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My 2001 2.4L service record

17275 Views 72 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Cusser
I'll be using this thread as a service record for my truck.

I got a 2001 Frontier XE 4 cyl, 5sp MT with 143,930 miles for $1,900. It has a lot of leaks and a pretty major dent on the passenger side along with faded paint. If the truck were babied, I'm guessing I'd be able to sell it for at least $3,500 based on what I found on cartrader.

The goal is to fix the car up with my son, who's a senior in high school, and either give it to him or sell it and use any profit to go towards something a little nicer for him. I'll let him decide. In the mean time, this project will be a good learning experience for him. If he decides to keep it, I'll upgrade some things like tires and audio.

Fortunately, the truck has a timing chain, from what I saw online, so I don't have to worry about that. Former owner said she replaced the water pump and power steering pump.

Last weekend I got some used tires, as 3 of them were completely bald and were showing threads. They're not pretty, but at least it's safe to drive now. I also replaced the valve cover gasket as it was leaking heavily. That ran me another $40. I could have gotten it cheaper online, but I really needed to replace it soon because it was leaking so much oil. Also replaced the windshield wipers.

This morning, I replaced the interior driver door handle, because the locking lever was broken on the old one. I got this for $9 on eBay.

Currently, the truck needs:

- Possibly a new radiator. This one seems to be leaking along the top. I checked the cap and it seems to be fine. Will require more testing, but a new rad is only about $55.

- Power steering gear box is leaking. A new kit is around $40 or less. A reman one is $255. Not sure about used, but I'd like to learn how to rebuild this one. Also will require a flush with new AT fluid.

- the radio doesn't work. I found a JVC with bluetooth at Walmart for $60. I'll probably go for that.

- I can smell exhaust when I run the a/c or heater. Not sure where an exhaust leak would be coming from.

- Service Engine Soon light is on. Not sure if this is an oil change reminder or a check engine light. Could be related to the exhaust leak I smell in the cabin.

- Clean the engine with degreaser, top and bottom. It's coated with oil due to all the leaks. This will allow me to see if there are any other leaks.

- Belts look ok for now. I'll decide if it needs new ones when we remove the rad, but they aren't making any noise.

- I found an oily wet spot where the transmission and motor meet at the bottom. Not sure if this came from the valve cover gasket leak or if it's the main rear seal. If so, I'll have to remove the transmission. Fun. It might be smart to replace the clutch, but it could very well have another 25k miles on it, and if my son decides to sell it, I'd rather save myself the money in parts. Will also have to grease the clutch fork; it squeaks. We'll save this job for dead last.

- Coolant flush. The truck isn't overheating, but if he decides to keep it, we'll also change the thermostat and hoses.

- Transmission fluid change

- Change differential fluid

- Brake fluid flush

- New front brake disks and pads.

- Check the rear brake drums

- Pull and Bondo the dents and repaint the truck and wheels. I'm not a pro at painting and body work, but I have the equipment and can make the truck look more presentable.

- Air filter

- check cabin filter

- Change the oil and filter

- Clutch start switch isn't being pushed in by the pedal. Needs some kind of padding where the rubber pusher used to be.

- All wheel alignment, if he decides to keep it.

- Spark plug cables look new. Have to inspect spark plugs.

I think that's it. Once these things are fixed up, this truck will run smoothly and look much better. It'll be a great experience with my boy. Hopefully I can make a little profit off it, too.


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Forgot to mention, the distributor cap looks new, as well as the cables. I'm willing to bet money that the plugs are new just based on that.

Not sure if it's OEM.
Thanks for the heads up, arjadian. I'll order a fuel filter tonight. Even if it doesn't fix the SES light, it'll be good preventive maintenance. There's still the issue of the exhaust smell through the AC and heater vents though. That has me concerned it's something more serious. I'll also check the cabin filter, in case it's clogged and causing air to suck in through the firewall vents. Doubt it, though.

I'll have to research how to turn off the SES light. On my Tacoma, it's just a matter of disconnecting the battery.

I'm also going to order a pcv valve.

I too hope he keeps it. This little old thing is so practical. Perfect for a young guy.
My son and I worked on the truck today.

New front pads and rotors, degreased the engine, flushed the front brake lines and clutch. I can't describe how nasty the clutch fluid was. It was a dark orange sludge. It probably has never been changed, and the truck is 17 years old. We also changed the oil.

