Part 2A - Removing the Subaru Donor Engine

Removing the Subaru Donor Engine

Removing your Subie donor engine can be an exciting experience or a frustrating one.  Learn from my mistake and find a nice warm garage or covered area to perform the following work.  The first engine I removed was outside in a friend’s yard.  It rained on me while I was working and my donor car was almost towed!  The following resources should help reduce the time required to complete the engine removal process.  I hope that you will not let this step keep you from deciding to swap your engine.  It is very manageable if you have all of the tools and do not rush. 

95+ vs `90-`94 Model Subaru Legacy Donor Engines

The difference is in the wiring harness.  `95 and above will have the OBD2 computer system which is a more sophisticated computer.  Although sophisticated, the 95 wiring harness conversion is not more difficult than the 90-94.  Plus, an extreme benefit of having the OBD2 computer is that it will provide thorough diagnostic information and the ability to use wireless/digital dash gauges.  You can connect your smart phone via wifi and receive realtime information about your engine operation!


Overview and Approximate Time Needed :


Process Description

~ Time (min)


Remove hood, battery, and intake



Disconnect and label wires from engine



Disconnect throttle and brake cable



Disconnect coolant hoses and collect coolant



Drain oil (not shown in pictures)



Remove power steering and A/C assemblies



Remove radiator fan



Remove exhaust



Free engine from crossmember



Extract engine



* Approximate Total Time =


*When you factor in rest and prep time, a mechanically inclined person should reserve a full day to complete this process.  For someone new to working on cars, this may take 2 days of hard work or 3 days of light work.

Tools you may need:

1.       Metric socket set with extension and possibly a swivel

2.       Metric wrench set

3.       Mechanic gloves

4.       Needle nose pliers and channel locks

5.       Wood hand clamp and rubber hose cutter

6.       Metal shears

7.       Pry bar and breaker bar

8.       Coolant, Oil, and gas storage containers and catch basin

9.       Shop towels and grease remover for hands

10.   Engine hoist with appropriate rated chain

11.   Appropriate size engine stand

Engine Removal

Step 1:  Remove the hood, air intake assembly, and battery

 The battery and hood removal process should be straight forward.


Step 2:  Disconnect and label wires going to the engine wire harness

The trick with the wiring harness is understanding the plastic connectors.  If you study the pictures below, you should have a better idea of how the connector works.  It may take a reasonable amount of force to separate the connector pieces, but if you take time to understand how the connector works and is designed to separate, you will save yourself a lot of energy and sore fingers.

Steps 3 & 4:  Cables and Coolant 

Don’t forget to save the throttle cable.  It is not the end of the world if you have to cut the coolant hose to remove it, just try to make a clean cut nearest the end of the hose as possible.  You will want as much hose as possible for when you design your new coolant system for the van.  I found that it is easier to slide a used hose end over a steel pipe than a cut end due to the slight plastic deformation of the hose end.  So, only cut the hose if necessary.  Check your local mechanics shops who dispose of coolant often and see if they wouldn’t mind disposing of yours as well. 

Steps 5, 6 & 7:  Drain Oil, Remove Radiator Fans, Remove Fuel Lines, Remove Power Steering, and A/C

We do not include pictures of draining the oil because we assume that you would not begin to remove an engine if you have never changed your oil before.  There should not be much fuel in the fuel lines, but try to catch what you can and properly dispose.  Make sure there are no open flames when cutting the fuel lines, obviously.  You may save the fuel lines for future use.  Removing the A/C was a challenge, until I found an extra long extension for my ratchet.  Take caution not to rupture an A/C line.

Steps  8 & 9:  Remove Exhaust and Free Engine from Crossmember

Most likely when removing the exhaust, some studs may be in bad shape or begin to unscrew from the engine.  No need to worry.  These studs are cheap and can be purchased online or at your local Subaru dealership.  A breaker bar will make your life much easier for these steps.

Step 10:  Extracting the Engine

We checked and double checked our rigging before we lifted the engine.  Using lots of prying and manipulation, we were able to free the transmission from the engine.  We had to pull the engine upward to clear the motor mount and exhaust studs, then outward parallel with the ground, until it released from the transmission.  Renting an engine stand was well worth the cost.  It specifically helped when it was time for us to change the timing belt and engine oil seals.


If you are able to find a garage or driveway to perform this work, it will be well worth it.  The engine hoist is the way to go.  The hoist is easy operate and much safer than other methods.