Project Nissan

We continue our feature on how to find affordable and reliable transport on a low budget

We’re well aware that a new ute is way above the expectations of a young apprentice, but, with enthusiasm and liberal amounts of elbow grease, it’s possible to rejuvenate an older vehicle and turn it into reliable daily transport. Welcome to Project Nissan.

Here’s a brief recap on the story so far. Project Nissan started when we came across our 1995 Nissan 4×2 crew-cab, which was ready to work and with just 349,000 km on the clock. The 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, fuel-injected petrol engine, so far, has been kept original, as, currently, it’s going surprisingly well, is relatively leak free, and isn’t pumping smoke out of the exhaust or consuming oil. It’s a bit slow to get oil pressure up on first starting, but provided the driver waits for the oil pressure light to go out as pressure builds before moving off, so far, it’s all sweet.

The bodywork is surprisingly clean and rust free, although, with just over 350,000 km on the odometer, as you’d expect, there are a couple of small dents and scratches.

With any vehicle rebuild, you start with safety. Starting from the ground up we fitted a new set of Continental VANCO 2 tyres in the original 195R14 sizing, resisting any suggestion of swapping onto low aspect ratio tyres and wider rims. This is a working ute, and low profiles are not only expensive, they’ll wear faster and won’t have the required load rating.

Thanks to Adelaide rim maker, ROH, we did subsequently replace the original rusty looking chromed rims with a smart new set of white steel rims, and this really lifted the appearance, matching in with the white top section of the original paintwork.

Navara upgrade 020When replacing rims, there’s every reason to not buy just on price. Cheap imports, in recent years, have proven to be everything you don’t want from a rim, with premature cracking leading to total failure. The mines have experienced problems with replacement rims from overseas not standing up to the required load rating. Even the vehicle manufacturers have experienced problems, with Nissan recalling all Navara D40 ST-X dual-cab models built between June 1st 2005 and July 3rd 2008, as the result of cracks appearing on the spokes of the alloy rims.

The Nissan experience resulted in the crack worsening and spreading around the rim, prompting the manufacturer to warn buyers, through a full vehicle recall, that under full load conditions and cornering at high lateral acceleration, it could be expected to create a change in the vehicle handling. What that means, in layman’s terms, is that one or more wheels fall off.

An ROH replacement rim has been tested and approved for Australian conditions, so, on this score, don’t be tempted to buy a cheap import, stick with the known name of the experts in their field.

With the local TyrePower crew sorting out our tyre and rim woes, we moved upwards and enlisted the aid of the Pedder’s Suspension Centre, at Campbelltown, and its excellent 28-point suspension check.

The Pedder’s test equipment evaluated each damper performance, recording the findings as a trace on a circular chart. In our case, the rear dampers were showing good results, but the front were not really doing very much at all to help handling, vehicle control or steering, and needed replacing.

A visual check of the front disc callipers and rear drum assemblies, with the drums removed, showed acceptable levels of brake pad and brake shoe material, and that no fluid leaks were evident in the system. What was noticeable, though, was a scoring to the front left-hand disc rotor and an uneven wear pattern on the facing of the inside of the rear left drum. These problems were solved by a light skimming of both the disc and the drum interior. The pads and shoes in both cases had not been damaged and did not need replacement.

Measurement of the ride height on each side of the ute showed an imbalance of 20 mm with the offside lower than the nearside. A readjustment of the offside torsion bar restored the ride height and removed the lean to the offside, to again promote better on-road handling and keep the ute flat.

Visual checks of the rubber boots surrounding the upper ball joints showed perishing of the rubber and the onset of dirt ingress that causes wear. These were replaced along with the front castor arm bushes and also the sway bar links. At the rear, the excessive wear in the eye and shackle bushes of the springs also necessitated replacement of the bushes.  Navara upgrade 022

The condition of the inner tie rods was cleared as acceptable, as were the V-belts, but a slight oil leak was detected from the steering box that would require rectification as a safety concern.

The transmission on the ute is a four-speed automatic, and there were traces of a slight oil leak from the rear oil seal. Not a difficult problem to fix, as the oil seal can be replaced once the drive shaft has been dropped.

With all the safety aspects of suspension, steering and brakes now sorted, there was a huge difference in how the ute drove on the road. The brake pedal pressure was now firm and all brakes were effective and responsive. The steering was now precise and there was no longer any tendency for the vehicle to wander on the road.

From an appearance perspective, it still looked as though it had covered 350,000 km, so to brighten up both the interior and exterior we took it to BPS Autobody, at Bankstown, where their experts in their detailing division of Niche Auto Systems steam cleaned all the interior, repaired some of the tatty bits of trim and then buffed back the paintwork.

Looking as good as it would ever look, without the expense of a full respray, we now had a ute that was not only safe, but something that anyone would be proud to drive. But, like any good restoration, there were still things to do.

An electrical fault developed that took out the interior lights and front and rear parkers, and a trip to D&M Auto Electricians, at Bowral, soon had that rectified. But, while the D&M experts were on the job, we couldn’t resist adding just a little bling in the form of additional Comet 550 driving lamps from Hella, plus a set of Hella LED daytime running lamps.

Daytime running lamps are now a legal requirement on European vehicles, and, with a track record proven to reduce accidents by 29 percent, we thought that our Navara deserved the same treatment. At the same time, D&M also replaced the front offside headlamp assembly, which had, at some stage, experienced water ingress that had dulled the reflector.

The addition of the Hella Comet 550 driving lamps has made a major impact on country driving, and we’d suggest these are a worthwhile addition to any work ute. These lights pack high performance into a compact pair of units that don’t interfere with airflow through the radiator.Navara upgrade 017

A trip to our local auto dismantler found a replacement seat headrest, as one of ours had collapsed internally, but we’re still looking for a new fuse box cover, plus an original jack and wheelbrace, which have gone missing from their location behind the rear seat. We also need to source some replacement body/chassis rubber mounts, as there is wear and movement in some of the originals and these are no longer available as a genuine part replacement.

What we have sourced, as an all-new genuine Nissan part, is a replacement tonneau cover that was a straight fit over the tub, after ten minutes with a pop rivet gun to install the front bead retainer assembly. The kit comes with centre support bow, all brackets, and with the stretch elastic already installed around the exterior.

The power steering idler pulley centre bearing disintegrated, and, subsequently, threw off the V-belt, so we replaced the centre bearing for $25.00 and added a new V-belt for $35.00. This was significantly more appealing than the $220.00 quoted for a replacement idler pulley assembly.

So far, we’ve kept away from the engine bay, but now we’ll look at the options of either a full engine replacement or a rebuild and machining of what we’ve already got under the bonnet. With an overall cost involved that is still well within our total $5,000 budget, we are well on track. Stay tuned for the next level.

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