1987 GL noisy valves

Discussion in 'General Motoring' started by Anthony, Jul 13, 2003.

  1. Anthony

    Anthony Guest

    I have a chance to buy an 87 GL wagon (AT, 2WD) that has only 104k miles on
    it but it sounds like the hydraulic lifters aren't pumping up. How hard is
    this to fix and would I be better off passing on it.

    My daughter needs a wagon for her and the twins and I'm tying to help her
    out. She doesn't have much money and I can get this car cheap.

    Anthony, Jul 13, 2003
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  2. Anthony

    Bill Putney Guest

    It is a very common problem in the EA82 engine.

    The good news is that it almost always is very easy to fix. IOW - you
    may be getting a bargain by taking a small risk and fixing the problem
    fairly easily and cheaply. Also good news is that the lifter clatter is
    not doing any significant damage to the engine, so once you get it
    fixed, it's like it never happened, except you got a good price (like
    they say, knowledge is power).

    The bad news is that there are several common causes for the problem in
    this engine, and it can be trial and error determining which one you
    need to focus on and solve.

    Caution: Don't be fooled by well meaning people who will tell you it has
    to be "this" or has to be "that" (IOW - only one cause and only one
    solution). I've been hanging out on Subaru forums for a few years, and
    have seen just as many success stories for one solution as the other,
    and just as many disappointments when a particular solution didn't work
    as for the other solution.

    I recommend reading this very good web page:
    - it will give you some very good insight.

    Cameron covers these possibilities:
    1) Oil pump worn.
    2) Oil pump gaskets leaking air.
    3) Bad o-ring between the cam case and head (one per head).
    4) Dirty/clogged lifter(s).

    One place that Cameron didn't mention is the oil pressure relief valves
    - one in each head. Some people have actually fixed the problem by
    removing the cam cover (just the cover - not the whole case) and the oil
    tube called a "banjo tube" for reasons that will be obvious when you see
    it - it has the approximate shape of a banjo), and taking the pressure
    relief valve apart and cleaning it and replacing the spring (available
    at your Subaru dealer for a coupla bucks). A piece of trash can get in
    the seat of the relief valve and/or the spring may be weak from

    A good approach would be to toss a coin (or go with your gut feel), and
    either replace the oil pump and its two seals (a large o-ring and a
    "mickey mouse" gasket - called that because it looks like MM's head)
    **OR** attack the valve train area (i.e., remove the cam case and clean
    the lifters and pressure relief valve, and replace the relief valve
    spring and the cam case-to-head o-ring). You have a 50-50 chance of
    fixing the problem doing one or the other. If no joy, then do the other
    and problem will be resolved - I almost guarantee it. 8^)

    Some miscellaneous comments:
    1) The problem can be brought on by switching suddenly to synthetic oil
    at high mileage (due to its very high inherent detergent properties and
    quick release of crankcase residue into the lube system). This happened
    to me in my '86 with the same engine. You might ask the owner if he
    chanegd to synthetic oil or did a crankcase flush, which can also cause
    it for the same reasons. If his answer is "yes", then - it's a
    no-brainer - attack the pressure relief valves and the lifters (dirt in
    one or both). If the answer is "no" or ambiguous, then you haven't lost
    anything by asking - it will still be a roll of the dice to choose your
    2) Some people have successfully resolved the problem by what I call the
    "non-invasive" method of cleaning the lifters and pressure relief
    valves. It involves changing back to dino oil if synthetic is in there
    now, and putting 1/4 to 1/2 qt. of Marvel Mystery oil (I understand Sea
    Foam works as well) in the crankcase and leaving it in. Change oil and
    filter at 1000 miles, and refill agian with oil and 1/4 to 1/2 qt. of
    MMO. Then change oil and filter without fail every 3000 miles. This
    method takes longer (maybe months), and is not guaranteed to work if
    that's not the problem - but there's no damage beign done while the
    clatter continues. The advantage of this method is that it involves an
    absolute minimum of effort and time (again - if it works - it did for me
    and occasionally for others depending on the cause of the problem in
    that particular engine). The advantage of Cameron's "invasive" method
    is that it gives instant gratification (if that was the problem).
    3) If you go the oil pump area route, you have a good chance of success
    simply by replacing the oil pump seals and staying with the existing
    pump to save costs. There are many that claim the the pump itself is
    rarely the problem - that it is much more likely just the pump seals
    (o-ring, MM gasket, and shaft seal, which is replacable). My philosophy
    is this: Since you probably do not know if the pump was ever replaced,
    you should go ahead and replace it this time. It's a bit of work to get
    in there for the seals. It would be a shame to expend the labor for
    just the seals, and then determine that the pump itself is bad and have
    to go in again to replace it. IIRC, you should be able to get an
    aftermarket pump for $60-100U.S.

