Home » How Risk-Averse Are You? 2005 Nissan Altima SE-R vs 2005 Chevy Impala

How Risk-Averse Are You? 2005 Nissan Altima SE-R vs 2005 Chevy Impala

Sbsd 9 20 2023
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Good morning! Today we’re testing your nerve and sense of adventure with two sedans from the same year. One is probably a decent buy, but might put you to sleep, and the other has more red flags than a Communist party parade, but would undoubtedly be more fun to drive. We’ll get to those in a minute, after we determine the winner of yesterday’s Battle of Los Angeles:

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Clear win for the sultry Italian. I agree; I have yet to own an Alfa Romeo, but it’s on my bucket list. Just make sure you have enough gas. A lot of you thought the LUV was just plain overpriced; a few years ago I might have agreed, but have you seen what contemporary Toyota trucks are going for these days? That thing is a bargain.

For today’s challenge, I was all set to do nice, sensible, back-to-basics beaters. I found one good contender, and then I found something that is anything but basic or sensible, and I couldn’t not feature it. Sometimes the themes choose themselves. So we’ll start out with the bad idea, and then look at the safe but boring option.

2005 Nissan Altima SE-R – $1,750

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 Engine/drivetrain: 3.5 liter dual overhead cam V6, six-speed manual, FWD

Location: Lemont, IL

Odometer reading: 121,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but power steering is out

Through no fault of its own, the Nissan Altima has become the poster child for predatory auto loans, buy-here-pay-here lots, poor maintenance, and appallingly bad driving. Which is a shame, because it’s actually a pretty damn good car. It would have to be, to survive such abuse. Most Altimas you see being carelessly flogged are nothing special, but this one is. In fact, it was featured as a “Holy Grail” on this very site: the VQ35DE-powered, six-speed-manual-equipped Altima SE-R.

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You can’t keep a good engine down, and Nissan’s long-in-the-tooth VQ series is a good engine. This one runs just fine, and doesn’t even have that many miles on it. Unfortunately, not all is well under the hood: the power steering pump leaks badly, and the rack may be damaged as well. That’s a chore for a DIYer, or a small fortune to spend at a shop, and it accounts for this car’s low price.

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But wait, there’s more! Act now and you’ll not only get the Nissan with the busted steering; you’ll also get a fistful of paperwork in lieu of a lost title! The seller claims it’s all on the up-and-up, but you might want to go to the DMV together. And won’t that be fun?

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It’s not all bad news, though: apart from the mechanical maladies, the car itself is in pretty good shape. The seller says it has a little rust, but it’s an Illinois car, so I’d be astonished if it didn’t. The paint is shiny, and what we can see of the interior looks nice. It has led a hard life, no doubt, but under the right care, it could still have some miles in it. If the title really isn’t a big deal, that is.

2005 Chevrolet Impala – $2,100

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Milwaukee, WI

Odometer reading: 192,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Very well, according to the seller

From the buy-here-pay-here lot to the car rental counter – here is a staple of fleets of all kinds, the good old Chevy Impala. Built on GM’s long-serving W platform, the FWD Impala evokes words like “sturdy” and “no-nonsense,” not exactly performance buzzwords. This car doesn’t accelerate, brake, or corner so much as just speed up, slow down, and change direction. But at least it’s comfy and quiet.

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This appears to be a base model Impala, with a bench seat and a column-mounted shifter, and as such, I’m almost certain it’s powered by Chevy’s 3.4 liter 60-degree V6 rather than the beloved Buick-derived 3800. The 3.4 is an acceptable powerplant, as long as you keep an eye on a few key gaskets for leaks. Likewise, the 4T65E automatic is nothing to write home about, but it works well enough. Parts are cheap for this car, and it’s reasonably economical. Damning with faint praise, I know, but faint praise is about all anyone can muster for a plain-jane Impala.

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This one runs and drives fine,  has good air conditioning, and isn’t completely embarrassing to look at. It has some rust that someone has painted over, so expect to see it again in the spring, but GM cars like this can collect a shocking amount of rust before succumbing to it.

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This will never be an exciting car, or a pretty car, or an impressive car. But it is a cheap car, and it should be a reliable car for at least a couple of years yet. And in this price range, that ain’t nothing.

When you’re shopping for $2,000 cars, it pays to look for something reliable, and the smart move is to play it safe. But we enthusiasts sometimes just can’t go for the safe option, not when there’s a six-speed manual sitting behind way too much engine for a midsized sedan available for the same price. Sure, it’ll take some work, you tell yourself, and you’ll be sitting on pins and needles until that title with your name on it finally arrives in the mail, but at least it isn’t boring, right? Or are you more inclined to play it safe and drive something with less character, but fewer headaches?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
10 months ago

Nissan Altimas: NOT EVEN ONCE.

