2002 WRX Recovery
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This is a discussion on 2002 WRX Recovery within the Builds forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; Well, I just bought me a 2002 WRX with a bad motor. I know it's not the best way to ...

  1. #1
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    2002 WRX Recovery

    Well, I just bought me a 2002 WRX with a bad motor. I know it's not the best way to get into a Subaru, but it was pretty cheap. I spent my whole "toy" fund on the car and towed it to work.

    I have worked mainly on Toyotas as far as heavy line goes. I've learned about as much about the boxer motors as I can sitting in a chair, but this vehicle is the first boxer i've done more than an oil change on. I put a clutch in my fiance's 2.5i Impreza but that's about as much as I've done on a Subaru. You may think I know what I'm talking about because of technical sounding words, but that's all just an illusion. I came to this forum to share what I can of this process, and to learn more about these motors from you all. First, the car:

    She's a 2002 WRX with 224,000 miles. She has stock wheels, suspension, interior, everything. No performance bolt-on's whatsoever. The body for the most part is very clean and straight. The right rear door and quarter panel have damage due to an accident that happened a while ago by the look of the rust. I'll put a recycled door on it and figure out how to get the quarter pretty again later.

    For now, operation "under it's own power" has begun.

    The story goes that the timing belt snapped while the engine was running. They put a new belt on and it still wouldn't start due to low compression. That's all I knew when I bought the car. Today I pulled the motor and confirmed that cylinders 1, 2, and 4 are losing air through the exhaust valves. Judging by what I see of the intake valves with the intake manifold off, the intake valves are sealing pretty well. I will be removing the heads and doing a better inspection tomorrow. If the guides don't have any visible damage and valve stems don't wiggle around in there, I think they'll be fine. I might have the seats ground to make sure the new valves seal as good as possible, but I'd like to get away with as little head work as possible. I'll probably also be replacing the piston rings as they have a lot of miles on them. In the process I will be checking the cylinder walls for wear and damage, and checking the connecting rod bearings for wear.

    Here's where the scooby experts come in: Should I split the block and check the main bearings? I've never heard this motor run so I don't know what kind of noises it had. I will at least check the free play of the crank but I have no idea how much work it is to split and re-seal that block. Also, do you have any recommendations for a gasket kit? I've disturbed a lot of gaskets, o-rings, crush washers, etc., and I want to make sure the motor goes back together as tight as possible. I've especially heard that upgraded head gaskets are a must with any Subaru. Brand recommendations would be greatly appreciated for piston rings and bearings as well.

    Also, do the head bolts need to be replaced any time the heads are pulled? I'm already planning on getting new ones. Should I spend the extra and get ARP bolts?

    There is also a disturbing amount of rubber hoses on this motor. Many seem very tricky to get to, so I'd like to replace all of them. Several have split on disassembly due to sitting next to a turbo in Texas heat for 220k+ miles. Is there such a thing as a rubber hose kit that includes pre-formed coolant, fuel, vapor, vacuum, PCV lines? Or do I have to point them out one by one at the dealership?

    I have noticed while working on the car that the previous owner seemed to hit a certain point and just start letting the car go. It's really nothing major, just a bunch of little things. I need to replace CV boots on one side, the shift rod (selector shaft?) seal at the tail of the transmission is leaking pretty bad, power steering rack is leaking from the passenger side boot, rear suspension is noisy most likely due to bushings... Most of those I can address once I get the car running and can drive it around. One thing I have to address at this time is the clutch. The rivets have been hitting the flywheel and made a very slight groove in the surface. I'm 90% certain it can be machined out. Does anyone have a recommendation for a clutch kit to throw in there? Most likely I'll be driving it as a commuter/autocross/miscellaneous fun gravel road adventure vehicle. The clutch doesn't need to hold a possible future build or take 5k rpm clutch dumps, but I would like a rather sturdy setup for regular spirited driving. 'nother words I'm never going to expect better than 15 mpg driving this WRX.

    I believe that's it for now. Sorry I don't have any pictures of the car. Tomorrow if I remember to bring my camera i'll take some engine destruction pictures to show around.

    If you made it this far, kudos! Thank you for reading my random and somewhat excited ramblings. I look forward to thoughts and input from more experienced Subaru folks.

    -Mike

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  3. #2
    and the Funky Bunch Calvinball's Avatar
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    I'm not the right guy to talk about the innards, so I won't attempt to answer any of your questions. Did just want to say good luck, thanks for the interesting read, and keep us posted!
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    Registered User Rummie's Avatar
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    I remember in the digging around on parts sites a couple companies had 'hose upgrade kits' for subaru engines that weren't radiator related. Looked like silicone tubing but I honestly wasnt looking for tubing so I didnt investigate and I could not tell you which sites had them or for which years. I dont think it was rallysportdirect but I couldnt swear to that even.

