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2004 Toyota Tacoma – TRD. Timing Belt.


If you’re looking for a mid-size truck, Toyota makes great product. These Tacoma TRD trucks are among some of my favorite to drive and work on. This one came in with a water pump leak, and we’re going to fix it right. Water pump, timing belt, cam seals, crank shaft seal, tensioner, and idler pulley! Just another day at the shop.




See the crusty red stuff? That’s where the leak is coming from!


Cam seals going in and prepping the engine block for a new water pump.


Parts arrived! Brand new components! Lets breathe some life into this car!


All moving components in. These were the last of the pictures. Someone needs to remind me to take more pictures to tell the story.

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2001 Subaru Outback – Head Gasket Educational Blog

It wasn’t until about the end of the entire process when I had realized I hadn’t taken a picture of the actual car we were working on. We’ve been hard at work this tax season, and I guess I had mixed up a few of the pictures of other jobs into this post! I really wanted to talk about this job because I feel like the mass majority looking for information on this job could use it. The pictures are just too descriptive!

This car came into the shop the other day needing head gasket work. Not only that, but the car was reportedly spewing all of its oil out from the bottom side of the motor. A peek on the bottom side of the engine shows a few different signs of head gasket wear.

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See the grey matter between the block and cylinder head? That is a mixture of wet coolant and exhaust fumes escaping from the exhaust headers. When looking for a head gasket leak, the most obvious thing you can track down is coolant on the bottom side of the right and left cylinder heads. In the last picture, the white milky droplets are formed when the oil (spewing out from the bottom side of the motor) mixed with coolant escaping from the head gaskets.


It looks like we found the culprit for the massive oil leak. Looks like maybe the guys at Jiffy Lube might have mis-installed an oil filter and caused the gasket to slip! Good thing it wasn’t coming out of the crank case!


So the tear down begins! Here is our motor completely out of the car. Heads are out to the machine shop to get resurfaced and tested.


Back from the shop like straight from the Subaru factory. Now we will prime the cylinder heads and adjust the valve timing.


Theres a great deal of cleaning and scraping when preparing the block for a new set of head gaskets. The old head gasket will be scraped off, and the sides of the block need to be polished.


If I ever suggest buying a new radiator with your head gasket job, and you find it a little excessive, this is the reason why. Not saying everyone does it, but majority of people cross their fingers and dump in head gasket sealer into the cooling system before having the professionals solve their problem. A $35 dollar bottle of “blue devil” will not solve your head gasket problems. It will in fact, create more damage and create more work for the mechanic who in the long run will have to clean it out. The problem is this stuff rarely ever comes complete out of your radiator because of all the bends and turns. Over time, this copper sediment will clog your radiator- hence, new radiator.


Fresh head gaskets in! Love that Fel-Pro Blue.


Torquing the head gaskets. All of the bolts need to be tightened in a specific order, and then tightened back down to factory inch pound specs.




And after!

Keep in mind this is maybe half of the job! Here at Columbia Autoworks, we do things complete (we may fudge on the picture taking). On this job, we installed a timing kit including water pump, tensioner, idler pulleys, both cam seals, front crank seal, rear main seal, valve cover gaskets, intake manifold gaskets, exhaust manifold gaskets, radiator, upper and lower radiator hoses, thermostat, and radiator cap. Im sure theres more that went into it as well, but- its 7:20 pm. Im signing out.


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2000 Subaru Legacy Outback – Dealership Sob Stories

It is ALWAYS a good idea to take a car you are interested in buying to a local mechanic for inspection. Here at Columbia Autoworks, we get the used car sob story almost every day. This particular customer spent close to $5,000 for the car, and bought her self a money pit.



It is common practice among dealers to sell aesthetically pleasing cars with a whole host of problems. As a dealer, the way you profit is buy getting the cars sold with as little expense as possible. Head gasket problem? They won’t fix it. They’ll dump in more coolant and let you discover the problem later down the road. Brake problems? Forget about replacing the rotors. They’ll put the cheapest $10 dollar pads on the car and sail it away.

This particular car had been diagnosed with a leaking head gasket. To add to the already expensive problem, the car had a pending check engine code (previously erased), leaky radiator, bad brakes and rotors, and leaking brake lines. We snapped a picture of the head gasket leak from the bottom of the car:



This car was also way behind on basic maintenance. The timing belt, idlers, pulleys, and water pump needed to be replaced as well. Its a good thing the customer had a budget to fix the car. Without it, this car maybe would have last another 3 months tops!



Radiator is out, and the heads are on its way out.



Heads are out! Now its time to bring it to the machine shop to get it milled and checked for leaks. Machining the heads gives us a flatter surface and insures a proper install of the head gaskets.


Our heads are back from the shop! New as the day they came off the lot! Now onto the timing belt assembly.

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Water pump, pulleys and idler installed. Fresh intake manifold gasket! Cams at top dead center πŸ™‚



This car is finished! Sorry we didn’t take pictures of the rest of the service. There were literally too many pictures to post!




