2003 Nissan Altima SL 2.5 from North America


Great looking, great performance, super safe, solid base; but poor components and faulty sensors


A few days after driving the car off the lot, the engine light went off. We took it back and found it was an engine knock sensor. The engine wasn't knocking, the sensor simply went bad. They replaced it no problems.

A month later, an O2 sensor went out. We paid about $120 to replace that. Perfect for about 1 year and a half. Then the car started making a "bumping" noise when going over rough surfaces or speed bumps. We didn't know what it was at first, and when another check engine light went off, we took it in.

The check engine light was the 2nd O2 sensor located on the exhaust manifold. The O2 sensor is welded into place and cannot be replaced - the entire exhaust manifold had to be replaced, and it's a dealer-part only.

The bumping noise was worn engine mounts. They replaced 3 of them. I also replace the belt with a shorter one, because it would belt-slap when you put the car in reverse. Because we let the engine knock around with bad engine mounts so long, it knocked the pre-catalytic converter core loose; so when the engine hit around 3000 RPM, it would sound like my old high school lunch bell.

A year after getting all of that fixed, another check engine light went off. We never had a chance to check it, as the car was involved in a high-speed highway accident, ending with the car being totaled. The safety ratings are warranted, as the car did its job keeping my family safe - they walked away unscathed.

As a side note, another thing I do not like about the car is the non-standard in-dash radio proportions. I stuck a 7" touch screen DVD player in my Mustang and Saturn no problem, but the Altima... nope - guess I would have needed some kind of dress-up kit to fill in the odd gap.

Lastly, aftermarket performance parts for this model Altima are almost non-existent. When a part goes out, I usually like to replace it with a higher quality piece, usually built for racing applications. There was hardly any aftermarket exhaust kits for the 2.5 liter models, and nothing from the engine all the way back to the tail pipes, but a slew of stuff available for the V6 model. So I was stuck flicking the bill for a new exhaust manifold with a welded in O2 sensor from the dealer for a premium price, just because the O2 sensor went out.

General Comments:

I needed a car, and I needed one quick, so I went to the local dealership and said, "show me the cheapest car on the lot." They presented the 2003 Altima, and we took it for a test drive. I was impressed with the performance as I peeled out of the dealership, and flew down the street so I could stomp on the brakes as I rushed up on red lights. I don't just test drive, I REALLY test drive. The dealer was hanging on for dear life. The car looked great, forest green with metal flake, and it was a 4 cylinder that literally smoked the tires. On the highway, it had no problems kicking down a gear to pass people up at any speed.

The check engine light going off a total of 4 times while I had it was irritating, because it was always the sensor itself that went bad. The car itself never did, except the 3 engine mounts that had to be replaced along with a shortened belt to reduce the belt-slap when you were in reverse. The base of the car was solid; it's the the surrounding components that were cheap and seemed to fail.

I purchased 18" X 8" aluminum rims made for a 2004 Nissan 350Z, and it really enhanced the look of the Altima. The stock stereo system sounded great, and with good comfy shocks, the car rode smooth as butter.

I don't know if I would buy another one, I'm conflicted since I want to give other cars a chance, but this one was good to me.

One thing I have to say is that it probably prevented serious injury or death when it was in the accident. Everyone in the car was a little shaken but OK. No injuries. However, the Altima was totaled. It has outstanding safety ratings that can be backed-up with my wife and daughter describing to me about how scary the accident was while following the tow truck taking the Altima to the body shop, where in a different car it could have been a different story, where I might have been following an ambulance to a hospital.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 29th December, 2010

2003 Nissan Altima S 2.5 from North America


Great car, but it's a gamble


Recalls, crankshaft position sensor.

Cold start issue: vehicle has 101k and has started up normally all but 3 times that I am aware of. All 3 times the car was parked outside, in coldish / wet weather. I don't know exactly what causes it, but all the 2.5's are plagued with this, some worse than others.

The 3 times it happened on my vehicle, it took about 20 seconds of starting before it would fire up, and the 3 times were very spread apart. Also, the 1st time was with the prior owner, and the 2nd with me. The 2nd with me was before I changed the oil... have used Mobil 1 extended performance filter and Mobil 1 5000 mile oil 5w30, changed the oil every 5k miles for the last 30k miles, and have not had the cold start issue. Of course it is always parked in the garage every time.

General Comments:

This car has been very reliable. It's a good family car.

The bad: The pre-cat issue is a ticking time bomb on all these 2.5's where the screen can get sucked into an intake valve and destroy the head. Nissan will not recall the 2003's. It's a gamble on whether or not it will happen to your car; so far so good on my car.

The old top and bottom position sensors were made of plastic and now are made of metal, so when you have them replaced, the new part will last pretty much forever.

I just replaced my rear pads, and had to use several files to expand the caliper carriers because the replacement brake pads would not slide in and out without using a hammer to force them in. Bad design.

Also, Nissan has a rust problem. This would almost make me go elsewhere if they were not so reliable, but seriously Nissan, get your rust under control!!

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes

Review Date: 23rd November, 2010

3rd Dec 2010, 15:40

I have been experiencing the cat issues... just had BOTH of them replaced, only to find out the head gasket is blown. If I had to do it all over again, I don't think I'd buy an Altima. The crankshaft position sensor has been an on-going issue. I had my O2 sensor replaced 2 months ago. I've put 1600.00 into this car within the last 3 months, and don't know what to do now that the gasket is blown.

31st Jul 2012, 07:08

I had cold start issue too, and usually had to crank and pump the gas like a mad man to get it to start. Then the dealer reprogrammed the computer to run at higher RPM under some factory recall, and all was well again. Dealer wants over $400 to replace the crank and cam shaft position sensors, and reprogram the computer again, because the car dies on the highway.

Went to Auto Zone to buy the new sensors for $35 each. Nissan sensors are square white plastic, and the new improved ones at Auto Zone are made of round aluminum. Some Nissan mechanic told me that a little oil gets onto the plastic sensors and confuses the computer, so it just shuts the engine off. Imagine the engine shutting off on a busy highway during rush hour. Not good my friend. The camshaft position sensor is easy to remove and replace, but the crankshaft position sensor was a real nightmare to remove and replace. No wonder the dealer wanted over $400. The dealer won't pay for the repair, even though many people have complained about it.

The car was quickly sold before the catalytic converter goes bad and the engine sucks up all the debris. From what I hear, the 2002-2006 Nissan Altima model engines are junk. We bought a Honda Accord, and all is well again.