Various Subaru projects: from grocery-getter to offroad camping vehicle

This post is way after the fact for some of the work; while some of the projects continue to this day.  A brief look at them, then.

1) Upgraded radio with backup camera: I did this in early January when it was super cold because the tape deck in the Subaru was dying; the CD player was dead; and there was no auxiliary port for me to listen to my own music.  As such, I figured I would upgrade as well – touchscreen, built in GPS (so I don’t have to use up data on my phone), DVD player (what a silly feature for a daily commuter but sure!), and so forth.  Second time I have ever taken THIS much of a car’s radio and dashboard apart (though the first, my VW, I went a lot further), so it wasn’t too bad.  A lot of work the first time while making sure I wasn’t going to snap any plastic in the cold or lose any fasteners with my cold fingers.

If the DVD player can play a Nic Cage movie (and the GPS works), the radio is good to go!

If the DVD player can play a Nic Cage movie (and the GPS works), the radio is good to go!

The other and necessary add-on for this was a backup camera which would show up on the radio’s touch screen when I put the car into reverse (such a nice screen when installed, I need to squeeze all the utility out of it that I can)!

Unfortunately for me, the “clever” solution I purchased from Amazon was a two-in-one cable, with both a plug for the video camera in the trunk and an integral power wire from the radio to the reverse light so going into reverse automatically puts the camera onto the radio, and then turns it off once I shift out of reverse.  This “clever” solution sounds like a great idea as it is two wires within the same insulation, so only one wire to run the length of the car… but once I got it all buttoned up the first time, I tried it out and it didn’t work.  I could manually turn the camera on and off using the button on the touchscreen, but it wasn’t automatic with the reverse lights.  The problem,  it turns out, is that the junky Chinese TINY wire for power burned out or maybe never even worked due to such thin gauge wire.  The video cable works like a charm so I left it in… but I eventually had the “pleasure” of running additional cables from the rear hatch, behind all the trim, to the front and taking the radio apart.  Now, though, the camera (de)activates automatically and it is awesome.

2) Mounting rooftop lights: this is a dream long deferred (even when I first got my VW Passat, not at all an offroad vehicle, I was VERY tempted to try and figure out a way to mount them.  I LOVE me some automotive lighting).  It was a cold day but warmer than the days around it (a balmy 41 degrees) so I took the vacation day and dove into a variety of jobs and projects for the car, including the light mounting.  Started by scrubbing rust on the roof basket and then drilling holes for the lights:

The fact of the matter is: the front-facing light bar will rarely, if ever, see use. It is wildly illegal to use roof-mounted lights while on a public way (which likely includes parking lots), and I don’t do much in the way of offroading.  Perhaps on a VERY deserted backcountry road at night in a deer-infested area… but likely, it will be a cool-looking accessory that isn’t used.  Still, the amount of light it puts out is GLORIOUS:

Ridiculous light output on the front.

Ridiculous light output on the front.

The rear-facing lights, however, are pure gold.  They are tied into the reverse light on a switch (so they’re either on with the reverse lights, off, or on with the parking lights).  This means I have huge light output behind the car when backing up… but also that I can turn the car off, the parking lights on, and use the lights as work lights on a project or for setting up a campsite.

Two dinky little lights...

Two dinky little lights…

... but a crazy amount of light output.

… but a crazy amount of light output.

3) Hood wind deflector and rust repair:

I still don’t fully believe it, but this never-garaged, rarely-washed 2001 Subaru came to be with close to 0 rust on the body (and only a little bit of surface rust on the underbody).  Months ago I did the work necessary to scrub rust off the underbody and then protect it – because it is easy to slap red rustproofing paint onto the never-visible underbody.  The rock chips on the hood which had started to develop into VERY small rust spots, though… that is easily visible to one and all onlookers.  After considering different options (paying to have the hood front edge professionally repainted, and then protected with the awesome and expensive XPEL clear protective film I got on my Cruze; do nothing and hope it lasts; just slop some paint onto it), I realized there was a better way.  I got an OEM Subaru wind/bug deflector for the front edge of the hood…

… and but before installation I took the unprecedented step of slopping paint onto auto body paint!! In my defense: the deflector would cover and protect the rust-encapsulating paint, which would protect the rust from water and oxygen, in theory preventing it from ever spreading further:

4) Auxiliary fuse box:

One integral project to the rooftop lighting above (and really for any future electrical additions to the car like the amateur radio I still haven’t purchased, for the amateur radio license I still haven’t used after many months of having it) is a clean and reliability way of containing the various wires and fuses for the add-ons.  Thusly, the car has been graced with an auxiliary fuse block and the gigantic 4 gauge wire needed to provide power and ground to it:


The biggest part of this project was custom fabricating an aluminum bracket to hold the fuse block in place above the brake cylinder (because there was space there, so why not!).  Nothing is plugged into the fuse block yet, as the weather has been too foul and my schedule too busy to finish the wiring project, but soon enough it shall see power coursing through it.

5) Upgraded alternator: Hand in hand with the ability to plug more things in… is the need to provide more electrical capacity from the engine, which can only be done with an upgraded alternator.  It is worth pointing out that for the late 90’s Subaru models up through the mid-2000’s, their stock 90 amp alternators are really insufficient to handle even the basic stock components.  Best example: use of the brakes or a turn signal will see the headlights dim at idle and even while moving slowly.  The stock alternator simply cannot keep up with those basic needs.  Although 180 amps, double stock, is more than I need, I went with the only option I could find that had good reviews – a Facebook-based small shop in South Carolina called J’s Ultimate Alts.

More electricity requires more wiring capacity, so a few tasks needed doing before I could install it .  After doing the prerequisite work of upgrading the grounding wires to the engine and chassis to a thicker 8 gauge wire and also a gigantic 4 gauge wire from the alternator to the battery, I will be able to install the new alternator relatively painlessly once I have the time.  For now, the powder coated beast next to the stock alternator:

6) Knowing that the spring shall bring an engine rebuild:

Finally, this car has been a really great winter driver, absolutely not caring how awful the roads are… but there is the lurking issue I have known about since buying it.  A well-known issue across multiple Subaru years and models, the head gaskets are leaky.  I am thankful that my 2001 falls into a 3 year run of these cars (2000-2002) where the head gasket will get a little weepy and then a little leaky and then leak more… but it will continue to be safe to drive if you’re watching the coolant and oil levels and adding to them.  Other years, you basically need to garage the car upon learning that a head gasket is leaking because it could fully give out at any times.

As such, I have been doing a bit of safe gambling by continuing to drive the car, even as a daily driver during the winter.  Come the spring, though, an engine rebuild is coming…


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