Neglected 2002 Altima questions

A couple of weeks ago I inherited a 2002 Altima that had been neglected for 5 years, and I am not sure what I should be doing. For the first 15,000 miles it was maintained meticulously by a little old lady. Then for 50,000 miles, it got NO maintenance, including no oil changes that we can detect. It also seems to have a broken neutral safety switch, I think, evidenced by the fact that I need a screwdriver to depress the shift lock and the key does not come out of the ignition. The trip odometer does not work and the inside turn signals don’t work. Minor problems, might even be a fuse. I took it in for a diagnostic and oil and filters change and put new tires on it. The diagnostic did not show any problems, so I had the oil changed with Mobil1, and drove it home (1500 miles). Then I changed the oil again with Mobil1. It did perfect on the trip. No problems at all. It does not make any funny noises. I don’t know what I should be doing for it right now. My mechanic will be looking at it next week and fix the ignition/safety switch problem.
My mechanic in the other state suggested BG-MOA oil additive, but searching their website and calling around to local dealers, I can’t find it anywhere. Is there anything else you would add to the oil?
I talked to the guys at the One Stop Oil Change place suggested an “engine flush”, but most of their up-sale items and services seem to be utter voodoo to me, so I declined. Should I get the engine flush?
What else can I be doing to rescue this car?

The engine doesn’t need an engine flush nor should anything be added to the oil.

What should be checked is the brake fluid for moisture contamination.


You’re on the right track. Have the brakes and steering/suspension inspected for safety, and look in the owner’s manual or online for the maintenance schedule and get those items up to date. Replace the engine coolant and transmission fluid.

But what worries me is the 50,000 miles of NO maintenance. There’s no way to reverse the premature wear or damage that results from that kind of abuse, no matter what kind of engine oil or additives you use. Check the oil level regularly, see if it burns any, and deal with any other problems as they arise. Get the car safe, and drive on!

I have had a few Toyotas in the past (I have two right now) with well over 100,000 miles on them. I think the Datsun could/should be the same…? . With regular oil changes I plan on 300,000 -500,000+ for my 1992 Corolla (my every-day car, currently at 180,000), but with 50k of no oil changes, is this Altima doomed to a short life? I guess I am glad that the first few thousand miles were maintained properly; might that mitigate some of the damage for the last 50?

Should I keep using the Mobil1? Should I change the oil more frequently for a while? what about these “high mileage” filters and so forth?


If I was you, I would remove the valve cover to inspect it and the cams

I would fully expect you to find gobs of sludge. 50K of no oil changes may not go unpunished

@NinasAltima With the engine cold, remove the oil filler cap and stick your middle finger in the opening and run it along the inside off the valve cover. A well maintained engine will only put oil (usually dark) on your finger. In a dirty engine you finger will be coated with flaky grit and molasses like sludge. If that is the case, the rest of the engine interior will also have this stuff.

However, if the car does not use oil or make strange noises, you may have additional wear but the engine might last another 5 years. In that case, as pointd out, just keep driving. The car cost you nothing, so you can afford a few minor repairs. These are well built cars, and can often reach 300,000 miles if well treated.

Thanks, @Docnick I stuck my finger in and found some brown-ish oil. Not nearly as dark as I expected, although I just did get the oil changed. I will check it again in a few days… No sludge or anything gritty at all. I just wonder if the car is destined for a short life. :frowning:


I stand by what I said earlier

If you want to see if you have sludge, remove the valve cover

Another thing you could do is remove the oil pan, which is obviously harder to do

That is why I recommended to remove the valve cover

O.K. when I had the guy go over it before driving it home, he said he looked at the brakes @Tester and recommended they be looked at again. @db4690 I don’t feel that I am up to taking things apart (valve cover), etc, but my regular mechanic is going to take it this week. I am kind of trying to come up with a list of things to ask him about it. Sounds like everybody agrees that looking for sludge would be a good indicator that it has been pushed far beyond what it ever should have been. He’s a great mechanic, so I know he’ll know what to do, I think I am just trying to brace myself for the news. @asemaster I will take the owner’s manual and if the engine is not teetering on the edge of death, we’ll do all of the required maintenance.
It looks like such a great car, I was just shocked when I realized that it had been so neglected :frowning: I take good care of my cars, and they take good care of me. I hope this one is going to be the same.

Is there a central data-base somewhere that I could plug in the VIN and get a history of maintenance done to it? The only records I can find are at one place that I know the car was taken, and their last record is 2007. It’s a long shot; but there might be a possibility that some other place did some oil changes after that. I just don’t know how to find this out. Obviously, the source of information is now deceased, so this is a do-it-yourself mystery for me.

Another question about this car. The neutral safety switch seems to be broken. The key does not come out of the ignition lock, and I need to depress the “shift lock” with a screwdriver to get it into gear SOMETIMES. Would it be reasonable for me to replace this myself, or is there a way to by-pass it? I would like to get the key out of the ignition. I live in the country, and no one locks their doors around here, but I would like to be able to get the key out.

Thanks for the advice. You guys are awesome, and I am SO grateful that CarTalk has such a good community of experts for someone like me to get advice and information from. I have been listening to CarTalk since the beginning, and I have learned a lot from them; I can often diagnose the problem when someone calls the show, before Tom and Ray do! and it only took 30 years of listening to the show! Next step; learn to actually DO the repairs myself.

The key is tied to the shift lever. It will not move if it does not think the key is in the run position.

“Is there a central data-base somewhere that I could plug in the VIN and get a history of maintenance done to it?”

Unfortunately, no.
The closest that you could come to this desire is to get a Carfax report, but Carfax only lists the maintenance that was reported to it, and their reports typically have so many omissions that they are rarely worth paying for. The only value to a Carfax report is when there is an indication of accident damage, but even this is questionable, due to the incorrect data that is sometimes included in the Carfax database.

@db4690 I agree that the sure way to see how much sludge/grit there is, is to remove the valve cover, whcih won’t cost too much. If there is a lot of crud on the valve gear then considerablwe wear may have occurred. I would not go to the trouble of removing the oil pan.

However, if the engine runs smoothly, and does not use oil, a number of short mileage oil changes willl be beneficial.

There is a possibility that the car did get some oil changes but records were not kept. After the warranty runs out many people just throw their bills away. My late mother-law-used to do that until I persuaded her to file in a binder. I think 50,000 miles with no maintenance on the engine would show up somewhere with performance problems.