In 2001, when Nissan unveiled the third-generation Altima, it was nothing exceptional — just another midsize sedan meant to keep Nissan relevant against Honda and Toyota. This car was never supposed to be loved, because Nissan designed it as an appliance — and most of them were disposed of like old microwaves, except for mine. Somehow, I fell in love with my 2004 Nissan Altima.
I’ve read countless stories of people falling in love with cars — but none were about a machine this dull. You see, at face value, the 2004 Altima 3.5 SE is nothing special: It’s just another Japanese sedan with a big V6 engine and a black plastic interior. But to me, these features are the genesis of my love for cars and a prized family heirloom. That’s the funny thing about cars: They start out as a mode of transportation, and they wind up becoming companions.
Some people get 911s or old Ferraris passed down to them, but my automotive inheritance was a 2004 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE. I make sure to never forget that last part. The 3.5-liter VQ35DE V6 gave my 17-year-old right foot the command of 240 horses, which in hindsight was far more than I deserved in high school.
When my father handed me the keys to his beloved commuter, it had a respectable 225,000 miles on the clock. Since the car was virtually worthless after surviving a serious head-on collision, passing it on to me was a logical step. Once I learned how to drive on this battle-scarred road warrior, I was ready to take on the most dangerous driving location in the world: a high school parking lot.
It took a week until my first fender bender occurred. A classmate of mine decided to back out of a parking space right next to me and ram their rear bumper into my driver door. With that inevitable experience out of the way, the Altima and I began to bond.
After the Altima had shuttled me to my first jobs, high school and eventually college, I had the opportunity to perform maintenance myself. I’ll never forget the nights spent in the garage with my dad swearing at the rusted bolts when we replaced the worn brakes — or the afternoon spent replacing the faded headlights with new units, only to discover we didn’t know how to align them properly. The car was a teacher as well as an opportunity to spend time together, two men against years of corrosion.
By today’s standards, the Altima was very unsafe. It didn’t come standard with any electronic aids like traction control, stability control or even ABS — and while I would never call it a raw car, it wasn’t going to save you when things went wrong — something I discovered while spinning out at an ice-covered 4-way intersection.
If I were to test the Altima like a press car today, I fear the scathing review I would craft. The steering was numb, the turning radius was huge, and the transmission was slow. At least the interior predated the piano-black trim that ruins all modern car interiors. It lacked any sort of screen — and, to my dismay, it lacked Bluetooth … and even an aux jack.
Objectively, the Altima was not a very good car, let alone a car you could love. But that’s the thing about cars: You can find companionship, even in the boring ones. There are thousands of silver Nissan Altimas on the road — but none are quite like mine. Find a 2004 Nissan Altima for sale
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