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2003 Sentra DIY head gasket replacement questions Forums > > 2003 Sentra DIY head gasket replacement questions 2003 Sentra DIY head gasket replacement questions
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  #1  
Old 06-23-2016, 04:28 PM
pete_89t2 pete_89t2 is offline
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Default 2003 Sentra DIY head gasket replacement questions

Greetings,
My son's car is an '03 Sentra with the 1.8L engine. I recently confirmed via a cylinder leak-down test that the head gasket is leaking on #3 cylinder. Car has about 130,xxx miles on the odometer. Not leaking too bad yet - just enough to cause us to need to top off the coolant every few weeks, and it will sometimes get an ignition miss on #3 while starting (code P0303). So far the oil is staying clean (no milky color yet, coolant isn't getting to the oil).

I'm a pretty good amateur mechanic, and have a few engine builds & resto jobs under my belt, so I'm confident I can tackle this, armed with the shop manual. Questions are as follows:

1. Source for head gasket - OEM or aftermarket? It appears from reading here, and via Google, blown head gaskets are a common problem on this engine, so I'm thinking the Nissan OEM one is a crappy design and I might be better off with a high-quality aftermarket gasket supplier like Fel-Pro. I've had good luck with them before.

2. While shopping online at RockAuto & elsewhere for the head gasket, I noticed the that for the 2003 year, the Fel-Pro gasket set has 2 part #'s - one is for build dates prior to April 2003, and the other for after April 2003. Does anybody know why or what the difference is? FWIW, my car's build date was Jan 2003.

3. The Nissan shop manual for this car (I have a PDF copy) while complete, is difficult to use for this job, since it doesn't take you from start to finish. Instead, you have to jump around the manual for the various parts of the job (e.g. camshaft removal). Can anyone point me to a good write-up or Youtube video that walks you thru the whole procedure from start to finish? Tried searching and had no luck finding so far.

4. For those of you who have done this job before, please share any of the "gotcha" problems or things I should watch out for. Same if you have any time-saving or knuckle saving tips that that would help (e.g., easier to remove part "C" before parts "A" & "B")

Thanks!
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  #2  
Old 06-24-2016, 02:58 PM
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bennyb53 bennyb53 is offline
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2002 Altima
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I used Fel Pro as well. For your vehicle it only list Fel Pro Part # 26255PT. IDK if other brand requires production dates. If you buy the Kit that includes other components may be the reason. As a side note: 2002-2004 Sentra; Production Dates: Jan. 1, 2003 to April 2, 2003 are part of Takata Air Bag recall. Hopefully its taken care of.

I'm not sure if I'm talking the same shop manual but the procedures are found in the Engine Mechanical (EM) Manual under Cylinder Head for head gasket replacement. Or under Timing Chain for timing chain/components replacements. Manuals are found in Knowledgebase secttion at the top menu tab. You may also need the Engine Control (EC) manual. You may have to do the Idle Air volume Learning (IAVL) procedures after re-asembly. You can download manuals from this site for free.

TIPS: Proper engine cool down, for me its overnight. Simply follow dis-assembly/re-assembly sequence. Follow torque specs. I did my HG replacement at 90K miles so I also did preventive maintenance like replacing timing chain guides, t-stat, water pump, radiator hoses though still working good, drive belts are good time to do it since you have lots of space. I did engine compression test before and after hg replacement. I have pics in member's galleries that you can browse. The goal is for engine to fire at first crank after re-assembly, so Check, Double Check, even Triple check (LOL).

Last edited by bennyb53; 06-24-2016 at 03:03 PM.
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Old 06-25-2016, 07:49 AM
pete_89t2 pete_89t2 is offline
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Thanks Benny. Yup, that Fel-Pro part # I was referring to was the "complete" kit - it includes head gasket, plus all the other incidental seals that you have to disturb/should replace while doing the job. RockAuto sells it for about $65. Also includes the valve stem seals, so I'll do those too while in there. I've also been told that it's smart to replace the cylinder head bolts, so I'll pick up a set of those as well. I downloaded the same shop manual, so I'm in good shape there.

