By on December 29, 2015


2001 nissan maxima. image: nissan

TTAC Commentator Eliyahu writes:


My 2001 Maxima, bought new, just rolled past 100,000 miles. It’s still a good car, but the mechanic says it has a very slight oil leak from the main seal. While not strictly necessary, the pitted original windshield could be replaced, the radio only gets Click and Clack, and the driver’s window motor sounds tired. The engine control module was replaced six months ago. Apart from that, repairs have been limited to motor mounts, suspension components with bushings, shocks, steering rack, and the usual tires and batteries. Oh, and new front brake pads.

I’m mostly fortunate in that I work from home, so I only put 7,000 miles a year on a car. It might be time for something with a few more airbags and a warranty — or at least the airbags. I’m considering midsized sedans and smaller SUVs — Accord, Altima, Camry, CR-V, RAV4, etc. With the Maxima, I am used to easy freeway entry, even if it’s not everyday that I’m on the freeway. It’s nice to be able to get out of the way quickly if I need to. I thought the Accord manual might be good, but white is my first choice color and it’s not available. The Altima is okay, but has a not-so-good repair rating with Consumer Reports. And the more electronics, the worse the reliability.

The Camry design just doesn’t flow nicely like the Accord, and will likely look dated faster. Almost everything is pretending to be a coupe these days, with the blind spots to prove it. That’s true of all the small SUVs too, except the Forester. I might like that with the turbo, but really didn’t want to drop $35,000 on a car.

Let me know your suggestions or if you need more info.

Sajeev answers:

Your train of thought is how I wound up daily driving a Ranger once my old Lincoln lost that, uh, right. Except I added new car demands like no DLO FAIL, big sidewall tires, plenty of cargo space, fuel efficiency, aftermarket shock options, etc. Somehow, that turned into what I bought.

Here’s my point: We all compromise, no matter how much the new design offends our nature. Progress is still a good thing, even if the greenhouse’s blind spots are shamefully large.

And here’s the advice: Test drive a whole lotta potential matches. Cast a wide net and plant your butt in ’em all. With the number of concerns floating around in your mind, nobody can fit in your shoes.

But since I’m obligated to crystal ball this stuff, my gut says a V-6 Altima — even with the CVT — is your ideal replacement. It’s got the right engine for a Maxima fan, that’s for sure. The size isn’t too far off from your current, true love. However, is it less reliable than a Camry outside of a Harvey Ball analysis?

That’s when I punt and hope the Best and Brightest runs it home.

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48 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Nissan Maximum Replacement?...”

  • avatar

    I know you don’t want to hear this, but that’s hardly a long or terribly expensive list of repairs on the Max, okay the rear main seal will sting a bit in terms of labor. Unless you live in a northern climate where rust is an issue, that maxima is a spring chicken at 100k miles. Do the needed repairs, put in a nice aftermarket stereo and speakers, and treat it to a full inside/out detailing. You may just fall back in love!

    Aside from that, I’d argue even 4cyl midsizers now will really move out just fine, but thankfully you can still get a six cylinder in an accord, Camry, altimax, and Passat. Maybe even try out a couple year old azera?

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like the RMS repair runs about $1000 at the dealer, almost all of it being labor to drop the transmission. Bear in mind, book time is only about 4 hours so I’d hunt around for an indie guy to do it a lot cheaper. If the rest of the car is in good shape (by the sound of the work you’ve recently had done it is) then I’d argue it’s worth it. If you’re just tired of the same old-same old and want to try something new well then that’s perfectly understandable as well.

      • 0 avatar

        This Maxima sounds like it has been taken care of and would be an easy sale on Craigslist. Let it go.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know that he’ll be pleased with a new Altima after owning a Maxima for so long. Of course the new Maxima is nowhere near as good as the one he’s got currently, which was worse than the 95-98, and so on.

        If those repair bills bothered him, Sajeev is out of his mind recommending any VW.

        V6 Accord FTW. Plenty of power, actual automatic with gears, will age well under current design, looks nice, same relative size as car it’s replacing, $~30,000 or a little less.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’m inclined to agree. He’s already replaced some important wear items, now shove in that aftermarket stereo, get out the shopvac, carpet shampoo, and detailing brush, budget for the main seal, and enjoy your debt-free 220 hp. And watch cross traffic when setting off through intersections; that is more important than the missing side airbags.

      Eliyahu comes off as frugal and practical and not really all that interested in a new car. I can’t help but think that it would be a more satisfying use of money to address the Maxima’s issues than going into debt for a plain jane 4-cylinder family sedan that sees only 7000 miles per year.

