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Basic Upgrades to My $1200 ’96 R50 Pathfinder

I recently drove by a random used car lot, and noticed what appeared to be a black Nissan Pathfinder parked facing the road. In big, bold letters, the windshield read $1200 and the car looked promising, so I stopped to take a closer look. As I pulled into the lot, it dawned on me that this late 90’s model was about the same make and model of car that my wife was supposed to inherit from her father before he totaled it in a rollover accident back when she was in high school. Her father wasn’t injured, thankfully, but the car was gone forever. She loved that Pathfinder and looked forward to taking it to college, but that obviously never happened. Fast forward.

This bone stock 1996 Pathfinder really piqued my interest. With 189,000 miles on it, there were no signs of body rust, it was fully undercoated, no signs of abuse, it had a nice brush guard installed from the factory, and a cool swing-away spare tire carrier mounted in the rear. It had four wheel drive too, so I began to think it had some decent off-road potential. I took it for a test drive expecting one or two things to be wrong based on the price of the car, and to my amazement, everything worked – including four wheel drive, the sunroof, power windows and locks, seat heaters, stereo, heating and A/C. It felt like it was meant to be, so I ended up buying the car and driving it home to detail it quickly so I could surprise my wife. She absolutely loved it. We took it for a joy ride the next day up to the hills to celebrate our new ride.

Before the Upgrades

R50 Nissan Pathfinder

Over the next several weeks, I began to notice little things here and there that needed some attention. For example, the exhaust heat guard was vibrating against the exhaust pipe, causing an obnoxious rattle which I found out could be fixed with hose clamps. Cheap fix. The engine had a slight tick, so I changed the oil and put Mobile 1 full synthetic extended life 5w30 oil in it (manual recommended) and the tick wasn’t as pronounced after that. Still, I bought the CARFAX report and was pleased to see a consistent history of routine maintenance being performed by reputable auto shops. I found out that the timing belt would need to be replaced soon, so that’s on the to-do list. But also, the tires were badly cupped, and at high speeds the hum made by the uneven tires was unbearable. So, I started looking at new tires, which led me to looking at lift kits, and manual hubs, and so forth. Before I knew it, I found myself in the off-road forums reading about air lockers costing thousands of dollars, and I knew I had gone too far. I caught hold of my senses and settled on some basic upgrades that would 1). Fix some of the issues, 2). Give the car more versatility and 3) Improve the overall look of the car. The recipe I landed on was a 2″ all around lift, new wheels and tires, manual hubs (to save the CV axles, improve handling and gain MPGs), seat covers, and a few other odds and ends which I’ll break down below.

Parts List

2″ All-around lift kit by SF Creation (based in Canada): $97 + Shipping. Great, affordable option.
Pair of 14mm Cam Bolts: $20
Warn 29091 Premium Manual Hubs: $230
Toyo Open Country A/T3 31×10.5×15 (set of 5): $900
Vision D Window Gloss Black Wheels 8″ -19 Offset (set of 5): $450
Maxxhaul Steel Roof Rack 150lb capacity: $100
Motor Trend Seat Covers and Floor Mats: $50

A Quick Note on Installations

Some of these upgrades can be installed yourself with the proper equipment, however whenever you level or lift the front end of a vehicle, you need to do an alignment, including camber adjustments. Be sure to have your local tire shop handle that when they mount and balance the tires for you. You may want to order wheels and tires through your tire shop to take advantage of free balance and rotation programs that most tire shops offer for the life of the tires. Frequent balance and rotations will extend the life of your tires by helping them wear nice and evenly, and you’ll avoid problems like cupped tires – which once that starts, it never goes away. Also, it might be worth having them look at installing your lift, so you can benefit from a set of experienced eyes looking over your brakes, steering and suspension components – which are all critical to road safety. With older cars, these systems often need tuning up or replacement, so that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

With the Upgrades

R50 Nissan Pathfinder

The worst part of all of this was making a decision on parts and stressing over how it would all come together. The 2″ spacers would be cheap and easy, but I was a little concerned about the CVs with that big of a spacer in the front. The good thing about living in 2020 is you get to learn from other peoples’ experiences online. There are entire websites, forums, subreddits, Instagram accounts, YouTube accounts, etc solely dedicated to this generation of Pathfinder – the R50, and those resources were super valuable.

After taking the Pathfinder out to the desert for a 4×4 trial run, it performed flawlessly and I couldn’t be happier with the car and all the upgrades. It’s a little hard to believe that I spent more on upgrades than the actual car itself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way in this case!

In case you’re wondering if the 31″ tires rubbed with the 2″ lift, they do just barely at full turn, but I was able to easily eliminate that without having to remove the stock wheel well liners or mud guards.

You Can Do It Too

I heard on a radio ad just today that there’s a national shortage on vehicles. While that may be true about new and gently used vehicles, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case with 20+ year old cars. They seem to be a dime a dozen, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can find some amazing deals on old cars that are still in good condition – just like this R50 Pathfinder. Of course, some work is to be expected with older cars with high mileage, whether it’s brake repairs, suspension work, timing belt replacements, belts and hoses, troubleshooting odd sounds, the list goes on. That being said, if you do your research and car shop wisely, you can save tons in comparison to newer vehicles, which require their own maintenance too.

If you are in need of high quality mechanic services for any of these types of services on new or used vehicles in Humble, TX, contact Elite RV & Car Care. They’re a full service RV and auto repair shop, they have great customer service, and they do great work.

–  Written by Devin.

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