Our First Chariot

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I'd owned 4WDs before - mostly Toyotas including 2 FJ40 SWB and an FJ55 LWB and been a 4WDer for many years. However, this was the first 4WD I'd owned for some time and the first we'd owned as a family. We purchased the Nissan Pathfinder after an extensive review of what was available in the mid-sized class. At the time, it "ticked all the boxes" better than any of the rest and satisfied our (then) needs. Of course, no 4WD is actually designed for serious off-road work out of the box so some mods were necessary.  The R50 is obviously no longer in production but still is, in my view, the best looking mid-sized 4x4 on the road and with a few minor tweaks, the equal of the mighty Prado off-road.


This page describes the modifications we made to our Nissan Pathfinder R50 ,and is provided for the benefit (or otherwise) of other R50 Pathy owners, particularly those with whom we share information and ideas over the web.

one mighty fine Pathfinder

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The Goldern Steed, a 2002 Ti PLUS Special Edition Pathfinder, was purchased in December 2002 with a number of "goodies" already fitted such as a tow-bar, nudge-bar, roof-bars and factory everything else. If we had our time again, we'd probably not have any "factory extras" fitted but go for a "clean skin" and pick-and-choose the best after-market components. Most changes/additions we've made to date are small and/or simple things (except for the upgraded suspension), with major mods such as diff-locks, crawler gears and performance mods planned (but never realised). However modifications don't necessarily have to be big or expensive, or threaten to void warranty or insurance to increase your enjoyment of your Pathy. For example, avoiding costly damage and repairs by replacing the original mudflaps with flexible rubber ones that don’t get ripped-off the vehicle certainly increased my enjoyment of rocky climbs and deep sand work. The steel bash plate (to replace the ridiculous plastic one) has further enhanced that enjoyment for the same reasons.

Here's the list of what we did:

* A Milford cargo barrier was fitted to the Pathy. Although it wasn't our first purchase, a cargo barrier really is the very first piece of equipment you should have fitted to your new 4x4. The safety factor cannot be underestimated and there are many stories of cargo barriers saving the day, and peoples' lives. Cargo barriers are not expensive (relative to other 4x4 gear) and there are several brands to choose from. Most are relatively simple to fit yourself if so inclined. Don't leave home without one!

* PolyAir bags have been fitted to the rear coils. These worked very well in assisting the OEM suspension, especially when towing the trailer. We had (as at September 2004) done 47,000 kms in the Pathy, with some 19,500 of those either towing the trailer and/or off-roading. The OEM suspension was showing no obvious signs of sag or excessive wear. However, in November 2004 we replaced the OEM suspension with a complete 4-Way Suspension's Tough Dog system, principally to gain some much wanted (although not really needed) suspension lift.  When the OEM rear coils were removed they were in fact pretty stuffed. Apparently the PolyAirs, even at only 5 to 6 psi, had been masking the symptoms of sagged, soft coils. It just goes to show what a good job they do.

*   We fitted a complete Tough Dog suspension system that included their replacement gas struts, adjustable foam-cell rear shocks and a set of medium duty coils all round. The result was a 40 mm lift over standard and much flatter cornering on the road. The ride became noticeably firmer on-road but not harsh. The Pathy immediately felt much more sure-footed. Off-road, and empty, it felt quite harsh with the rear shocks set at on-road settings.  This softened significantly and the suspension felt more supple with the rear shocks on the softest setting. However, it was still firmer and more controlled than the old OEM set up.  I also noticed a measurable increase in articulation. All-in-all a very pleasing result.

* Roof-rack - being a mid-sized 4x4, the Pathy has considerably less luggage space than a full-sized wagon like the Patrol or Landcruiser. It is therefore necessary, if using the Pathy for longer touring, to add storage capacity.  As removing the rear seats was not an option, adding a roof-rack was the only way. There were no aftermarket racks readily available for the Pathy so it was a choice between roof-bars and a basket or a custom-made rack. We decided on the later option, based on a desire for strength and durability. One of our forum buddies (thanks Moggs) directed us to a manufacturer, Sunshade Products in Adelaide. These guys were great to deal with and after just a few quick e-mails and phone calls we'd agreed the specification and a week later our new rack arrived in Sydney. The build quality and finish was excellent. The rack also has pipe brackets on one side and shovel brackets on the other. Fitting was a breeze as is removal so we remove the rack when its not needed. The total cost (about $850 delivered) was only marginally more than the alternative solution. The rack endured many trips and proved its robustness. It stayed rock-solid even across the corrugations of outback NSW and nothing ever came loose or even rattled, so we were very pleased all 'round and I'm happy to advocate Sunshade Products for their quality and service. 

