Removing My Subaru Outback’s Flat-Six Engine Was Actually Easy and Fun
These cars are not too hard to wrench on, which is lucky, because it turned out mine needed a lot of work.
I can now count myself among the many victims of Subaru head gasket failure. A bubbling overflow tank and aggressive temperature spikes are pretty much dead-to-rights head gasket symptoms. Since this is a boxer engine laid out with horizontal pistons, the heads are pretty hard to get to in the car. I was not about to waste my time and fingers trying to change the head gasket in my Outback’s crowded engine bay, so we’re pulling this flat-six out wholesale.
Head gaskets critically keep coolant and oil from mixing in your engine, and Subarus are notorious for destroying them. I thought I might be safe with this six-cylinder EZ30D but alas. Once I was sure the job needed doing, my plan was to put the car down for a bit, pull the engine, and bring it to a shop where it could be worked on more comfortably than it’d be in my backyard.
Luckily, I have some experience with Subarus. I worked at a specialty shop as an assistant for some time, and I consider myself to be a handy wrench. Not to mention, Subarus might be the most serviceable cars you can buy. Case in point – all you need to get the engine out of the car are 10mm, 12mm, 14mm sockets and ratcheting spanners, some angled long reach pliers, some screwdrivers, extensions, a 19mm impact socket, a 32mm impact socket for the front axles, and some trusty pry bars. Nothing special here, but don’t forget an engine hoist and ideally somewhere decent to work.
I started by parking the Outback somewhere it could stay for a bit: next to my house. Graciously, my dad let me leave it there basically unconditionally. Once I had the car in his hibernation hole, I set myself an ambitious goal of engine out in two hours. Some small jack stands lightly lifted the front end, and I started underneath.
I got two drain pans for oils and coolant, respectively. I drained the coolant before the oil to prevent any contamination, I then unbolted the headers, removed the ground straps, unhooked the transmission cooler lines, unbolted the engine mounts, and started draining the oil. I made sure that all my underneath tasks were mostly done so I could work up top while I got a thorough drain from the engine. Every drop counts when you’re transporting a motor yourself.
Up top it was a similar story – I started by removing the battery and air intake box, then removing the upper accessory drive which was seven 14mm bolts, and a few 12mm long bolts for the alternator. With the alternator safely in the trunk, I simply folded the power steering pump and AC compressor over to each side where the battery and airbox were. It’s almost like Subaru knew this engine would explode…
I then unhooked the upper radiator hoses, removed the upper radiator restraints, removed the expansion tank, unplugged the fans, and yoinked it right out. I could then move on to getting the intake off, which involved removing these weird (and redundant) fuel injector shields with some ratcheting wrenches, without much clearance. Once those were off, I grabbed my 10mm and started unbolting the fuel lines from the intake manifold, then started removing vacuum and PCV hoses, finally unplugging the throttle body, and purge solenoid.
Twelve 12mm bolts later and the intake manifold lifted right off – it was much easier than any turbo EJ. I removed a handy plastic cover on the engine side of the bell housing to access the flex plate to torque converter bolts and removed the bolts. Moving along to the bell housing bolts, I used a long box-end 14mm spanner and removed them methodically, and unplugged the main engine harness as I worked my way around. Most of the bolts were easy money until I got to the two stubborn bastards at the very bottom.
These two were actually nuts on two long studs, there to make installing the engine easier. Trouble is, they jut out towards the front axles, and no tool could fit without removing the axles. I tried my damndest to do it the hard way but wasted a few hours until I finally gave in and did the axles. I was dreading it, because the same job on my Legacy Spec.B was rough. The lower ball joints need to pop out to remove the axle, and it took a lot of hammering on the aluminum control arm of the Legacy. For some reason, the stamped steel arm of the Outback made the job smooth and easy (lucky me).
Before the final removal, I supported the engine with the hoist, using a chain I had from my engine support bar. I took the final nuts and bolts off, grabbed my pry bar, and popped the engine free of its dowel pins. Now the delicacy begins – you have to get the height of the hoist just right so it doesn’t catch on the lower studs. For removal, you don’t really need a leveling bar, but just some arm strength and a pry bar. Bring the engine forward until it’s clear of the studs, and start lifting up.
If you’re following along trying to do something similar to your own car: this would be a good time to make sure nothing is connected as you raise the engine, and lift it methodically. Once it’s high enough to clear the radiator, gently guide it over until it’s free! Make sure to have an old tire or something similar ready to set the engine on. I put a used Michelin Pilot Sport 4S in the bed of my dad’s Ram 1500, and put the engine to rest on it. A few tie-downs and it was good to go to my rebuilder; my former employer and friends at Yimisport.
You see, I would dive into re-doing the heads and head gaskets myself, but information is scarce on these old EZ30D Phase 2 engines. From what I could gather from a random Youtube series of the head removal and from the Skid Factory’s various videos on the engine, removing the heads is a serious affair. It has front and rear one-piece timing covers, secured with very strip-happy Allen key bolts, and a ton of small O-rings and gaskets to replace and seat correctly.
Considering this is a timing chain engine and Alan from the Skid Factory (a lifetime Subaru technician and enthusiast) says it’s a huge job, I’m gonna leave this crucial phase to the professionals. I don’t want to do this twice.
In about a month I’ll have a nice, freshly top-ended engine from Yimisport and a pretty breezy re-install ahead of me. After that, some great fire road rally stage mobbing. Until then, it’ll live on the side of my house. Engineless and sad. Poor thing.