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Chris Haining July 16, 2014 Meet Your Hoons, Project Cars 13 Comments


It’s not peer pressure. Just because I don’t lay on my back every evening with warm multigrade running down the inside of my sleeves doesn’t make me any less of a man. Much as I’d have liked one, I’ve never had a project car because I’ve never really had the time, the space, the funds nor the knowledge to take one on. Well, we all have to start somewhere.

Suddenly, and probably misguidedly, my daily driver Audi has become my project car. Take the jump for all the how on Earths and the why the hells.


I’m not afraid to wield a spanner at my car’s oily bits- primarily because I’d much rather do it myself than pay somebody else to do it. I’m not imbued with the inside-out mechanical expertise that I’d like to possess. and I’m in awe of those Redusernab regulars who are. My ethos is that given sufficient guidance and the tools to do the job, there’s nothing on a car I shouldn’t be able to at least have a stab at.

Sixty thousand miles ago, pretty soon after the time of purchase, I changed the A4’s cambelt, a job brought on suddenly by the total failure of the water pump 24hrs after I drove it home from Sweden. Carrying that job out was quite gratifying and helped me to become familiar with various mechanical bits and bobs under the bonnet which would have otherwise remained a mystery to me. Five years later, having been a paragon of unquestioned dependability, I’m about to pull her apart once again; and I’m going much, much deeper than I ever have before.


Here’s what I have planned for my 1998 Audi A4 1.8t.

The cambelt is due again; so that’s job one and I might as well change the water pump again for shits and giggles while I’m at it. Replacing the cambelt involves the removal of the front lock-carrier, the radiators, the fan, the intercooler, the power steering pump, the alternator and a whole lot of other crap.

So on that basis, I might as well change the A/C compressor. The climatronic set-up was out of action when I bought the car; a contributory factor in my being able to buy it for so little money. The drive-belt had been removed so the pump has simply sat there as ballast for the past five years.

Last time I serviced the car I changed the spark plugs, and while changing #3 plug I noticed that the spark-plug well was full of oil. Despite the sinister nature of this discovery I figured that said oil wasn’t going to go anywhere, aside from a potential misfire caused by a fouled plug it probably wouldn’t present any real problems.


This was probably the wrong decision. The image above is of my coolant reservoir and its pressure cap. Note the contents- where there should be water and antifreeze there is instead something resembling spray-cheese. This is not what I want to see in my coolant reservoir. So; I figure while I’ve got the front end off, and the radiator out and all the coolant drained, I might as well get an idea of where this hideous emulsification is coming from.

My best guess is that there’s either a blown oil seal somewhere or else it’s a head gasket problem; the plug well full of oil seems to go hand in hand with this assumption. So; to do the job properly it makes sense to take the cylinder head off and have a look inside. While I’m in there I can take a look at the piston surfaces and generally clean things up. It’s 120,000 miles old which, while not a high mileage for one of these, means it’s probably got a decent coating of crap in there which is better out than in.

In order to behead the AEB 1.8t engine you have to get rid of all the intake and fuel injection gubbins; the working instructions for which look excitingly intimidating, but needs must and I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or two during the process. In fact, it’s part of the teardown which has turned the whole endeavour into a potentially life-affirming and thrilling experience. You see, it occurred to me that one of the bits I’ll have to remove is the turbocharger, and if I’m taking the K03 off, what’s the point in putting the same boring old turbo back on afterwards? And then, why stop at the turbocharger? Thus; Project Audinary has been born.


The plan is to strip everything down to basically a bare block which will remain in situ in the car. Once I’ve got everything off I’ll be upgrading components as I go. And this is where The Internet will come in very handy. The 20V turbo Audi engine has been around for twenty years and there are myriad tuning options out there. It’s a case of sorting the wheat from the chaff and taking the right upgrade path. Your advice, dear reader, is very welcome indeed. And don’t worry, I’ll be doing something to make sure the brakes are up to scratch, too.

I’m not aiming for unbelievable NASA levels of power, just enough to make things worth my while. I don’t really want to do a whole load with the engine internals; so I don’t want to run the risk of melting a piston or throwing a rod or any of the other horrors that big-boost can do to an engine that isn’t prepared for it.

So far in this project, what have I achieved? Well, I’ve bought myself a socket set.


Seems a pretty comprehensive collection of drives, bits, sockets and ratchets and means I no longer have to borrow them from my Dad. Also, I know that I have most common metric sizes addressed, rather than no 15mm but a load of strange old Whitworth fitments at the ready.

