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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everyone,

My sister-in-law just purchased her first car the other day, a 2006 Sentra 1.8 with approximately 99,000 miles. She purchased the car from a local dealership for somewhere around $5,000. She mentioned that a check engine light code came on during her test drive, which ended up being connected to a fault in the thermostat. The dealership agreed to address the check engine code as part of purchase contract. I'm still not convinced that this issue has been revolved, as the dealership claims to have spent an upwards of $3,000 to get the vehicle to an acceptable standard to sell on their lot. The high investment value in the mechanics of the car also explains why they weren't willing to negotiate the price down any further.

Was this particular car a good buy? What should she watch out for, especially considering this is her first car? I barely saw the car once so I'm hoping that the Sentra forum might be able to provide a little insight!
 

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It can be, pending the maintenance performed previously but the dealer sounds like a small scum bag dealership but cost is also dependent on location.

Things pop up and it's a good thing that happened when it did but it is also a wear item .
 
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What kills me is that a dealer really has just parts cost. Almost free labor, although, they will count hours at markup, not cost. So, 3k is really like 500 in actual cost (parts and labor).

The 1.8 is a pretty reliable motor. Sometimes headgasket issues. Not sure what else.

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Keep an eye on the oil levels. My brother threw a rod on my first Sentra with a 1.8. It did have a lot of miles though, like 230k.

Its a little peppy too.

Replace the coilpacks with OEM only, and reground the negative cable with a thicker one, and clean up the grounding locations. I'd even go as far as a ground wire kit.
 

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For 5k, not a good buy. Although 1.8 with 99k miles is pretty young. My brother has a 2.0 se. Replace the engine at like over 200k miles. Smogging down the line might become an issue. I literally paid a guy $800 to bypass my ref here in Cali. Dont know what the dude did, but Im good
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Hi again,

It sounds like this generation of Nissan Sentra is a decent car overall, but the price paid is too much. I'm also concerned about some of the engine issues that might come up. Again, I haven't looked at the car yet, but I did see the Carfax report. It looks like it has had three owners over the years. While this isn't an immediate red flag, it does make me wonder if it has had some hard use.
 

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Yes and no. The price seems high for the age but the mileage is low. 3k worth of maintenance makes me worry unless it's just fluids, suspension, brakes, tires, etc... and if that is the case well then she would have paid for that maintenance anyways. Old cars suck like that because maintenance can still make them pricey, but money is saved on paymemts long term if you get your use. On a positive note. Her bill of sale makes it easy to dispute reimbursement for value of the car if she were to be in a wreck. Insurance companies won't reimburse maintenance.

Some things add up real quick to be a big bill. Other things could be more catastrophic. I would have asked what cost $3k to make sure nothing catastrophic and to know the existing maintenance so I know what to catch up on. I have a rule about flushing all fluids when the life of the fluids existing in the car is unknown.

This isn't the most amazing car, but it is a reliable car if maintained. The engine was an award winning engine and people who take care of their vehicle have been known to get 300k miles plus. The Achilles heal is the head gasket, but even then if maintained it will still last another 100k miles or more. Most people don't take care of their vehicles. Planned obsolescence by some manufacturers is ridiculous since most people are too lazy to do what their car needs anyways.

Once all the kinks are out, if she is comfortable in it then it was a good buy if nothing more serious was going on.

Here is what I wrote for my brother and share with random people.

7 Point Check 1 to 2 Weeks (Recommended when filling gas or in extreme temperature changes)(Daily checks if a specialized vehicle or motorcycle):
Oil
Transmission
Power Steering (New auto may be electric)
Coolant
Brake Fluid
Tire Pressure
Wiper Fluid

Never drive on an engine light unless you know the code and full list of consequences. (Few people know the full list of consequences and some codes are vehicle specific. Anticipation of all consequences unlikely even by mechanics. Damaging the car further is more likely.)

Oil Change w/ Filter & Rotate Tires:
3k Conventional - Tires at 6k
5k Semi Synthetic - Tires at 5k (10k Tires if desired)
7k Synthetic - Tires at 7k (Recommended 5k as not all synthetics are equal)(Tire life does better at 5k)(10k Tires if desired)

The average recommend tire rotations are 6k to 8k. I have rotated every 4k and the tires lasted forever. I have rotated every 8k and the tires have worn down prematurely before their rated mileage claims.
There is no such thing as universal or life of car fluid of any kind and additives & quick fixes are 99% of the time snake oil masking real issues if that. Life of the car oil means the manufacturer wants you to buy a new car and soon. All fluids deteriorate so change them. Some fluids are so disimilar like coolant that mild mixing can be catastrophic so even if it is an equivalent you want to flush clean the whole system if the fluids are not the exact same, brand & type. Most other fluids are forgiving if equivalent and only trace amounts are mixed; however, it is still strongly recommended not to mix fluids as even oil may use different base products and addditives that acheive the engineering standards specified and claimed. Mixing different oils with different chemical additives could negatively influence engineered fluid performance damaging your vehicle or creating drivability issues.

