3.5 litre V6 is the engine of choice for earlier Altima models
The latter doesn’t necessarily mean the Altima is easy to park, though. Most owners complain about a large turning circle, which makes the car difficult to manoeuvre in parking lots. Other gripes include below-expected gas mileage and a noisy ride.
Owners almost universally admit that the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry offer a more solid, albeit less exciting interior, and that the Altima from this generation is fitted with ‘cheap’ cabin panels and trim. After 2005, the Altima’s interior was redesigned with this criticism in mind.
If you’re test driving a used Altima, plan to spend some time going through its interior. Operate and scrutinize all interior components-- including all switches, the glovebox, the power seats, the air conditioner and the stereo. Stories of broken switches, latches, controls or electronics weren’t uncommon, especially in early models.
Engine sensor problems were reported more frequently in earlier Altima models, too. If you’re budget only allows you to get into an early four-cylinder model, be absolutely sure there are no ‘Check Engine’ lights illuminated, and that the engine idles, cruises and accelerates smoothly and with no hesitation or ‘sputtering’. Failing or failed crankshaft position sensors and mass air flow sensors could cause the above conditions to manifest themselves. Note that several recalls were issued to address engine sensor failure.
Earlier four-cylinder Altima models had well-documented problems with oil consumption, defective catalytic converters and even engine failure. These problems were rectified later in the Altima’s life, though it appears that the V6 engine is the powerplant of choice in earlier third-generation Altima models where reliability is concerned.
If you’re set on an earlier four-cylinder Altima, ensure you have it checked out comprehensively by a dealer mechanic and opt for any extra powertrain warranty that may be available. You’ll also want to check with your nearest dealer to see if the Altima you’re considering has any outstanding recall work that needs to be carried out.
On any model, check for moisture in the footwell carpet and inspect the underside of the car for rust. Some owners have reported excessive corrosion of the floor pan, which would cost thousands to fix professionally. This rust, or any home-made attempts to try and cover it, should be apparent with a quick look beneath the car. Bring a flashlight and some floor mats so you can get down low for a peek.
Ultimately, used Altima shoppers are advised to look for as new and clean a used model from this generation as their budget allows. Opt for the V6 engine where possible in older models, and be sure to take a long and careful test drive. If you find a well-maintained and rust-free newer model, chances are you’re on your way to enjoying one of the market’s most well-loved sport sedans.
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