Project Audinary- So close, So, So far

Last year you were introduced to my erstwhile daily-driver turned nothing-to-lose street weapon. Project Audinary, a 1998 Audi A4 1.8t that I have owned for seven years. It’s covered seventy thousand miles in my custody, and at 120K elapsed is due its second cam-belt change.
My intention was to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone.  I know there’s something awful going on concerning the oil and the coolant and the fact that they seem to be on rather better terms with each other than I’d like, leading to disgusting emulsified yellowness in the expansion tank. So I’d like to get to grips with this first, and the cambelt. Once I’m satisfied that the car is healthy enough to be a sensible proposition to have money thrown at it, I can start looking at far sexier things like remapped ECU’s, uprated injectors and higher-PSI turbos.
For now, I’m having a go at walking before even attempting to run.

I LOVE having a big pile of parts sitting there ready to go into a project. It gives you hope, focus and determination. I’d spent a bunch of cash at Euro Car Parts, actually receiving a pretty handsome deal (thanks Lee!). The list of what I intended to accomplish over the weekend is thus:

  • Replace Cambelt: due six months ago, last changed 2008. By me.
  • Investigate / cure horrible sludgy mayonnaise scenario.
  • Perform annual service (might as well while it’s in bits).

Last time we saw the car it looked pretty much like this. That is to say, pretty awful. I had set about pulling off all kinds of black plastic bits which were in the way.
Before removing the front panel I had drained the coolant, a process which made feel pretty queasy as that ‘orrible yellow puss oozed out. There was lots of it. Bleaurgh. So I also removed the expansion tank and all the pipes and wires and nonsense that leads from it. This will be getting a damn good clean to get rid of the toxic yellowness. Or possibly a replacement.
I’ve got a new radiator, so that’ll be going on, the old one has received liberal doses of Radweld over the years and is going green in several places. IN THE TRASH WITH IT.
This was where I stopped last time around, feeling a bit demoralised and all because of three little sodding bolts. It’s the PAS pump pulley and Mr Haynes says it “can be locked by passing a metal pin (such as a drill bit) through the hole in the pulley”.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING. If there ever was a hole in the pulley it has magically sealed itself. So, all manner of tomfoolery occurred in fruitless pursuit of holding the pulley still enough to undo the three bolts. Eventually an impact driver and a deafening war-cry combined and the bolts shifted. Hooray.
The PAS belt itself, which is tiny, is cracked and perished to buggery and is among the growing list of items I have forgotten to buy replacements for.
With that finally off I could continue with the demolition. First off, alternator. Then PAS pump, then water pump. I had replaced the water pump before. It failed spectacularly within 48 hrs of me driving the car home from Sweden. They’re notoriously prone to failure thanks to a hopeless plastic impeller.
The replacement (now six years old) has a metal impeller, and is still pumping coolant around the system well enough. I just thought it would be rather jolly to put a shiny new one on along with the lovely new cambelt.
Hilariously, on removing the pump I found it to be somewhat bollocksed.
IMAG0227New one on left, old one on right. It’s borked in two, fun ways. Firstly it’s all stiff and grindy and wobbly when you turn it, secondly it’s rather alarmingly corroded. IN THE TRASH WITH IT. I’m very glad I made the decision to spend out on a new one. I’ll put a new thermostat in while I’m at it; another item on the list of things I forgot.
How thorough of me.
So, with the alternator and all that out of the way:
Next thing to have a look at. This is the Oil Cooler / Heat Exchanger thingy that I’M DESPARATELY HOPING is the cause of all my hot-dog mustard build up issues. I’m pretty sure my head gasket is OK, the compression test results were perfectly even and very good. Whatever, I don’t like the the look of it so IN THE TRASH WITH IT.
I was a bit puzzled by how this thing actually attached, but found eventually that it’s secured by flat a 24mm nut under hardly any torque. A bit of twisting action and it was free. It’s got one hose in, one hose out and they’re held in place by stupid use-once spring clips, and, guess what, I have no replacements.
The coolant hoses look a bit suspect to me, they’re all bulgy and deformed at the input / output and, frankly I don’t trust them. Looks like I’ll need to make a trip to an Audi parts department as ECP don’t stock these, nor the silly retaining clip things.
For the time being it’s been left dangling hopelessly in the air while I do bits I CAN do.
IMAG0228CAMBELT TIME! The upper timing belt cover comes off through the manipulation of mere spring-clips. Childsplay. Smashing. The Lower timing belt cover is almost a piece of piss, but for Mr Haynes and his cruel sense of humour. There are no less than four totally different fixings, 12mm bolt, 10mm bolt, 6mm hex and, just to keep you guessing, 5mm hex.
The latter was a bastard as I genuinely thought It was a 6 and I’d knackered it up because my torx bit wouldn’t turn it. I was about to roll up into a ball and cry when it occurred to me to try a 5mm. Shit me did it take some torque, but it came free and I could say OH HAI! to the cambelt.
I used my tried ‘n tested mark-it-up and count the teeth technique, having first set things to TDC just to be safe. I couldn’t remember whether there was a way of, or even a need to, lock the flywheel. I couldn’t see any mention in the bit of Haynes Manual that I was looking at, so I figured it wouldn’t matter.
The cambelt kit I bought comprises an idler pulley, a tensioner pulley and a belt, but you have to reuse the tensioner piston. I must admit I wasn’t expecting this because last time I changed the piston as well, but hey-ho.
So I slackened off the pulley bolt and with the assistance of a second pair of hands got ready to compress the piston (as stated by Mr Haynes) and insert a 2mm locking pin to put it “on safety” so to speak.
The springs in these pistons have enough energy in them to put man on the moon, so compressing them is a bitch. Furthermore trying to insert the pin is a proper pain in the arse because the piston rotates while it’s compressed. We were getting seriously fed up with it and then BANG.
This was the last thing we expected really, so for that reason we should probably have assumed it would happen. Basically, in following the gospel of Mr Haynes we were exerting so much torque on the tensioner it physically sheared. The bit that the piston acts upon simply snapped straight off, taking a chunk of the piston housing off with it. I wasn’t wearing anything in the way of protective clothing and am bloody glad it hadn’t entered my person. IN THE TRASH WITH IT.
And check this out: The force we had been using was SO MASSIVE that it actually broke the bearing. Look at the crack in the blurry image above. Shit! Looking at the bit that sheared off shows the casting (or forging) to have had a very crystaline structure to the core metal, who knows if this would have actually failed of its own accord if it was given a chance.
So, Game Over. For now, anyway. Need a new tensioner piston to finish the Cambelt, need a new thermostat to finish the water pump and need new hoses to finish the oil cooler. Then, if I can successfully get the whole mess back together, on the road and driving around without the coolant system filling back up with cheese spread, then and only then can I green-light Phase Two.
Stay tuned for further exciting developments!
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2015)