I found the leak in the radiator. It's a thin, 2 inch long crack along the top plastic part. I think JB Weld can fix it. It's worked on motorcycle radiators, and they hold the same amount of pressure. I'm gonna try tomorrow and if it works, good, if not then I'll replace it. I won't lose anything by trying. If he keeps the truck, we'll change it down the road.

Tomorrow we're going to inspect the rear brake shoes, flush the rear lines, and change the differential fluid.

As we were sitting next to each other installing the pads, I couldn't help but to get sad that this kid is gonna be leaving me for the Army soon. He's been my life's work. Can't stop time, though. Just gotta keep living.
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Ordered a fuel filter for 10 bucks on Amazon.

AutoZone has the PCV valve for $3. I just learned that it's located behind the front wheel and the oil filter needs to come off. Wish I'd known that before changing the oil filter today. Damn.
Ok, I'm going to see if I can find a used scanner on Craigslist. I've wanted one for some time, but finding a deal would be nice.

*Just found some on Amazon for less than $20. Gonna check compatibility.

Yeah, I've been using the recirculation button. It helps some, but not entirely.

I'm gonna save the pcv for next weekend. Since you mentioned it can cause over pressure in the valve cover, I got concerned about it, but the truck is going to sit all week anyway. Tomorrow I'm going to JB Weld the rad and see how that turns out.

Today we checked the rear brakes, and they were in good shape. Flushed the rear brake fluid. The differential fluid was golden and viscous. Had I known it was new I wouldn't have messed with it. Only way to check that is draining it, though. It only cost me a few bucks in GL5 oil, so no big deal.

Thanks for the assistance, btw.
I found an Actron scanner on CL for $40, unused. It popped a Cat/O2 code, P0420. Gonna change the fuel filter and PCV valve this Friday and remove the code in the hopes that it's the same issue as arjadian's. Hopefully it doesn't come back.
Changed the pcv valve today, which needed changing badly. The spring/bead inside was semi stuck. Certainly the hardest pcv valve I've ever had to change. Then the hose ripped so I had to go to AZ to get a generic one. That wasn't easy to replace either.

So far, the truck has 144,110 miles.
The car was hesitating when I'd give it gas. Changed the fuel filter at 144,121 miles. Hesitation lessened but didn't go away entirely.

Plugged in my code read and it gave a misfire on cylinder 4. Removed the spark plug and it was wet with water. Suspect head gasket but there's a slight chance that it's a coolant leak I found at the top of the radiator that may have sprayed coolant and it leaked into the spark plug hole.

It'll really suck if it's the head gasket, as the cheap price I got the truck for should be a reflection of the huge dent on the passenger side OR the head gasket. With 2 large issues, the truck was only worth about a grand after you consider all the other maintenance it needed.

Next step is to check the cylinder compression. If it's the head gasket, the silver lining is that I've always wanted to learn how to change one. The downside is that I'll probably break even in expenses with the value of the truck, which means I labored for nearly free.

Also, I learned that I should always check the compression of a used vehicle before I buy it.
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Checked compression and it seems to be fine, although I'm left a bit confused.

I count the cylinders from front to back, but they fire in order 1, 3, 4, 2. The code scanner said I have a misfire in cylinder 4. So is that cylinder 4, at the back on the motor, or 2 at the front of the motor?

The results of the compression test is what makes this confusing. I got inconsistent results on cylinder 2 so I had test it multiple times with no verifying results

Cylinder 1: 168 psi
Cylinder 2: 120, then 150, then 20, then 20 again.
Cylinder 3: 170 psi
Cylinder 4: 169 psi. This tells me that water had just gotten in the plug hole. Plus, I drove the truck around and removed the plug and this time it was dry.

I removed the hose in cylinder 2 multiple times and still never got any consistent results.

I think I'm just going to buy some new plugs and replace them all. Hopefully this works.
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144,125 miles, I changed the spark plugs. That was the cause of the misfire. Now the engine purrs. The SES light had come on before the plug change, but after driving around for about 15 miles it went away on its own.

I tried plastic welding the top of the radiator with a soldering iron, but it didn't Weld evenly so it still leaks. I bought the stick JB Weld and will patch it up tonight. Hopefully it will work.

