Engine change

Ken Chambers

Hello fellow Arcaners.  Hoping the collective knowledge of this group can shed some light.


I’ve got a 1984 VW Westfalia camper van with the original 1.9L, 80 HP engine.  I want to do the popular Subaru engine conversion that will increase the HP to 120 to 170 depending on the engine year.


A company called Kennedy Engineering managed to get a blanket CA Smog approval if you buy their conversion kit and use a 1990’s ODB1 2.2L Subaru engine.  They did that kit some 20 plus years ago and those engines are approaching 30 years old now.  This would be the easiest path with regard to the Smog requirements but would only gain around 40HP.


The newer Subaru engines are much more desirable and would more than double the HP making it drive more like a modern vehicle, in addition to less pollutants and better overall fuel mileage.  The conversion shops install these later engines in Vanagons all the time but that puts the burden on California owners in getting them legally Smog approved on a case by case basis.  People do get them approved here but I’ve heard it could be a nightmare dealing with the Air Quality District Smog referees. 


The difficulty could be this.  Two conversion shops told me that some DTCs are triggered producing fault codes that have nothing to do with the engine.  Apparently the Subaru ECU is looking at a non-engine issue that isn’t present after the conversion.  That illuminates the CEL and a smog shop will fail (or not even test) the vehicle.  The work-around the conversion shops do is to put a switch on the CEL to turn it off.  Kennedy Engineering, however, has a list of “acceptable” codes that the Smog shops are to ignore.  But if I go with a newer non-Kennedy approved engine, I would have to convince a smog referee that those codes are acceptable.  Okay, good luck with that.


If I choose the “unapproved” more modern ODB2 engine what am I in for with regard to CA Smog approval?  Anyone have first hand knowledge or know of some service that handles such things?


We own a rental in Ashland, OR.  Is it possible to register the vehicle in Oregon for some period of time then re-register it back here in Calif?  What would that entail?  Would California DMV then accept a vehicle from out of state that is not necessarily smog compliant here?


Greatly appreciate any advice, wisdom or recommendations.

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