Tooled up, I have also dry-docked Project Audinary in my Gran’s garage, a double-wide affair with plenty of space to work around and under the car. I’m flushed with confidence and eager to press on, but am already stuck:


The above lightshow depicts the very obstacle which has already retarded my progress. The front bumper is held on by two clips, two screws and two bolts. The bolts have 6mm hex-drive heads, and I presumably knackered one of them while reassembling the car after the cambelt job. The hex-ness has been totally obliterated. We’ve tried impact drivers with torx-bits, ramming various other hopeful-looking drives into the mangled hole, Dremel-ing the head to make slots into which a stout screwdriver could be engaged, all to no avail. Our last desparate attempt was to arc-weld a nut onto the bolt head. It failed. Next step is screw extractors.

So I’ve not advanced very far. But I will.

The point of this project is to breathe new excitement into what is already a proven car that I have enjoyed immensely over the last five years. The first part of the project; maintenance and getting rid of that coolant contamination issue, are essential anyway, but the second part of it, let’s call it optimisation, will see me getting a grin out of the old girl for a good few years to come.


  • The Benz wheels have no right to fit the car that well. Excellent choice.

    • What's he talking ab— whoaaaa…those ARE Benz wheels…

      • BradleyBrownell

        Audis and Benzes have frequently shared a 5X112 bolt pattern. That's why you always see AMG wheels on slammed Passats at Vee-Dubber car shows.

        • Yep, same stud pattern but they needed drilling as Audi lug bolts are more manly than Benz ones. They're among my favourite wheel designs of all time- unfortunately mention of Dub-Scenesters makes me want to remove them again.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I'd do a wet and dry compression check before tearing any further into the engine. I don't know your service intervals, or expected lifespans, but it seems that you may be getting to the point where rebuilding the head or lower end is in order. Not that I want to encourage unneeded expense.

    The oil by your sparkplug sounds like a leaking valve cover seal, unless you meant that the plug was fouled with wet oil, which would be alarming. OIl between the plug and plug wire could certainly cause a misfire.

    From the looks of things, you have a leaking head gasket. (If not, you may have a cracked block. I would be shocked if there was an oil seal that separated oil and water.) With the heads off, that's the time to do a valve job, if it's needed. Any chance you might have overheated and warped the head? Might as well check to see that it's flat.

    I'm suggesting all this, because it looks like a real job to strip down the engine bay so you can actually access the engine. You don't want to do that more than truly necessary. So I suppose it might be a good time to ask how your clutch and pressure plate are doing, since you're effectively already there.

    • Roger to all that. Oil change is carried out as soon as the indicator goes "bing". Head gasket is my best guess. Compression test is on the to-do list. It's going to be fun. Overheating has happened, but that was five years ago when the water pump failed and the car was shut down as soon as the wibbly animated warning showed up. That was 60,000 miles ago.

      • toplessFC3Sman

        Oil in the coolant or vice-versa could be a head gasket, but it definitely could be the oil cooler too. This is the piece that the oil filter screws onto, and has coolant hoses running to it. A small leak here (either a seal or internal to the cooler) could let those fluids mix. When the engine is running, the oil is at higher pressure than the coolant, so more oil would likely end up in the coolant than vice-versa. I don't know where the oil filter is on a 1.8T, but its gotta be a lot easier to get to & check than doing the head gasket. If the coolant side holds pressure (cap one hose barb & pressurize/draw vacuum on the other, see if the pressure/vacuum holds or bleeds back down to atmospheric), then the cooler itself is probably fine.

        The oil pooling around the top of the plug has to be the valve cover gasket. A blown head gasket could foul the plug, but wouldn't cause oil to pool around it in the valley/coil hole.

        Does the 1.8T water pump have the plastic impeller? I've had that come apart on one of my friends' MkIV jettas, forcing a replacement (and a "why-not" timing belt replacement at the same time), so if you're replacing the water pump already, look around for one with a metal impeller. There are a few companies that make them.

  • Alff

    Definitely run the compression test. Certain VAG engines are notorious for producing head cheese, even when all is well internally. Must have something to do with how they do or don't deal with condensation.

    Also, are you sure that the oil at the plug isn't just boogered up threads in the plug hole?

  • Van_Sarockin

    What's oil consumption like, and spark plug condition? Maybe there are worn valve guides? I wouldn't be too anxious, but since you're already up to your elbows in the car, why not go in up to your shoulders?

    Too many procedures on my car go: Step 1 – Remove Engine…

  • JayP2112

    Talk about jumping int he DEEP END OF THE VAG POOL.
    Good luck and keep that enthusiasm!!

  • craigsu

    When I saw the photo with the front end removed I thought, "Well, it's an Audi, must be time for a routine oil change".

    I'm with JayP2112, maintain that enthusiasm. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

    • It's the Audi service position!

  • Fred

    In for a penny, in for a pound. Good luck!

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