* Tyres - I finally decided to replace the tractionless, stock Bridgestone Dueler HT (Highway Terrain) tyres with something that provided a bit more traction, especially offroad. After months of research into the available replacement options, I decided on the Cooper Discovery S/T (Sure Trac). It's a tough 10 ply radial that has a tread pattern that is more agressive than a normal AT (All terrain) tyre but not as agressive as an MT (Mud Terrain) tyre. During these deliberations, I e-mailed Coopers and told them how to make the perfect compromise off-road tyre - add sypes (the small water-clearing cuts in the tread block) to the STT, or make the ST tread block more like the STT. Whilst I take no credit for the design of the new STT, I'm glad I can now get my ideal off-road tyre and the new STT would be my first choice when selecting my next tyres. (In fact, I have fitted them to our 100 series Landcruiser and could not be happier.)

Then followed several more months research to determine whether I could fit the size I wanted (245/75/16), legally without obtaining an engineer's certificate - we have a rather restrictive yet vague and complex set of regulations in NSW. Well, the short story ends with me fitting the Cooper ST 245/75/16 tyres to the Pathy and, whilst noisier than a regular AT, they are brilliant on the dirt, rocks and in mud and are still a very good road-holding tyre, as long as it is dry, or the tyres fairly new. Now at the end of my second set of STs on the Pathy I can report that 1) they become very (and I do mean very) noisy once they are about 50% worn and 2) from that point on they also offer very poor wet weather road holding and I recon it must be to do with the sypes being worn away and the tread blocks becoming a lot stiffer. It is probably also made worse by the heavier/stiifer rear coils. So, be warned.

We managed to get around 70,000 kms from the first set and look like achieving the same with the second set.

I run the Coopers at 38 psi front and 36 psi rear when the Pathy is empty, up to 42/44 psi fully loaded up and towing and between 12 and 26 psi when off-road, depending on the terrain.

However, given the better performance on and off-road, including being quieter, I think I'd go for a set of the new STTs next time on the Pathy. I certainly feel safer on them in the Landcruiser in the wet than I do with the STs on the Pathy.

* UHF - we fitted a GME TX3400 because the remote head makes finding suitable mounting points much easier in the "close" quarters of a mid-sized wagon. The aerial is mounted onto the roof rails, or roof-rack where its fitted, for maximum reception. You can see from the photo that the receiver is mounted under the dash (above the brake) while the head and mic are mounted, via velcroe, onto the side of the centre console. This made removing the visible (the head and mic) parts, which we did when not on a trip, a simple 60 sec job. We also carried a pair of Uniden hand-held units for out-of-vehicle work. We used to have a GME TX610 but to be honest it was just too complicated to operate and the voice activation kept engaging on its own providing some (sometimes unwanted) entertainment for the rest of the convoy.

* GPS - we used to use a basic Garmin eTrex hand-held unit that mounts in a cradle on the dash. When there it utilises power from the vehicle via an auxiliary 12 volt connection and is sometimes connected to a laptop mounted on a Mobile Desk PC mount and running OziExplorer GPS and mapping software. 

The unit has excellent reception, except in heavily wooded areas where a dense tree canopy can obscure the unit's view of the sky and satellites. We fitted a re-radiating aerial to reduce those rare times the unit loses satellite connection.

In time, we replaced the Garmin with a PDA so we could do away with the permanently mounted laptop.  The HP (Hewlett Packard) PDA mounts in a cradle with its own GPS receiver and runs OziExplorer CE software  My Nokia Navigator G3 mobile phone runs Route66 sofware for urban navigation. The Garmin is retained as a backup and for bush walks. My next unit though will be the Hema navigator that employs the brilliant Hema maps with OziExplorer and also Route66 software - everything I need in one unit.  Yee Hah!

