Nissan Sentra is a compact, economical sedan that has been a popular choice for those looking for a reliable family car that can last well over 200.000 miles. However, Sentra does have its fair share of problems. We provide a bird’s eye view of Sentra owners’ common complaints about this sedan.
Transmission and suspension issues were severe problems for the 2012 – 2019 model years of the Nissan Sentra. The same model years suffered from MAF sensor and brake booster issues. The 2020 – 2021 model years were recalled for faulty tie rods and poor headlight illumination.
With the quick summary in place, let’s dive into the details of these problems. We have tried to thoroughly explain these problems, their origins, and how much they might cost to fix.
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1. Transmission Problems
The CVT in Nissan Sentra has proved to be a painful experience for many Sentra owners. The transmission is prone to frequent failures, and the problem usually begins with mild issues like the engine accelerating slowly and infrequent jerking, revving, shaking, and acceleration lag.
These symptoms quickly spiral down to the point where the users are confronted with a complete transmission failure. There have been reports of spontaneous transmission failures, with car owners being deserted in the middle of nowhere.
The shaky CVT in many Nissan models has brought a lot of infamy to the company. A continuously variable transmission lacks the traditional gears and instead uses an input and output pulley connected by a belt, allowing infinite variability of gear ratios.
This revolutionary concept is devoid of the gear shifts you might feel in a conventional transmission. CVT is also supposed to be more fuel efficient and smooth than its traditional counterparts.
Nissan Sentra’s CVTs are hard to work with, and given their short life, they precipitate a complete transmission failure before any repair work can be done. Replacing a transmission is expensive and might cost the owner anywhere in the $4000-$5000 range.
The unreliable CVT in the 2013-2017 Nissan Sentra was also subject to a class action lawsuit, culminating in a settlement that covered seven years of repair or 84000 miles, whichever is earlier.
2. Battery Draining Problems
Nissan Sentra have also had a fair share of battery-related issues in the past years. These issues often resulted in the engine not cranking at all or cranking slowly. 2019 and 2021 model years also experienced the radio turning on by itself, even when the car was turned off.
For the 2021 model years, it was found that it was a solenoid of the radio unit that was causing a problem. The radio unit was reprogrammed. If that didn´t fix the issue, the battery was replaced.
Also, for the 2021 model year, mechanics noticed that Sentra often have a problem with a loose negative battery terminal fitting. This results in the same no-start problem and lights illuminating the dashboard. The fitting needs to be replaced. If the car is still under 36.000 miles, this can be done under warranty; otherwise, a new fitting costs $10 excl. labor.
3. Engine Control Module Issues
Nissan Sentra have had quite some problems with the programming of the engine control module. Especially the 2010 – 2019 model years have had several service bulletins for this. The 2019 model year had to deal with a parasitic battery drain caused by a VVT solenoid that required reprogramming of the ECU.
2017 – 2019 Californian models had to be serviced because the ECU stored a permanent fault code that wouldn´t allow these models to pass the smog test in the state. This also required a simple reprogramming.
Other model years of the Nissan Sentra also had ECU problems resulting in low RPM, check engine lights, or damage to the ECU. You can read more about that in our article about Nissan Sentra ECU problems.
4. Front Suspension Issues
Many Nissan Sentra owners have complained about suspension issues, especially in the car’s front wheels.
Ball joints and front struts giving away have been significant reasons behind the suspension issues in Nissan Sentra. Ball joints pivot the force from the car’s suspension to the wheels, allowing the wheels to move sideways or up and down.
The struts function like shock absorbers, ensuring the car does not shake violently if you pass over a pothole or an uneven road. The front struts in Nissan Sentra have a short life span, and they are notoriously underperforming for a car like Sentra. You will feel that the car is shaking vigorously and the ride is not smooth and comfortable.
In case of a faulty ball joint, you will hear a rattling noise, and the steering wheel might become harder to rotate. There can be a misalignment of the wheels, and your car might be tilted to one side during driving.
Replacing these ball joints costs around $300-$400, and since there have been no recalls, you will have to pay this out of your pocket. You should replace the ball joints as soon as you notice any symptoms since it can be a safety hazard.
Replacing the front pair of statuses will cost you around $300, excluding the service charges.
5. Throttle Body Malfunction
Throttle body malfunction is another critical problem that Nissan Sentra owners can face. A throttle body regulates the amount of air flowing into the engine. This air is necessary for fuel combustion, and the inflowing air depends on how hard the driver pushes the gas paddle. If the throttle body malfunctions, the car will have problems with acceleration, and the drive will feel bumpy and not smooth.
Although this problem can be confused with the more prevalent CVT issues in Nissan Sentra, the error code at your dealership will come in handy in diagnosing a bad throttle body. In some instances, a check engine light will also come on.
Sometimes the throttle body has just accumulated dirt and requires a thorough cleaning. You can clean it at home using online tutorials or get it done at a dealership. In extreme cases, you might need a throttle body replacement, costing you around $1000.
6. Brake Booster Problems
In some Nissan Sentra models, especially the 2015 model, the owners complained that the brakes became non-compliant and hard. This can result in a fatal car crash because the driver might be unable to estimate the braking distance.
