Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Subaru Domingo / Libero / Sambar VW bodykit purchase

Hi, and welcome to my blog! :-)

I have been a subaru fan for many years,. I started with Impreza’s, so when I needed a small van 7-8 years ago, the obvious choice was to buy a subaru sumo (produced from 1983-1998, also known as the Subaru Libero in the European market, Subaru Columbuss in Sweden, Subaru Domingo or Subaru Estratto in the Japanese market,.. sometimes also called Subaru E10 and Subaru E12 - the names referring to the size of the engines, 1.0 litre or 1.2 litre respectively). A selectable 4WD system was available on the 1.2 L models.

I bought a K reg (1992) Subaru sumo 1.0 litre (E10) from ebay described as running but noisy, suspected blowing exhaust / exhaust manifold ,. When I went to pick it up the battery was conveniently flat and the guy had pushed it out of a garage onto a high street and said it was really noisy, sounded like there was no exhaust attached at all, so he wouldn’t advise jump starting it.. So I took it home on trust.

When I got it home I checked the water and oil and noticed the dip stick was dry. Started pouring oil in before noticing a puddle appearing on the floor as quickly as I was adding it! Looked underneath and found a large hole in the engine block! 80 characters was not enough for the eBay feedback I wanted to leave for the seller! :-)

not put off by my first experience, I ended up buying another Subaru sumo from eBay (which was a good buy – still using it today)

In the 90’s Subaru released the Subaru Sambar, a 660cc, 5 seat van with an optional supercharger and intercooler package, coupled with fuel injection. An automatic transmission (ECVT system) was offered along with full-time 4WD system. The Subaru Sambar is classed as a Kei car - a Japanese category of small vehicle, designed to comply with Japanese government tax and insurance regulations. The regulations restrict physical size and engine displacement. These standards originated in the times following the end of the Second World War, when most Japanese could not afford a full-sized car, yet had enough to buy a motorcycle. To promote the growth of the car industry, as well as to offer an alternative delivery method to small business and shop owners, kei car standards were created.

The Subaru Domingo shared many characteristics with the Subaru Sambar, except it had extended front and rear bumpers and was powered by a 1.0- or 1.2-litre 3-cylinder EF engine (taking it out of the kei car range) based on those used in the Subaru Justy. The increased power meant a maximum seating capacity of 7 was possible. In 1994, Subaru's Full Time 4WD was added to the options list with the ECVT automatic transmissionIn Japan many of the Sambar's / Domingo’s have been fitted with a bodykit to replicate the VW campervan (but smaller :-) ).

In March 2013 I bought a M reg, 1994, Subaru Domingo, 1.2L ECVT automatic with a VW bodykit from ebay. The Ad Read:

Broken gearbox. Broken lock due to attempted break in - broken central locking system. One of the back door handles broken. Scratched on one side (not deep). Registration plate cracked top right corner. Scuff marks on the back bumper

Reluctantly we are selling our lovely Subaru Domingo VW replica. We imported the car from Japan in 2011 and it's simply the cutest car in the world! A real head turner, spreading smiles everywhere we go. Please note this is the 1.2l version, with 7 seats and can comfortably do 70mph. Beautiful on the inside too, with 50's style 'American diner' seats. Very low tax, low mileage and excellent mpg.

It is currently SORN, needing a new gearbox. Unfortunately while it was at the garage an attempted break in has damaged one of the locks, immobilizing the central locking system. We don't have the resources to get it fixed or keep it safely off road, so we feel it's time to pass it on to someone who will be able to give it the care it deserves. Other than a couple of small scratches, the bodywork is in excellent condition, and we are told that the engine, given the age, is also in excellent condition. FSH (though mostly in Japanese!) and all import/export documents included.

I arranged for it to be Collected from Edinburgh on 15 April 2013, a couple of days later it arrived J

I noticed the Fog light was broken and the bumper was scuffed (probably by the delivery company)

Other than that, it was as described. Started and idled fine, all electrics worked (even hanging fog light) air con was cold. Bodywork was in good condition, no rust, underneath very solid.

