2012 R51 Pathfinder build

Hey guys,

I thought I had a build thread already set up but I guess not.

Overall, it's been a fun build but has presented some challenges.


From the start, the decision to go with a Pathfinder was an odd one. I had a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and loved it... Until it was "Lemoned" for what they thought was incomplete unibody welds. There was another list alongside this that assisted in the removal of the GCTH from the fleet.

After the bad taste of another Chrysler product, I decided to try the "Ultra-Reliable Japanese" brands. Of course, I looked at Toyota, Lexus, and Mitsubishi but ultimately felt that the initial two were incredibly overpriced by comparison. I had some things that were "must-haves" from the start.

1. Global Platform - More on this later
2. Auto/full-time 4wd option with Low Range
3. Aftermarket support - ties in with the Global Platform thing later
4. Mid-sized SUV or Pickup Truck
5. Towing over 5500Lbs

Alright, this really only left a few vehicles to look at. The pickups were pretty much left to the way-side with no full-time 4wd option and a crappy backseat for the nearly 6' tall 12-year-old. From the SUV side, they almost all had the Full-TIme 4wd, and in most cases could tow my requirements. When it came down to it, it was either a GX or older 4Runner with the V8. They were expensive, with the 200k mileage, so imagine the oddly placed 50k mileage example you'd find randomly on the marketplace.

Exhausted with minimal options, I spoke with a friend who grew up in Australia and had some other options. She informed me about the Pajero (unfortunately we got the neutered V6 limited to 5000lbs of towing and not the excellent diesel) and a Nissan Pathfinder. The Pathfinder? As I went down my list of requirements, it actually started to make sense. Towing? 6000-7000lbs depending on the motor option. 4wd? Auto 4wd with Low Range. It even has decent room and it's a global platform for support. Even the VQ40 is used overseas.

The search for a decent example was nothing short of exhausting. I ended up finding a final year (2012 for the USA) LE V6 located 1600 miles away with only 49k miles... For $14,000!!! That was nearly half of the GX and 4Runners! That meant my budget was higher for the build and desired camper trailer. A short flight to Virginia and road trip back proved that the Pathfinder was good for the long-distance haul, but be prepared. It still weighs 5200lbs, so gas mileage is only truck good and not small SUV good.


The first step with to replace the suspension and tires to get the ride height up to clear obstacles. This was where the "Global Platform" hit its first "only looks like a global platform" junction.

The US Pathfinder shares the same body and frame in the USA from its introduction in 2005 until 2007, where Nissan resigned the front end to make room for the VK56 V8 from the Titan and Armada. Only the 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel models received this same frame extension and were built exclusively in Spain according to some information that I was able to find. They were exported from there.

The suspension, from frame rails, rear frame rails, roof rails/mounting points and differentials are all different. Please be aware of this, but there are alternatives to get the same end result.

Ironman 4x4 was the first Australian company to manufacture US Spec suspension upgrades for the Pathfinder. I am aware the ARB/OME and Dobinsons will fit, but OME doesn't offer any warranty or even list the parts on the US Catalog. It's an alignment issue that, again, can be corrected for $27 with some camber bolts. I had no plans for a dedicated bullbar, perhaps a hidden winch mount, so the Ironman 4x4 Performance Lift fit the bill perfectly. They quote a 1.5" lift total but the initial lift was closer to 2.25" and netted only 1" of lift after 1 year of use. I recommend the "Constant load" version. They are the same spring rate but 10MM taller and should offset the progressive sag.
Tires were, like many have stated, a difficult task. Yes, I was that dope on the forums completely uninformed by the Nissan Pathfinder crowd on the biggest tire for this lift. I ended up randomly settling on a 265/70R18 Falken Wildpeak tire due to the on-road ride, Severe Service Rating for winter, and overall track record for performance in the racing classes. It's classified as a 33x10.5" tire but falls a bit short of that.

I used the Pathfinder in this state for quite some time to really get a feel for it. Seeing how did it drives, reacts to the bigger tires, rattles, and overall reliability since I was not the original owner. In another article, I can highlight this differently but I wanted to build another "Overland Trailer". Previously, I had purchased a frame of a trailer and built it up from there. I found something in pretty bad condition for super cheap and the Wife, friends, and I worked over some long weekends and nights to get it to a serviceable condition that would allow us to start customizing it for use with the Pathfinder. You know, manly things with power tools and hammers. It worked great! The Pathfinder towed it with ease (only weighed 2000lbs at most) and was the star of our massive new years eve trip with friends, being able to bring all of the gear with us.

Do you know that moment? The one where your significant other looks you dead in the eyes and you know you may face certain death if you do not fix the current situation? That was me and the wife... Sitting in the rooftop tent, in Mammoth Lakes as she was scrambling up the ladder because mid restroom break she had a Bear wander into camp to see what was going on... I am confident my laughing hysterically not only scared the Bear off but vastly improved my wife terrified state.

