Try checking a Maxima forum you have a 4th generation Maxima for instruction on how to replace the alternator. I have a Haynes Publication on that model car, but I not an easy proceedure to do. You have to raise up the car and remove it from the bottom.
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go to local Autozone or similiar parts seller... they will check it for free and give you a printout of what's needed... probably just an O2 sensor on the 98 nissan, but I would replace catalytic converter if near 200k miles for GP.
First off - 125K mi is nothing on that car (as long as you maintain it). The alternator is actually also the voltage regulator and this aspect of the alternator frequently fails before the actual alternator itself does and causes irregular voltage - so it makes sense you drove without the battery connected but you probably were having irregular power instead of a nice steady 14V (the other thing to know is that even if they do show 14V all the time the amperage may differ, both problems = change the alternator).