To get a new engine or not to get a new engine

Okay, here’s a stupid question. My generous cousin recently gave me his 2003 Altima SE 3.5 V6 that has 176,000 miles on it. At the time he said it may need a new timing chain and some tires.

I took it into my usual mechanic. He reports that the car’s timing chain is “flapping around”, and that the power steering pump is leaking a lot. He further informs me that locating the precise issue with the timing chain and replacing it will require 12-13 hours of labor, running a ballpark of $1,500. The pump he says can be replaced for $500.

Later on in the day he called me back and said that he can get an engine that has 67,000 miles on it and pop that in for $3,300.

Long-term plans for this car are to have it be the car that my soon-to-arrive kid will be driven in, since this car has 4 doors and rates safer than our other car, a 2007 Yaris hatch. I had been planning on possibly trading this Altima in around winter time to be that guy who gets a Subaru because it has AWD and great safety, since we live in Chicago where it often snows and I want the kid driving in something like that in the winter.

However, if a new engine goes into the Altima, maybe I’d trade in the Yaris, even though I do happen to like that car a lot. Or, heck, maybe I’d even just trade the Yaris in if the Altima repairs are going to run us $2,000, even if it was free.

Anyway, any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

The flopping timing chain could be an indication of a far more serious problem. Timing chains usually wear out due to lack of regular oil changes and this could also mean excessive wear on the entire engine, not just the chain.

I don’t remember off the top of my head if the following applies to this particular car/engine or not, but many Nissans relied on engine oil pressure to maintain the chain tension. Worn out engine, low oil pressure; ergo, flopping chain.
In my humble opinion, I could not see risking this kind of money on something like this.

Before ripping into the chain case what I would do is drain the oil, drop the oil pan, and remove a few rod and main bearing caps for inspection. If the overlay in the bearing is showing, and based on the chain noise, I’d say the engine is worn out.

The used engine would be a far better route but that brings up the question as to whether the condition of this 67k miles engine. You never really know when it comes to used units but if the guy is willing to stand behind it I would rather spend 3300 on that rather than 1500 on a very iffy chain repair. Hope that helps.

And I would just add that your questions are not stupid at all. You’re to be commended for providing useful information and doing some homework in advance.

You might consider giving the Altima back to your cousin, saying “No thanks. Really I appreciate your help but I have other plans.” Then keep driving the Yaris, which is a fine car and has newer and more comprehensive safety features. As the spring turns to summer, start the search for the Subaru of your dreams, maybe a leftover 2010. Four door cars are much better than two door cars when you have a baby. The only thing better is a mini-van. If this is your first child, your life is about to change a lot, and the minivan will be a minor issue compared to the way you will be living otherwise. All the stuff that goes with a child is much easier to wrestle into a minivan than anything else.

I say get that 67K engine/install price down by (500.00 would be real nice) some and see if you can get lets say 18mths warranty on the engine (including oil consumotion). Every car needs tires so thats a issue but not an issue. So for 2800 or so you have a 2003 Altima with a 67K engine, if the body and paint and interior are in the 'real good" class I would go for it, but it all depends on getting that 3300 down.

remember to keep your old engine for parts too, because your “new” engine isn’t going to be perfect.

As usual, ok4450 raises some very good points.

Think about this:
If the underlying situation that led to the timing chain problem is lack of regular oil changes, how well do you think that the rest of the car has been maintained?

I am thinking specifically of the transmission. As we see in this forum all too often, even when people are fairly diligent with oil changes, they frequently fail to have the transmission serviced. If this car had its oil changed only rarely, it is likely that the 170k+ transmission was never serviced, and is going to fail very soon.
If you add the cost of a new transmission to the cost of a new engine, the inherent value of this car is…nil.

So, I strongly suggest doing what ok sugggested, namely having the oil pan dropped and removing a couple of main bearing caps for inspection.
If excessive engine wear is found, then you have to assume that the transmission of this high-mileage car is also junk at this point.
If both the engine and transmission are junk, do you really want this moneypit of a car?

Thanks everyone for the advice! I will check into all that. I am certain that the car had regular oil changes, as well as regular maintenance in general, since my cousin is extremely…let’s say “diligent” about that sort of thing. Plus he showed me all the maintenance records. That said, I don’t recall off the top of my head what, if anything, had been done with the transmission.

Cousin suggested I take it to the guy he used to take the car to, so I called him and knew the car right away and seemed surprised that there could be a timing chain issue and wanted me to bring it by him. Perhaps I will do that, or have my guy check out the rod and main bearing caps first.

Check on the cost as you may still need a new pump as it may not be included in the engine swap.

I’d have your mechanic assess the overall condition of the engine, not just the timing chain. I have no idea how hard it is to change this on your engine. 12 hours of labor seems a bit excessive, though it may be right if the engine needs to be pulled to get at it. If the engine isn’t sludged up, doesn’t burn oil, and has good compression and no mechanical noise other than your current timing chain problem, I’d probably just fix what you have. It’s cheaper and any used engine you get is just as much of a crap shoot. You might call around to see if anyone can do the job cheaper. And maybe a salvage yard power steering pump instead of a new one for $500.

But even if it costs you the full $2,000 for everything, it’d be hard to find another decent car for that price.

The Datsun is too far gone…don’t be pouring money into a beater…Engine swaps seldom turn out as advertised and the claimed mileage is often incorrect…

And very well written.

Another vote for…it’s served it’s purpose and thanks but no thanks. Another major repair and you’ve exceeded the worth of the car. I’d make plans that did not include the car.