The Camry Conundrum – Why Every Gearhead Should Make Friends with One

Let me make one thing clear – the Toyota Camry is by zero means an enthusiast vehicle.  It doesn’t matter how many “Sport” badges, fog lights, lower body moldings, or paddle shifters are added, the midsize Japanese namesake simply does not have the panache to match even the the slowest motion handbrake turn an edgy commercial can capture. Despite the car’s vanilla demeanor, there is a big question mark surrounding the Camry and its relationship to the people with grease under their fingernails who’d rather ignore it – why are we ignoring it? Isn’t it time we put aside our differences and tap into the Camry’s potential?

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Like most car people, my lack of enthusiasm for the Camry eventually turned into disdain. Since being aware of what a car is, there have been three distinct varieties in my life – all of which were never owned by me. Even when I held an ostensible hate for the Camry as an entity, neither of three variants that touched my life directly ever caused me any harm. Not even the one that I unknowingly adopted with a mechanical problem. In fact, all three cars gave no indication that they wanted me dead, alive, or engaged in any fashion, but all three robotically ensured I never had to face the consequences of my foolhearted actions with other vehicles.

The first Camry in question came into my life in 1999 as a replacement for Parky – a blue 1985 Buick Park Avenue that would take me wherever I was going to go with velour protection and science fiction amenities. It was one of my favorite things – even at the delicate age of 11. Back then and being the starry-eyed car buff that I was, I looked at Parky’s replacement with welcoming thoughts. The 1999 Camry was sleek, nice, quiet, safe, and didn’t guzzle gas, meaning my mom would stop complaining to me whenever she passed a gas station. However, when we went to go look at Parky one last time at the dealership lot, my feelings for the new replacement instantaneously switched from acceptance to pure, unadulterated hate. I vividly remember kicking the Camry as an outcry to what it was doing to my friend Parky.

I resented that 1999 Toyota Camry for a long time – despite its relentless actions to ensure my safety and development. I was lucky enough to have a stubborn father who refused to purchase new vehicles, which resulted in a string of comical Ford pickup trucks and a Pontiac T1000, but that Camry continued to play a constant role in my adolescent years. It was the first vehicle I drove on public roads by myself with a law abiding certification. It was also the first machine I ever witnessed my mom cry over.

During that car’s stay in my life, it served as a loyal servant for a exceptionally important person, and a friend to me. I sometimes talked to it when I was by myself. I knew it was wasted effort but after a while, I started to appreciate the car for what it was – a damn good vehicle. From zero to 180,000 miles, that 1999 Toyota Camry taught me a valuable lesson that cars, despite an enthusiast’s attempts to personify them, are just machines. It was a sad realization but one that will pay off down the road. Among all my attempts at breaking and fixing my personal vehicles that tried so hard to be animated, there was always that 1999 Toyota Camry to save me and operate as a time-piece for forward momentum.

In 2014, my mom did the unthinkable and bought a brand-new, 2014.5 (literally) Toyota Camry. Oddly enough, that car was purchased under my direction and guidance. When a namesake can run almost without fault for 15 years, it makes an impression. As of this writing, the 2014.5 Camry is operating as any Camry does: impeccably. The transition from Camry to Camry wasn’t easy; my mom cried when her 1999 model met its new owner – a college student whose father knew a reliable steed when he saw one. When that girl graduates, I assume the Camry will be left behind to find another owner again. Whoever that is, I’m sure they too will appreciate it for its unrelenting attempts to save the world.

Between all of this, there was another Camry that almost changed my mind about these things – a 1991 model called Jay because it was blue. I didn’t name it.

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Apparently, this car was bought brand new and handed down the same family until it reached the hands of a young girl named Coco and her boyfriend Phil. It also made it to Miami, Florida from Washington state. There were talks of it being shipped out of the country, but costs and logistics meant that when Coco and Phil parted ways from Florida and I didn’t, I voluntarily adopted Jay.

At the time, Jay entered my life when I was knee-deep in dreaming up ideas for my Jeep. I had an itch that needed to be scratch, so I indulged in making my Jeep inoperable – when I had to be at work on Monday. I did this without panic because, sitting quietly on the corner with a for-sale sign around its neck, was Jay.

I drove that car for a few days as if it was my own. Going back and forth from auto parts stores to junkyards until my Jeep fired backed to life again. During this time, the elderly Camry did what elderly cars do – started to fall apart. It wasn’t anything serious, but enough to cause the car to sit on my front lawn without any suitors. I spent a week chasing down a problem that resulted in a near full overhaul of the car’s ignition system. Cap, rotor, coil, and distributor. The ease at which I replaced these parts on a whim was incredible. Jay drove like a champ and met its new owner who, after driving up the coast of Florida, tried to sell it for twice what he paid for it. He used my photographs too but I’m not bitter about it.

