Sentra 87

The perils of owning a classic misfit.

Unlikely Pet

Over the years I have had various vehicles and to this day I own four but only two actually run. Of those two is this car and although its rusty, small, and has a seat belt as its only safety device, I find it to be the best car I have owned.

I have put so much into this car over the last few years that I felt I needed to express the highs and lows of not only the function, repair, and short comings but also the adventures I take with it. You can read more about the car’s specifics in the “About” section but from here on out, it’s just going to be banter about the things I have done and will do with this now 30 year old toy.


Featured post

Dirty Deal

The most recent upgrades have given new life to the car and for a few weeks it was great to not only have the car back but to have it run so reliably. But all of a sudden the fun ran out and the car stopped idling and would die at every stopping point.

At first I was worried something had come lose and then I wondered if maybe the mechanic didn’t get something set quite right with the timing. The days had turned colder since I had gotten the car back so maybe something with that was affecting it but what I really needed was a little free time during the daylight to try and diagnose it myself. My mechanic had mentioned that my spark plug wires needed to be changed and I also knew that my Oxygen Sensor was getting a little old so either one of those could be the source and both are simple enough to do on my own.

After a few days I was able to take a closer look and saw that everything was where it should be and even saw something I had never noticed before, but more on that on another posting. I adjusted the existing plug wires to make sure they were all connected to the plugs correctly and then I pulled off the distributor cap and saw that the contacts where all dark. When I pulled off the distributor rotor I could see that there was carbon deposits on the top left of the main contact as well which I thought was odd. After doing a little further checking I found that there was a new problem I had never seen before.

When I first got the car I replaced the plugs, O2 sensor, wires, cap, and rotor just to be on the safe side. What I didn’t notice at the time was that the rotor didn’t sit level and instead angles lower than the cap contacts which explained the strange buildup on the rotor. I ordered a new one and was able to pick it up the next day with a new set of wires as well. The new rotor was similar but different to the old rotor but both fit the same way. I tried doing some research on this and have come to one of the ugly realities I have had to deal with in the past and that is that the part is for the second production run of the car and I have a first production run, which is slightly different.

What is happening is that the shaft in the distributor that the rotor sits on is slightly smaller than the rotor and also the upper part of the shaft is stepped in slightly where the screw hole is and when the rotor is fastened on, the rotor leans into that narrower space and it sits ate the aforementioned angle. My only method of resolving this was to create a metal sleeve of some sheet copper but even that is not quite perfect. I either need to have a harder sleeve milled out or find the actual part that goes on this car.

The sleeve did help some and when I installed the new wires and cleaned all of the contacts in the cap, the car returned to its previous excellent running state with some improvements in responsiveness that are surprising. I’m working on getting the new O2 sensor to top it all off and see what I end up with.

But not that I think about it, I have access to a metal lathe but I just need to get a digital caliper and some brass round stock and then I think I could make my own sleeve. We will just have to see how that goes.

Back in Business

After nearly a month, I’m back in the car again and the repairs have made it a whole new (30 year old) car. Granted, I have put enough money into it to buy a new used car but I’d still be stuck with a vehicle that would need repairs then. This way I have something that will just need basic maintenance for at least 50,000 miles and even then it won’t be too much work even by that point.

Although the new axles and bearings are a great help, the new brakes and carburetor are by far the best upgrades I could have made. It stops so much better than it has in a long time and the parking brake feels really good. The engine runs so much better and it does stuff that have been described in the shop manual that I had never experienced with it before. Since the engine idles properly, it switches from high idle to low idle at the correct times such as when I take it out of gear or when I shut off the high-drain items like the headlights or heater blower. Best of all it doesn’t stall anymore when I push on the brakes.

Of course there is improvement in the mileage as well and in my couple weeks of having it back I can see that the numbers are more stable than in the past by far. Right now I’m getting about 30 in the city and 36 on the highway. That’s 36 mpg with an average speed of 70 mph typically.

So now I’m going to take a break from doing repairs on it until I can get some financial issues squared away. Once I have that issue handled I will start with a few simple items including tinting the windows and installing a stereo system. After that I will tackle the rust repair and body panel replacements with an eventual repaint back to the original red.

I’ll still have stuff to write about though so check back from time to time and we will see what happens.

Soak Time

I’m trying to be patient while my car gets the upgrades it needs and even though I have told my mechanic to take the time needed to work on it, inside I just want it back so I can drive it again.

He did find that the one part that I could not find new was nearly shot and doesn’t have long for this world. That part is the left rear backer plate that holds all of the hardware for the brakes. It was rusty when I last changed the rear brakes and right now the rust is not living up to the job of the steel that was there. He asked if I could find a replacement.

I searched for another new one but despite finding sites that listed them for sale, either they didn’t have one in stock or they have some purchasing issue where I cannot get one from them. I resorted to trying to locate a used part and even that proved to be difficult. However, I did manage to find a used one from a salvage yard in Nebraska and that will have to do until I can find a new one someplace else.

