Just throwing this out there to get some thoughts. It seems like there is some good info in this thread, but at the same time a lot of it is over 5 years old, so thought I'd see if anyone has any thoughts about my situation.
Took my 87 Westy down to the shop the other day to have my mechanic check the timing (I had tried but had a hard time with it). So he says no problem, and asks me to turn it on. Right away he hears that something isn't right. Checks the #3 cylinder and there is zero compression.
I don't really know what my options are, but thought I'd look for suggestions. The mechanic basically said I need a new engine. They do it for $5500, if I remember correctly. I've looked around online at engines as well, and even have a friend who is convinced I should go for a subaru engine (which I'm not that into--power is nice and all, but seemingly much more expensive).
Is going with a new (rebuilt) engine the best bet? Do I have other options. I think if I had the space I might try and do it myself (with some help from a very mechanically inclined friend). but barring that, it seems like the warranty and peace of mind that would come with a new engine might be worth it.
In any case, just thought I'd throw these thoughts out there and see if anyone had any thing to say. Plus, maybe it will update this thread a bit with any new knowledge or options.
I'm not sure if your situation has changed since your posting but I'll share my opinions.
Original engine (Wasserboxer) was never endowed with an overabundance of power but seemed reliable with careful maintenance. Some people see an engine problem as the opportunity to 'upgrade' to more power and put in a different engine. These usually consist of either a Bostig (Ford), Subaru (either 4 cyl or 6 cyl) or a 1.8T VW engine. I have no personal experience with any of these in a Vanagon but I have worked on Subaru vehicles and their engine(s) is very reliable. Moving to any of these units provides an 'instant' power increase given that they all produce more in stock form.
I would advise you to speak to a machine shop and get their advice. I see you live in Seattle and I've had great experience with Accurate Engines (formerly of Kirkland but recently moved to Lynnwood I beleive). They will give you great advice and a price that may or may not fit your bill. The good thing about getting your current engine rebuilt is that they will go through it and give you an honest evaluation of what you have. With the associated prices, they could give you options that you could fit within your budget (hopefully). I'm not sure of your mechanical ability but if you're contemplating a rebuild yourself then removing the engine and re-installing should be within your skill set.
If nothing else, a breif conversation will give you a ball park and let you know what you're dealing with.
Let us know what you decide.
I'm currently converting my '90 Westfalia to a 2.2L engine from a '94 Subaru Legacy. There is no shortage of material online about this conversion. I'm using the '94, because the OBD I engines from '91-'94 Subarus are generally considered the easiest, most reliable engines for this purpose. Check out Kennedy Engineered Part (Palmdale, CA, and Tom Shiels' home page (Canada) for more information. I'm doing this conversion myself, with the help of a PhD friend who's done three on his own fleet, and I'm confident I can do the whole project in the $2,500 range, and I expect to get upwards of $900 for my boxer and wiring harness out of the Westfalia.
The factors that lead to my decision (even though my current engine, with new block, is running fine):
more horsepower, better reliability, no "VW Syndrome" regarding AFM issues, better fuel economy, much cheaper replacement parts, and mechanics across the county who are able to work on subarus, but ma be challeneged by older VW wasserboxers.
Are there adapeter plates for motor mounts? That seems like it would be the toughest part to deal with, getting all aligned, how about the issue with the Suby would normally face forwatrd, do you turn it around? If so what does that do for transmission? This sounds like an interesting project, but the possibility of strangeness abounds. I have done one engine transplant many (39) years ago, Chev V8 where an inline 6 had been. Somethings were easy, other things, like controls and cooling a big deal.
Please post progress.
I decided to go with the rebuilt waterboxer.
The work was done by Wolfsberg Motorwerks here in Seattle...basically an upgrade from my old 2.1 L which was shot, to a rebuilt 2.2 L.
After considering all my options, I decided to keep it VW for a couple of reasons. One was just that--I wanted to keep it VW. Something about that just struck me as right for me. Also, even after driving a friends Vanagon with Subaru conversion on a small road trip, I was convinced that I really needed that. The extra power was noticeable and amazing, but not anything I felt I really wanted. Also, I felt that I was really beginning to understand the VW engine and didn't want to lose that by switching to another.
So...went with the rebuild. It's been running great. Probably have about 1,000 miles on it now and no issues whatsoever. And it is actually a pretty big improvement in power. the 2.2 is a noticeable difference. I'll be driving from Seattle to Calgary in about a month, so that will probably be a good test for it. But otherwise, I'm happy with the choice.
So, that's where I ended up. Let me know if anyone has any other questions.
Glad to hear you took the plunge and all worked out. Did you get an exchange engine or did they replace your existing parts? Were there any costs you didn't consider? I've a 1991 GL with 250k so I'm sure some engine work will be in my future and like you I have wondered about the other options out there. Although the 'extra' power of a Subaru would be OK being attached to the VW gearbox it would limit some of the gains. I like the simplicity of the wasserboxer and most of the issues with it have been well documented and addressed.
I've also seen that there are 'conversion' kits out there to take the wasserboxer to 2.4 liters; did you ever consider that route?
Thanks for your insight,
There did end up being some other costs related to the swap. I got a rebuilt engine from them that was an upgrade to a 2.2l.
Additional costs ended up being mostly little things like a pipe here and there, and something to do with the clutch which I can't recall exactly.
So, not cheap. On the other hand, I've got a 3 year, 36K mile warranty which helps me to feel nice and comfortable about it. Wolfsberg Motorwerks, where I had the work done, also offers a 2.4l engine which is a bit more.
In any case, like I said, if I had the time and space to try and do it myself, I probably would have. It would have been a learning experience, but I have friends who could have helped out. Unfortunately I didn't have those things, but I did have the money to go ahead with it at the shop and I'm happy with the decision. Van is running like a dream. Powerful, decent gas mileage (which will improve once I get some new tires) etc.
Hope that's helpful.