Nissan's US unit is recalling 96,800 Altimas and Sentra SE-Rs because the four-cylinder engines in the 2006 models can catch fire.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reportedly said the 2.5-litre engines in the cars "may experience excessive oil consumption as a result of improper performance of the piston rings," a condition that could lead to an engine fire.

NHTSA said if engine oil is not maintained at least at minimum levels, engine damage is likely and a fire is possible.

Nissan reportedly had already ordered dealers to stop selling the vehicles in early June until it establishes the cause of the problem. Estimates suggest more than 50,000 of the cars are already sold and the automaker has extended their warranty to seven years or 100,000 miles.

Nissan is not the first Japanese maker to experience oil-related engine problems in the US.

In 2002, Toyota offered free repairs and extended warranties on some 1997-2002 model year car engines after engine 'gelling' or sludge led to problems though the company insisted it affected only those motors not serviced to factory schedule.