How to Fix the Tiny Things That Break On Your JDM Car

Ever since I got my Nissan Pao, I’ve been getting emails from people who also want to own some exciting obscure JDM machine, and they all want to know the same thing: how hard it is to find parts? For the Pao, so far it’s been pretty good—lots of mechanical things are Nissan parts-bin items I can get anywhere. But, not everything is easy, which I experienced yesterday, trying to do a simple fix. I’ll explain.

In the case of the Pao, all the mechanical, greasy parts—suspension, drivetrain, all that—are from the much more common K10 Micra, which made it into Canada, so that stuff can be acquired without even having to traverse an ocean.

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Body parts and Pao-specific stuff is another story, of course, but I know and expect that. What made the fix I just did such a colossal ass-pain was that it involved a part I would have guessed would fall into the easy-to-find category, but didn’t.

What I wanted to fix were the little gas struts that hold up the hatch-like rear window of the Pao. Lots of cars use these struts to keep their hatches and trunk lids open, and when they fail, life becomes demonstrably worse.

When it comes to little things that can break on a car, I think one of the highest ratios of small thing to big annoyance has to be these struts. A hatch that won’t stay up klonks you on the head all the time, and makes loading things into the car an miserable ordeal. I was sick of that window clocking me, so I decided to replace the damn struts.

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I figured it’d be easy—these struts hardly need to be anything special, and I figured they’d be some basic Nissan parts-bin thing. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? You’d have to be some kind of sadist to make these unique, model-specific items, right?

Turns out Nissan in the 1990s hired sadists. For some reason I cannot fathom, these ordinary-seeming gas struts are permanently mated to a Pao-unique mounting bracket:

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Why, Nissan, why? Why would you do that to me? There’s nothing special about that strut, at least not until you riveted it to that bracket that screws into the inside C-pillar of the Pao. Now that strut has gone from just another cheap easy-to-replace consumable into another goddamn thing I have to ship halfway around the world.

Well, not today, 1990s Nissan. Screw you and your miserable little rivet thing. You’re not going to hold me hostage, not today. I’m done getting clocked in the head by that window, and I don’t care how many jackass rivets I have to kill to make it stop.

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Now that I’m aware this isn’t going to be some easy quick fix, I can make a plan. a bit of research showed me that the strut itself is almost exactly the same as the one used on Honda Passports/Isuzu Rodeos, so I got a pair of those just at my local auto parts store. I also got some 10mm ball joints, and picked up a pound or so of grim determination.

I then clamped the bracket in a vice and drilled out as much of the rivet as I could to let it know how angry I was, then used a hacksaw to finish the job, finally sawing through that surprisingly tough little rivet-thing:

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Then I spit at the pieces.

I had to ream out the hole a bit with the drill to get it to the right size to take the ball joint, but in the end I had the Pao-specific mounting bracket free and ready to mingle with new and exciting gas struts:

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Really, this is how it should have been in the first place. This is especially true for the Pao, a car with a design language that specifically exposes fasteners and almost everything else is easy to get to and remove.

Once that was done, I could then take the new strut, insert the ball joints, and mount it to the bracket with a simple nut. Here it is before I finished shimming it up with washers and getting the proper sized nut, but you get the idea:

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I’ve only done one side so far, but even that one side is enough to keep the window open, just like Bubble Era Japanese Car God intended. It’s so much better.

While it was a far bigger ass-pain than I first imagined, the experience is a good reminder that, with obscure and unusual cars, the willingness to adapt and modify parts is crucial to living with them.

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Sure, from a purist’s standpoint, I’ve mangled things horribly. But from the standpoint of someone who drives and uses this car on a daily basis in a country it was never intended to be sold in, I’ve made the car that much more usable. It can now use a common part in a place where once it wanted something exotic, and every chance I can get to make this happen on the car is probably worth it.

This was hardly a major repair or modification, but it’s the kind of little thing that makes a big difference. And the overall moral here is that issues like these shouldn’t stop anyone from getting the car they want—there’s almost always some way to make things work, even if it is a bit of a pain.

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Also, if any engineers are reading this, I’d love to know why you’d design a window lift strut to be permanently attached to a bracket. What’s the advantage? Beyond sadism, I mean.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)