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Discussion Starter #1
So I just bought a 2002 Xterra SE 4x4 with 160k miles. I got a good price on it, but it needs some work.

First of all, the steering is really sloppy (2-3 inches of play while driving). I put it up on jacks and did a shakedown, and the wheel bearings and power steering gearbox are loose. I got new seals and am going to repack the wheel bearings. I'm planning on adjusting the gearbox, but from what I've been reading on here I'm likely to need a new one.

Just yesterday while the X was warm, it started slipping out of drive at stoplights and a couple of times when I went under 10 MPH. I could still get going by shifting into 2nd and then back into drive when I got up to ~25mph. The ATF was fresh and clean when I bought the car, so I'm going to drop the pan, remove the control valve assembly and see if a good cleaning of the control valves and solenoids can fix the problem. If it doesn't, I'm assuming I'll have to replace the solenoids which is $300 that I don't want to spend.

The ABS light also is on, but at this point I don't have the time or money to get into it.

So, I have a shop manual to guide me through some of the repairs, but anyone who has done any of this please comment if you have any tips! I found a good writeup on the wheel bearings here. It looks like it would be really easy to f*** up the control valve assembly so any tips there would be much appreciated.
 

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2003 SE 4x4 V6 100k miles
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I don’t know much about the power steering box, but I’d consider the bushings from the tie rods, idler and pitman arms, and the centerlink. I know that those bushings are the ones known to crap out and allow the steering to go on these. And they aren’t too difficult or expensive to replace all those parts. Wish I could help more with other things, goodluck!
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Ok, that would definitely be preferable to replacing the power steering gearbox. When I had the car up on jack stands, there was a lot of play between the steering column and the power steering gearbox so it felt like all the play I was feeling in the steering wheel was from that connection. However, the shop manual doesn't say how much play there should be there, so I don't know for sure. When I went to the junkyard to see if I could buy the part, all 4 of the Xterras I checked had the same amount of play - which doesn't necessarily tell me anything either since those gearboxes could've been worn out too.
 

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at 160k and 18 years old, i'd replace those wheel bearing, repacking likely wont help much. the abs light maybe why you are having tranny slip issues do you have a code scanner that can do abs codes? if not swing er by a shop and just ask em to read the codes to see what they say, could be as small as a bad wheel speed sensor. if the fluid looks good in the tranny i'm betting they changed the fluid to cover something up, while in the tranny see if the filter looks newish and has good flow, hell i'd just change it while you have the pan off as you are already in there and will be needing about the same amount of fluid back in anyways, avoid orielly, napa, autozone etc tranny filters they arent great i'd go with a nissan oem if you can find one if not i'd get one from a reputible brand on rockauto. is it 4x4 or 2wd? any maintence history known about it? i'd go ahead and give her fresh spark plugs, wires and check the distributor bearing for wear as thats common on the 3.3 v6 in that gen especially as you approach the mileage yours is at, to do so pop the cap and rotor off, you may need to take the small screws holding the small palstic plate on off and pull it up and see what shape that bearing is in if you see red powder or bearing pieces you need a distributor very soon. do we know if and/or when the timing belt was done?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
That makes sense about the wheel bearings, I'll probably end up replacing them. How could the transmission slip be due to the ABS light? In my (limited) understanding they are two separate systems.
 

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The ABS tells the ecm whats going on which talks to the tcm even without a traction control system. Its likely not on an 02 but worth just having the code read to see what is going on, if you get it read post the codes here and we'll help you with what they mean
 

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2004 Nissan Xterra, 4x4 S/C
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You shouldn't have any play/slob in the power steering box, just tested mine and it's tight. If you're doing the power steering gear box, check your high pressure line - they often leak at the crimp connections on older vehicles. If you're ripping out the gear box, might as well replace the line as well. Oh and clean out your reservoir - usually those are full of scum from dirty fluid, which is likely what caused the gearbox to wear out in the first place!

Great video on power steering gear box removal and seal replacement:
(this is part 1/4). Btw, check that dude's youtube account - it's amazing, so many detailed videos on the Frontier (which is the same as an Xterra other than a few cosmetic body styling bits)
 

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You shouldn't have any play/slob in the power steering box, just tested mine and it's tight. If you're doing the power steering gear box, check your high pressure line - they often leak at the crimp connections on older vehicles. If you're ripping out the gear box, might as well replace the line as well. Oh and clean out your reservoir - usually those are full of scum from dirty fluid, which is likely what caused the gearbox to wear out in the first place!

