission in neutral, and put a big socket on the end of the crankshaft and see if they can get it to turn? If not, are you sure the engine running wasn’t running hot (low oil, defective cooling system, blown head gasket) on that last drive home? No Check Engine Light, oil pressure light, or any other warning lights? If it has a temperature gauge, nothing abnormal seen? If it ran very hot and seized up, it may well be new engine time. If not, there are plenty of other things that could cause a no-start, all much cheaper than a replacement engine.

The story about the engine sucking in fragments of the catalytic converter is physically impossible and pure bull. If that’s what they really told you, 1) report the dealer to Nissan, 2) report the dealer to your Attorney General or consumer protection agency, 3) find a better mechanic.


I agree with the other posters that the converter chunks blowing into the engine is flat wrong, and goofy besides.
Anyone who comes up with this diagnosis should not be allowed to work on your car or anyone else’s.

If the engine sounded normal cranking over (but would not start) on that first morning then I’m inclined to think the problem is comparatively minor. Without knowing if the problem is fuel or spark related, it’s hard to narrow it down but it’s likely you do not need an engine. At this point do not proceed with anything.

What you should do is ask them how they arrived at this “no compression” diagnosis and how the converter chunks allegedly got into the engine. Post what they say back here and maybe we can decipher just how full of crap they are. :slight_smile:


If the engine doesn’t have any compression as the shop stated it may be due to a broken timing belt. If that is so and engine is an interference type that would be big trouble. I suggest you have another shop look things over and see what they say is going on. Since it is cranking and not firing up it would be good to know if the compression is ok and the ignition is working along with the fuel system. These things need to be working for the engine to run.


English is my first language, just not auto english. The starting was turning as if trying to turn over but the car start. It was full of fuel, also oil. All of the essential liquids were good to go. I am takingit to another shop to see what the problem may be. The car did not overheat, etc. All of the issues, overheating, oil pressure light, etc ok.
I did have a check engine light come on but as I stated earlier, I was being told it was a vacuum problem


When our 1996 Maxima was about 5 years old, the check-engine light came on. Took it to the dealer, and they told me it needed a new wiring harness, which would run about $1,700 for the part, or about $3,000 total.

I took it home and bought a code scanner, which revealed that it simply needed an air control valve and a knock sensor. Total was about $200.

Lesson learned: I’m a better mechanic than they are.

Take it to a different mechanic. I’d bet the problem is fairly easy to diagnose. But it could also turn out to be scary if, say, for example, you broke a timing belt (something you might be able to check by yourself, by the way; take off the oil cap, and if you can see the camshaft, have someone crank the engine. If the cam isn’t turning, you got major problems).


“English is my first language, just not auto english. The starting was turning as if trying to turn over but the car start.”

So–the engine DID start? Or did you leave out a word or two? From your earlier post, I thought that you told us that the engine did not start.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am still finding it very difficult to figure out exactly what the OP is trying to tell us.


Actually this story is not as far fetched as a lot of you might think. The Altima’s and Sentra SER’s share the same 2.5 liter engine. This engine has a pre-cat, which is a catalytic converter that is very close to the exhaust valves. The cams used in this engine have a lot of overlap and will create a short vacuum spike in the exhaust manifold. It is during this very short vacuum spike that some flaking ceramic material from the pre-cat could be sucked into the engine. The ceramic would then wear down the rings and cylinder walls.

In 2005, Nissan suddenly stopped selling Altima’s and Sentra"s with this engine and recalled all of them to the factory where all of them were rebuilt. Nissan never released a reason for this, but insiders say it was due to defective pre-cats. They also did not offer warrantee extensions for those who bought these cars before this program, but the cars that they rebuilt were sold with a 150k mile engine warrantee.


I still don’t buy that bit about the converter chunks in the engine. It’s been my experience that if one has a chunk of anything, even a BB sized hunk of carbon, rattling around in one cylinder that engine is going to knock like a bandit due to the chunk of junk causing severe detonation problems. Can’t even imagine all cylinders in the shape.

The OP says the vehicle was fine with no problems and it just would not start one morning. Also, I think this model uses a timing chain, not a belt, and if the chain was worn or broken the engine would be making all kinds of racket; even while cranking it over.

Sometimes a tech, especially a younger inexperienced guy, can come up with an out of this world diagnosis while overlooking the obvious so it would be very interesting to hear how and why this diagnosis of no compression came about.

A Ford Ranger was towed in once after quitting the owner 3 times in a 2 week period. These 3 repairs, done at a shop about 80 miles away, culminated in the last one being a real doozy. He was told that “all of your valve springs are broken”. Right. Like 8 springs are going to break all at once.
800 dollars worth of valve springs and rocker arms later the truck quit him again the next day and this is when I became involved in it.
The problem all along? The end of the fuse for the electric fuel pump was badly corroded. Five minutes to diagnose/repair and 25 cents worth of fuse later, no more problems. An examination of his old parts showed zero wrong with any of them.
(I’ve got a million of those stories!)


What I was trying to point out about the pre-cat is that there are a lot of people in the Nissan community that believe in this, and not just junior mechanics at the dealership. As for the OP, I don’t think that is his problem. The Altima’s and Sentra’s that had problems were exhibiting a very high oil consumption and a lot of smoking, and these cars were often less than a year old. These engines did not run fine one day and then not start the next.

I think someone needs to do some basic troubleshooting on this one, spark, fuel, compression. If it turns out to be a sudden loss of compression, I’d look at the timing chain. But I think you are right about the racket that a timing chain would make. The timing chain runs in a very tight track and any movement or flexing would break off parts of the front plate of the engine. When my son was changing the cams in his Spec-V, a neighbor dropped one of the cover bolts (small bolt at that) into the timing chain. The neighbor told my son that the bolt did not go into the timing chain, but when my son rotated the engine by hand with a wrench, and stopped at the first hint of resistance, it was too late, it broke both guides of the front plate. That cost $180 and took us over a week to disassemble the engine to replace it.