The only step that has me a little concerned is where you need to apply compressed air through an oil port to get the intake cam sprocket to advance so the cam can be removed. I only have a small electric compressor for inflating tires and the like - is that sufficient for this job, or do I need to rent a real shop compressor? I'm thinking I should be OK with what I got.

I'll probably do a bunch of the preventive maintenance items as well - parts are cheap in comparison to either paying someone for labor or my DIY time!

We already had the air bag recall taken care of, thanks for the tip. Especially since as 3rd owners, Nissan obviously hasn't gotten around to notifying us of the recall. We found out our car was affected via a Gov't (NHSTA or DOT?) website that tracks recalls - plug in your VIN and it lets you know if there's a recall on your car.

Last edited by pete_89t2; 06-25-2016 at 07:51 AM.
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Old 06-25-2016, 11:41 AM
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bennyb53 bennyb53 is offline
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I didn't have to do that on QR25 so check max output on your compressor. Manual says minimum pressure is 43.5 psi or can be higher. I might add for silicone sealant use Permatex Ultra Gray as it is the same stuff specified in the manual. I think I waited over 2 hours for added caution before starting engine.
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Old 07-08-2016, 08:26 AM
pete_89t2 pete_89t2 is offline
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Well I'm part way thru this job and ran into a problem... Seems my puny compressor doesn't have enough wind in it to do the step where you advance the cam so you can insert a pin to lock it in the most advanced position. Followed all the tips in the FSM to get it to cooperate (e.g., jiggle camshaft via the hex with a wrench, lightly tap sprocket with a hammer) to get the pin loose.

Short of picking up a real compressor and plugging away at it, does anyone have other ideas? I read here that some of you that have done this job skipping the compressor/cam advance step without any ill effects - how did you do it?

EDIT: I borrowed a friend's air compressor today and managed to get the cam out; went exactly as described in the FSM without any snags - just needed a compressor with more PSIs to blow that pin loose!

Now on to cleaning everything up, measuring the head & block deck for flatness and putting it all back together. Looks flat & feels flat, don't think I'll need to get any machine shop work done on the head.

Last edited by pete_89t2; 07-09-2016 at 02:21 PM.
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Old 07-25-2016, 10:01 AM
pete_89t2 pete_89t2 is offline
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It's been a few weeks and the car logged about 250 miles since then, so I'm ready to declare SUCCESS on my head gasket replacement, and share a few tip for others who may have to tackle this project. For reference, this applies to a 2003 Sentra with the 1.8L engine & auto tranny.

1. Download & print out the applicable parts of the factory shop manual (FSM), read it several times before you start, and have it handy while you're doing the job. Basically if you follow the FSM step by step, you'll do just fine. There were a few steps that you can do a little differently, which I found made the job a little easier that I'll talk to below.

2. When it's time to remove the fuel rail/fuel injectors, you can leave the fuel rail attached to the flexible fuel line. Just unbolt the rail & remove the rail & FI's as one unit; there's enough slack on the flexible fuel line so the whole unit can be moved aside & out of the way. The FSM tells you to disconnect the fuel line at the rail (engine side), but it's unnecessary. FWIW, the special tool I had for removing these "quick connect" fuel line fittings wasn't working well on the Nissan's lines, so this little trick solved my problem. Don't forget to depressurize the fuel system prior to starting - the "how to" is covered in the FSM and is very easy.

3. You'll need a real compressor/blow gun to do the step in the FSM where you lock up the intake cam sprocket. As I found out, a puny electric tire inflator type compressor won't work. With a real compressor on hand (borrowed one), everything proceeds exactly as the FSM says.

4. You don't need to remove the exhaust downpipe from the exhaust manifold. FSM says to do this, but it's not really necessary. Once the heat shields are removed from the exhaust mani and downpipe, there is enough room in front of the exhaust mani so you can pull it off & clear the studs on the head. The exhaust mani & downpipe will now just drop down as a unit, out of the way and clear of the head. Just remove the exhaust mani nuts, and slide it past the head studs. Use lots of penetrating lube to soak the nuts & studs before starting because they will be rusty! Place something under the downpipe/exhaust mani to support it from below so it doesn't bend under its own weight.
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