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This page can help the "DO IT YOURSELF" car builder avoid common mistakes, making things easier and less frustrating.  This page will continue to grow as we get time and information to add to it, so check back periodically. 

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bulletNew Car Basics
bullet Radiator line connections, 101
bullet Trailering your Subaru safely
bulletCV Assembly 101
bulletGrounding the battery, 101
bulletBasic Wiring 101
bulletBuggy Whip repair
bulletRelays, holes, and dust


New Car Engine Basics

If you're building a new motor or a new car .....READ THIS CAREFULLY, and read it 3 times so it sinks in how important these simple steps are. PAY ATTENTION the first day!  That's right, simply pay attention to your car.  We have seen this dozens of times when someone builds their own car and thinks they have made no mistakes.  They tested and retested in the garage, so everything is good to go, right?  Unfortunately this can cost you thousands of dollars and weeks of downtime if you don't simply, PAY ATTENTION to your car on the first day. Mistakes are made, but the biggest mistake is forgetting to PAY ATTENTION on your first day in the sand.

Here's what we're talking about:

1.  Watch the temperature gauge like a hawk.  There are numerous things that can make your car overhead. Leaky water hoses, broken radiator, radiator hooked up backwards, burp tank not connected right, air bubble, lack of air flow to radiator, low water, fans quit working, radiator relays go bad or intermittent, wrong engine timing, even undersized radiators.  Radiator problems are very common for the do-it-yourselfer who has never built a car before. Don't assume everything will be OK if the first 10min is OK.  One good check even before you go into the dunes for the first time is the good old YANK THE HOSE test.  When the engine is cold, with gloves, grab the end of each radiator line near the hose clamp and simple give it a good YANK.  This should be done at all 4 connections (2 lines).  The YANK TEST is a sanity check to insure all 8 clamps have integrity and are installed properly.  It's very important you watch the water temp gauge like a hawk for the first couple days to insure the cooling system is working properly and adequately.  WARNING....What usually happens is the euphoria of driving your new car the first time, feeling all that power and getting a taste of that awesome new long travel suspension totally overcomes your common sense to simply watch the water temp.  DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN !! 

2. Watch the Oil pressure gauge.  YES, get use to the pattern of your oil pressure.  You've got a new motor, get to know it's normal behavior so you can easily identify abnormal behavior when it occurs.  The oil pressure can tell you a lot about engine condition, it's the life-blood of your motor. Upon initially starting your Subaru motor it's not unusual to see 50 to 70lbs of oil pressure when it's cold.  If you have a turbo on the motor make sure you warm up the motor before you start blasting around at full boost.  After it's warm the typical oil pressure at speed is usually around 25-30lbs, and at idle it can be 10lbs. Watch the pattern of your oil pressure so you know "what's normal" and what's not.

3.  Watch the Boost gauge.  If you have a turbo system on your motor you need to become very familiar with your boost reading during full boost.  You will often be asked "how much boost are your running", and if you don't know this you really look like a dork.  DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!  But the real reason to know your boost is so you know what's normal in case the car start feeling sluggish.  The turbo is one of the most expensive and high tech parts on a sandrail, watch it and treat it like gold.  Whenever you stop your car, let the motor run for 5 minutes so the turbo can cool off.  This simple routine can add a year of life to the turbo.  If you don't do this the oil in the turbo will fry are very high temperatures, get crusty and potentially terminate bearing life around the turbine shaft.  COOL IT properly and this won't happen.

4.  Listen for noises, learn how the motor sounds and memorize it.  Pay attention to how the car feels and responds.  You may think this is silly, but don't drive your car if it doesn't sound right.  Tow the car back if you're not sure.  We hear this all the time..... "Yeah, I thought I heard something but wasn't sure if I was hearing things or not". And there's the other folks that hear something but deny the possibility something could be wrong because they're having too much fun in the sand. Denial can be costly, and literally stupid.   Just remember, negligence can cost you 10X more than paying attention and investigating strange noises.  LISTEN AND PAY ATTENTION.

