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2003 Subaru WRX 'Sonic Yellow'
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Alright guy's buckle up because this is going to be a long one.

I own a 2003 Subaru WRX, this car started as my grandmother's daily driver in retirement and she aptly named it Lil' yellow. Unfortunately she passed away a couple years ago and my mother purchased the car for my younger brother. My brother has let it sit as he has no interest in cars or driving in general, so I decided to purchase it from my mother. Ever since I was young I've had an affinity for subaru and I've always dreamt of owning an S202 and a 22b.

This thread is essentially my cost analysis of owning a 2002-2007 Subaru WRX and my attempt of converting said car into an S202.
Granted in retrospect I'm not sure I did it the "cheapest" way and I definitely didn't start the car with the intent to completely copy the s202.
(Parts for an s202 or s202 conversion are a lot of $$$ nowadays)

The base starting point of this car is near immaculate. The entire car is rust free and the interior is mint minus the smoke smell. It is also the correct color for my goals of an s202 replica. I have all the paperwork to everything ever done to the car and being that it was my grandmother's I know it wasn't hot rodded like more then 90% of all the other WRXs.

Anyways here we go
2003 subaru WRX (sonic yellow) - $6000

When I first bought the car it felt a little sluggish so I took it in to get a quick oil change - $78

After driving the car for a little while I decided that the +/- 170 WHP wasn't cutting it so I ordered the Cobb stage 2+ kit which includes - $2350
-Cobb AP-
-Cobb EBCS-
-Cobb SF air intake-
-Cobb TBE-

I figured since I'll have the downpipe off when I install the TBE, that I should also do my up-pipe and my tuner recommended doing my fuel pump so I ordered those as well.

Grimmspeed Up-pipe - $265
Walbro 255 fuel pump - $100

All of that stuff went on pretty easily but I noticed a decent oil leak coming from the timing belt cover / oil pump area. I never noticed my fluid levels dropping but I did occasionally smell burning oil ~~BAD~~ I cleaned the surrounding area and crossed my fingers it wasnt a head gasket. I took it to my tuner to get it tuned to utilize my mods but the oil drip was there and thankfully they noticed it before putting on the dyno and potentially blowing the engine. They asked if I have had the timing belt done and I informed them it was done by the previous owner (my grandmother). I gave them the go ahead to open up the timing belt cover and investigate. Well it turned out not to be a head gasket thankfully but it did turn out to be something equally as important. Turns out even though the car only has 116,000 miles on it because it sat and was not run the cam seals dry rotted / cracked and started leaking. On a scale of 1-10 inside the timing belt cover was about an 8 as far as covered in oil. If you know anything you know that oil on your timing belt is a bad time and can cause MAJOR issues down the line if left unchecked.

We were able to break all of the bolts for the cam seals free, one of them gave some trouble and almost stripped, if you ever need to change your cam seals on an ej205 be VERY careful not to strip the bolts because most DIY guys don't have the tools to drill the bolts while the block is still in the car and in my case we didn't want to pull the engine.

I can only assume the cam seals were still good at the time of the timing belt replacement because IMO it makes no sense to do the timing belt and not the cam seals at the same time but I digress.

It seems as though whomever did the timing belt job also tried to seal up some other leaks with no success. The wrist pin access plugs are leaking, the oil pump seal (Front crankshaft seal) is leaking, and the seam where the oil pump meets the block (RTV Seal) is leaking. We re did all of the seals on the front of the block that were leaking.
Cost breakdown below
-cam seals: $650 labor, $110 parts
-Seal Wristpin Access plugs: $92 Labor, $10 parts
-Oil Pump Seal Replacement and Re-Seal Oil Pump (Includes new high-pressure oil pump): $172.50 labor, $160 parts

I've also noticed that one of the timing belt idlers is already making noise due to the fact that it's the older-style bearing that's normally used on the N/A cars. This bearing was $80 and had no labor fee as we already were doing work in that area. The timing belt had oily residue on it from all of the leaks and I replaced that as well, this was $110 for parts and again labor was included.
(This is where we are now)

So all in all I'm in this car for
Car - $6000
Power mods - $2750
Tools and misc - $200
Supporting / health mods (OEM Seals and gaskets) and Labor - $1800

Total = $10,750

Tomorrow it's being put on the dyno with a conservative goal of 250 WHP / 250 WTQ.

