1986 Vanagon will need new engine soon: Gowesty or Subaru?


New member
I have an '86 vanagon with 206,000 miles. The compression in one cylinder is low; still the vanagon runs without problems, doesn't burn oil, and climbs mountains without difficulties. Still, with that ominous low compression reading I am hesitant to take it on extended trips. So at the end of this year I am planning to replace the engine; I am 66 years old, so we will use the vanagon maybe for another 8-10 years. So the question is what to do? Rebuild the present engine? I cannot do this nor I do know anyone who could reliably do that. Buy a GoWesty rebuilt engine? This will cost me around $6k as I will have a shop put it in, or put in a Subaru engine: this will cost me $11k.

What I want is a reliable engine that will keep the van going for at least 8-10 years; horsepower is of not too great a concern; I have no problem with the current underpowered boxer motor, but if the Subaru engine would make a difference between night and day on long trips, that could be significant.

Any advice or suggestion is welcome.




New member
You should look into the Bostig conversion system. I'm doing it for my 1989 Westy. It's very DIY oriented, I'm certainly no mechanic, and I feel confident I can do it. My WBX engine, which runs fine, will be available for sale around December, I'm in Massachusetts, though. Do not under any circumstances go with a GEX rebuilt engine, they are JUNK!

Bostig is having a sale right now, you can save over $700 on the purchase price.


Jake, before swapping the engine, ask why is the compression low. If the engine is otherwise doing well, it may be just an issue with a valve or maybe rings. It may be there's someone, who can do a good re-build, closer than you think. Try the Roadhaus shop list here for possibilities.


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I had the same problem then another cylinder went out completely, iI was running on 2.5 cylinders in the end.
I went with a Go Westy 2.2 engine for my 83.
It seemed like a less expensive option than going with a conversion.
My mechanic favors the Subaru conversion but likes the Go Westy's engines to.
I have 10K on it and it hauls a crazy amount of weight going down the road at 65MPH and pulls steep hills in 4th gear.
I can take up up to 75-80 with it unloaded.
Other things to consider would be AC; if you need it then that would be a vote for the Subaru engine.
$5k for a Go Westy and double that for a conversion.
I documented the engine replacement on my YouTube channel.


We have a GW 2.2L engine in our '90 Westy. The PO had the job done, so I don't know too much about how the job was done. I do know the EFI was carried over from the old 2.1L. I just went through replacing almost everything but the injectors, air flow meter, and ECU; all of the parts were older than the motor and probably original to the vehicle. Anyway, we've done 3.5 extended trips and the engine's generally done well. Trip .5 was back to Phila. from Concord, NH, where the PO lives. Rt 9 across the bottom of VT had me rowing through the gears with a sloppy, sloppy shifter (fixed easily at home). The first complete trip was basically Phila. to Key West and back. There were a couple of week long stops but generally we kept moving between campgrounds. Trip 2 was a "shorter" trip from Phila. to west-central Maine (Rangeley, ME) via Schenectady, NY, then on to Concord, NH (to see family) via Kennebunk, ME, and then back to Phila. No camping on this trip. The last trip was a loop from Phila. to West Palm Beach to New Orleans and back via Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. We camped everywhere except WPB (stayed with friends) and NOLA (stayed in an RV park for Mardi Gras). On the first and third trips, we ran into what can best be described as thermal runaway. Idle with the A/C on for about five minutes and the engine would speed up to about 1500 RPM at "idle" and jump to 3000 RPM if the throttle was blipped. The only way to calm things down was to drive (interesting on occasion) for 5-10 minutes. The cure was a mix of new Idle Stabilizer Control Unit (lives behind the right taillight) and... re-adjusting the slack in the throttle cable (more slack was the fix). We also encountered "Vanagon Syndrome" or "highway hiccup" on trip 3. Replacing the throttle body, Idle Control Valve, and Air Flow Meter Filter Cable seem to have fixed that. Although the problem may not show up for weeks or a thousand miles of driving more.

All of that said, the 2.2L has worked out well. It still takes regular and pulls well. I kept to 60-65 MPH only because even at those speeds mileage drops through the floor - aerodynamically clean the Westy is not. But 70+ is certainly possible. On the flat. In Vermont and on the Blue Ridge and Skyline, there was a lot of dropping back to third, but with all the stuff we carried (not overloaded but two soft bags per person plus food, pots & pans - it adds up) I'm not unhappy with that.


New member
I'm on year 3 on a 2.2 Westy engine replacement. I'm pleased with the performance but more HP would be nice on steep hills. I've not replaced my dead AC unit yet but I would think a Subaru engine may be a better choice for AC if that's installed on your van. Some parts can't be bought for the 1.9 like the throttle body and some of the cooling hoses aren't all available. I think a Suby engine would be smoother running and you get rid of all that Hall ignition crap. I'm in the middle of getting my van Oregon DEQ certified, it failed the 1st go around. Both Suby's and Westy's have this problem as the after-market Cat's aren't much good after a couple of years. I have a new OEM Cat coming. That Sgways into bolt on parts; You can add an easy $2K for replacing all of the bolt on goodies. If I had to do it all over again and had the money ($12K) I would go with a Suby conversion. Feel free to ask any other questions...