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Technical Questions & Answers - Question It

Fixing what you broke

Eric Hsu
Jun 14, 2012
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Got a burning question or simply need some advice with problems you’ve encountered while wrenching on your current/future projects? Ask our automotive guru Eric Hsu anything—literally, he’s going to answer every single question, as long as it’s automotive related.

Got a tech question? Send it to

Fuel Selection

Eric, if I remember correctly, you said the Sierra Sierra EVO switched from VP MS109 to E85 fuel at one point in time. You also mentioned that the switch to E85 generated an extra 42 whp and quicker boost response over the unleaded race gas at the expense of hotter exhausted gas temperatures. At 60 degrees F the latent heat of vaporization in Btu/pound of gas, ethanol, and methanol is 150, 396, and 506, according to Since E85 is closer to C16 race gas why haven’t you made the full-time switch? Is it because methanol isn’t allowed in time-attack outside the United States? I would assume since you are a close distance to Bentley fuels you wouldn’t be getting seasonal blends. It seems too logical an option to pass up. You always say if it’s good enough for Sierra Sierra it’s more than good enough for us. So, in this case, why isn’t it good enough for the SSE EVO? Furthermore considering the ferocity of the exhaust gases with E85 couldn’t you create a blown diffuser effect? Or would the added heat of E85 be too much for the rearward vehicle components?

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The switch occurred in early 2010, and it stayed on E85 until the end of the program. I’m not sure where you got the impression that the switch wasn’t permanent. As for the blown diffuser effect, I would have needed Sierra Sierra to develop the aero part of it first before implementing the ECU strategy. I was just the engine guy.

Engine Swaps

I’ve wanted to build a drift car and for obvious reasons, the 240SX is at the top of my list of possibilities. I love the look of them, so that’s probably what I’d go with. I want to be unique. I’m getting tired of seeing SR20, RB, and V-8 swaps, and I don’t really see as much tuning potential in the KA24 so I’m looking at oddball engine swaps. I really like the idea of a built 3S-GTE in an S13. I realize this would take lots of custom fabrication (which I can do) but what do you guys think? What are some of the drawbacks of the 3S-GTE and what issues might I run into if I do go this route? Would I be able to use a motor that was previously transversely mounted like an MR2 or Celica motor with a Beams or Supra transmission? Or would I only be able to use a Beams 3S-GE since it’s longitudinally mounted?

-Evan Forney
Auburn, WA

I completely agree with you about the boring common swaps, but they are common for a reason. Those swaps are popular because the engines are plentiful, there are swap kits, and there’s a ton of aftermarket support for those engines. While I see your point about trying to be different, I’m not sure if the 3SGT beats out even an SR20. So before you go and spend your hard-earned money swapping a 3S into a 240SX, let’s make a quick chart and see which engine actually looks better on paper:

Block material:ironaluminumSR20
Weight:a lot, it's ironless, it's aluminumSR20
Valvetrain:direct acting tappetRocker arms3SGTE
# of tuning parts availablenot so manya tonSR20
Variable cam?only in later JDM modelsNVCSSR20
AvailabilityMR2 Turbo; Celica All-Tracall over the webSR20
Complexity of swapAre you a baller?bolts right inSR20

Sure, I’m leaving out a lot of details, but it’s plain to see that the SR20DET is a common swap because it is easy, feature rich, powerful, and cost-effective all at the same time. A 3SGTE will be expensive to swap in, you’ll need to spend a ton of time, and you’ll even have to get a transmission from Japan (from the SXE10 Altezza) to get a longitudinal transmission that will bolt on to the back of a 3S. All in all, the 3SGTE isn’t even a better engine than the SR20. You’ll be spending more time and money to have an engine that is different, but hardly better than an SR20DET. Considering all this, it sounds like a giant pain in the ass to me. Do you really want to be that different? If so, why don’t you drop a 13B-REW from a FD into it? Now that’s a controversial swap that will get people talking and one that I personally like better than a SR20DET.

Up a Creek Without a Paddle?