All 15k - 1yrs:
Engine Air Filter (Sooner in dusty environments)
Cabin Air Filter (If Present)
Wiper blades

Wiper Blades are ideal to change in the fall of hot regions to be ready for fall and spring rain as well as the heat of the summer will destroy them at the end of a year's use instead of the beginning. They might be more ideal to change in cooler regions after the last freeze so that you get almost a year before the next freeze which might pull and tear at the rubber if not fully free of ice or defrosted.

All 30k - 2yrs:
Transmission Oil
Power Steering Oil
Coolant
Brake Fluid
Belts
Fuel System Cleaner/ Throttle Cleaning/ Injection Cleaning

Some vehicles have high mileage or lifetime rated fluid. If it is costly to replace fluid, the fluids are reputable for high mileage, and you don't see it as practical for a 30k change you can push coolant and transmission fluid to 60k; however, due to enviromental conditions such us harsh weather, dust, stop and go traffic, etc. the fluids can have a shorter lifespan then what is claimed by their manufactuer. Any poorly aged fluid can wear on whatever components they are meant to manage and I highly recommend 30k intervals for fluids. I would be more lax on the 2 year interval except for brake fluid. Brake fluid & coolant absorbs water over time so time can not be an exception to be lax on. Pushing even synthetics in the transmission can lead to coogged solenoids which means repairing or replacing the transmission. 4 drain and fills on a transmission after cycling through gears between drains makes for a quality clean without a mechanical flush. It will replace 85% to 95% of fluid in most vehicles.

Spark Plugs:
30k if Copper
60k if Platinum
60 to 90k if Iridium (Recommended 60k due to some Iridium only being 60k rated and some engines may even work iridium down to recommended intervals of 50k)
Always use service manual plugs. Hotter spark, improved this or that is nonsense unless you know how your ecm maps fuel. Changing plugs is for alterations that could affect vehicle life at perfomance gains or losses. It is also done to address engine issues when the engine really just needs to be repaired. The gains for tampering with plugs will be almost nonexistent in modern fuel mapped vehicles.

3 to 5 years for your battery or longer. Check the Cold Cranking Amps, CCAs. When low replace it so not to stress your electrical system or end up stranded. The average battery should read 12.7 volts or more after sitting for a day otherwise it is likely bad. Don't store batteries on the ground.

Sensors degrade. Some mechanics wait for an engine light as their knowledge is limited reactive part replacement. Problem with that is sensors degrade reporting bad data without signaling a total failure. Old O2 sensors not only kill gas mileage but will destroy your catalytic converter and harm your engine. A failed catalytic converter will hurt O2 sensors though it most likely failed due to sensors. Catalytic converters are made for about 150k but can go 300k. Driving with a bad catalytic converter creates engine back pressure blowing out engine gaskets costing car ending prices. Having a bad part can hurt new parts concerning catalytic converters and O2 sensors. 02 sensors SHOULD BE REPLACED 100k.

02 Sensors & Catalytic:
O2 Sensors at 100k
Catalytic at time of Catalytic failure to which 02 highly recommended as well. Catalytic at time of O2 100k if the vehicle mileage is 200k as the Catalytic unit has surpassed the 150k manufacturer average. If you wait for O2 sensors to fail after 100k the catalytic is probably poluted and will likel fail before 150k to 200k even with new O2 sensors.

100k to 150k:
Struts & Shocks Definitely
Start preparing for tie rods, control arms, ball joints, engine mounts, bushings, wheel bearings, etc... to start needing replacement on an as needed basis.(Dependent on where and how hard you drive) Delay to replace worn suspension parts is a safety issue and it wears at other suspension parts.

These may not be broken but manage your fuel. Other parts will either fail out right or give symptoms so they can be replaced as needed. These parts may deteriorate and hurt gas mileage or damage other parts but keep your vehicle moving. Best to be preemptive with these parts.
125k to 175k
Air Intake Sensor
MAF
Coolant Sensor
Thermostat

Remaining:
Check your manual for odd less common maintenance required by some vehicles like an internal engine belt that needs replacing frequently or risk total engine failure. Also things like differential fluid is a need for some vehicles. Some critical sensors, solenoids, and electrical components you might want to consider replacing past 200k just to be safe if you plan to go to 300k or more such as cam or crankshaft sensors, swirl actuators/solenoids, IACV valves, etc...