      Besides, this Maxima got 2nd place in Baruth’s article comparing all the generations.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. It’s paid for and the maintenance you’re looking at is CHEAP compared to new-car payments. You are in the nirvana of depreciated luxury! Enjoy your Maxima. Spend the money you would be paying in new-car payments on pimping your ride. Big stereo, lightweight rims and racing rubber, autocross entry fees, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        “new-car payments on pimping your ride. Big stereo, lightweight rims and racing rubber, autocross entry fees, etc.”

        Not really the sort of person he is, clearly. Not to mention those suggestions are A) bad for a daily driver and B) ridiculous for an old Maxima.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. New stereo, replace the windshield, do the RMS when you can’t stand the leaks, and maybe new suspension bushings and other suspension upgrades. Add a full detail, and you’re looking at less than three grand to put that car in great shape for the next 100k. The best part? You can parcel it out over time so that it costs the equivalent of a few car payments.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    For someone who puts on so few miles, a warranty won’t really be necessary. I’d say with this scenario a slightly undesirable combination of options on a low mile used car would be ideal. Something like a 2014 Accord manual – the 4 cylinder is plenty stout to merge onto the highway. And my opinion is that that generation Accord looks way more expensive than it is.

    Or if you are concerned about value retention, buy a new Tacoma. It’s like putting money in the bank.

  • avatar

    The recently refreshed 2016 Accord is available in sport trim, with the 6speed, now in white.

    I think the refresh is aesthetically less pleasing than the previous version, but as a whole, that is still where my midsize sedan money would go.

  • avatar

    With the miles this guy drives, he doesn’t need a brand new car. My vote would be a slight used 2014 Kia Cadenza. You can get a loaded one with the 3.3L V6, a regular 6 speed tranny, navigation, panoramic roof etc in the $25-28k range, and it doesn’t have the coupe roofline ruining the visibility. AND he can get the Kia CPO warranty and have the powertrain covered to 10 years/100k miles.

  • avatar

    I would also look at a used Avalon. Anvil reliability, strong V6, plenty of room, etc. I am biased because I have a 2015, but I also liked the pre-2013 design, which arguably rode better and had a bigger greenhouse.

    Accord Sport with manual is another good choice. Lot of car for the money.

  • avatar

    Wow that seems like an awful lot of stuff that has needed replacing in so few miles. My 2000 3800 Impala only needed a battery, alternator, greased intermediate steering shaft to the tune of $50.00 plus the usual tires/brakes and filter changes and that car had 172K miles before I traded up for the 2008 which went 120K with only a battery and alternator swap. Judging by what others have had issues with in there Nissans I would consider another brand.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Can you even tell if the shocks and steering rack are gone in a 2000 Impala?

      • 0 avatar

        It’s amazing what happened when new shocks and a steering box were installed on a ’72 Continental Mark IV (30+ years old, 100,000 miles on it) so I’m guessing yes.

        Not that I don’t enjoy the punchline, as I used to make jokes about all American cars being soft and lifeless…but that all changed once I actually returned one to like new condition.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      He has held onto his car twice as long as you did, so some stuff will fail out due to age. This was also the era when Nissan just about went bankrupt and was bought out by Renault, so there was some cost-cutting in the parts. The car was designed before the fit hit the shan, though, so it still looks and feels nice.

  • avatar

    Whatever you decide to buy, stay away from the dealership in Beachwood!

  • avatar

    100K on a Maxima, even a 15 year old one, is just getting started. Getting rid of it at this point can’t be rationalized, nor can buying a brand new car to be driven 7,000 miles. If you have a new car itch, I would look into leasing. Your mileage requirements make it very worthwhile. You can even keep the Maxima and get something really fun.

    Or you can put the money you would spend on all that back into the Maxima. New stereo and some chassis/engine upgrades will make it feel like new, if that’s your kind of thing. Getting rid of a nice running low mileage car with another ~50-100K of stress free life in its engine is just not a good idea IMO.

  • avatar

    I just went through this a few years ago and was set on an Accord Sport with a manual transmission.

    I know everyone loves these, but if you’re used to the VQ, this Accord is going to feel slow. Yes, it does 0-60 in 6.6 seconds per Car and Driver, but it doesn’t FEEL that fast because you really need to wring it out, and when you wring it out, it sounds like a 4 cylinder (I guess cause it is).

    Altima V6 doesn’t do well in reliability ratings, that, and CVT.

    Accord V6 has had issues with VCM and oil consumption.

