By John Goreham
Updated June 2, 2020, originally written July 13, 2016
The Nissan Altima has long been a good alternative to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Available with a V6, and also as a coupe, used Altimas can be frugal or fast, fancy or frill-free. Like all used cars, the Altima has some trouble-free years and some to watch out for. Let’s sort out which years are which.
First the good news. According to available data, the Altima is generally a very reliable used car. That said, you want to be sure to avoid two years of the used Nissan Altima.
The first is 2009. Altimas of that year suffered from a steering wheel lock issue that left many owners stranded. Rachel M. of Indianapolis, IN, said “I got stranded this past Friday! The car wouldn't start, and the ECSL light was on. I tried shaking the crap out of the steering wheel (as explained on YouTube) and hitting the steering column. None of which worked! I refused to risk cosmetic damage attempting to remove the panel underneath the steering wheel to access the ECSL as may YouTubers advised.” Rachel's comment was posted just last month, so this issue is far from resolved.
GailPollard21, of Ontario, Canada’s 2009 Altima story tugged at our heart strings. She told CarComplaints.com in August:
Last long weekend of the summer, car is packed ready to head to the cottage kids are so excited so am I, first weekend off in a while. Go to start the car, and nothing...you have to be kidding me right now I said to myself. I did not want the kids to know just in case I got it started but after a few minutes, nothing. I called for a tow truck thank good for CAA but not so lucky at the dealership. I had to fork out money that I could not afford. I had budgeted for the weekend, and this was an extra cost that I could not afford. The dealership told me the problem, got it started and said it would happen again. They would order the part which would cost $700.00 that does not include labour which is $89.00 an hour. I already work two jobs to get by and with no car, I cannot work. I need a car to work and support my family.
One would assume, with such a widely known and reported problem Nissan would be taking care of these customers, but many of the complaints tell a similar tale.
The second used Nissan Altima year to avoid is 2013. Surprise, surprise, a problematic first-year car of a new generation. The biggest issue is with the constantly variable transmission. These reports are not from owners unfamiliar with the feel of a CVT--Nissan has been using CVTs since 2007 in the Altima. Rather, these are transmission failures that happen at an average age of 36,000 miles.
Angel D., of Duluth, MN wrote, “I have had this POS car for less than a year, and this will be the THIRD CVT tranny that I have had to replace in the last 12 months. I am so upset and now, of course, I am 4000 miles past my warranty, and now they will not replace it! I understand that I am outside of my warranty but on my gosh. I shouldn't have to pay out of pocket for this when I just had it fixed less than six months ago!” Three transmissions in just 45K miles. Ouch.
So what years of the used Altima have very low rates of complaints? 2011 and 2012 seem to be the best. A good condition used Altima from those years runs about $10K to $12K according to BestRide. Other years to consider might be the 2007and 2004 models if one is looking for a well-worn car at a low price.
The Altima has much going for it. Good looks, excellent fuel economy in the 4-cylinder models, and the option of a coupe body style are just some of what makes it a standout in its segment. Just be sure you choose wisely and pick a year with low rates of complaints.