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Quick introduction about my self. My name is Matt and I recently picked up my 2003 Atomic Orange Xterra in 5 speed manual for $1,200 as a winter project and potential budget Overland build. I previously owned a 2016 4Runner TRD Pro that my wife and I built up for adventure travels, but sold it after our newborn arrived to get my wife something more practical for her (she's 4'11", so a lifted 4Runner on 33's wasn't going to happen with a baby). The purchase of the Xterra was a somewhat impulsive project purchase, but I've learned a lot about these vehicles over the past month or so. Engineer by day, like to tinker with my mountain bikes and other toys as a hobbie, not a mechanic by any means but well informed on how to do simple to moderate repairs/modifications.

Old 4Runner:
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Xterra:
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About the Xterra:
- 2003 Atomic Orange 5 speed manual 4x4 240k, lived in New England its whole life
Items replaced (so far)
  • Valve cover gaskets/Upper intake plenum gasket
  • Spark plugs and wires
  • Replaced hose clamps on PS return lines
  • Air filter
  • Both front o2 sensors (both rears to be installed this weekend. Ground wire mod was done but turns out a recent seafoam gas treatment killed all four sensors).
  • Optima red top battery
  • Replaced numerous vac lines
  • ZPrecision lower radiator support tie bar
  • FR ABS wheel speed sensor
  • Rust repair on rockers and rear bumper
  • Numerous odd and ends like fog light/parking light harnesses, driver door sensor, rear door latch, interior lights, etc..
My goal with the Xterra is to make it into a budget Overland/Adventure travel rig. I'd like for it to be under $3,000 when all is said and done (which would be cheaper than the wheels/tires/suspension on my 4Runner, lol), including the cost of the Xterra itself. Challenging myself to prove that a capable and fun offroad vehicle doesn't need to come at a hefty price tag. So far, I'm into it for about $500, leaving $1,300 remaining in my budget goal.

Future Mods:
  • PML lift with adjustable rear shackles
  • Bilstein 5100's front and rear with rear sway removal
  • Soft 8's with 32x11.50r15 mud terrain tires
  • DIY wooden trunk storage unit and platform for my XL breed dog
  • Various lighting mods (front bar, rear bumper mounted lights, etc..)
We still have all of our camping/recovery gear, so we really just need to vehicle completed so we can starting traveling again and smash this thing off some rocks on our local Class 6 roads. I'll use this thread to document some of the repairs/modifications down the line.

- Matt
 

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Some pictures from the maintenance and repairs performed

Valves looking pretty good for 240k. Previous owner was definitely on top of the oil changes at least.
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No build up under the covers or any corrosion.
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Putting it all back together. Might as well do the plugs and wires since that #6 spark plug is a pain even with the upper plenum removed.
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ZPrecision lower radiator tie bar support. Nice quality stainless part and fits the balls. Install wasn’t too bad, just time consuming.
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Nice looks like a solid build plan. :)

Was the radiator support rotten on yours?

When was the timing belt changed last?

Out of curiosity why adjustable shackles?
Lower radiator support was very rusted out. Radiator was no longer even sitting on anything. It’s been a New England vehicle its whole life it appears, so it was bound to happen. Common issue for those above the rust belt it turns out.

It appears the timing belt was done just before the previous owner purchased it, so at 120-140k? At 240k now, so she’ll be due for round two soon.

Ended up buying the non adjustable HD 2” lift shackles.
 

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Finally got an inspection sticker. Went out for a quick joyride on a local Class 6 road. Tires are most definitely the weak point right now. These things have some decent ground clearance in stock form!

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2003 SE 4x4 V6 100k miles
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I love that color! I honestly don't think I'd want the x in that color cuz i can't pull it off, but mucho respecto to you with it.
 

