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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.

Enjoy!

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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.

Intermission

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.

Reawakening

After sitting idle for over a month, the Sentra has returned to the road and then parked. My mechanic was able to get into the engine and change out the head gasket. The parts took about a week to get here and of course it included more than just the head gasket because of the things that need to come apart as well. To just make sure it was done right we made sure to replace the timing belt as well.

I asked him the one cylinder was clean from basically being steam cleaned and he said that the head gasket had broken through to two cylinders so there was a bit more cleaning than expected. Despite this everything is back together and the engine is running almost as it should, meaning that there is still something not quite right with it. It does run better but now it won’t come out of high-idle but it isn’t the worst issue so I will look at it later.

The reason I say that the car went from being on the road to being parked is because there is another important issue that needs to be addressed as soon as I can get to it. My mechanic was telling me that the brakes on the car are really bad and should be replaced soon. He even tried to order new pads and the parts guy at NAPA was a bit confused because I had just recently picked up new brake equipment for the car. I had to tell him that I had planned on doing the brake repairs myself but the head gasket thing happened first. Right now I’m just dealing with some other issues and cannot get to the rest of these repairs yet.

I am looking forward to getting the car on the road again soon and also working on getting a few more repairs done. I have new axles and a clutch kit on my Christmas list so we will see how it goes.

Drowning

Last weekend I was driving up to see my niece for her high school graduation and along the way I decided to take a longer path and do a little more exploration as I do whenever I can. It was raining the whole way so i didn’t take any time to actually stop anyplace but when I was almost at my destination, something unexpected happened.

As I was coming over a bridge up to the main highway the car suddenly lost power and started to shudder as it was idling up to the stop sign. I gave it some gas to get out into the main road but it just felt worse so I pulled over to see what was going on. The engine was still running and at idle it didn’t appear that anything was wrong but when I went to take off again, I knew that one of the cylinders had gone dead.

Because of the weather and where I was at in my trip I didn’t have much choice and pushed on with the car running like this, all the while worrying about what damage I was incurring. Eventually I made it to the next town and stopped at the gas station / hardware store where I turned it off and went inside to think. I also made my Facebook friends aware the car just had a troubling malfunction and tried to reach out to my dad for some ideas as to what I should do.

Not long afterwards my dad called me and asked if the car even ran. When I said it did he had only one response, “drive it.”

When I restarted the car I thought I caught a whiff of anti-freeze but when I checked the exhaust all I got was extra fuel that was not getting burnt. Before I made the rest of the journey I did check to see which cylinder wasn’t firing and made sure that all of the connections were tight. It happened to be the #1 cylinder that wasn’t firing but every once in a while I could hear it pop off so all was not lost.

I pressed on and drove it nearly 60 miles this way and was doing about 55mph at the most. Hills were the worst as it couldn’t handle the increased load as well so I tried to avoid them as much as possible. Eventually I made it to my parent’s place and left the car alone until I could look at it closer the next day.

One thing my dad kept saying was that when grandpa had the car it was always stalling because there was moisture in the distributor cap. I looked at this idea with much skepticism for two reasons. One, I have power washed the engine (twice) while it was running and never had a problem with water getting in the cap and Two, there were a bunch of things wrong with the car when I got it so who knows what was really wrong when grandpa had it.

To be sure though, we checked that the spark plug for that cylinder and it was good (I have recently changed the plugs) and it had good spark. The plug and the inside of the cylinder were wet with fuel but otherwise everything was normal. Nothing in the oil, good gas, clean air filter, just that nagging idea that a ring had gone out. Dad felt that one of the valves had come out of adjustment but that didn’t feel right either.

In the end I had to go back home. I checked online if there was anything wrong with driving as it was and mostly it was determined that it should be fine. So I set out on my trip and again, I made sure to get on the roads with the least inclines. The engine sounded rough but ran and I was able to maintain a fair highway speed.