This one already comes broken??? There is a LIST of things I’d rather do than own that pile and it’s entirely unpleasant:

  • Have Gas Station TV installed in my house
  • Get farted on by an elephant in gastrointestinal distress
  • Accidentally step in moose urine
  • Trip and fall in a field of stray Legos
  • Be trapped in a room with Ted Cruz
  • Rebuild the VW’s busted clock spring using nothing but spit and twine
  • Have every car stereo I encounter stuck on that insufferable Yacht Rock channel
  • Work for Jim Spanfeller
Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
Giulia Louis-Dreyfus
10 months ago

I despise that generation of Impala. I’d only pick it under the condition that I can then drive it straight to a car crusher.

GFunk
GFunk
10 months ago

About a decade ago we went to Disney with the in-laws (never again on so many levels) and they had ponied up for the rental. Got to the garage and had two choices – brand new redesigned Passat or Impala. I’ll never forgive the old man for the choice he made.

In this case, though, I think the Impala is the right car. Vaguely described steering / title problems would scare me away from far nicer cars than an Altima.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago

Impala! This is 1 showdown where I thought it would basically default to the Impala…actually surprised it’s somewhat close

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

I am all for making a bad decision on an old beat up enthusiast car. But this is 2 boring cars with one clearly in worse shape. You think Nissan altima would be fun if fixed up? What are you a buy here pay here used car salesman.

HOT_HATCH
HOT_HATCH
10 months ago

The wheels on the Altima have to be some of the better OEM wheels available of the period. This would be an easy choice if the Altima didn’t have title issues. Even still, I’m not buying an Impala in this life or the next.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
10 months ago

I voted for the Nissan. Sure it probably smells like old bong water and will cause months of problems it really shouldn’t need to, but I’d rather have that grief and passion than the apathy and ennui in physical form that is a 2005 Impala.

That chevy is the automotive equivalent of a dentist office.

Pappa P
Pappa P
10 months ago
Reply to  Soso Tsundere

I’d have that thing smelling like fresh bong water in no time.

Citrus
Citrus
10 months ago

Remember that if you buy an Impala you could make a film set in a 2000s police station.

Trevlington
Trevlington
10 months ago

Help. I’m English so can someone please explain what a Buy Here Pay Here lot is? My experience here is that I see a car I like at a dealer (lot), go in and look at it, drive it a bit, and if I like it pay a deposit and pay the balance when I pick it up the next week after they’ve cleaned it. I buy there and pay there….

Trevlington
Trevlington
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Aha! Thank you very much. Knowledge increased. Which is why I come here.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
10 months ago
Reply to  Trevlington

The lending is predatory to the point that these assholes are counting on having the cars repossessed from half of the buyers. They usually install tracking devices and remote ignition disablers so they can immobilize the car for ease of repossession. Since getting to work in American requires having a car for most of us, those who can’t get financing from a traditional bank or the automaker’s lending arm are stuck going to Buy Here Pay Here lots or hoping whatever they can scrape together in cash is enough to find a decent car from a private seller.

Ideally we would have enough public transit infrastructure that people who can’t realistically afford a car wouldn’t need to buy one. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Matt Woods
Matt Woods
10 months ago

The Altima could make a great lemons car, so who needs a title?

Pappa P
Pappa P
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt Woods

I just sold an engine stand to a guy running a Maxima in lemons. He said it’s a rocket once stripped out.
This would be a pretty awesome upgrade!

Black Peter
Black Peter
10 months ago

This car doesn’t accelerate, brake, or corner so much as just speed up, slow down, and change direction.
That’s gold Marky, gold! 

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

I’m too old for a lot of things. One is going to the DMV with a stranger so we can talk a tired clerk into issuing a title for a not quite right 18 year old Altima. See the USA in a Chevrolet.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
10 months ago

Risk aversion and Altima don’t belong together in the same sentence. Even if you don’t drive like you got your license from GTA, the car will probably override you and make you do terrible things. Risk aversion and Impala go together like a barbershop quartet (yes the old-timey reference was intentional). That 3.4 is gonna sound like a trumpet underwater when you merge on a highway, and that trans will probably be in limp mode when you pick it up, but by God it’ll get you there and back…somehow…and you’ll never be tempted to do anything bad with it.

Honda R 157
Honda R 157
10 months ago

The Impala would probably be a little easier to live with day to day but the Altima seems so much more fun to actually drive. Both of them are at that point where you don’t worry about parking lot dings but they’re not embarrassing, either.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
10 months ago

Throw a set of Blizzaks on, and the Impala is a solid winter beater. But I just can’t say no to a unicorn 6-speed sedan, even though I know I’ll regret the decision after my fourth unsuccessful trip to the county clerk’s office.

