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Honda Engine Swap Saga

Such a simple job, gone horribly wrong

Written By on in Cars & Bikes

5,772 words, estimated reading time 27 minutes.

This is the story of a simple engine swap gone wrong. Rouge traders and incompetent mechanics lead to the engine swap from hell.

It all started when I was looking to obtain more power from my beloved Honda Civic Coupe. I considered a lot of options and after careful consideration, I decided to perform a Honda Civic engine swap to replace my old 16v in favour of a more powerful VTEC double overhead cam version. The current engine is a 1.6 litre SOHC, which puts out around 100 hp at the flywheel. It has no VTEC and there are virtually no aftermarket parts for it.

The other options I considered were:

  • A new car, but I like my Civic. It is easy to drive, handles well, very good visibility all round, and it looks good as well.
  • A turbocharger or supercharger. The cheaper option, but once fitted I still cannot do anything further with the engine as there are little to no aftermarket parts. A turbo kit is mainly bespoke parts.
  • An engine swap. Swap the original engine for a better engine, with more aftermarket parts and higher power to start with and use that as a platform for future engine building. Will be more expensive, but should result in better gains in the end. I can also add a turbo or supercharger at a later date as well.

I popped down to a local tuning company who specialise in Honda and spoke to the owners, and I decided on a B16 engine - the same capacity, as I already have, so no need for DVLA to get involved. It is a straightforward swap as they will source a low mileage engine from the same year, or slightly newer, to keep the electrics the same.

The B16 engine I have chosen for my engine swap is the B16A2 model found in the Civic VTi, the same chassis as mine, so it will drop right in without any modifications to the mounting points. The engine has Honda's legendary variable valve timing VTEC system, double overhead cam and 158hp at the flywheel. There are thousands of tuning parts for this engine and it should be able to handle around 200hp without needing internal work. Although the B18 has a greater capacity and more torque, I prefer the B16 because of its free revving ability and its near perfect rod/stroke ratio. This engine is also very economical to run and maintain, and it is much cheaper than a B18 lump.

I have just put down a deposit and they began sourcing an engine to meet my requirements. I also ordered a load of tuning parts for the new engine, parts that require the engine to be removed so this is a good time to have them fitted.

The parts list so far consists of:

  • Quaife ATB Helical LSD
  • SFS Silicone Hose Kit
  • Enjo Urethane Engine Mount Kit
  • Mugen valve cover
  • Spoon carbon plug cover

2005/08/15 - An engine has been found!
I had a call today from the garage, they have found an engine (B16A2) from a recently rear-ended 1999 Civic VTi EK4 which should be ideal for my engine swap.

They can get the complete engine, gearbox, intake/exhaust manifolds, all sensors and accessories with 37k miles for £1,600. A bit pricey I thought, but it is a good engine, has all the bits, low mileage so it should be OK... so I went for it. I went down to see them and to pay for the engine.

The engine should be delivered tomorrow, so I have booked my car in for first thing Wednesday morning and a few days off work.

2005/08/16 - That can't be it... can it?
I excitedly arrived to see my new engine today. Imagine my disappointment when I didn't see a sparkling new looking engine waiting for me...

Instead, it was covered in grime and dirt, there was no dizzy, alternator or starter, the paint on the valve cover was mostly flaked off. My gut reaction to this was NO.

I was unconvinced of the year and quality of the engine and was going to ask for my money back. They first checked out the engine and decided that it was from 1999, they compared it with one of their staffs EM1 (Civic VTi Coupe) and they said it was identical - all the sensors are there, parts are the same. I still wasn't convinced of the condition of the engine and was about to call it off when they offered to strip down the engine, clean all the parts, and rebuild with new gaskets, cam belt, seals and fully restore, any parts that need replacing will be replaced. They would also port and polish the head for a price of £700. Well a port and polish are £800 usually, and you should not judge a book by its cover, so when this work is done it will be like a new engine.

I picked up on a problem with the ECU, when I looked at it I noted that it was a P30 type, which rang a bell with me, but at the time it didn't click. I spoke to their mechanic about a few things I had picked up on the Internet especially the gear linkage, but he said that it wouldn't be a problem.