These cars proved themselves to be exceptionally well-built, smartly engineered, and welcoming to shade tree endeavors. Make no exception – the Camry is a machine pure and simple. A device used to transport people from point a to point b. No matter how hard product planners try, you can’t accessorize a washing machine to be a machine gun. You can’t customize fun out of nothing. But, you can create a device that lets people experience life and be truly free to make mistakes, learn from experience, and try new things.

The point I’m trying to make here is a plea to gearheads around the globe – stop chastising the Camry and accept it for what it is: the World’s greatest car. We are a minority and don’t deserve the time and attention Toyota spends perfecting their mainstream sedan. The Camry isn’t an affront to our way of life – it’s just a damn good car for all types of people. Once you accept that, you can move on with your life and appreciate your hobby while everyone else enjoys their washing machine on four wheels.

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Project Hot Rod Apocalypse Part 2 – Skip to The Middle

Two years after taking over responsibility for Ruby, she now looks at me with glassy eyes and a bruised face – but that’s mostly from pushing her into a tree… er, three trees. Whatever the number of trees this Jeep has hit, I still own it and have sunk so much money into fixing and upgrading various parts that I now have a slightly worse truck than when I first bought it.

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Here’s the abridged story of how Ruby, the 1999 Jeep Cherokee, first went from a SUV to a questionable deathtrap smile machine.

On October 26, 2013, I decided to give myself the birthday gift I’ve always wanted: physical and financial torture with a side helping of gear oil stains on my tee shirt. A few weeks prior to this, I purchased a set of axles and a lift kit for Ruby. You see, Jeep has an obnoxious habit of using the over engine, under gearing recipe for their vehicles where as Toyota does the exact opposite. When you get a 3.4 liter V6 in a 4Runner – while a bit gutless – you also get 4.10 gearing. When Jeep gives you a 4.0 liter straight six with its perfectly balanced iron block awesomeness AND a 5 speed manual transmission, they give you the axle gearing ratio from a shoe. After living with Ruby on stock, 3.07 gears and an open rear diff, I gave up trying to drift in the city streets of Miami to impress girls and decided to become a man.

Putting the "X" in XJ

The axles came from a fellow wheeler who was switching to 1-tons in his Cherokee. They were the same high pinon Dana 30 and 29 spline Chrysler 8.25 as Ruby came with, but with 3.55 gears and an Aussie lunchbox locker in the rear. When you swap axles, you have the perfect on-paper opportunity to swap out suspension parts. So, instead of being $400 in the hole, I became $1200 in the hole but had enough parts in the back of Ruby that her rear suspension looked broken. I also had my lift kit – all 3.5 inches of Rubicon Express goodness.

Now, back to the past – October 26, 2013. I rented a shop called Garage Yourself in Miami. Owned by the righteous dude named Todd who clearly did things in his past life that made him the MacGyver of DIY auto repair and an owner of two Acura NSXs, the shop gave me access to air tools and other time-saving equipment for a flat fee. Great! One day’s worth of work and I’ll be out of there.

Three days later, I left the shop at nearly midnight and my steering wheel was upside down.

1999 Jeep Cherokee 3.5" Lift

Ruby needed a professional alignment and because Miami is expensive, shop rates are expensive and the local 4Wheel Drive Parts charges about $100 for one. Swallowing my pride, the trip up to the shop was interesting if not noisy. Any amateur shade tree mechanic like myself would have assumed the dust shields were broken causing a significant rotational noise. Any real mechanic like not myself would have known that the axle I had purchased had completely blown wheel bearings. And ball joints. And tie rod ends. My $100 alignment turned into a $1400 front end repair.

I decided to try my hand at gambling and go more than 70 on I95 with 235 all seasons and a wet noodle box with about five inches of lift in the rear and four in the front – hardly what was advertised by Rubicon Express. The excess lift was partly due to the springs not settling yet and partly due to Rubicon Express being quality manufacturers of lies. When my speedometer hit 70, I did see some serious shit. I didn’t go that fast for a few months after.

Around January 2014, Ruby finally had some quality parts on her. A double sheer track bar from Iron Rock Offroad centered her front axle and added a much-needed dose of rigidity. A brand-new set of recycled tires came from Treadwright and Ruby could do 80 if I wanted her to. Truthfully, she was much more comfortable cruising up and down Biscayne Boulevard, doing donuts in the Everglades and jumping around mud puddles that were created by rotting fish fossils.