    I’m biased, but I say Avalon or Camry V6 and here’s why:

    -Proven port injected V6 without VCM

    -Proven conventional 6 sp auto

    -Engine sounds good and pulls hard all the way to redline

    -14 second quarter mile @ 100 mph (Camry) while capable of 30+ mpg on the highway

    • 0 avatar

      > -14 second quarter mile @ 100 mph (Camry) while capable of 30+ mpg on the highway

      And usually an elderly, clueless driver behind the wheel (based on many years of observation). God help you if you’re driving in Florida on the same road with said individuals…

      • 0 avatar

        Well, if they have a Camry V6, they’re not totally clueless as they did pick the midsize with the best powertrain available in it’s class. ;)

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve noticed this as well, most often it is a 6th generation (07-11) LE V6 in beige or that sage green color, or with the 7th gens a XLE V6 in baby blue, doodling down the road. I guess they went to the dealer and insisted on the six cylinder just because, never mind that the 4 cylinder gets the car up to speed plenty quick. I have my gf’s ’12 SE 2.5 today as a commuter as I was getting the wheels rotated, and I never have to give more than half throttle getting onto the freeway, the car accelerates without going much past 3000 rpm, and I’m at 60 mph before I know it. The transmission is paired excellently btw, it’s my favorite 6 speed automatic that I’ve tried so far.

          • 0 avatar

            My almost 70 year old dad is one who goes to the dealership and insists on the 6 cylinder.

            It’s not even really about the power for him. He spent a lot of his prime driving years in cars with relatively big engines with big lazy torque, able to quietly, effortlessly glide onto the freeway.

            A Camry or Avalon V6 does this better than the 4 cylinders midsize that buzzes through the gears onto the freeway. The V6 can basically idle itself onto the freeway.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Yes, my favorite bit of rolling irony is the 2007 Camry V6 LE in sky blue. Doesn’t matter who’s behind the wheel, they are always slow in that color. Rarely is an engine so incongruous with the style, chassis, and driver of the car it is bolted to.

            I won’t scoff at the newer SE and XSE with this engine, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Couldn’t agree more on the 4 cylinder Accord. What a dog; you would definitely miss the effortless power from the Maxima. Toyota has historically had Honda beat on the 6 cylinder automatics… I need several more years of evidence before changing this opinion. That being said, the Camry is uglier both inside and out than the Accord (this gen and the last), but usually has it beat on NVH. I wouldn’t even consider an Altima unless you’re looking to save money- those interiors are atrocious.

      My money would be spent on a CPO Lexus ES350 over brand new v6 Accord or Camry.

    • 0 avatar

      Latest-generation Accord V6s are just fine in terms of VCM and oil-consumption — it was the 8th-Gens (2008-2012) which were bad.

      My 2013 is at the dealer now for a in-and-out detail, couple touch-ups (better than I could myself) and a little PDR on the front fender from my nudging a mailbox. They sent me home in a 2015 Accord V6 Sedan, and I could feel an improvement in the VCM “feel” between it and my car. It all likely depends on the pliability of the active motor-mount bushings in the particular car. (Also much improved in the noise made by the airbag clockspring when turning the wheel, which has been a problem in these cars; my dealer is going to see if their Zone Rep. can give them some tips, as they’ve replaced my reel already without stopping the noise, particularly in warmer weather.)

      As was mentioned in these pages back in July, better grab a Camry V6 while you can, as Toyota is throwing that awesome engine out with the bathwater in favor of a gerbil-wheeled four for its next generation. (Hopefully they don’t make that mistake in the Avalon!)

  • avatar

    Good comments on the boards.

    The person drives ~7k/year and the Maxima is relatively taken well care of and he’s debt free. With that low mileage, he doesn’t ‘need’ a newer car.

    The driver didn’t mention where he lived. If he was in the northern region, rust plays a major role. Doesn’t sound like he had rust issues but wear and tear issues considering that it’s a 2001 Maxima.

    IMHO, the driver should keep the car a little longer until the repairs costs increase.

    He gets the oil leak fixed.
    The windshield replacement may be covered by his auto insurance, which may or may not have a deductible as some don’t!
    Then also consider getting a stereo upgrade.

    Once the repairs start to increase and get costly (~>$1k-2k/year), then it’s probably time to consider a newer vehicle as the repair costs would be considered a down payment towards that newer vehicle.

    Consumer Reports shouldn’t necessarily be taken as the only source when reviewing a vehicle (or other products). The organization nitpicks the littlest thing that has Nothing to do with some areas like the mechanics and handling but the overall rating is reduced because of that!

    Also, some consumers have bought products that CR recommended only to find that the product stinks! It really depends on that particular product and the consumer!

    • 0 avatar

      RE: CR.

      Exhibit A: They always thought the MkIV Jettas and B5 Passats were head-and-shoulders over the Camry — until the Ratings came in!

