Often to save a couple dollars, driveway mechanics and DIY-ers attempt to tackle a relatively small project or mod on their own. Sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. These are the 10 worst automotive repairs you, our Jalopnik readers, have attempted.
10.) A Subaru Engine Swap Should Be Simple, Right?
Swapping motors and transmissions on Subarus isn’t known to be the most difficult thing in the world, but when you have to take your chances and mix/match wiring harnesses up, good luck.
EJ251 swap into a 1996 Impreza. I had to “merge” the wiring harnesses to get the engine to run. By merge, I mean hack the main harness in half and figure out which wires went to the other harness. The whole swap (working on nights and weekends) took me about 4 months.
Suggested By: TheRallyStache
9.) Audi Allroad Timing Belt Surprise
Replacing the timing belt on an Audi of this vintage is a well-known repair nightmare. Luckily for this reader, he was able to take his time with the repair and get it done right. Unfortunately for him, his luck seemed to run out rather quickly after the job was done.
Timing belt and alternator on a 2001 Audi Allroad. I did it slowly, working on it weekends over the course of a month, to preserve my sanity. When I buttoned it up, started it, and it didn’t set a check engine light for the timing being off a tooth is one of the better automotive moments I’ve had.
Then I took it off the jack stands to find the front airbags had stretched, cracked, and wouldn’t hold air...because Allroad.
Suggested By: Thunderbolt
8.) Ford Thunderbird Automatic Transmission Rebuild
With all the moving parts involved inside an automatic transmission, why even bother trying to rebuild it? A manual swap couldn’t have been that difficult for a 10th generation Thunderbird!
The 4R70W 4-speed automatic in my 1996 Thunderbird would not engage forward gears and I was preparing to have a reputable local shop do the work. But in my time on the TCCoA forum, I encountered a local fella who pointed me toward a website containing thorough step-by-step instructions, with pictures.
A friend had built his own hoist in his pole barn, where I removed the transmission. I took it home and completely disassembled everything. This was my first rebuild, and I was fully aware that I was a rookie at this. So, I took my dear sweet time, spending about 7 weekends carefully going through the entire thing on my workbench, replacing anything that looked slightly worn. I also took the opportunity to add some mild upgrades. I was not afraid to spend money on parts, since I was already saving so much in labor.
The actual point of failure was a rubber seal in the forward clutch piston, which had several chunks missing, allowing fluid to pass through without engaging the forward clutch.
I flushed the cooler lines, bolted the transmission back up, and after several weeks out-of-service, the car drove perfectly. Three years and 36,000 miles later, I’m still driving it.
Suggested By: Urambo Tauro
7.) Porsche 944 Engine Swap
Speaking from experience, a Porsche 944 engine swap isn’t a job I would wish on my worst enemy. If you’re going to attempt it, you’ll at least want to have the right tools, like maybe a two-post work lift. Somehow, this reader made happen without ‘em.
A full engine swap in a Porsche 944. In a driveway approximately 12” wider than the car. With no air tools. Took me about 2 months of weekends, and in the midst of it I found out my wife was pregnant. I’m shocked she didn’t tear my head off.
Suggested By: Pibbs says once you go Swede
6.) Nissan 300ZX Spark Plugs
It always boggles my mind thinking about how engineers could allow for something so simple and common as changing spark plugs to be such a tedious process. This reader has felt that pain too.
You might not believe it, but let me tell you this; It should not take five hours, three people, and a lunch break, to change six plugs and figure out the reason for a misfire.
Yet for some brilliant reason, Nissan engineers chose to bury the plugs deep into the head, requiring a steady hand, a magnetic socket extension, and a decent amount of time.
Suggested By: The-Ever-Socially-Apathetic TBAL
5.) Breaking Down Two Transmissions For A V8 Swap
Engine swaps aren’t as straightforward as they may seem, especially with relatively modern cars.
V8 swap into a Lexus IS300. All aspects of the car had to be changed including the fuel pump and fuel pump controller. Had to disassemble two transmissions and build a franken-transmission so I could use the stock driveshaft. That actual V8 physical install was the easy part. Then I had to re-pin the ECU connectors to match the new ECU to the body harness.
Most complex swap I ever attempted. Was able to get it through emissions testing with no issues though.
Suggested By: Quade
4.) Chevrolet C2500 “Restoration”
Better to start from scratch? Well that’s what this reader found out.
A couple of months ago:
Believe it or not, a LOT of tasks are easier when you start with a bare frame. Fuel/Brake lines? A KISS. Wiring harness? No problem.
So not the most difficult, but certainly the biggest.
Suggested By: Lazarus, Photo Credit: Lazarus
3.) FSAE Car Rebuild Scramble
After a bad wreck during testing, this reader’s FSAE team was forced to really put in some hours of hard wrenching to get the car ready again for competition.