After this, the only things left will be a transmission fluid change and rebuilding the power steering gear box. Then we can start working on body and paint.
No hesitation at all. It's running super smoothly with the new plugs. I thought that it may have been in my head, but the more I drove the truck, the more I noticed the difference. The SES light going away on its own was verification that the engines performance is now solid. The old plugs looked fine, but something wasn't right about them. I wonder if the water that leaked into cylinder 4 caused thermal expansion and ruined the plug or created a short. I let the port dry before installing the new ones.

I tried 5 times and never got a consistent reading in cylinder 2. I got as high as 150 and, considering that's 10% within the other ones, it's a good reading. My guess is that a good seal wasn't forming with the tester hose.
Last night I used JB weld on the crack of the radiator, along the top plastic part. I should have drilled a tiny hole at the ends of the crack to ensure it stops cracking, but I got lazy. I'll see how far down the road I have to pay the price for that. A new rad is only $50 on Amazon anyway.

Anyway, I cleaned the area of the crack very well, needed the JB weld extremely thoroughly, and placed it along the crack. Fortunately, my attempt at plastic welding roughed up the area along the crack for the JB to adhere. I pushed in the JB very aggressively until it started to harden. I wanted it to get into any holes where a leak would form. I'll drive the truck in a while and report back.

Note, I used the JB weld that comes in stick form because I've found it to be much more rigid than the liquid form.
Leak down test?

A bad plug is a bad plug. Congrats on the fix!
As long as it's running smoothly, I won't worry about testing compression anymore.

I still want to try to see if I have an exhaust leak though. I can blow air into the tail pipe with a shop vac and spray soapy water along the headers to find that. Easy and free.

I see in your sig that your clutch lasted at least 185k miles. That's good to know because that's been a concern as well.
The JB Weld was a fail. It's still leaking. Looks like I'm going to have to replace the radiator. No biggie. Glad I didn't flush the radiator with fresh coolant. Probably gonna replace the thermostat while I'm at it.
144,194 miles. New aftermarket radiator, thermostat, and rad cap that I got off Amazon for $55 total. Truck is running well.

Getting the damn thermostat on was a PITA. It kept slipping down when I'd install the housing causing a leak. Ended up having to remove the power steering bracket entirely to have easier access, then put a bunch of black gasket maker on the edge of the thermostat to hold it in place. My son and I let the gasket maker get tacky for 20 minutes before installing the housing. No more leaks.

My son wanted to see how a thermostat worked so we did the boiling test. It was my first time testing one too, so it was cool... Or hot, heh heh.

Flushed the cooling system 5 times with distilled water, then added a gallon of Prestone coolant between the system and the reservoir and finished it off with more distilled water. That should be around a 50/50 ratio.

Also replaced a few rubber vacuum lines underneath the air filter housing since they were embrittled.

Checked the belts and they were fine. Coolant hoses looked good too.

My son was frustrated at the thermostat leaks because we'd have to take everything apart again. I told him how we're lucky that we don't NEED the car today and how when I was on my own I'd run into these problems and needed the car fixed that day. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to get to class and work and couldn't afford to take taxis to get around nor a mechanic. His attitude changed for the better. Life is good, and I'm grateful my kids have a better life than I did at their age.
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Don't tug on the hose too hard if it's old. Or better yet,be ready to possibly replace it. Have a flashlight handy because of the nooks and crannies.

It's going to take a lot of patience.
144,582 checked for a cabin filter. Mine doesn't have a slot for one. I'd have to cut the slot where it's marked. I'm just going to leave it.

On a good note, the exhaust smell in the cabin has stopped entirely. One of the things I fixed seems to have fixed that problem.
144,632 finally got around to changing out the transmission fluid. Used some GL4 stuff off Amazon.

While under the truck I noticed a few coolant drops. Hopefully nothing serious. Topped it off and for now I'm just going to keep an eye on it.

Checked the clutch and brake fluid. Brakes needed a little topping off but clutch fluid was filthy again, same color as before. Probably residue that was in the line. Gonna flush that out again next week, and going to keep flushing regularly until it's not that color anymore.

Power steering topped off due to leak in the gear box.
Found the source of the coolant leak: a hose that's right above the PCV valve. I'll tackle it next week.
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