Over all I believe despite some bad long term fluid recommendations that exist by manufacturers and the more obscure issues that exist that follwing these 'guidelines' will give your vehicle a great deal of life. That is also assuming no poor engineering or planned obsolescence.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thank you so much Acklamay for the amazing reply! I finally had a chance to look at the car today, and I was less than impressed. She asked me to come over and check the car out, as she's been having a hard time getting the car started. One look under the hood, and I had immediate cause for concern. First and foremost, the engine components under the hood look suspiciously clean. I appreciate a clean engine bay just as much as the next guy, but to me, it looked like the dealership had spent a lot of time trying to make the engine look clean. We maintain our cars well at my house, but we still have SOME dirt under the hood. This engine bay looked showroom quality, and the damaged exterior quality of the car certainly doesn't explain why the engine would be this clean. Next, I checked the transmission fluid. While the level looked good, the fluid appeared to be a dark brown color. She mentioned that the transmission sometimes struggles to shift, and I recommended that she have the fluid drained and refilled (no flush).

The other thing that caught my eye under the hood was the low coolant level inside the coolant reserve. I understand that all fluids need to be topped off from time to time, but I found it extremely suspicious that this issue wasn't addressed at the dealership, especially when they supposedly spent so much time and money working on it. I then checked the oil, and noticed a slight (but distinct) milkiness in the oil. The oil looked clean in general, but it certainly doesn't look how fresh oil usually looks in a mechanically sound vehicle.

To make a long story short, I recommended that she seek out a visit with a local mechanic. I believe that this car has the early symptoms of a possible head gasket failure. As I mentioned before, this car had some sort of issue with the thermostat when it was still on the dealership lot. I speculate that the engine overheated at some point, which did damage.

Does it sound like this might be an issue with the head gasket?
If the head gasket is bad, how much money is the ballpark range for having it replaced?
 

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If by some strange chance you are in central Texas I could look your car over. The transmission has a rough shift around 40mph even with clean fluid. A design flaw in comfort but functional. 4 drain and fills when maintained does a lot of good to replace the bulk fluid, but 5 or 6 drain and fills or 4 plus however many it takes to run clean would be ideal.
Trans max import multi vehicle meets all specs for the transmission and power steering to keep life simple. Pull the belts to keep oil off them and run the line from the reservoir to under the car. I put a jar on it and rest it in an oil pan. It can't spray far thanks to the jar. Plug the Power Steering reservoir and fill with clean fluid turning the steering wheel fully left and fully right until the system is purged. Repeat the fully left and fully right once plugged and reconnected to bleed air from the system.


The more important issue. The head gasket is the Achilles heel of the engine even though it is an award winning engine. Proper maintenance and there shouldn't be this problem until past 200k or 300k so I am curious if it is dumb luck for the previous owner or neglect. You cant drive on it without hurting the engine so she needs to park it. The oil won't lubricate properly with coolant and parts of the engine will have hot spots with low coolant. You may need to replace the 2 coolant sensors once this is done as low coolant can damage them($30 total for both). I hate to say it but the dealer sold a lemon it sounds like. I wonder what sort of work they performed.
The good news is I have replaced the head gasket on my car. Depending on your competence and availability of tools a new head gasket while no small task can be worked through. Certain bolts and nuts must be replaced and the head decked by a machinist. ~$80 for the decking/resurface. Head gasket repair is listed at 1k to 2k. A skilled good old boy mechanic may do it for less as long as you trust their competence. The most troublesome part of the head is keeping the timing straight and there are methods for that so we can discuss what that looks like if you think you are competent and brave enough to take the tedious task on.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
If by some strange chance you are in central Texas I could look your car over.
Unfortunately, we live out on the west coast, otherwise I would take you up on your offer! It sounds like a rough shift in the transmission is not overly concerning. I will look into replacing the fluid next time I have a chance to see the car, as it sounds like a fairly straightforward process. As for the head gasket, I certainly did not expect an issue this big to come up this quickly, especially when you consider that the car only has 97,000 miles. I believe that owner neglect is partly the problem. I pulled the Carfax information for this car, and it shows three owners over the course of its lifetime, in close succession right before the car was offered for sale. Carfax reports don't tell the whole story, but I find it pretty concerning that two of the owners were playing a proverbial game of hot potato with it. If I were at the dealership when this deal was brokered, I would definitely want some detailed explanations for what kind of work was performed. The only thing I know for sure is that the thermostat had to be replaced, and from what I've read, that indicates that there could have been overheating issues in the past. That certainly doesn't bode well for the head gasket.