5.  CARRY A TOW STRAP, and don't be afraid to use it.  When something is wrong don't try to nurse it back to camp.  Get a buddy to tow you back, it can save you a bunch of bucks, trust me.  If you don't own one, buy one of those 25', 30' or 50' red tow straps that you don't have to tie a knot to use.  Those things are worth every dollar in convenience, reliability and ease of use.  The proof a wise duner is to be prepared, with tools and tow rope.  People break down, you can help.


Radiator line connections, 101

There is a right way and a wrong way to connect a radiator.  Here are the basics:

1. Placing the radiator more vertical is best when possible to get natural wind as you drive.  If possible, avoid depending solely on electric fans to do your cooling.  Try to mount the radiator so it  can get a straight shot breeze of air through the radiator as you drive, assuming your car setup will allow this.

2.  Radiator fans need high current relays to turn them on and off as your engine management system dictates as the engine warms up.  Almost all relays have a tiny pinhole in the bottom as a breather so condensation doesn't build up and rust things when you're in humid climates.  In the desert you don't have to deal with humidity, so this hole should be sealed tight so dust and sand cannot enter the contact area.  The same is true for your fuel pump relay.  If you experience a fan that's non-operational, or a fuel pump that won't run, and you haven't filled these breather holes, just knock the relay with a wrench to shake out the dirt in the contacts.  When you get home, replace the relay and fill the breather hole this time!

3.  Assuming you mount your radiator vertical like it's should to be, the top water connection is specifically for your engine to RETURN coolant to the radiator.  The top radiator hose connects to the coolant exit on your motor, located on the top of a Subaru motor, and typically on the top of the motor all other motors.  The bottom radiator hose connection is specifically to PROVIDE coolant to the motor water pump, located on the bottom of a Subaru motor, in the area where the dip stick goes into the oil pan on EJ20 and EJ25 motors.  An easy way to remember how to connect the radiator hoses to a Subaru motor is....
"top goes to top, bottom goes to bottom"

4.  When routing the coolant lines from the radiator to the motor, it's OK to route the lines left and right to get to where you need to go.  But avoid routing the lines up and down with dips and rises to make your connections.  The lines should have a gradual and consistent slope from the radiator to your motor.

If you don't follow these simple guidelines to connect radiator hoses your car can be very temperamental when it loses the least amount of coolant.  Air gaps in the top of the radiator manifold can promote the introduction of air into the cooling jacket of the motor.  When these air bubbles arrive in the super-hot head/barrel area they can rapidly expand and create micro-bursts of pressure in your radiator, potentially blowing up your radiator capillaries like a balloon, eventually leaking.

To prevent air gaps and setup a radiator system for the best efficiency, here are two diagrams below that gives you the basics of what a sandrail needs.  Using a burp tank setup helps prevent air entering your system, yet allowing the coolant to expand and contract in volume as the motor heats up and cools down.

The first diagram shows a pressurized burp tank setup.  These systems have no filler cap on the radiator, you add coolant through the burp tank filler cap.  When you initially fill the system from the burp tank, the coolant enters the engine via gravity through the hose that's connected the heater return connection of the Subaru motor.  Since sandrails don't have heaters, this connection works great to fill the motor via gravity.  Air escapes through the Air/Water Bleed hose on the radiator as the coolant pushes it out.  After the coolant fill up motor water passages so the level is even with the top of the radiator, start up the motor and bring the motor up to full temp, about 180 to 200F.  As the water heats up the excess coolant will expand and escape through the overflow tube.  The remaining fluid will be the correct amount of coolant for the system.  After the motor cools down overnight, take a note about where the coolant level settles inside the burp tank, viewed through the filler cap. Some folks will mark that level with a felt marker on the side of the burp tank so they can remember the "normal level" when cold.

For new motors it's a good idea to check the level on the first few weekend trips, when cold, to insure it's at the correct level. Generally speaking the burp tank coolant level should settle down to about 1/2 to 2/3 full when cold.