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2” HD rear shackles installed, PML up front. Was only able to get .875” lift up front before getting the .5” Bumpstop gap (shim checked). Looks a bit silly with the current rake (2.625”), hoping it levels out a bit with a full load. May end up drilling new holes in the rear shackles to bring the rear down a bit.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Bilstein 5100's from 4x4parts.com installed all around. Much firmer ride now, the old shocks were badly worn and wouldn't even retract to full length. Sway bar removed in the process. Ended up cutting the top locking nuts off the front shocks since they were seized. Made an attempt to turn the camber bolts before heading to the alignment shop, turned one but didn't have any luck with the others. Ordered 4 camber bolts and 2 upper control arms. Looks like I'm going to have to cut out the old bolts with a sawzall. The biggest hurdle so far with this build has been rust welded hardware..

Measured the old and new shackles before re-drilling. It looks like the OEM eye-to-eye was 4" and the HD shackles were 8" eye-to-eye (resulting in a 2" overall lift). Drilled some new holes for the lower bolts at 7" eye-to-eye, which lowered the rear end .5". Rake is about 2.125" unloaded, I expect it to be around 1.75" when loaded up. Looks much better unloaded now as well.


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Wheels and tires finally installed! Replaced both upper control arms and all 4 camber bolts as well since they were frozen in place. Went with Maxxis Razr MT tires in size 32x11.50r15 mounted on some Cragar Soft 8’s 15x8 with a 4.75” backspacing. Had to remove the mud flaps up front and do some trimming of the metal. I cut more than what I’ll probably needed, just wanted to make sure these wouldn’t run under extreme conditions. Trimmed the area in front at a steep angle to allow for clearance, basically from the bracket to the fender crease at the bottom of the front bumper. Just need to paint the area and then I’ll be done. Probably could have fit 33’s to be honest if I had cut a bit more of the fender.

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Did some recent upgrades that have been on the back burner for awhile now. Finally got around to replacing the headliner. Actually a pretty straight forward job and only took about 2.5 hours start to finish with the help of my wife.

Also wired in an outlet for an ARB fridge. My buddy had one that he was no longer using (upgraded to a larger Dometic) and gave me it to install in the Xterra. Works really good. Perfect for post mountain bike ride beers too. Will eventually upgrade the battery to a deep cycle Optima yellow top since long term use of it will probably kill my red top.

Headliner
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Wrapped the headliner in a “stretch” micro suede. Forms very easy, used 3M Hi-Strength 90 spray adhesive.
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Finished product
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ARB Fridge outlet installed in the passenger side trunk cubby. Had to bend some sheet metal behind the panel, but was otherwise a good fit and factory looking location.
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Fridge is in! Time to chill some beers!
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hey love the "X" man. Nice build! I live in South Carolina and just acquired one of these rare beasts back in february. it was a northern vehicle as well (Pennsylvania) so i feel your pain on the rust. i had to shell out almost $600 to have the fuel tank replaced because of rust and a dumba** previous backyard mechanic (before i purchased). anyways, lookin' good! keep it up!

here is the current state of my "X"
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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Built a DIY skid plate for the Xterra back in July before heading up to Northern New Hampshire/Western Maine for our annual camping trip. Purchased a large sheet of 1/8" thick steel from Amazon and sourced some U-bolts from McMasterr Carr that attach the skid to the front crossmember. As with every other mod on this Xterra, I wanted to keep it as cheap as possible with minimal effort in fabrication/cutting. Cost me about $70 for the material and hardware and took about an hour to measure/drill/trim/install.

Skid Plate installed. This is how much dirt/rust formed from one week of sitting around!
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Skid plate removed for oil change prior to trip. Painted with some bedliner I had laying around.
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Our big trip, somewhere north of Errol, NH.
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Really got to put the Xterras mods to use a few weekends ago on a trip to Vermont. Started off in Somerset, VT and drove north to the Chittenden area by way of numerous Class IV roads. Put the skid plate to good use. The Maxxis RAZR MT's did excellent on the rock crawling portions, no mud on this trip since the area has been in a drought. Quick picture from one of the more tippy lines we encountered that day. Hard to see from the photo, but the passenger tire pops up onto a rock as the drivers side tire comes down off of another simultaneously, while the Xterra is already pitched at a rather steep angle.
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