Sentra 87

The perils of owning a classic misfit.

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.


With no garage and living in a cold climate I am reduced to small repairs and upgrades that don’t require me to be outside for very long. When I woke up this morning it was 14F and by the time of this writing it has achieved 27F for the day. Anything that is plastic or rubber tends to break easily and I really don’t want to deal with that kind of agony right now.

What I am left with is finding anything metal that needs upgrading or repair no matter how small or insignificant it may appear. Replacing missing bolts and screws is always helpful but today I’m going for something that is mostly overlooked in most vehicles, the ground straps.

Despite vehicles being mostly metal, not all of that metal is connected directly to itself. There are a lot of places where metal parts are spaced apart with fabric gaskets, plastic shims, and rubber mounts to provide protections from heat, cold, vibration, and various fluids. Although there is wiring to operate the various electrical devices on the vehicle, the metal of the body and the engine are used as the main ground and if one piece is not properly grounded, the vehicle can exhibit a variety of odd behaviors while operating.

In my case there are a few straps at various locations in the car that make sure everything is properly grounded to the body, the engine, and most importantly the battery. There is at least one inside the car’s cabin but I shouldn’t have to worry about it as it is out of the elements but the ones in the engine compartment appear to need some TLC. In the image above you can see the greenish strand leading from the manifold to the frame and although it looks pretty it’s not very helpful.

So, today I’m going to warm up the engine and get some oil on those bolts so I can remove that ground strap and replace it with a new one that is plated as to prevent future corrosion. After that I know there is another one I need to look at as well. Just another thing to do as I continue to tinker until spring affords me the ability to conduct another major upgrade.

Just Slick

Because of the recent cold I’ve had the car parked since it was just too cold to be in it. The thermostat was stuck open and not only was it freezing for me to drive the car, the engine was also freezing cold no matter how much you drove it. It would heat up nicely if you let it sit for a while but once you got on the road, it would once again become a deep freeze.

I did try to change this but I couldn’t get on the bolts to remove the thermostat housing so I ended up taking it to my mechanic. Since I was having him do this I opted to have him do a coolant flush as well and just make everything fresh in there. Now, now I have heat and its so nice to drive.

The other benefit to this is that not only should the car run better but it should also get better mileage when its cold. The fuel mixture is heated partially by the coolant circulating through the intake manifold walls and now it should be more efficient.

While I had the car in the shop I had to order a new cap for the oil fill port on the valve cover. The old one, pictured above, had degraded and was no longer doing a good job of keeping the oil in the engine. It’s a hard rubber plug yet the old one had changed from the heat, cold, and time it has been on the car and had become very hard. It was difficult to remove and put on unless the engine was warmed up and once it was on it wouldn’t seal properly, letting oil splash up and out.

If anyone knows Japanese, can you tell me what it says on this cap? I’m assuming it’s something about Nissan and Oil. I’m going to keep it, the new one is devoid of markings.

Time Machine

I have an update on the Sentra but I wanted to touch on something a little different just once. As noted my Sentra was obtained from my grandparents and while they owned it, they also had a Datsun which had gone from being their primary car to being my grandfather’s side vehicle. This, as shown in the photo, is a 4-Door 1978 Datsun b210.

Aside from the faded paint and the badge not fitting correctly on the side, the car is in pretty good shape. As far as I know it’s all there and it will run with a little tuning because it has been sitting there for a number of years. I would be driving it myself but I’m too tall to get behind the wheel so instead I’m looking for a buyer.

It’s currently sitting in northern South Dakota and I know the interior is dark blue and that it has a manual transmission but other than that I will need to do some checking to find out all of the details. Also I do have the title for it.

I’m not sure if you can even get parts for it but once its out of my hands I won’t worry about what gets done with it.

Going on Thirty

As we start 2017 the Sentra starts it’s 30th year of operation. It looks a little rough around the edges and has some quirks with the mechanics but overall it’s doing really good for a car of this age that has been driven for most of that time.

The bitter cold that started out this year has kept me from addressing some of the repairs needed and also from being able to post any updates on the car. While I continue my quest to repair and drive this little car I will also continue to make efforts to document what is going on with it. Also I want to try and get some major repairs planned out and completed this year to really give the car that like-new look again.

Some of the elements I need to do: Replace the brakes and brake fluid, replace the bearings, replace the thermostat, flush the coolant system, and repair the exhaust system.