Forced by necessity and exasperated by "Need". After the bear incident, the wife decided that she was keener to sleeping IN verses ON TOP OF.

Long story short, we ended up agreeing on a purpose-built camper that would support us off-grid for an extended amount of time with 3 adults and would survive the crazy crap I'd put it through. None of the teardrops at the time really had a good option or support system in place for what we needed and I was not really sold on the units optioned with Timbren Axleless suspension. THIS IS ONLY AN OPINION PRESENTED ON THEIR WEBSITE AND NOT BASED ON ANY INPUT OR FEEDBACK. Opus Campers and Black Series Campers were really the only two options in the states. I like the idea of the tent-style campers, especially living in California, where leasing a spot to store the unit would effectively double my monthly payment versus just parking it in my garage.

Without getting into too much detail, and based on needs, price, and availability, the Black Series Camper Patron folding camper won out! It maxed out at 4400Lbs and sleeps up to 5 people. Onboard water and solar for a minimum of 5 days with a full crew and a cool rack that we use on a regular basis. The kitchen is probably my favorite part.

This instantly presented a few issues.
1. Rear suspension was way too soft for the trailer tongue weight
2. The front was way too light for the added rear weight
3. And this is the most noticeable... My Pathfinder came with only a 3.13 final drive ratio vs the 3.36 that the 05-07 came with.

Mix that Final Drive Ratio with the added weight and larger tires and we have a big issue. Fuel mileage plummeted and long hills were nothing short of a game in patience and planning. The conversation of where there are differences in the Pathfinder in the USA vs the Global Market present again.

The Pathfinders with the V6 in the USA are optioned with an R200 rear differential and R180 front differential. Its the same rear differential equipped in the Infiniti G35 and Nissan 350Z. The global markets are luckier and optioned with the beefier R230 rear end with 3.54 or 3.69 ratios with the diesel models. The R230 exists in the USA but only in the V8 Pathfinders/Armadas and only spec'd with the 2.91 or 3.36 ratios at will not offset the tire size and added weight.

Moreover... The added traction devices... Lockers or LSD's are VERY limited to any vehicle with Independent rear suspension. The Pathfinder is no stranger in this case with the US Market. My only really solid option is to find a low mileage R230 with he 3.69 for import. If you have a way, let me know ASAP, please.

The R180 with the 3.69 is way easier to find, as it was spec'd in the Xterra and Frontier Pro4-x manual transmission vehicles. eBay Motors is your friend for easy delivery. Lockers are available from ARB for both of these diffs and eliminate the onboard air as well. Good luck finding a spot for a bracket under the hood, better off hiding it in the trunk behind a panel.

Nothing has been done on this front yet. It needs to be.

The rear suspension upgrade was pretty straightforward. I liked the ride but needed more weight-carrying abilities only when the trailer was attached. I had been used to load leveling from my Jeep or Land Rover and was happy with it there. Due to the 2" lift, the standard rear airbags from firestone wouldn't work in my rig but the Armada springs were nearly 2" taller and Firestone did make those. At only $119, I am fairly confident this was the best bang for the buck upgrade on my rig. It leveled the truck with the trailer and even with a full trunk it still was very stable even on rough roads at highway speeds.

A stagnant point. The part of the build where you become complacent or bored and start wondering if you have the right rig... I questioned my build at this point as I am sure most do. I actually went and actively drove some new and used trucks to validate what I was feeling. In the end, I couldn't justify a $35.000+ vehicle that wasn't really any more capable than what I currently owned or, with a small investment, could make into a similar performer.
STAGE 3: Beast Mode

At this point, I was confident in my build choice and was ready for full send. I needed protection more than anything. Nothing underneath and in front to protect me from impact. Admitting that you like a look and that it may align with a scenario to help fuel an unhealthy obsession with your rig is perfectly natural and I'll openly admit that to my wife. She probably has some too but I ignore them because I am too busy shopping for more ******** to bolt to my rig...

The roof rack department in the USA for the Pathfinder is another dismal area. In non-domestic market vehicles, they rarely came with the same roof rails the US market did, so plenty of options exist. The ones that were for my roof rails were removed due to manufacturing issues. I was able to pick up a 2nd hand New Out of Box ARB Flat Rack for a GX470. With some ingenuity and luck, I used 1/8" angled aluminum from Home Depot to fashion some brackets to mount to the already rated 220lb roof rails. Perfect match! The bonus was getting an 8'x8' awning for only $99 shipped to me with brackets!IMG_2236.JPEG

At the same time was probably the most daunting of projects... The infamous snorkel! :: Insert Duh Duh Duh music here:: Drilling a small hole in your pride and joy is nerve-racking enough but 5 - 5/8" holes followed by a 4" hole is just plain nuts!! There was no coming back from this. The damage was one and I was randomly successful. I measured probably 10 or 11 different ways. Had the wife check it out (She covered her ass with an "it's probably off but looks okay from here").IMG_2208.JPEG

The skid plates or lack thereof kept me up at night. The thought of my entire vehicle's weight, resting on the transmission oil pan sent shivers down my spine. One of the biggest names in killer protection on an international level was ASFIR. I had their gear on my LR3 and it was bombproof. I ordered up the Aluminum Full Set. Front to back!!! Crap... That's right. I have the elongated Pathfinder front frame!!! So now I have the protection, minus a 4" gap where there seems to be a disconnect from the bumper to the Sump Guard. And I don't even have the V8. Insert insult to injury here.

The front protection was actually a necessary purchase. As much as I love the look. I needed more weight and protection from Animal strikes (nearly took out Bambi and her 3 friends the trip prior with the trailer attached). Ironman 4x4 and ARB both carried a BullBar with a winch carrier. The Ironman salesperson denied my sale as they were having issues with the fitment. Honesty is the best policy so I thanked him for that and ordered the LAST ARB Bullbar in the US during COVID. Another 5-8 months if I hadn't snagged it. Lucky me, the bumper happened to be at the same distributor as the skid plates as well, so shipping costs were reduced as well.

The bumper installation was not for the faint of hearts. Normally, they would bolt up perfectly, with aligned holes and clear directions. The holes on the mounting brackets were 1/4" off from the frame horns. If I hadn't had my custom fabrication cousins helping me that happen to have a work van equipped with a Plasma Cutter, I'd be S.O.L. With those cuts we could mount the brackets and get the bumper loosely mounted and aligned as best as we could. There was a 1/8" discrepancy from left to right. Bumper mounted we were able to move onto the skid plates. The directions were a bit lacking but gave us enough direction to mount them correctly. For those with Nissan's and looking for the ARB bumper. You need to purchase LED Turn Signal bulbs for the truck. The BCM freaks out over the current and will not allow the signals to work correctly. Mine were $20 from AutoZone.IMG_2282.JPEG
The added weight up front and protection under the truck changed the dynamics a bit. For the better actually. The front rode well and the added weight helped with bobbing while attached to the trailer. At this point, the front coils were over a year old and they were sagging pretty bad. I was nearly back to factory ride height with the extra weight. I rang up Ironman 4x4. They randomly suggested a Diesel Spec spring for the front. It was sprung higher and had an increase in height as well to help level the truck out.

All in all, the spring was added and it was... Jarring! Jesus H Christ! This was like attaching the wheels to the frame directly. To assist in the break-in process, I embarked on an 1100 mile journey from LA to Kanab, UT to Flagstaff, AZ, and then home. That did help greatly throughout. I think they just needed a bit of a beating to start feeling like a coil and not a 3rd world prison interrogation tactic.
STAGE 4: Happy with it...

I am happy to report that the build went well. Overall, I have no real complaint other than gas mileage while towing and gear ratios. Both of which will be somewhat cured when addressed appropriately. I hope you enjoyed the write-up. It turned into a technical dive/review/rant. If you have any questions, please let me know. Safe travels!DA9F2918-46EA-4295-B4D0-9890A4A950D4.jpg


Killer build. We also thought about a V8 pathy, or an xterra. Frontier won out because motorcycles can go in the bed. I do have some regrets about not searching longer for one of those with the V8.

Looking forward to future development updates


Fun read thanks for the info. I had no idea Nissan changed the frame on these in 08-12. I always thought the Xterra, Frontier and Pathfinder shared the same frame at the front. No I am wondering if Nissan changed the frames in the Xterra and Frontier as well, or if the changed frame makes the Pathfinder the same as the Frontier and Xterra at the front?


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Fun read thanks for the info. I had no idea Nissan changed the frame on these in 08-12. I always thought the Xterra, Frontier and Pathfinder shared the same frame at the front. No I am wondering if Nissan changed the frames in the Xterra and Frontier as well, or if the changed frame makes the Pathfinder the same as the Frontier and Xterra at the front?
No idea about the Pathfinder but the Frontier/Xterra frames were unchanged from ‘05 until ‘15 for the X and ‘05 to ‘21 for the Frontier. The 2022 may also use a derived variant of the same frame or possibly the same frame outright.
Fun read thanks for the info. I had no idea Nissan changed the frame on these in 08-12. I always thought the Xterra, Frontier and Pathfinder shared the same frame at the front. No I am wondering if Nissan changed the frames in the Xterra and Frontier as well, or if the changed frame makes the Pathfinder the same as the Frontier and Xterra at the front?
No the Frontier/Xterra never changed. It was only the Pathfinder to make room for the US variant V8 and the Non-US Variant 3.0L Diesel.

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