1999 Jeep Cherokee

1999 Jeep Cherokee Miami

Then her turn signals stopped working and I had to move my entire life using just her 1,000 miles north. The fact that she made it was more remarkable than the story.

1999 Jeep Cherokee Miami

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Can You Have a Car for Your Entire Life?

Recently, I received an email from a good friend asking,

“So, theoretically, you can have a car for your entire life. But, from a practical perspective, how likely is it that if everything is done right and the car is not involved in any accidents, that one could in fact keep a vehicle for their entire life?”

Let’s look at that first part – can you have a car for your entire life? The simple answer is yes. Take for example Irv Gordon. In 1966, the Long Island native purchased a Volvo P1800 brand new and now, the retired teacher continues to drive it everyday. To anyone, fifty years of uninterrupted operation can safely be considered a lifetime.

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Now for the second part – how likely is it? Is Irv Gordon just a rare case? The sad truth is, such a milestone of vehicle longevity isn’t as likely with today’s automotive offerings. Older vehicles, like Irv’s Volvo, are are up to the task of outlasting you because they have less parts that can break catastrophically. The P1800 used as an example doesn’t have an engine computer and its fuel delivery system is mechanical. Everything is mechanical and all Irv does is maintain it. It’s possible to replicate Irv, but rare given the increased complexity of modern cars and trucks.

“Okay, so it’s possible. I’m assuming though that someone would need to have the means and knowledge to fix the car and then use it frequently if they wanted to keep it that long.”

Having the means and knowledge to fix a car just means your repair bills will be lower. For any car to last a long time, it needs to be maintained and it doesn’t matter who does it. Simple items like fluid changes and nearly instantaneous repairs of mechanical faults can prolong the life any vehicle. Oddly enough, so can regular use.

Irv’s Volvo has more than three million miles and that might be the key to its health. Think about this: by being an active person and not a sedentary one, people are able to lower their risk of developing diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle- like diabetes. The same ideas apply to a car. It takes in air and fuel just like we do and when we’re idle, joints fuse together and we become “out of shape.” The same is for a car. The p1800 is pretty enough to be locked away but if it was, it wouldn’t be as reliable as Irv’s.

“Okay, but in terms of practicality, how often would major parts need to be replaced? In one’s lifetime, would the parts become impossible to find?”

Replacing major parts depends on the build quality of said major parts. You’d be more likely to keep an older Honda Civic for your entire life than say, a Land Rover. Unless the car was built in unnecessarily low numbers, you also shouldn’t have an issue finding parts. Volvo P1800s aren’t that abundant after all. If one was to try and replicate Irv, it would be wise to pick a vehicle built in high volume – like an older Honda Civic.

“So, if an older car, say 12- to 15-years-old, came into your possession that was in decent condition, and you had the desire to extend its life beyond normal expectations, what parts/problems/issues would you direct your attention to first? What factors would be your first concern?”

Personally, I’m doubtful to ever own a vehicle that’s less than 10-years-old and currently, my fleet consists of a 2000 Honda Civic and a 1999 Jeep Cherokee. Both serve entirely different purposes but both are intended to outlast me – even if I ever part ways with them. I’m going to use these as an example to answer the question.

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The Civic came into my life in December 2014 with 177,000 miles. Today, it has 197,000 and I intend for this car to see 300,000 miles before I ever consider a major repair or replacement. My plans to get to that goal are minor such as drive it and change its fluids. Listen to it. Address any weird noises and determine if they’re detrimental to the car’s functionality. The reason for the simplicity in maintenance and upkeep is the car was so well made 15 years ago and so well maintained by the previous owner (my sister) that even with a slight oil and exhaust leak, it runs like it just rolled off the factory floor. This is where original build quality plays a role as major as general upkeep.

2000 Honda Civic

The Jeep is a bit different and perhaps a better illustration of what one could do to extend a vehicle’s life. Now, Cherokee XJs are notorious for being tough as nails, but anyone who has ever owned one knows that despite reliability, overall build quality is, after all, pure Chrysler. Knowing this, I make sure to change its oil, differential fluid, transfer case fluid, transmission fluid and coolant as recommended, or when I “feel” a change is warranted.

Jeep 4.0 Valve Cover Replacement

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U-joints get replaced the moment they make noise. If I feel an irritating vibration, I address it. Engine mounts, the transmission mount and even driveshafts have been replaced. At one moment, the truck’s cooling system began running at operating temperature if not higher. A new thermostat, flushed radiator, and new cooling fan with an auxiliary switch was installed. All the aftermarket parts on the Jeep were picked because of their higher than factory quality.

