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Until very recently I considered myself to be a proud Nissan product owner. I purchased a used 2004 Nissan Ultima 3.5L in 2009. I was very happy with the performance of the vehicle and so secure in my belief that Nissan was a quality product provider that I handed the vehicle over to my daughter to drive while she was away at college. No person would ever allow their child (especially their daughter) to drive any vehicle unless they were comfortable with the knowledge that the vehicle was safe and sound. In March of this year "safe and sound" became a variable that was no longer part of the equation.
In March 2015, my daughter called to inform me that the oil light had come on in the vehicle. Which was strange because that light had never come on in the vehicle prior to that day. I also noticed that there was now a rattle coming from the engine. I decided to take the vehicle to a trusted local service provider who gives free diagnostics prior to repairs so I would not be out of any money in order ascertain the problem. Free diagnostics is nice, but I believe it is probably less thorough than the alternative. The service provider diagnosed the issue as a problem with the oil pump that caused damage to the rods and bearings and stated the engine would need to be replaced. They also listed a few other options like perhaps a plugged intake on the oil pan as something that may be preventing oil from getting to the pump. While I appreciated this diagnostic, the price for the suggested repairs forced me to get a more detailed and more accurate breakdown of the problem. Naturally, I turned to Nissan. Who better to determine what was wrong with the product than the people who built the product? I knew this would cost more, but if I had to pay for the repairs I needed confirmation.
So, I took the vehicle to AutoNation Nissan 104 in Denver. I explained the issues and told them that I was interested in confirming the diagnostics I received from my service provider so that I could make an educated decision regarding the repairs. AutoNation Nissan 104 provided the same basic diagnostics. Car may need a new Oil Pump but the cost was extreme ($2500) for a new oil pump so they suggested a better repair would be to purchase a new engine. Obviously not the best diagnosis for a car owner. Either way I was going to be spending a lot of money. So I decided to wait.
I am a self-employed graphic designer. My income is not always consistent. I was hoping I could save enough money to then purchase a used Nissan engine to drop into the vehicle to at least get a few more years of life. After all, the rest of the car is in great shape. The Altima sat in my driveway – unused - for 2 months until I was able to save enough for the repair. I arranged to meet with another local service provider to have the vehicle inspected prior to ordering the used engine. After starting the vehicle and driving it to the service provider, I noticed the rattle in the engine was no longer present. the Oil light was still one but the car sounded as if It no longer had the same issues. This was puzzling.
I asked the service provider to take one more look at the vehicle before we went to such a large expense just to be certain the car was in fact in need of a new engine. This time, the service provider actually looked inside instead of just running tests and reading codes. He dropped the lower oil pan in order to make sure the intake was not clogged. Low-and-behold, he found the intake was plugged with small plastic pieces that he believed had broken off of the Timing chain guides/tensioners, fallen into the oil pan, and eventually plugged the intake. He removed the plastic pieces and the car once again ran great. Problem solved … right? Wrong.
Flash-forward to October 2015, my daughter was driving to work when her vehicle suddenly stopped working completely. Luckily she was in a parking lot and not going very fast. No accident occurred. She was a bit rattled to be certain. The vehicle started back up after a few minutes. We were able to drive it to a mechanic in the town she lives in. The local mechanic said she needed a Cam Shaft Position sensor. This was good news - a fairly minor repair. Car was back on the road and running again ... Until December.
Again, my daughter was driving the car. This time while she was home for the holiday, late at night and on a side-road. Again, the car died completely. Same issue as before. No accident. No one got hurt (thankfully). This time, the Service Engine Soon (SES) light came on after the car stalled. We were able to get the car to another service provider (Midas) and believed that the issue was probably the same … a cam-shaft position sensor failure. Indeed, the folks at Midas said the other cam sensor had failed (there are two) and that it too needed to be replaced. But (and this is a big but) they also stated that diagnostics (which I paid $150 for) showed that there was a bigger issue - an issue with the timing chain. This issue would not allow the cam sensors to align properly and the vehicle would always have the SES light on until the timing chain was replaced.
They pointed out that this was an issue common to the Altima and that the tensioners were prone to break apart and required costly repairs. They estimated the repair to cost $2250. This is when I decided to do some investigating.
It takes about 5 seconds on Google to find out about Nissan's secret. Just Google "Nissan Altima" and "timing chain". Page upon page of blogs and web sites for law firms that outline class action lawsuits, Nissan service bulletins, and thousands of angry consumers. It was really quite educational and timely as well. The lawsuits address the exact same issues I am having with my vehicle. And, state:
This is a consumer class action concerning a breach of warranty and an intentional failure to disclose material facts and a safety concern to consumers. Secondary timing chains, secondary timing chain tensioners and secondary timing chain tensioner shoes (“Timing Chain Systems”) installed in 2004 -2008 Nissan Maxima vehicles, 2004 – 2009 Nissan Quest vehicles, 2004 – 2006 Nissan Altima vehicles (with the VQ35 engine), 2005 – 2007 Nissan Pathfinder vehicles, 2005 – 2007 Nissan Xterra vehicles, and 2005 – 2007 Nissan Frontier vehicles (with the VQ40 engine) (collectively, “Subject Nissan Vehicles”), which were designed, manufactured, imported, distributed, marketed, and maintained, upon information and belief, by Nissan North America, Inc. and Nissan Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha d/b/a Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (collectively, “Nissan” or “Defendants”), were prone to premature failure and could not be reasonably repaired. Nissan’s breach of warranty and failure to disclose material facts presents a safety concern to consumers, and has caused consumers to suffer significant monetary damages.
