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DIY: Teardown and minor rebuild of a D15.

44554 Views 84 Replies 50 Participants Last post by  The_Acid_Beaver
Update: It started and hasn't gone boom yet, read my last post!

This is going to take a while to post because of the pic per post limit.


My parents' 91 civic hatch engine died. I haven't diagnosed what the actual cause of it was yet, but that doesn't change the fact that it is dead. I decided the best and least expensive course of action would be to rebuild another engine and drop it into the car. Since they acquired another vehicle as a DD, they weren't in a hurry to get the civic back up and running. That took considerable pressure off me as I have never undertaken anything like this before. Some of the stuff I have to do was pretty ghetto and I highly recommend seeking out the right tools and or the right methods for doing things.

Tools you need:
10, 12, 14, 17, and 19mm 6 point sockets (deep well preferred)
17mm 12 point sockets for the flywheel bolts
Valve spring compressor
Ring compressor
3" (76mm) Bottle Brush Hone
Variable speed drill (cordless preferred)
1qt. ATF
Empty 2L soda bottle
Engine stand
Brake or carb cleaner
Plenty of BOUNTY paper towels (Bounty is stronger, has less lint/fuzz and lets you see if stuff is REALLY clean unlike other shop towels)
Paint mixing stick
Two flat pieces of wood or thick metal
Bench vise
Catch pan or tray to keep your floor mostly clean
Container to organize the valve train parts
Long-handled and nosed needle nose pliers

Parts you need:
Assembly lube (usually red Permatex stuff in a small squeeze bottle)
Top and bottom end gasket kit (Paying for the OEM unnecessary)
Timing belt
Timing belt tensioner
Water pump
Permatex gray gasket maker
Copper gasket pray (optional)

So, lets take a look at what we have to work with!

Here we go at the humble beginnings of tearing it down to inspect it for what it would need and to see if it was even useable.

There it is, up on the stand. Yay! Lets get to work!

First, I had to take off the flywheel to mount the head of the engine stand to the engine. Most flywheel bolts aren't too hard to get out, but it helps to have some method of locking the flywheel so it won't spin while you
take it off. What to do? Make a cheap, effective tool!

Here it is:

Here is a close-up of the end of the tool, my apologies for the fuzzy pic.

The car this engine had come from had probably had a newer clutch put on at one point in time or another as there was thread locker on the threads, which was another reason why I had so much trouble getting the flywheel off.

I then mounted the head of the engine stand onto the engine using 12x1.25mm bolts I found at Lowe's. Another method is to just buy a length of threaded rod from McMaster and cut it to length. Also, I would
highly recommend getting a tap and die in this size. This makes like less frustrating, as having messed up threads in this area will ruin your day (life) for a while. There isn't much extra material around most of these bolts for the transmission, so ruining the threads there makes using a helicoil or other type of thread repair system that much more difficult. You won't find this size tap and die in most hardware stores, though. I had to buy mine through a tool company in New Jersey. (I call Staten Island home.)

I then Took off the valve cover to find this crusty mess:

That was pretty typical of most of the innards of the engine.

The valve train was in decent shape from the visual inspection conducted with the head still on the engine.

Take a look at how I kept the mess contained:

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The box is an under-bed storage container with wheels I bought from Wal-Mart. It's just about perfect for sitting there and catching all the drips and drops that are an inherent part of taking apart a groady engine. I then pulled the head off following the Helm's manual instructions. The top of the combustion chamber side looked pretty good!

This is a pic of the cylinders and pistons as they were in the block. It looks like only the #2 cylinder (second from the left) was functioning as well as it should.

Here are a couple of pics of the cylinder bores. They aren't in the best shape, as two of the cylinders were left open to the elements because the spark plugs were not left installed.

Make a note of that if you want to store engines: either leave the plugs in engines you store, or suffocate them in plastic wrap! Not wanting to pre-judge the engine just from the bores, I dug in further.

I then took the water pump off (which looked like it had been replaced fairly recently). This engine had obviously had regular coolant changes:

That was a pretty good sign.

Flipping the engine over on the stand (over the container to catch the leftover fluids), you now see the big dent left in the pan!

Needless to say, I didn't use this pan when rebuilding the engine! ;)

Here is what I found when I pulled off the pan:

Not too pretty, but not the worst. All the dark sludge was not caked on, it actually wiped off pretty easily. That usually means there was enough oil in the engine (even if it was crappy oil) to keep it happy.

I next took off the main bearing cap. As I understand it, later model civics don't have the steel caps that the early D15s and D16s have. Whenever I build a SOHC D, I will stick with these earlier engines for that reason!
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Here are the bearings:

They are in pretty good shape overall. Again, another good sign that the engine at least had basic maintenance done to it.

The rod bearings, however, did not look so good. This is much more typical in D15s than in D16s, though I forget why.

