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Reviving the WRX

Sometimes your favorite things in life have to take the back seat, get moved to Vermont to be stored in the woods, get moldy, and have trees fall on their fenders.

After a few different life choices, I finally had the opportunity to revive my beloved 2003 WRX bugeye wagon. During the dark days of Covid in 2020, I finally had the time and means to get my car that had been sitting in my parents yard for the last 5 years while I moved from San Diego to Buffalo to NYC to San Diego and back to NYC again.

I knew things were not in a great state. My dad mentioned mold. Ugh. I had seen some pics but I had no idea what the state really was.

In addition to the mold, the car had sat so long, I had no idea the mechanical condition of many things and decided that I would:

  1. Deal with the mold and thoroughly clean the car
  2. Replace the timing belt
  3. Replace all the fluids

Easy enough, until my first trip up to VT with some tools in hand and a ready to rip attitude!

Not only was the WRX a petri dish for mother nature, a whole army of mice had decided it made a great condo as well. Some even made their penthouse in my headliner where they found ample supplies to build their nests. If they weren't chillin' on the top deck, they were in my HVAC, using the filters as their source of warmth and who knows what else.

In the end, a simple "clean the mold" problem turned into a triple hazmat suit affair. I won't get into all the details, but here are some condition pics:

A few panic attacks later, I got out a power washer and blasted this thing! Woah, hey there, you clean up nice! Popular recommendation for New Englanders: buy cars from the southwest.

Mold Remediation

Onto actually cleaning this thing. The first concern was stripping the interior to air it out. This was where I first started discovering signs of mice. I also found that the moisture culprit was the rain gutters of the car. They were jammed full of pine needles and other debris from surviving the seasons in Vermont. I could see a distinct stain in the headliner right where the rear luggage rack is attached to the car.

As I removed everything from the car, I found more and more signs of mice, cumulating in the headliner removal which might have sent a moust scuring down my arm. I honestly can't remember if that was real.. either way I ran into the woods screaming.

To clean the surfaces I used lots of vinegar and other mold specific cleaners. For carpets and upholstry I go a steam cleaner which saved the day. After a short period of cleaning, I was able to visually eradicate the mold. There was additional work done on all surfaces I could find to remove any mold spores. (Edit: 2024 Philip here. As I work on the car now, I have stripped it down even further, cleaned even more, and replaced massive amounts of parts in the car, it no longer has mildew smell and is very nice and clean. Its a huge pain but most cars can be saved!)

After removal of everything from inside the car, it was aired out for a few weeks, mouse traps were added, and the entire began to not smell. Or at least not like the previous odors.

Burning Oil and Changing a Timing Belt on a Dirt Driveway

Now that the interior was clean I began running through my punchlist of mechanical and maintenance items.

I had never changed a timing belt so this was a bit of work for me. I tore apart the front end of the car to access it and after quick a few discord chats and hours spent purusing NAOSIC, and a trip back home to NY, I was able to get the timing belt installed.

This was a great place to start since I had to drain coolant, and I began working around the car to change all the fluids (oil, power steering, brakes, rear diff, transmission, and lastly coolant.)

As I completed all of these steps I fired up the WRX and things were groovy! Things were great! I ripped around the dirt roads a bit. My tires were trashed but I could go vroom and even stop!

Somewhere along the way, I worked more on the turbo as I knew I was getting an oil leak or burning there. As is tradition with all Subaru's, this lil white pony LOVES to go through oil. I was also getting a good amount of residual smoke around the turbo and up-pipe and decided it was time to replace the turbo as well.

I had been out of the "DIY" car space for a bit and bought a used turbo off ebay. Installed it. Go for first drive. Car dies. I recheck everything and all looks good.

At this point I needed to go back to NY and was able to get it to a shop to have them take a look at my handy work as well as replace the tires.

Long and short of it: I ordered a refurbed turbo based on not being well educated in this space and had the shop slap it on. What did they find? I forgot to put the gasket between the factory BOV and intercooler... costly lesson.

Its only money, right?! What did I get out of this? A working 2003 WRX in pretty good condition, headed back to NYC where surely it will remain pristine!

Next Up

  • Brakes went soft, need to revisit brake bleeding
  • Clutch is not great and after driving for an hour or two becomes pretty terrible
  • Continue restoring the car to its former glory!

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