I hope someone can advise me on this. Here's the background info:
1. My wife bought her 2000 altima GXE with 38k miles already on it in 2002. Now it has over 150k miles on it.
2. Once or twice a year since she bought it, the car won't start (engine will not even crank) unless she shifts the automatic transmission into neutral and back into park a couple of times. Sent it in to the Nissan dealer because she had extended warranty on it but since they could not replicate it and could not find any issue, nothing was done to fix it. And since it happens rarely, we basically forgot about it.
3. Last month, it started to happen almost weekly, but this time, shifting the transmission back into park does not help and but now ALL electronics (Power locks, alarms, lights, blinkers) are completely dead (this never happened before). A couple minutes later, it would start okay again. Thought it was a battery issue, but the AAA guy who came to help jumpstart tested the battery and it was fine. Went back to Walmart where the battery was still under warranty and it tested fine too. I cleaned the battery connectors and made sure everything was tight. Pretty sure it's not a battery or connection issue because the clock on the factory standard radio does NOT reset to 12:00 after every time this happens.
4. On Friday, not only did it fail to start after almost every time my wife turns off the ignition, (It would start okay again after a few minutes). The engine also shuts off (no sputtering, though) a couple of times when she was at a red light and when she was in stop and go traffic on the freeway. Called AAA for a tow. 30 minutes later, when the car was being put on the tow, the driver had her shift into neutral, and she decided to just try starting the engine and it actually started. But to be on the safe side, we had the car towed to our regular mechanic to have it looked at anyways.
5. Our regular mechanic hooked it up to his fancy shop-grade OBD II machine and did not find any error codes. Left it Idle for a while, drove it around his neighborhood a couple of times and cannot replicate the problem. When he was more confident that it would not break down while he was road testing it, he actually drove further away on the freeway and put some 40 miles total and still no problems. Due to that, he refuses to recommend any repair work to me simply because he does not want any of his customers coming back to complain that his recommendation did not fix the issue. He's confident it's not the alternator so I don't think he tested it. From what I know about alternators, I"m thinking it's not that either
6. I'm no car expert in any way but from my internet research i think it's a bad neutral safety switch. When I asked him about it, he said it's possible and he'll replace it if I want him to but he just would not recommend any possible fix for me himself. He quoted me $150+tax for a used/salvaged switch and $280+tax for a new one.
If i were to go ahead with this, I'd pay more for a new switch for peace of mind, but since I'm not employed right now I really want to be sure that this is what I should be fixing. What else can I do to test this...Or is there something else I should be testing?
Please advise, thanks!
Additional info that could be helpful:
1. Could this be a car alarm short/killswitch issue? About 5 years ago, the factory standard keyless entry remote broke, and rather than pay $90 to the dealer to get a replacement remote, I had a thrid party install a new Viper alarm with keyless entry remotes for $120. Last year, that viper alarm keylesss entry started failing and a replacement alarm box/brain was installed.
2. About 6 months ago,the check engine light started to turn on. determined that it was because of the front catalytic converter needs to be replaced. But since I was already laid off from work at the time and the same mechanic assured me that not replacing it immediately won't cause any more damage to the car. I opted to just buy a $50 OBDII code reader and reset the code to clear the check engine light every time it pops up again. So far the same error code has come up about 3 times and I've reset it everytime. Could this be related?
I have not ruled out a starter motor issue, but would a bad started motor cause the engine to shut off during idling at a red light and during stop and go traffic? What is really confusing is that it happens randomly and that all electronics go dead but the clock on the radio does not reset. Bad fuse?
Also, I'm in southern California where the temperature range and weather is relatively moderate so it's harder for me pinpoint if it happens only in specific environmental conditions.