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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi folks -

Been around these parts for a little while, but I wanted to document some progress on my ongoing build. This is my first venture into the Xterra world, but I’ve done my share of usual and unusual off road builds over the years (a couple of Jeeps, a Toyota, even an F150 overland build).

A couple months back I picked up a one-owner 2004 3.3 auto 4x4. The truck has been babied, dealer serviced for its whole 211k life, and - most importantly - completely unmodded/unmolested.



Obviously, it was time to change that…

Having recently sold my last 4x4 project when a “too good to refuse” offer came along, my goal was to build up a trail/camping/hunting rig that would be more comfortable to tool around town and even highway drive than an 80s Jeep, while still providing enough capability to do some moderate wheeling when desired. I live about 45 minutes from Coal Creek, so the opportunities to get off pavement around here are numerous.

My son and I also take several extended camping trips every year, and I wanted a rig that would work well with the Smitty rooftop tent we use (since I sold the F150, my wife is tired of giving up her Pathfinder for weeks at a time). Moreover, the price on the X was right, and after a little research, it seemed like it could do everything I needed without laying out huge cash to get there.

In planning how I wanted to proceed, it looked like a 1” body lift and some fender well trimming would give me the clearance I needed without adding too much height (I’m playing a game of inches with clearance into my garage). Likewise, 2-3” of suspension lift and a leveled stance (so really only 1.5” out back, with a shade under 3” up front based on my measurements) seemed ideal, and would just sneak me in under a low hanging garage door opener with 32” tires.

I found a set of black ProComp wheels with Toyota 4.75” backspacing locally, and had Goodyear Wrangler tires mounted. Lift parts (Bilstein shocks, AC upper control arms, low-pro bump stops, longer shackles, Mikelli’s body lift kit) were ordered.



Some plastic and sheet metal trimming and the 1” body lift later and the wheels/tires fit without rubbing at full compression. Ended up removing about an inch of sheet metal with a cut off wheel on a die grinder at the rear of the wells, under the plastic splash guard (which I trimmed extensively). Carefully primed and under coated all freshly exposed steel. The grinding/cutting is all doable with the wheel/tire in place, but painting is much easier to do well with it removed.

At this point, I decided to go ahead and crank the torsion bars to level things out front to back. Having a buddy who’s way into racing, with a huge shop and caster-camber gauges, makes it easy to play around with suspension and not have to drop $100 every time to get it aligned…



You can see the results of my fairly extensive “bumperectomy” in this shot. I removed the plastic lower valence completely, and cut the remaining bumper level with the mid point of fog lamp housing circle back to the wheel well. A Dremel tool with a plastic cutting disc and a good tape line for reference make easy work of this. All of this made room for…



A 9k HF Badlands winch. I used the off-the-shelf HF winch plate as several others have done, and simply cut it to length on the bandsaw. Obviously, the front frame rail “support” tube was removed from the front of the frame horns. I made the decision to prep the frame horns and plate before install and weld the mounting plate in place rather than fabricating mounting brackets to the bumper support bolt holes. Obviously, this means there’s no going back to stock without some significant grinding, but that’s a compromise I was ok with.

Installing the winch itself was easy enough with only the grille removed. There’s plenty of room to drop it down in from the top. I did have to cut about a 24” long by 1” deep notch in the lower bumper support sheet metal to make room, but it’s thin steel and the grinder/cut off wheel made quick work of it. I’ve used these HF winches on several vehicles and feel that they’re comparable in quality to other options at the lower end of the market - especially if you take the time to seal the control box carefully with silicone to prevent water intrusion.

Finally, I wanted to touch up the fading/mismatched front plastic. I pulled the bumper, grille, upper fender flares and splash guards and sanded/primed them. Shot them with a coat of adhesion promoter, then Rustoleum rattle-can bed liner.



Ended up painting the accent bar on the grille with MRO Safety Red to match my red Nissan logo replacement on the wind deflector up top as well. Even with a fair bit of prep work, the bed liner paint job on the front plastic is far from perfect, but it’s an improvement over flaking and faded original paint.

That’s how I sit today. Obviously, I have a lift to finish when my UCAs finally get here. Next big work involves fabricating a rear bumper/tire carrier/hitch receiver to buy myself a little more ground clearance out back. On board air and a dual-battery rig are on the drawing board for next month before our first multi day backwoods trip (and on-board air takes care of my infrastructure for an eventual ARB locker as well).

Eventually the front bumper will get a steel replacement, but that’s a down-the-road project.

I’ll document any mods/changes/other work in this thread. I’m still learning these things, but I’m glad to talk more about anything I did - what worked and what didn’t.

Thanks to everyone here for all the share knowledge and insight. It was a huge help in researching and planning this project.
 

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2004 Xterra XE 4WD Auto 3.3L NA V6
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Very nice job. Thanks for sharing. Gives me some ideas for my 2004 that's definitely more "used" than yours.
 

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2001 se 4x4 5spd 32"
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192 Posts
The truck looks great. I really like the winch install. Approach angles are still good and it does not stick out too far.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
The truck looks great. I really like the winch install. Approach angles are still good and it does not stick out too far.
Thanks! Yep, after considering some alternatives, it seemed like that fairly narrow winch plate that really doesn’t extend past the frame horn ends when set back against the rad support was the best option for low money. With a physically larger winch, there might be a concern about blocking some airflow to the radiator, but these 3.3s don’t seem to have cooling issues even on the small factory rad, so it’s likely a nonissue.

A bigger winch could definitely present some issues with the stock front bumper, but the “old school” winch form factors that sit longer and lower shouldn’t have issues.

Going this route has closed off some options regarding custom bumpers for sure, as the existing welded-in winch plate would present an issue with some of these. But my previous career was doing metal fabrication (for touring theater sets of all things…), so I’ll end up designing and fabricating my own stuff when the time comes.

I’ve seen some folks chop or bevel the frame horn ends to further improve approach angle, but I’m not anticipating the need for anything that aggressive on this setup.
 
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