Sounded very familiar to me. Upon further inspection I was also able to download a service bulletin from Nissan (you) to licensed Nissan service providers sent in December of 2009. Details of the bulletin are as follows:
Classification: EM07-001c Reference: NTB07-042c Date: December 14, 2009
MAXIMA / ALTIMA / QUEST;
BUZZING / WHINING NOISE FROM TIMING CHAIN AREA
This bulletin has been amended. PARTS INFORMATION, CLAIMS INFORMATION, and SERVICE
PROCEDURE have been updated. Discard all previous versions of this bulletin.
APPLIED VEHICLES: 2004-2008 Maxima (A34)
2004-2006 Altima (L31) with VQ35 engine ONLY
2004-2009 Quest (V42)
Armed with this knowledge I called AutoNation Nissan 104 to get a cost estimate to repair the timing chain. I was quoted (via phone) a cost of $2100 (replace chains, tensioners, etc…). I informed them of the information I had found online regarding the defective timing chain components. They suggested I call Nissan Consumer Affairs. They provided the 1-800 number, and I made the call.
I spoke with a representative of NISSAN named Daniel. A very nice young man. Very detail focused and attentive. He understood the issue quickly, but, could not discuss it with me further until I obtained a diagnosis to confirm the issue from a licensed Nissan service provider. Midas was not a licensed Nissan Service provider. This is when I took the vehicle – once again – to AutoNation Nissan 104 for diagnostics.
On January 4, 2016, AutoNation Nissan 104 confirmed the issue with the timing and also provided a litany of other service options that may be necessary. I asked why so many possible solutions and was told that they would rather provide me with a "worse-case scenario" so that there would be no surprises if the costs were more than expected. So, now I had the diagnosis I needed to get Nissan Consumer Affairs the information they needed (from a licensed Nissan service provider) in order to determine how and if they could provide assistance.
On January 5, 2016, I called Daniel at Nissan Consumer Affairs again. He politely took my information and told me that someone would be calling me from Nissan within one business day to provide more information. 3 hours later I received a call from Nissan North America.
The call came from Sarah in Franklin, TN. I was impressed with how quickly she had gotten back to me. I informed her of the issue as it pertained to me. She informed me that she had contacted AutoNation Nissan 104 to get the details of the diagnostics. After a polite conversation (mostly her listening to me vent), Sarah informed me that due to the fact that I had not serviced the vehicle at licensed Nissan facilities while I owned it, she was not able to obtain the service records for the car and therefore was not able to ascertain if I (the owner) had serviced the vehicle correctly (just a little bit insulting). Without this knowledge, she/Nissan was not able to provide any financial assistance for out of warranty repairs. This is where the phone call went south.
As a consumer we cannot be expected to use only Nissan service providers on our vehicles for minor services and repairs for the duration of ownership. It is not practical or convenient. Nissan dealers are the most expensive for all of the above. Every consumer knows this. It is for this reason alone that Grease Monkey and Jiffy Lube exist. Of course my warranty is expired. The car is over 10 years old. I purchased it used. There was no warranty option. Regardless, this is not an issue of warranty or shoddy service. This is clearly and issue of Nissan failing to disclose information about defects they knew existed in their products. Defects that put their customers and their customers' financial well-being in jeopardy.
I informed Sarah that I was disappointed in her decision. I told her that I was a loyal Nissan consumer and that I was giving Nissan an opportunity to "do the right thing". I explained to Sarah that it was obvious from the lawsuits and the service bulletins that Nissan was aware of the problem as early as 2009 (that was the earliest written documentation I could find). Sarah said she was not able to discuss the lawsuits and the bulletins as they did not pertain to my case. How could they not pertain to my case – for all intense purposes they were my case?
Quite clearly Nissan knew of the issue long ago. Quite clearly Nissan provided all the necessary information to their service providers in order to address the issue if a customer brought it to their attention. And quite clearly Nissan did not go far enough to fix the problem. I am not the only consumer who knows this. Currently the class-action lawsuit includes all current and former Nissan owners and lessees who reside in New York, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey (and I believe California). However, it's possible the lawsuit could be expanded to include Nissan owners in other states. Colorado is one of those states.
I would like nothing more than for Nissan to come back to me and say "Yes, we will help you with the cost of this repair. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you and your family and we are grateful that no person was hurt due to this problem".
I am not a rich man. I cannot afford repairs of this magnitude. I want to be a loyal supportive consumer of the Nissan Brand. I truly do. I am not requesting too much here. I am not a litigious person by nature. In fact I hate that consumers always have to settle it in court. I just strongly believe that I should not have to pay for THEIR defects.
- Michael W.,
Thornton, CO, USA