Jeep 4.0 Thermostat Change

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People can poke fun at Jeeps, but mine has been the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever owned – especially given the abuse I’ve put it through. Mind you, this is a vehicle that has hit three trees, bounced off rocks, stalled in mud, and driven in places where it shouldn’t wisely be driven. Bought with 129,000 miles, two and a half years later it has 163,000 and will start at the first lick in single-digit temperatures. I have zero doubts that it will follow in the path of Jan Richey‘s 1988 Jeep Cherokee with more than 600,000 miles on the original engine.

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Keeping a car for your entire life is possible, but it depends on your dedication to general maintenance and the vehicle’s willingness to survive. Because most newer cars have had their personalities engineered out of them, my suggestion is to buy an old Honda Civic, give it a name, and watch it outlast you.

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Three Questionable Names at the 2016 NAIAS

Today marks the second day of the North American International Auto Show 2016 and with it, automakers from around the globe have unveiled their next superstars, volume leaders, unknown concepts, and ground-breaking technologies. As a skeptic with an affinity for vehicles unveiled at the 1962 Detroit Auto Show, here’s a snippet of unbiased truth aimed at three of the 2016 NAIAS’s hottest vehicles.

Ford’s Raptor – will it off road? 

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In 2004, Jeep built what would almost instantly be known as the most capable, factory off road passenger vehicle ever – the Wrangler Rubicon. Since then, Ford has been scrambling to overthrow the king with the F-Series Raptor. Born around 2010, the Raptor has battled the Rubicon on internet forums for years, but on the trails, the Jeep hits more trees, bangs more rocks, and finds new summits more often than the lifted Ford. The reason is simple – the Jeep is simple. Six years ago, the Raptor had fairly straight forward running gear with a basic 5.4 liter V8 and some high-quality Fox Racing dampers. Now, the 2017 Raptor with its four full doors will sport a 10-speed automatic transmission, a twin-turbo 3.5 liter EcoBoost V6, and a torque-on-demand transfer case with Terrain Management System. While exciting on paper, a truck marketed as an off roader for pedestrians should be simple as there won’t be a hundred-thousand dollar support team to fix anything that breaks.

Here’s the problem with the 2017 Raptor: it’s too complicated for its own good. Off road equipment needs to be simple, strong and dependable. Chances of things breaking are high when push comes to trail and repairs needs to be possible with basic hand tools and a high-lifat jack. The Raptor seems like a complete nightmare to work on at a fully-equipped shop, let alone trail 60 at Windrock ORV park. While the Rubicon has advanced since 2004, it still remains with solid, Dana 44 axles that anyone can upgrade and repair, a standard, multi-port engine and standard, 5- or 6- speed transmissions, and a standard, two-speed transfer case that is manually actuated. If these seem crude to you by 2016 standards, it’s because you don’t off road. The Raptor probably won’t either.

Chrysler Pacifica – Bring Back Pluto

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In the 2000s, when Chrysler and Daimler still sat at the dinner table together, a crossover was created as a “merger of equals.” It was called the Pacifica and it quickly could be found at most Enterprise, Hertz and other rent-a-car establishments around the nation. Annual sales were projected to reach 100,000 units, but higher prices, questionable quality and poor performance lead to those numbers struggling to be reached. In fact, the last full year it was produced, the Pacifica barely broke half of its targeted figure.

Why bring up a failure of Chrysler’s past? Because FCA, the brand’s Italian parent company, has decided to throw away a name established nearly 30 years ago to revisit a name no one wants to remember. For 2017, the time-tested and well-loved Town & Country will be dropped in favor of the Pacifica, a potentially game-changing minivan that will alter the entire segment. Chrysler knew going into this the gamble they would make by renaming a beloved vehicle and ignoring the history of their brethren, i.e. when Ford renamed the Taurus the 500 and then the Taurus again. Even if the Pacifica will be great, Minivan shoppers buy based off word-of-mouth, or, name loyalty. Playing around with the name Town & County and soon, Caravan, is a recipe for a complete overhaul with marketing, money spent and probably, money lost.

The Honda Ridgeline – Repeat Offender 

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Truck owners battle each other, but at the end of the day, even Tundra owners can get behind the collective hate of the Honda Ridgeline. Sized comparably to the Toyota Tacoma, the Honda “truck” was essentially a Pilot with a bed small enough for a lawn mower and annual sales to match. At its lowest, 2011, the Ridgeline found less than 10,000 new owners and for 2017, Honda plans to revamp the name with… the exact same formula.

