Piston Slap: Hard Body, Easy Decision?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • DGA DGA on Nov 01, 2012

    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.

  • Rrhyne56 Rrhyne56 on Nov 08, 2012

    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!

  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.
  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
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