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Journal PDA_Monkey's Journal: Car trouble 2

My car needs a new engine and I owe too much on it to just get a newer car. :(

I have a 1998 Dodge Neon Sport Coupe.
The base Neon engine is a 2.0L SOHC that outputs 132 HP.
The engine in my car is a 2.0L DOHC that outputs 150 HP.
It's a really fun car and it looks pretty nice (IMHO), too.

It's pretty much my fault because I drive it hard.
I like my car, but I dislike the automatic 3-speed transmission, so I drive it like the 5-speed manual that I would prefer.
It only has 117K miles, but then again, it did have two previous owners... Who knows how they treated it?

I also had some transmission issues about a month ago, but that turned out to be the fluid being long overdue for a change.
I changed the fluid and filter out myself and did the seal wrong when putting the pan back on. It probably didn't help that half of the holes had failed helicoils! So, virtually all of the fluid I put in leaked out over night.
I re-did the pan seal and used a tap & die to fix 5 of the 7 holes in my transmission that were stripped. It seems to be mostly OK now... Might be a minor leak, but I've kept an eye on the fluid level and I'm not worried about it.

So, a few weeks ago my engine was making an occasional light tapping sound... I figured it was getting low on oil and the lifters were tapping. I let it go for maybe a week and it got slightly worse, so I bought a case of oil and put a couple quarts in (it was pretty low). It had done this in the past, so I didn't think much of it. I have a leak in the rear of the engine on the drivers side. No oil leaks into the water and vice-versa, so it's not likely to be the head gasket, but was probably the valve cover seal. I figured the noise would subside and everything would be fine.

The car did fine for a couple days, but the sound didn't really go away. Last Wednesday (2005.08.10) while I was about half way to work, the sound suddenly became louder and I felt a dip in compression. I decided that my car would not make it up the mile+ long hill to work which is still to come and that I needed to park it while I'm in the flat lands where it will be easier to tow to my mechanic. I turned at the next light and parked on a side street and called the tow-truck to get my car to the mechanic, and then my wife to get a ride the rest of the way to work. Fortunately she was still home.

I get to work and the car goes to my mechanic.

The mechanic calls me several hours later and informs me that either a cylinder or a rod is coming apart inside and that the engine needs to be replaced. It could be taken apart and fixed, but that would take a lot longer and therefore cost a lot more. They wanted $2,600 to put in a rebuilt engine or $4,300 for a new one. $1,200 if I come up with an engine on my own.

I got on Al Gore's Interweb and looked around for replacement engines. neons.org has a good forum with persons buying and selling parts and even entire cars. I observed that used Neon 2.0L engines were going for about $400. But then I came across a post where a guy was selling, among other things, a 2.4L shortblock that he had disassembled and reconditioned to be put into his own Neon that he had already sold to get a truck instead. He only wanted $250 for it!

The 2.4L engine swap is a well known and well documented process.
There's even a HOWTO!

The guy with the shortblock suggested I join the NWNeons Yahoo Group. I did so and posted my plight and several Neon afficionatos in my local area volunteered to help out. One has already come to my house (unfortunately before I had the car back) to talk about the process. I wouldn't be able to do this without their help, so I'm glad they are willing and able.

The 2.4L engine is rated at the same 150 HP my 2.0L is, but it produces far more torque. Install a turbo (which I plan to do) and you'll get a really nice pickup. In fact, this is the same configuration in my wife's 2004 PT Cruiser Turbo GT we got last month (perfect timing) and it really moves! It'll literally put you back in your seat; it even makes my cheeks feel like they are being pulled back by the G-force!!

So, I had my car towed back home (AAA is a good thing)... I wanted it in the garage, which is at the end of the alley behind our house. The tow truck had to pull into the end of the alley and let the car down, then I started it up and backed it into the garage. Yes, the car still runs, but not well. It's also got a prett loud knock at this point. The guy driving the tow truck said he had a shop for many years and that he felt that the engine problem might actually be in the valve area, like perhaps a worn cam lobe or the cam out of alignment/off track or a broken valve spring because the sound was tinny. I took his advice under consideration and a friend from church and I opened up the valve cover and inspected for damage. Everything looked good, so we reconnected the wires to the distributor and spark plugs and started it for less than a minute to inspect the mechanisms. Oil was spitting everywhere, but we were able to rule out that diagnosis and confirm the original...

So, onward with the new engine!
Really I was going to do it anyway, but I had hoped that a valve job would buy me time.

The guy with the shortblock lives in Northern Idaho, but he's currently on vacation in Salem, Oregon, which is a few hours drive from to Tacoma, WA.
We had talked on that Wednesday I found out from my mechanic about the engine and fortunately it was shortly before he planned to leave for his vacation and he offered to bring it with him.

So, we're planning to meet in the middle some time later this week.

I'm pretty excited because this is all new to me and I'll be gaining a lot of good experience. I'm not a great mechanic, but I'm learning and improving. Before I did the work on my transmission, the most I'd done was disc brakes a couple times and a tune-up on my Neon (plug & wire change) once.

p.s. One major bummer is that the Wednesday this havoc took place was my wife's birthday and I didn't even wish her happy birthday until about 6:22 PM by text message! Kind of lame of me, but I'll make it up to her soon. :)

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Car trouble

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  • Let me know how it goes.
  • It's been quite the experience with this Monkey.

    I've been giving him rides to and fro. He woke me up this morning five minutes before he needed to leave for work. **Picture it**

    My whole day has been off now!

    I already told him I'd give him a hand in all this as I have experience in this realm.

    I'm looking forward to him making it up to me for my birthday!

    It's been like a barrel of monkeys!!

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin