Owing on a Lemon

I have a '00 Nissan Altima that I just purchased a bit over a year ago. Shortly after purchasing the car, we’ve realized that something is seriously wrong. We constantly have to put oil in the thing but after having it checked, there’s no leak to be found. My assumption is it’s just burning oil fast or leaking in the engine. Either way spells trouble for us because we still owe about $11K on the car. Question is, what are our choices? If we try to trade it in, I’m afraid we’ll end up paying some exorbitant price because of what we owe. Are we better off waiting for the engine to blow and just paying for a new/rebuilt one? Help!

First, tell us how much oil you are using. You’d be surprised how much oil consumption is considered “normal” by some manufacturers: up to 1 quart per thousand miles.

Other questions: Do you see a lot of blue smoke from the exhaust? Are you also using coolant? Are there signs of coolant and oil mixing, either in the radiator or the crankcase?

How much oil is it using in miles per quart? I’ve owned cars that used a quart of oil every 1000-1200 miles and considered it not to be a big deal. If the engine is using a quart or more every 500 miles and puffing blue smoke, this is serious oil consumption.

Sometimes, fixing an oil hog is not terribly expensive. I had a Ford Maverick that was using a quart of oil about every 300 miles. I had the valve stem seals replaced. This was not an expensive repair. The mechanic removed the spark plugs one at a time, cranked the engine until the valves were closed on that particular cyliner and screwed an air hose adpater into the spark plug hole. By injecting air, he kept the valves from falling into the cylinder while he removed the valve keepers and changed the seals. After the repair, oil consumption fell to 1 quart per 1200 miles. Have a good mechanic evaluate the engine and he may be able to tell you if the problem is in the valve stem seals or the piston rings.

I haven’t calculated the oil use by mileage but when we make a 150 mile trip, I typically have to put at least 2 quarts in when we get back. We put 2 quarts in prior to that 150 mile trip this past Sat and it’s in need of more now, at least another 2 quarts. Haven’t noticed blue smoke. Strange thing about the coolant, for a month or so, I was having to put coolant in quite a bit and then after the last time, haven’t had to put anymore in. Our service engine light is on but the guys (at a very reputable shop) told us the catalytic converter is running up to 100% capability but doesn’t necessarily need replaced at this time. When I check coolant in radiator, looks very green so I don’t think there’s mixing.

As much as I put oil in this car, I WISH it were only 1000-1200 miles, it’s closer to the 300 miles, possibly less. I haven’t noticed any blue smoke though. I checked this site for a reputable repairman after moving to Louisville. I took it to them and told them about the oil usage but he said they couldn’t find a problem.

That’s a whole lotta oil! If you’re burning it, you have a big problem. Likely, it’s plugging up the catalytic converter too. The coolant issue could be related. It might not be a ring problem but rather a serious head gasket breach. I’d have a compression test done on it at a minimum. This is not something you can ignore. You have to find out what’s going on before more damage is done.

Sorry to hear about your problem. Just to be sure, I would keep driving and keep checking for some kind of leak. With no smoke I wonder where the oil is going. The previous owner probably saw the same problem and got rid of it quickly. Make sure there is not a leak around the oil filter or pressure sensor. Depending on the design, you can have a leak only when the car is running and no puddles and nothing showing on the engine. Have you done a compression check?

Hi there,

Lucky for you, I live in Louisville. I go to a place called Shields Service. Nice guys and good at what they do. Are you familiar with the Westport Road area? The owner’s name is John, he will take care of you. I recommend them. Email me at jeffmw05@gmail.com if you need detailed directions. Good luck.

A compression check needs to be done to verify a ring problem. Chances are the rings are at fault with oil consumption that bad and the converter is catching the oil smoke; at least for the time being. Eventually the converter is going to clog up, the O2 sensors will die, etc.

If the mileage on the car is not terribly high then a previous owner may have seriously overheated the engine. After seeing the car is now a problem they decided to unload it and you’re stuck with the debris.

A properly rebuilt engine, as opposed to a sort of rebuilt one, will be very expensive. If I were in your shoes I would trade the car off without saying anything or go with a used salvage yard engine.
You might check eBay or Craigslist since engines for everything in the world pop up on there on a regular basis. JMHO

I would also add that a problem like this does not make your car a Lemon. Chances are this damage was owner inflicted and the car is a victim of that abuse.

Thanks Jeff. I’ve been taking it to Haddad’s on East St. Catherine but maybe I’ll give Shield’s a try. I am familiar with the area, thanks for the tip!

I believe that’s what happened. The car only had about 33K on it when we purchased. Thanks for the advice!

Thank you for the advice!

I agree - it is no lemon, only a car with an issue probably caused by a neglectful first owner.

If you can swing a trade for another car and not be too upside down, I might punt it rather than fix, unless it is a cheap fix. Is it possible that a damaged oil pan or leaking pan gasket cause this much oil loss?