A little down heartened over the condition of the engine, but optimistic that it will work out, I left my car with them to work on.

2005/08/19 - That's funny... The new engine looks just like the old.
I went down to the garage this morning to see how things were going along as I had not heard anything from them, and when I got there I found that they hadn't even touched my car yet.

He explained that they had been busy working on getting the engine ready to go in, so hadn't removed the old one yet. I explained that I needed the car next week to go to work, but the two weeks after that I will be on Jury Service and won't be needing the car. They can have my car for those weeks no problem. He said that they have another car to work on for a few days on the first week (my brother in laws Subaru Legacy), but it won't be a problem to get it done in the time.

2005/09/02 - A few setbacks on the Engine Swap
Having swapped shifts, I have to work tomorrow, so I took my car to the garage a day early for the engine swap.

I have to work tomorrow (Saturday), so I took my car to the garage a day early and explained that I will be on Jury Service and may not be contactable during the day, also not having a mobile proved to be a pain for me, but said that they could phone my home and leave a message.

I had a call, later on, to say that the engine wiring loom was faulty, some of the wires were damaged and that the clips were broken, so they had to get another one. I also raised the issue of the ECU number, which I had looked up on the Internet and told them the problem I had with it, and after he looked up the details on the internet and contacted Honda, he sent the old ECU back and got the correct one (P2T).

2005/09/08 - Phoned the Garage
Just a quick update as I phoned the garage today while I wait for the inevitable call to become a juror for a trial.

I phoned the garage today, something to do while I wait for the inevitable call to become a juror for a trial.

They were taking a bit longer than expected on my brother in laws Subaru Legacy and they probably won't be able to start mine until Monday now. A little disappointed on top of the other delays, but all I can think about is how good it will be once it is done.

2005/09/14 - Called onto a case, and bad news on the car
I was selected for a trial yesterday, a particularly nasty one, but I can't talk about it - under oath.

I have borrowed my mums mobile and I had a call today from the garage to say that there is a problem with the wheels and axles - they don't fit the new gearbox and they need to get in new wheel hubs including the brake assembly, control arms and power steering linkage - about another £1,000 to the bill. I was already a distressed by the case I was on, I said I can't afford that and that I want to call the whole thing off and forget about it. It wasn't the straightforward swap I was led to believe it was and it is costing far more that anybody had quoted me. Understandably he wasn't too happy with this and had a few good remarks in return - the engine has had a lot of work done to it so they cant send that back, the diff was in so that cant go back, and some of the other parts are non-returnable. I reluctantly asked them to sort it out, but keep the costs down as much as possible.

I had another call a few hours later, and he apologised for making me panic, they had another look and compared my car with a staff car and decided that it would only be the wheel bearing that needed changing, so relived I said go ahead and get one from Honda (about £100 I think) and it would be delivered tomorrow.

2005/09/15 - More problems with the swap
Firstly, the case I was assigned to has ended a lot sooner than anybody expected - they all pleaded guilty, which was nice of them, however, I have been assigned to another case - one that is expected to last for up to three MONTHS. I don't think work will be too happy about this, in fact when I phoned up the IT manager and told him, he said that my "job is essential to company operation and absence for this length of time is unacceptable". I went into work that evening and my manager and a director had written a letter to the Judge asking for me to be let off this case. Fingers Crossed.

I also spoke to the garage to find out the latest progress and the wheel hubs ordered yesterday didn't fit so they were sent back and get replacement parts will be there tomorrow. He also told me that the exhaust manifold won't mate up with my exhaust, so I ordered a 5Zigen Stainless steel 4-2-1 manifold to sort that out. It's a good thing that my job is very well paid.. oh wait a minute, bugger!

I have to get to work on Monday and I'm a little worried that my car is still in an unusable state. My mum has offered to give me a lift in and back for a short time, which was nice of her, and hopefully, it won't be long before my car is done.

2005/09/16 - Jury Service is Over
The letter did the trick! I was excused from the long-running trial because of my work commitments, and being Friday they don't tend to start new cases so we were sent home early!

