Author Topic: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap  (Read 10893 times)

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Offline Zaider

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FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« on: August 06, 2010, 10:20:25 AM »
So You're Thinking About Doing a Swap

Since I finished my V7 STI Swap in May, I’ve been getting a great number of PM’s from people that are trying to figure out if they can or should do a swap themselves. In the interests of saving me from having to rewrite the same message over and over again, I thought I would publish my take on it here. This is not meant to be a guide or a final say on whether or not you should do a swap, but hopefully it provides some insight and gives you some food for thought on whether or not you decide to do a swap.

Some background:

Three years ago, I was into cars but knew very little mechanically. In fact, wingless will remember the day that I came over to his house and it took us 2 full hours to install a cat-back exhaust, mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing. Over the next two years, I learned a bit more about cars and how to turn a wrench but I was by no means an expert at anything and still asked a lot of questions (I still do!).

As of the end of last summer (2009), I would say that I was fairly confident mechanically but knew that there was still a lot to learn. I guess I was looking for an excuse to do a swap, and when my head gasket started to go, that was what I was looking for.

So armed with some disposable income, a lack of responsibility and what I thought was a fair bit of time on my hands, I dove right into a complete swap.

And so we come to my first bit of advice: Reasons to do a Swap

There are many reasons to do a swap but the most important thing is to have a clear cut reason as to why YOU want to do it. As with asking advice on a future modification, you’re going to be asked what your goals are. Are you planning on building a track car? Are you planning on building a show car? Or do you just want to do a swap for the sake of doing it? There are those reasons and many in between, but whatever your reason, make sure you’re clear on it. That will help you make your decisions in the future and, over the course of the swap, give you something to remember when you run into difficulties and want to give up.

The added bonus of this is that when people ask you why you didn’t just buy an STI to begin with, you’ll have something to tell them. And trust me, they’ll tell you that.

Now, lets focus on the disposable income part of the equation. First of all, have a budget in mind before you start. I was lucky in that I had a fair bit of money that I could spend on a swap, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have limits to what I was willing to spend. Alright, now, have a budget in mind? Add on a few thousand. Trust me. There’s always going to be incidentals and  yes, maybe you can sell your old engine and other parts, but you might not find a buyer when you want to or you might be asking too much for it.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how much the swap cost me. Ill tell you this much. The entire JDM clip, plus hood, headlights, brembos and shipping cost me over $10k. That was just from one vendor. With the added costs of a wiring merge, misc parts and random tools I needed, you can imagine that the cost was a fair bit more than that. I can’t give you an exact number cause I don’t know it. I don’t really want to go through my receipts and calculate it.

Im not saying you can’t afford it, but I am saying that it’s a consideration. Not many people have that kind of cash laying around and if they do, they might not realize how quickly the costs can spiral out of control and before you know it, you’re broke with a car on jack stands.

Next is the time consideration. This all depends on how experienced you are mechanically and the extent of your swap. Going from an RS to an STI takes more time cause you need to strip out the dash wiring harness and either merge it or have it merged for you. Then you’ve got to put it back in. Are you swapping a six-speed? Then you’ve got to do the drive-shaft, rear diff, axles, hubs/knuckles etc. Trust me, getting the e-brake set up isn’t all its cracked up to be.

What Im getting at is that, for the average person, doing a swap is going to take you longer than you think. Many friends have reminded me that when I first started, I prophesized that it would only take me three weekends. Nine months later, I rolled the car out of the garage for the first time. Trust me. Life gets in the way. You get tired of spending all your time in a cold garage. It ended up that I could work on the swap maybe 1 day during the week and even then, that was sometimes a stretch. I figured I could work a few hours after work every day, but that rarely happened. I was tired and having a life and doing a swap seem to be mutually exclusive.

Another factor is waiting for parts that you need to order that you didn’t think about. If you snap a bolt or something is seized, you’re going to have to order it from Subaru, and let me tell you, they don’t stock all the parts you need to build a car. Surprise surprise.

The point is, budget a lot more time than you think. Especially if its your first swap and you’ll have to figure out things as you go. There’s always going to be problem areas (like the e-brake or dropping a sensor behind the turbo) and its going to take extra time and cause you extra frustration. If you’re debating a swap, chances are good that you’ve been involved in a part install that took way longer than it should have. Think about that, but multiplied over many parts over an entire car.