Dyno cost - $650

Rough car cost ~$11,000~ and I have a WRX with roughly the power of a stock STi

The end goal for lil yellow is to be a daily driver / weekend track monster s202 replica.
End goal is 375 ~ 450 WHP but the number isn't as important as whether or not I have fun.

I'll be continuing this post with my progress and potential alternate routes to take to reach my goals. As well as what ifs and what I could've done better to save myself some money.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
So realistically if you are here to try and see the cheapest all of this can be done for then you're going to need to be able to do all of your own labor. Parts can and will be expensive but what will truly gut your wallet are labor bills. That being said if you're just a weekend mechanic and this is your daily driver there are certain things I strongly recommend you have a professional do.

Step 1 for my build is power. The goal was to get 250 WHP for the cheapest cost possible.

I had a couple different avenues in front of me, please understand that labor is completely subjective and prices vary depending on location. This is a rough estimate based on the area that I live.
  1. Cobb stage 2+ kit roughly ~$3,000
  2. JDM EJ207 swap engine alone $4,000
  3. USDM EJ257 Swap (engine) $6,000
  4. Hybrid build 2.5L shortblock with ej205 heads $3,500
  • Engine cost $4,000 ~ $6,000
  • JDM ECU and supporting mods $1,500
  • Labor if you arent capable ~~$5,000~~
Based on these numbers and my goal to save as much as I could, I opted on the cobb stage 2+ kit as well as a couple goodies.
In retrospect knowing the reliability of the EJ series especially the EJ205 I should have just purchased an EJ207 and built that while I drive the EJ205 and wait for it to blow. After installing the stage 2+ kit I noticed a couple oil leaks that required $2300 to solve and keep the EJ205 reliable.

That totals out to around $5,300.
This is why I say retrospectively that I would save the money and buy an EJ207.
Then spend the left over on a standalone ECU.

The Stage 2+ kit on the EJ205 could potentially make more WHP then the EJ207 but you can build the EJ207 while you have the EJ205 waiting to blow.

Step 2 is suspension / wheels and unfortunately due to my cam seals being bad step 2 has been pushed back.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
So today we got Lil yellow on a dyno and got her all tuned and ready to go. Our conservative goal of 250 wheel horsepower was blown out of the water with a final power reading of
281 WHP
292 WTQ

I am genuinely ecstatic and I am very pleased with these results.

Next steps are coilovers, rims and tires, and a 6 speed manual transmission.

If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to chime in.

Currently looking at the Faction Fab FR-spec coilovers.
324949
 

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OK, I'm going to be blunt because that's my nature.

Dyno numbers are irrelevant. The shape of the curve is important and that dyno plot looks nice and wide -- peak torque at 3800 rpm and peak power at 6300 rpm. I imagine that it's great fun to drive and a significant improvement over stock, but the numbers themselves are certainly on the high side.

Suspension is not an area that you want to cheap out on, and those coilovers are not great. I'm with you on wanting to refresh a very old suspension, but look at something like Koni Yellow struts and a good set of RCE springs. That setup is very good for the price, though will cost you about $1200 USD.

  1. JDM EJ207 swap engine alone $4,000
Your call if you want to spend the money on a fully depreciated platform. Remember, for every dollar you put into this car, you may get $0.20 back (if you are lucky). That said, this is your hard does of reality.

A 6 spd swap will require the knuckles, the transmission, the rear diff and prop shaft (or 4EAT propshaft and OEM rear diff with certain years only) and half shafts front and rear. To outfit yourself with all of these components, you're looking at spending $6-7k without labor.

The EJ207 listed above. Sure, there are some cheap variants online from overseas. The history is questionable and will never pass USA smog should that be a requirement. You may find a "low KM" EJ207 for $3000-4000, but you also need to put in a lot of effort to make it work in your vehicle. It's not a "direct swap." There are ways to do this, but the most common is to swap the ECU and loom from a JDM model, which now will definitely not pass smog anywhere.

So now we are talking about $15,000 or more on a fully depreciated chassis. Alternatively, you could sell the car and buy a GD STI for roughly the same $$ with the added benefit of higher resale.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
OK, I'm going to be blunt because that's my nature.

