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Discussion Starter #1
I've search the forum and think I've tried all the suggestions. Could really use some guidance.

2002 Nissan Xterra SE, 3.3L VG33E, 2WD, A/T
188k miles
Daughter's daily driver

Where things stand right now: It turns over with starter (cranks) but wouldn't start. Appears to be missing 2 of the big 3 (spark, air, fuel).

My abilities: I've fixed major (engine rebuild) to minor (spark plugs and head gaskets) issues but suck at electrical troubleshooting.

Background:
She was doing 45 on a flat straight-away during a clear 70-80's warm Georgia March day when it suddenly died. Just stopped running and she was stuck in traffic. No sputtering, no coughing, nothing. With some help of the local police we pushed it to the side of the road and, not hearing the fuel pump running, immediately thought the pump had failed. Picked one up at a local parts store and did some roadside mechanic work.
Well, long story short, it wasn't the pump. Towed it home and did some more troubleshooting to find there was no power to the fuel pump or sending unit. Did the old starting fluid in the intake trick, wouldn't start. Pulled plug #1 and confirmed there wasn't spark either.
Looking back, the only warning signs might have been she had complained that it would occasionally stop running when she would warm it up in the driveway and it would sometimes run rough but I could never reproduce the symptoms (Dad's never experience what they experience, right?) But it was so infrequent and couldn't be reproduced that when this happened, it fed into the fuel pump theory.

Troubleshooting to date:
Towed to my mechanic whom I trust because of their competence and ethics. They couldn't figure it out and suggested going to the dealer. (Didn't charge after 3 days of testing.)
Dealer said it was the distributor, it wasn't. After putting in a new distributor they thought it was the ECM. But because they couldn't sell me a new one and didn't want the liability of installing a used one, troubleshooting stopped.

Brought it home and...
...Battery is strong (replaced 3/2020)
...Confirmed the rotor is spinning (not the timing belt)
...Checked all the fuses inside and under hood: none blown, all getting power.
...Checked relays (inside & under hood, ignition, ECM, fuel pump, etc) by swapping with working systems, all check out fine.
...Sent the ECM to a place in Miami who said they checked it out twice and didn't find any problems.
...Replaced crank sensor (pulled to test but I don't have a digital multimeter so results were unclear and replaced it anyway. Ever try to remove one? Ugh!)
...This generation doesn't seem to have a chip in the key and there's no dash indicator indicating the key isn't recognized. Security light flashes according to service guide. From what I've read, the security system, if engaged, wouldn't allow the starter to engage so it doesn't appear to be the security system.

Next steps (after exhaustive online forum searches and hours of YouTube videos):
1. Get a digital multimeter and some wire and confirm grounds and continuity for various parts (ECM, fuel pump, sending unit, etc.) using service guides and wiring diagrams (found online!)
2. Replace ECM (Why? I tried reading the codes with a pocket scanner and it says "No Link" which makes me think it IS the ECM.)

So my questions are:
Any more definitive testing suggested? I've done too much parts swapping and only found one more I haven't tried (fuel sending unit). Trying to avoid it if possible.
ECM sources: Who have you used? Who do you trust?
I'm sure there's some programming needed but, for troubleshooting, can I use one from a similar vehicle and program it later?

The original issue sounds electrical and I'm leaning toward the ECM but am hesitant to pull the trigger without a reliable source. My daughter and I really love this vehicle and would love to see it back on the road.

Any insights or suggestions would be helpful at this point. Thank you!
 

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I believe that the first generation Xterras had a fuel sending unit recall... Looking into which years now...

You can call nissan and give them your VIN# and they will replace it free of charge (recall permitted)

Maybe try diagnosing the fuel sending unit, sounds like ya have the proper tools. Hope that is the fix.
 

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I believe that the first generation Xterras had a fuel sending unit recall... Looking into which years now...

You can call nissan and give them your VIN# and they will replace it free of charge (recall permitted)

Maybe try diagnosing the fuel sending unit, sounds like ya have the proper tools. Hope that is the fix.
this, this is very likely your issue if it is not getting fuel at the rail the sending unit i beleieve also relays back to the engine to start the park process and would explain why you have neither the connectors were not insulated well enough and most people up north noticed way earlier but very similar symptoms to a sending unit failure OP, try that
 

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As far as I can think, only late model nissans with direct injection has a fuel rail pressure sensor that offers feedback to the ecm regarding fuel supply. Even our E85 cars infer fuel quality from air fuel sensor feedback so no fuel quality sensor either. Fuel pump power is delivered through a relay activated by the ecm so if you have no power at the connector for the fuel sender, next step would be checking the relay and verify that it is being activated by ecm.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thank you to everyone for all the suggestions. It has been refreshing running into such a helpful and active online community. Much appreciated.
I’m in the process of confirming power and ground for the ECM. Will keep everyone updated on progress.
 

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I've search the forum and think I've tried all the suggestions. Could really use some guidance.

2002 Nissan Xterra SE, 3.3L VG33E, 2WD, A/T
188k miles
Daughter's daily driver

Where things stand right now: It turns over with starter (cranks) but wouldn't start. Appears to be missing 2 of the big 3 (spark, air, fuel).

My abilities: I've fixed major (engine rebuild) to minor (spark plugs and head gaskets) issues but suck at electrical troubleshooting.

Background:
She was doing 45 on a flat straight-away during a clear 70-80's warm Georgia March day when it suddenly died. Just stopped running and she was stuck in traffic. No sputtering, no coughing, nothing. With some help of the local police we pushed it to the side of the road and, not hearing the fuel pump running, immediately thought the pump had failed. Picked one up at a local parts store and did some roadside mechanic work.
Well, long story short, it wasn't the pump. Towed it home and did some more troubleshooting to find there was no power to the fuel pump or sending unit. Did the old starting fluid in the intake trick, wouldn't start. Pulled plug #1 and confirmed there wasn't spark either.
Looking back, the only warning signs might have been she had complained that it would occasionally stop running when she would warm it up in the driveway and it would sometimes run rough but I could never reproduce the symptoms (Dad's never experience what they experience, right?) But it was so infrequent and couldn't be reproduced that when this happened, it fed into the fuel pump theory.