When you challenge conventional thinking in the U.S. pickup truck market, you’re going to fail. Even when Ford and Jeep did it in the 60s and 80s respectively, their unibody trucks were left to the history books. While the new Ridgeline may look tough, it is still based off a front-wheel drive platform and will even come standard as a FWD model. Weight transfer is apparently lost on Honda and the 2017 Ridgeline will surly continue to be outsold by pre-owned Tacomas.

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Top 10 Most Pathetic Cars Today

You’re driving down the road. Your sunglasses are on. The air rolls over your arms with a graceful elegance. Your spirits are strong. Your ego is just. The music pours out of your finely crafted stereo and grooves its way into your veins to pierce your soul. Your thinking has slowed down to let you tackle everything perfectly with little to no care. You are the definition of aloof on wheels.

Then you see it.

Rolling past you and your fire-breathing, ice box chariot of envy is the paradox you. The sad piece of plastic on sugar-free tires that catches your gaze is so potent in its pathetic nature that it somehow defines the driver. Regardless of their own merit, they are pooled in with the bottom of the barrel because of their choice of vehicle.

This also makes you think: could there be anything more pathetic? Yes and in opinion, these are the 10 most pathetic cars you can buy and drive on the road today… er, 2015:

10: 2010-Present Fiat 500c:

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Not the Abarth version – that snorty little so-and-so is a riot with a funny face. Buying any Fiat 500 that is not the Abarth is like eating reduced fat ice cream. When you add the 500c’s electric retractable cloth roof to the mix, the extra weight creates a funny looking car that isn’t fun to drive. You are essentially telling the world that you really don’t know what you’re doing.

9: 1994-1996 Mustang V6 Convertible:

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A drop top Mustang can be a punch in the face. A blow to the man with a fire-soaked path of destruction left as a mess for someone else to clean up. It can also be a wheezy and slow blob that can’t get out of its own way and sounds like a broken minivan. A Mustang that isn’t fast is fake abs from a Halloween costume.

8: 2004-2006 Chevrolet Aveo:

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Remember that one time Daewoo built a cheap subcompact cheaply and then sold it to General Motors? They put a Chevy badge on it and sold it as the Aveo. It was right before 2009… when General Motors lost all its money. If you drive an Aveo, you’re driving the reason why one of the world’s largest automakers filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

7: 2015 Chevrolet Spark:

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The Chevrolet Spark is a $13,000 car that comes with the same features as a $2,000, 15-year-old base Honda Civic, but without pesky characteristics such as fun, quirkiness, time-worn character, reliability, and longevity. People don’t buy Sparks because of their minimalism. They buy them because the Spark is the cheapest brand-new car at their neighborhood dealership.

6: 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage:

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Pathetic in a similar fashion as the Spark, the Mirage is presumably more reliable. This fallacy means that when it does inevitably break down, your friend in his junkyard Ford F-100 with a 500,000 mile 300 straight six will laugh longer when he picks you up on the side of the road.

5: 2008 Tesla Roadster:

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Electric cars are great golf carts. Golf carts are not great sports cars. No one, and I mean no one, wants to hear you explain how that statement is incorrect; especially considering the nearly $100,000 price tag.

4: 2011-2012 Infiniti G25:

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The second generation Infiniti G sedans are excellent performers. The G37s in particular are smooth, powerful, attractive, compelling, and well built. When Infiniti took the displacement down to 2.5 liters and cut the horsepower by more than 100 ponies to make the G25 however, the result was a cheaper and just worse variety of a car that still looked to be fantastic. The only reason people bought the G25 was because they wanted to show others they had the money for an Infiniti when they really only had the money for an Altima.

3: 1991-1995 Toyota Paseo:

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The Toyota Tercel, while sad, is unapologetic about its sadness. No person driving a Tercel cares about their appearances, which is what makes the Paseo so pathetic. Based on the the Tercel, the Paseo was designed to look like a sleek and sporty two-door street racer… but it was just a Tercel. Buying a Paseo is telling the world you’d rather look “cool” than work hard.

2: 1995-1999 Pontiac Sunfire Convertible:

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The GM J-Body cars were, simply putting it, not good. However, if you are aware of the fact that your Cavalier is terrible but it was free, then by all means, annoy my field of vision. The Sunfire convertible on the other hand seems to be exclusively purchased by people who insist on talking to you while waiting in line at the post office.

