The 180SX Pages

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© Peter Ogden, 2007

Engine Installation

Black top As I don't have the tools and equipment to recondition an engine, I rang around for some quotes to have it done professionally. The quotes were all in the same region as the cost of a complete, low kilometre, second-hand engine. So, due to being perpetually broke (being married with 3 kids), I decided that I would go with the purchase of a second-hand engine. I felt confident that I could replace the engine myself and save some money on labour costs. Also, as many parts on the original engine were still in good condition, I could sell off some of those parts to recoup some of the money spent purchasing the newer one.

Only two days after buying the car, I had located an SR20DET engine from a 1994 180SX that had (supposedly) done 57,000 km's, was (again, supposedly) in good condition and available at the right price. The engine had a black rocker cover (AKA black-top) as compared to the original engine's red rocker cover (red-top), which initially had me a little worried. While there seems to be a fair bit of confusion over the Nissan SR20 series engines, my research seemed to indicate that the black-top and the red-top engine are essentially the same engine in the 180SX's (unlike the black-top engines from the S14 and S15 200SX's, which have variable valve timing and would require a different wiring harness and ECU). This research was proved correct, as after installing it and all sensors were reconnected as per original, it started and ran perfectly on the 1991 Code 62 ECU. The car has been faultless in operation since the installation.

Red top Removal of the original engine started with me reading through the workshop manual to make sure I had the process pretty clear in my head and photographing every inch of the engine bay to ensure that I had a thorough record of how every hose was connected (just in case!). I did this because all my previous experience at installing engines was with so-called "old-school" V8's and straight 6's. As soon as you lift the bonnet on a modern car, it is obvious that while reliability has improved out of sight, so has the complexity. The 180SX has both multi-point Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) and a multi-coil (coil-per-plug) electronic ignition system along with a variety of vacuum and electronic controlled systems. The old V8's with their carburettor, distributor and points are positively simplistic by comparison.

I took my time and made sure each piece was carefully stored with its fastenings so that when it came time to put the items back I wouldn't be scrounging around looking for nuts, washers or whatever was needed. Of course, this didn't always work, as there were still a handful of missing bolts and washers that had to be replaced because they had managed to "walk" from the garage after removal.

Even with starting late on the Saturday and working on my own (with only minimal assistance from my wife), I had the engine completely removed by the end of the weekend and had even managed to transfer a few of the items I wanted to retain from one engine to the other. As I prefer the red rocker cover over the black, I had purchased a replacement gasket and a tube of silicone instant-gasket in preparation for swapping the rocker covers. As it turned out, I needn't have bothered purchasing the gasket as it is made of rubber and a visual inpection showed it could have been re-used without trouble.

While the engine was out, I also had to transfer the flywheel and clutch. I took a close look at the condition of the clutch while out, which to my surprise looked like it was an almost brand new Exedy full face organic clutch. Also, the flywheel and pressure plate showed no sign of heat stress or scoring. I suspect it had been replaced and the flywheel and pressure plate machined not long before the car was sold to me.

As the flywheel rotates at engine speed, I took the precaution of replacing the flywheel bolts and also took great pains to ensure that they were installed with thread lock and were tightened to the correct tension using a tension wrench.

Installation of the new(er) engine back in the engine bay wasn't quite as straight-forward as removal. After much swearing and pushing and shoving without any success, I had to call on the assistance of my brother to help me align the spline on the gearbox with the clutch, while also trying to get the engine to sit on the engine mounts. While we thought the shaft was in the clutch OK, we were unable to get the engine to go far enough back to let it rest on the mounts. In the end, we decided that we were close enough to put some of the longer bolts that connect the bell housing to the motor in and (carefully) pull it up by tightening those bolts. I was afraid that we hadn't actually aligned the shaft and doing this could bend or break something. As it turned it out, I was wrong, everything tightened up easily and the engine was now ALMOST on the engine mounts (only needed a millimetre or two for it to drop on). A bit of levering with a pinch bar and the engine finally dropped down onto its mounts.

A couple of hours later, I had reconnected all hoses and sensors, filled the radiator with coolant and was preparing to start it. As this engine had been sitting unused for some time, I decided I needed to build oil pressure before attempting to start it. So I disconnected the ignition system and removed the fuse from the fuel injection temporarily and spun the engine over on the starter for a period until the oil pressure light went out (I have since found out that a better method of doing this would have been to disconnect the crank angle sensor as the ECU would then disable both fuel and ignition rather than having to do this manually as I had done). Once I had oil pressure, I plugged everything back in and attempted to start it. It coughed a few times, but eventually it fired and ran, though rather roughly. I switched off and went back over the plugs for the sensors to discover that the Throttle Position Sensor (TPS) connector hadn't quite clicked home. After rectifying this, it then started instantly, idled smoothly and revved quite freely. I then took the chocks out from behind the wheels and drove it out of the garage to take it for a run around the block to see how it would go.

The short run around the block had the temperature quickly building to well over the normal running temperature. My initial thought was that I had bought a dud engine and I had just done a lot of work for nothing. After I let it cool for a time, I went back to the car and removed the radiator cap to check the water level and found that it needed a couple of litres of coolant, even though I hadn't lost any that I could see. I topped it up and while I was scratching my head over where the coolant had gone, there was a loud "burp" and the water level dropped. In my haste, it seems I didn't allow enough time for the air to get out of the cooling system. I kept topping up for quite a while, waiting each time for it to settle, until it finally would not take any more. I then replaced the radiator cap and took it for another run, while carefully monitoring the temperature gauge. This time the gauge sat right where it should and didn't budge. Again, I later discovered that there is a bung on the inlet to the engine block that should be removed when filling with coolant to let the air out (you live and learn!).

The engine has since proved to be very reliable and smooth, though not obviously stronger nor weaker than the engine it replaced (but most certainly quieter!).