This problem arises due to a faulty brake booster. A brake booster- or vacuum booster- increases the thrust transmitted from the brake pedal to the brake discs. In Nissan Sentra, this brake booster tends to fail due to problems with the vacuum mechanism. As the vacuum diminishes, the brake can become hard.
There also have been reports where the brakes became extremely soft due to air bubbles in the booster. This is also a dangerous fault requiring prompt management.
Unfortunately, the warranty on Nissan Sentra does not cover brake boosters like it used to. This means the cost of replacing the brake booster, somewhere in the $600 neighborhood, will have to be borne by the owner, even with an intact warranty.
7. Airbag problems
The 2012 – 2019 Nissan Sentra also has airbag problems, particularly the 2015 model.
Airbags are supposed to deploy in the wake of a car crash and protect the driver and the occupants. The airbag release module is connected to the Occupant Classification System or OCS for proper functioning. OCS detects when the passenger seat is occupied and deploys airbags accordingly.
Due to faulty programming of the OCS in some of the earlier 7th-generation Sentra models, the car cannot detect if the seat is occupied and cannot deploy the airbags.
Nissan is aware of the issue, and there have also been recalls for this. This means you should be able to get this problem fixed free of cost from the nearby Nissan dealership.
The NHTSA code is 16V242, and the recalls cover nearly all variants from 2013-2016.
8. MAF sensor malfunction
MAF stands for Mass Airflow Sensor. This part is located between the air filter and the throttle body. Air, after getting cleaned from the air filter, passes through the MAF sensor, and the latter measures the amount of air flowing into the engine.
MAF sensors can malfunction if you don’t replace the air filter regularly. Dirty air clogs the sensor, and your car will miscalculate the amount of air required for fuel combustion. It can be asymptomatic, or the car might have hiccups while accelerating, a check engine light might come on, and the engine can stall upon acceleration.
On inspection, codes like P0101 indicate the problem with the MAF sensor. This was often the case for the 2010 – 2016 model years of the Nissan Sentra, which had a total of three technical service bulletins issued. Symptoms often included a check engine light and a P0101 fault code but no driveability issues.
In most cases, the MAF sensor was replaced, or the ECM was reprogrammed to fix this issue. This was done free of charge. However, if your Sentra is not part of the TSBs, replacing a MAF sensor will cost around $100 – $300. However, since the MAF sensor is easily accessible, you can also change it on your own using online tutorials.
9. Beam And Focus Issues In The Headlight
There have been various complaints of Nissan Sentra’s headlights not focusing correctly on the road ahead. The headlights are also dim, hampering the visibility at night time. Car owners complain that they frequently use the beam to see things.
The two headlights on the front of the car are supposed to project light so that the beams converge, illuminating the view in the front. If lights do not focus properly, it can be a road safety hazard.
This issue cannot be rectified by replacing the headlights since the problem is with the head unit module, which houses the LED lights. As this is a road safety hazard, Nissan recalled various 2020 model Sentra vehicles. If you think your car qualifies for the recall, you can get this issue fixed entirely free of cost.
The NHTSA campaign number for this recall is 22V24400.
10. Tie Rod Assembly
There are reports of Nissan Sentra having bent tie rods. Tie rods transmit rotational force from the steering rack to the steering arm, moving the wheel left or right. Nissan claims that it uses high-strength steel tie rods, but these tie rods are still prone to bending. As this part is responsible for transmitting force, its failure can make the car shake violently, and in some cases, the car can also lose control.
Tie rod malfunctioning is a road safety hazard, and Nissan issued a recall. If you own a 2020-2021 model Sentra, you should visit the dealership to ensure that the tie rods are in good shape. If they are not, you can also get them replaced for free.
The NHTSA campaign number for this recall is 21V461000.
11. Shift Lock Problems
2020 Nissan Sentra had shift lock problems after the faulty replacement of a Body Control Module and needed to be reprogrammed, whereas the 2010 – 2015 Sentra had shifter selectors getting stuck in park because of a faulty solenoid, shifter cable or brake pedal position sensor. Read more about Sentra shift lock problems.
What’s the Worst Year for Nissan Sentra?
Nissan Sentra is a reliable car that should last you for a good 200,000-250,000 miles if maintained and serviced correctly. However, you should avoid a few models since they were marred with problems and are likely to trouble you in the future.
The early models of Nissan Sentra, mainly 2006-2008, and one of the (relatively) recent ones, 2015, are hands down the worst years for Nissan Sentra. The 2006-08 models had several problems, such as fuel pump, MAF sensor, throttle body, and transmission problems. Most of these problems were not solved via recalls and caused their owners hundreds of dollars in repairs.
2012 – 2019 Sentra saw a lot of improvements over previous generations, and Nissan visibly learned from its past mistakes. But even in the 7th generation, 2015 was hands down the worst year for Nissan Sentra. Along with the ubiquitous CVT problems and a faulty suspension, the 2015 model was marred with brake booster and airbag problems.
Owing to its spacious interior, healthy fuel economy, high levels of engine power, and least problems, the 2010 Nissan Sentra is the best year of Nissan to date. Apart from them, the latest models, 2020 & 2021, also show fewer problems. The problems which plagued the previous models have been somewhat rectified and come with better features than their predecessors.
If you are looking for a reliable problem-free car, you cannot go wrong with one of the newer models of Nissan Sentra.
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
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