2005/09/23 - Nearly Ready!!!
This week has gone rather quickly, however, my car is still in pieces. After several different hubs and axles have been ordered and sent back because they were wrong (sent or ordered I don't know), we now have some that fit and all the parts are now fitted and the exhaust manifold fits perfectly. The only work involved now is to remove the old engine and put in the new B16A2 from the Civic Vti.

Excellent now we can finally get a move on and have been told that it would be ready the next week! I have booked next week off work so I can pick it up, and spend time driving around, washing/polishing/waxing ready to take back to show off in work.

2005/09/30 - Progress, but still not done
Much progress has been made this week, the old engine came out, new B16A2 has gone in, all hooked up and wired in except for a problem with the rear engine mount, which was too short. It wasn't a big problem as they have fabricated a bracket for it. I also told them about an immanent MOT due next week, but they won't have a problem getting that sorted for me.

The biggest problem this week is that the car won't start. I just had a call from them and he explained that everything was all hooked up ok, the fuel pump primes and the starter cranks the engine but it doesn't start - there is no injector pulse.

I couldn't get down to them to have a look, but talking with them on the phone I came to the conclusion that the ECU they had got in was equipped with an immobiliser, and they said they would look at that on Monday. I informed him that there was a car club meeting taking place on the 16th which I am planning to go to and he assured me it would be ready by then.

2005/10/01 - Engine Immobiliser
I just got back from Karma Imports, they have hooked up my ECU from the old engine and the new B16 fired up the first time. Not very well mind, and didn't idle very well because of the fuel maps, pressures are way out of spec, and there is a completely different air flow, but it proved that the engine and wiring were ok. This confirmed my suspicions of the immobiliser and they were going to sort it on Monday.

2005/10/03 - Further delays
I popped into Karma to find out what was happening with the ECU, they said that they had contacted a customer on Saturday afternoon who has agreed to bring in his ECU for them to test and that he would be there Monday morning. He did not show and they could not contact him, so I said to get the car to Honda and get them to look at it, they should be able to reprogram the immobiliser for my key. It has been booked in for Wednesday.

2005/10/10 - Even more delays
I phoned Karma again to see how they had got on and found out that they had managed to contact this guy and he would bring the ECU in on Saturday. A little annoyed but they wanted to test it before going to Honda because Honda would charge a lot of money to look at it with no guarantee of a fix. Saturday he did not show, but said would be there today. I reminded him of the rolling road club event which was fast approaching and this needs to be sorted ASAP. I was not at all surprised when he didn't show, so it was rebooked into Honda for Wednesday 12th.

2005/10/12 - It's alive... just!
I phoned Karma Imports at lunchtime and they reported that they have taken my car down to Honda to be fixed and its now running, its just lean and the VTEC system won't fully engage. It is also showing ECU errors on the malfunction indicator lamp. I told them that VTEC wouldn't engage if there are errors and that the ECU is in "limp home" mode, so they pulled the codes (7 - throttle position sensor and 23 - knock sensor). It turns out that the engine didn't have a knock sensor, so they fitted one, and the TPS was replaced with the one from my old engine and the errors went away.

I asked them what injectors they were using, and they said the ones from my old engine, to that I told them that they are no good as need to be suitable for the new engine. They also said that there was a problem still with the engine mount (from a few weeks ago) that needed to be sorted and a part was due in on the 14th.

Annoyed now I asked why this hadn't been sorted while they were waiting for the ECU/Honda booking and they said that the mechanic had been busy. :(

2005/10/17 - Finally, My Car is Ready!!!
The engine mount arrived on time and was everything was looking good until they took it out on the night of 14th for a test drive; the problem with the car running lean had been sorted, however on the test-drive, the ECU again showed errors (o2 sensor and TPS again). Because the errors are showing the car is in the limp home mode and does not run properly. Also because of the ECU errors, the car is still without a MOT, so illegal for me to drive anywhere.

I was unable to watch the track day on Saturday and missed out participating in the rolling road event organised by Southwest Civics - missing Jtuner magazine as well - on Sunday. I am really not pleased about that.

They have fitted an O2 sensor fooler and adjusted the throttle position sensor to give the right voltages and it's now ready. Its booked in for a MOT tomorrow and I will be picking it up at last.

