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Nissan recalls 200,000 '03 cars

Stalling in Altima, Sentra engines cited in 2nd major recall in a month

Jul 13, 2006 | The Tennessean Nissan North America is recalling about 200,000 2003 models of Altima and Sentra sedans that came with a 2.5-liter engine because a sensor could overheat in stop-and-go traffic and make the engine die.

The Nashville-based automaker doesn't know exactly how many cars might be affected, nor has it given an estimate on the cost. But the company notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration two weeks ago that it would recall 186,279 Altimas and 14,587 Sentras that came equipped with a 2.5-liter engine to fix the problem.

The recall comes on the heels of the company's announcement last month that about 97,000 of its 2006 model Altima sedans will be recalled to fix a problem with abnormal oil consumption. That recall also involves cars with a 2.5-liter engine, but the two problems aren't related.

Back-to-back recalls are never good, but they probably won't have a significant impact on the company's sales going forward, analysts said.

"They're kind of commonplace these days," said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with consulting firm Global Insights. "It's interesting with recalls. If you own one, you pay attention."

How a company responds is more important to consumers than the actual problem, she said.

The Altima is assembled at the company's plants in Smyrna and Canton, Miss. It is Nissan's largest-selling vehicle in the United States, with annual sales topping more than 200,000 vehicles a year since its last major redesign in 2001.

Altima sales were off last month, but that's blamed on a combination of a temporary sales shutdown of cars with the 2.5-liter engine that were made this year because of the engine problem and anticipation of the redesigned 2007 model, which comes out this fall.

The new recall is relatively small in terms of the auto industry and involves an external part that could be easily fixed, said David Healey, an analyst with financial firm Burnham Securities.

"It is not significant in Nissan's overall picture," Healey said. "Recalls are trivial. It doesn't matter if it's a million vehicles. They happen all the time."

The problem does concern Nissan, spokesman Tony Pearson said.

"All of these things are concerning us," he said. "It's not very good timing that all of this stuff is happening at the same time."

Nissan discovered the problem while doing follow-up work on an earlier recall involving about 630,000 Nissan and Infiniti cars. That recall, which wrapped up last year, was blamed on a bad connection in the electronic control module, a central computer unit that governs much of a vehicle's operation. The cars either wouldn't start, had reduced power or stalled while running.

In the new recall, owners will be notified of the potential problem and asked to schedule a time for the repair beginning Aug. 21. Repairs won't cost owners anything, the company reported.

The fix could involve replacing the sensor or reprogramming the electronic control module.

The problem is not extensive, Pearson said. "As long as there's adequate air flow in the engine compartment, things are OK," Pearson said. "But it mainly happens in hot weather, stop-and-go traffic, the engine compartment heats up to the point where the circuit is broken in that sensor."

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