On the flip-side, I had submitted paperwork to have the state do a title search on the car so I could get more of it’s purchase history. After waiting two months, I finally got a response but it was less than exciting as all they came up with was the title I had from my grandparents when I got the car from them.

So, going from the information that grandpa wrote down, I have sent out an inquiry to find the person that previously owned the car to see if I can find anymore details about its origin. My uncle told me that the car may have come from Arizona and after looking online, those information services that tease you with partial details do hint that the person has lived in Arizona so there might be something to that. I just don’t know if the guy bought it new or if he had bought it from someone else as well. I just think that if I can get some more information about the car’s history, I might as well try.

Right now the only thing I could think of was to try to contact the town he was from and see if they know how to relay my information to him or his family and get some details about the car. It’s kind of a long-shot but I had to try it at least.

In the meantime, I just have to be patient a little longer.


One night I was over at a friend’s house to take care of their dogs and I watched cable TV to pass the time. That night I came across Terminator 2 and didn’t think too much of it because I’ve seen the movie a number of times but after being so involved with this car, I was surprised to see a version of it in this movie.

The nice thing about cable these days is the use of the DVR to let you go back and verify that you actually saw what you think you missed. But sure enough, in the insane asylum when the guard is letting visitors out, there sits a Sentra sedan in the lot.

That discovery alone was just great but from that I found a website that has cataloged every car that appears in every movie and of course, they have a screenshot of the Sentra. After looking at the site a little more I see that there is another Sentra in another scene but it is a different year than my car.

Other than that, the car has been in the shop for a couple weeks to put on the final repairs. When I get more information, this will be updated of course.

The New Car

During casual conversation I will talk about all the repairs that I have done to this little car and people sometimes come to the odd conclusion that I need a new car. This off-the-cuff thinking is understood in our throw-away society but when you don’t have the resources to just go out and buy even a used car, it comes across a bit more naive then it is intended.

The way I see it is that if you are taking the car back in to the shop for the same repair over and over again, then that is enough evidence to consider getting rid of it for another vehicle. My other car almost gets into that category with issues with the wheel bearings as they wear out faster than any other part I have had replaced. I say “almost” because although it is the car that I have had the worst problems with, it has also been the handiest vehicle when I needed it. Lately it has been doing good and despite being half the age of the Sentra, it books for half the Sentra’s value as well so its not even worth trying to get another one for it.

Granted I have put in a lot of work on the car but that is only because it just hasn’t been done over the years it has existed. I know it has had regular maintenance but not to the extent that I have gone into it and the things that I have replaced are those elements that just wear out from normal use or from making a few bad decisions. (I shorted out my ECU once while trying to get codes from it.)

Right now the car is at the mechanic (SSC) once again to adjust what I consider to be the final major repairs to the vehicle along with some minor maintenance. After this it is going to be purely cosmetic enhancements and regular maintenance from now on.

  • The other day I got the new carburetor in the mail and so that will be replaced.
  • Installing a new Ground Strap that connects the front of the engine to the frame.
  • Replacing the old brake fluid
  • Replacing the front brake pads and rear brake shoes
  • Replacing the rear brake cylinders and brake hardware
  • Replacing the right rear brake dust shield
  • Replacing both front brake dust shields
  • Replacing the front rotors and rear drums
  • Replacing the front and rear wheel bearings
  • Replacing at least one front axle and seals

Yep, that should do it. In essence I will be making car payments for awhile to get all of that work paid off but it will totally be worth it and it will be like having a new car.

Sucking It

When I went to pay my bill I found out the issue with the idle going from sticking to being all over the place. He took some time to adjust and lubricate the movement of the carburetor more than I was able to and found that the throttle shaft was worn out. Part of the reason it was sticking but it also is a source of a large vacuum leak and that is what is making it unpredictable during operation.

This discovery really helps explains a number of operating issues with the car. Those issues include why it runs great at high speed but horrible at low or idle, why my mileage is all over the place and never consistent, and why it runs great when it is cold but dies once the engine warms up. It does what it is supposed to, sucking in air, just not the way it was designed to.

Initially the idea of getting a new carburetor didn’t really scare me because I find it a bit of a challenge to find parts for this car but I knew there was the possibility that this could be a terminal issue. Granted, I could have the carburetor rebuilt either by someone local or find someone online that could do it but I wasn’t sure about how good that would turn out.

Oddly enough there are two companies online that carry rebuilt carburetors for my car. Only one of them responded to my inquiry and they happened to be the most affordable as well. If you need to find one for yourself, you can check them out at National Carburetors .

My mechanic notes that it may be due to the Nissan pickup using the same part and not because my car is still out in the wild. If it wasn’t for a pickup being around, I may have lost out and had to go some other route. But for now I just have to deal with the starts and stops of the current setup while I await the new part to arrive. After that is installed, then we’ll see what other hidden problem creeps out.