Great video on power steering gear box removal and seal replacement:
(this is part 1/4). Btw, check that dude's youtube account - it's amazing, so many detailed videos on the Frontier (which is the same as an Xterra other than a few cosmetic body styling bits)
he's got a good point and dont just use normal off the shelf power steering fluid either, japanese vehicles use transmission fluid as power steering fluid for a reason, 1 it has better anti friction additives, 2 can withstand much higher pressures and temps than the power steering system will ever see and 3 lubricates better as it is more refined. dex/merc tranny fluid shuld be what you need, check your manual for exact spec but 1st gens if i rember right are standard dex/merc tranny fluid for power steering system
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I'm probably going to have to do this 1 or 2 steps at a time for budgetary reasons. For now I'm going to start with the wheel bearings and PS gearbox adjustment / reservoir cleaning as well as cleaning and testing the solenoid pack. After I save up a bit I'll do the gearbox replacement, new PS line . The manual calls for Nissan PSF II, but says DEX/MERC ATF also works. Is there much of a difference between an aftermarket ATF and the Nissan "Matic D" that is spec for Xterras?

I saw a DIY on here for a PS Gearbox rebuild kit, but my understanding is that rebuilding the gearbox would fix leak issues but not slop/play issues. Is that correct?
 

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Nope nissan matic d, dex/merc and nissan psf II are all equivalent take a look at a castrol bottle of dex/merc it will say nissan matic d and i think j compatible just different marketing names for same thing
 

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Fixing PS gearbox leaks will not resolve the slop/play, no. For slop the only thing I would check is the pre-load adjustment bolt on the pitman arm shaft (also sometimes called 'sector shaft adjusting screw' - should be a little allen bolt on top of the gearbox). Part 4/4 in that video I linked above talks about how to adjust the pre-load correctly.

Nissan 'Matic D' was dyno ATF fluid I believe, definitely much better synthetic stuff available now which is backwards compatible. I would recommend RedLine D4 ATF (D4 ATF) - as per website: "
  • Use where Dexron III®, Dexron II®, Mercon® and Mercon V® fluids are recommended, for use in automatic, manual transmissions and power steering
  • Popular applications: Toyota Type T-III and T-IV, Honda ATF-Z1, Nissan Matic D
 

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Fixing PS gearbox leaks will not resolve the slop/play, no. For slop the only thing I would check is the pre-load adjustment bolt on the pitman arm shaft (also sometimes called 'sector shaft adjusting screw' - should be a little allen bolt on top of the gearbox). Part 4/4 in that video I linked above talks about how to adjust the pre-load correctly.

Nissan 'Matic D' was dyno ATF fluid I believe, definitely much better synthetic stuff available now which is backwards compatible. I would recommend RedLine D4 ATF (D4 ATF) - as per website: "
  • Use where Dexron III®, Dexron II®, Mercon® and Mercon V® fluids are recommended, for use in automatic, manual transmissions and power steering
  • Popular applications: Toyota Type T-III and T-IV, Honda ATF-Z1, Nissan Matic D
im a fan of straight up castrol dino dex/merc myself good price and never had an issue. for sure dont use dex 6 or anything newer that says its backwards compatible seen way too many people end up having issues that way
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Update on the X: I repacked and re-seated the wheel bearings, which eliminated some of the steering play. The PS gearbox is too worn (if I tighten it down, the steering wheel doesn't return to the center on its own) and will need to be replaced. I'm looking for a used or remanufactured one to replace it.

My bigger concern is the transmission: I dropped the oil pan, cleaned out the magnet (covered with thin metal shavings), pulled out the valve body and took it apart and cleaned it, then tested and cleaned the solenoids, which were all in good condition. Replaced the oil with DEX/MERC fluid. The transmission still will not shift into Drive from Neutral - I have to put it in 2nd and then shift it back into drive at about 30mph. Also, after driving it around yesterday for about an hour, I smelled a burnt smell when I parked it, which I think is coming from the transmission fluid.

So I'm trying to weigh my options. I don't want to drop a bunch of money into an 18-year-old car with 160k miles so I'm debating whether to get a junkyard transmission or buy a rebuild kit. Does anyone on here have experience with either of those things? The rebuild sounds complicated and I don't want to f*** it up but with time, patience and a shop manual it seems doable.
 

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Rebuilding transmissions is certainly possible. I know plenty of non mechanics that have done three speeds and four speeds given enough time. The one thing I will warn you of is that is quite a pain to remove these having to unload torsion bars and all that and then this work is messy messy. If you don’t have a hoist and a bright clean garage to work in, I’d say you better love this car to go through all that. If it were mine, I’d be looking for a used one
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I'm leaning toward a junkyard transmission, which I can pick up for $163 from my local LKQ. A good rebuild kit is $300-$400 plus tools and space I don't have. I do want a long-term fix for the X, so I might do a rebuild down the line but for now I just want to get it working reliably.
 
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