After walking around the van I noted the following things to repair
*Door lock & Central locking – going to add remote central locking /alarm to fix this
*Replace door handle (colour coded)
*Replace cracked front number plate
*Replace fog light
*Repaint rear bumper and possibly add a splitter to match front bumper & side skirts
*Repair scratch down passenger’s side
*Repair front bumper crack
*Full body detail (clay bar, DA polish, carnauba wax)
*Interior deep clean valet
*Possibly upgrade stereo system (Double din head unit and component speakers)

Turning to the engine,
*Obviously the gearbox needed to be repaired.
*The engine / engine bay was very dirty – needed a thorough clean and paint (and I would clean / paint the gearbox and engine and ancillaries whilst it was out)

*Air box needed repainting

*Exhaust looked in good condition, just needed a clean

*Gearbox dirty and oily around the sump

*Rocker cover required polishing

I started with the easy job and replaced the number plate (including a chrome surround) J and ordered the replacement side door handle from Subaru (which will be colour coded before installing)

The engine idles and revs fine, but there is a warning light on the dash (clutch temp light) and the van does not even attempt to move when selecting any gears.

Having never worked on a Domingo or ECVT gearbox before,. I began researching. I found that the Domingo shared the ECVT gearbox with the Subaru Justy. The transaxle combines a magnetic powder clutch with a steel belt and two variable pulleys.  The magnetic powder clutch is controlled by the ECVT computer, which monitors engine speed, vehicle speed, and throttle position.  Power from the engine is transmitted through the transaxle clutch and then to the drive pulley.  A steel belt connects this drive pulley to a larger pulley on the output shaft.  The computer uses the magnetic powder clutch to change the width of the two driven pulleys, thus providing an infinite amount of gear ratios (instead of the traditional four and five speeds). 

The clutch operates by passing a current through a magnetic powder (carbonyl iron) which fills the gap between the driving (engine-side) and driven (gearbox/wheels side) plates. When the engine is at idle, no (or very little) current is passed through the powder so the engine spins without transferring force to the driven side.

As you press the throttle pedal, the current passed through the powder is raised and the powder becomes magnetised, sticking together more strongly and transferring more of the rotational force from the engine to the wheels. The electrical current is supplied by a pair of carbon brushes which rest against turning discs (called slip rings), which slot onto a splined axle.

The gear shifter has a familiar P-R-N-D-Ds layout.  P ark is a hydraulic lock, R everse is a mechanical gear, and N eutral is a pressure relief system, just like in an automatic transmission.  D rive engages the powder clutch, but the car will not move until you press the throttle.  This is because the throttle position sensor (pin switch on the accelerator pedal) charges up the powder clutch to apply tension to the belt. Ds is Drive Sport, a setting that doubles engine RPM by altering the gear ratios of the ECVT.  This is useful when making passing manoeuvres and going up and down steep hills.  It is essentially doubling the final drive ratio of the transaxle, doubling the RPM's to keep the engine higher in its power band.

I read that the throttle position sensor and the brushes in the gearbox are common problems. I checked the throttle sensor and it appeared to be working fine. Over time the brushes wear down. As the brushes wear, springs in the brush holder push them further out until they are so worn, they either periodically slip out of contact with the slip rings, or lose contact completely, triggering the warning light on the dashboard. I removed the brushes and they appeared to be fine, but not knowing what the original length should have been (I noticed a line on the brushes and assume this is a wear marker, and should be replaced once reached. Mine hadn’t reached it yet, but,.) I decided it’s probably worth changing for a new set,..This turned out to be harder than I thought. My local Subaru dealer said they were no longer available. After searching online, I managed to find a set and had them imported in.

Unfortunately, this did not solve the problem. The engine still idled and revved fine, but there was no movement when selecting D, Ds or reverse and the ‘clutch temp’ warning light was also flashing on the dash. It appears, that the ECVT brain measures the electrical resistance of the clutch coil. If the clutch temp increases, the resistance will rise. A certain minimum resistance triggers the warning light switch. This can be caused if the powder clutch has lost some of its powder. If the clutch bearing is worn the powder can escape from the clutch (I believe it needs to contain 65g to function correctly). Here is a pic I found online of the clutch with a worn bearing, losing powder, and causing the clutch light to come on)

Now it was time to get the engine and gearbox out!,..Once the engine was removed it was clear this was going to take some work!

