The Pathfinder

The Origin Story -

I grew up in Japanese SUVs. The first car I can remember my family having was a first-generation Mitsubishi Montero. We were a high-mileage family so I have a lot of memories in there, some (a lot) of them being my mom finding petrified French fries between the seats. 

I loved that car so much and I think one of my favorite things was the cluster of gauges in the middle on the dash that had the inclinometer on it. As a kid I had no idea what it really did but to watch it bounce and move I felt like I was in an airplane. I love the car so much  so that when my mom told me it died, I cried like a big baby. Thinking back, it was very uncool of my mom telling me the car had died. C’mon mom!

Image from Cars and Bids.
Mitsubishi Montero Inclinometer
Image from Cars and Bids.

I think it’s safe to say that the next vehicle choice was influenced by my grandparents & aunt – they all have driven Nissans as long as I can remember. Throughout the years my grandparents have had a Quest, Frontier, Titan, Armada, and a set of Pathfinders while my aunt has had Pathfinders my entire life. 

Using that influence to drive her purchase decision, my mom’s next car was a 2001 Nissan X-Terra that I would ultimately inherit and it was my favorite car until my latest, which this post is supposed to be about. The X-Terra I actually do have a photo of but it was posted on Instagram when it seemed like filters were mandatory so it’s pretty ugly. The angle is for extra pizzazz! You’re welcome. 

I drove the shit out of this car. I did a lot of things to this car, and I wasn’t always nice but it never let me down! I took it on long road trips and all over the Northeast before it ended up being sold.

Gas costs were killing me, a broke college student, and I had the opportunity to get a 2000 VW GTI with a manual transmission. I think the transmission was the most appealing thing about the car, it had almost 200k miles on it, tape covering lights on the dash, all the seats were ripped, and I only had one fog-light. But damn did my gas mileage improve. 

My VW phase lasted until I graduated college when I was kind enough to let my brother take over my new Jetta’s lease. I was moving back to Chicago and didn’t need a car. The GTI didn’t last all that long…

I had been living back in Chicago for about 5 years without a car when COVID hit – I was living with my partner and we were starting to get pretty stir crazy. My motorcycle was only good for short, cargoless trips, we weren’t taking public transportation or Ubers all that much and renting cars on Getaround was getting expensive. We just wanted to be able to go and drive somewhere without having to suit up or wait for good weather.

At that time I was drooling (and continue to drool) over Land Rovers when a really cool Discovery II popped up for sale near me. It seemed reasonably priced with low miles but some people more sensible than me reminded me of how expensive Land Rovers can be to maintain and woke me from my trance. That’s when I found it…

Enter Pathfinder -

When my Land Rover trance was over, I found the listing and frankly I couldn’t believe it. I threw a search up for Pathfinders in my area, not expecting to see a WD21 and certainly not one in this immaculate condition. It was listed by a small dealer in Chicago that specializes in low-mileage older cars and seemed like the holy grail*: SE-V6 trim, Cobalt Green Pearl, leather (HEATED!) seats, power locks/windows/mirrors, cruise control, bull bar, fog lights, and more options. 

Not only that, it was a god dang one-owner car with 62,000 miles. 62,000! That’s barely broken in, I know these things will go well over 200k miles if they haven’t rusted to death and thankfully this one is in one piece. Check out the images from the listing.

*the only thing that could make it better would be a manual transmission. 

I did some research on owning a WD21 Pathfinder and read the forums to see what I should look out for. I made a checklist of some of the details that I didn’t want to forget when I went to check it out, I knew what I wanted to find out but didn’t want to lose focus when it was actually in front of me. I’m easily distracted.

During my research I ran the Carfax, which showed an accident in 2013. The dealership had no more info (classic) and there was not a lot to go on beyond that. The car looks incredible up close, the only obvious potential indicator of an accident is that there is no running board on the drivers’ side. Otherwise, the car was in fantastic shape and the body was (and is) insanely clean. 

I started to cross things off as I went but that didn’t last all that long. I’ll run through some of the things on the list:

  • All the important gauges work… The tach is seriously wonky and never reads right. Sometimes it’ll just bounce from 0 -> 8, back and forth like it’s waving at me. 
  • One owner
  • Heated seats do work, thank goodness. Chicago needs them. 
  • Cruise control works
  • Power locks & windows work
  • Clean title
  • Spare tire was rotten 
  • Front driver & passenger seats do have some cracks and rips in the stitching. 
  • Missing wheel center cap
  • Small bits of rust on front & rear bumper
  • Service records dried up in the 2000’s but I’ve done some work, which I’ll get to later. 

The dealer handed me the keys and sent me on my way for a test drive. The car drove just like it should, the 4 wheel drive kicked in as it should, the heat blew hot and the air blew.. cold(er than room temp). All the creature comforts were still in tact and this car was really well-optioned so there were lots of things that could have failed along the way. 

I’ve come to discover this car came from New Jersey and somehow is not rusted to bits. It was very well taken care of before I got ahold of it. 

This was my first time buying a car that was legally considered a classic so there were some things I wasn’t totally prepared for when buying a car of this age. What I did not pay attention to or notice were:

  • There were 3 different brands of tires on the car. The two front tires were Dick Cepek Trail County EXP and brand new. I can’t remember what the two rear tires were but they didn’t last long. 
  • The front suspension was sagging. Thankfully, adjusting the torsion bars fixed that. 
  • The leather wheel cover on the spare was so brittle and delicate that it couldn’t be saved when I changed the spare. 

What I've done -

Like I mentioned before this was my first time buying a classic and mechanically I know very, very little so I was pretty naïve leaving the lot. I was unsure of the service on the car so at 63k miles I changed the timing belt. I also had the throttle body & Idle air control valve cleaned, flushed the coolant & brake fluid, rebuilt the master cylinder, charged the A/C, and got a matching spare for the rear. The only real modification I’ve done is add a hitch. I want to make sure this car runs for over 100k more miles and I plan on keeping it until it (or I) turns to dust. 

It’s been an amazing car. It took my partner, myself, and our dog from Chicago to Atlanta and back last summer without any issues. Charging the A/C really paid off on the drive down. It’s not the most fuel efficient car in the world by any means but it’s always ready to roll.  

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