While I know a few things about cars, the head gasket might be a bit much for me to take on. The car is being looked at today by a professional shop, but I fear that the expense is going to be significant. I don't think she has even $1,000 to spend on this repair, and if that is the case, I might try to do the work myself. I highly appreciate your insight. All of your information has been invaluable so far!
 

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No problem. Been through a bit with my car.

Transmission Oil Change (Drain and fill ~3 5/8 out of 7 3/8 done 3x = 86.85% new fluid)
Cycle through all gears when transmissions is hot before each drain. And I assume you know but if not the transmission level should be checked with engine running in park or neutral as the impellar spins the liquid and shows the correct level. If checked when off it will appear overfilled.

The thermostat has a wax ball that regulates opening and closing which can be damaged when an engine is low on coolant or overheats so keep all the old stuff if you do the head work but after a flush or two then the stats and thermostat new. Water pump, just make sure the bearing is even and doesn't grind. Any wiggle l, uneven play, or grinding when turning the spindle which can be felt by hand indicates a bad pump.
Already did all the trial and error on part quality, costs, etc...
 

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No problem. Been through a bit with my car.

Transmission Oil Change (Drain and fill ~3 5/8 out of 7 3/8 done 3x = 86.85% new fluid)
Cycle through all gears when transmissions is hot before each drain. And I assume you know but if not the transmission level should be checked with engine running in park or neutral as the impellar spins the liquid and shows the correct level. If checked when off it will appear overfilled.

The thermostat has a wax ball that regulates opening and closing which can be damaged when an engine is low on coolant or overheats so keep all the old stuff if you do the head work but after a flush or two then the stats and thermostat new. Water pump, just make sure the bearing is even and doesn't grind. Any wiggle l, uneven play, or grinding when turning the spindle which can be felt by hand indicates a bad pump.
Already did all the trial and error on part quality, costs, etc...
Thank you for another helpful reply! I did not know that the transmission level was supposed to be checked with the car running! I will remember that in the future, as I will certainly be checking it more frequently on this car. Just to give you an update: she took the car to the shop, and they ended up doing quite a bit of work on it. The head gasket was not an issue at this time, but they did replace the fuel pump, transmission fluid, among other smaller items on the car. Strangely, they did not put any more coolant in the car, so that will be something I do myself. You mentioned that the thermostat can be damaged with the engine low on coolant, so that will be an immediate priority. As I mentioned before, the thermostat was apparently an issue for the dealership selling this car, and they replaced it shortly before they sold it to her. Perhaps the coolant got low at that point as well, which damaged the thermostat in the process. At this point, I still am not completely convinced that there isn't an issue with the head gasket, as I still find it odd that we would see this much coolant loss in a few weeks of ownership. Additionally, the color of the oil still looked a little off to me. It didn't look gray, like you would expect to see in a car with blown head gasket, but it definitely had some discoloration. All of these side repairs did not come cheap (a bit shy of $2,000), so hopefully my concerns are without basis. Even in my personal car, a 2006 Honda Accord, I've never seen repairs add up this quickly.

Again, I really appreciate you help on these matters. I really like the style and design of these little cars, but they do seem to have their quirks. If nothing else, this whole experience has been a great lesson about cars!
 

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Sounds like the shop did the easy stuff and charged her a crap ton, but who knows without seeing the whole of receipts. Sometimes car work is expensive. Maybe they did a good bit. Maybe insist she not take the car in without running it by you since they already pegged her for a sucker once and there are very easy and cheap things you can do for her. Brake flushes are super easy for example. There is no telling what fluids they used or if they properly flushed it or just did one change which doesnt get all the old fluid out for coolant or transmission. Some shops use 'universal' fluids which is nonsense. I can walk you through a coolant flush, brake flush, etc... If it is Firestone I can tell you everyone I have visited and I travel nationally for work is full of incompetent, overpriced, or lying crooks. Don't really care for a lot of shops
Why don't you PM me if that is possible. I'll see if I can dig up some paperwork for you. Also, if and when I am home if I end up having time off, fingers crossed, and I am not running around for work we can even skype and Ill walk you through my car while you point out your sister in law's stuff if you'd like.

It honestly sounds like the shop cherry picked maintenance while leaving a potentially catastrophic issue, the head gasket. It is wasted money if the head is blown and not fixed.

If you do an oil change, run the engine. Hot oil sucks to deal with but drains better as in sludge will run out with it. Also, water in the oil will mix better, though running coolant tainted oil is catastrophic for the engine so if the oil really does look like chocolate milk then park the car and drain and refill with oil though probably should just park until the head gasket is fixed. Save a jar of whatever oil you drain off. If it didnt mix before draining you may not get a sample with water if it drains before you collect a sample. If the water and oil mixed before draining then sample will have water in it. Let the jar sit and you'll see the oil and coolant/water seperate.
 
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