The setup below is an example of an UN-pressurized burp tank setup, which is more conventional.  It's important to know this setup requires:

1.  If you run a thermostat (not recommended for sandrails) in your engine you must connect the engine water heater connection (located on the thermostat housing)  to the water crossover tube on top of the motor.  As the engine warms up this provides hot water to the thermostat, triggering the thermostat to open.

2.  If you don't run a thermostat (recommended) you can block of the water heater connection, located on the thermostat housing.  To remove the thermostat you'll need a substitute thermostat ring to hold the thermostat gasket (available from Outfront), which prevents the thermostat housing cover from leaking.


The above setup with an un-pressurized burp tank allows more flexibility in locating the mounting place for the burp tank.  Sometimes this is a problem in some chassis', making this setup more desirable.  In this arrangement requires a filler neck on the radiator to fill the system with coolant.  This arrangement requires that you always fill the radiator from the RADIATOR filler cap, not the burp tank as described above with the pressurized setup.

Trailering your Subaru safely

If you ever load your Subaru powered sandcar into the trailer, tow the trailer a distance, then find out your car won't start, you're likely the victim of a slipped timing belt.  What likely happened was your tow straps were not tight enough, and the car rolled backwards, turning your motor over in reverse.  This can make your motor skip a cog on the timing belt.  To prevent this situation you need to know this crucial tidbit of info.

ALWAYS trailer your car in neutral.  If your straps come loose and the car rolls backward while in gear, being in neutral prevents the possibility of de-tensioning of the cam belt, so much so that the crank can slip a cog or two, maybe three.  When the crank becomes out of time with your cams, your hosed.  The car can't start, no worky!  The worse part is that you have a high probability of bending valves if you slip a cog when cranking the motor, assuming you're using stock Subaru pistons.  If you're using Outfront's "non-interference" pistons you won't bend valves in this scenario in most cases.  But it still won't start until you re-time your cam and crank properly.

If you don't know how to re-time your crank and cam yourself, this is a good thing to learn.  This knowledge can save your weekend.  SOHC setups are very easy, DOHC setups are a little more intricate, but not tough to learn.  It's also nice if you have an Outfront exhaust setup so all this can be done without removing your exhaust, turbo, and intercooler.

CV Assembly 101

CV maintenance is an important part to prevent ruining a perfectly good weekend.  It's recommended you inspect your CV's every 15th trip to the dunes, or at least once every 2yrs, whichever comes first.  Inspection requires disassembly of the CV and wiping off all the grease so you can see the metal surfaces for wear, pits, or cracks.  If it's your first time to inspect a CV it's recommended you consult with someone "in the know" so you can learn what you're looking for.  Most of the reputable parts houses who sell CV's can help you with that.

After you have your CV's ready to put together you need to assemble them in a certain order.  There is a wrong way to assemble them, so don't assume any order is OK.   Here are some tips:

1.  The cage opening is slightly larger on one side.  The large side is the side you install the star gear from, it barely fits.

2.  Before you put the ball bearings in, put the star in the outer case.  Then insert the ball bearings in by twisting the star gear within the outer case to expose the bearing race opening.  If the star doesn't move freely after you install each ball bearing, you've assembled it wrong.  If this happens you likely have the star clocked one cog off.  Take the balls out and reclock the star, moving the star one cog either direction.

3.  When you have all the ball bearing installed and each CV matches these pictures, the next step is packing the CVs with grease.  Before getting started with the grease, cut 1/2" X1/2" squares of duct tape, you'll need 24 of them for a set of 930's.  Put a duct patch over each hole in the outer case, both sides.  This will keep all the grease out of the holes, very important so the loc-tite on the bolts aren't compromised with grease upon installation.

4.  Next, put on LATEX GLOVES.  This can be a messy job for the novice. Keeping the grease in the CV joint and off your hands is next to impossible, even for an experienced mechanic.  Take your time, don't rush it.