270 miles after this problem started I was at home and I had some new insight as to what the problem truly is. When I got closer to home I saw that there were huge billowing clouds of white exhaust when I drove slow but it went away when I sped up. I’m pretty sure now that the head gasket blew around that one cylinder and you can smell the sweetness in that cloud as well.

I have not had a chance to do anything with the car since I have come home and it might be another week before I can get it over to my mechanic. In the meantime, I might work on replacing the brakes, drums, rotors, and bearings since I don’t have to worry about time constraints.

Tinkering

I have been lacking on my updates because I’ve not been feeling well and there hasn’t been a whole lot beyond the casual maintenance performed on the car. With that, the maintenance menu item on the page does show what has been happening recently if you re so inclined to check that out.

When the weather gets a little warmer outside I will be doing more intensive repairs and updating this page accordingly. Until then, just sit tight.

The Family

Every so often I search the Internet for 87 Sentra cars to see who has them still and who is selling them. Pretty much all of them are too far away for me to even look at much less purchase but it has been nice to see them listed on Craigslist and sometimes on eBay.

Just recently one of my cousins pointed me to a barter page on Facebook where someone had an 84 Sentra Hatchback/Wagon for sale and it opened up a whole other search that I had never considered. Instead of searching Facebook for other people, I searched for “87 Sentra” and I was surprised to find so many people listing them for sale.

Despite finding so many Sentra cars of the same year, there are still only a small number of them in the same style as mine and in original condition. In any case its good to see that others are still seeing the value in them and keeping them on the road.

NAPA Till Death

I know I’ve said that I’m searching for parts all of the time but recently I saw something that gave me a little excitement. Something that made me realize that my adventures with this car could go on indefinitely.

Most of my primary maintenance parts come from my local NAPA store and it helps that they are between my home and work so that it isn’t out of the way to get stuff there. The people that run it are friendly, helpful, and willing to listen to me go on and on about this little car. From time to time I will watch their screens to see what options they can provide but hadn’t gone into much search on my own until just this last week.

I happened to be on NAPA Online and noticed that I could do a general search for anything that would work with the Sentra rather than looking for a specific part. The list that it produced was far longer than what I had expected and in that list were some parts that I had no idea I could even get there, or anywhere for that matter.

Now, Nissan has been using the same engine in their Sentra line for a long time and you can even now get a 1.6L version for the Sentra SR Turbo. With that it would stand to reason that I could obtain a new engine through NAPA and sure enough it was listed in this general search. What was also listed is what took me aback for a moment and gave me the hope that the car will just live on forever (mechanically anyway) and that was the transmission.

So pretty much I’m set for parts and NAPA will continue to be my go-to spot for general maintenance on the car. Things I cannot find through them I and still able to get online for now. Which is good because I need more ideas to write down and share.

The Maker

I have contacted Nissan about my Sentra over the years to get some feedback on various aspects including computer information, parts resources, and to let them know one of their cars is still running after 30 years. In each case the response has been friendly and the response time has been quick but the feeling I get from them is just cold.

While talking with people online to find out more from other 1987 Sentra owners, they have expressed the same sentiment. Then I stopped by my local dealership to ask a parts question and no one there gave it a second thought. I know the last time I was there the mechanics where all gaga over it but the rest of the staff was apparently dismissive. If you aren’t there to buy a new one, then move along.

When I contacted them about the car turning 30 I didn’t expect much but what I did get was much of the same as I got from the dealer. They thanked me for writing, said they liked hearing from people, and then wanted me to buy a new vehicle. Figures.

Despite this, I still think that Nissan is missing out on a little opportunity with the owners of these older vehicles. If they showcase the people that own, drive, and maintain their cars and they last this long then that shows a quality product that the company can say about all their cars. Subaru has that kind of campaign by highlighting the people that keep their cars the longest, they are a great influence on their family and friends’s future cars.

Overall I enjoy what Nissan has developed with this car and the current renditions and if I could afford to buy a new one, I’m sure I would get another Sentra; possibly the Sentra NISMO, but that idea will just have to wait.

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