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January 7, 2012

Why I’m fighting Nissan & Hitachi Automotive so hard – is it worth it?

So you may be asking at this point, why am I fighting Nissan so hard after my Nissan Sentra broke down for the 18th time? Why not just sell the car and get rid of the problems?

When I came to Los Angeles from New York City where I resided for seven years without having a car, I invested most of my savings in my Nissan Sentra. I looked at several cars and really liked the Sentra, and thought at the time Nissan was just as good as say Honda or Toyota (wow, look how much has changed since 2007, only one of the three retains their namesake). So I was investing in the name, in Nissan. I bought my Sentra from a private owner in 2007 with only 52,000 miles on it and no major problems – he was a family man who was just upgrading to a larger car with a new kid on the way. And I got it for several hundred dollars under Kelly Blue Book. Sounded like a great deal at the time. Boy was I wrong, but never in my lifetime would I have expected the 4 year nightmare I got.

I’m in the film business, and I went into a great amount of debt in New York. So during this whole ordeal and even now, I could not afford a car payment or the rise in insurance of a new car. I invested all my savings in this car with only 52,000 miles on it and I was expecting it to last me at least to 100,000, if not 150,000. In the four years I’ve owned it, I’ve only put on an average of 6,500 miles a year, way below average. This car should last me at least another 4 years.

So each time after the Nissan dealership fixed my car, I wanted to believe that they fixed it once and for all. I have no problem paying for regular maintenance of the car. But I should not have repeated replacements of the ETB (Electronic Throttle Body) and ECU (Electronic Control Unit, the computer), both made by Hitachi Automotive, and repeated software updates of the computer. This is clearly a design flaw that Nissan needs to step up and admit to and either fix it once and for all, or make good on their product and offer me a replacement car.

If you know me, then you know I’m a stubborn SOB. I won’t back down until I win. I took a $465 red-light ticket to court, preempted the commissioner to get a judge, researched like crazy, and went to court and presented my case, and the judge dismissed the fine. I refused to pay for something that I didn’t believe was right or just, and I didn’t believe in some camera that I cannot question giving me a fine more than half my rent. I fought it and I won.

On top of that, unlike most of Nissan and so far Hitachi Automotive, I have a conscience. Jiminy Cricket sits on my shoulder and tells me not to sell my car on the private market because I don’t want to hand my problems onto someone else. I would have to disclose all the problems I’ve been having, probably sell it for a couple thousand below KBB value, and even then, I wouldn’t want to pass on these electrical problems to another buyer, when it’s a design flaw that’s the fault of Nissan. By Nissan failing to do their job properly on 17 prior occasions and failing to fix my car, they have devalued my car.

18 times my car has broken down and they have been unable to fix it. How can I pass that off to someone else? And even if I try to trade it in at a dealer, even a different car dealer, they’re just going to fix up the car and sell it to some unsuspecting buyer, and half the time, the car runs fine with no SESL light on, and the problems don’t show up until it breaks down weeks or months later. And as explained above, due to financial reasons, I am unable to just junk the car at a junkyard and take a complete loss.

Basically due to financial reasons, the fact that Nissan has devalued my car due to their complete incompetence and failure to admit to a design flaw, and the simple fact that I have a conscience, I am forced to spend my time fighting Nissan and now Hitachi Automotive in order to get them to do what is right and just. Honestly I would much rather spend my time doing more productive things, like writing and focusing on my freelance business. But instead, I’m writing on this blog, due to Nissan’s complete incompetence up to this point.

January 7, 2012  (January 26, 2012 – Mel info updated)

Helpful Representatives of Nissan

Since most of this blog is focused on my negative experience at Nissan and in my prior post “Trust & Accountability” I point out all the Nissan reps who have lied to me, I thought I would take the time to give a shout out to those who have been helpful during this ordeal.

