1st vs 2nd gen Xterra

Hey everyone.

I owned a 1st gen xterra several years ago and am considering buying an older used one now and wondering about the pros and cons of each generation. I had a 2001 with a cold air intake, exhaust and a manual. It was fun to drive but barely got better fuel economy than the 5.7 Toyota Tundra I replaced it with, so not good! I've had new full size trucks for several years for work purposes and recently got back into a used vehicle with a 2004 2500 Suburban with 240,000km (150k miles). At the time we had 2 big dogs and I wanted a vehicle large enough to crate them both and still have room for our gear. It was perfect for that and is a great, large vehicle in my opinion but we've since lost 1 dog and with only 1 kid it is certainly more than we need now. I wouldn't mind that but for various reasons we are trying to tighten up our budget and a 6.0 suburban with a rtt is far from economical!

I understand that the 4.0 in the second gen is more efficient and powerful, obvious pros, but what about the rest of the vehicle? I can find several earlier year second gens (up to '08-ish) in the range of 100-150k miles in my buget but have found some first gens in that mileage too for cheaper obviously.

I'd prefer a manual, both for driving enjoyment and reliability/simplicity, but they are MUCH harder to find. Worth holding out for one?

How long can these go for before they become money pits that are not worth the trouble?

There is presently an 07 off road with ARB bumper and winch, lift and manual in my area but it has over 300,000km (200k miles). By the rtt and stickers on it I wouldn't be surprised if it was someone on this board!


As much as I would like to have one modified for offroading and overlanding, as I said earlier I am looking at these for the purpose of minimizing our expenses so it does me no good to buy one on it's last legs. We do have a car though for primary commuting and in event of our 4x4 having troubles ;)

Enough rambling, lets here your feedback!

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The only real issue on the second gens with manual transmissions would be the timing chain guide wear. According to the ad the seller did it recently so you should be golden. Otherwise I would bet it to be good. Fuel economy wise they are not amazing, I had an 06 Avalanche before my Frontier, it had the 5.3 not the 6.0 so I am sure you will some improvement. What you won't see is increased range. The Nissans have tiny 80litre fuel tanks.
I have a 2nd gen frontier nismo, basically same platform as xterra. Doesn't get great gas mileage, the dash tells me usually around 15 mpg. Its a very capable truck and as long as you take a few precautions the 2nd gen should be good to go.
I checked for "smod" before I baught mine and did the SMOD mod the first wknd I had it. The mod Is completely free and will save the trans (if auto) manual you don't need to even worry about it.
2nd (and I found out the hard way ) you need a breather tube for the rear axle. Easy and cheap. You just have to get a fitting from a Toyota dealership.
I failed to do this right away and the factory breather got clogged and I ended up having to spend a pretty substantial amount replacing the seals in my rear axle.
Otherwise it's been a good truck and I've gotten away with very little maintenance other than a few sensors. Mine is an 05 with 190k so it's getting to that point where things are going to need attention.
I do enjoy having coils up front and no torsion bars.
I have owned both. First a 2002 supercharged auto Xterra and then a 2005 manual one. By all means I would look for a 2nd generation. As you pointed out the fuel consumption of the 1st gen is border line laughable. IMO the 2nd generation is a much, much better vehicle.
As you probably know the 2nd gen has an issue with mixing antifreeze with transmission oil in the auto's, so that has to be looked at if you decide to go for an auto. The manual on the other hand is pretty robust. I had read of prematurely wearing out clutches but mine never had an issue and I sold it just short of 200K kms with the original clutch. The timing chain guide issue was pointed out.
The other reported problem is with destroying front diffs but that seems to be an issue only when heavily off-roaded with 35" or bigger tires. Still sth to keep in mind if in situation with heavy front wheel spin. The stock rear leaf springs are pretty soft, so if you plan to load it up I would consider beefing up the suspension.
I currently own a Lexus 2002 LX470 and have owned a 1999 manual 4runner. When I compare the Xterra to those it is a very, very underrated vehicle. IMO it is much better than the 3rd gen 4runner. If I didnt need the extra space I would definitely consider owning one.
I would probably look at condition more than mileage. Mine, with 200k kms showed no signs of aging. I am not sure how it is in Alberta, but here in Ontario rust is the main killer. Nissan's seem to fair better than 'yota's but that would be my main concern.
If I were looking I would definitely go check out the one you posted. The mileage may be a bit high, but if condition is good, maintenance up to date, no major issues + all the extras and, if you can lower the price a bit, it might be a great deal. Good luck.
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I had a 2nd gen Xterra and got hit with the SMOD - ended up fixing it and, thankfully, Nissan ponied up some cash through the class action lawsuit, which significantly reduced the out-of-pocket expense.
It was a great truck, and I would have kept it longer but a buddy insisted on buying it from me and a new Xterra Pro4X or Jeep Rubicon Unlimited had caught my eye.

I didn't wheel mine much - just a few dirt trails and access roads to campsites, etc. I ran 31" BFG ATs on it and it handled well in any weather.

With Nissan bailing on the Xterra platform, I opted to go with the JK. Jeep has a HUGE aftermarket, and my kids loved the idea of top-down, door-off cruising.

They are good trucks, and I would buy another one. They drive and tow well. Fuel economy was marginal - I got around 15mpg and regularly get 17-18 in my Jeep.
Thanks for the feedback. How do the 2nd gen auto trannys hold up, assuming the coolant is kept out of them of course.

I'm away for another week still but was talking to the guy with the ad in my first post and definitely want to look at it when I get back. He's had it for 80,000km and has done lots of work to it so it should be decent. Probably a better bet than one with less mileage still with original clutch and suspension and stuff due to be replaced soon. Plus the "overlanding" crowd seem more likely to keep up on maintance of a vehicle like this...

I get around 12-13mpg in my suburban so even 15 is a decent improvement, just need to decide if it's worth the trouble of replacing or not.

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I'm a 1st gen Xterra owner myself. So I'd say go for the 1st. The aftermarket for the 2nd gen is better though, as is the 4.0 engine. The vg33 in the 1st gens is a gas guzzler, but it's reliable (if maintained of course). Most 1st genners average anywhere from 15-19mpg on average. First gens apparently have a better rear end than the 2nds, but I believe the pro 4x second gen came with a locker.

I've always had a liking of the 1st gens. They are simple, strong and reliable. Parts are available for anything I'd need. Plus they aren't hugely popular, so in my opinion, that's a plus as I hate being like everyone else.
The VG33 in the 1st gen is the power of a 4-cylinder with the gas mileage of a V8.

The 2nd gen is very good. Noticably better gas mileage, and power if you need it. Although if you are always playing with that power it will get a lot closer to the 1st gen in gas mileage.

The 5-speed in the 2nd gen is generally a solid transmission. Rare for anything to go bad except if it gets contaminated. Beware of the bypass that some forums claim to be the quick answer. It is getting to be known that the cooler was installed for a reason. Get the right low speed high load condition where you don't have the airflow through the other coolers and many people have cooled the transmission. The bypass isn't a good fix afterall.

Having driven both, the 2nd gen is the only way to fly. Unless you are looking for a budget wheeler. The 1st gen would be a better toy to go beat around in. But if there were any highway driving and/or daily driving needed the 2nd gen wins hands down.

IF you get the off-road package the rear ends were known for blowing spider gears up through late '07. Some very late '07 and all '08 and newer have an upgraded rear locker that is the one to get. I think the axles even got beefier as well. I would really look for an '08 and newer. There are a lot of little upgrades that were done about that time as well.