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May 16, 2014

REBUILDING THE ENGINE IN A 2004 SUBARU OUTBACK - TECHNICIAN'S GUIDE - Conclusion

SUCCESS!!!

No ambitious undertaking is without a conclusion, it just took me awhile. If the average person is still with me that's good, but surprising. If an educated technician is still following me that's also good and unusual. Why do I say that? Because how often does the average person replace the head-gasket(s), timing-belt, water pump, clutch O2 Sensors, and drive-shafts? I would think rarely.

However, giving benefit to doubt I'll assume this series of posts will assist someone. For that reason the primary goal of this post is not simply to draw a conclusion, but to also provide post-op experiences and observations, maybe helpful tips.

I completed my first week commuting to work since the engine work was completed. I've put a thousand miles on the car.

It's running very well, VERY WELL...  though at first it was disconcerting - just a little. The idle after warming up would drop near where the car would stall. I Googled it and there was one suggestion to be patient and wait for the ECU to catch up. That advice worked. The idle stabilized.

My P0420 - "catalist below efficiency" code warning has still been popping up at random - since it takes two full cycles for the ECU to determine that and since it occured at one point around 75 miles, I must assume I'm borderline as I've got 360 miles so far without another trip. Yes, I'm trying to remedy a P0420 malfunction code, one of the worst codes to remedy.

The reason being there are so many causes...

Okay, the car is running very well. It took time for the idle to adjust. I did make sure the intake manifold bolts were snug. Any oxygen leaking in would cause a P0420.

The head-gaskets weren't as difficult as i imagined, given I had an engine stand. Getting the engine out of the car did require two of us. There was a serious issue separating the engine from the transmission bell-housing. A gasket scraper solved that, though it's not in any manuals. Used "anti-seize" when I reconnected it.

Both my front drive-shafts had broke boots at the transmission side...  One broke apart during trying to raise the transmission a certain amount, compared to the height of the engine as we were pulling it out. It's a very difficult on the spot kind of calculation. Care need be taken, as the transmission does need to be raised to assist in refitting the engine and transmission.

Timing belt replacement was fairly easy, except, there's a catch. The manual call for using a compression gauge to determine when the #1 cylinder is in the compression stroke and the pointer is Top Dead center. I used a wooden dowel... still not easy but it worked. I then marked with a white permanent marker three sets of location points to where both camshafts were aligned ans well as the timing gear. I'm glad I did; as soon as I removed the old timing belt the cams slipped... to be expected as the valves were under torque; the movement wasn't much, but from 20 degrees to 40, depending on which cam. I had everything mark for original alignment so I wasn't concerned.  It was mearly a hassle that took several tries to get the two cams and the crank to realign as was required.

My final challenge was oddly installing new seals. I did both the front and rear engine seal. I had two of each and in the process ruined the first of each. I've installed many seals, and yes you grease them first, but these just didn't want to fit - wrong size ? - no, by appearance replacement identical to the original.

I have one more drive-shaft to replace, a little body work, decided to replace the water temp sensor - on order at only $10.

The car runs like new with no valve tapping noises, and it's possible, like the idle, the catalytic converter will rebound - aferall, the previous owner paid to have it replaced 6 months before I bought the car.

That's pretty much it... a vacation unlike any other... and success. People are by nature builders. What better week off is there than rebuilding an engine?

AFTER-THOUGHTS (May 19, 2014):

1) I forgot to mention that I had to change the head gaskets as they were old, and leaking - the Outback models between 1998 - 2004 had a problem with leaking head-gaskets. Fortunately, the anti-freeze didn't leak into the oil or pistons. Stop leak would "fix" the leak for awhile, but one can't depend upon it.

2) Finding the correct parts for these cars can be very frustrating. I'm not exactly sure why. Part of the issue is that auto-part retailers often mix Legacy with Outback. You'll find yourself looking at a part for a Legacy Outback, a Legacy, an Outback. In addition are the different emission's  standards, Federal and California. The latter is more stringent. The parts are different. Some will tell you that only applies to exhaust and sensor parts. 10% of everything I ordered was the wrong part... there were even correct parts mixed in with wrong parts.

3) I had a particularly difficult time installing the front and rear engine seals. I compared the new part to the old before installation, and in both cases they matched. I greased them lightly to aid with installation. I should have been particularly attentive to the rear seal - it's a big seal.

When you don't do this kind of work everyday, I have to say it's easy to get distracted by what you have to do next. When I had trouble with both the front and rear seals I should have sat back and relaxed, looked to see what others had to say, by using Google Search; like how I did when I realized I had no idea how an angle torque tool worked.

4) If you've ever worked on cars but haven't done so in awhile, it can be challenging. All told I probably spend between $1500 - $2000 for the repairs.Considering the car has almost 220,000 miles on it and I use it to commute 150 miles/day, I'd say that it was worth the money.The car runs great.

UPDATE - May 27, 9:09 PM:

Myself, sometimes I don't read blogs or news until years later. So for all of you who have visited just once, you might visit again.

And I've got a little bad news. It would appear the rear main seal I replaced is leaking oil. At least a quart a week. The car is running really well, especially once I got the correct spark-plug wires and installed them this past weekend. Along with the left front drive-shaft. It was a bear. The outer spine was sealed to the shaft. I had to sledge it to get it out. Not good, not fun.

To get back to the rear main seal, the one that was in there was in good shape, but a good mechanic will most often replace these seals especially when a car goes over 200,000 miles. That rather contradicts what these guys say on a Subaru-type forum:

"I would keep in mind that myself, GD, and Davebugs have no idea how many Subaru engines we've pulled, replaced, and swapped, easily 3 digits worth between all of us combined. We are suggesting this for very specific reasons, not just bantering.

there's a high percentage of repeat failures (i haven't had one yet but i quit replacing them years ago), and the failures i'm aware of are from very highly skilled people who have done custom subaru motors swaps, used subaru parts, etc. not just your average guy tackling his first clutch job.

this also coming from guys - that always replace all seals we can get to - like crank, cams, oil pump, whenever we do a timing belt job. but the rear main is kind of a different beast, i've always wondered why?" 

Live and learn...

UPDATE - June 01

The rear main seal was leaking badly. I pulled the engine again this past weekend. The seal was leaking at the base of the seat. Defective? Other than that it looked like it was seated properly. I bought a Felpro replacement rear main engine seal for twice as much. It took fully two hours learning the trick to getting it seated it was of such precise diameter it kept wanted to go askew as you tried to seat it. I finally got it. I can tl you during the process don't try to use silcone sealant to ensure a lasting fit. It's so precisely sized there's no room for the silicone - it'll just make a mess with the grease you apply to the inner lip. If there's a  tool specially designed for this job no forum or tech site has suggested it. It's a trying couple of hours unless you do it all the time.

Just to make certain the seal was sealed, rather than use silicone, I used a gasket maker that was orange in color, that dries hard and seals. I applied the first coat Saturday night. So it looked like this:






The following day I put a smooth finish coat over the base gasket. I stayed away from the inner lip. The gasket was to secure the outer seat. Click the images to see full size then click your back button to return.

This is a job one doesn't want to repeat.

A plus was getting to regrease the throw-out bearing inner slide... previously it had rained the night before and any grease I had applied for reassembly that last day had become contaminated, and I'd been too occupied with reassembly. That caused the clutch to stick and be uneven when stepping on it. Regreasing the slide did the trick, so a lot of hard work for a weekend, but worth it today. Too bad Subaru hadn't added a narrow ridge to seat the seal into - would have made the job a lot easier.

The great news I'm driving it still and it feels better than ever.

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