That is quite odd. We have owned nothing but Nissan except a Chevrolet Malibu a couple of years ago.
I currently drive a 98 Altima gxe and have not had a single problem and my brother in-law who has a 99 Altima gle has not either. Most of the reviews are also positive. You must have gotten one of the few lemons out there.
I also have (had) a 98 Altima GLE with 120000 miles, parked it at a festival and was contacted by the police that my car was on fire... no warning at all... how bizarre...
I own a 98 Nissan Altima SE, and I have 250,000 miles on it, and I'll still smoke any Honda out there. The only thing I've ever really changed is my clutch, which wore out of normal use.
I bought a 98 Nissan Altima in 2001 with 32,000 miles for $12,000. It was a GXE model, and automatic. It was the most reliable car I ever owned! Not counting regular maintainence (oil changes, brakes, tires, etc.) here's what broke on it:
The first problem I had was an alternator at 120,000 miles. Then the CV joints went out at 150,000. Next the A/C drain plugged, and spilled water on to the floor and in the computer making the car run bad. They unplugged the drain, and let the computer dry out, and the car ran fine again. At 230,000 miles the radiator started to leak and was replaced. At 260,000 one of the radiator fans went out causing the A/C not to work while sitting in traffic, so it was replaced. At 270,000 miles, someone ran a stop sign and t-boned me totalling the car. The insurance company gave me $4,200 for it.
I sometimes wonder how long it would have ran. It barely used any oil considering the mileage (1 quart ever 2,000 miles) and the engine was smooth and powerful. Even the automatic transmission was perfect, and I NEVER serviced it; had the original tranny oil with 270,000 miles! The A/C was recharged once, it always blew cold and never failed. All the power windows worked and never broke. The only other problems I had were preset button broke off the radio, and one of the sun visors fell out.
Great car, I highly recommend it!
I read your comments and cannot believe that your timeline and repairs are almost exactly as mine for my 1998 Altima GXE!
At 140,000 it needed a new alternator.
At about 145,000 miles, I put on new CV joints.
At 155,000, my air conditioner drain hose plugged.
So far it nearly runs perfect all the time. Just this past week I replaced the valve cover gasket and the gaskets between each spark-plug and the valve cover. I am planning on running it to over 200,000 miles for sure.
I always would buy American made... this was the first "foreign" car I owned. It upset me as it is far superior to American made cars - the engine far exceeded anything the American cars were offering.