I needed a way to get around my neighborhood but a golf-kart was out of the question. Buying a beater car was the next best option, but I needed something with plenty of room for activities, but still be relatively small and nimble.
Yep, mid-life dad-hood set in and I had to buy a van.
I settled on a 2005 Nissan Quest I picked up for $1800. It was in a state of neglect so after a heavy clean, repairing both automatic doors and a bunch of little fiddly things I had a blank slate. I bought this car because I liked the body lines. Its shape wasn't overly bulbous and it wasn't as popular as the million Hondas or Chryslers you see being piloted by inattentive mothers. It had some style.
Now that I had a vehicle, it was time to start turning the cool knob up.
Admittedly, I was afraid the knob would only go to 3 before breaking off.
Step 1: First Things First, All My Cars Need Roof Racks.
I'm weird like that, I know. I just like how they look and how useful they are. The one I am fab-ra-cobbling together for the van isn't terribly heavy duty, but it just needs to hold the spare tire and some minor stuff. Nothing too heavy.
To make it I bought a standard size d roof rack, then bought two extensions to make it longer. I could have done it differently but I was trying to work within a budget and use some of the junk I already had.
One of the extensions was for a different rack, so I had to do some grinding and welding and bolting to make it all work. The only spot you can tell something is wonky is on the inside middle, and nobody but the police will see that from the sky.
Step 2: Tires No-fittie
With the roof rack done it was time to put some tires on it that would make your mother blush. These bad boys came from Craigslist and had no chance of fitting into the wheel wells, but they did, just barely. On the other hand, if I rolled, moved or did absolutely anything they rubbed like mad and would shred the tires.
Time to do some work.
Step 3: First, We Cut.
Cutting the fenders was first on the "honey-why-are-you-doing-this-list". It was nothing a sawzall and some blue tape couldn't resolve and it all went as expected. The tape was to keep the paint from getting too chowdered from the tool scraping across it.
Step 4: Then We Lift
I started with the rear since that seemed the easiest. There was less mechanical stuff in the way. I initially tried those rubber coil spring spacers you can put in between your springs. Sometimes they are called spring helpers. They weren't enough to get the van to sit high enough, so I ditched those and had to employ some more...thoughtful...methods.
The next plan of attack was to install 3" steel spring spacers instead of the rubber ones. The problem was the first pair got lost in the mail. The second pair was constantly out of stock. Then the third pair I ordered seemed fine till they called me 4 days later and said they were out of stock too.
I was beginning to worry I was not destined to do this.
Step 5: Lift With Your Legs
Eventually, a brown package materialized at my doorstep with steel spacer goodness inside of it. I was terribly worried they would not fit, but with cutting a coil out of the spring and with plenty of floor jack compression I was able to jam them back into the cups.
Messing with compressed springs is no joke and is legit dangerous. Wear an adult diaper when you mess with compressed springs, you will absolutely have a pants accident when a spring pops out of its cup.
I tried loads of different type of spring compressors ranging from the ones you rent from your auto parts store to a pair I bought from Amazon. None of them could get into the wheel well enough for me to really use them. Something was always in the way, so I ended up just using the floor jack. Once I gave up on using spring compressors the job went smoothly.
Ok, the springs are compressed, the control arm bolt is back in, let's put the van back on the ground and see where we sit.
Step 6: Muuuch Better Fender Gaps.
Things fit much better now. Plenty of fender gap. I can fit my entire fist into the space between the tire and the fender. It will go down a bit more once the springs settle, but I am finally making some progress.
Step 7: Make the Chopped Up Fenders Look Good
The cut-off fenders had a bit of a "hacked" feel to them I didn't like. I wanted a touch more of a refined look. I also wanted to do it on the cheap so I had to come up with a solution from the home improvement store.
I ended up buying some really cheap soaker hose. It was 6$ and it was enough to do all my fenders. I cut a line on one edge of the hose, filled the hose with super duper waterproof silicone and then jammed the hose onto the bare edges. I then blue taped it all on until the silicone set.