I own a ’95 Legacy with a 2.2L motor and an automatic transmission. From what I hear, the 2.2-liter is a remarkably tough motor, however it has no power. Ever since I have owned the car I have done a few modifications, including a Weapon R intake and GFB lightened crank pulley. The only problem I have is that I can’t seem to find any other aftermarket parts for my car. I have been reading IT for the past eight years, and it seems you (Eric Hsu) are the man to talk to concerning any and every vehicle. So here are a few questions I hope you can help with. Are there any crossover parts I can use to raise compression? For example, EJ18 heads on my (Phase 1) 2.2L short-block? Are there any alternative intake manifold options? I want to port match and polish if I don’t have other avenues. What options are there for upgrading the drivetrain?

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I don’t really want to make this car a horsepower monster. Simply adding the few parts I did made a difference in response and acceleration, but I want a little more power without trying to put an aftermarket turbo on this 2.2L open-deck block. I don’t mind entertaining the concept of a Frankenstein engine but not quite to the extent like the local Honda kids here in the 915 area code.

-Justin Blanco,

You got me on this one. My knowledge of Subaru engines is limited to the turbo models. Worse yet, my knowledge of Phase 1 EJ engines is limited to the JDM EJ20 turbo versions. But what I do know is that using used cylinder heads from other older engine models to raise compression probably isn’t recommended since they are old and have a ton of miles on them. Subaru owners drive their cars to their limit so I’m not sure if using EJ18 heads with 220,000 miles on them would be wise for a high-performance application. Who knows if they’ve been overheated or machined 15 times? That being said, a set of higher compression custom-forged pistons from JE or CP would cost a lot less than a brand-new set of EJ18 heads from Subaru if they were even still available. And you could tell them exactly what compression ratio you want.

As for the intake manifold, chances are that there are other intake manifolds that would fit, but like most other EJ intake manifolds of the era, the plenum volumes are minimal. To be honest I don’t know enough about the old EJs to point you in the right direction either, but what I can tell you is that chances are you’ll find power gains from enlarging the throttle body. My friends at RC Engineering have been doing throttle plate enlarging for years so I’d recommend you give them a call. Typically they can enlarge the throttle plates 3 to 5mm in diameter depending on the amount of material in the throttle-body casting.

As for upgrading the drivetrain, this is where you’re in luck. Subaru used pretty much the same basic transmission, front diff, and rear diff designs since the days of the ’89 Impreza on most of their all-wheel-drive four-cylinder cars. All of the ring-and-pinions and differentials are nearly interchangeable. Some years had a different transfer ratio (either 1.0 or 1.1:1) so you’ll need to verify the final drive ratios you choose will work with your transfer case. Since you are running an automatic transmission, you can also get a healthy boost in engine response by having your torque converter modified for a higher stall speed. I would recommend contacting JMO Performance in Fullerton, CA, for a trick torque converter. They are the masters of the Japanese torque converter.

A few more modifications that you didn’t mention, but will offer good gains in power are a 4-2-1 header and a high-flow exhaust system. The Subaru ECUs of the ’90s were closely related to their Nissan counterparts so there’s a chance somebody is out there doing EEPROMs, but if not, A’PEXi AFC-NEO can do the job on the fuel side. If you can find an old-school A’PEXi ITC (basically an equalizer for your ignition curve), it can also give you some power and economy gains.

Oil/Filter Longevity

I drive a ’05 Altima 2.5-liter and was wondering about engine oils and filters. Are the more popular manufacturers’ claims about their “extended performance” oil really legitimate for up to 15,000 between oil changes? If so, what oil filter could I use to match that length of time?

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Longer interval synthetic oils are made of a higher-grade base stock that allows the oils to be used for extended intervals. Oil filters don’t usually get excessively dirty or clogged so any original factory brand or other high-quality oil filter should be able to do the job. But what does fail sometimes in the cheaper oil filters is the drain-back valve. Have you ever heard that knocking or tapping that happens right after starting your engine? That’s the drain-back valve on your oil filter not working. A drain-back valve is supposed to keep the oil from draining back into the engine when the engine is stopped. This way when the engine starts the next time, the oil filter is already filled and oil pressure is created sooner preventing the knocking or tapping noises.