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  1. GTXcellent Avatar

    I had to look twice – I thought the anti-freeze bottles were extra large jugs of antacid. I’m not sure if 3 bottles is enough. 😉 Good luck, looks like a fun project.

  2. Scoff Law Avatar
    Scoff Law

    Is it just me or do nearly all modern Audi’s require disassembling the entire front end to do any kind of substantive maintenance on them?

    1. JayP Avatar

      Yes. It’s called “The Service Position.”

    2. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      Yeah. One glimpse of the lede photo and I knew it was a VAG product.
      –Former Phaeton owner

  3. JayP Avatar

    Good Luck. I got out of Audis before I made myself a promise I’d work on my own cars. Being all Fords, I just need a hammer and adjustable wrench.
    Some other maintenance items that’ll make your ride more weapony is to change out the crap engine and trans mounts. At 100k miles mine were shot. Replaced with the 034 streets. The RS4 units must be about the same stiffness. I wish I’d bought the 034 race kit in any case.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I hadn’t even thought of the mounts, to be honest. I’ll put them on the “further developments” list. Cheers.

      1. JayP Avatar

        Not that expensive to upgrade. It made a nice difference in my 2002.
        The stock kits are filled with silicone and once they leak, they are dead.
        Keep us updated. My kid wants a MkI TT as his first car. Good lord.

  4. CSM Avatar

    Too few miles for so many cooling system parts to fail. Too bad VW/Audi went cheap on these components. Even my POS KIA cooling system looks a whole lot better with 100k miles.

  5. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    you might try to test the oil cooler with a bicycle pump or mityvac and some test plugs. attach a gauge, pump it up (or down) a few psi, and see if it holds.
    if yes, enjoy your low-cal no-mayo coolant! if not, my condolences.

  6. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    I’m reminded yet again of why I run W124s as daily drivers. No cambelt, change waterpump at 300000km as a precaution, (probably not needed in the end) and oil/ filter changes at 20000km.
    I’m still looking at S8s though.

  7. neight428 Avatar

    Two words I appreciate now more than ever: timing chain. One could replace a set of cylinder heads on a pushrod V8 with less effort than that cam belt requires. Best of luck.

  8. CountCrackula Avatar

    Thanks for reminding me of all the reason I will never own an audi.

  9. CapitalistRoader Avatar

    Leakdown test on the cylinders. Compression test doesn’t always pick up a bad HG.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I should probably do this. If I don’t, though, if I choose to play the odds and it turns out I do have HG trouble, I owe you a Coke.

      1. JayP Avatar

        If it happens to be the head gasket, get it shaved to bump up the CR. Then you’ll be pumping your own race gas out of a 55gal drum for the rest of your life.
        That’s so cool.

      2. CapitalistRoader Avatar

        F22B2 Accord: 160, 158, 159, 165psi, sucking down 1qt. coolant every 200 miles. Leakdown showed #3 cylinder leaking into cooling system. New HG and all was good; head was flat, too.

  10. pursang Avatar

    I was debating buying a used Audi A4 as a daily driver last year when I saw a photo on the internet (maybe here) of an A4 with its entire front end to removed just to replace its thermostat. Ended up buying a lonely and unloved like new 08 SAAB 9-5 Aero 5 speed with 50,000 miles on it sitting across the street from the Audi dealer; at least I can do routine maintenance without removing the entire front end. It’s been a great car and about $10 grand stayed in the bank. And the cams are chain driven and the T stat is right out in the open.
    I love Audis, just not sure I can afford to love them off warranty.

    1. JayP Avatar

      Non-warranty Audi owners are hard core.
      The aftermarket is ripe with parts and the Audi community will assist with anything you’ll ever encounter. It takes dedication and a sweet set of tools.