Table of Contents
Nissan Sentra Problems
Nissan CVT transmission problems
The Nissan Sentra was among the first Nissan models that had a continuously variable transmission installed instead of a traditional multi geared automatic transmission. Between 2013 and 2014, it isn’t a coincidence that CarComplaints registered by far the highest number of complaints for transmission failure and other transmission issues.
The key difference between the CVT put into the Nissan Sentra and a traditional transmission is that the CVT basically uses a complex pulley system that is lighter and cheaper than a normal transmission. The advantages are that the transmission gets better gas mileage and doesn’t “kick” into the next gear. The disadvantage is that Nissan owners now know that it isn’t quite perfect yet - and had problems for a few years. These problems include when a transmission suddenly fails, makes grinding noises, or doesn’t accelerate very fast.
This was no good for Nissan and Nissan owners, as the failures usually happened right around 100,000 miles, which is past the end of Nissan’s warranty, and could cost thousands of dollars. To be fair, replacing a traditional transmission probably costs even more, but the transmission on most vehicles doesn’t actually fail for 200,000 to 300,000 miles or more. Nissan even extended the warranty on models built after 2010 to include 84,000 miles.
To put a number on this, Nissan experienced a class action lawsuit due to the poor performance of their CVT, and ended up paying $255 million including legal fees on a variety of models. That’s a lot of money dedicated to transmission failure like cvt problems.
Mechanical problems aside, I’ve personally driven a CVT transmission and found it tolerable, though you’ll have to get used to the lack of real shifting, and the vehicle tends to be louder simply because the engine RPMs can stay high without having to shift. I prefer the traditional automatic transmission though this is entirely personal preference.
The Nissan Sentra has had a couple of brakes related problems over the years. More recently as of around 2019, the Nissan Sentra could have problems with automatic emergency braking detecting objects that were not there and applying brakes at inappropriate moments, increasing the chances of being rear ended. This isn’t an especially common problem, and bringing your Nissan Sentra to a dealership so they can examine the sensors that drive automatic braking can be helpful.
Slightly older Nissan Sentras have larger problems with the brakes. Instead of stopping when they don’t need to, Nissan brakes can wear out too quickly and cause loud grinding noises These can readily result in brake issues, and loud sounds when turning while braking. Other issues include potential problems with brake lines that have too high or low of pressure, resulting in brake lines not delivering proper force. Thankfully, these are fixed relatively easily and often just involve replacing brake pads and rotors - though it may happen earlier than you expect. Premature brake wear is common and has resulted in several complaints on CarComplaints.com.
Thankfully, engine complaints were not nearly as abundant as cvt issues. The electrical system and harnesses within the Nissan Sentra can fail, resulting in Sentra owners being unable to drive the vehicle. Multiple complaints from CarComplaints.com state that the electrical harness that helps start and run the engine, power steering, and other important elements, can become loose and suddenly cause the vehicle to fail. This is more than a bit scary in traffic, especially, as the driver becomes powerless to do anything, ranging from traction control and even the gas pedal.
While this can happen, we are actually impressed at seeing how few complaints the engine itself has. Many budget vehicles have problems with oil leaks and deceleration issues, but the Nissan Sentra seems to do well here. Sentra owners seem to like this part of their vehicle.
There are numerous complaints from the NHTSA and CarComplaints regarding airbag sensors going off, and the airbags not deploying properly for the person in the front passenger seat and the driver’s seat. This is a bit scary because this is literally the only purpose of airbags - to pop up in the event of a collision.
Should I buy a preowned Nissan Sentra?
While we have reported several problems with the Nissan Sentra, do know that very few vehicles are without some kind of problem in the first 100,000 miles. With that said, we suggest the following:
Get an inspection for the Nissan Sentra
We’ll say this for every single vehicle, but with the Nissan Sentra, take special care to see the vehicle history and reports regarding the transmission's status - was it replaced at under 100,000 miles? The incidence of replacement makes it among fairly common problems - and expensive, so we might suggest thinking twice if the CVT transmission has not been replaced or maintained.
We’ll be real honest here: You can probably find a 2012-2014 Nissan Sentra for less money than other sedans of the same size and abilities. Most any vehicle with a traditional transmission has less of a chance of having that rather important shifting mechanism fail than a Nissan Sentra. We say this because we have seen many complaints stating that the transmission is good for 100,000 miles or less - and the class action lawsuit that was settled in the favor of auto buyers.
While buying literally any used car brings its own risks, we would avoid the Nissan Sentra simply because having to replace the transmission out of warranty might cost more than the difference between the Nissan Sentra and a different make and model of vehicle.
If you truly like the Nissan Sentra for something like the unique style, price, power, or space, you shouldn’t feel too worried about buying one that has been properly maintained.
Check engine light
A car salesperson or private seller might indicate that without a check engine light on, you have no particular need to ask for an inspection. Ignore this idea - as the check engine light only truly knows what’s happening under the hood, and not with the transmission, brakes, or other critical components. Even if the dealership itself did an inspection, that only carries so much weight because dealership inspections vary by state and legal requirements.
Are there good years for the Nissan Sentra?
Used Sentras after the 2013 and 2014 model year tend to hold up better over time. More recent models fare a lot better on CarComplaints.com and have fewer poor reviews. Warning lights do not come on as much, and their automatic emergency braking seems to work better - at least on cars equipped with automatic emergency braking. We think that Sentra models built after 2015 are a better use of your money, though again, prospective buyers might be able to find a better equipped vehicle for just a bit more - and without a CVT transmission.
At this point, you might start to have a hard time finding a 2013 or 2014 on dealer lots or private lots, and these should be fairly low priced vehicles given they are a decade old, if not older. Still, you might find something with less potential to break down, even at a low price point.
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