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3.3 Vs 3.5 Durability, Service-ability, and Off roading


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I have a 1998 Pathfinder that has been great. So much that my GF wants one. I love the manual transfer case on my 1998. I'm debating on finding a 3.5 Pathfinder with a manual transfer case but I'm not familiar with the 3.5 at all. Are there any disadvantages to the 3.5? They 3.3 is very easy to service and isn't too tight in the engine bay. The truck will rarely see freeway driving so lots of acceleration at 80 isn't as important as torque, durability, and service-ability.

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I haven't worked on a 3.3. I did a number of things on my 3.5. It's pretty tight. A bunch of things were no fun to do, like alternator replacements. But I'd rather work on it any day than my 2006 MDX.

I drove a 3.3 once. I'd never buy a 3.3 after driving a 3.5. I got 265k miles out of it. I was hoping for 300k, but still darn good. Early VQ engines had some minor oil flow issues, especially regarding the lifters and valve cover baffling. The automatics had the power valve screw issue. Other than that, it's a great engine.

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Yeah I’d say the only real downside to the 3.5 is how tight the engine bay is. My dad has a WD with the 3.0 and it’s hilariously spacious in there compared to my 3.5. Even toyota 3.4s from the same generation are far more compact and simplistic, making a 3rd gen runner much easier to wrench on than the VQ.

 

That said, the VQ has gobs of power and I think that makes up for any downsides. I’m easily turning 32” tires with factory gearing and hundreds of pounds of cargo. 

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I was trying to think back to what I didn't do on the VQ. I think the only 2 items were valve cover gaskets, partly because I couldn't find the leak, and partly because I wasn't certain I could finish it in a weekend and needed the car during the week.

The other item was the starter replacement. I actually bought a starter, got under there and gave up for the same reason above. It is comically wedged in there. And this is from someone who could replace a Scout starter with a 345 in 15 minutes, that was in the same area but much less buried.

I was pretty certain I'd have to remove the half shaft. The garage I took it to was cagey about telling me how they did it, other than saying they didn't remove anything extra. I certainly paid extra for their expertise. Perhaps getting it on a lift made it much easier.

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I have two VQ pathfinders and they both leak oil. I’m always putting a couple quarts in between oil changes. If you’re trying to keep a clapped out VQ running, it’s gonna be a nightmare even if you’re motivated because it’s soo tight in there, oem parts are scarce/expensive/month+year specific unless you’re into pulling from junkyard. Like I want to love on my VQs with parts but I can’t just slap on parts since they are scarce and particular in some circumstances. I think VG engines are more friendly toward rebuilding and overhauling from what I’ve heard

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Mine at 240k initially, when it wasn't leaking like a sieve from the valve covers requiring a quart a week, only used abound half a quart per 3 k miles probably thru a combination of RMS leak and burning. At that point I'd see a tiny wisp of smoke from the tailpipe at idle. But other than that no symptoms of burning oil like contaminated spark plugs or burned out cats.

I haven't done any major internal engine repairs, but so far I hadn't had parts availability issues - other than brake line mount isolators. I was able to buy those from Japan for cheaper than Nissan offered them here, and AC Vents I bought on Ebay. But that's a R50 age problem, not engine issue.

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4 hours ago, colinnwn said:

I was trying to think back to what I didn't do on the VQ. I think the only 2 items were valve cover gaskets, partly because I couldn't find the leak, and partly because I wasn't certain I could finish it in a weekend and needed the car during the week.

The other item was the starter replacement. I actually bought a starter, got under there and gave up for the same reason above. It is comically wedged in there. And this is from someone who could replace a Scout starter with a 345 in 15 minutes, that was in the same area but much less buried.

I was pretty certain I'd have to remove the half shaft. The garage I took it to was cagey about telling me how they did it, other than saying they didn't remove anything extra. I certainly paid extra for their expertise. Perhaps getting it on a lift made it much easier.

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The starter is a bit of a tough swap but not nearly as bad as it looks. I’m very glad I didn’t end up taking it to a shop. No other parts needed removal, just had to work it out with a series of twists and turns then pull it toward the rear of the truck and down through the space next to the control arm. 
 

Im tempted to do a quick write up and include some pics in a new thread because this is one repair that very few seem to have attempted and most are confused on what it takes. Then again, it’s pretty hard to explain the motions involved without an actual video of it being done, and I sure as hell am not taking it off again lol

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As for the oil burning/leaking, my VQ is at 286K and it’s been consistently losing between a 1/2 quart and a quart per month. I drive a LOT though. 

 

Not a huge deal in my opinion, it lets me keep a nice continual oil change going haha.

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The starter is a bit of a tough swap but not nearly as bad as it looks. I’m very glad I didn’t end up taking it to a shop. No other parts needed removal, just had to work it out with a series of twists and turns then pull it toward the rear of the truck and down through the space next to the control arm. 
 
Im tempted to do a quick write up and include some pics in a new thread because this is one repair that very few seem to have attempted and most are confused on what it takes. Then again, it’s pretty hard to explain the motions involved without an actual video of it being done, and I sure as hell am not taking it off again lol
Did you do it on jackstands or the wheels on the ground?