More Mysteries

I dropped the car off at the mechanic’s shop with a note about the idle being high and the oil leak but also that the PCV valve was faulty and what to do about the axles. He didn’t have it for very long before he said it was done and at the moment I’m not sure what exactly happened to it.

What I do know is that the oil leak is fixed. The Oil Pressure Sensor on the back of the engine was leaking and he was able to replace it without much hassle.

Also, the PCV valve was changed using a part that I have had on hand for a couple years. The old one tested bad when I checked it by just breathing through the hose to it and once is was out, the valve portion in it jostled around. Clearly the spring had disintegrated in it.

And now the idle is back to its regular unpredictable self and I don’t know why because my mechanic has taken the rest of the week off and he didn’t note on the bill what was changed for it.

While I ponder the possibilities of this before I check in with him next week, I have some other developments that will play into the future repairs.

A while back I was able to get one of the two rear dust shields (backer plates) for the rear brakes and I have been hunting the Internet for the other one. Just recently someone had both of the front ones on eBay so I jumped on those right away. I did talk to the local Nissan dealer about them first and the parts guy said those items are completely discontinued in that no dealer will have them anywhere. You just have to hope someone has a bunch of old stock and is selling them online. Hopefully by the middle of next week I will have them and then I can get the brakes, rotors, and drums all changed out.

The window in the door that I replaced the window regulator in is tipping forward on me so I have to take the door apart and see if one of the bolts has come loose or come apart.

After all of that I think I’m down to a few odds and ends and cosmetic work. I’m sure something else will turn up and winter is fast approaching so things are sure to start acting up in the cold.


I realize that it has been a while since my last update but life has taken turns and they haven’t been in the Sentra as much. I did manage to get the new window regulator in and it works great although a little stiffer than the old one but I’m sure that will free up with more use.

The brakes on the front of the care were not that bad really. One pad was worn considerably but everything else looked good. I was only able to bleed out one of the front calipers as the bleeder on the other one was frozen and I wasn’t going to risk breaking it so I left it alone. At least I know one line has new fluid in it and the reservoir has clean fluid as well. The bigger task of taking apart the rear brakes has been put on hold until I can get another good day to to work on them instead of my house.

I have gone over the carburetor several times and all of the vacuum lines and I cannot see why the throttle is sticking. It won’t do it until after the engine has warmed up and there isn’t anything visibly blocking it so I gather that it is something inside that is hampering its natural movement. When the throttle is closed normally, the throttle cable is tight in the groove but when it sticks, the cable is loose as it is trying to push the throttle closed but can’t get it there. I have found that if I pull up on the accelerator with my foot, it gives just enough to push the throttle closed but once I give it gas, it sticks open again.

Another new thing that concerns me is that there is now a considerable amount of oil leaking from the rear of the engine that didn’t before the head gasket repair. My only guess is that the valve cover gasket is not seated correctly but it could also be a problem at the junction of the oil filter / pump at the engine block but without a hoist, I cannot get in there myself to look at it clearly.

I’m going to try and get the Sentra over to my mechanic this week so he can look at it and see what needs to be done. At worst I will need a new carburetor but I think the rebuild kit is still available but I hope it doesn’t come to that.

At the moment I am debating on having him installing the new brakes and hardware. There are many other things that I need installed as well but I had better do something because winter is coming and I prefer to drive this car on the ice and snow than my other car.

Hot Times

Although I mean to be out and about more with the Sentra and get some more reports on it, I haven’t been driving it a lot lately. This isn’t because of the car’s ability to run, rather that another issue happened just after I started to use it again.

After letting it sit while after getting the head gasket replaced I decided to drive it some since the brakes do work, just not the best at this time. The second day out my driver’s window felt like something had fallen into the regulator and gummed it up but then while trying to get the glass to go back up, it felt as if I was crushing glass. I never did get it to go all the way back up so now it sits about an inch down all of the time.

Being summertime and it is nice to have the window down while driving, this development takes some of the enjoyment out of the daily commute especially on hot days. So, when it is really warm out I have had to let it sit in the driveway while I take something else. I would use the factory air conditioner if it was still in the car but that system was removed long before I got the car and before my grandparents owned it as well.

Again all is not lost. Despite the car being 30 years old, it still has some surprisingly modern technology used in its parts. I went through my parts catalog and found that the car uses a modern cable-style window regulator and that NAPA had one for about $35. Just to be sure that was exactly the problem, I spoke with my friend that runs the local body shop about it. He was first surprised that the car used the cable style regulator and then confirmed that from my description that it had failed. The cables come apart and the mechanism binds up then you can’t roll it anymore.

After ordering the new part and waiting the typical week for it to get to my local store, I now have the part but will need a little help getting it in. I can see how it is done but I can’t feel exactly how to get the door pad off without breaking something so one of these days I need to have my friend help me.

Maybe this weekend I can get it done along with the brakes and then I can go cruising before the weather turns cold once again.

Powered by

Up ↑