It stuck nicely, but I did end up dribbling some medium CA glue on the top edge between the sheet metal and the hose the next day to really seal the deal.
It came out looking fantastic. It really added a finished look to it all, and you'd never know it was soaker hose.
Step 8: Now, for the Front End.
The front of the car was scariest for me. The front had many things that could go wrong or sink the entire project.
The wheels would not mount initially. They aggressively hit the strut tower. The solution was to use wheel spacers. This will push the entire wheel out 1 1/2" from the stock position.
Wheel spacers tend to get a bad rap, but if you install them properly and follow the instructions, you won't have any issues. BUUUUT, If you torque them wrong or things don't line up right, you are going to loose a rim while you are driving and that tends to be a bad thing.
Step 9: Need More Height
WIth the wheels now clearing the strut tower they technically fit, but I didn't have enough height. The wheels did not turn to full stop and any compression of the suspension made things rub. I needed to lift the front end as well.
I tried the rubber coil spring spacers again but I was not getting the room I needed. I had to do something more aggressive. I researched online the ways people lift cars. I especially looked at the people who build "Donks" knowing that many of those cars are not getting a huge suspension lift, they are getting some sort of workaround or janky hack.
That's when I found out about the bottom strut lift.
This method is popular with "donk" builds as well as Subaru Forester guys who lift their cars for offroad use.
Step 10: Making the Bottom Strut Lift Brackets
A bottom strut lift consists of unbolting the steering knuckle from the strut tower, moving it down one bolt so the top bolt sits in the strut towers bottom bolt hole, and then fabricating a bracket to tie it all back together.
In the pictures, you can see the after pic with the new bracket painted yellow and the before pic below.
It wasn't terribly hard to make the brackets but it was time-consuming. I wanted to be sure they were stronger than the existing brackets in the car because I knew this would add loads of additional stress to the strut tower.
Also, these brackets needed to have some built in adjustability in them as they would be the thing I need to tweak to get my alignment back into shape. The top hole is slightly ovalized so I can loosen that one to adjust camber. The middle bolt is a pivot point.
It all ended up working out quite good. I have some camber adjustment bolts in the mail as of this writing to really fine tune the camber and I'll put those in soon.
Step 11: TA DAAAH!
THERE! What do you think? Is she cooler than your average van? I certainly think so.
Step 12: I Call Her #QUESTionable
I think the name fits her to a T.
The engineering is questionable, the styling is questionable, the owner is very questionable.
I go into more details in the video, so please check that out. If you like what I am doing please comment and let me know. Your feedback pushes me to continue doing stuff like this.
Step 13: Common Questions
That front end thing looks scary.
Possibly. I over-built it as much as I could. It is using thicker steel than the existing brackets and it fits in nice and snug and I am using stronger bolts than the factory. I don't drive on the highway and I don't tend to go faster than 45 so the danger factor is low. TONS of people have done this mod before me, so I have confidence that what I have done is reasonably safe.
That spring looks pretty compressed in the back.
Indeed it is. I need to put a warning sticker on it so a mechanic doesn't undo the bottom control arm and it launches the spring out.
Soaker hose leaks water. Your fenders are going to rust.
Duh. The fenders are already rusty. If the car last 5 years I'll be shocked and pleased. It's just a toy.
(annoying nasal voice) The brakes, hoses, lines, discs, calipers fluids all need to be upgraded for this to be a safe vehicle.
Relax. I put brand new brake pads and rotors on this a month or so back. The hose lines have plenty of slack in them still and the ABS didn't work when I bought it so meh. Metal brake lines sound like a good idea I freely admit and might do that someday.
Why do you put roof racks on everything?
I like how it looks. Why are your shoes so terrible?
This will wear out your CV joints.
Yes, yes it will. I will buy new ones.