Now that we’ve dealt with the time and money factors of doing a swap, lets talk about how hard it actually is. Ill tell you right now: for the most part, its not hard. At least, I didn’t find it hard. Oh, there’s going to be frustrations at things like stubborn bolts, parts that don’t fit right and “oh yeah, where does this plug go? I hope its not important!” but especially with Subarus, they’re built like lego. You can take em apart and put em back together again and it is pretty straightforward. Now, the most important aspect of this is doing your research. Have a plan. Have a list. Have something that tells you what is coming up so you don’t need to redo any work. Make sure you have both the service manuals for your original car and the one for the new engine. You’ll need them for torque specs and they provide good instructions for how to remove components.


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audis are disposable suicide machines with 700lb of stupid interior itshay glued to them and 200 more horsepower than it needs so that their owners can never bring on track or drive anywhere more aggressively than a camry except when weaving in and out of traffic and letting the traction control soak up their incompetence

Offline Zaider

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2010, 10:20:41 AM »
As for the wiring merge, I couldn’t tell you how hard it is. I sent mine away to Brian at iWire in California. It took him a night and I had it back in my hands within a week. I needed to splice in the fuel pump controller and that’s it. For the most part, the wiring harness goes back in quite easily. The plugs have been in that position for so long that the wires naturally bend in the correct directions and its obvious which plugs are for what. There’s going to be a few that you have no idea about, so it’s a good idea to label things as you go along. Oh yeah, when buying your clip, make sure that it comes with the full wiring harness. You might be able to do it with a cut one, but its way way way easier to have a full one. For those wondering, about the merge, send a pm to Silent. He's been doing them as well.

Another piece of advice I can give you is to take lots of pictures. Yes, its nice to be able to show people your progress, but if you take before-after pictures, you can go back later when you’ve forgotten how something was oriented and use the pictures to help you.

Next. Don’t attempt a swap completely by yourself. I had two great guys helping me. They came out most of the times I was working on the car, braving the –30 temperatures and helped me get my car back on the road. I owe them big time. First of all, for safety. When you’re under the car and nudge a jack-stand with your foot, its nice to know that there’s someone standing right there in case the worst should happen. Get something in your eye? Your friend is there to help you out. Next, for convenience. When you’re under the car, its quite helpful to have someone standing next to the tools who can hand you the 14mm wrench that you neglected to bring with you.

Also, it is really helpful to have a community such as the Western Subaru Club to help you out when you’ve got questions. I can’t count the number of times I posted in my project thread looking for the answer to something that had me stumped only to check back an hour later and have someone answer it. You quickly find out that there is a real wealth of knowledge here. It also never hurts to have a couple guys who have done the swap before on speed dial. There are a few guys on here who have gotten numerous panicked phone calls from me when I couldn’t figure something out.

Next, I’ve said it before, RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. Research everything you do before you do it. Make sure you know what you’re doing. I ran into several problems because I thought I knew what I was doing and messed it up. The power steering lines, the cruise control, the e-brake, the ball joints… in hindsight, I should have researched a lot more before jumping head first into the swap.

Finally, make sure you’re ready for the post-swap issues. You’re never going to finish something this big and have everything work perfectly. Be aware that no matter how careful you are, you’re going to have some sort of issue. So far, I’ve gone through three upper radiator hoses (and three corresponding coolant changes after it ended up all over my engine), I broke the universal steering joint and ran into a curb after I lost steering, I’ve rubbed a hole through the AC pipe and have a leaky axle seal. There’s other small issues as well, like the ABS warning light and the fact that my front bumper no longer fits perfectly. Also, be prepared to be obsessive about every single noise you hear. Trust me, there’s nothing that can explain the level of paranoia you get when you’ve taken a car completely apart and then you think you hear a phantom noise while you’re going around a corner at 110kph on the highway. Be prepared to want to get rid of it and stick with oem reliability. I thought I would never want to sell the car, but the number of times its crossed my mind… I can’t even tell you. Think of that as a warning… people had told me about it, but I had ignored them and said “No, im different”. Trust me, I wasn’t and Im not.

Alright, so, after reading this, you’re either thinking: “No, I shouldn’t do a swap, I hadn’t thought of these things before.” Or you’re thinking “Nope, I’ve thought of all this and I still want to do a swap myself.”

To those of you who don’t think you’re ready for a swap, that’s a brave move to accept that. My advice is to keep building your confidence on the small stuff and work your way up to it.

To those of you who think you’re ready to attempt it, Great! It’s a very rewarding experience when all is said and done. When someone asks you something about your car, you can be confident in talking about it, cause you’ve built it from the ground up. Sure there are other cars that are faster or better, but their owners most likely haven’t put the time and effort into their cars like you did to yours. There is nothing I’ve experienced so far in life like turning over the new engine for the first time. Not even pulling it out of the garage compared to that first turn of the key. It was explained to me as being better than sex, and I can’t argue with that.

