Mysterious stalling - '96 Altima


I drive a 1996 Nissan Altima with 190K miles. For its age it runs very nicely (like me), but lately it has developed a disconcerting problem. In mormal flatland driving, it runs like a champ. However, when I try to climb a mountain and it runs a bit hotter, it will mysteriously stall. No shuddering or engine sputtering, but rather just a complete clean engine stop. I can easily start it again by popping the car back in neutral and turning the key.

Another symptom I just discovered the other day is that the engine will also randomly stall/stop when the air conditioner is on and I’m driving around in the flatlands. I live in Los Angeles, so the altitude would not matter in this case. As with the previous “mountain-climbing” instance, it will re-start in an instant.

I’ve looked around the Web and seen similar stalling issues mentioned for the Altima. Most of the time mention is made of oil seeping up through a bad seal in the distributor and fouling the camshaft position sensor, but many times replacing the distributor assembly does not fix the problem for that person. (Nissan designers had to make the seal an integral part of the distributor assembly and at +$600 for the assembly with no guarantee of it fixing the problem, I’d like to try other avenues of repair. lol)

I’ve also heard it might be a bad PCV valve, which of course would be relatively cheap to try. I’ve just been building up my inner-strength to dive in and physically get to it. (Once again, the Nissan designers are at work and placed it in a very inaccessible spot!)

I come to you, the bretheren of Car Talk for any words of wisdom and insight you may offer.

Many thanks!



A PCV valve won’t cause your symptoms.

Stalling when the engine is under load and restarting right back up is more typical of fuel starvation. I’d be inclined to start by checking the fuel pump pressre at the rail.