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2001 Volvo V40 – Turning Death Traps Into Driveable Cars!


Sometimes, cars become so overdue on maintenance they become nothing short of a death trap. I wanted to post this job because I wanted to show our readers just how bad the brake system on this 2001 Volvo V40 was.

This customer rolled in the other day after getting a full inspection from another shop. The brake lines were leaking, and the customer was losing braking power while driving. That my friends- was an understatement. Losing power would be if you could brake using the brake pedal…


Keep in mind: All modern brake systems are hydraulic. This means your brake hoses are made to withstand a large amount of pressure, and in turn carry that same pressure over to your calipers. The pictures above show you just how bad the brake hose leak was. Leaking brake lines means no pressure. No pressure means ABSOLUTELY NO BRAKES. Our customer here must have been using the E-Brake…

Anyways. Our magicians (ahem, I mean mechanics) spent a little time with our poor Volvo and replaced all the brake hoses. They were all in the midst of going out anyways! Here’s some pictures of some sweet brake lines:

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The hose on the very bottom was the worst of all. You can see the residue left over from the brake hose leaking fluid!

Anyways. Lesson is: Don’t drive a car without brakes. E-brakes aren’t meant to be used everyday πŸ™‚


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97 Subaru Legacy Outback – A Mechanic’s Stroll in Nightmareville


Every once in a while as a mechanic, you get into a car that you wished you hadn’t. I’ve definitely had worse, but this car was a bit of a mind boggler. This car came in for an engine swap, so we thought “Hey, why not? Not like we haven’t worked on about 100 of these cars anyways”.

The customer had paid us in full when they stopped by the shop, and said they would tow the car in later on in the week. When the car was towed in, this is what we found:


The customer had torn the engine apart in a attempt to help us with the deconstruction!! Now let me note: This picture was taken about 40% of the process into assembling the new motor. When our team opened up the hood and back gate for the first time, our first thought was “This is going to be way more work than an engine swap”. Everything from the power steering assembly, all the way to the AC condenser and intake manifold had been taken apart.

A repair job like this often comprises of a few hundred bolts to say the least. Different sizes and lengths. Clips and clamps of all dimensions and shapes. All mixed up into a few bags that literally sent shivers down our technician’s spine. Its a good thing we know these cars like the back of our hands. A REALLY GOOD THING.

We skipped a few steps with documenting the process, but we caught back up at about the 50% mark. Here, you’ll see the heads off the new (used) block we bought. Just finished polishing it, and its ready to go back together!


We’re going the full 9 yards with this install. We’re replacing the head gaskets, valve cover gaskets, timing belt, water pump, belt tensioner, pulleys, rear main seal,Β and re-seating the valves. Re-seating the valves will get rid of the annoying lifter tick commonly associated with Subaru’s.

Heads are back from the machine shop!


These heads look goregous! Central Cylinder and Head is one of Portland’s longest standing and most trusted machine shops. They did a great job! Now, lets put it together…


This is Fernando. Our resident motor expert. The ridiculously long wrench he is using is called a Torque Wrench. This wrench makes sure the bolts are tightened in order, and at the factory specified tightness. Its a process called torque spec-ing the bolts. Important to do when putting together any head gasket job.

Things are starting to come together! Both Heads are in and we’re dropping the motor in.


Intake manifold assembly, CHECK.


At this point, we’re in the home stretch. We have the power steering pump assembly, air conditioning condenser and pump, alternator, air intake, radiator and a few more things.


New Motor is now installed!! Looks and sounds great. We love finishing a job the right way. John the customer went the whole 9 yards and the motor swap went swimmingly. No lifter ticks, no burning oil, no head gasket leaks, no belt squeaks!

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04 Nissan Xterra – Broken Leaf Springs and Rusty Dreams


Sometimes, looking at the outside of the car doesn’t tell you the story of what that car has been through. This is a great illustration of that statement.

A few days ago, we got a call from our friend WitchBaby. Yes, her name really is THAT adorable. She was bringing her car into the shop and asked if we could take a look at it. Apparently the car had been making noises like “two pieces of metal clapping together”. It didn’t take us long to find what the problem was:



Note for the future: Your leaf springs are not supposed to be missing gigantic chunks of metal out of them.

Its a wonder how these leaf springs have made it this far! Given a little bit of time, the back right leaf spring could have been completely dragging on the ground (not to mention, maybe given flipping the back end of the car up).

And then there’s the rust:


Nebraska roads must have been MADE of salt! After much pounding, drilling, and wrestling (we even had to bust out a SAW ZAW), we put in a new set of shocks. Given the budget, we also managed to sneak in brakes on all 4 wheels, and fixed a few of the radiator leaks.

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She was happy, the technicians were happy, and of course- the car was happy. No more death mobile!

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99 Toyota Solara – Misfire and Emissions Problems


I tend to like the shortest stories the best. If problems were always this easy to repair, we’d be MILLIONAIRES. And our mechanics would be showering in Snap-On Tools. That might hurt a little come to think of it.

