Sentra 87

The perils of owning a classic misfit.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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