Best and worst Nissan Altima years — which to avoid
Our guide maps out the smooth cruisers and the bumpy rides. We've gone beyond the usual reviews, pulling together this list of the best and worst Nisan Altima years. By examining a blend of performance data, reliability scores, and real-world owner feedback, we offer an expanded view to help you navigate the highs and lows of the Altima lineup.
The Nissan Altima is a mid-size economy sedan with outstanding gas efficiency and strong safety ratings for the most part, but issues that affected certain model years might make your buying decision harder. It takes some knowledge and skill to go around those years and doing that will almost guarantee that your Altima serves you for years.
So, our team of automotive experts decided to cover it all – we’ve outlined the reliability issues through the list of the best yearst to buy and worst Nissan Altima years to avoid. Our ultimate guide will fill you in on the details that we obtained by following official NHTSA reliability statements and first-hand driver reviews and experiences, so let’s get right into it.
Why you can trust REREV’s advice on which car model years to avoid: Our car experts look at official data, ask real drivers what they think, and talk to experienced mechanics to make sure our list is useful. This reliable info can make buying a car easier for you. Want to know how we do it? Find out more about our research methodology.
How we rated the best and worst Nissan Altima years
While making this guide, our team mostly referred to data on trusted websites and pages of driving safety organizations like NHTSA and IIHS. However, we also compared those numbers with a lot of other sources including driver-initiated ratings for the specific model years.
For that, we used reputable platforms like Edmunds, Cars.com, Consumer Reports, and Kelley Blue Book. We also wanted to give you a tour through the driving experience and the real problems that plagued the car as we explored the Nissan Altima forum ratings, and here’s what we got out of all that:
|Nissan Altima Generation
|Best Nissan Altima Years
|Worst Nissan Altima Years
|2002, 2003, 2005, 2006
|2019, 2020, 2021, 2022
Most common Nissan Altima problems
Even though the Nissan Altima has been rated as one of the most dependable mid-size cars for many years, some pretty bad years had plenty of issues. We wanted to give you a complete guide on those as we went through the common issues and Nissan Altima recalls to ensure you have a better understanding of the worst problems.
1. Transmission problems
Many Nissan Altima owners have complained about transmission problems, claiming that the CVT slows down the throttle and causes shuddering or jerking while speeding up. In some cases, the transmission of the Altima completely failed.
Some transmission parts may need to be replaced if the transmission is damaged. In the worst-case scenario, you may have to replace the transmission entirely. In this case, it’s not surprising that the CVT transmission problems lead to a complete transmission rebuild.
2. Engine issues
Nissan Altimas with the 3.5-liter V6 engine frequently leak oil from the cooler o-ring. If the leak persists, the engine will begin to make strange noises as the oil pressure level drops. It’s just one of the many engine issues that this car had, mostly through its second and third generations.
You may need to replace the o-ring or the entire oil cooler, depending on the severity of the leak. Use extreme caution when removing or replacing the oil filter to avoid damaging the cooler’s seal.
Engine stalling was also pretty common, as well as having cooling issues if you go for one of the worst-rated model years, so we suggest you get a newer one than 2008 to avoid those.
3. Faulty fuel pump
Early on, fuel pumps on Nissan Altimas have been noted to have issues. They noticed some warning indicators, including trouble starting the engine, severe vibrations, and stalling while moving slowly.
Nissan announced a recall to replace the fuel pump in the affected vehicles for the model years 1991 and 1993 of the Altima and those from 2001 to 2015. During the latter period, drivers have complained about the signs of a bad fuel pump relay, and the faulty relay often led to a stalling pump.
Additionally, some 2019 models have been recalled due to a fuel pump retention clip that needed to be properly latched. This clip connects the high-pressure fuel pump with a low-pressure fuel hose. If left unlocked, it could result in fuel leakage, engine stalling, and an elevated fire risk.
4. Catalytic converter failure
The Nissan Altima’s catalytic converter cleans the exhaust gasses from the engine before releasing them into the environment. The dashboard’s check engine light will alert the driver if the catalytic converter stops functioning properly.
It is essential to swap out a damaged catalytic converter as soon as possible. Otherwise, the catalyst’s components can be dragged into the engine and damage its internal components, costing you another pricey repair.
Worst Nissan Altima years to avoid
Sadly for such a great daily commuter, there are some model years of the Altima that simply aren’t worth the drag and frequent trips to a mechanic. So, based on our research, here’s a list of the worst Nissan Altima years to avoid:
We’ll also explain why those model years are the worst-rated in more detail below as we give you some pointers and explain their main issues.
Third-generation Altima (2002, 2003 and 2005 model years)
The Nissan Altima’s problems began with the 2002 model, which became notorious for engine problems. These problems were attributed to the engines using too much oil.
The engine in a 2002 Nissan Altima would need to be replaced after 97,000 miles on average. Unfortunately, Nissan Altima owners will have to pay more than $3,300 on average for this repair.
