Engine failure is pretty much the worst news you can get. Not only will your Nissan Altima be out of commission until the problem is fixed, but engine issues can be tricky to diagnose and complicated to repair. Whether your engine is misfiring, making weird noises or overheating, the cause could be due to any number of reasons.
Engine Overview It goes without saying that the “check engine” light can cause anxiety for any driver, teenagers and seniors alike. This light could indicate anything from a loose or missing gas cap, which is an inexpensive and easy fix, to the need for a major, and costly, repair. The situation is often made worse because most drivers don’t have a solid understanding of how their Nissan Altima engines work. After all, what’s more confusing than a jumbled mess of metal, wires and tubes?
Let’s breakdown how the Altima’s engine works in its most basic sense. It is located inside the vehicle, hence the term “internal combustion engine,” and its primary responsibility is to convert gasoline into energy. Your car needs this energy to move. In hybrid and newer electric vehicles, the energy source is different, but the goal remains the same: The engine must propel the vehicle forward. In other words, if your engine doesn’t work, your car is a useless, heavy piece of metal.
Common Problems with Engine Parts It often helps to think of the “check engine” light not as a death omen of dangers to come but instead as a sign that something needs your attention. The following are just several problems that could cause this light to come on:
1. Missing or loose gas cap. Replacing and/or tightening the gas cap is one of the cheapest, easiest fixes your Altima will ever need. However, it’s also a big one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A missing or loose gas cap means that gas is evaporating from the car, thus decreasing your gas mileage and costing you hundreds of dollars in wasted fuel.
2. Worn spark plug. A small issue but still important, the spark plug is what makes your Altima move. The spark plug’s job is to ignite the fuel that’s compressed in the engine, and if the spark plug is worn, the spark won’t be strong enough to begin the process. It may cause ignition at the wrong time, or it might stop the fuel from igniting completely. A spark plug misfire can affect your fuel economy, your engine’s power and cause potential damage to the components of your vehicle.
3. Clogged radiator. Over time, your radiator may become clogged with sediment, small particles of debris and other pieces of dirt. When this happens, your engine will likely overheat. Also, if you use hard water, your radiator could be at risk of corrosion.
4. Poor compression. If the fuel and air are not compressed together in the perfect way, the engine won’t be able to complete the combustion process. A lack of compression can occur for a number of reasons, including an air leak caused by worn piston rings, a hole in the cylinder or valves that fail to properly seal.
5. Coolant loss. In most cases, the loss of coolant is the most common cause of overheating engines. If the engine continues to overheat, the high temperatures could cause extreme damage that would be difficult and expensive to repair. In this case, prevention is key, so don’t take the risk of overheating by routinely checking that the coolant is clean and the system is in proper working order.
6. Oil pump failure. When your oil pump doesn’t work any more, it causes a condition known as “oil starvation.” This is typically fatal to any engine. Overhead camshaft engines are particularly at risk for oil starvation because the valve train and the camshaft are farther away from the oil pump than they are in pushrod engines. Make sure the oil is light enough to quickly move through the system to prevent oil starvation.
7. Poor lubrication. Most drivers know that your car needs oil so that its parts can move easily against one another. Not only does this help ease the friction between the components but it removes the heat generated by the friction as well. For this reason, it’s important to maintain regular oil changes since poor lubrication can cause overheating. Check your oil levels at routine intervals as low levels could indicate burning or leaking.
8. Dirty oil. Oil can build-up and leave small deposits in your engine’s combustion chambers, on intake valves and on the spark plugs. Dirty oil can also run your Altima’s bearings by leaving debris, which will ultimately become embedded in the surface of the bearings. If your oil filter is missing completely or clogged with gunk and grime, this could be a cause of your engine problems.
9. Faulty or broken oxygen sensor. The oxygen sensor is responsible for measuring just how much oxygen remains after the combustion process. Then, it tells the Altima’s computer how much fuel is left in the gas tank. If your oxygen sensor is broken or malfunctioning, the computer isn’t receiving accurate information, and you could experience lower fuel economy.
10. Spark knock. Also known as detonation, “spark knock” is a form of combustion that happens when too much pressure and heat build up in the combustion chamber. If this is happening to your Altima, you will hear a metallic pinging or knocking noise. Although small amounts of spark knocks won’t cause significant damage, prolonged or heavy spark knocks could pound out piston ring grooves, crack rings, blow head gaskets, crush the rod bearings or punch holes in your pistons.
Conclusion If your “check engine” light has come on, there could be a number of explanations. However, the solution for every possible cause remains the same. It’s important to thoroughly inspect your Nissan Altima for signs of engine damage and consider the above causes when evaluating your vehicle.