    JSCspeed had tons of gaskets from all the aftermarket folks for close to the same cost all in one place. But they all seem to have a selection.

    I dont know a whole lot about rebuilding a boxer but I do know the couple I have done I found peace of mind doing everything I could while the engine is out especially with a high mileage car. Replacing anything I could while it was easily accessible just made me feel better. My OCD is an expensive OCD.

    Best of luck to you.
    Not as many parts left over this time... what am I missing?

  5. #4
    Pro Manscaper Mikie13's Avatar
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    Should be a cool revival.

    I'm not entirely sure on internals, but you definitely do want to replace as many gaskets, seals, o-rings, etc. while you're already tearing into it. OEM gaskets from the dealer work fine, especially since you're staying stock, but others may suggest another brand.

    If you're not replacing anything else, standard head bolts probably would be fine as well...unless you want to spend more money?

    As for a clutch...OEM or Exedy OEM replacement kit. You'll also want a new OEM flywheel. There's no need to go for anything more as the OEM and Exedy OEM are good quality units that hold plenty of power, especially if you are at stock levels. Lightweight flywheels are unnecessary in our cars.

    At 224k, you certainly will have some bushings that need replacing...but you're also at a point where struts will probably need replacing as well. most usually go after 80-90k, so you're looking at your second set at least that should need replacing. KYB, Tokico, Koni, etc. All make good replacement options at decent prices. Also, you're probably going to want to replace the top hats (technically bushings that the strut/spring assembly mounts to the car with) to either OEM or Group-N units...if those are original, then they are more than likely squishy, cracking, and ready to be replaced.
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    Thank you for the helpful replies thus far! I am probably going to look for quick struts that include all the rubber isolators and strut mounts and bearings. Those are typically cheaper than all the component parts together. And hearing about a tubing upgrade kit makes me more optimistic. I will definitely be looking into that!

    I've put an OEM exedy clutch in my fiance's Impreza 2.5i with good results, so I'll probably stick with that clutch kit. It included a pilot bearing, throwout bearing, and pressure plate.

    Well, I finished the teardown aside from removing the pistons. I found the cause of low compression. Cylinder 1 had 2 burnt exhaust valves, cylinders 2 and 4 each had one burnt exhaust valve. This is what cylinder 2 looked like as soon as I pulled a head:

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    So that's where the compression was going. Another few views of the valves. Looks like the chamber and exhaust got hot enough to melt the metal, and the airflow sucked the molten metal out. The valves literally look like someone took a blow torch to them.

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    So as of now I have a few more questions. These may be kinda technical. First off, what would cause this to occur on 3 cylinders at the same time? It had to be the same time or near enough to the same time because I know it would run terrible on 3 pots and probably wouldn't run at all on 2. The previous owner did say the timing belt had broken, and the engine did have a new belt on it. Perhaps just before it snapped it jumped a few teeth? Timing being off and pre-ignition detonation severe enough could have blown the valves out. The pistons show no spots where they impacted any valves. The tops still have an even coating of ash deposits with no chunks missing.

    I also noted an aftermarket up-pipe when I was disassembling the motor. I did a little bit of research and found that this is a popular mod to remove the up pipe catalyst. If you do that, do you then have to change the tuning? Would it be significant enough to cause detonation or overheated valves?

    Also if the car has had a previous tune re-flash is there any way to tell? Or would I have to get an Accessport and flash with the stock map to be sure? I really don't want to get this all back together and melt more exhaust valves because I didn't figure out the root cause. Perhaps it's as simple as bad gas? It just seems odd that it would blow out 4 exhaust valves total that quickly. I dunno, looking for some input here.

    Couple more pictures, maybe you guys can help me out with what these are. I assume this is the EGT sensor as it's in the proper place. The up-pipe had a bolt threaded into the bung and this was just stuck under the relay cover on the passenger side:

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    Also found what looks like a non-critical sensor plug that rather melted into ... itself? I dunno. It was right next to the windshield washer motor (the green plug also in the picture) on the driver's side of the engine compartment.

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    I hope this is as interesting to follow as it is for me to do. This is the first time I've had a boxer apart and it's quite a design. Another remarkable thing I noticed (and didn't get pictures of) were the cylinder walls. The cross-hatching is still visible, there is no lip at the top of the jugs either. For 224k miles, the engine is in remarkable condition ... except for the massive holes in the exhaust valves...