Dyno numbers are irrelevant. The shape of the curve is important and that dyno plot looks nice and wide -- peak torque at 3800 rpm and peak power at 6300 rpm. I imagine that it's great fun to drive and a significant improvement over stock, but the numbers themselves are certainly on the high side.

Suspension is not an area that you want to cheap out on, and those coilovers are not great. I'm with you on wanting to refresh a very old suspension, but look at something like Koni Yellow struts and a good set of RCE springs. That setup is very good for the price, though will cost you about $1200 USD.



Your call if you want to spend the money on a fully depreciated platform. Remember, for every dollar you put into this car, you may get $0.20 back (if you are lucky). That said, this is your hard does of reality.

A 6 spd swap will require the knuckles, the transmission, the rear diff and prop shaft (or 4EAT propshaft and OEM rear diff with certain years only) and half shafts front and rear. To outfit yourself with all of these components, you're looking at spending $6-7k without labor.

The EJ207 listed above. Sure, there are some cheap variants online from overseas. The history is questionable and will never pass USA smog should that be a requirement. You may find a "low KM" EJ207 for $3000-4000, but you also need to put in a lot of effort to make it work in your vehicle. It's not a "direct swap." There are ways to do this, but the most common is to swap the ECU and loom from a JDM model, which now will definitely not pass smog anywhere.

So now we are talking about $15,000 or more on a fully depreciated chassis. Alternatively, you could sell the car and buy a GD STI for roughly the same $$ with the added benefit of higher resale.
Hey thanks for the input! I am super aware of the EJ207 being a "dated" platform. I've recently been looking more into the EJ257s as it is easier to get better heads and there is far more support here in the US. As far as selling and getting 0.20c for every $ I spend that's really not a huge concern as I don't plan on selling it. Same goes for getting an equivalent STi. I appreciate the concern for that but I'm really not not bent on resale. I just want to enjoy the car as much as I can and the subarus awd platform is a great start in my opinion.

However I am aware that the Subaru 5 speeds are glass and I know that's a weak link. Because of this I do plan to do a 6 speed and I know I'll need the whole kit and caboodle.

However I do have a question for you. If I plan to get all new tranny, hubs, control arms, half shafts, etc will this effect my suspension? I like your idea of koni yellows with RCE springs but if I do that will I need to change them further down the line when I change the tranny?
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
The 5 speed in my car particularly is very notchy at slow speeds and my 1st gear and reverse grind occasionally when put into gear. I own a mazda with a 6 speed and granted it is a completely separate manufacturer and a newer vehicle I would like to figure out how to get the same comfort in the WRX. I've looked at PPG gears but that's almost as much as the STi 6 speed kits I find depending on which set you choose.

I'm not opposed to keeping the 5 speed but I would like to have a tranny that is not notchy and doesn't give me the fear of breaking it.

Labor is important as I should always consider this factor but I try to do as much as I can myself. However I am aware of my limits and am only willing to push them if it's in a safe environment.

Also from my own experience driving an STi the 6 speed was way smoother. But that was in a newer car.

But I love the little car, sentimental value put aside.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
So a big thank you to @zax for the input and pointing me in the right direction for suspension.

As the car stands now it's fun to drive but it needs improvement in a couple different areas.
Unfortunately there hasn't been a good "cheap" alternative to a suspension setup that I have been able to find. Especially if you plan to track the car as I do.
But that is the nature of the beast, and you most certainly get what you pay for in parts.

As far as my transmission goes and swapping in a 6 speed it is going to be a while before that is even an option as there are loads of parts to swap to make it work.
So in the meantime I'm babying my 5 speed and will switch out my rims and get some better tires on there.

Currently looking at some Sparco Assetto Gara 17x7.5
With
RIKEN RAPTOR ZR A/S
  • 225/45ZR17
This being said I am not a tire guy and just need a cheaper summer performance tire.
If anyone has any suggestions for tires please chime in as I am a bit of a novice.

I've heard great things about Kenda's tires but I can't seem to find a dealer.

Also I've heard some people say you can run a 235 width on a 7.5" rim and others say that it's just detrimental.

If anyone has experience running a 7.5" rim with both 225 and 235 size tires I'd love to hear your inputs and feedback / preference.

Suspension plans have changed and I am no longer looking at cheap coilover sets.
I still need to do a lot of research on spring rates and dampening but right now I'm leaning towards gutting the stock shocks and replacing them then getting a proper set of springs. Because of the amount of my lack of knowledge in suspension and tires this step in the process is bound to take a little longer then expected but I will continue to update accordingly.
 

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BooSTIng
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Andrewtech huh? Where are you located? They are the ones that built my STi! great shop, and great and knowledgeable people.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Andrewtech huh? Where are you located? They are the ones that built my STi! great shop, and great and knowledgeable people.
I am located in NoVa, and your feedback is actually one of the reasons I went with them haha. You and a whole bunch of other people have had great experience with Andrew tech and now myself included.
 

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BooSTIng
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Yeah man Riyaad, Sam, and the whole group are a bunch of good dudes. I have been messaging Riyaad, getting ready to finish the fueling part of build and make 600+ whp.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yeah man Riyaad, Sam, and the whole group are a bunch of good dudes. I have been messaging Riyaad, getting ready to finish the fueling part of build and make 600+ whp.
Good lord 600 whp is a goal! I'll have to get in touch with you to take advise from your build if you're available. I plan to build an EJ257 and an FA20F so itd be great to learn from your experience. Is it cool if I shoot you a DM?
 

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BooSTIng
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Good lord 600 whp is a goal! I'll have to get in touch with you to take advise from your build if you're available. I plan to build an EJ257 and an FA20F so itd be great to learn from your experience. Is it cool if I shoot you a DM?
Yeah man hit me up any time. And I am shooting for 650whp on E85 and somewhere around 500whp on pump 93. Also a good bit of info on my build thread.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Today I decided to hop in the car and go for a spirited ride. I let the car properly warm up before doing so and went on my way. About a mile and a half down the road the car threw a check engine light. This immediately made me overthink everything including my boost gauge which I assumed was under boosting as I was afraid to get into the throttle.

I called my tuner and he informed me that the accessport can read the check engine light code so I took a look.

I ended up with 2 codes:
P0442
P0457
Both are Evap emissions systems leak codes and my tuner informed me with these cars they typically throw these codes for the gas cap being put on improperly or if the gas cap gasket has cracked.

He told me to order a new gas cap delete the codes and see if they come back.

New gas cap is $40 and to be honest I'm not too thrilled about that. So I reseated the gas cap and paid extra attention to how i removed and reinstalled it. Deleted the codes and went for my spirited drive.

So far it's been about 30 miles with no CEL so I am assuming that my cap is the problem.
So yet another part added to my list of replacements needed.

I've put a little research into this and asked my tuner and apparently this is a very common issue to have happen on a WRX of this age. Also low and behold the gas cap says in big bold letters that if installed incorrectly it can cause a CEL.
 

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Yes, that is correct. If the CEL comes back it is the solenoid.

Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter #16
So I have had an issue with my Dash / gauge cluster. My speedometer and tachometer lights do not turn on when I turn my headlights on. This issue has persisted since I first flashed to stage 2 with my accessport and I figured it was just my bulbs that went bad. But I do remember hearing an audible click when I first clicked them on and they didn't work.

I ordered 3 OEM bulbs that are replacements for the areas that are not working and my total ended up being something like $36 after shipping.

I pulled the cluster and as I was doing my replacement I noticed the old bulbs looked old but still intact. But I replaced them anyways and put the cluster back into the car (at this time it was around mid day) I turned the key and flipped the lights on and saw no results. I assumed maybe the sun was too bright and I could not properly see the bulbs. But I decided to check the fuses anyways for good measure.

I checked most of the fuses today under the steering wheel and everything was intact. So I decided to wait until tonight to see if the lights did or did not work and found out that the lights indeed do not work still, I decided to test my fuse and make sure that it is actually creating a circuit and it is so I'm finding myself in a bit of a conundrum.

I guess my next plan is to test the circuit board of my gauge cluster, then work my way to the module and make sure everything is properly getting power and ground.

