The 5 Most Common 2009 Nissan Altima Problems

The Nissan Altima is one of America’s most popular family sedans. Whether you already own an ’09 Altima or are looking to buy one, it’s a good idea to be aware of what kind of problems it could run into. Nobody likes a huge unexpected car repair bill, right?

Here are five common 2009 Nissan Altima problems.

1. Steering Column Lock Failure

Can you imagine being stranded in a car that won’t start in an unfamiliar place far away from home? A handful of 2009 Altima owners can tell you, “been there, done that.”

A lot of the Altima owners over at Car Complaints reported that this problem usually rears its ugly head around the 87,500-mile mark. So how do you know if your Altima has steering column lock failure?

Easy. The car won’t start, no matter how many times you push the start/stop button. A broken steering wheel lock will disable the entire car.

Its job is to keep the steering wheel locked when your key fob is nowhere near the car. If a thief manages to get into your car, s/he still won’t be able to start it without a key fob. A broken steering column lock won’t detect your key fob and it'll remain locked, thinking that you're a thief.

This happens because Nissan put defective steering column locks in their ’09 and ’10 Altimas. After receiving so many complaints from Altima owners, Nissan agreed to replace the steering column locks with electronic steering column boxes free of charge.

How to prevent this problem: Take your Altima to the nearest Nissan dealership and have them replace the defective steering column lock with an electronic steering column box.

2. Shuddering and Hesitation While Accelerating

This is not a problem you’d want to experience on a busy road. It affects your speed and may pose a danger to you and other motorists. A fellow 2009 Altima owner at Car Complaints found herself in a scary situation when her car completely shut down on the interstate! Luckily, no one was driving right behind her.

When your Altima starts doing this (probably around the 57,000-mile mark), take it to your mechanic right away. Your transmission needs some TLC.

Your mechanic may tell you that it’s happening because of low transmission fluid levels. Take it as good news! All you need to do is to refill the transmission fluid and seal any leaks. You also want to replace the clutch plates just in case.

If the problem persists, then you likely have a clogged transmission filter. Replacing it will do the trick.

The longer you let this happen, the more likely your transmission will give out. If you bring your Altima in and the mechanic writes the transmission off as a lost cause, you’ll have to either buy a new one or have your transmission rebuilt. You better start taking preventative measures, because a new or rebuilt transmission will set you back about $2,500.

How to prevent this problem: Check your transmission fluid between oil changes and refill it whenever necessary. Replace your transmission filter every 30,000 miles.

3. Transmission Whining During Acceleration

Nissan Altima

Photo credit: Tino Rossini

This is so much more than just an annoying noise. If gone unchecked long enough, this issue could lead to about $5,700 in repairs. Start keeping your ears peeled once your Altima hits 75,000 miles. Most of the 2009 Altima owners at Car Complaints ended up having to replace their transmissions because they either didn't notice the noise or took too long to have it looked at.

You can attribute the whining sound to one of the following two issues:

  • Coolant leaking into the transmission
  • A broken timing chain

The first thing you should do is to check the radiator and see if it’s cracked or leaking. If you catch a crack or leak in the radiator early enough, flushing out the transmission fluid and replacing it with fresh fluid will do the trick. You also need to inspect the radiator, identify the defective part that’s causing the leak, and replace it.

If you need to replace a component of the radiator, visit Nissan Parts Plus for the best prices on OEM radiator replacement parts.

If the radiator looks OK, then the timing chain is probably the underlying issue. The noise should go away once you replace the timing chain.

Timing Chain: Part No. 13028-JA01A

How to prevent this problem: Pop the hood and inspect the radiator between oil changes. Replace the timing chain every 40,000-100,000 miles.

4. Overheated Transmission Going into Fail-Safe Mode

With a severity rating of 10 out of 10 on Car Complaints, an overheated transmission in fail-safe mode is not something to brush off. When your transmission goes into fail-safe mode, it immediately loses power and the ability to accelerate. It can happen anytime and anywhere without warning.

A ’09 Altima owner experienced this on the freeway. She described it as an “extremely scary” situation because she couldn’t get her Altima to go over 25 MPH. She had to drive on the side of the freeway with her flashers on while “semis [flew] by”.

You should look out for this issue if your Altima has an automatic transmission because the CVTs in 2009 Altimas aren’t equipped with coolers. If it's not the lack of a cooler that's causing the transmission to overheat, then it's the transmission fluid. The purpose of the transmission fluid is to help cool down the transmission, and it won't do a good job if it's old and sludgy.

Many Altima owners solve this issue by installing external transmission coolers under their hoods or upgrading their transmission pans to accept more transmission fluid.

The older your Altima’s transmission and the hotter the weather, the more prone your transmission is to overheating. You should start taking preventative measures after 70,000 miles, as this issue usually crops up around the 90,000-mile mark.

Transmission Pan: Part No. 31391-1XZ0B

How to prevent this problem: Ensure that your transmission has adequate fluid at all times, especially during the summer months. Change the transmission fluid every 30,000-60,000 miles. Install an external transmission cooler.

5. Stuck Brake Pedal & Failure to Start

If your ’09 Altima’s brake pedal fails to depress and the car refuses to start, then it’s likely that your brake switch has gone ka-put. This issue is so common that many 2009 Altima owners feel that Nissan should’ve issued a recall on their brake switches.

Nissan hasn’t responded yet, so the only thing you can do if you ever encounter this problem is to fork over about $575 to have your brake switch and sub harness replaced.

The purpose of the brake switch is to activate the brake lights every time you push the pedal. A broken brake switch means no brake lights and a “sticky” brake pedal that won't start the car because it doesn't register your foot on the brake.

How to prevent this problem: Start testing your brake lights occasionally when your Altima hits about 60,000 miles. If the brake lights stay on, flicker, or don’t come on at all, then you might have a faulty brake switch in your hands. Get it replaced as soon as possible.