Used Nissan Sentra 2000-2006 review

Overall rating:3 Star Rating
Updated: September 18, 2017
Nissan Sentra
2006 Nissan Sentra.

Nissan Sentra is a compact front-wheel drive car with a firm ride. At the time it was introduced, the Sentra was the smallest car in the Nissan lineup. The Sentra has a plain interior with simple controls and instruments. There is plenty of headroom and legroom in the front; the rear seat space is limited. The trunk is sizable and the rear seats fold down.

The Sentra base 1.8L engine offers decent gas mileage. The optional 2.5L engine available from 2002, is fast, but thirsty. Nissan Sentra comes with a 4-speed automatic or 5- or 6-speed (SE-R, Spec V) manual transmission. The Sentra competes with the likes of Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 / Protege. Is Nissan Sentra reliable? What are the common problems? Read more below.

Nissan Sentra interior
Nissan Sentra 2006 interior.

Engine: Engine choices include the base 126-hp 1.8L or optional 145-hp 2.0L 4-cylinder. For the 2002, the 2.0L engine was discontinued. The Sentra SE-R, SE-R Spec V and the 2.5L Limited Edition received the 165-hp (175-hp in SE-R Spec V) 2.5-liter motor, the same as in the Nissan Altima.

Mechanical: The Sentra has McPherson struts in the front and the multi-link beam layout in the rear suspension. Rear brakes are drums or discs.

Fuel Economy: The 2005 1.8L Sentra with an automatic transmission is rated at 24/31 MPG city/highway (9.8/7.6 L/100km). With 20% city, 80 % highway use, the Sentra can drive up to 345 miles (544 km) on a 13.2-gallon (50 liters) tank. The 2005 2.5L automatic Sentra gets 20 MPG city and 26 MPG highway (11.8/9.0 L/100km).

Timing Belt or Timing chain? Both, the 1.8L and the 2.5L engines have a timing chain; there is no timing belt. A timing chain doesn't need regular replacement. That said, we have seen many Nissan vehicles needed a timing chain replacement because the chain was stretched. The symptoms of a stretched timing chain include hard starting (long cranking) and Check Engine light with trouble codes related to a cam or crank sensor. A timing chain lasts longer if the engine oil is changed regularly and the level is topped up. A stretched timing chain can be diagnosed by checking the timing or comparing the cam and crank sensor signals on a scope.

Nissan Sentra NHTSA crash tests
Frontal
Driver
Frontal
Pass.
Side
driver
Side
Pass.
Rollover
2001 Sentra 4 Star 4 Star not rated not rated not rated
2002-2006 Sentra 4 Star 4 Star 2 Star not rated 4 Star

Safety: Antilock brakes were optional. In the NHTSA frontal crash tests, the 2001-2006 Nissan Sentra received four stars for both the driver and the front passenger.

Pros: Fuel economy, affordable, easy to maintain, trunk space, powerful optional 2.5L engine.

Cons: Not very reliable, engine is noisy, antilock brakes are not standard, firm ride, plain interior, poor side crash ratings.

Owner reviews: We looked through many Sentra owner reviews at various forums. Although many owners were satisfied with the car interior and driving dynamics, many complained about various issues, including hard starting, electrical and engine problems.

Overall: Nissan Sentra is simple and affordable, but the reliability is not great. Consumer Reports gives the 2000-2006 Sentra only one star for reliability. You may want to check out something like Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla; they are proven to be more reliable. Nissan Sentra common problems include a leaking head gasket, starting issues, failed cam and crank sensors, stretched timing chain and some electrical issues. See the next paragraph for more details.
Similar cars:

What to look for when buying a used Nissan Sentra: If the engine has trouble starting right away, or runs rough, misfires or rattles when started, avoid the car. A blue or white smoke from the exhaust is another sign that the car should be avoided. Low coolant level is another symptom to watch out. When a head gasket starts going (common issue), the first signs are short misfire when started cold, overheating and coolant level going down. Watch out for coolant leaks (coolant is typically green). Avoid the car if the engine temperature raises above normal. Watch out for warning lights on the dash staying on with the engine running. Make sure to test the horn. Check operation of all accessories including the power windows and heater controls. Read more Illustrated used car checklist.

Guides for used car buyers:

Maintenance tips: Regularly done oil changes will help you keep your engine in a good shape. The owner's manual for the 2005 Nissan Sentra recommends using the 5W-30 oil grade. Many engine problems are caused by overheating. To prevent overheating, check the coolant level regularly and keep it topped up. Transmission fluid also needs to be checked regularly and changed if dirty; dirty transmission fluid causes the transmission to wear faster. If it's hard to fill up at a gas station, have the vent control valve checked.
You might also be interested:

Resources:
Check for safety recalls: Safety Recalls - NHTSA or Transport Canada - Road Safety Recalls.
Nissan techinfo - online access to the service manual. Paid subscription is required. A great source if you need a service manual for a short term while doing DIY repairs.
US Nissan Owners website - Check maintenance schedule, download an electronic owner's manual.


2004 Nissan Sentra specifications

Dimensions:
Overall length:
Overall width:
Overall height:
Wheelbase:

177.5 in (4509 mm)
67.3 in (1710 mm)
55.5 in (1410 mm)
99.8 in (2535 mm)

Cargo volume: 11.6 cu. ft. (328 liters)
Engines:
1.8 / 1.8 S: 16 valves 1.8L DOHC I4, model QG18DE
126 hp @ 6000 rpm, 129 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm
2.5 S / SE-R 16 valves 2.5L DOHC I4, model QR25DE
165 hp @ 6000 rpm, 175 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm.
SE-R Spec V 16 valves 2.5L DOHC I4, model QR25DE
175 hp @ 6000 rpm, 180 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm.
Required Fuel:
1.8 / 1.8 S / 2.5 S / SE-R:
SE-R Spec V:

regular unleaded
premium unleaded

Fuel Tank Capacity:

13.2 US gal (50 liters)

Oil capacity with filter:
Drain and refill, with oil filter change:
1.8L QG18DE:
2.5L QR25DE:

2-7/8 US qt (2.7 liters)
4-1/4 US qt. (4.0 liters)