The gearbox was very dirty:

I cleaned it thoroughly (I openly admit to having OCD J ) I unscrewed the sump nut and found lots of bits of metal in the oil. I removed the sump and found the Metal belt had snapped! I think I might have found the real problem! J I contacted Subaru and asked how much a replacement belt would be:
 Part no: 32435KA100 ECVT steel belt assy. £ 1303.09

Ouch! I searched around forums and some of the suppliers I have used for the sumo and eventually found a new Subaru remanufactured Justy ECVT gearbox from a company called IM Group (they sell off new/remanufactured obsolete genuine Subaru parts). I searched exploded diagrams, cross referenced part numbers, and although they are different boxes, many of the part numbers corresponded to each other,. Most importantly the belt was the same J So on 22nd august I picked up the Justy ECVT gearbox at the bargain price of £180! J.

Having looked at the exploded diagrams, I knew I did not want to attempt to rebuild the box myself! I found an automatic gearbox specialist near me and took both boxes to them,.. I thought they wouldn’t know where to start with a 20yr old, import only, ecvt gearbox, but they said no problem! (they said it is very similar to the Nissan Micra, which they have worked on many times). They took it apart and found a couple of other damaged parts, 1 x pipe-pilot & 1 x nozzle. I bought genuine Subaru parts (and a new oil strainer, rather than reuse the old one) and they fixed it. I told them to take their time and I would pay cash,. In the end I think they only charged £130 labour J

Whilst they had the gearbox I got on with the rest of the engine:

*Engine guard. Cleaned and painted

*Injection inlet manifold cleaned

*injector rail cleaned

*Starter motor cleaned and painted

*Alternator cleaned

*Air filter box painted

*engine ancillaries mounts cleaned / painted

*cleaned and painted engine mounts (hammerite paint and underbody seal)



*cleaned and painted engine support bar (hammerite paint and underbody sealed ends & welding points)


*cleaned and painted engine bay and cleaned pipework


*cleaned engine

*painted engine sump (added new magnetic sump nut and copper washer)

*Cleaned rockers and rocker cover (inside and out)

*Painted engine block

*I picked up the gearbox and decided to paint the sump
*The reconditioned gearbox was ready to fit! J

Distributor Issue. I forgot to take pictures!,. but when I removed the engine I found the dist cap had been siliconed on and the wire had been modified (cut and reconnected with a terminal block). You can see it here (cropped from a pic of the engine before it was removed)

I looked through the paperwork that came with the van. I found an invoice from the import company dated 19/03/2011. It listed the work they carried out:

Docks collection
Fog light
Speedo chip
Speedo recalibration
Cat 2 Immobiliser
Charge to Register
Cambelt charge
Service charge (carry out full service)
2 x amber bulbs
Remove and replace right hand rear wheel cylinder


I have ordered a new cap and rotor arm, but they will take a couple of weeks to arrive. For now, I have cleaned the silicone off, cleaned the cap and rotor arm, and will replace the connection with a waterproof push fit connector.

*All the parts were ready to go back on (including new magnetic sump nut and washer for the gearbox and original Subaru gaskets – rocker cover, gearbox sump, intake manifold, and new thermostat bolts)

*Engine was reassembled (with new transmission fluid, engine oil, filter, thermostat and coolant)

*The powder clutch seemed to be in good condition, no play in the bearing, and no powder escaping if you shook it.

*Gearbox was attached
(very happy at this point J

And mounted onto the engine support bar
(this pic pleases my OCD! J )

*Ready to go back into the van

I gave the exhaust system a wash down,. Not sure what I am going to do with it yet? I have used high heat on exhaust systems / shields before and after a couple of months they have always started to flake and look terrible. So I am going to have to think more on this later.

*The exhaust, air box and ancillaries were all connected

Now for the moment I had been waiting for. It fired up and idled perfectly. Selected D and it moved! J Unfortunately, the clutch temp light was still showing. I am not sure if the error code needs clearing, or if there is still a fault. I did see some plugs under the steering wheel, which I believe are used to read the fault codes (I read somewhere that on the Justy you plug them together and read off the blinking dash lights to get fault codes, so I assume it will be the same for the Domingo),. But so far so good!

My brother is a mechanic and has a car ramp in his garden, so I have been working on the van with him at his house. A couple of months had passed since we got the van started and he hinted for me to come back and finish off J The cap and rotor arm had arrived so we replaced them. Tried to start the van and it wouldn’t start,. We put the old cap and rotor on and it still wouldn’t start. The engine would turn over freely, but it wouldn’t fire. My brother also used to fit alarms & immobilisers and thought it might be the aftermarket immobiliser they installed. When he removed the steering wheel cowling he said they had done a very poor, quick job. Instead of cutting the ignition wires back and replacing with the wires to the immobiliser, they had just cut it and soldered the immobiliser in place and tucked the immobiliser box up by the clocks. If you wanted to bypass the immobiliser all you would have to do is cut the 2 wires going to the immobiliser and twist them together! (I wish I had taken a picture) so he removed the immobiliser completely and soldered the original wires back together. We tried to start it again, but unfortunately it wouldn’t fire up and then the battery died so we gave up for the day. I also found that the gearbox sump was leaking slightly. When I tightened the sump bolts up I noticed a couple would go tight and then loosen off again, so I think I will need to buy a couple of new bolts and maybe use some locktight to ensure they do up tightly.

In early 2014 I found someone breaking a 1995 Domingo, he agreed to let me take whatever spares I wanted off of it (as long as I didn’t touch the engine/gearbox or brakes). So I ended up with a load of spares,. J Everything from window glass to switches, to seat belts (I’ve seen a couple of sambars being broken before, but i doubt I will ever find another Domingo being broken!)

A few more months went by and in June 2014 I went round and we tried again. We put fresh fuel in and new spark plugs on it. We also cut the waterproof connector off of the distributor (it turned out to be a very faddily connector, so we were concerned it might not be working right) and put bullets on. It would turn over freely, but still not start. My brother then loosened off the distributor bolt and tried turning the distributor as I tried turning the key. It finally fired up, but was revving really high. As soon as he tried to retard the ignition slightly, it would not fire again. We took the timing belt cover off and checked the cam timing to the crank and they seemed right. The belt hadn’t slipped a tooth. We took the rocker cover off and checked the cam marks on the cam shaft were correct as well, which they were.

A few more months went by before my brother was fed up looking at the van J I didn’t have off road parking for it (obviously it has not tax or mot, so couldn’t be parked on the road) so I convinced my parents to have it on their driveway J

Over a year later!,. in October 2015 I arranged to meet my brother at my parents’ house to look at it again and fit remote central locking. We removed the fuel rail and checked all the injectors were squirting fine, checked all the plugs one by one and they all had a good spark. Then tried to start it again, but it still had the same problem. It would only run when we advance the distributor, but would be revving so high we would have to stop it after a few seconds. We gave up and installed the central locking, removing the key barrels from both front door handles and filled with P38.

we know everything mechanical seems to be correct so it is pointing to an electrical fault. I have downloaded a copy of the Domingo service manual, so I think we will have to study the electrical diagrams to see if there is a sensor or something that could be at fault,. The only thing is the manual is in German, so I think I will be spending many hours on google translate! J

Months went by again and in June 2016 I went back to give the van a thorough clean. My brother and my parents both hosed it down from time to time, but I had never got around to giving it a full detail since I owned it,. And it was looking rather dirty! The paintwork and rubbers were flat and it had gone green along the window edges. Door shuts were all very dirty. The interior needed a hoover and clean, especially where there were dirty hand marks around door frames etc.

I bought some vw stickers and stuck them over the p38 filled door locks J

Then set about cleaning the van. I washed and dried it. Then I went over the bodywork and glass with a claybar (best car detailing product ever!). I polished the van using a Meguiars DA and polish. Then waxed with Autoglym High Def carnauba wax, and applied Rain X rain repellent to the windows. I hoovered the carpet and cleaned the interior with upholstery cleaner (the last time I was at my parents I took the fuel filler cover off to get a can of colour coded paint to paint the replacement side door handle, and unfortunately I forgot to bring it back with me, so it is missing from the pics ;-( ):

Now I just need to brush up on my German and decipher the wiring diagrams to see if I can solve the running issue! (if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to contact me, thanks J )

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