I wasn't even able to get my arm far enough in, other than to barely touch the starter case. I don't remember being able to see the 2nd mounting bolt. With a ton of extensions and wobble drives I could imagine removing it. But I couldn't see how to hold the starter in, while starting the bolts, or getting the electrical connector bolted down with the rubber boot.

That last part may sound stupid, but it's one of the harder aspects of doing the alternator since there is only room for one hand. My rubber boot was glued down to the cable. You couldn't slide it away, you could only hold the cup back while you placed the wrench with the same hand, and held enough tension to not let it drop as you slid again same hand back for leverage.

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5 hours ago, colinnwn said:

Did you do it on jackstands or the wheels on the ground?

I wasn't even able to get my arm far enough in, other than to barely touch the starter case. I don't remember being able to see the 2nd mounting bolt. With a ton of extensions and wobble drives I could imagine removing it. But I couldn't see how to hold the starter in, while starting the bolts, or getting the electrical connector bolted down with the rubber boot.

That last part may sound stupid, but it's one of the harder aspects of doing the alternator since there is only room for one hand. My rubber boot was glued down to the cable. You couldn't slide it away, you could only hold the cup back while you placed the wrench with the same hand, and held enough tension to not let it drop as you slid again same hand back for leverage.

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 Did it with wheels on the ground, but it probably would have been easier with the truck jacked up
 

For me the bolts were easy to reach, just used a four inch long extension for the one facing the front of the truck, and a deep socket for the one facing the rear. The ratchet I used had a pivoting head though. The nuts on the terminals for the solenoid were a bit trickier but I was able to get a wrench on them by reaching around the front and use tiny turns to get them off.
 

The main trouble was getting the copper terminals around all the brackets and mounts and all that, but it’s doable with enough patience. I hated doing the alternator and PS pump WAY more honestly

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10 hours ago, Dbot said:

I have two VQ pathfinders and they both leak oil. I’m always putting a couple quarts in between oil changes. If you’re trying to keep a clapped out VQ running, it’s gonna be a nightmare even if you’re motivated because it’s soo tight in there, oem parts are scarce/expensive/month+year specific unless you’re into pulling from junkyard. Like I want to love on my VQs with parts but I can’t just slap on parts since they are scarce and particular in some circumstances. I think VG engines are more friendly toward rebuilding and overhauling from what I’ve heard

That's what I've been reading and the 3.3 in the Pathfinder I have now barely uses 1/4 of a quart over 3000. Minimal enough I don't have to add any between changes and it's at 220,000 miles. 

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My dad had an '03 VQ R50 that used a quart every thousand miles before the odometer hit 100k. It didn't seem to be leaking anywhere, but it smoked like hell on warm starts. We never tore it down to figure out why. The local mechanic didn't want anything to do with it. I wasn't impressed with the drive-by-wire ('03-'04) either. It did have plenty of power, though, especially compared to my VG30.

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I have the 3.3 and have to say the lack of power is a major downside for me, however, I will say though that if you give it enough skinny pedal, it will go.

 

Having replaced the engine and transmission several times each (because I’m an idiot—not because of poor reliability) I want to baby the vehicle when driving normally i.e. driving to work or around town. You just plainly can’t baby it and keep up with traffic. If you don’t mind being the guy with a mile of pissed people behind you then that’s great but I hate being that guy. That said if you’ll just run it through it’s power band (3200-4500rpm) then it’s no problem whatsoever. I can comfortably drive my wife’s GX without breaking 2000rpm...

 

Towing, yeah it’ll do it, but not well, not heavy, and not up steep grades. I hear VQ’s can’t even tell they’re towing heavy up steep grades with locked up brakes in 100mph head wind.

 

Serviceability, now that’s where the VG shines. I don’t work on cars, I work on large spacious industrial manufacturing equipment, and I was able to overhaul the VG. Parts just come off and there’s really only one way to put them back on, no spring loaded stuff or complicated assemblies. I don’t mind working on the VG at all. An older 4Runner starter you say? Kill me now.

 

Off-road ability I imagine isn’t going to show much of a difference between the VG and the VQ because of the huge amount of torque that the transfer case provides. I was dragging trees one time and couldn’t make any forward progress in 4hi but when I switched to 4lo I could slowly increase the torque until the tires would break traction on pavement, which says to me that no amount of resistance would overcome the engine in 4lo.

 

In conclusion, if I could choose again, I’d go with the VQ, no hesitation. The lack of power for normal driving is a deal breaker for me. A 2004 stick shift pathy is my dream vehicle.

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I hear VQ’s can’t even tell they’re towing heavy up steep grades with locked up brakes in 100mph head wind.


LOL not quite. I can say I was perfectly comfortable towing a 3000lb RV with a VQ. But it was a lot nicer with my FIL F150 with the 5.0. I'd have the VQ screaming in 3rd or 4th gear trying to maintain 70 or 75 (whatever the speed limit) on hilly back country roads in Texas. It would have been ugly in Colorado. Even the VQ is being left behind in power by modern SUV and truck engines. I can't even imagine living with a VG, unless I lived in the country in an area with slow speed limits and it was my puttering around vehicle.

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