  • Mel Lemus of Universal City Nissan: Mel was always on my side and a few times he fought to get parts replaced under warranty.  As of December 2011, Mel is the Service Manager of Universal City Nissan, so if you must go there, see him (I will recommend avoiding this dealership at all costs though, check out the Yelp reviews on it: 1, 2).
  • Stacey Steven: Universal City Nissan has changed Service Managers many times over the 4 years of my ordeal.  When Stacey took over, I wrote in my Yelp review that “there’s a new Sheriff in town.”  Stacey was great, she totally took care of me, picked up rental cars, and fought to get parts replaced under warranty.
  • Mike Garcia:  Mike is the Assistant Service Manager of Power Nissan of South Bay who’s been helping me so far during the 17th and 18th breakdowns of my car.  He gave me a loaner which I’ve now had for a week and is letting me keep it while we wait for the DTS to come out and diagnose my car.  The loaner has been a big help.  Mike also just has a great attitude and seems to really want to help.
  • Melody Benedict: Melody’s with Nissan Consumer Affairs and works under Mary Baumgartner, Senior  Manager.  Melody helped schedule the DTS to look at my car this time, and returns phone calls.

While Mel and Stacey were great, at the end of the day, they never actually fixed my car or got a DTS to take a look at it; all they really did was throw parts at it and never found the root cause of the problem.  I’m truly hoping Mike and Melody will do everything in their power to either fix my car this time once and for all or offer me a replacement, because if Nissan cannot fix my Sentra after the 18th time of breaking down for the same or similar electrical problem, it MUST be a design flaw, which means they need to make good on that problem, and the only remedy would be to provide a car that works properly and was designed properly.


My car breaks down for the 18th time due to same/similar electrical problems

My 2002 Nissan Sentra SE-R has been into the dealership 17 times since 2005 for the same or similar electrical problems.

I’ve had 3 ETB’s (Electronic Throttle Body in which the TP Sensor is a part of) replaced on 7/12/09, 12/07/09, and 5/12/10 and 2 ECU’s (Electronic Control Unit – the computer) replaced 1/9/09 and 11/19/10.

I’ve had the Idle Air Control Volume reset 4 times on 8/23/08, 7/28/09, 4/24/10 and 12/21/11 – this was explained to me as a software update for the ECU.

Both the ETB and the ECU is made by Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc. for Nissan.  And according to an article on The Truth About Cars website, “Hitachi supplies some 90 percent of its engine control units to Nissan.”

On 12/21/11, after taking my car into the dealership for the 17th time after the Service Engine Soon light came on and the code pulled was for the “TP sensor,” I was assured by the Assistant Service Manager of Power Nissan of South Bay–the third dealership I have had my car into (including Universal City Nissan and Santa Monica Nissan-before they closed)–that according to a DTS Technician (which is a special Nissan technician) that the only thing wrong with my car was that the Idle Air Control Volume needed to be reset again, that “someone” previously set it wrong. 

CORRECTION: I was led to believe a DTS technician looked at my car on this date, but after a conversation with the Assistant Service Manager of Power Nissan, the DTS was only out there that day, it was a Master Technician at Power Nissan that looked at my car and improperly diagnosed it, this Master Technician is new there, as his Tech code wasn’t even listed in the Manager’s binder, and apparently the Master Tech discussed my car and his solution with the DTS and he OK’ed it, but never actually looked at my car.

Little more than a week later, on 12/30/11, my car shut off on me 4 times, once in traffic at a red light with the RPM fluctuating between 600-800, just as it has in the past.

I believe there are major electrical and/or mechanical and/or engineering problems with my Nissan Sentra SE-R which may be the result of the ECU and/or the ETB being faulty,  which then leads me to believe both Nissan the maker of the car and Hitachi the maker of the parts are at fault.  This problem first occurred in 2005 when the car was still under warranty, but the dealership failed to fix it properly then, and 16 tries later, it still doesn’t work, breaking down on me for an 18th time yesterday.

Due to research I have found at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other Nissan and car forums, I believe many other Nissan Sentras, as well as possibly Nissan Altimas, which have the same ETB (Nissan Part #: 1611K-AE01BRE) and ECU as my car are experiencing similar problems to mine.  Yet Nissan and Hitachi fail to recognize there is a problem, fail to issue a recall, and fail to diagnose a fix for the problem.  And now I am spending New Year’s Eve creating this blog to spread the word.

If you own a Nissan Sentra or other and have had multiple ETB’s and/or ECU’s replaced (or even just 1) and/or had the Idle Air Control Volume reset, please contact me, and tell your story with as many details as possible, (if possible, please include dates your car was into dealership, names of those who helped you like the Service Advisor, copies of the invoices,  the file number if you’ve opened a file with Nissan Corporate, the info to the Regional Specialist if one was assigned to you, anyone in Consumer Affairs you’ve spoken with and any email correspondence, and any other useful information).

Please contact me at dontbuynissansentra at (replace _at_ with @).