    Anyhow, right now my primary concern is to ensure that I solve whatever caused the valves to overheat and blow out in the first place. If anyone has any insight on that matter, I would be very eager to hear it!

  7. #6
    Registered User UEDan's Avatar
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    Wow, that those are crazy burnt exhaust valves!
    Uppipe SHOULDN'T cause such bad burns. That reflash and snapped belt might have. Turbo engines run hot totally possible.
    As to check the ECU best thing to do, in my opinion, is to get a tactrix cable. Either 2.0 or 1.3. We'll be more than happy to help you with this rebuilt. This resurrection is awesome so far man.

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    Pro Manscaper Mikie13's Avatar
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    Running lean. That could fry valves...

    Uppipe swaps are common in 02-05 WRXs as the stock ones have cats in them that are known to go bad and break apart. This can cause turbos to go kablooey as they suck in the catalyst material, so Uppipes are replaced to remove this possible issue. Usually a resistor is placed into the sensor that the EGT probe connects to since most aftermarket uppipes don't have a place to put the sensor back. The resistor is supposed to prevent CELs. A tune usually isn't necessary for swapping Uppipes.

    As for a reflash of your ECU, you'd have to really have to DL the map from your ECU (using an AP or a Tactrix cable)...and have someone who knows this stuff (on this site, EJ257, Heide**, Zax, Donkey, etc.) look specifically at the map and see if it's changed compared to what a stock map should look like.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikie13 View Post
    Running lean. That could fry valves...

    Uppipe swaps are common in 02-05 WRXs as the stock ones have cats in them that are known to go bad and break apart. This can cause turbos to go kablooey as they suck in the catalyst material, so Uppipes are replaced to remove this possible issue. Usually a resistor is placed into the sensor that the EGT probe connects to since most aftermarket uppipes don't have a place to put the sensor back. The resistor is supposed to prevent CELs. A tune usually isn't necessary for swapping Uppipes.

    As for a reflash of your ECU, you'd have to really have to DL the map from your ECU (using an AP or a Tactrix cable)...and have someone who knows this stuff (on this site, EJ257, Heide**, Zax, Donkey, etc.) look specifically at the map and see if it's changed compared to what a stock map should look like.
    That makes sense. I've got a theory now, see if this vibes with anything...

    There is not an excessive amount of white ash buildup on the plugs or valves, which tells me the vehicle wasn't running lean for that long. The fact that 4 exhaust valves are burnt, 2 on one cylinder, tells me something went wrong quickly. Perhaps the fuel filter got clogged, regulator went bad, or the pump got weak as the vehicle was at cruising speeds. It may have thrown a CEL, but if the light was already on due to an unhooked EGT sensor the driver wasn't going to pay attention anyway. Thus he kept driving, and kablooey.

    Another possibility is that with the CEL set for the EGT sensor, the vehicle was running in open loop. If the standard map was too lean for, say, cold driving conditions, that could have caused valve burnage as well. This would explain why the new up pipe is still shiny - the failure occurred shortly after this modification.

    Also there's still the possibility that the timing belt lost a tooth, the crank skipped, and ran with the timing off enough to cause that damage.

    I'm just trying to negate or reduce the possibility of burning my brand new valves. Parts are on order, BTW.

  10. #9
    Pro Manscaper Mikie13's Avatar
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    ^^^those actually sounds like two very good theories.


    Any way you could power up the ECU and see if there actually are any codes still being thrown?
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  11. #10
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    Since you've already removed the heads, it might be a good plan to split the case and rebuild, to be honest. 224k miles is a lot of mileage for any motor. It would be frustrating beyond belief to button up the motor and have another failure within a few months, especially with the $$ spent on gaskets and head bolts/studs.
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    Quote Originally Posted by zax View Post
    Since you've already removed the heads, it might be a good plan to split the case and rebuild, to be honest. 224k miles is a lot of mileage for any motor. It would be frustrating beyond belief to button up the motor and have another failure within a few months, especially with the $$ spent on gaskets and head bolts/studs.
    Aye, I keep going back to that. I'm going to have a delay ordering the parts anyways due to getting married and stuff so I might just further delay the build.

    Really it depends on the cost of all total parts. I already know I need a clutch kit, tires, etc., so that's driving the cost up anyway. Like you say it would be rough to spend all that time and money on it, and fire it up to hear a rod knock...

    So with that said, a couple more questions. Is there any other tool aside from the Subaru SST to pull the piston wrist pins out of the rods before cracking the case? Or do I need that specific tool?

    Also do these head bolts require replacement after being loosened? They're torque to yield so I assume they do...

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