In 2013, my FSAE team was testing our new car one week before we were to leave for Lincoln, NE for our competition (a 1,200 mile, 24 hour drive). We were testing acceleration and skidpad and were settling on the suspension settings and working out the last few bugs in the car. It still needed some work to be completely finished, but was about 95% done at this point. One driver was doing the accel run and when he hit second, the rear end broke loose. Our drag strip was near a fence and we told everyone that if they spun, to point the car away from the fence and let it go. The car broke right, he corrected, it caught, and went left, right into the fence. The fence bounced the car back onto the road and it skidded into a concrete curb (which was actually some weird pad with these 6” diameter metal bars sticking out of it. This, by the way, was the only parking lot our college would let us use to test in). The car hit the curb sideways and nearly flipped over. The big metal poles actually caught the rollbar and the car landed on its wheels. We ran over, me carrying the fire extinguisher just in case. The driver was fine, he hopped out and other than some belt bruises was totally fine (safety gear works wonders guys). The car, however, was a mess. Five frame tubes were bent and broken, the left front control and steering arms were bent, both front pushrods were bent, the fuel pressure gauge had broken off (the FPR was mounted to the rollhoop and the gauge hit the metal pole when the car tried to flip), the bodywork was toast, the belts were ripped, and the seat tabs, which had never been fully welded in the first place, had snapped off.
We got the car back to our shop, gave it a 100% once over and wrote out a list of what was broken and what still needed to be done. Our machine shop was only open weekdays from 8-5, so that limited our welding time. We laid out a plan and got to it. Overnighting anything we needed and tearing down the car as much as we could on Sunday (the day of the crash). We even had enough leftover tube to cut and notch new tubes Sunday night so they could be welded in first thing Monday. At 8 am sharp we carried the car into the shop and got to welding. We jammed and slammed and pulled off a ton of post midnight work days to get the car fixed and finished. We did. We made it out to Nebraska and the car ran flawelessly, needing zero maintenance throughout all of competition (other SAE people back me up on this, how rare is that?). Other than a few minor fixes for tech inspection (which is very common), we completed every single event at competition, including our entire enduro stint on a wet track (the only team that did so). Four days after competition we took it to an autocross and had a blast.
And to think just two weeks before, we thought our entire year had gone up in smoke.
Suggested By: 8695Beaters
2.) Fixing A GMC Typhoon Across The Pond
Between balancing military service, marriage and the logistical nightmare that is moving a car all around the world and also trying to keep up with all of its issues, it’s understandable as to why this reader would be tempted to throw in the towel.
I bought my GMC Typhoon off my dad in 2006 and after numerous issues, decided to totally restore it. Several tens of thousands of pounds later and after shipping it from Saudi Arabia to London to Cornwall to Holland to the US and now back to the UK, it still has issues. A broken auto gearbox is my summer holiday plan.
While attempting to learn how to work on cars, I have been deployed to Iraq twice, Afghanistan once and completed my medical degree. I got married 6 months ago and after about 9 years of working on this car, I am almost to the point of being able to move to the US and afford a house with a garage. Don’t get me started on how much of a PITA it is in the UK to work on a US vehicle without a garage.
For anyone that is curious, here is the thread I started so long ago. This car should be a monster but doing it over odd weekends here and there has dragged it out a lot longer than anyone could have imagined. http://www.syty.net/forums/showthr…
But, when the turbo spools and the brakes come off, man what a rush.
Suggested By: 1992GMCTyphoon
1.) Why Was I Broke In College? This BMW E30
This reader took a cabriolet E30 from complete roller to actual somewhat drivable project car by going through and upgrading almost everything that was in (or not in) the car. This was no simple feat.
The summer I turned 18, I went out and did something stupid.
I came home with a 91 BMW cabrio that was the definition of a rolling shell. No interior, drivetrain, almost all of its body pieces missing with no realistic expectation of when this project would be completed or how much it would cost. If you asked me why I was so broke during college, I would respond with “because of this car”. In fact that statement could be applied to almost every reason I’ve been pissed off the last 5 years, “because of this car”.
Any who, Five years later here is the state it’s in now.
The only thing original to the car now since I bought the damn thing is the body, windshield, and driver’s door. Everything and I do mean everything has been replaced on this monstrosity. The rebuilt S50, the complete 5 lug swap, the interior, all the little clips and screws holding everything together on the entirety of the car, all new.
The car was even almost drivable once till this happened two years ago. It was such a punch in the gut I didn’t even touch the car for a year.
Now that the engine has been ripped out, rebuilt, reinstalled, and the cabrio is nearing completion I have come to a conclusion. A conclusion I hope every young car guy can learn from and think about before buying a project car.
NEVER ATTEMPT ANYTHING ON THIS SCALE WITHOUT POSSESSING NEWLY ACQUIRED LOTTERY WINNINGS AND LOTS OF SPACE THAT ISN’T YOUR PARENT’S GARAGE!!!!!
Suggested By: Glucklich21, Photo Credit: Glucklich213
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Top Photo Credit: Brian Silvestro