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Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine?
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ObviouslyM
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:01 pm    Post subject: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

Hi, I have 170k on my factory 1991 2.1L vanagon.

After a routine oil change the tech noticed that I have an exterior antifreeze leak. The antifreeze is clean and bright green.

They gave me the options of:

A. $3600 to replace the cylinder heads/gasket if a compression/oil test shows it is worth doing.

B. The other option is to just get a new 2.3L GoWesty engine for about ~$8,000.

Just curious what the smart thing to do here would be.

Pros and cons of going with option 1 or option B.


Last edited by ObviouslyM on Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:30 pm; edited 1 time in total
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djkeev Premium Member
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:25 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

I would so rebuild my own engine.

Which GoWesty engine? Prices vary greatly.

But....... if you aren't doing the work, this forum is littered with engine rebuild horror stories. "Professionals" taking good money for inferior work.

To pay that much money, I'd go with the GoWesty option.

Check your guys price though, it's way more than just bolting in an engine...... If you want dependability....... now is the time for multiple system upgrades if they haven't yet been done.

New radiator, new hoses, new fuel lines, starter, alternator, belts, cooling system pipes and fittings, clutch, maybe a fuel tank, CV joints, ........ etc.

You should end up closer to $10,000 if not more.

Dave

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DanHoug
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:34 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

Dave's points are good, especially with cost to do it right.

For me, I would want to know the hot oil pressure on your engine as that would be the criteria for me as to whether i did just head gaskets or an entire engine. so. your van needs to be drivable to determine that so that's the first threshold. if it is just some drips and slow coolant loss, top it up and test.

the second part is installing an oil pressure gauge. there's ready made kits from the vanagon vendors to do this and for me it is an important bit of info for the big decision. here's a complete kit that is $240 plus you get a cookie. regardless of which route you go, it is an essential gauge for an antique engine.
https://www.vancafe.com/KT-9981901-p/kt-9981901.htm
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whafalia
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:35 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

Subaru coolant additive-$3
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:44 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

Before handing over your bank account is this a technician that works on your van regularly? If not go get a second opinion from another shop. If they give you the same diagnosis then you can start to plot the next road to go down.

It all depends on your budget and comfort level. If compression tests and no indication of metallic particles in the oil that was just changed, you might be able to do heads and gaskets and drive for a while longer. If there are other issues then it's time for a rebuild or replacement.

I'd find out from folks here what shops in your area are competent and reliable in rebuilding 2.1 water boxers.

If you go with a GoWesty engine there may be stipulations on what other components have to be replaced in order for their warranty to be valid.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:45 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

If it is a small leak try the subaru conditioner as mentioned. It often works for quite a while.
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ObviouslyM
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

djkeev wrote:
I would so rebuild my own engine.

Which GoWesty engine? Prices vary greatly.


Dave


Dave, that quote was for a 2300 GoWesty
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Wildthings
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 5:49 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

These things got head leaks if they ran the factory recommended antifreeze and it was changed religiously. There was virtually nothing one could do to a factory engine to prevent the waterbox gaskets from leaking, and I am sure your mechanic is well aware of this if he knows anything at all about Vanagons. What you do need to be aware of at your mileage is that you are right in the range where the 2.1L rod bolts let loose. That can cause a catastrophic failure with very little warning.

My factory engine made it to around 180K with using stop leak like products to control the coolant leakage, but at that mileage the rod bolts were stretching which caused the oil pressure to drop noticeably, so it got taken out of service before it let go a rod.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 6:13 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

whafalia wrote:
Subaru coolant additive-$3


This.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2021 9:13 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

now is a great time to learn about rebuilding engines. it's a rung on the ladder towards "True Volkswagen Ownership" - the next rung above involves lots of welding.

but seriously, it's not expensive* to do your own rebuild - with an exhaust and cooling system updates you should expect to drop in the $3000 range - $500 more if you need some tools. it's all in the Bentley and here on this forum.

if you want to limp along with a problem eating away in the back of your mind every trip "will today be the day" or you can farm it out and have the question eating away "does this guy know what he is doing"

any and all failures are your fault. and that is good, because it lives and dies by your attention to detail and constant posts to get guidance when in doubt.

try the $3.00 fix, get some reference numbers. or just accept you need to do something and do it.