1: 2008-Present Smart ForTwo:

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A Toyota Prius gets high-ranking fuel mileage and can seat four people comfortably. A Smart ForTwo can not. A pre-owned Honda Civic can get 40 mpgs, cost less than $10,000, and last forever. A Smart ForTwo can not. A 30-year-old Chevrolet work truck has amortized its environmental impact. A Smart ForTwo has not. A 2015 Hyundai Equus can run as recommended on 87 octane. A Smart ForTwo, “um, well, we’d really rather you not.” Buying a Smart ForTwo is like buying an expensive shirt that no one likes, not even you, and makes you itchy and look fat at the same time.

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Car Tech: The Subaru Headgasket.

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The Subaru boxer engine is a very unique machine. Its flat design layout and odd firing order give it the feel and sound of absolute legends. Unfortunately, certain variations of the boxer engine do carry some undesirable traits and none are more pressing than the head gasket issue that plagues the Phase I EJ25. This engine, which was Subaru’s first DOHC EJ series four cylinder, can be found in the second generation Legacy GT sedans and wagons (96-99) as well as the Outbacks of similar vintage. Even though it was innovative, light (due to its all aluminum construction) and enjoyed being revved, Subaru must have been excessively drunk on sake when they decided to install the gaskets that separate coolant and oil. The OEM head gaskets on the EJ25D have a tendency to fail just as much as the sun has a tendency to rise in the east. If you have one and the head gaskets have NOT been replaced, here is what you need to do to remedy a tragedy.

First things first, you must decide whether or not to do the job with the engine in or out of the car. Now, it is possible to do this with the engine still mounted in place, but in all honesty, it isn’t worth it. The trouble you might save will just come back to bite you in the butt. It is best to remove the engine as this way you have a lot more room to work and you can accomplish a few more maintenance issues while you’re at it. I hate to say it, but if you have any doubts (and I mean ANY) about pulling the engine, you do not need to be doing a head gasket job yourself. Save up for a shop (average head gasket job is $1200 total).

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(Please note: the engine being pulled in the first few pictures is a single cam EJ22)

Pulling a Subaru engine is actually fairly simple. The Legacy/Outback bell-housing (connection of engine to transmission) has eight bolts. There are another two bolts for the engine mounts and a total of six for the exhaust headers. That’s 16 bolts to be unbolted and your engine is free. To start, disconnect the fuel pump sender to relieve the fuel pressure (attempt to start the car with this disconnected to “flush out the fuel”), remove the accessories (alternator, power steering pump and air conditioner) as well as the air box/intake.

Drain the coolant (lower radiator hose works fine) and make sure that when you remove the intake components to label (or take a mental picture of) the vacuum line system. This will be vital when putting everything back together. It seems best to remove the intake manifold while you are at it, but this is not a must. It will free up space and let’s face it; the EJ25D is a big engine.

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With the accessories, intake components, fuel and radiator disconnected, you can begin removing the bolts that hold the engine in place. The engine mounts are simple enough and I’d advice to jack the car up a little to allow some working space. You can easily spot these two bolts on the cross-member. While under the car, remove the exhaust bolts on the headers (PB Blaster is your friend). Once these are all disconnected, you can tackle the bell-housing bolts. The lower passenger bolts can be accessed from the top (as well as the upper bolts) but the lower driver side bolt is best accessed via underneath. We found it to be easiest (if there ever is such a thing) to remove the driver side tire so a plethora of extensions can gain access to the bolt.

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I’m going to state this one more time: if anything in the above two paragraphs seems foreign to you, you do not need to be doing this job. Learning is great, but there is a reason most of us start out small. This is a big job and if done wrong, can turn your engine into an all aluminum paper weight.

With the engine unbolted, it will take some convincing to be removed. If you have access to a jack, this can be used to leverage the transmission away from the engine while it is being pulled by the hoist. Position the jack under the transmission and then bolt up the engine to the hoist. Depending on what type of hoist you are using, you can use common sense as to where to bolt the hooks to the block. Make sure nothing will strip or cause damage to the block when stress is applied. And remember, this isn’t a race: take your time.

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So, your engine is out and on an engine stand (or dangling in the wind if you’re lazy/cheap), now what? Get some sleep because you’ve got some real concentration ahead of you. Gather your tools and set up a clean area to safely place the long block components.

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If you removed the intake manifold already, the next step is to remove the heads.  This means removing the timing belt: this is where it can get kind of scary. The timing belt IS the most vital aspect of this engine and must be removed properly. Gain access to it by removing the crank pulley and the front timing belt cover. This will allow you set the timing safely so no damage will be caused to the valves and pistons. A Haynes/Chilton or the FSM will be your greatest asset here: follow each step TO THE DOT.