Alright. That’s my take on doing a swap. There are going to be people who want to debate my points, for instance, you can do it in a lot shorter time, and for cheaper, but this was my experience with it. Everyone’s is going to be different. If I can leave you with one final piece of advice, it is to be prepared for the highs and lows and the unexpected cause nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

If you’ve still got questions, feel free to send me a pm and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Go home Subaru. You're drunk.
Quote from: seat safety switch
audis are disposable suicide machines with 700lb of stupid interior itshay glued to them and 200 more horsepower than it needs so that their owners can never bring on track or drive anywhere more aggressively than a camry except when weaving in and out of traffic and letting the traction control soak up their incompetence

Offline LilDrunkenSmurf

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2010, 10:51:57 AM »
Great write up Zaider. Definitely should be stickied.
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Offline WRX_RA

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #3 on: August 06, 2010, 12:15:03 PM »
Agreed.

I had said the exact same things going into my swap, and its already cost me thousands more than expected, and there are still thousands to come.
I had also said about 3-4 weekends to complete... going on 2 months now.
But that is partially due to the fact that I wasn't so financially prepared..

Great write up!
Wish I could have read something like that 2 months ago lol

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2010, 01:04:27 PM »
I enjoyed reading that. Very informative and well-written.

Offline silent

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #5 on: August 06, 2010, 01:08:21 PM »
Good writeup Zev, I agree with most of your points you have there.  As you do more swaps, things get easier and eventually it'll be second nature.  My first harness merge took over 80 hours, now I'm down to much less than that.  Ask Honz how much time he has spent on his merge.  My first swap, I was diagnosing issues for a couple months.  My most recent one had about an hour of testing and everything came out perfect. 

It all gets easier with time an experience but the first one was a itchbay. 

Offline Zaider

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2010, 01:13:03 PM »
Good writeup Zev, I agree with most of your points you have there.  As you do more swaps, things get easier and eventually it'll be second nature.  My first harness merge took over 80 hours, now I'm down to much less than that.  Ask Honz how much time he has spent on his merge.  My first swap, I was diagnosing issues for a couple months.  My most recent one had about an hour of testing and everything came out perfect. 

It all gets easier with time an experience but the first one was a itchbay. 

Exactly. This is more meant for those who are thinking about doing their first swap. Those of us who have done one (or more) know where the problems lie and what to expect.
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Quote from: seat safety switch
audis are disposable suicide machines with 700lb of stupid interior itshay glued to them and 200 more horsepower than it needs so that their owners can never bring on track or drive anywhere more aggressively than a camry except when weaving in and out of traffic and letting the traction control soak up their incompetence

Offline Pee_Sack

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2010, 05:38:28 PM »
100% agree with everything Z.

Anyone thinking of doing a swap read and UNDERSTAND what has been said here.

Offline honz

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2010, 10:47:45 PM »
Massively good read! So true on all points.

I must tell you one thing, It is one hell of a way to detail it though!
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Offline masterman09

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2010, 01:32:01 PM »
Wow I really enjoyed reading that. Extremely good info and even though I am not considering a swap thanks for taking the time to fill the rest of us with knowledge and insight!
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Offline Hurricane

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2010, 08:49:45 PM »
Excellent write-up Zev.

Personally I recommend doing an engine swap only, it's a lot less work ;)
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Offline shave

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2010, 03:56:33 PM »
well that has defently cleared up some issues for me
your right about the highs and lows but that goes with owning a car haha
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Offline Zaider

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2010, 03:58:43 PM »
your right about the highs and lows but that goes with owning a car haha

The highs and lows of doing a swap are over and above what I've found with owning any other car.
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audis are disposable suicide machines with 700lb of stupid interior itshay glued to them and 200 more horsepower than it needs so that their owners can never bring on track or drive anywhere more aggressively than a camry except when weaving in and out of traffic and letting the traction control soak up their incompetence

Offline shave

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2010, 04:14:38 PM »
that is very true. how long has it been since youve finished your swap and have you ironed out most of the issues?
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Offline Zaider

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Re: FAQ: So you're thinking about doing a swap
« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2010, 04:57:13 PM »
that is very true. how long has it been since youve finished your swap and have you ironed out most of the issues?

I drove the car home in May (of this year).

For the most part, yes.... but its a swap, I dont think it'll ever be perfect.

Its got the fuel seep issue, the AC still doesn't work, its missing 4 bolts that I can think of off the top of my head, the gauges aren't wired up properly, the trunk doesn't open... well... you get the idea.
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Quote from: seat safety switch
audis are disposable suicide machines with 700lb of stupid interior itshay glued to them and 200 more horsepower than it needs so that their owners can never bring on track or drive anywhere more aggressively than a camry except when weaving in and out of traffic and letting the traction control soak up their incompetence