*compared to the head and engine quotes
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 6:49 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

^^^^ good thoughts right there.

Combine the $3 fix to hopefully buy you time until you pull the trigger on whatever path you chose.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:58 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


I bought 2 bottles for $4.20 because the van has so much more coolant than a Subaru. I only used 1 and it stopped the drip for me that appeared when it got colder.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 8:46 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

my 0.02

sounds like you got your moneys worth out of that engine. if you like the van, pull the money gun out and squeeze the trigger.

as noted, these like to go kaboom when a rod lets loose and when that happens your core is now a bunch of garbage.

toss in the coolant additive for the time being but i would for sure plan on a rebuild or a swap.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 8:58 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

If the heads are coming off anyway, you could always just pull the rods and replace the rod bolts. Though, I've only read about bolts letting go online. I've chatted about this issue with a factory trained buddy who's played with hundreds of 2.1s and he'd never once seen this issue. In my experience these bottom ends are hella stout, so if hot oil pressures are good, I'd be inclined to go with the devil you know.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 9:30 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

time for a real engine and a suby swap.
same MPG but almost twice the useable horse power.
more modern fuel management and more reliable starts.
not to mention replacement parts available at any NAPA not just boutique antique van parts houses.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 9:50 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

If you know the engine to be original and not rebuilt at some time then pull the heads and do gaskets. If you replace the heads or do a valve job then you better put rings on it as well.

If you're just trying to get some life out of it, pull the heads and grind out the pits and put it back together, the yellow snot is enough to fill and pits and you are not introducing a compound that may fail. If the van runs well now with no compression issues then way go overboard.

It is my contention that the 2.1's that chuck a rod are ones that have been rebuild and the stretch bolts were re used. In that scene I agree with Casey pull and replace the rod bolts. Or take the easy route and just do seals and be done with it.

One of my customers bought a real nice high mileage Multivan and 2K later it chucked a rod and ventilated the e case. A big hole fist sized.

Choose wisely.

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Wildthings
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 10:55 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

16CVs wrote:

It is my contention that the 2.1's that chuck a rod are ones that have been rebuild and the stretch bolts were re used. In that scene I agree with Casey pull and replace the rod bolts. Or take the easy route and just do seals and be done with it.

One of my customers bought a real nice high mileage Multivan and 2K later it chucked a rod and ventilated the e case. A big hole fist sized.

Choose wisely.

Stacy


My Syncro with about 150K miles on the lock had chucked a rod on its factory engine before I bought it, while my '91 began to suffer lowing oil pressure on its factory engine at 180K miles. The Vanagon rod stretch happens to FACTORY engines
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 11:09 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

danfromsyr wrote:
time for a real engine and a suby swap.
same MPG but almost twice the useable horse power.
more modern fuel management and more reliable starts.
not to mention replacement parts available at any NAPA not just boutique antique van parts houses.


^^^^ THIS ^^^^

I may be out of touch but close to $4k to seal heads is a LOT!

Try the $3 Subaru first and start shopping for something better. Your miles are in the bottom of the rebuild it miles.

These threads AlWAYS come to the same conclusion. Nurse it or replace it.

If you are inclined to do your own work like most of the above posters then sure fix the VW engine.

It seems you are not a die hard DIY person.

I put the Subaru in about 8-10 years ago. It is brainless to own. Our family repaired German cars for over half a century and we now drive Japanese. It took me a long time to decide and the Subaru swap has been the most reliable, economic thing For me. I would be in your boat right now had I overhauled my old VW engine all those years ago.

Of your two choices, I would start at 0 for $3, then find a shop that will not bend you over. Do reseal your heads as a first option if the lower end is deemed good by test. Last is swap a GW engine. Be aware there are all manner of bolt on things than will need attention while the engine exchange is done. That adds cost.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 11:10 am    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

My subi tipping point was a WBX leaking head....when I couldn't replace it with the engine in, I swore I wouldn't put the same engine in if I pulled it out.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2021 6:26 pm    Post subject: Re: Replace Cylinder Heads and Gasket or just get a new Engine? Reply with quote

If you are unwilling to learn and execute your own rebuilds on these cars, it’s time to leave the scene.

Shops with the expertise to service these are dwindling and will be gone in 5 years, ave for the precious few markets.
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