By on October 31, 2012

Robin writes:

Thanks so much for the data on fuel additives. I did later determine that it also can be a salve for ethanol-afflicted soft bits in the fuel lines. Here’s the deal though. My little 1994 Nissan Hardbody is a delightful little vehicle.

It now has over 181,000 on the clock. I just returned from a trip to San Antonio. Drove there from McKinney and back. I logged MPG and came up with just at/under 23 MPG. Before I had always been turning 25/26 MPG on road trips.

With low 180,000 miles I fully realize that things are starting to wear. I want to keep investing in this little truck as it is still worth more to me than I could hope to sell it for. I need to know the usual suspects, the places to start looking to upgrade or repair in order to restore mileage. I wish I could take it to my mechanic and tell them “fix it” but I ain’t got that kind of bank account.

Sajeev answers:

The dirty little secret about honest compact trucks? They are more valuable to more people than a comparable car, especially in rural areas/flyover states. Small trucks do so much for so little, they are the most loyal soldiers in our automotive landscape. And that’s why I love ’em, enough to join the ranks with one of the last Ford Rangers ever made.

So I do indeed see where you’re coming from. The point?

Fix everything to your heart’s content…well, within reason. Here’s a list of common wear items at this age that you should invest to make the ownership more appealing to you and a future buyer. You mentioned mileage specifically, but I want to go further.

  1. Anything made of rubber: Belts, Hoses, Tires, Vacuum Lines, O-Rings, Suspension Bushings, Weatherstripping.
  2. Shocks and Springs: both are fatigued at this age, especially the shocks. Buy the highest quality shock you can afford.
  3. Tune up items: spark plugs, PCV, all filters (don’t forget fuel!), spark plug wires, oxygen sensors, etc.
  4. Speakers: they weren’t great when new and after years of sun exposure, consider getting new ones (the cheap ones) to enjoy your stereo again. Yes, this is important, especially in a truck with less-than-thrilling comfort for long trips.
  5. HVAC, clean out debris from the blower motor and evaporator behind the dash.
  6. Actually, clean just about everything under the hood too, just not with a steam cleaner. Look for leaks after driving with a clean engine.  Fix the leaks.
  7. Tint windows, helps the A/C with its mission.
  8. Polish and Wax the paint, for looks and slipperiness at highway speeds. Also consider a tonneau cover to improve aerodynamics and functionality: I attribute my better than average mileage to the cover on my Ranger.
  9. Fluids: flush the brakes, slave cylinder, power steering, and maybe even the differential’s stuff.  These aren’t considered by most people, but they are important. Flushing an automatic transmission at this age (if the fluid hasn’t been changed) is too hit or miss for me to recommend, but go ahead and do it for a manual.
  10. Headlights!  They fade out so slowly that yours are probably gone even if you don’t think so. I’ve seen some drivers need new bulbs after 2-3 years of use. They still worked…except they really didn’t.

And on your Hardbody, get a factory shop manual and just tear into it. Join a forum and get reading. This isn’t a Turbo SAAB, you got nothing to fear.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.



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17 Comments on “Piston Slap: Hard Body, Easy Decision?...”

  • avatar

    Thanks for the great post Sajeev. I have a 94 Altima w/ 213,000 miles on it and use it for my daily commute. It’s held up really well but I need to go in and tackle several of the things that you listed above. Question though, which of the items listed above do you think will have the best impact on improving gas mileage? I noticed that my mileage is not where it should be as well.

    Also, do any of the products available to clear up headlight housings really work, or do I need to take them in somewhere to be buffed out? I don’t think new bulbs will help me much unless I get rid of the foggy abrasions on the housing. Thanks to you and the B&B for any advice.

    • 0 avatar

      1,3,6,7,8,9 can all help with mileage…esp if you drive on the highway, or use the A/C a lot.

      Those polishing products do work, but if the plastic is cracked/crazed enough, it won’t matter. At your age and mileage, there’s a chance you will need new (or Chinese aftermarket) lights AND new bulbs.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had very good luck with a headlight polishing kit – there was enough to do several cars in one kit. I used the cheapest kit at the store (ten dollars) so I had to polish by hand rather than with a buffer mounted on a drill, but the plastic looked like new when I was done.

      The two cars I worked on were only 10-12 years old, though, so your experience may vary since your car is older.

      I’ve also heard that the polishing will need to be done again in 2-3 years, but after six months mine still look fine.

      • 0 avatar

        Mine are pretty yellow/hazey, but not really cracked, so I think I’m gonna give the kit a try, but probably the drill mounted buffer kit. I figure 20 bucks for a stab at fixing it vs $200 for two new assemblies is worth at least a try. I’m just glad to hear that they have the potential to work well. Thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I’ve used a bottle of plastic cleaner purchased from a glass and plastic supply shop. It worked quite well and did not need another application for a good six months.