5.  Use a grease needle adapter, it makes the job of inserting the grease a lot easier.  You can buy them for about $15 to $20 at Napa, Autozone, even Harbor Freight.  If you have trouble with the zerk fitting coming out of your grease gun fitting while in use, duct tape can aid to prevent that from happening.

6.  A common grease to use Swepco, costs about $8/tube.  Another common grease to use is Belray, which is about $22/tube.  You can usually pack 2 CV's with one tube of grease.  Many of the racers use a mix of 50% to 75% Swepco and the rest Belray.  Just put the Swepco in first then put in the Belray if you want to use a mix.  There's no need to hand mix the two greases buy hand, the CV will mix it up on the first ride.

7.  If your job is a first time assembly, make sure the CV bolts are the right length for the transaxle side.  If they are too long they will carve up the transaxle case, that's a bad thing. Sometimes using the wrong washers on the CV bolts (or forgetting the washers) will let too much bolt be exposed on the back side of the CV flange. 

8.  If your job is a reassembly of worn CV's, make sure your bolts are clean and dry so the loc-tite will work best.  Use carburetor dip to clean the used bolts, or aerosol can of brake cleaner, then hose them off and blow dry with air hose (if you're in a hurry). 

9.  Put the CV's on the axle, put on the axle clips, and remove the duct tape squares.  With the CV's on the axle, carefully reinstall the axles, slowly.  Be careful the CV's don't get twisted at too high of an angle during reinstallation.  If they do you could lose a ball bearing, which is not good after you remove the duct tape patches.  Install one bolt at 12 o'clock on each end first without Loc-tite by fingers, this will hold the axle in place so you can take your time with each bolt as you apply Loc-tite to each bolt as you go.  Don't forget to remove the 12 o'clock bolts at the end and reinstall with Loc-tite.

10.  Always use Loc-tite on each bolt.  The "red" grade of Loc-tite is too strong, we don't recommend using it.  The 'blue" grade of Loc-tite is best for most duning enthusiasts.  "Blue" makes it easier to disassemble for inspections.  The red type loc-tite is almost impossible to remove later, so avoid the red type.

11.  Torque the bolts to 45ft lbs.  When you get both CV's done on the first axle, test it by spinning the axle while in neutral, just to make sure the bolts clearances for the transaxle is acceptable.  If the axle doesn't spin freely you should check the bolt lengths, or the washer thickness for each bolt.

How do you know if your axles are long enough, or too long?  Lift your car so the rear swing-arms are at full droop.  Grab the axle and move it left and right, toward the trans, then toward the wheel.  If you have at least a 1/4" of movement your axles are long enough.  Then raise the swing-arm so the axle stub is at the same level at the transaxle flange, which is the shortest distance (you may need to remove your shocks to do this)  between the wheel stub and trans.  Then grab the axle and move it left and right again.  If you have at lease 1/4" of play, your axle isn't too long.

Grounding the battery, 101

It's important that a large negative battery cable go to the tranny or engine-- not the chassis.

Let me explain: A typical buggy with fans, lights and fuel pumps, ecu's at tops could pull down 80 amps. The ground cable going to the chassis only needs to be big enough to handle this 80 amp load. But the starter can pull 200-300 amps, it needs the large cable. This means you must run a large ground strap from the battery negative post to the engine or transaxle case to support this kind of current demand.

Many buggy builders connect a battery ground cable to the chassis only and rely on the engine/tranny making a ground to the chassis. This is a bad idea, real bad.  If the assy loses ground connection due to powder coat insulation, or bolts coming loose, you can damage other items like an ecu or throttle cable because they are the only grounds left during high current demands (like starting the engine). An additional smaller ground cable should also be installed from the battery to the chassis for the rest of the car as a precaution to bad engine and/or trans ground connections over time.

We had a car in here at Outfront that suffered from a random shutdown of the ecu for a few seconds. It had been an ongoing problem for the customer. Guess what.... there was only a large cable going to the newly powder coated chassis, nothing direct from the battery to engine/trans. We installed a large ground from the battery to the tranny--problem solved. This will also aid in better cranking of the engine.