Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Breaking from the diesel for a bit - Vanagon head gasket replacement

They say there are two types of VW Vanagon owners. Those who have taken their engine out, and those who haven't taken their engine out... yet. Last year, I finally made it into the second category. When the original engine gave up on me in late 2011, I anticipated that the van would sit in storage for a few years while I saved my pennies for a more exotic engine swap (Subaru EJ22, Bostig Ford Zetec, etc). The van sat for less time than I originally thought.

In early 2012, I stumbled upon a local Craigslist ad for a used, running 2.1L VW waterboxer engine. It was dirty, and had sat for a year after being pulled (running) in favor of a Ford Zetec swap. I spent months of what little spare time I have replacing hoses, gaskets, and cleaning the engine up. As it came from an automatic Vanagon, I also had to swap over a few parts from my old engine to run this one with my manual transmission.

Anyhow, I crossed my fingers vis-a-vis the head gaskets. I could see that the passenger side had already been replaced. In July, I got the van to start, run, and drive again. I've driven it sparingly in the past year, but learned early on that the driver's side head gasket had a leak. I tried a few stop leak products that only slowed it down.

So, now that the Outback is on the road and reliable, I'm starting in on the head gasket job. I'm going to try replacing them without taking the engine out again, and hope to have the job done in under a month. Once again, I work slowly and have limited time to do the job. The new engine does run well otherwise. The leak is external, and the oil and coolant weren't mixing. I can't wait until it's done and reliable again, so I can take it camping.

Hopefully, I'll have it done before Memorial Day. I bought the Vanagon in late May, 2003, so next month will mark ten years. I can't think of a better way to mark the occasion than to drive it again.

After a wash and wax last week:

The offending coolant leak:

Back into the garage:

Intake manifold off:


  1. did you get to the heads this weekend? if so how did they turn out?

    1. Had to work yesterday. Will be getting back to it this afternoon. Still working on removing the exhaust without destroying it.

    2. My advice, Le the bolts soak in penetrating oil for at least 5 minutes, then remove them with your impact gun. Do not use a wrench if you can help it, that will increase the chances of it breaking!

    3. I find it hard to believe that an impact gun would REDUCE the chances of stuff breaking. I had the bolts soaking for days, and still needed heat. I do have an electric impact gun, but there isn't enough room in the engine bay to use it. Plus, some of the exhaust bolts are so rotted that they will just need to be sliced out - no way around it. I've got it under control.