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A little bit about the Nissan Altima
Before we dive into some of the problems associated with the Nissan Altima, let’s discuss the vehicle more. The Nissan Altima is considered a mid-size sedan, meaning that the vehicle is designed to get good fuel efficiency in the higher 20 to mid 30 miles per gallon range on older Nissan Altima models while offering some space in the backseat. This isn’t to say that the Altima is a car designed to tote around a couple of car seats, but a family of three should be able to tuck a rear facing car seat back there - carefully. It’s overall a great commuter vehicle. With all of that said, the Nissan Altima, like nearly every vehicle on the market today, does have some problems.
Nissan Altima Problems: Continuously Variable Transmission
Some people like continuously variable transmissions and some don’t. Unfortunately many mechanics like the Nissan CVT transmission because it provides more repairs- and we wish we were joking about that.
To make a long story short, a CVT is a different kind of transmission that doesn’t actually shift but uses a pulley system to allow vehicles like the Altima to accelerate and decelerate without the “kick” of a shift - and for less money upfront, allowing the vehicle to sell for a lower price. Unfortunately, especially within Nissan Altima model years 2013 and 2014, the CVT caused some serious problems.
The CVT has more than 300 complaints for the 2013 model year on Carcomplaints.com, which is a rather high number - considering that users have to go through the effort of finding websites like CarComplaints and writing out a complaint. Altima owner's complaints ranged from the vehicle not accelerating anymore to a loud crunching sound when they did. We’ll give you a couple more factors here that might convince you to skip model year ranges of 2010 to 2015 at least - the average CVT transmission failure occurred at under 60,000 miles, and the average repair cost was around $3,100. Even if the CVT transmission problems occurred under warranty, the need for a new transmission that early in the vehicle’s life is a sign of bad things to come.
Power Steering Pump Problems
Having led off with what is probably the worst issue a Nissan Altima owner might experience in a Nissan Altima problem, the issue with the steering wheel and power steering pump seems fairly light. From 2013 to 2015, the Nissan Altima experienced issues with the power steering system locking up or leaking which lead to making the steering wheel very hard to turn - if at all. The solution was generally to replace the power steering hose after limping along by just adding more power steering fluid to the vehicle.
The 2009 also reported having a similar problem many times, though at this point a 2019 might be a bit old and would likely be a bargain vehicle on a dealer’s lot that has been fixed up.
We are going a ways back here - and this is more for historical purposes than practical buying advice; Nissan Altimas from 2002 to 2006 were reported as having rusty floorboards and rocky panels more than average. The hard part about detecting this is the need to roll up the carpet and mats in the back seat in order to see it coming. The issue here might be from a lack of rust proofing spray from the factory - or excessive driving in winter climates without washing the undercarriage. Either way, rusty floorboards can be dangerous in the long run because the vehicle’s frame will eventually be affected. To be fair, you probably won’t see a lot of preowned 2002 to 2006 vehicles for sale - and if they are, expect a fairly low price.
What about more recent Altimas?
You might be surprised to learn that Nissan has been moving up amongst Altima owners in the satisfaction category. As recently as 2021, there are far fewer complaints about Nissan Altima models in the US. In fact, they’ve moved into the top 5 for the JD Power Associates Customer Satisfaction Index. Potential criticisms of the JD Power award itself aside, it isn’t easy to buy your way into the top 5 without at least making some major improvements to the quality of a vehicle. Also note that the customer satisfaction index measures things that go well beyond the service record of a vehicle, and includes positives and negatives about how well the infotainment system works.
Still, there are far fewer complaints on CarComplaints after 2014 than in previous years, noting that customers have had at least several years to write many of them.
Should I buy a used Nissan Altima?
Sure. Also, note that the problems we discussed above won’t impact every single car Nissan made. If a vehicle is maintained properly, not abused, and gets frequent inspections, the chances are a bit higher that you’ll be able to avoid making serious repairs. While the CVT transmission could experience problems whenever, detecting the problems before they get worse - and preferably while the vehicle is still under warranty, is a good start.
Overall, the Nissan Altima is a good vehicle. You’ll likely notice even a used vehicle priced for less than a Toyota Camry with the same options, simply because the Nissan Altima isn’t as popular or in as much demand. Keep in mind, of course, that the Toyota Camry is almost legendary for its durability - while the Altima has yet to earn that distinction.
Get an inspection on your Nissan Altima
We suggest getting an inspection of your Nissan Altima before you buy it. We mean an inspection from an independent mechanic who doesn’t work for a selling dealer. Dealerships tend to do an inspection on the vehicles they sell, but they avoid making repairs that will cost them a lot of money, especially if they bought the car for too much. You might also like to know that used car safety inspection laws vary greatly from state to state so the requirements of a dealer in Wisconsin might be completely different from the requirements in Georgia.
Pay a mechanic a couple of hundred dollars to look over the vehicle thoroughly before making an offer. If a dealer or private party won’t allow you to take the vehicle out to do an inspection for a couple of hours, we suggest you don’t consider that vehicle anymore.
At the moment, used car prices are gradually coming down from post pandemic highs. If you discover a laundry list of issues that a dealer won’t negotiate on (especially if your inspection varies from theirs) then our suggestion is to walk away from the vehicle - especially if buying a vehicle is not extremely urgent. Unfortunately, while not extremely high risk, Nissan Altima problems can be costly.
Should your inspection come back cleaner than expected - we say go for it - the Nissan Altima is a good budget vehicle - although we think it is a little boring - though we honestly say that most Nissan vehicles in general.
Take a look at the vehicle history report as well. While we aren’t an expert on every history report out there, at the very least, CarFax will allow you to see specific repairs that mechanics and dealers made.
A brief note about the check engine light
Having no check engine light on doesn’t mean a vehicle doesn’t need an inspection. A check engine light can come and go - or even be turned off temporarily by shadier dealers. If a dealer says you don’t need an inspection because the check engine light isn’t on - walk away.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding