This Week's Turd of the Week?

Car Talk Car Complaints

Car Talk Car Complaints | Nov 01, 2015

Don’t get some Nissan Altima owners started about their cars. But if you could get their cars started for them, that would be good.

This 2010 Nissan Altima looks nice enough, but will it leave you stranded?

Owners of 2009-2010 Altimas equipped with push-button ignition have been lighting up the Car Complaints website with horror stories of being stranded with cars that won’t start and the big bucks needed for a fix. Worse, the problem can pop up without warning at any time. Shut off the car to run into the grocery store, and you may need a tow truck to get the eggs home.

The kicker? Repairs can cost $1000, not including the tow.

The problem lies with the Electronic Steering Column Lock (ESCL) on both Altima and Maxima sedans, although most of the complaints center around the much more popular Altima. When the ESCL goes bad, it can prevent the car from starting due to what Nissan describes as a “manufacturing irregularity.” Our friends at carcomplaints.com have received well over 100 letters from owners who have experienced this irregularity, and they're not happy. Lots more can be found on other sites listing recalls and beefs, such as The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Owners say they’re shocked not just by the cost of repairs, but with Nissan’s refusal to admit the issue is worthy of a recall.

“The cost for everything came close to $1,000,” said Minervaaz of Phoenix, AZ. “It’s ridiculous that Nissan is not taking responsibility. They said since it was not a safety issue, it will not be recalled and they expect their customers to dish out money for their incompetence.

But because the problem can come up anyplace and at any time, many owners do see it as a danger.

“This is a safety issue,” says Erin C. of Limerick, PA. “What if I was stranded in an unsafe area or worse? Now I have a car that won't start. I am in the process of finding a claim settlement attorney to begin a case.”

Nissan says it's not a safety issue; owners disagree.

Nissan felt the problem was serious enough to issue a warranty extension from the normal three years or 36,000 miles to 72 months and unlimited miles. But that extension appears to have ended, even though the failures have not. A Nissan webpage describing the problem and what owners can do appears to have been taken down, and Nissan did not respond to our inquiries. Either way, not only are owners irked that Nissan terminated the extension, they say the carmaker failed to let them know there might be a problem in the first place. And that’s a real non-starter.

“Nissan knew there was an issue, because they extended the warranty specifically for that part,” said Debra R., one of several owners to point this out. “But they didn't let the owners know so it could be fixed before the extension expired on March 31, 2015. Mine broke 11 weeks later.”

Whether it’s Nissan’s reluctance to make things right, or the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great, many frustrated owners have been taking matters into their own hands. A quick internet search along the lines of “Nissan ignition switch problems” will lead to all kinds of advice, and videos of enterprising owners smacking their steering columns with hammers — which some say will work, if only for a little while. While we can’t endorse that kind of a fix, we can understand their frustration.

Heading out for a spin in your Altima? You might want to bring one of these.

If you’re the owner of an ’09 or ‘10 Altima or Maxima and this is the first you’re hearing of potential ignition problems, consider yourself lucky. We wish we had better news, but for now it looks like you’re on your own. The fact that Nissan didn’t respond to our inquiries is not a good sign.

The best bet is to give their Consumer Affairs' folks a call or six at 1-800-647-7261, and ask them what they’ll do for you. Check back here and at carcomplaints.com for updates, and let us know if you hear anything.

In the meantime, think carefully about where you shut off your car. Whether or not to carry a hammer is up to you.

Without further ado, we award this week's turd of the week to: The Nissan Alitma

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