    I'm curious why a car with that age has only 104k on it. Perhaps it
    hasn't been run enough (long enough and hot enough) to keep the lube
    system clean. Perhaps with such low useage, the owner has neglected oil
    changes. This may be a clue that a controlled cleanout with MMO will do
    the trick. On the other hand, with that age (even though low mileage),
    it's easy to imagine that the oil pump seals have shrunk and are the
    problem. You have to make that decision. (Of course there's always the
    possibility that the owner disconnected the speedo during a good part of
    the car's life.)

    If you would enjoy getting the bargain price that you seem to feel you
    are getting, and you feel like investing the time in fixing it (which I
    do believe you can, using the above info.), you might ought to go for
    it. However, if you can't afford the time to give the car the required
    one-time TLC it needs to resolve this problem, then you probably ought
    to pass on it. Again - your decision. Keep in mind also that you could
    get it and do nothing, and she would just be driving a car with noisy
    lifters but no added damage (or put MMO in it and possibly fix the
    problem for next to nothing - if that doesn't work, you're only out the
    cost of the MMO and otherwise no worse off).


    Bill Putney
    (to reply by e-mail, replace the last letter of the alphabet in my
    address with "x")
    Bill Putney, Jul 13, 2003
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  3. Tony,
    If the seller would go for it, you could try the remedy outlined over
    at USMB - http://pub110.ezboard.com/bultimatesubarumessageboards
    you may have to ask or look around in the archives but some folks had
    great success at loosening up hyros with some kinda oil additive/flush
    procedure. Tell the guy if it fixes the car you'll buy it ,if not, he
    should pay for (at least half?) the cost of the procedure. If you live
    in a community that has emmisions testing you should also insist on a
    new sticker/test. Even if the one on the car is only 2-3 months old.
    1 Lucky Texan
    Carl 1 Lucky Texan, Jul 13, 2003
  4. Anthony

    Bill Putney Guest

    LOL! And chances are whatever you find on the ezBoard on the subject
    will have been authored by me. The procedure is what I described in my
    other post using MMO or Sea Foam (automatic transmission fluid also
    works). But like I said, the results aren't always immediate.

    Bill Putney
    (to reply by e-mail, replace the last letter of the alphabet in my
    address with "x")
    Bill Putney, Jul 13, 2003
  5. Anthony

    Anthony Guest

    Thanx, I've book marked the page with the lifter info. This car is very
    clean inside and out but I don't want deal with replacing the engine. I do
    know what noisy lifters sound like and when the owner of the car told me it
    had valve noise, I figured it was ready to toss a rod but it sounds like
    lifters to me and it gets a little quieter after a minute or two.

    It's too bad its a 2WD and AT, or I'd get it for myself.

    I suspect the low miles are do to the age of the owners. I suspect they are
    in their 70's but they admitted that they bought it used 5 years ago. It's
    possible that there is odometer fraud involved. Anyway, I'll test drive it
    tomorrow and report back.

    Anthony, Jul 13, 2003
  6. Anthony

    Bill Putney Guest

    Sounds good. Probably the condition of the upholstery will give you an
    idea if the odometer miles are honest or not. The engines in these cars
    will practically run forever, so miles are not that important for that.

