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Subaru Conversion FAQ

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After the Vanagon arrives, we usually have it finished in 3-4 weeks. Add a couple of weeks if other upgrades are added such as: brakes, suspension, heaters, etc.

Transmission rebuilds can add some more time, please inquire.

The smallest Subaru engine we install is the 2.2L with 135-142 horsepower. This four valve overhead cam is a huge improvement over the stock 2.1L engine. In power, smoothness and torque range, the difference is dramatic and amazing. The 4 speed Vans are much easier to drive because of the broad torque band and the automatic Vans are no longer anemic and seemingly over-revving at highway speeds.

For many owners, this engine has all the power they need. The 2.5L is our most popular Subaru engine. The phase II 2.5L with 165-173hp and 155-166 lb/ft of torque are remarkably well suited to a Vanagon and the power curve makes for much less shifting than with the stock 2.1L Waterboxer.

Since the parts and labor needed to install a 2.2 and a 2.5L engine is the same, most customers choose to spend a bit more for the 2.5 with additional power and a generally newer engine (up to 2012)

The 2001-2004 Subaru 3-liter, 24-valve six-cylinder engine produces 212 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 210 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. It is a compromise between the thrilling power of the 3.3L six and the fantastic fit and economy of the 2.5L four. The mileage is only fair.

The 2005 and later 3.0R has 250 horsepower and has enough for the most power hungry enthusiast. This later model engine requires the use of an aftermarket fuel system which adds substantial complexity and expense. Both the 3.0L engines are a bit taller than the 2.2 and 2.5L so some ground clearance is lost. Also there is a 3-4 mile per gallon mileage penalty compared to the 2.5L.

Any year water cooled is good. Syncros and campers are worth more so those are more popular for conversions. Newer models and low mileage Vanagons hold more value and they are all appreciating, making them a very wise investment.

Yes, we have converted many air cooled Buses & Vanagons that were especially prized by their owners.

Yes, we have converted a number of 2WD Vanagons using the WRX's 228hp 2.0L turbo. You can to some extent have decent mileage and fantastic power with this motor and they do have the advantage of losing very little power at altitude, unlike a normally aspirated engine. The 2.5L turbo is unbelievable in a Vanagon, with no turbo lag and smooth power from 1500rpm on up.

Upgrading other parts of the Van become important with the over 200hp engines, so you should plan on major upgrading of the transmission if it's an automatic, as well as the brakes and wheels and tires, since these are no longer adequate with all that power on tap. A Westfalia camper with 200+ horsepower becomes a kind of motorhome on steroids and really needs some help in handling and stopping.

Many customers have told us that they have searched for a replacement for their Vanagon and could not find another vehicle like it. From seven seat passenger Vans to Campers and Pickups, it's hard to find a vehicle that can do everything a Vanagon will do.

A Vanagon engine conversion may be the perfect answer; reuse an older Vanagon, install a recycled Subaru engine and have a vehicle that gets better mileage and has lower emissions.

It makes sense that a high performance waterboxer would have all the same issues as a stock Vanagon engine plus a few extra. The stock 1.9 and 2.1L engine's basic design is from the 1940s, and any 1990-2012 Subaru engine will outperform in mileage, power, smoothness and longevity.

Also of value is replacing the waterboxer alternator, A/C compressor, ECU, fuel system, and exhaust piping with newer parts.

Our customers have told us frequently that finding a shop to do repairs and service after a conversion is completed is little different from finding a place to repair the Van with the original engine. VW dealers are generally not an option but often an independent shop that has provided good service in the past is willing and able to continue with the Subaru engine installed.

Subaru powered Vanagons have reached the point where most shops and technicians have already seen and worked on one or more and can easily perform quality service. The generic OBD2 diagnostic port is very helpful and is familiar to all technicians today. We of course are able to offer technical assistance when needed.

Yes! Please be absolutely sure you have all the parts necessary for the conversion shown on our donor page before your appointment time. We will ask for a copy of your checklist.

Keep in mind that when we supply the engine, we warranty the total job, parts and labor, whereas if you supply the engine we warranty only our parts, and if there is a problem with the engine, the labor is your responsibility.

The heavy Syncro Westy is the only Vanagon that could be said to need at least a 165hp 2.5L to get around in a reasonable and safe manner. The 2.5 performs great and of course vastly better than the original engine in an otherwise stock Syncro Westy.

