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Nissan Altima won't start: was run on way below low oil mark

Hello All,

I have 1995 Nissan Altima and it will not start. When I jump the car battery with jumper cable and when the Cables are connected, the Car starts. As soon as I take the jumper cables out, the rpm drops and immediately the Car engine dies (stops). I checked the battery with Digital Multi-meter and the batter is good. This Car was run on very low engine oil (way below the “Low” mark on the Dip stick for 3 days running 30 to 40 miles/day. 2 or 3 months, I noted that engine oil “Low” indicator on my dash board and did not get oil change immediately. Since this car is my second car, I do not use it everyday. It is parked always, and I start it once in 3 or 4 days and run it for 20 minutes to make sure that Battery will not go down. Few weekends before this problem, the car started well and I did not notice any “low” engine oil indicator on the dash board. So, I never changed the engine oil as I forgot about it.

3 weeks back, I gave the Car to a friend of mine who came here from another state. He took it to his office ( 15 mile away ) and in the evening the car would not start. Finally, someone had jump started power station and they jumped the car with it. The car started Next day, he did not use this car. 3rd day, the car started when I jumped the car in the morning, and he took it to office and did not have any problems coming back (total 30 to 40 miles). 4th day, he went to office in the morning and when he was coming back, the Car died on the road. He got it jumped 1or 2 times and came very close to my home. It died again. After 1 or 2 hours, I came back from office and pressed the gas pedal few times and started it. It started and when I was in my parking place, it died again. Finally, when I parked in the parking lot, I noticed that the steering wheel (it is power steering) became very stiff and would not turn. Also, I noticed smoke smell when I opened the hood. I had to drop my friend in the airport, so I took my good car and took him to airport.

Afterwards, I tried to start with jumper cable. The car will start and engine runs when it is still connected to other car with cables. As soon as I disconnect the cable the rpm drops and engine dies. After noticing that the dip stick shows the oil is way below “Low” mark (there was still some oil on the “tip” of drip stick), I put in 2 quarters of engine oil. I tried starting with jumper cables. The car starts and engine runs when the jumper cables are connected, when I take them out, the rpm drops and engine dies. Please suggested me your thoughts and ideas considering the following:
1). I may not get more than $1000-1200 for this car (1995 Nissan Altima). I live in Stamford, CT where car mechanic charges are high. 2). This car needs to be towed to nearest mechanic (which may cost around $100-150). 3). The Battery is Good and I do not know about the alternator. I noticed “smoke” smell under the hood near engine and alternator when I jumped the Car when my friend was using it. Also, there was lot of noise from the engine when my friend used it for 3 or 4 days (now, I know that it is because there was almost no engine oil). Did the smoke I noticed is because alternator got burnt or due to burning of gadget b/w engine upper and lower block etc (expensive)? 4). The drop in rpm when I disconnect jumper cables - is it due to major damage to the engine. If so, is it worth taking the car to mechanic and getting repaired since I may not get more than $1000 for this car. 5). If it is not worth repairing this Car, what is the least effective way, I get read of this Car? I want to know whether any car dealer or mechanic shop will buy it for parts etc.

This Car has only $130K mileage on it and it will run well if this problem is repaired. I never had problems with it in last 10 years except for the Battery problems. There were some posts similar to this on this forum, but none of them are exactly like my situation. I appreciate all your valuable suggestions. Sorry for the long message. Thank you.

If the engine dies when you remove the jumper cables, that indicates a problem with the battery or the cables to the battery. The problem with the battery may be the battery itself or the alternator is not charging it. Or both.

Some checks with a voltmeter would pin this down.

Possibly the smoke is due to the alternator cable slipping? That should be visible.

Seriously, you have a 21 year old car that will not keep running, smoke from engine area, engine noise (damage from low oil most likely) you might get a couple of hundred dollars not 1 to 2 thousand. The repairs alone sound like it would be more than the car is worth.

Or the alternator.
The entire charging system needs to be tested. The other issues should be looked at too, but since the engine starts when jumped the low oil isn’t the cause of the no-start… although it is a problem all by itself and needs to be diagnosed. Or you could always carry a case of oil in the trunk like we did in the old days. :smiley:

mountainbike…I used to carry a couple of gallons of “bulk” oil in my Corvair. It used it almost as fast as I could pour it in the engine.

I suspect the serpentine belt is loose or has fallen off, that’s why the steering is hard. Stop trying to start the car. Find a “mobile” mechanic who will come to the car and diagnosis the problem. All the jump starting has likely killed the alternator.

“I used to carry a couple of gallons of “bulk” oil in my Corvair. It used it almost as fast as I could pour it in the engine.”

Back in my service station days, I can recall one customer, driving a Corvair, who said, “Check the gas and fill the oil”. When I chuckled a bit at what I thought was a misstatement, he said that he was deadly serious, as his Corvair sipped gas, but it guzzled oil at a furious rate.

If you’re following the suggested procedure for jump starting, specifically, connecting the negative cable to any ground other than the battery, then you likely have one of the following-

Bad battery
Bad ground connection between battery and chassis

How did you establish the battery is good? Did it pass a load test?
A good battery in fully charged condition can support a running car for quite some time even if the alternator is completely dead, certainly longer than immediate death.

The common point beyond that is the ground connection. If you’re bypassing that with the jumper battery connection, then that would be the next best suspect.

No doubt you have other issues as well but perhaps one thing at a time…

First, I would be sure to top off the oil to the correct level.
You wouldn’t want to fix the “no start problem” and then fry the engine on the way to buy oil.

I think you have two problems besides the oil level. Yet as said by others this would not create a “No start situation” and the engine would still turn over and start when jumped.

  1. Because the engine starts fine and runs Ok until the jumper cables are removed…I’d guess your main problem is that you have a bad battery, or the connections are not clean and tight on the battery. A test with a volt meter is not enough to prove that the battery has the amperage to start the engine. Removing the battery cables, cleaning the terminals and the battery posts may be enough to fix the problem.
    You may still have to jump start it once more until the battery is chargen enough to start the car without a jump.

  2. I’d also check the serpentine belt that drives the alternator and Power stearing. If that belt broke you would not be charging the battery and you would lose power stearing.

If the belt is broken, be sure to check each pulley that the belt drives. One item…weather it’s the power stearing pump, the alternator, tentioner pulley, or idler pulley…one item may be frozen tight which caused the belt to break. Spin each one by hand and any hard turning or rough feeling item will be the culprit.

If the belt is broken or you need any other parts, take the battery along and the parts store can test it properly with a load test meter. Many auto parts stores will also charge a battery and you return for the battery later.


I'd also check the serpentine belt that drives the alternator and Power stearing. If that belt broke you would not be charging the battery and you would lose power stearing.

Also, the belt might have oil on it and/or the tensioner might have weakened. Either would cause your belt to slip resulting in charging and power steering problems.

If you need to jump start this vehicle…what is making you say the battery is fine? If it runs after a jump start…that is a nod that the alternator is working

I would use the volt meter to see what the output of the alternator actually IS… Measure resting batt voltage while engine is off…then while running. Then I would check that all connections are clean and tight…and if further issues continue…its the Battery…this is how they die and go bad