JDE
JDE
10 months ago
Reply to  ColoradoFX4

Solid and the 3.4 is not usually said in the same sentence, still it did somehow manage to get to nearly 200K miles

TDI_FTW
TDI_FTW
10 months ago

Why don’t they just get a new title from the DMV office? I’ve lost titles before and just gotten a new one printed just fine…

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
10 months ago
Reply to  TDI_FTW

That sounds like a rhetorical question.

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
10 months ago

I’m not dealing with title issues for the privilege to deal with power steering issues. Impala it is, even if it’s one of the most boring cars ever made. Seriously, especially in this color, I could hardly tell if I was looking at a car in these pictures, or just broken pavement. There are few cars more absent of styling than this generation of Impala.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
10 months ago

In fairness, most people are used to seeing them in NYPD colors.

Mike F.
Mike F.
10 months ago

What the hell. If I’m actually going to go to the trouble of buying a car, I’m NOT buying an Impala. Altima it is. (Yeah, I know – “Please sir, may I have another?!”)

Elhigh
Elhigh
10 months ago

I’m no fan of the Altima, except my daughter-in-law has a similar Impala and while it is rife with problems, the damned thing refuses to irrefutably die. So if I had to choose between one shitbox vs. another, I think the Altima would win. Not because it’s better.

Because it would be a different pain in the ass. A whole new pain in the ass. You know what they say: a change is as good as a rest. If you can’t have a good car, maybe one that’s differently bad will suffice. And maybe the Altima could be convinced to straight up kick the bucket, and then she could force herself to pull the trigger on something new.

Uninformed Fucknugget
Uninformed Fucknugget
10 months ago

This would be a big depends on what I want the car for. Am I looking to drag another project into my yard that I might get around to fixing sometime before the apocalypse or do I need to get my dumbass to work Monday morning?
Title issues are usually a deal breaker for me.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago

For an Uninformed Fucknugget, you ask the right questions. If I’m looking for basic transport, Chevy. If I’m looking for a project, something (anything!) else.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
10 months ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Agreed, if anything their name should be Soundly Logical Fucknugget.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
10 months ago

Give me that big Altima energy. The early 2000s Impala isn’t a car anyone actually wants, it’s a car you settle for having. The only way I could see myself owning virtually any 90s-current FWD GM car is if I had no other options.

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
10 months ago

Why is it so hard to replace the ownership in the states? I’m in Ontario and if I lose mine it takes a few minutes and $32 at Service Ontario. Well, plus the wait time in line. Still, in and out in under an hour with a brand new ownership. Assuming you are the registered owner of course. Need new plates? Same place, same timeframe.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
10 months ago
Reply to  IanGTCS

It’s not hard. At all. That’s why it’s such a huge red flag.

Rabob Rabob
Rabob Rabob
10 months ago
Reply to  IanGTCS

California DMV at least – takes weeks to get an appointment and waiting in line can take hours depending on the day. People start lining up at 6am

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
10 months ago
Reply to  Rabob Rabob

You can’t just request it online and pay with a credit card?

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
10 months ago

Even in “Holy Grail” configuration the Altima would have likely been a no without all the problems. With the title and mechanical issues it’s a hard pass. Sorry, I’ve just had far too many issues with Nissan products.

Meanwhile we can damn the Impala with faint praise all we want but I’ve driven them plenty as rentals and it’s solid if unexciting transportation. Continuing parts availability and generally decent powertrain reliability means it will go as long as you’re willing to maintain it.

Solid, easy win for the Impala.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
10 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

I had a rental Impala one winter in Santa Fe. They had scraped the blacktop off of one of the main streets in preparation for a resurfacing that never came — and then the weather did. I swear to god, that car saved my spine. I had to travel that road every day, and it was like something out of Afghanistan. But the Impala just shrugged it off and drove smoothly — I probably could have had an open cup of coffee and not spilled anything. If I had been driving my own “sport-tuned” car, I probably would have lost some fillings.

I sure as hell gained some respect for GM suspension engineers that year.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
10 months ago

I owned a Maxima with a six-speed, so I know the Altima is fast as hell and a blast to drive. But I’d give a real good listen to that valvetrain before buying.
The title issue hands this showdown to the vanilla GM regardless.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
10 months ago

Hell, even when it’s in perfect tune, the VQ sounds like someone poured a bag of marbles down the cylinders. It’s a fun engine to drive, but it may be the worst-sounding gas engine that has ever been created.

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