      Exhibit B: The 2013 Accord V6 initially received (and may still have) a big black dot for “predicted reliability,” as well as a “Not Recommended” stamp, not because of mechanical issues severe enough to “ground” the car or compromise safety, but because the INFOTAINMENT UNIT’S software was initially buggy! (And try as they might, they STILL can’t make every feature of every phone work with the software EVERY time — there’s too many variables! I’m with the “give us an integrated nav if we want it (and Honda’s gone to Garmin-based software beginning in 2016), plus an interface which will mirror any smartphone’s screen to the dash screen, and use the buttons on the wheel (or the touch-screen) to work things” folks!

  • avatar

    I just went thru this more or less and like Sajeev says, test drive a bunch of cars to see which one you will prefer. I don’t agree you need a V6 as four cylinders nowadays pack quite the punch and will more than get the job done. I went the CPO route but if I had to do it again, I would probably do a private deal. I see alot of folks that turn cars loose with under 10k on the odo for thousands off new. And the CVT? I would not fear it. We’ve had three with 0 problems but.. I will say the Nissan CVT seems dialed in better than other OEMs. Flame away, but I have lived with them and this has been my experience thus far. And fuel economy- you have many choices that will average in the high 20s easily. Fuel will go up again at some point. It’s inevitable.

    Good luck

  • avatar

    Unless you’re craving a new car for the sake of it, this one may be worth fixing.

    Ask yourself how you would feel about keeping the car if you gave it a detail and new head unit, with a plan to replace the windshield at some later time. The rear seal can probably wait.

  • avatar

    Any rational individual would keep the Maxima, fix the repairs, and avoid a car payment…along with higher insurance. That’s the REAL answer. Unless of course, the real dilemma is simply being bored with the thing.
    Personally, I like the upcoming Civic…but that’s just me…and ONLY if you truly have no desire to invest, and keep the basically reliable Maxima.

    • 0 avatar

      To everyone who says keep it , the op did say a couple of more airbags would be nice and cleaning it up will not add airbags so I think to be fair you gotta factor that in, something CPO works for this guy.

    • 0 avatar

      A newer car won’t always result in higher insurance. My newest car is actually the cheapest of my three (2013, 2008, 1995) to insure.

  • avatar
    C P

    I wouldn’t call all he’s had to do up to this point ‘reliable’. It’s not even in the good range. Motor mounts? Have 207k mile Camry that’s needed none of this. Routine stuff only Dump it for a used Toyota.

  • avatar

    The financially rational route: Replace the main seal, plug in the antenna cable (which is likely disconnected), replace the window motor, and keep on motoring.

    The new-car-itch route (which I totally understand — I’ve never kept a car longer than 7 years): Accord V6. You like the design and the visibility, the J35 will definitely satisfy the wish for power, and the automatic is a good one.

  • avatar

    #1. Do not listen to anyone who recommends a Subaru or VW/Audi product, you would be downgrading in both reliability & durability. It is easy to recommend junk when it isn’t your own hard earned money being spent.

    #2. Nissan’s CVT is HORRENDOUS, test drive one for yourself & you be the judge.

    #3. If your chain and chain guides are not rattling, if there is no coolant/oil mixture, if there is little oil consumption, KEEP YOUR MAXIMA!!!

    #4. Slight RMS leak? Try some Valvoline Maxlife 10w-30 synthetic blend. 7k miles on a VQ engine; I would drain it twice per year. You don’t like Valvoline? Look for Pennzoil High Mileage it is a bronze colored bottle. I’ve seen impressive results first hand.

    #5. As Gtem and Sporty stated, she has plenty of life left, I’d suspect at least another 100k miles of low maintenance.

  • avatar

    The answer is CPO Lexus ES. No CVT, nice interior, a small step up for your self-esteem. Good resale value.

  • avatar

    My vote would be keep the Maxima if the concern is upcoming repair costs. The list looks very cheap to me and the car is worth almost nothing on the used market.

    I personally would ignore the rear main seal leak unless it was really bad. If we’re talking a few drops per month on the garage floor, most cars easily burn more than anyway between oil changes. To drop a grand on a new seal for a $2,500 car so it doesn’t leak a penny’s worth of oil?

    If you’re bored with the car though, that’s a whole different matter.

  • avatar

    Try the Camry SE? 2014 can be a deal.

  • avatar

    I have a 2000 I30, which I generally characterize as “a Maxima in a prom dress.” Just over 160k right now.

    These motor mounts are goofy: they’re electrified, and the ECM tells them to stiffen up or back off depending on recent engine speed. And they cost about twice as much as normal mounts. According to legend, if they fry, they take the ECM with it. So I wrote the check for new ones.

    That said, apart from a couple of tinworm outcroppings at the top of the rear wheel wells, it still looks tolerably nice, the stereo still works, and it went 900 miles in a week on bad front wheel bearings (since replaced). I have enough faith in this buggy to continue to budget about $1000 a year on maintenance and repairs. (Been less than half that this year for some reason.) I mean, what could replace it for $83 a month?

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