I Almost Had to Re-Install My Subaru Outback’s Engine Twice

Knocking is usually very bad.

After three weeks of anticipation, I finally got the call from Yimisport that my Subaru EZ30D flat six was fixed and ready to get picked up. I drove my GTI for those three weeks, looking longingly at fire roads and trails that branched off from my canyons. I got in my German hatchback, threw some tie-downs in the trunk, my trusty used Michelin PS4S engine tire, and trundled over to get my engine.

Greeting my friends at the shop, they gave me the lowdown on the engine. Everything looked healthy, and the head gaskets didn’t even look blown, though the symptoms of its death were 100 percent head gasket failure. The tech showed me the perfectly good looking multi-layer steel gaskets, which shouldn’t experience failure anyways. These engines suffer from strange issues up there, we’re not entirely sure what. Only Subaru can make MLS head gaskets fail, go figure.

I Almost Had to Re-Install My Subaru Outback’s Engine Twice
Image: Chris Rosales

With totally fresh heads, all new gaskets, new valve seals, and a good inspection of the rest of the engine, I gave Yimisport about $1,500 of my money for their trouble and backed the GTI into the shop for loading. They gave me a quizzical look, but I assured them it would fit in the hatch area, and it had tie-down hooks. After some minor acrobatics, we lowered the flat-six lump onto the tire, shuffled it back a bit, and tied it down. It was a moment of triumph for me.

I Almost Had to Re-Install My Subaru Outback’s Engine Twice
Images: Chris Rosales

I arrived back home and backed the GTI to get at the engine. I got home a little late so I let it hang out overnight, not that anybody would be stealing an entire engine out of my car. The next morning, I got the engine out and started prepping for re-install with fresh spark plugs, some odd hoses, and fluids. In no time, I had the engine down in the bay, and the delicate balance of getting the long studs from the engine lined up with the gearbox.

I ended up using a floor jack to bring the front of the engine up, because I neglected to buy an engine leveling bar. After 30 minutes of screwing around, I got it lined up and drove it home. Before I fully seated it, I put some dabs of moly grease on the smaller dowel pins for the bell housing and the snub of the torque converter where it lived in the pilot bushing. Making sure nothing was in the way, I jiggled the engine until it came home with a cathartic thud.

Before I could relieve the engine hoist of duty, I installed and tightened the bell housing bolts. My first challenge came as I lowered the engine from the hoist: my engine mounts didn’t want to line up anymore. Try as I might, I could only get one side in at a time, and I wasn’t sure why. After an hour of zero progress, I took drastic measures. I turned away from the stubborn Outback and grabbed the ratchet straps I used to secure the engine. I meant drastic measures.

I Almost Had to Re-Install My Subaru Outback’s Engine Twice
Images: Chris Rosales

I used two ratchet straps looped around the hood hinges and the engine and cranked them down until the engine mounts lined up. I lowered the hoist and voila — the engine was now home for good. From there, it was another quick hour of tossing the intake manifold back on, getting the accessory drive sorted, radiator installed and semi-burped, engine mounts bolted in, and headers bolted up. I filled it up with the required six quarts of 5W-30, checked the dipstick, and tried starting it…

Nothing.

It took me a while to figure the issue out. Everything looked good, and I couldn’t find any loose wires or grounds. There was plenty of power, and the starter was getting power, but it wasn’t getting triggered. It was only until I found a good set of images did I realize that there was a tiny, crimp-on AutoZone-looking connector that tucked itself away in some engine bay insulation. That connector plugs onto a really basic post on the back of the starter. I tried again and it started!

I didn’t let it run so I could prime the engine. I removed the fuel pump fuse and cranked away for 30 seconds. I then gave the car a real start, and the next stomach sinking moment came. It was rattling horribly for a good minute, and there were hints of knock. It did eventually go away, but it did not fill me with confidence in the engine. I checked the oil level again and found that it needed another quart, so I obliged with the seventh quart of oil.

I buttoned everything up and took the car for a test drive. It all went very well until I heard the engine making a sound. I came to a stop and heard it… knocking. I came home, drove it up on ramps, and searched for the source. It initially sounded like it could be rod bearing but it was actually distinctly coming from the drivers side head. I chased my tail around and corresponded with Yimisport, but could come to no solution. We ended up deciding that the engine had to come back out. I was ready to pull it again, but I refused to do it until I absolutely had to.

Video: Chris Rosales

It wasn’t until I checked the oil directly after it ran did I see that it still wanted even more. If I let it sit for a minute, it would read fine. I bought another quart and dumped that eighth quart into an alleged six-quart engine. It was probably overfull, but it didn’t seem to care.

It solved the knock. You better believe that I was relieved. It never came back after a couple hundred miles of testing. So the lesson here, if you’re starting a recently disassembled engine for the first time yourself, is that it might need more oil than you’d think I guess.

With that, the engine project was done. The Outback was ready to hit trails once more, and it did a solid 40-mile trek through the mountains the next day in 90-degree weather. Finally, I had the off-roader I always wanted.

Alas, that was short lived. A week later when it was 100-degrees out, my temperature gauge climbed once more as I traversed a steep hill offroad. That put me at a crossroads. I needed to trust this machine to be infallible for my planned offroad excursions. Every bit of trust I built up for the Subaru, gets torn down by dumb issues that should have been solved. 

It was time to make a decision. Do I sell or do I solve… again? I was at my wit’s end. I decided to get my air conditioning working again, and left the verdict until my car was 100 percent. Beware, Outback, you’re on notice.

Chris Rosales
Chris Rosales

Chris has owned 12 cars of questionable quality, is an experienced motorsports photographer, and a good all-around wrench. When he isn’t tinkering with his car in his home garage, you can catch Chris in the canyons around SoCal. He also hopelessly hankers for Euros, but he honestly knows he should get something Japanese, eventually. Contact the author here.