Saturday, December 29, 2007

Installing a suspension lift on my 2001 Pathfinder... or finding Dante's hell.

Abstract -
DON'T buy Rancho RS5000 shocks for R50 Pathfinders, EXPECT installation to take at least 10 hours of work your first time in a home garage, DON'T start this project without having a mechanic you trust with the proper hydraulic press willing to assemble the strut packages - those pansy screw MacPherson strut compressors won't cut it on the bigger and stiffer lift springs.

On to the full text -
I decided to lift my 2001 Nissan Pathfinder so it would look more like a truck and less like a minivan. The shocks blew out a couple days before Christmas so I figured it was easier to do the whole enchilada now. I went with Automotive Customizers 2 inch lift springs. Also from them I got KYB front struts, Rancho RS5000 shocks, and strut boots. I was mostly happy with AC's service. I emailed them Thursday night before Christmas asking if they could get the parts to me within a week. They called me early the next day to say they could, and again that afternoon to check on me, but I didn't return their call till late Friday. AC still was able to get the stuff to me in a week. Great customer service, I just don't think they should be selling Rancho RS5000 shocks as fitting R50 Pathfinders (more on that later).

From Summit Racing I got the camber adjustment bolts. Contrary to their website, you only need 1 kit per car for up to 2 degrees camber adjustment, or 2 kits per car for up to 4 degrees. I don't know how keen I am on using 2 kits per car. The bolts are substantially thinner to accommodate the eccentric cam. I haven't found a good guide for installing lift springs on R50 Pathfinders, and the official service manual is pretty weak on removing and installing the struts, shocks, and springs. AC's directions for rear coil installation are fairly generic but they were the best I found, and I have done strut replacements on an Altima. I thought I knew what I was getting into, that was mistake number one.

I started with the rear shocks/springs installation because I thought it would be easiest, and frighteningly it was. I found some significant problems with AC's directions in this specific application. It is impossible to remove the panhard rod axle end without a splitter. In the end I didn't remove it because it helps prevent over-extension of the middle brake line. There was no way to loosen that brake line without cracking the system open, you have to disconnect the 2 steel lines on the distribution block to the flexible line or deal with the limited travel. Be sure to remove the axle vent hose on top of the differential because it is too short. Due to the problems above I was unable to drop the axle enough, but I used the MacPherson strut compressor in an "unauthorized" way to get the old springs out and the new springs in, this took a lot of wrestling.


compressing


There is a rubber donut in the upper rear spring mount you can reuse. The short length of split rubber tubing around the spring in the lower mount is not reusable because the lift springs are much larger gauge. I didn't want to make another trip to the parts store, so I left it out and crossed my fingers that won't cause creaking or clanking. This split rubber hose is also used in the top and bottom of the front springs and I left it out there as well.


shock_comparo


Rancho doesn't list applicability for the RS5000's on R50 Pathfinders, and there is a reason - they DON'T fit. I'm disappointed in AC for advertising they fit. The Rancho shock mounting eyelets are the same size, while the OEM eyelets are not. The inner metal bushing through the top mount is almost a half inch too narrow requiring the use of at least 2 washers to fill the gap, the bushing is also at least one size too small for the OEM mounting bolt, and tightening the nut to the recommended 55ft/lbs unacceptably compresses the ears of the shock mount together.

The bottom metal bushing is too small for use with OEM mounting stud, the stud barely fits through only the rubber bushing. I had to use 4 washers, 2 behind the eyelet, and 2 in front, and still the rubber bushing is unacceptably compressed because it doesn't have the support of an inner metal bushing. Shocks are also designed to act as the axle extension stop so the springs don't pop out, and the brake and vent lines don't over-extend. The RS5000's will probably keep the springs in, but I think the rear brake flexible line could easily over-extend and tear. Good thing the front brakes do all the work and I have ABS.


shock_bottom


The front struts/springs ended up being MUCH harder than I planned even though I have done them before on an Altima. To get to the driver's side upper strut bracket, you must remove an accessory bracket over it. The top and air box bolts are easy. The inner wheel well bolt is almost impossible to get at. If your arm is any bigger than mine it won't fit, you'll have to remove the airbox to intake plenum, which is a major ordeal because of all the mount points and accessories hanging off it.


hand_in_hood


If you have never done struts before, the strut bracket only fits one way; but too many inexperienced mechanics don't know that and force them in the wrong way. Mark a stud to the hood ledge hole as shown by the 2nd red arrow. You can't wiggle the struts around enough to get them out unless you remove all hardware mounting both struts. My knuckle bolts were WAY over torqued (over 200ft/lbs) along with several other bolts on front and back suspension components. Use only 6 point sockets so you don't round the nut heads off (it will ruin your month if you do), and use a breaker bar being careful to keep the socket squared up on the nut head. When the struts are loose, with 2 people rotate the anti-sway bar up as far as you can. Finally you will be able to remove the strut by kicking the knuckle end out, down, and to the back of the car while rotating the strut top down, and to the front of the car.