2005/10/27 - Checked over by Interpro
I dropped my car off at Interpro this morning (they have done a lot of work for me in the past) and by lunchtime, I had a call to say that all requested work had been completed.

They advised that there was an issue with the car running very lean and that a diagnostic run on the rolling road would identify the issue, so they did that in the afternoon. About 3.30pm I had a call, they said that it had been on the rollers and made 129.5bhp. A little down I thought, trying to remember what it should be, 135 or something like that. "What did it make at the flywheel then?", "No mate, that was at the flywheel!", "it made 75.0bhp at the wheels"

Dyno Sheet Before
Dyno Sheet Before

Oh dear, I went straight down to Interpro on a break (I work just down the road from there) and they advised me that the car is running very lean right across the range. The weird smell was caused by the engine running lean and not burning the fuel efficiently. They said that the most likely cause of this is "incorrect injectors and/or fuel pressure". They commented that the timing had been retarded a lot to compensate for the lack of fuel, but the injectors are going flat out and simply can't flow enough fuel.

After work, I headed directly to Karma Imports, and when I spoke to the guy and asked what injectors were in there, he said the ones from my old engine! I asked why the ones that came with the B16A2 were not used but he couldn't answer me. He was going to make some calls and sort out the injectors and call me back.

2005/10/21 - First Impressions of the Engine Swap
I picked up my car Tuesday afternoon, but the Quaife diff has NOT been fitted because they wanted to make sure that the gearbox was ok first (they had told me a few weeks before that the diff was in an ok), and the spoon plug cover hasn't turned up yet.

I settled the bill and booked in to come back on 07/11/05 to get the diff fitted.

I have been driving around this week and put around 250 miles on the clock so far. I am reasonably impressed, it has much more torque and acceleration is fast due to the short ratio gearbox, but it doesn't feel more powerful, there isn't the determinable pull you get when VTEC engages.

With all the problems that have occurred during the conversion I have booked into Interpro in Thornbury for a check over and to get my suspension looked at as the camber is way out causing the tyres to wear uneven. I also asked if they could have a quick look at a few issues I had - VTEC won't engage properly, lack of power, there is a weird smell inside the car, you can also smell it under the bonnet, and I found a problem with the driver's CV joint. Its booked in for the 27th which is the first date they had available.

2005/10/31 - A new twist in the saga
I haven't heard anything from Karma, so this afternoon I popped in to find out the injector situation. They have got the injectors in, but they also told me that their mechanic had upped and left, they had just hired a new one who is working part time during the evening until his notice from the previous employer is up. I left my car with them on the promise that they would drop it off to me at home by 10 pm.

I just got off the phone with them to find out if they had called me (my mum had been on the phone for a while) and he explained that they had not started mine yet, they should have the one they are working on done in the next hour, and allow an hour for mine to be worked on - he should be able to drop it off at about 12 midnight. Being on the early shift (5.30am alarm call) I wasn't prepared to stay up until that hour, he said I could bring it back up the next day and it'll be the first job, so I collected it and will bring it back tomorrow afternoon.

2005/11/01 - Injectors fitted
I dropped the car off again and they said that it would be the first job and they would deliver it back off to me when it's done - which they did. When I asked about the timing he said that they didn't have the right tool, but would look at it when I went in to have the diff fitted (again?)

I have also booked in for Interpro to sort me out with some new tyres (Toyo Proxies) and to have another diagnostic run.

2005/11/09 - Having a Quaife ATB diff fitted
I took my car back to Karma again on Monday, the new mechanic is still working part time during evenings and nights, and when I phoned up that evening they said that they hadn't had the chance to look at it yet, but it will be the first job tomorrow. He told me that it would be ready to pick up on Wednesday morning. So at 9.15am this morning I arrived only to find my car still on the ramps.

Apparently, they were uncertain as to which gearbox oil to use with the Quaife diff and they wanted to check with Quaife when they opened. They also wanted to replace the thrust bearing and a split pin on the wheel hub. I explained to him that he would have to drop it off to me when it was done as I was running out of lifts.