Once you have the crank pulley and timing belt cover removed, you can properly set the timing so the pistons are fully recessed inside the cylinder walls. There are two marks on the crank sprocket: one for Top Dead Center and another for recession. DO NOT set the timing to Top Dead Center: this could cause the valves to open and “kiss” the piston tops, potentially bending the valves. The cam sprockets have timing marks as well to indicate the recessed setting. When this setting is achieved (and you’ve double checked and double checked again) you can begin to remove the timing belt itself.

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(Picture source: Warrior, SL-i.net)

Removing the inner tension pulley will allow for the timing belt to be safely removed so the crank and camshafts stay in place. Work from one end of the belt to the other and be very gentle: this isn’t a race. Once the belt is removed, the camshafts must now be taken out in order to reach the head bolts.  Start by removing the cam sprockets which is another task that is made easier by an assistant. There are camshaft locking tools out there that will hold the sprockets in place while the bolt is removed, but they come at a cost. With a heavy-duty crescent wrench held by a strong-armed friend placed on the hex portion of the camshaft itself, the cams should stay in place while you attack the sprocket bolts. This will take a few attempts, but it should work. Start with the passenger side head first as this side is not under pressure. The driver side cams however are, due to the cam lobs holding the valves open.  If the camshafts are rotated too much, the release of that pressure will send the cams in frenzied rotation. This can be dangerous if the engine’s timing is set to TDC because the valves can potentially interfere with the pistons. But, if the timing is set right, you will not need to worry too much.  Do each camshaft one at a time and make sure that if they need to be rotated that they are done so in the proper direction.  (See picture).

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With the camshaft sprocket removed, it now becomes fairly straight forward.  Remove the camshaft journals (two for each cam) and then carefully remove the camshafts themselves.  The lifters will probably want to slide out, so be careful not to allow them to simply drop out.

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Set the cams, lifters, and journal caps neatly aside and label everything so it all gets put back in the exact location it came from. Next, go for the head bolts. These are aluminum heads, so they might make a funny noise but that is normal. Make sure to organize these too as each bolt must go back in its original location. This is all that holds your heads from the block itself.

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Once removed, you will clearly see the gasket. In the pictures provided, it is obvious that the OEM gaskets are not up to snuff, even on a low mileage engine as the one pictured. It is a complete mystery as to why Subaru would manufacture these this way, but it now seems to be water underneath the bridge. With your engine torn down to its short block, now is the time to have everything inspected. Make sure the heads are not warped in any way and check the pistons and cylinder walls for any abnormal wear. You should be able to still see and or feel the cross-hatching on the cylinder walls and the tops of the pistons can be cleaned in a careful manner.

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Work backwards to install everything back as it should be: making sure to follow the 8-step torque process to reinstall the heads. The cams should be properly aligned and a new timing belt should be installed with the absolute correct number of teeth from each timing mark to next.

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10 Best Vehicles for a Hitman

The job title “Hitman”, despite its glamour and prestige, is a bit more difficult than one might think.  The men and women who make ends meet by using their ex-military training to turn murder into income have a lot on their plate.  Not only do they have to risk their lives and deal with their crippling morality each and every day, but they also have the infuriating task of picking a vehicle to suit both their desires and needs.  A hitman simply can not just purchase a Camry and go to work – no one would watch that movie.  In order for a complete, legend-making hitman to exist, one must pick out a set of wheels that is menacing to the core.  Powerfully dark, clever and deceptively suave, these cars and trucks are just as dangerous as their drivers.

For this list, each vehicle picked rolled off the factory floor just the way it is – no modifications.  This is for simplicity, practicality and to provide real-world consumer advice.

10. 2007-2014 Cadillac Escalade

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Revamped in 2007 to critical acclaim, the third generation Cadillac Escalade is the perfect vehicle of choice for the hitman who anticipates a few takeaways.  Standing long at almost 17 feet, the storage space is plenty large enough for rifles, axes and body bags.  Mean, sharp, and suave, these big daddy heavy hitting muscle trucks pack an all-American 6.2 liter 403 horsepower punch and burble so deeply at idle, that no patsy would dare approach as a hitman sits inside, sharpen their knife.