    The only thing that really happens to them is head warpage or head
    gasket problems - and I'm convinced that that's only 'cause people let
    the temp gage creep up over a long period of time due to a deteriorating
    radiator (internal clogging and/or external fins eroding or clogging
    with sand and/or bugs) or a radiator hose burst and not paying attention
    to the temp gage one time too many. And with a moderate investment, the
    heads and head gaskets can be replaced.

    Bill Putney
    (to reply by e-mail, replace the last letter of the alphabet in my
    address with "x")
    Bill Putney, Jul 15, 2003
  7. Actually Bill, I trhink either my NG server or my personal settings made
    it difficult for me to retrieve your prvious post. I hope you didn't
    think I was acusing you of not being helpful. I get 'article number not
    found' type errors occasionally and lately it seems some of my own posts
    don't show up in a timely fashion.
    As a new Subaru owner and new reader at USMB I can definitely see that a
    decent searchable data base would be handy. I am also trying to
    encourage folks to respond back when there question/problem is resolved
    as often there are multiple paths to try. This is the same as some other
    'hobby' related newsletters and forums I monitor. If we ALL communicate
    then we all know everything!

    1 Lucky Texan
    Carl 1 Lucky Texan, Jul 15, 2003
  8. Anthony

    Bill Putney Guest

    No problem.

    I used to have big problems with messages having expired on NG's too.
    When I switched ISP's a year or so ago, the problems totally went away,
    so I think, at least in my case, it had to do with the quality of
    service from the ISP - maybe that's your problems too.

    I too am all for feedback from original posters of a thread to let
    everyone know what the outcome of the problem was - as you say - we all
    learn that way. And it's nice to see a thank you posted to someone who
    gave useful advice.

    I think a search feature on a forum or ng is important. Old hangers-on
    get tired of writing the same four or five paragraphs over and over and
    over again when the same problem keeps getting posted. Good search
    capability accomplishes at least two things: A newby can do a search and
    find the asnwer to a question that's already been asked (cuts down on
    traffic), and if a repeat question shows up, people can point them to
    the right answer with a one or two sentence reply. Everyone can then
    focus more on providing and receiving new information.

    BTW - you do know about Google archiving the newsgroups? There is a
    delay of a day or so in stuff showing up, but it is complete and works
    well. The ""Advance Search" (of Groups) has some good features too. My
    earlier posts in this thread should be there by now if you want to take
    a look at them.

    Bill Putney
    (to reply by e-mail, replace the last letter of the alphabet in my
    address with "x")
    Bill Putney, Jul 15, 2003
  9. Hi,

    If you decide to go with the car, please follow Bill's advice on pump
    seals and timing belts. Since you've gotta dive in a ways to do the pump
    seals, might as well get cam seals (both sides) and front crank main
    seal out of the way, too. All of these seals are prone to getting
    brittle with time and they WILL leak. (My Subie parts guy likes to joke
    Subies are designed to leak and they work perfectly just as designed!)

    Also, many will advise you to go ahead and change out the water pump,
    too. Considering the age of the car, it's probably due. A few extra
    dollars ($60-80US?) and very little extra time. You've gotta do the same
    amount of work regardless of which of these jobs you take on, so save
    yourself a lot of extra time in the future by doing them all at once!

    Another thing: hoses. Even if you don't change the water pump, install a
    new bypass hose, a little L-shaped guy about 3 or 4 inches long that
    comes off the pump. And look for a couple of tiny little water hoses on
    the top of the engine, one near the t-stat housing, the other behind the
    throttle body injector (assuming this is NOT a carburetted car) that you
    might otherwise mistake for vacuum or fuel lines. Change them for sure.
    Heater hoses and radiator hoses fill the rest of the bill.

    Other things will come to mind, but these should get you started on the
    right path!

    Good luck,

    Rick Courtright, Jul 20, 2003
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