He phoned at about 8 pm to say he was on the way and shortly after they arrived and said that the diff was in and good, timing had been sorted and the other bits were done. I took it for a quick test drive after they went and overall it was slightly better, not much more power, but the diff was defiantly working.

2005/11/10 - Interpro work their magic...
I went to Interpro to have new tyres fitted (the old ones were below legal because of incorrect camber adjustments) and I had a further diagnostic run on the rolling road. I also asked them to check the timing as I wasn't convinced that it was done correctly. I dropped it off at 9 am and they got on with the work, changed the front tyres, changed the oil and filter, inspected engine and started looking at the tuning.

Incorrect Distributor Fitted to B16A2 Engine
Incorrect Distributor Fitted to B16A2 Engine
Incorrect Distributor Fitted to B16A2 Engine
Incorrect Distributor Fitted to B16A2 Engine

It looked like Karma had trouble fitting the distributor to the block because the VTEC solenoid was in the way, but instead of getting a distributor that fitted they rotated it around a bit and bodged a fitment by machining it. As such the timing was even more out and the distributor wasn't functioning correctly. Timing was still out because the distributor was incorrect - it made the timing light useless. Interpro was able to sort out the timing for me as best they could but recommended I get the proper part. They also found that the lambda sensor was faulty and that the lambda sensor fooler was installed incorrectly and broken anyway (probably because it had been hooked up to a 12V source instead of a 1V source). Driving back from Interpro there was a definite difference in power and driveability; I think there was probably a larger power increase from Interpro sorting out the tuning on the engine properly, than Karma made by swapping in the new engine!

At the end of the day the car made 152.5bhp at the flywheel (110bhp at the wheels) and this time I had a torque run and made 122 lbft @ 5750rpm. Still, a little way down on power it should be 158 for a standard engine, add some for mods. I know that engines lose power as they age, but this one was supposedly rebuilt, and it is running with induction kit, uprated exhaust manifold, de-cat pipe and cat back exhaust system.

Dyno printout
Dyno printout

I went back to Karma on Friday and explained that the engine still wasn't making the power it should - they were completely unable to explain why. If they could think of a reason they would call be. I didn't hear back from them.

2005/12/19 - Engine blew up in my Honda Civic
My new B16A2 engine conversion that I have had completed for about a month now has broken down - terminally.

The swap itself was plagued with problems, not least was a mechanic who couldn't fit an engine. It took two MONTHS to get finished, with lots of hassle from me. When it was finished I had still more problems - incorrect (undersized) injectors fitted, the wrong distributor, some bolts were loose and many more things wrong with it. 4th gear is shredded, 3rd and 5th are bad, but not unusable, synchros melted in the gearbox, bearings collapsed, metal everywhere inside. The engine lacks power and has done since it was installed - I suspect head cylinder overworked.

There are also plumes of oily blue smoke from the exhaust so suspect piston rings or oil seals. I took the car back to the mechanics, where after speaking to the manager I reluctantly agreed to let them fix all their mistakes.

When I went down there they had a new mechanic who was keen to prove his skill by sorting my car out, so they are willing to completely rebuild the engine with all new parts from Honda. While the gearbox is out I'll supply and have fitted a Quaife ATB differential and some Skunk2 valve springs ready for some fast road cams.

 

2005/12/14 - Problems with my new Engine Swap
I popped into Interpro yesterday and asked if they could have a quick look at a few noises that were coming from the gearbox and clutch. First gear when slowing down would whine and when the clutch pedal was lifted in neutral you can hear a loud grinding noise. One of the mechanics took it out with me and could hear the noises, but said there was nothing to worry about as long as they don't get worse.

Yesterday the noises got much worse and as I was driving along the A38, 4th gear popped out and into neutral. When I tried to re-engage it all I got is a grinding of metal. I booked into Interpro to have them take a closer look at it, but by today the whining noise is even louder, in first, second and third, fourth gear will not engage at all and I also have trouble getting out of first.