The 2010-2012 2.5L engines that we are now able to use make their peak hp and torque 400rpm lower than the earlier 2.5's. This results in a lot more power where you use it most.

Any western US Vanagon would probably be good as far as rust goes. If you don't need the sink and stove, a weekender or base model camper would be great.

All the different years of the watercooled Vanagons are similar in the interior and exterior, the later ones generally have nicer upolstery and have more of the options like A/C, power windows, door locks, cruise etc.

Sure. Please give us a call if you are going to be in our area and we will try to accommodate you.

Yes, we take all the bankcards, debit cards, checks and cash as well as Paypal E-checks.

If we are supplying the engine, we ask for an initial deposit that covers the engine cost. When the Vanagon arrives here, we ask for 50% of the estimate plus the cost of wheel/tire upgrades or other special order items.

We very strongly suggest a 500 mile service to check over all newly installed parts. This service is free in our shop.

The old engine is utilize for core exchange with the Subaru core that is installed in your van.

It is a very good time to look at ball joints, cv joints and other things that may need replacement or servicing. Let us know what you would like us to inspect, service or replace.

The Subaru to Vanagon engine swaps started over twenty years ago and the learning curve to make the combination work well has been long. We did our first conversion about 13 years ago and it was the world's first 3.3L Subaru six cylinder installation.

We then did the first 2.5L and have been looking forward ever since. I am happy to say that the learning curve has flattened out nicely and that our conversion customers today find their converted Vanagon to exceed their expectations.

While most of our parts are available to purchase, a shop that starts doing Subaru conversions steps up onto the learning curve (see answer above) and is going to take some time to be proficient at doing the swaps. This either means a very expensive conversion, too many hours to make a reasonable profit on the job, or the need to take shortcuts to get the Van done quickly.

Usually what happens is some combination of the above, and us getting lots of calls for help. This is especially true for the 3.3L and the 2.0L turbo engines. The number of shops in the US specializing in conversions is very limited so please call us and we may be able to recommend a shop in your area that has done conversions.


We do install customer supplied engines, but you need to be sure to get all the required components. When we supply the engine, we guarantee the engine and the installation. In other words, if you purchase an engine from a junkyard and it has a problem, they might warranty the engine but not the labor.

On an Ebay engine, you are lucky to get any warranty at all. If we supply the engine, we are responsible for the engine being in good condition and running well once it's installed.

One customer bought an incomplete engine and by the time he was through, he had spent almost $4000 after buying many of the missing components from the dealer.

For the 2.2 and 2.5L normally aspirated engines, we install an external transmission oil cooler and in some cases modify the governor to shift at a little higher RPM. Rebuilding the transmission is not necessary although some owners take advantage of the fact that the transmission will be out of the car to rebuild a high mileage unit.

We do have a terrific limited slip differential for a great improvement in traction. For the 2.0L turbo, we strongly recommend upgrading the internals of the auto trans. Please call for information on that.

With the additional torque available, there is an opportunity to lower the RPMs at highway speeds for a quieter ride, less wear on the engine and better mileage. This can be accomplished by changing the 4th gear ratio or in some cases changing third and fourth gear. The more torque you have available, the greater the logic of using the taller gears.

Wheel and tire changes can affect the engine RPMs also and should be discussed at the same time. We also have a terrific limited slip differential available for a huge improvement in traction.

In states where there is simply a tailpipe emission test, you should pass emissions easily. Most of California and some parts of Alaska require an inspection from a referee and we offer some special options for those areas. Please call for more information on those.

We use a Subaru style clutch for all our conversions and have two different versions depending on the engine used. Our integrated clutch slave-release bearing results in a silky smooth pedal and the Subaru flywheel means smoother power at low RPM's.

All the engine installations include a new stainless steel exhaust header all the way to tail-pipe.  

If we install a decoupler, a smaller spare can be used as a temporary spare. If no decoupler is installed, the alternatives are to stick to a tire size that will fit in the stock or modified spare area or to add a tire carrier over the back bumper or on the roof.

Our modified spare carrier holds up to about a 215/65-16 tire.

They really help with cornering, raise the ride height just a little and are a little stronger in the rear. We don't think the springs make the Van stiff. They just make the Syncro Westfalia ride more like a passenger Syncro or slightly better.

The Syncro passenger Vans see much improved handling and additional ground clearance important for off-road travel.