The upper spring seat only fits one way. Mark it to the stud position also, like the 1st red arrow. Since the strut bracket and spring seat rotate independently when the spring tension is relieved, this mark might not be valid if the previous mechanic installed it wrong like mine did. Finally there is a notch and stamped arrow about where the 3rd red arrow is on back of the spring seat. It must face towards the engine. There should be a (W) on the spring seat 180 degrees around from the notch which will face the same direction as the knuckle mount (towards you when installed). This is all very important to have aligned when your mechanic reassembles the strut, or if you do it, when you relieve the pressure from the spring compressor.


index_strut


I read several places AC springs are the same size as OEM with a higher spring rate. This is incorrect. They are much heavier gauge with at least one more turn than OEM. The rear springs were about 0.75" longer and the fronts were 1.5" longer. These factors combined with the increased stiffness makes it almost impossible to use a standard MacPherson strut compressor to assemble the strut packages. I highly advise to not try unless you can afford for your truck to be out of commission for a week while you fidget and curse with them.

coil_height


KYB struts are NOT exact OEM replacements (but they are close). Notice the first ABS wire bracket on the OEM. Now notice there is only a tab with captive nut on the KYB strut. It is another PITA I was unaware of, but it is not the end of the world to cut the bracket off the old strut, drill a hole and use a M6 x 20mm bolt and lock washer to attach it to the KYB tab.


abs_bracket


Beware of Conroe NTB
Now why did I say have a mechanic you trust ready to assemble the struts? I ran out of steam trying to assemble them myself so I called my local NTB to ask if they would do it and how much. The manager said they usually don't do that kind of stuff, but he would get one of his mechanics to do it under the table if I tip the mechanic. When I got there he said he talked to the mechanic who requested $50 (apparently they are running their own little shop out of the NTB store, they just don't like to quote prices over the phone). I was planning on tipping him $30-40, but if he did it right $50 was worth it to be done with the problem. As the manager walked off, I said I didn't know if this was normal, but the notch (mentioned way above) needed to face opposite the knuckle. The manager huffed that his mechanic knew what he was doing.

Twenty minutes later and $50 lighter I leave for home. When I go to install the struts I discover the mechanic installed both of the spring seats 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Even worse, he didn't install one of the the thrust washers evenly so the seat and mount are cocked at an angle and won't rotate. By now NTB is closed, the manager isn't there tomorrow, I have a job done poorly and incorrectly that I have no evidence they did, or I "paid" for. I know, it was my own fault for agreeing to the arrangement, but I suggest to not let it happen to you.

No more to report
I'm stuck at this point. I have to go back to work in Dallas for a week without my truck while my dad tries to track down a competent mechanic to correct the strut packages. When I get it all patched up, I'll report back on how I like the ride and components (aside from the non-fitting RS5000 shocks).

8 comments:

  1. when i did my 98 pathfinder which has the same body frame as your 01 pathy. There is only one angle the bolts on the strut mount will fit to the body frame. As long as you put those 3 botls back, you might not have 2 bolt holes on the strut matching the knuckle. But since the strut can be rotated independently to the strut mount, i just rotate the strut till the 2 bolt holes are matching up with the knuckle.

    Maybe there is a little different for a 98 and 01.

    but thanks for sharing this info. I will pay more attention next time taking it apart. I ordered the old man emu heavy duty coil from rocky-road too.

    have fun

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  2. Is me again, forgot to mention that if you cannot rotate the strut independently to the strut mount, maybe the bearing is bad.

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  3. Suspension lift kits can keep your wheels in close contact with the road at all times and lessen automobile jarring, that is why installing them would really be a good idea

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  4. Wow, nice work out there. The Pathfinder's gonna be an awesome ride now.

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  5. I've never seen it so in-depth. Thanks for sharing your ideas about suspension lifts. Awesome blog!

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  6. Thank you for this detailed step by step installation. I think every SUV or truck owner should try suspension lifts and experience the different especially if they drive more on rough terrains. I like the Skyjacker Suspension Lifts available online.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experience with the 2001 pathfinder. I've been looking for an article with this kind of detail.

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  8. Thanks for this I found this blog really useful. I've been thinking about getting a suspension lift in Edmonton myself so I wanted to get as much information on it as I could.

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