The extras I want done: Replace the hood and front fenders and get them painted, sand and repaint the rest of the body, replace the grille and headlight assemblies, tint the windows, and install a Bluetooth Stereo with new speakers.

In addition to all of this, I want to compose a little letter to Nissan and tell them about the car and my work on it. I don’t expect anything from it, I just would like to let them see what is being done with one of their remaining creations from that year.

Lots of work to get done, I just can’t wait until it warms up again to get more done.


It gets cold up here and recently the temperatures came close to -30F but even without a block heater, the Sentra starts up and runs just fine. However, the saga continues on the issues with the correct water temperature readings and it has been determined that my engine thermostat has gone bad. When I should be driving in comfort on these frigid days I instead about freeze solid in the car.

There is heat coming out of the heater vents but it isn’t much and the temperature gauge won’t raise up while I’m driving. I had suspected something was up with the thermostat but I wasn’t really sure after reading some articles on it online. It just took a few minutes with my father to pin the issue down.

Not being primarily a mechanic it sometimes takes another person to point me in the right direction. Apparently the thermostat is stuck open just enough to never let the engine warm up as the coolant is always going through the radiator.

So while the car does run, I decided to let it sit while I worked on getting the parts needed to repair this. When I stopped at NAPA they surprised me because the thermostat was available the next day. However, when I asked about the gasket that was a different result. It’s been a week now waiting but this is what I have come to expect for parts on this car and I’m patient … I can wait.

Contingency Plan

There is always the worry that one day the engine is going to give up the ghost and then the car will have to just sit. What will I do when I can’t keep it running anymore, especially with limited parts available to a basic overhaul? Well, all is not lost with resources and technology.

The first and simplest approach would be to just overhaul the engine that I currently have which could be fairly expensive but considering all the time and money I have already put into it, this would be totally acceptable. However, if the block or heads are damaged beyond repair, then we have to go out into the world and find a good replacement.

While searching for a hood for the car I found a salvage yard link that connects all of the yards across the country and in that I could see there where many engines out there just waiting for someone to use them. Despite the car being 30 years old, I doubt many of the ones in the salvage yards have been driven all of that time and would be good to use in a rebuild project. And maybe one of these days I might just get one to have on hand, just in case.

My other idea is to tear out the entire fossil fuel system and go fully electric.This would be more expensive to build and might be just a tab bit heavier but just a little more satisfying in the end. With the advancements in EV technology I might actually get pretty good range out of but I would probably do less adventuring with it though. Yet, if I put solar cells on the roof and trunk lid, I could let the car trickle-charge while it sat around outside during the day and you can’t get that from gasoline.

The only other option I have been considering lately would be to just upgrade. I wouldn’t mind having the upcoming Sentra NISMO …

Winter Blues

Living in a northern climate I have to make adjustments in not only my daily life to account for changing temperatures but also dealing with my vehicle needs. This little car does alright with the fall temperatures but as it gets colder I have to change some things in order to stay warm inside the vehicle.

The high tech addition of a sheet of cardboard between the radiator and the front grill restricts the cold airflow just enough to keep the engine cool but also allows it to stay warm enough to keep me from freezing to death. But the thing that I cannot do anything about is the loss of my great mileage.

I’ve seen those reports were it is said that you don’t need to idle your engine for very long in the cold because it doesn’t take long for the engine to reach operating temperature. The fault with this idea is that if it is below zero outside, it is below zero inside the car. Driving around with frozen hands and feet are not my favored things so therefore I have to let the car idle until I can drive it comfortably.

What all of this idling does is suck up fuel that I could be driving with and therefore I just can’t go as far in it as I would like to. Despite my concern for getting the most out of the car as I can, I’m not really looking to become a hypermiler. I will suffer through the changes and hope for warmer days again.

The one irony with the car is that despite its small size, I can go through snow like no other car. I’ve driven through snow up to the headlights on roads that were no longer visible and the only tracks were from 4×4 trucks. The narrow tires and the forward weight of the car make it easier to drive on wet or icy roads and just in case I do get stuck, it takes very little to push it by hand. Mu other mid-sized vehicle tends to slide around more and lifts up on any snow getting stuck on a collection of packed snow underneath it.

So as Winter comes, there are some annoyances but I will survive as I always have.


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