Nissan Maxima 2000-2003 problems, engine, fuel economy, driving experience

Updated: August 22, 2021
2003 Nissan Maxima 2003 Nissan Maxima
Nissan Maxima is a mid-size front-wheel drive premium sporty sedan with a strong V6 engine. It handles well and has a firm but quiet ride. It's one of the rare V6 sedans that you can find with a manual transmission. The interior is spacious and upscale. Front seats are comfortable. Fuel economy is average for the class. Reliability is about average, however some problems could be quite expensive to repair. Read more below.
Nissan Maxima problems: The code P0340 can be caused by a bad camshaft position sensor, although other things, including a timing chain will aslo need to be checked. Replacing a camshaft position sensor is not very difficult. Watch these videos.

A bad alternator is another common problem. Replacing an alternator will cost from $460 to $650 in a repair shop. Again, watch these Youtube videos for more info.

A timing chain can be stretched and noisy at higher mileage. Replacing a timing chain is an expensive repair.

Oil and coolant leaks are common; the repair will depend on the source. Check the oil and coolant level regularly and top up if needed.

If one of the ignition coils fails, it can cause the engine to run rough and misfire. Replacing front ignition coils is easy. To replace a rear ignition coil, the intake manifold might need to come off. One ignition coil (part) costs from $75 to $180. If spark plugs are old, it's recommended replacing all the spark plugs at the same time: Repair videos.

The code P0455 can be caused by a bad EVAP canister vent solenoid, although the EVAP system must be tested for other possible leak sources like a bad gas cap, for example.
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Engine: The 2000 and 2001 models were equipped with the 222-hp 3.0L V6 DOHC (VQ30). For 2002, the Maxima received the 255-hp 3.5L V6 (VQ35), which is to this day used in many Nissan vehicles. Even if you look under the Nissan GT-R's hood, its VR38 looks very similar and uses the same basic design and some of the valve train components as the VQ35.
Overall, both VQ30 and VQ35 are strong solid engines. Both have a timing chain instead of a timing belt.However, this engine needs to be maintained very well to last, otherwise it could be quite troublesome at high mileage. Timing chain issues are not uncommon. Replacing a timing chain is expensive. If you are buying a used Nissan Maxima, especially with high mileage, watch out for whirring or rattling noises from the timing chain area. A good engine should be quiet.

Fuel Economy: The 2003 Nissan Maxima with an automatic transmission is rated at 17/24 mpg or 13.8/9.8 L/100 km city/highway.
Nissan Maxima Engine 2000 Nissan Maxima VQ30 engine
The 2003 Maxima with a manual transmission gets much better mileage: 19/26 mpg or 12.4/9.0 L/100 km.

Safety: Antilock brakes are standard; traction control is optional. Side-impact airbags are optional. In the NHTSA frontal crash tests the 2000-2003 Nissan Maxima received four stars out of five for both the driver and the front passenger.

Handling and performance: On the road, the Maxima handles well with solid sporty feel. The V6 engine is very strong, with good low-end torque and plenty of passing power. The ride is firm and fairly quiet.
2003 Nissan Maxima interior 2003 Nissan Maxima. Photo: Nissan
On the downside, you might feel torque steer on hard acceleration, especially with a manual transmission.

Pros: Powerful V6, available with a manual transmission, sporty handling, roomy upscale interior, standard ABS, available heated steering.

Cons: High maintenance and repair costs, torque steer on acceleration, firm ride, reliability could be better.

Similar cars:
Used Toyota Camry 2002-2006 review
Used Mazda 6 2003-2008 review
Used Toyota Camry 1997-2001 review

What to look for when buying a used Nissan Maxima: When checking a used car, watch for leaks; coolant leaks are not uncommon. Check all the electrical accessories including power windows, heater controls, air conditioner, etc. When the engine is started, watch out for a blue smoke for the exhaust and noise coming from the timing chain area. During the test drive, make sure to test the automatic transmission very carefully; all shifts should be smooth. When test-driving a car with a manual transmission, try accelerating and decelerating in every gear and watch out for noises. A noisy wheel bearing could produce a humming that is more noticeable at high speeds. If the 'Service Engine Soon' light is on, the problem must be investigated before you decide to buy a car. Read more: How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide.