Things that suck #3: Wrenching

Presumably, as a reader of YSAR, you’re like me and love high performance driving. If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t put up with all the time and money it takes to participate. Personally, I take great pride in how little money I spend compared to the average driver. Truthfully, I don’t have the data to make this statement, so let’s look at some details so you can see exactly what I mean.

  • Toyota Yaris racecar, cost $3,040 to buy and about $3,000 more to be fully race legal (it has log books for SCCA, NASA, Lucky Dog, and ChampCar).
  • My typical consumables cost for a weekend of endurance racing is $250 per person for a 4-person team. This includes fuel, tires, oils, pads, rotors, drums, and a slush fund for long-term repairs.
  • The car has raced for 6 years in well over 20 events, 7 of which were endurance races lasting 15-24 hours.


Didn’t I start this post with “time and money”? While I haven’t spent a lot of money, I have spent a lot of time. I do a lot of the work myself, and not knowing what I’m doing most of the time (I suck at wrenching), it takes me more time than an actual mechanic or fabricator. I know that some people actually like working on cars, but I’m not one of them. I got into this sport because I like to drive, not wrench. So why don’t I have someone else do the work? Well, truthfully I do. Sometimes my teammates come over to help, and sometimes I even take my car/parts to a mechanic. The reason I don’t always have someone else work on the car is because there’s a part of me that feels like I should do the work myself. If I want to be able to diagnose problems in the middle of a race, I need to know how everything is put together. But that understanding comes at a price: my time. Is it worth it? I don’t know.

Current status

The Yaris is undergoing major work for the first time since the initial build. Here’s what it looks like as it sits in my driveway.

So what’s wrong with it? Do you see that crack in the middle of the photo below? That was the source of the overheating. Combustion gasses leaking into the coolant is bad. If I knew more about cars, I might be able to explain more eloquently.

The car ran hot for 6 hours before actually stopping. When we tested the compression, it was very low across multiple cylinders. The photo below is looking through the exhaust ports at the underside of the valves (or maybe it’s the intake valves, IDK). As you can see, the valves don’t seal anymore.

So now with the engine undergoing replacement, I thought it would be a good idea to upgrade other parts of the car. The shitty TRD-branded suspension is being replaced with Bilstein B14.

The engine itself is not being upgraded. I got a stock JDM 1NZ-FE. Given that the previous engine ran thousands of race miles after having 150K street miles on it, I think the replacement with 30-40K should go a while before giving up.

One of the problems with the Yaris is inside wheel spin from the open differential. Too much spinning causes excessive tire wear. Also, on short, tight corners you really can’t put the throttle down. The car will be better in every way with an LSD. I bought one a while ago, and was waiting for the right time to install it. With the engine out of the car, that time is now.

Another problem with the Yaris is that the gears are way too tall.  2nd gear tops out at 60 mph and 3rd at 88 mph. There are lots of corners where you’re either at the very top of 2nd or bottom of 3rd. I take these in 3rd and curse as the needle lazily makes its way up the tach. Switching from a 3.722 final drive ratio to a 4.312 should make these corners a lot better. So where does one get a 4.312? From a manual transmission Scion xB. The bell housings are different, so you have to pull the parts out from the guts of the transmission. Easy peasy.

Well, not so much. First, you have to find a manual transmission xB. I’ve scoured Pick-n-Pull multiple times without any luck. Just a couple days ago, I looked dejectedly at 6 autos. Today, I got lucky. The last of another 6 xBs was a manual. Halleluiah! Now I just had to harvest the final drive.

Dropping an engine and cracking open the transfer case by yourself with hand tools isn’t fun. Or easy. Oh, and it also takes a lot of time if you suck at wrenching like me. But in the end, I gutted the beast and returned from the hunting grounds with my trophy in hand. The photo below was taken around the middle of the operation.

Now everything has to go back in. Fuckity fuck fucker. I hate this shit. Maybe I’ll pay someone to do it for me.

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