  • avatar

    Do not flush a transmission with 180k all the lil bits and shavings are resting in places where in this case they obviously are doing no harm leave them there, lest your $75 flush turn into a $1750 transmission job.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree. Transmission “flushes” are never a good idea. GM has even issued bulletins to dealers to cut out doing them all together.

      The only way I will ever do a “flush” is to drop the pan, change the filter, drain the converter (if you can) and change the fluid. If you can’t drain the converter, change the fluid twice.

    • 0 avatar

      @mikeg: you beat me to the “punch” on this +100 times.

  • avatar

    I change the trans fluid and filter every 100,000 miles on my 95 Explorer, though here lately it’s been every 30,000 miles. It currently has 307,000 miles on it, and I still get over EPA ratings both in town and highway. It still gets 23mpg on the highway when it was rated for a revised 19mpg. I get about 17 in town with it and it’s not the most fuel efficient small truck. I like to say it has four cylinder power with 8 cylinder thirst.

    Having said that, I replace the O2 sensors every 100,000 miles, new plugs and wires every 50,000 miles, I have changed the rear diff oil with synthetic twice, engine thrives on a steady diet of synthetic oil every 10-15,000 miles with no wear on the cylinders visible. The injectors are still the factory Ford injectors, a toss a fuel filter every now and then, and I just replaced the fuel pump. I have put several sets of head gaskets in it, a few radiators and a few heater cores.

    Other than that, the hood rarely ever gets opened between oil changes, when it does, I fix/replace whatever is needing attention or looks suspect.

    I replaced the headlamp housings after they yellowed and my best attempts to keep them clear failed to take the checking out of it. Also helped that a rock took out both the headlight and a turn signal lens.

    And yes, the transmission on mine did fail at 225,000 miles. Not from any fluid changes, but from outright metal fatigue, the 2nd gear band literally broke at the adjuster.

  • avatar

    If it isnt broke, dont mess with it.

    My 95 Pathfinder is at 222,400 and has had little done to it at all. I had another 88 Hardbody with 192,000 that would still be running now if I hadn’t messed up a timing belt job (both were VG30’s). Normal maintenance is plenty.

    Just watch it and fix things as necessary. you go looking for trouble, you’re gonna find it.

    These things are bulletproof. I’d buy another one in a heartbeat.

  • avatar

    I finally sold my ’91 Pathfinder to a high school kid so I could get my project Alfa. It had about 200,000 miles and still ran strong. I’d have kept it if there was room in the garage. The V6 had a small leak at the main seal. I changed the water pump and timing belt, some of the rubber bits, fuel filter, trans lube (5-speed), diff lube, kept the oil changed, and it was as a reliable old dog I’ve ever seen. Too bad it only got 19 MPG. My buddy, who I bought it from and had been driving it for the previous 5 years, told me it got 19. Highway, 19. In town, 19. Downhill, 19. Towing, 19. It was at least consistent. Oh, and I sold it for $500 more than I bought it.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    I think yours has the single plug engine. I owned several with the dual plugs. As they went from 2.0(JDM only I think) to 2.4 the head gaskets became fragile on an otherwise wearproof truck. At the hint of overheating stop the truck and fix otherwise it becomes junk. I have replaced engines and this is the only way I think I ever had one break. Wearout time for normal wear and tear on this engine has got to be somewhere around 300k if you don’t overheat first.

    Having said all this, maybe the single plug engine is different. Aluminum head and iron block made a bad combination, I think.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    You pegged the value of the small truck. The best vehicle I will ever own was one of those. I wish I still had it. How many people can’t find a good use for such a vehicle? almost no one.

  • avatar

    Plastic oxidizes with time, hence the haze/yellowing. Totally worthwhile to go to a shop that deals in plastic/glass and get the good stuff. I did for the 2007 Maxima and about 15 minutes with a buffer and they were fresh. The heat from headlamps really does a number on plastic, it’s why they haze so badly vs. tail lamps.

  • avatar

    The death of these trucks has always been the timing chain guide. The original design were plastic and eventually they would get bridle, break, and end up being sucked up by the oil pump clogging it and destroying the engine. That part was superseded by a more robust one. I’ve replaced a few of these and it’s not hard per say, but time consuming. For about $100 you can get the timing chain kit to take care of this and put another 200K on the truck.

  • avatar

    Oh man, just flew in from New Orleans and are my arms tired! But seriously, thank you so much Sajeev. I have had multiple offers from people approaching me in parking lots etc. asking to buy it off of me. But the cost of replacing it? Way too high for me to take the offers I’ve been given.

    Piston Slap, on my daily read list. Now, to the auto supply store!

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