It seems I may have to take some refreshers on electrical engineering just to get my cluster back to OEM. I'm hoping my issue is on the cluster side and I won't have to open up the module and check the circuit board there.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
So this week made me feel like a complete incompetent fool. Last sunday I pulled my gauge cluster out and started testing the plugs to ground on my cluster side. Everything was indeed flowing current and looked great so I was very confused and plugged it all back in thinking I was going to have to check the fuse box and module next. Woke up very early on Monday for work and started the car to warm it up thinking I'm just going to have to drive without the aid of my cluster until the sun came up on my morning commute.

When I turned on the car and flicked the lights on the gauge cluster lights came on but very faintly. WHAT?!? Where is my dimmer control? I looked around for 5 minutes and found it on my light knob LITERALLY right next to my lights. Oh and which setting was it on? The lowest of course, I turn it up and BOOM I have lights.

Feel free to hop in this forum and flame me because I am indeed a dummy. For some reason I was unaware this car has a dimmer. But thankfully my problem was such an easy fix.

Lastly, while driving around this week I've been seeing my fine knock learn jump around with numbers ranging from -0.35 all the way to -2.11 my tuner told me that anything under -5.00 could be considered fake / false knock and they recommended I forget about. That's just not in my nature so I started doing some research. Turns out the EJ motors run fine on any pump gas from the factory but as soon as you tune them they want that "top tier" gas. This indeed is a thing incase you are unaware as I was, there is also a list of the best places to get gas Shell being #1. Today I filled up with some Shell V-Power and went for some pulls. At first my fine knock learn problem seemed to have dissapeared but on about half throttle right around 3k rpm it spikes to -2.11 and will hold as long as I stay at that rpm. Give more or less throttle and it goes away. This leads me to believe that maybe the car is burning lean or rich at that rpm causing the car to register knock.
I've read that the stock injectors aren't spectacular and think that this may be the culprit. If anyone has any help or info in the matter please chime in.
 

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I recommend you not worry about it.

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Discussion Starter #19
I recommend you not worry about it.
Do you mind elaborating a little bit? Obviously the whole cost effectiveness issue but are my numbers "normal" I'd like to have more then just 1 input from my tuner.
I'm not attempting to say my tuner doesnt know what they're talking about. I'm saying I don't understand what the average is and I value multiple inputs. Considering this is my first subaru, I have no prior knowledge of what is "normal."


Your signature says "children are not afraid to pose questions that may embarrass us as adults to ask"
I'm honestly not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing but one thing I do know is I'm not afraid to show how little I know. Honestly I've been on other car forums before this one and I have gotten flamed for asking simple questions long before I got into my subaru. I appreciate the community here, not doing the same. Realistically I just have a thirst for knowledge and don't mind being wrong along the way. Thanks for the response.
 

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There are two ways we can approach this. There is the "normal operation discussion" and then looking at this from the perspective of "would it cause any harm anyway?"

Modern cars incorporated electronic fuel control, electronic timing control, and knock sensors primarily so that manufacturers could increase engine output, reduce fuel consumption without increasing risk of early failure. The goal is to minimize something called the "Brake Specific Fuel Consumption" or BSFC. To do that, manufacturers have to choose optimum spark timing that sometimes is very close to or beyond the detonation threshold at that particular load.Normal operation for modern ECUs at low loads is to constantly ride that line of detonation backing off timing when knock is detected. -2.11 degrees is the minimum step interval of feedback knock. If that is seen consistently in a particular load range, it's registered as Fine learn knock, then decayed over a certain criterion to zero.

If you are concerned, do some data log and look for where the knock occurs. If consistently under around 1.2 calculated load, it's not very concerning. If above, you should have further conversation with your tuner.

So, the second piece about "would it cause harm anyway?" Even if the behavior is abnormal, cylinder pressures under 1.2 calculated load are not high enough anyway to cause damage to components with mild detonation (mild enough for the ECU to only pull 2.1 degrees of timing). If knock sum values become very large OR the knock is registered at high loads where cylinder pressures are high, then you'd have cause for concern with regards to component lifetimes (pistons, bearings etc.)

My signature is a quote from Roger Penrose' book The Emperor's New Mind. Ultimately Sir Penrose is calling attention to the fact that our cognitive biases and fear of challenging the status quo of accepted science stymying further progress. Children OTHOH, are not bound by these biases and provide incredible insights when you least expect it. It's a good read -- I would recommend it. A lot of it is wishful thinking IMO, but look up "Orch OR" if you're interested.
 
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