* Mudflaps - the R50 model Pathfinder is delivered with mudflaps constructed mainly of a stiff/solid plastic that are prone to violent, involuntary removal from the vehicle when traversing rough rock-climbs, or through deep sand/mud. To avoid this we removed the originals and replaced them with home-made flexible flaps. These look very similar to older-style 4x4 mudflaps and certainly proved their worth. Our intention was to replace the original flaps after each trip (for asthetics) however, the home-made ones look so good, we left them on permanently. The Pathy was actually starting to look like a 4x4. Prologue: I actually tore one of these flexible flaps off the Pathy but replacing it was quick, easy and cheap. I'm glad it wasn't the OEM mudflap!

* Bashplate The Pathy comes with just a moulded plastic splash-plate - good enough to keep some of the dirt and mud out, but barely strong enough to stop a twig.  Like many fellow Pathy owners we found these plastic plates crack and break around the mounting holes after just a few times being removed and replaced, or after the occassional gentle bump. After many attempts to find a local metal fabricator that could/would fabricate a replacement at a reasonable cost, we gave up. Instead, one of the Pathy owners from the PCoA - made arrangements with his brother-in-law to give it a go. So with a template I made from my vehicle, for both a standard length and extended length version, we went to work. The initial batch was 3 of each length from 3 mm checker-plate steel and now a dozen R50 Pathfinders sport his handiwork. Unfortunately this supplier no longer fabricates for us. So, in true PCoA style, one of the other PCoA members stepped in and production continued. If you are interested, you can contact the club through the Pathfinders' Club of Australia Internet Forum at PCoA Forum.

* Lights - originally I ran a pair of Hella 2000 lights, one of which was stolen (bastards!).  However, these are way too big for the Pathy anyway so I fitted a pair of Eagle View spotties (KC "clones"), purchased from 4x4 Parts in the US. These are sound long range lights but are true spotties and not very good as "driving" lights.  Adding a spread-beam driving light, such as a Lightforce 170 between them looks like the go. Oh, and I drilled a hole through the mounting bolts through which I fitted a small padlock - a cheap and effective anti-theft device.

I used to think the Pathy's standard lighting was reasonable but compared with the latest breed of cars and 4x4s, it is not so good. To compensate somewhat I fitted an aftermarket wiring loom and this improved things somewhat.  I subsequently substituted the globes for a set of white (blue) 4500K globes and the Pathy shone.

* Hiclones - We won't debate the merits, or otherwise, of Hiclones (or similar products) here. However, I did try them on the Pathfinder.  After considerable time (90 days) testing a pair of Hiclones, I decided to keep them. Fitted in conjunction with a K&N air filter, they initially (without doubt) delivered up to 8% improvement in fuel economy (depending on driving conditions). Delivering a fairly poor standard fuel economy, typical of most 4WDs running EFI v6 motors, the Pathfinder needs all the help it can get. This is an area in which most R50 Pathy owners we know are disappointed in their vehicles, especially combined with power and torque outputs at the bottom end of this vehicle class. Further possible enhancements include replacing the exhaust and fitting a Unichip (supplemental ECU). We haven't gone this route yet but at least two of the registered forum users have. Their reports indicate a noticeable difference in power, economy and driveability. If you are interested in these mods, contact the Club.

* Sahara Bar The Pathy came with the factory nudge bar, which improved the look of the front somewhat but had a very detrimental effect on the approach angle. We finally "bit the bullet" and dispensed with the nudge bar and purchased (second hand) an ARB Sahara Bar. The Sahara Bar is the only steel bar, and only winch-compatible bar available for the R50 Pathfinder. The bar not only significantly improves the approach angle and front protection, but it looks "the goods".

* Other equipment we carried in/on the Pathy includes a full recovery kit (excluding winch); tyre repair kit; 2 compressors (both Bushranger) with Staun deflators and tyre guage; 2 fire extinguishers; long-handled and short-handled shovel, bushman's saw and axe; hydraulic jack and plates; spares including belts, hoses, filters, spark plugs etc; a full tool kit and a commercial (St John's Ambulance) first aid kit.

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