Nissan sentra 2008 won't start...but wait! There's more!

We have a broke (aren’t they all?) college kid living with our family who’s parents have basically signed off on him. He has this car and so far it has been reliable. He was driving on the freeway last week and he said it began to smoke, so he hot to the side and turned it off. He then had it towed to a neighboring street off the freeway and came for my advice. Unfortunately he knows little about cars in general, so he couldn’t tell me if the smoke was steam or how it smelled or anything. I told him I should go back with him and check the oil before he attempted to restart it, I am guilty of blowing up my own transmission in college bc I thought my dad was checking the oil and he thought I was checking the oil…well, no one was…anyway, I got him to call his insurance and we found out he had coverage, so instead he got it towed here. I checked the oil after it got here, there was little oil in it, but, it would also not start. It would not even attempt to turn over. Putting it into accessories did nothing. My husband then got involved and cleaned off the battery connections and then we attempted to jump it. After about an hour, we gave up, and took the battery in, and they said it was the original battery so we replaced it out of our pocket. Put that in the car and now we only get a dash light of a car with a key that is red and flashes. No lights, no radio, no anything else but an annoying red flashing light. Turns out he has an intelikey system. The dealership over the phone said they have to reprogram the key fob and car so they need both to do so. That’s an initial charge of $175 and another call to the insurance for towing…which I’ll have to pay. But, if I do that and that doesn’t cure all that ails it and it doesn’t start…then what? Is there anything else we can try first or does that intelikey hold the access to everything on the car? My husband has some mechanical skills but not a lot of time to search and troubleshoot and hasn’t worked on a nissan before, his job is very demanding right now, but given direction can do a lot himself. We just want to help this kid out as much as possible because we have become his surrogate parents, but we don’t have tons of money to repair a car right now.

Unfortunately, the battery disconnection and replacement probably created the intellikey problem - and there’s not much you can do about it other than have it all reprogrammed. These days, its often wise to use some backup device to keep power to the car’s computers so things like this don’t get lost from memory.

You might try calling around to local locksmiths. Many of them are set up with the capability to do this stuff. They might cost less and might do house-calls. I keep saying “might” because I have never had to sort out one of these issues before, so I’m not really sure.

Either way - you still have the problem of what happened initially to disable the car. Beyond visual inspection for something obviously amiss, there’s not much that can be figured out until the car will recognize the key. So you have to start there.

If you’d like a complete and total wild-A guess that might put everything all in one basket - here’s a shot. I’d give it about 1000 to one odds. The smoke was from the belt that drives the alternator which burned up either from old age or a seized pulley. The car then sucked the battery dry by pulling power from there rather than the alternator. Then you went on to mess with the battery and killed the intellikey memory stuff. And here you are. You can rule this out by inspecting the belt for heat damage.

Is there a mechanical key you can use? it sounds like a security issue, as much as I hate to recommend a battery disconnect, a couple of minutes with the neg cable disconnected, then access and start with a regular old fashioned key might ie might work. Had some great kicked out of home kids living with us, They even come back every now and then to say thanks. The saddest was a kid whose father disowned him for being in Drama class, signed up, went to Afghanistan to please his military father and did not come back alive.