Keep in mind that these extended interval engine oils are not designed for extended intervals in high-performance, high-power turbo or racing engines. A high-performance, high-power turbo or race engine sees more blow-by in the crankcase and the fuel in the blow-by gases will break down any engine oil over time. This makes the oil less effective over time. Oil should be changed at shorter service intervals in high-performance, high-powered turbo and race engines.

SW20 Rebuild or Engine Swap?

To rebuild or replace, that is the question. I have a California-registered ’91 MR2 Turbo with 121,000 miles on the odometer and when the trans heats up, the needle starts slipping. Needless to say, the engine has a lot more miles on it than previously stated. Being the 10th owner, I have no idea what has been done to the car. It is my daily driver and the engine leaks/burns oil to the tune of 1 quart per 1,000 miles give or take, the transmission grinds from First to Second when it heats up (syncros), and the exhaust manifold is cracked and has come to the point where I need to have it fixed. The only mods on the car that I know of are a Greddy exhaust, BOV, and a turbo timer that was never installed correctly. I have saved about $10K for engine/trans work, spoiler lip replacement, paint and new wheels, and wanted to get your opinion on the engine part of this build, which includes a rebuild or purchase of a third-gen engine and Full-Race turbo manifold. If I go this route, what do I have to do to the ECU? Do I need to change the fuel rail/pump/injectors? I read on a forum that some guy blew his engine because of fuel starvation. Thanks for your wisdom.

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-Jose D,

The most reasonable swap option would be a Toyota V-6. There doesn’t seem to be a total kit available, but doing a quick Google search, it appears a mix of factory Toyota V-6 parts, some elbow grease, plenty of time, some fabrication, some electrical, and some mechanical ability can get a Toyota V-6 running in your MR2. seems to have the most complete resource. Theoretically the V-6 swap can be done legally too, as long as you use a newer-model year engine and transmission than your car. You would have to preserve all of the smog equipment, catalytic converters, and ECU to have a remote chance of conversion being legal and the conversion would have to be approved at a California smog referee station. Visit the California Air Resource Board website for more details on a legal conversion. The Toyota V-6 is a logical swap too with the aluminum V-6 weighing less than the 3S and being larger in displacement at the same time. Add a supercharger or turbo to the mix and you’ll have one hell of a ride if you can keep that short-ass wheelbase car straight.

But if you want to keep it simple, then rebuilding the 3S-GTE would be the way to go. The 3S isn’t the monster that most Toyota enthusiasts think it is. It is not related to the multi-championship winning, all-dominating Toyota 503E IMSA GTP like most SW20 enthusiasts would like to think, but it is a stout engine when built and tuned correctly. A set of CP or JE forged pistons, forged rods (or even stock if you’re on a budget), an A’PEXi metal head gasket, a pair of HKS 272 degree cams, basic port cleanup, and a good valve job would do the job on the engine side. An upgraded CT26 turbo and a Greddy side-mount intercooler kit would round off the mechanical modifications nicely. Whether you follow my suggestions or not, you’ll need to upgrade the factory fuel pump and injectors even with the stock turbo. I’d recommend a set of RC 720cc injectors, a stock Supra Twin-Turbo fuel pump, and an A’PEXi Power FC ECU to handle just about anything you use on the engine and turbo side.

What are you Thinking?

Question 1:

I’m looking into buying a ’99 Honda Prelude. I was wondering, is it front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, and what should be the first mod I get for it?


Question 2:

I own a ’00 Honda Civic EX that recently spun a rod bearing. I pulled the engine with the intention of installing a better engine in it. Can I swap in a ’99 Mitsubishi Eclipse DOHC engine into the Civic along with the tranny? I am also open to suggestions if you have any better swaps I should look into. I am looking for more horsepower.


Thankfully Eric hasn’t seen these emails or he would have gone ape crazy on the senders, so let us go ahead and answer both question: WTF Kyle and Ben!

As a courtesy warning to Kyle, Ben, and anyone else considering sending in a question to Eric, let’s try to ask some intelligent questions.

By Eric Hsu
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