After we returned from our big North American road trip Buster, our 1988 VW Westfalia, was cleaned up and tucked away in the garage for the rest of the salt (winter) season. This spring I started to prep the bus for the summer camping season ahead when I noticed some coolant leaking from the engine. The coolant turned out to be coming from one of the head gaskets – a typical but not good place for these engines to leak. On top of that the engine started knocking really loud. That really bummed us out because we were looking forward to another great summer of camping. At the same time we were thankful this didn't happen to us on our big trip last year. It looked like the time had come for Buster to get a new motor.
For the next few weeks Sue and I researched different engine options. We looked at rebuilt Vanagon motors, VW diesel engines, Ford Focus conversions and a slew of others including the Subaru H4 engine conversion. All of the different options we looked at had their benefits bit in the end we decided to go with the Subaru conversion for various reasons:
After deciding to go with a Subaru engine the next step was to find a donor car. It was important to find a complete running car because we needed the engine, wiring harness, ECU (engine brain) and a bunch of other parts to make it all work. Having them all come from the same car would save a lot of hassles in the long run. There are companies out there who supply complete turn-key Subaru conversion solutions that include everything you need but they are pricey and I wanted to do the conversion myself to learn more about it.
Now came the not-so-fun part, locating a donor car. After several months of searching online ads, calling wreckers and checking out car auctions we were becoming discouraged and didn't think we would ever find our donor. Then I came across an ad for a 2003 Subaru Outback that was wrecked in an accident up near Midland Ontario. The rear end of the car was crushed in when the driver spun off the highway and slid backwards into a rock wall. Fortunately no one was hurt in the crash and also, fortunately for me, the engine was okay. The next day I drove up to Midland to check out the car and do an oil pressure and compression test on it. Both tests came back with great numbers. I also called up the dealer where the car was serviced and found out that the pistons were replaced under warranty which meant the head gasket, which are also a problem is these motors, were also replaced. This was great news because this meant less work for me. We decided to buy the car and we gave the guy a small deposit to hang on to it for us. As part of the deal the seller, who owned a towing company, agreed to transport the car my brother-in-law's farm where we were going to remove the engine.