Given this, it is not surprising that the 2002 Nissan Altima received a high number of complaints, the vast majority of which were engine-related.
The 2005 Nissan Altima was released three years later, but Nissan’s problems persisted. The 2005 Nissan Altima has received a high number of complaints. However, compared to the 2002 Nissan Altima, the range of complaints had expanded.
The 2005 is one of the worst-rated models out there along with 2009 Altima, and it’s mostly due to engine issues and even some transmission problems along with body and paint chipping.
Fourth-generation Altima (2009 model year)
Nissan corrected many issues that plagued the 2002 and 2005 models with the 2009 Nissan Altima model. However, a new problem emerged. The car’s inability to start was the most severe issue, which was traced back to a faulty electronic steering column lock (otherwise referred to as ESCL).
The good news for Nissan Altima owners was that Nissan dealers were eager to replace the ESCL, which was causing the problems. The bad news is that Nissan would charge customers who purchased a 2009 Nissan Altima $1,000.
Other issues with the 2009 Nissan Altima included transmission problems and accessory problems. The most common complaint, however, was the car’s inability to start.
Fifth-generation Altima (2013-2014 model years)
The fifth generation of Nissan Altima cars debuted in the 2013 model year. Nissan, regrettably, had to deal with the same issues in a new era. Yes, those issues with the engines were still present.
The 2013 Nissan Altima’s most significant problems were transmission-related. The usual transmission replacement interval is between 150,000 and 200,000 miles; thus, many Altima owners would have to replace theirs after only 55,000 miles. The average cost of a new transmission for these unfortunate owners would be nearly $3,000.
As you can expect, there were many complaints about the 2013 Nissan Altima, with transmission issues being the main one.
The 2014 Nissan Altima was unrefined but not as awful as the 2013 version. Although it had solved many of the issues with the 2013 model, the 2014 Nissan Altima had a lot of concerns too.
In essence, the 2014 Nissan Altima carried on the 2013 model’s tradition of having a terrible transmission. Whining and vibration were still frequent, as well as the possibility that it may finally stop functioning altogether.
What are the best Nissan Altima years to buy?
Since its introduction to the market in 1993, the Nissan Altima has been a dependable and reasonably priced mid-size car. Although it has undergone numerous redesigns throughout the years, families and commuters continue to favor the Altima. So, what are the best Nissan Altima years? The best Nissan Altima years are 1999, 2018, and 2020, but here’s a full list:
We’ll also discuss the 1999 and 2018 as some of the best possible picks for both the old-school and a new-gen Altima so you’ll have an option to choose from regardless of your preference.
1999 Nissan Altima
The 1999 Altima might be a bit outdated these days, but it’s a perfect option for those looking for very affordable and dependable commuter car. It’s so reliable since it didn’t have any major engine or transmisison-related sisues, and it’s rated as one of the best Altima years up to date due to a low number of NHTSA complaints.
While it did have a few reports of engine stalling along with paint problems and electrical circuit faults, these issues were still reported in such low numbers that it didn’t lead to any major recalls.
2018 Nissan Altima
As for the best Altima models among more recent model years, you can trust that the 2018 and 2020 will make the best possible options. Precisely, the 2018 Altima model proved to be one of the best-rated out there with just shy of 300 complaints which is one of the best scores considering the high numbers in which the model was sold.
Among its reported issues, you can find some records of problems with the light, brakes, and electrical systems, but these were usually easily fixed.
Is the Nissan Altima worth buying?
Customers have recognized the Nissan Altima as a dependable car since it debuted in 1993. It is a generally reliable and safe vehicle that ranks 11 out of 24 mid-size automobiles, which puts it in the middle of the class.
Although Nissan Altimas are known for their reliability issues, their dependability varies from year to year though. While specific models from a given year have a high-reliability rating, some don’t.
However, the Nissan Altima (particularly the newer model years) is a good, pleasant car with room for five passengers. It has some cutting-edge technologies and driving aids to provide an immersive experience.
Pay attention to the Nissan Altima if you’re searching for a cheap, secure commuting car. The most recent versions have respectable dependability ratings and even come with a turbocharged engine, although they may not be glamorous.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider a used Altima. Because of their rapid depreciation, a used model is even more affordable. The Nissan Altima excels at what it does, getting you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ at a reasonable price.
What year Altima is most reliable?
The 2012 Nissan Altima has excellent reliability, and there have been few complaints.
What year Nissan Altimas have transmission problems?
Most complaints are about the 2013 Altima’s faulty CVT transmission system. Many customers have reported that the transmission becomes stuck while driving, forcing them to stop and restart the vehicle. With the model now out of warranty, repairs can cost up to $3,000.
What is the biggest problem with Nissan Altima?
Misfires, rough idle, transmission issues, and check engine lights appear to be the biggest problems with the Nissan Altima.u003cbru003eu003cbru003eSome Nissan Altima owners may experience misfiring, jerky idle, or an illuminated check engine light on the dashboard around 150,000 miles.