It takes a specific kind of person to finance a Nissan Altima.
Think of bad drivers and their cars, and Nissan Altimas consistently rank at the top of the list with the usual suspects of Toyota Priuses, Dodge Chargers, BMW 3-series, and anything Infiniti.
Altimas are consistently the butt of jokes and memes.
This one’s one of my favorite.
This Bay Area Radio show asked its listeners what cars they associate with bad drivers, and Altimas were mentioned a lot.
The Nissan Altima, or any car, is not inherently bad, it’s just a machine. It’s bad engineering, poor reliability, and the driver behind the wheel that causes a car to get such a bad reputation.Embed from Getty Images
But, like many makes and models, there are general characteristics and history about a car that bring out certain driving habits.
You may have noticed this about yourself with a rental with three times the horsepower than your daily driver. All of a sudden, everyone in front of you is going too slow.
Or, if you borrow something much slower, suddenly everyone’s out to cut you off, forcing you to employ 100 percent of your defensive driving techniques
So, what exactly is it about the Nissan Altima, an unassuming sedan, that brings out the worst driving in people.
I have some ideas.
Nissan Altimas were some of the first cars with CVTs standard
Nissan was one of the first automakers, first with the Murano in 2002 with their XTronic line of transmissions, to lean into Continuously Variable Transmissions in a big way.
By 2007 many Nissans came with CVTs standard, including the Altima.
Because of a CVTs ability to be at the most efficient engine speed thanks to infinite gear ratios, the driver “feels” an instantaneous and more powerful response off the line (0-30 MPH.) CVTs are generally faster than its geared counterpart in overtaking situations (30-60 MPH, 60-90 MPH etc.)
Altima shoppers don’t necessarily buy Altimas for a sportier driving experience, but now you have a new generation of Altima owners “feeling” a lot quicker driving around.
Like any average driver, they’ll use a car’s performance, however small, to their advantage.
Nissan empowered Altima owners to jack rabbit off the line at every stop and, God forbid you try to overtake one, react faster than you can by speeding up.
If an Altima owner optioned for the bigger V6, even better (for them.)
Drivers with poor credit buy a lot of Altimas. Insurance insists there’s a correlation between poor credit and bad driving.
Banks love working with car buyers with poor credit as long as you agree to the loan’s high-interest rate.
No risk, no reward.
In turn, dealerships are motivated to stock cars sub-prime credit car shoppers look for as long as the banks approve the loans.
Buyers with poor credit frequently choose lower-tier, but reliable cars, like Nissans, they think will last long enough for them to establish a good credit history.
Unlike Honda or Toyota, not only are Nissan dealerships willing to work with buyers with poor credit, they’re even incentivizing dealers to push shoppers into lucrative 84-96 month car loans.
Studies from Cars Direct (in partnership with Auto Credit Express) and Credit rating house Equifax all identify the Nissan Altima as one of the top cars that drives the subprime credit loan car market.
As bad and discriminatory as it sounds, the insurance industry “insists there is a correlation between poor credit scores and risky drivers.”
“The insurance industry points to numerous research that says credit scores can accurately predict accident potential even though the reasons remain less than clear.“
“Statistical analysis shows that those with higher credit scores tend to get into fewer accidents and cost insurance companies less than their lower-scoring counterparts.”
If you’re a driver in a new Nissan Altima, a large percentage of you Altima owners (no offense) probably financed with a sub-prime auto loan. By extension, auto insurance industry data says you get into your fair share of accidents.
Granted, the majority of Altima drivers have OK credit, but, there are a lot of you (again, no offense and with peace & love) with poor credit and bad driving habits.
Nissan’s reputation for poor reliability flooded the market with cheap Altimas. Dirt cheap cars are perceived to have less value, making it easier for owners to abuse them.
Nissan recently settled several class action lawsuits stemming from allegations they sold vehicles with defective CVT transmissions.
Affected Nissan owners reported transmission jerkiness, stalling, and hesitation and, in many cases, premature failure.
This issue affected most of Nissan’s lineup, including 2013-2016 Nissan Altimas.
Despite Nissan extending warranties and replacing CVTs, many Altimas did not qualify because of mileage or owners not responding to the settlement.
Altima owners with potentially bad CVTs knew they were driving around on borrowed time and listed their Altimas on the used car market for cheap.
Second owners either knew they were potentially buying a future lemon or simply weren’t aware of potential issues and enjoyed the prospect of buying a new-to-them Altima for not much money.
Even in this competitive used car market where it’s hard to find an affordable car, you can still find a cheap Altima. Check out this one I found while writing this blog post. I doubt the seller will mention transmission maintenance if it’s not brought up first
When it comes to cheap possessions, there’s psychology attached to their perceived value, mainly that inexpensive items don’t have much.
Do you think someone is more likely to take risks while driving in a car they spent a lot or very little on?
Keep that in mind when you come up on a road-raging Nissan Altima, it’s going to hurt their pockets much less if they decide to go “full send.”
There’s a proportionally large amount of Altimas in states with the worst drivers.
For a large percentage of Nissan Altima owners, bad driving isn’t as much a habit as a way of life.
Let me explain.
Despite being a Japanese car manufacturer, Nissan is almost as American as Apple Pie.
Nissan first started making cars in the United States in 1983. To put that in perspective, that’s 15 percent of how long America’s been a nation.
Nissan employs close to 16,000 people across four assembly plants in Tennessee and Mississippi (keep those two states in mind.)Embed from Getty Images
That’s also a lot of people who benefit from Nissan’s Vehicle Purchase Program ($1,000 below invoice.)
With a Nissan Altima priced at $22,884 (invoice), a Nissan employee looking for a point-A to point-B car that seats 5 can expect to finance a new Altima for around $22,000 making it a popular choice off the lot.
Proportionally, that’s where you’re going to find most of the nation’s Altima drivers, somewhere in the Southeastern United States.
And guess where the worst drivers are in America?
According to a study to find the states with the worst drivers considering percentage uninsured, DUIs, driving fatalities, and how often their residents looked up “traffic ticket ” or “speeding ticket,” both Mississippi and Tennessee ranked in the top 10 (first and sixth respectively.)
You’ve essentially got two states full of cheap Nissan Altimas that also happens to be home for some of our worst drivers.
The Nissan Altima isn’t a bad car, it’s just their dealerships financing strategy and ruined reputation set it up as the car for drivers with poor credit, attracting (statistically) bad drivers and abusive second owners.