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I-Team: Nissan Drivers Outraged Over Rust Problems

BOSTON (CBS) - Cynthia Allen was sitting at a Nissan dealership last year, waiting for workers to wrap up a routine oil change. But then a receptionist walked Allen back to the service area, telling her mechanics had discovered a problem.

Allen's 2002 Nissan Altima was up on a lift. The Springfield, Mass. driver remembers her initial reaction to seeing the bottom of her vehicle.

Nissan Rust
Rust on Nissan (Photo from Ryan Kath/WBZ)

"I was in disbelief," Allen told the WBZ I-Team. "It was just heavily rotted out with a hole in the bottom."

The floorboards in the driver's and passenger's side floorboards were covered in rust. The corroded metal had peeled away from the rest of the under-body. In a couple of sections, the vehicle's carpet was visible.

Allen said she was shocked because she had always brought her Nissan to the dealership for regular maintenance. And the car's odometer had not even reached 70,000 miles.

"I've never seen anything like that before. The rust was so bad," Allen explained. "They told me it was probably from the winter driving with all the salt on the roads."

But Allen decided to do a Google search when she got home and quickly realized she was far from alone.

Angry Nissan Altima owners have posted an endless slideshow of photos of the corroded metal under their cars.

Other drivers have produced YouTube videos about their rust experience. In one clip, a man puts his boot right through the floor.

Mike Shalhoub
Mechanic Mike Shalhoub inspects a Nissan with rust problems (Photo from Ryan Kath/WBZ)

"It's just crazy with these cars," said auto mechanic Mike Shalhoub, who runs Galen Street Automotive in Watertown. "We have seen this very often with the Nissan Altimas."

Customers typically don't have any idea there is a problem until their car is up on the lift for some type of service work. Shalhoub has to break the bad news that it's time for a repair that can cost several thousand dollars.

"They just go crazy when they find out," he said.

One Boston driver started a Twitter page (@NissanRust) after discovering the problem on his 2003 Altima with less than 80,000 miles. He filed a complaint with Nissan, but said the company told him his car was out of warranty.

"I'm not a car expert, but I could easily tell that it was not normal. I think they should acknowledge this and fix it," said the driver, who did not want to his name used.

The WBZ I-Team found more than 400 complaints filed with the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), primarily Altima models 2002 to 2006.

There are more than 20 complaints in Massachusetts, but the issue extends far beyond the harsh snow and salt of New England winters. The NHTSA database shows complaints all over the country, from Florida to California.

In February, a Walthan driver reported this about his 2006 Nissan Altima: "This is a known defect that Nissan takes no responsibility for. There is an engineering defect that causes this particular spot to be vulnerable to rust. This could become a safety issue."

The WBZ I-Team contacted Nissan about the rust issue. In a statement, the company said, "Nissan's Field Quality engineers investigate customer complaints, and this situation has not been determined to be a safety defect."

Auto safety expert Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, said the rusted floorboard issue isn't a problem that places drivers in imminent danger. That is why he believes NHTSA has not taken any action.

In the past, Kane said other automakers issued recalls for rust, but those dealt with frames and axles that could cause a vehicle to collapse on the road.

"As a result of that, I think Nissan has been able to get away with this problem," Kane said. "But this is clearly a defect and Nissan needs to step up and pay for it."

However, Kane said that scenario is unlikely. Instead, he thinks the automaker is biding its time since the vehicles are out of warranty and expensive to fix.

"If you're Nissan, you're thinking, 'I don't have any pressure on me from regulators because it's not an acute safety risk that's going to kill or injury someone right now. The longer we push this out, the more cars that are off the road, the less money we have to spend to fix it.'"

Nissan told the I-Team it will review customer complaints on a case-by-case basis and examine several factors to determine whether to offer "goodwill payments toward corrosion abatement." Those factors include how many owners the car has had, its service history at dealerships, mileage and age of the vehicle.

Any Altima owner who has a concern can contact Nissan Consumer Affairs at (800) NISSAN-1.

Worried her feet were about to hit the pavement, Allen found a cheap estimate and paid $1,000 to have her floorboard replaced last fall.

She hopes Nissan will provide some reimbursement for the repair work. If not, Allen said the experience will drive away a repeat customer.

"I'm very surprised there hasn't been a recall because of how many cars are like this," she said.

Ryan Kath can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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