Troubleshooting to date:
Towed to my mechanic whom I trust because of their competence and ethics. They couldn't figure it out and suggested going to the dealer. (Didn't charge after 3 days of testing.)
Dealer said it was the distributor, it wasn't. After putting in a new distributor they thought it was the ECM. But because they couldn't sell me a new one and didn't want the liability of installing a used one, troubleshooting stopped.

Brought it home and...
...Battery is strong (replaced 3/2020)
...Confirmed the rotor is spinning (not the timing belt)
...Checked all the fuses inside and under hood: none blown, all getting power.
...Checked relays (inside & under hood, ignition, ECM, fuel pump, etc) by swapping with working systems, all check out fine.
...Sent the ECM to a place in Miami who said they checked it out twice and didn't find any problems.
...Replaced crank sensor (pulled to test but I don't have a digital multimeter so results were unclear and replaced it anyway. Ever try to remove one? Ugh!)
...This generation doesn't seem to have a chip in the key and there's no dash indicator indicating the key isn't recognized. Security light flashes according to service guide. From what I've read, the security system, if engaged, wouldn't allow the starter to engage so it doesn't appear to be the security system.

Next steps (after exhaustive online forum searches and hours of YouTube videos):
1. Get a digital multimeter and some wire and confirm grounds and continuity for various parts (ECM, fuel pump, sending unit, etc.) using service guides and wiring diagrams (found online!)
2. Replace ECM (Why? I tried reading the codes with a pocket scanner and it says "No Link" which makes me think it IS the ECM.)

So my questions are:
Any more definitive testing suggested? I've done too much parts swapping and only found one more I haven't tried (fuel sending unit). Trying to avoid it if possible.
ECM sources: Who have you used? Who do you trust?
I'm sure there's some programming needed but, for troubleshooting, can I use one from a similar vehicle and program it later?

The original issue sounds electrical and I'm leaning toward the ECM but am hesitant to pull the trigger without a reliable source. My daughter and I really love this vehicle and would love to see it back on the road.

Any insights or suggestions would be helpful at this point. Thank you!
Not trying to confuse the issue but had similar symptoms on my sons 2004 Xterra and it turned out to be the distributor. Unsure how to confirm that diagnosis but just a suggestion
 

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The distributor is a very common point of failure on the gen1. Typically the bearing in the distributor self destructs . To check for this you simply mark your cap (so you can get it back at the same timing), remove the cap, remove the rotor and look for metal shavings down in the little hole where the rotor sits.
 

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The distributor is a very common point of failure on the gen1. Typically the bearing in the distributor self destructs . To check for this you simply mark your cap (so you can get it back at the same timing), remove the cap, remove the rotor and look for metal shavings down in the little hole where the rotor sits.
you can also pull the little plastic cover under the cap 2 screws hold it in, and it exposes the bearing.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
An Update...It's back on the road!

Turned out to be the ECM. I went through the service manual and tested everything going in/out of the ECM. All the voltages were good, all the grounds were fine. The service guide talked about a "fail-safe" mode for the ECM which made it sound like, if it entered this mode while driving and the car was running, you'd have limited functionality. But once the car stalled, you're screwed. Without dealer software it's hard to confirm it's in this mode. I guess the tell-tell sign was that the code scanning tool wouldn't communicate with the ECM ("NO LINK") and more than one system (spark and fuel) weren't working at all.

Anyway...After someone on the forum said they didn't have to do any additional programming (since it's a 1st gen) I felt more comfortable about getting one off Ebay. I figured "I've replaced replaced enough parts, what's one more?" Found a great seller who said he drove the car before pulling the engine and there were no CEL and car ran fine. The part number matched so $85 and 3 days later had it in hand. I had other parts to replace but 30 minutes later the car cranked right up on the first try. Crazy but it worked.

Daughter's happy she has her car back. I'm glad it's out of the garage. Dad can do no wrong for one day, at least.

Thank you everyone for your help. I'll stay connected and share any of my current/past experiences as applicable.

TTFN
 

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Always nice to know the details on what work was done to finally find the fix. Definitely helps others. 👍🏻
 

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An Update...It's back on the road!

Turned out to be the ECM. I went through the service manual and tested everything going in/out of the ECM. All the voltages were good, all the grounds were fine. The service guide talked about a "fail-safe" mode for the ECM which made it sound like, if it entered this mode while driving and the car was running, you'd have limited functionality. But once the car stalled, you're screwed. Without dealer software it's hard to confirm it's in this mode. I guess the tell-tell sign was that the code scanning tool wouldn't communicate with the ECM ("NO LINK") and more than one system (spark and fuel) weren't working at all.

Anyway...After someone on the forum said they didn't have to do any additional programming (since it's a 1st gen) I felt more comfortable about getting one off Ebay. I figured "I've replaced replaced enough parts, what's one more?" Found a great seller who said he drove the car before pulling the engine and there were no CEL and car ran fine. The part number matched so $85 and 3 days later had it in hand. I had other parts to replace but 30 minutes later the car cranked right up on the first try. Crazy but it worked.

Daughter's happy she has her car back. I'm glad it's out of the garage. Dad can do no wrong for one day, at least.

Thank you everyone for your help. I'll stay connected and share any of my current/past experiences as applicable.

TTFN
Thanks for a follow up and solution this helps many others searching
 
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