The reason I called this job easy is for a few reasons:

  1. The problem is not a result of multiple components breaking down at the same time.
  2. The part replacement was easy to get to, and didn’t have any trouble coming out.
  3. Once replaced, our diagnosis was correct and we didn’t need to re-diagnose the car.

The check engine light is usually the first clue to the source of the problem. Its a good thing we have a Snap-On Modis to help us diagnose this problem. The Snap-On Modis is like an AutoZone scanner on steroids. That is, if the steroids were made of rocket fuel.


After a few minutes conversing with the car, we figured out it was a simple 02 (oxygen) sensor. Its a good thing we didn’t just immediately recommend a tune-up like all mediocre shops out there. The misfire in the Solara was due to an incorrect air/fuel mixture caused by the oxygen sensor. Long story short, if we had completed the picture set, we would have shown you a mechanic screwing in a new 02 sensor.

We need to start taking pictures of happy customers walking away…

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98 Subaru Legacy – Saving Gas and Swapping Cats!


Incase you didn’t know, the word “Cat” is short for Catalytic Converter. We at Columbia Autoworks do love cats, but we not trade cats in the black market.

This is a relatively short story, so I’ll keep it simple. Our friend Barbra rolled into the shop the other day complaining about bad fuel economy. One of the biggest culprits to bad fuel economy is the exhaust system. Between the oxygen sensors, and the catalytic converter, the two components can easily account for 20% of your fuel economy. In Barbra’s case, the catalytic converter was out, so the fuel in the exhaust system was not being recycled and re-burned correctly. This leads to putrid smells of your Subaru Legacy smelling like un-burnt gas.

The solution? Replace the cat. Here it is dropped out of the bottom of the car.


Beautiful. Not much else but putting it back together here. Wouldn’t want to bore you with the details- we’ll keep that story with the mechanics.

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2006 Toyota Camry – Timing Belt Over Due by 70k Miles!


Sometimes, by the grace of AMAZING LUCK a car makes it into the shop on a timing belt that is way past due. The owners of this car were old return customers, and wanted to double check the car before taking it on a road trip to California. We checked all the cars major vitals, and everything checked out.

Out of pure curiosity, I was asked the couple when the last time they had done their timing belt. To my surprise, the car was bought with 25,000 miles and had never gotten a timing belt done before. Your timing belt is supposed to be done around the 80k-100k mark. The car we were looking at had close to 162,000 miles.

The timing belt was over due by ATLEAST 62,000 miles. When a timing belt snaps, it means certain destruction of the engine. To explain it simply, your timing belt keeps the top part of the engine (the cylinder head) from smashing into the bottom part of the engine (the block) by timing the components inside the engine to miss each other on each stroke of the piston.

So today, we saved a car from certain doom. Its a good feeling. Here are some pictures of the tear down and the assembly.


Getting to the harmonic balance / crank. We’ll need access on the bottom end of the engine to pull the little pulley to the right of the brake rotor.


Inside the timing belt assembly. In this project we will be replacing the hydraulic tensioner, water pump, and idler in addition to the timing belt.


New component kit is in! Nice shiny new parts!

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96 Volvo 850 – Engine Swap!


This physical beauty limped into the shop the other day. It was brought in on the back of a trailer, non running. Upon further inspection, Cylinders 3 and 5 had compression ratings of 0, and 90 respectively. To add salt onto the wound, this car had been driven with massive oil leaks, and a staggering misfire. When we checked the oil cap, the engine was dry like it had been running without oil for weeks!

We recommended an engine swap to the customer, and contacted our friends at Portland Imports. Portland imports is one of the city’s most dependable used engine dealers. These guys are pretty thorough, and we’ve had a long relationship with them.We picked up a motor with compression measuring 185 psi across the board!


This new engine is beautiful. With compression measuring at top performance, we’re going to have some happy customers! Lets start with the dis-assembly! Its a long process, so we’ll let the pictures tell the story πŸ™‚


Our lead master mechanic detaching all the vaccum hoses and wiring.


In this particular Volvo, the transmission needs to come out of the car for the engine to come out correctly. Here’s a picture of the axles being taken out of the 850.


Engine crane is now taking the blown motor out.



Finally! Engine is out of the car.


New engine is now in! Gotta love the sight of a new motor in a car. Feels like a heart transplant if I had ever done one before! What did you miss you ask?

Well, if you really wanted to be bored with the details we spent a great deal of time tuning the new motor. A lot of the original parts we swapped from the old motor carried old symptoms. The idling problem originally reported by the customer was not only a blown motor but a bad MAF Sensor, and a plugged up fuel pressure regulator.

The emission systems between the new motor and the old motor we not the same, so we had to swap the turbo’s and bypass the new EGR system that was inside the new motor.

Here’s something to keep in mind for all you DIY’ers- If you are swapping the 850 2.3 motor, make sure you match the emission systems as well as the VIN code for the easiest plug and play job. You can get away with a different EGR system as long as the old motor doesn’t have the EGR system in play!


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