Unfortunately, the 1000 mile warranty is passed, and with all the other problems I had with KarmaImports I am very reluctant to let them have the car back to work on again. I have contacted Trading Standards for advice and I had a lengthy discussion with my brother-in-law about the issues and decided to phone KarmaImports and tell them all about the problems had been having and that I did not trust them to do the work. I inquired if there was something we could work out if they would be willing to help cover 1/2 the cost for Interpro to look at it. They were unwilling to do this, insisting that they would fix all the problems at a discount labour rate for me. I said I would be down on Monday for them to LOOK at the car only.

2005/12/19 - Back to Karma Imports
I have been speaking with Trading Standards and my brother-in-law I reluctantly decided to take my broken down car back to Karma Imports to have the faults looked at. My brother in law convinced me that as they have a new mechanic, Tony, now I should let him look at it. Tony had nothing to do with the previous work and it was unfair to tarnish him with the same brush as the previous mechanic.

The image above shows the oil residue from the exhaust on idle!

Yesterday my brother in law and I compiled a list of faults, which I gave to Tony to look through, and he looked over the car with me and even added a few more items to the list.

When the time came to take the car for a test drive, Tony could not get reverse gear to engage, so that put a stop to that one. He could feel and hear that the gearbox was no good though. He did a compression test for me, the previous day me and my brother in law saw plumes of blue smoke from the exhaust and were worried about the piston rings. Compression results were good at 170, 179, 175, 165psi from cylinder 1 to 4 but he suspected the valve stem seals on the head, and the lack of power could be accounted for my an overly aggressive port and polish. Karma has shown willing to repair the faults without cost to myself, so I left the car with them this afternoon.

I'm happy to let Tony fix all the problems. I have given him a printed list of the problems to work through.

2005/12/23 - Progress on the Engine Faults
I had a phone call on Tuesday to say that he had looked at the car and the gearbox will need replacing, but I will have to cover the cost of a new part as it is out of warranty and the cylinder head will need to be replaced, at Karma's cost, as far too much material was removed during the port and polish.

This afternoon I popped in and we had a good chat, and I enquired about valve springs as I will be looking into cams in the future and as the head is off and being rebuilt, now would be a good time. Tony showed me a few things on the car, and a little bit about how gearboxes work and the problems with the old one. I left feeling much more positive, no hard feelings anymore.

Earlier this evening I had a call from Trading Standards, asking how things were going between myself and Karma. I was able to give them the good news that Karma are fixing all their mistakes and it's looking good for all repairs to be carried out early in the new year. The will call be back in the second week of January just to follow up. Hopefully, I can tell them that it is all sorted and they can close the case.

2006/02/01 - My Civic is all Repaired
I had a call yesterday that my car is finally all repaired and running properly. Tony has taken the engine apart and stripped it down. The port and polish of the cylinder head were far too aggressive for a naturally aspirated engine, which was even causing oil to enter the combustion chamber. The head should have only been lightly polished to remove the cast imperfections. Also, the valve seats were not cut back properly, causing oil to enter the cylinders. Since too much metal had been taken out the only option was for Karma to replace the head cylinder for me. This was then sent away to head flow experts for a mild port and polish, skimming and valve seats. When Tony got the head back he installed new Skunk2 valve springs for me (which I supplied).

While he was waiting for the head to come back he dismantled the gearbox to find that the bearings had collapsed and the synchro on 4th gear had melted. Because this was a mechanical fault, and not covered by the warranty anymore I had to pay for a new one, but he was able to source an Integra Type-R gearbox at a very good price. Tony then transferred my Quaife ATB diff to the new gearbox.

He then proceeded to work on the block, stripping out the pistons and replaced all the piston rings and oil seals. The main and big end bearings had already been replaced by the previous mechanic, but they were double checked. The distributor, power steering pipe and throttle cable bracket were all replaced with the correct parts and the faulty thermostat was replaced.

When I collected it, by means of compensation, Alex gave me a set of Nology Hotwires in black, and has sorted out a shiny intake pipe for me (I supplied the HKS mushroom filter).

I am very happy with the work that Tony had done, the engine is a lot smoother, pulls harder, VTEC engages properly and most importantly it does not smoke anymore. The only problem I had was a minor adjustment to the idle control.

Finally, after nearly six months I have the engine swap I was after!

Last updated on: Saturday 17th June 2017

 

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