ENGINE CONVERSION COMPARISON
There are plenty of reasons you might be considering an engine conversion for your Vanagon. Surely one of the top reasons is simply upgrading your tired, outdated Waterboxer. It may have been state-of-the-art back in the 80s, but by now many people find them under powered, problematic, and expensive to maintain, to name a few. We include upgraded Waterboxer options in our list too, as these are commonly compared with the conversions as most of them are just as expensive.
We really focused on simplifying the main comparison. It's very easy to make this overly complicated. The bottom-line people want to know is: "What can I get for my money?" So, that's what we focused on. If you want more details click on the "More Info" tab at the bottom of the table.
All prices are for the *entry level* conversion installation, conversion kit, or Waterboxer engine service. If you start adding options and/or fixing other related systems (like the entire cooling system, air conditioning, etc.) costs can increase substantially. Everyone offers different upgrades and custom options, especially in the Subaru world. (See why we said it can get complicated quickly?) These can add thousands more to your final cost if you choose their full packages.
A few things we consider "basic upgrades" we *do* include in the cost, as many/most people opt-in to these options which reflects a realistic buying scenario. One example would be the clutch. You could skimp-out on this "optional" part, but that's not realistic in our opinion. There will literally never be a better time to replace your clutch, as you already have the engine and transaxle pulled apart. To skip it would be very short-sighted in our opinion. You can technically pick some of these parts up for slightly cheaper but you would be making some sacrifices. (Again, our opinion. See next paragraph.)
You will see many people claim they did their Subaru conversion (or whatever) for only $3,000 or $4,000 dollars, or even less. This is ridiculously unrealistic in our research, to say the least. There are several factors why:
- Most of these people are very experienced with auto repair which gives them a huge advantage not everyone enjoys.
- It's highly unlikely these people kept track of every dollar spent. They'll glaze over anything that's not a major component. Problem is, the little stuff can add up very quickly.
- Related to #2, they fail to disclose major discounts on parts, like a free engine and/or donor car. You can tell these conversations always become a game of one-upmanship with who did their conversion for the cheapest. This quickly degrades to exaggerations and flat-out lying. I mean, it makes sense, no one really brags about spending the most on something like this.
- And last but not least, they put little to no value on their time. Sure, they made their own harness in 40 hours (or less) for "free". See reason #1 as to why this won't work for everyone. We saw someone inexperienced take almost 100 hours(!) to make their own wiring harness for their conversion. Again, for "free". Everyone's time is worth something. At $10/hour that's $1,000 that person just spent. It would have been much more efficient, and realistic, to simply buy a harness from someone.
Long story short, these prices essentially reflect your best case scenario for cost. The sky is the limit from there.
One final note; the larger displacement engines are enticing due to more horsepower. However, you need to keep in mind that these larger engines will almost certainly require a major rebuild of your transaxle too. This can easily cost an additional $2,000 - $3,000 on the low end for 2WD vans, and roughly double that for 4WD Syncros.
First, some quick specs on the more common engines:
And finally, the breakdown of engines and installers. One note on the Subaru installers...it seems every shop and their brother offer Subaru conversions these days. I literally see a new shop offering conversions on a monthly basis, so this is by no means a complete list. The installers shown here are the relatively "popular" ones. (Yes, I know, that's a subjective term.)
If you're a California resident your options will be limited due to CARB requirements. Bostig's Zetec and some of the larger Subaru options can and will be problematic to smog.
Outside of California, we are fans of the Bostig kit due to its reliability and cost of the Zetec engine. You can read the full breakdown of why we chose Bostig here. With that being said, the other options are suitable too, and everyone's needs will be different. We encourage you to learn about the options and decide for yourself. Only you know what will make you feel secure in your purchase going forward.
We will try and maintain this list as best we can, but please let us know if something is out of date or we missed something entirely!
19 MARCH 2015
Last update: April 2018