I couldn't post this in the garage so I put it here.
In the interest of humanity, here is a write-up of my experience changing a starter on a WD21 Pathfinder. A vehicle I loved and wanted….until I had to work on it.
Situation: 1994 Pathfinder XE – parts vehicle. 1995 Pathfinder XE – starter just clicks. The starter motor doesn’t turn. The click was loud enough that I knew it was the solenoid engaging. At first, I could turn the key several times and get the starter to turn. After a while, no more. To make things even more comical, my 1987 Chevy Silverado did the exact same thing at the exact same time. I changed the starter on it, much sooner and more quickly.
I read several posts on this procedure and, while all were somewhat right, I had to combine several techniques to successfully swap mine out. There is some misleading information out there, probably due to faulty memory. Also, mine are not lifted, so the ‘take out 2 bolts and starter comes right out’ does not apply here.
First task: Remove starter from 1994 parts vehicle. Both my Pathfinders are stock in that they are not lifted at all. Many posts decry removing the bolts as difficult. I found it the easiest part of the process. I used a 3/8 ratchet, 1- 8” extension, 2- 3” extensions, a universal adaptor and a 15 mm socket. I jacked up the vehicle, removed passenger tire. The battery was already out, so the positive cable was already disconnected. The mud shield was already out of the wheel well. From underneath, threading the socket affair alongside the transmission and behind the exhaust pipe, I unbolted the starter. A trouble light is very useful and goggles highly recommended. I live on a dirt road so there was a constant shower of sand and dirt as I worked. The bolts came loose and unbolted rather easily. The bottom bolt has the transmission cooling lines right next to it, so it is somewhat challenging. I anticipated this to be the most difficult so I was in good spirits after that, looking forward to a relatively easy removal. Ha ha. Working from the wheel well, I reached between the frame and the various lines in the way I removed the orange cover and plug to the oil pressure sensor. Then I proceeded to work the starter towards the front of the vehicle. Then I moved to the front, underneath. The rock guard there was already removed. I worked the starter out towards the front using the cables to pull with and rotating the starter in different positions to get the shield and or the solenoid past the engine and the engine mount. I was then stopped by the transmission cooling lines. I removed their mounting bracket (10mm bolt) and bent those towards the driver’s side. This was not easy. The fuel and brake lines in the rear of the vehicle rusted and are like tissue paper, but these were like solid steel bars. But I got them bent out of the way between the oil pan and the tie rod. I was then able to pull the starter forward, up and over the tie rod and it plopped out like a newborn baby. I used a small phillips screwdrive to remove the shield for the solenoid connector. There were 3 screws instead of the 2 mentioned in other posts. And I can see no way to get them out with the starter still in the vehicle as some claimed to have done. Perhaps theirs were lifted. I unplugged the solenoid connector and removed the nut holding on the positive cable (14mm). Note: Pay attention to the orientation of the cable on the starter. It must go back on at same orientation or it will short against the frame or motor mount. Total time was about 3 hours.
Second Task: Remove the faulty starter from the 1995 driving Pathfinder. The procedure was the same for the 1994 Pathfinder until it came time to remove the starter. This vehicle, still driven on the dirt road has the benefit of a leaky front seal so it has a nice mixture of sand, dirt and oil all over everything underneath. With the starter unbolted, I reached in through the wheel well and moved the starter forward. Moving, to the front, with the rock guard already removed, I removed the 10 mm bolt holding the transmission line bracket to its mount. I moved the transmission cooling lines towards the driver’s side as before. Utilizing the cables and various rotation positions, I worked the starter towards the front as before, but I was stymied by the solenoid or the positive cable hitting the engine mount and I couldn’t move it out further. I tried for several hours and had to stop for the day. Then the rains came, but that’s another story. I did more research and read where others had removed the oil filter and exhaust heat shield. I looked down through the engine compartment and saw that there might be access that way. I removed the battery. Then I unbolted the power sterring reservoir from the wheel well and moved it out of the way as far as allowed. (4-10mm bolts and 1 bendable bracket holding down the negative cable). I did the same with the fuel filter (2- 10mm bolts). This gave me good access to the heat shield. There are 2 10mm bolts on top and 3 on the side. Only the two front-most bolts on the side need to come out as the rearmost bolt on the side does only holds the pieces of the shield together and does not thread into the manifold. I managed to wring the head off only 1 bolt. These were fairly easy to get to and not difficult to remove with some care. Next, I placed a plastic bag over the loose starter to catch the oil, drained the oil and removed the oil filter. I looked and there was the starter in plain sight. I lowered the vehicle so I could reach the starter (a step stool would’ve been handy) and quickly and easily, rotated it and slid it forward past the engine mount. After jacking it back up, I then moved under the front of the vehicle and fairly easily worked it out the rest of the way, up and over the tie rod. Next, I removed the shield and 3 phillips screws, unplugged the solenoid connector and removed the positive cable.
Third Task: Put the 94 starter in the 95 Pathfinder. I cleaned up the replacement starter. I also repaired the broken wire and connector for the oil pressure sensor on the 95. I also cleaned all the electrical connections involved. I plugged in the solenoid connector, bolted on the positive cable and inserted the starter up and over the tire rod. I pushed it back as far as it would go then moved to the top of the engine and pulled it back. I moved to the wheel well and put the starter in position. I looked from the top and saw something of concern. The positive cable metal part was touching the motor mount. I thought it might clear once it was bolted up, so I moved underneath and started tightening the mounting bolts (bottom first). I looked up top again, and it did change. The metal cable end wasn’t touching the motor mount anymore, it was touching the frame. So, I had to take the starter back out. This wasn’t so bad because everything was still in position from before. I had mounted the positive cable 90 deg. out of position. This is why I said take note of the position when you take it off. I once again used the above procedure to put the starter back in place and made sure I had good clearance from the electrical connections. I bolted it back up from underneath. ( I never completely removed the bolts and don’t know if you can easily, so they threaded back into the starter without difficulty. Also, I pried the transmission lines away from the bottom bolt a bit with a screwdriver to give me a bit more clearance.) Before I did anything else, I re-installed the battery and gave the key a quick twist just to see if the starter would turn without starting the engine. It did! Success. I again removed the battery. I plugged the oil sensor wire back in. Put the oil drain plug back in. Installed a new oil filter. Added oil to the engine and let the oil bottle drain into the engine while I put the exhaust heat shield back on. I re-attached the fuel filter and the power steering reservoir. I made sure from underneath that the wires and cables were clear from potential damage. I reinstalled the transmission line bracket. Reinstalled the battery and the passenger tire. Fired her up and put her in a better parking position. Total time, about 14 hours. Most of the time was struggling and figuring out what to do. If I had all this information before hand, it would’ve only taken a few hours. Also, I have the service manual, and while it shows how to rebuild the starter, it had nothing about removing and replacing it. The Haynes manual is useless on this matter as well. I hope this helps somebody else who has this daunting task ahead of them. My only fear is that there was a rubber vent or drain tube on the bottom of the starter, but brittle from age and oil, it broke off. Now there’s a small open hole in the bottom of the starter. I think I’ll put some silicon over it unless someone else has a better idea. Whew!