9. 1999-2002 Audi S8

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The first of Audi’s big bodied heavy hitting super sedans is coincidentally the best.  Back when the high-volume premium German automaker was still producing masculine products, they decided to drop into their flagship sedan a high-strung, 355 hp 4.2 liter V8 and six speed manual thus creating the legendary S8.  Used in Ronin as the primary pursuit vehicle, this full-size luxury barge can hit 60 mph in about 6 seconds, haul “equipment” discreetly and look classically understated while doing so.

8. 2011-Present Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland

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The current generation Jeep Grand Cherokee wins awards five times daily and there is a good reason for that – it’s bloody good.  In Overland form with its icy cool leather interior, understated exterior and muscle car worthy 5.7 liter 360 hp Hemi V8, it’s also a fantastic candidate for the utilitarian hitman.  Not only is the Overland at home parked in front of a swanky downtown soiree awaiting the exit of a “he had it coming to him” mark, but it is equally capable of outrunning the competition no matter what the terrain.

7. 2007 – 2009 Jaguar XJR

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Rear drive, the size of a limousine and powered by a supercharged 390 hp 4.2 liter V8, this iconic luxury sedan might has well been marketed toward baddies to begin with.  Obviously British in every sense of the way, the XJR is classy, powerful and runs on frigidly dead water thus making it perfect for the hitman who needs to attend social gatherings for “research”.  Despite being almost too perfect on paper, the Jag is not the heaviest thing out there for a baddie on good-guy scuffle and, as cliche as it may seem, it doesn’t have the most reliable rap sheet known to man.

6. 2009 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S

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This is the Jennifer Garner of cars.  It’s strong yet delicate, powerful yet gorgeous and resourceful to point where if it kicked your butt, it would find a way to do so elegantly.  This car oozes cool and carries a devastating left hook filled with menace.  Packed under its icy cold hood is a 4.7 liter V8 with 434 hp and a wail so bone chilling, a hitman can intimidate their mark without even leaving the leather filled cockpit.

5. 1998 – 2001 BMW 750iL

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Yes, the V12 one.  While the charm and charisma of the third generation BMW 7 Series is not exclusive to the big engine, the heavy hitting Bavarian limo does get an extra oomph in coolness when the cylinder count breaks into double digits.  Timeless in design and oh-so-German, the E38 is the kind of car hitman, getaway drivers and all around anti-heroes adore.  Used in James Bond films and driven by Jason Statham, this may break down a time or two, but when it’s in tip-top shape, it will be a hitman’s best tool.

4. 2005 – 2012 Citroen C6

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This car was the first to obtain four stars from the EuroNCAP for its pedestrian safety.  Too bad the safety outfit failed too check for the body bags in the trunk because the Citroen C6 is the kind of car that oozes composure hiding lunacy.  It’s extraterrestrial cool looks, spacious yet beautiful interior and unsuspecting status make it the perfect candidate for “get in and get out” hitman jobs.  With its world-famous Hydractive 3+ suspension, the C6 is also so comfortable, the crooked congressman you need to “take care of” will certainly fall fast asleep all on his own – no Chloroform required.

3. 2006 – 2010 Chrysler 300 SRT8

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The Citroen C6 is piano wire.  The BMW E38 is a sniper riffle.  The Chrysler 300 SRT8 is a hammer and a pair of seasoned fists.  Built with menace as a main ingredient, this  mobster land yacht packs a 425 hp 6.1 liter Hemi V8 punch.  Sixty miles per hour comes up in under five seconds.  Sitting strong at around two tons, the Chrysler will punch, kick and roast anything it needs to all while dressed to nines wearing a cowboy hat.

2. 1997 – 1999 Bentley Turbo RT

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One of the last real Bentleys before they all became fancy Volkswagens, the Turbo RT is remarkably rare but insanely brutal.  More than 200 inches long and weighing in at 5,200 lbs, the RT is a full-size British muscle sedan with nearly 700 lb-ft of torque and a 150 mph top speed.  Classy, suave and forever cool, this Bentley goes about its business under the radar – rare for the current model line.  It also has a psychotic personality to match any hitman’s own.

1. 1975 – 1981 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9

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While it may look like a classic Mercedes sedan, the “6.9” goes like a Ferrari and punches like a prize fighter.  This is Germany’s idea of a muscle car and in the late 1970s, this 4,390 lb 210 inch long hydropneumatic suspensioned luxury sedan put a serious hurt on the performance car landscape.  It is now the type of car that wafts around classically, never calling attention to itself but refusing to be forgotten.  It can be accepted anywhere it goes, punt any car into a hedge and store a full arsenal in the trunk.  It’s suave, collected, talented, handsome and most importantly, psychotic.  It is, the perfect car for the modern-day hitman.

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