The shiny areas show excessive wear, but it is not as severe as other bearings I have seen.

After pulling all the pistons out, I had some grave concerns about the bore in cylinder #1:

I consulted many knowledgeable people who have much more hands on experience with these things than I do and each and every one said that a good honing will take care of the rust and anything else left in the bore. I
still had my doubts, but with not so much to loose, I went ahead and decided that the overall condition of this engine was better than the others available to me.

I then had the head and block hot tanked. WOW! What a difference! This is the head after I removed everything except the valves and springs:

It cleaned up VERY well!
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The next task I tackled was to replace the valve stem seals. This involves taking off the keepers. Now, you CAN take the time to use a valve spring compressor, but that takes a LOT of time, and is pretty unnecessary if you are keeping the stock valve springs and can make the right tool! (I like making tools.) Here is the tool I made:

That is about the hardest tool to make. It took hours, I assure you. :p The wad of paper towels keeps the keepers from flying out the top of the socket, which makes it easy to loose them, which is NOT a good thing. I would also recommend having a magnetic pick-up tool handy as they keeps sometimes drop into awkward places and the magnetic tool makes picking them up very easy. (But that only works with stock keepers as aftermarket keepers may be non-magnetic!) Make sure you have a proper container to organize your valve train parts when they are off the head! Don't mix up valves, especially! I made my own. I forgot to take pics of it, though. It was simply a cardboard box with dividers made from cardboard. It was simple, effective and inexpensive, all a good combination.

I finished removing the springs, retainers, and keepers. I also removed the valves, too, because I needed to move the head at this point. (It is sitting on top of the clothes washer and it was needed.)

The next step was to remove the valve stem seals. I actually received a rather nifty long-nosed, long-handled, flying purple people . . . er, needle-nosed pliers for Christmas that did the trick rather nicely.

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As you can see, removing the seals really messes them up. You have to make sure you clean up the area very well after you are done! Then you think you are done, you'll find this:

Clean, clean, CLEAN!

That's about it for the teardown, now on to the rebuild!
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Last we left off with the complete disassembly of the engine, so then I started putting everything back together!

As you can see in the first picture, I reinstalled the springs, retainers, and keepers. I bought an inexpensive valve spring compressor from AutoZone. It worked well, after getting used to it. I didn't get any pictures of it in use because I only have two hands and no one else was around to take pics.

The red stuff you see is assembly lube. It's a really slick, sticky substance that protects the rotating parts of the engine from galling and seizing on the first startup of the engine. I spread it very liberally around the camshaft and
rockers, and also the bearings in the bottom half of the engine, as you will see later.

This is the cam shaft seal installed on the cam. It slid easily into place. Make sure it is aligned properly.

Now we move onto some more interesting things than "assembly is the reverse of removal." The next big thing I had to do was to re-hone the cylinder bores. As was shown previously, there was some reason to be concerned about how they would actually take to being re-honed due to rust and muck. Lets take a closer look at some of the cylinders:

This was the #1 cylinder bore. EW!

This isn't quite so bad:

This one isn't too terrible:

To remedy the situation, I found this on eBay for ~$35. It's the 3" (~76mm) size, which is the prefect size for D-series engines:
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To use it, I borrowed this from my dad:

You need to have variable speed control. You also have to have pretty good rhythm to get the right cross hatch. Here are a couple of progress shots:

The red stuff is cheap ATF. It's about the best thing to use as a lubricant for your BBH (Bottle Brush Hone). It floats all the gunk away from the cylinder walls and has detergents built into it to make cleaning everything up easier. The easiest way to make sure you BBH stays well lubricated is to cut off the top of a 2L bottle of soda (after it's been emptied, cleaned with hot, soapy water, and dried thoroughly. You don't want syrupy junk gumming up the works!

Now, the actual process is simple: Clamp the BBH mandrel into the chuck of the drill, dunk the BBH into the container of ATF. making sure it picks up a good amount of ATF. This is now the tricky part. You need to insert the BBH into the cylinder while its spinning. This means you ARE going to spray some ATF, but as long as you don't crank your trigger all the way, it shouldn't get everywhere. Slow and steady is the pace you need. You have to make sure the BBH spins and you have to move the drill up and down. You are supposed to combine the rotational speed with the reciprocating speed to produce a cross hatch that is characterized by 60 degree intersections. (See the Helm’s manual for a picture.) You will now see that I don't have a true 60 degree cross hatch, but at least I was consistent. Next time, I will know to go slower both up and down, and with the rotation of the BBH. Anyway, after a few passes here is what things looked like after I deemed them as good as I could get:

After you are done with the honing, you need to clean up the crud and ATF! The best way to do this is drop the block into a large slop sink and use hot, soapy water to was the block down. Why not just spray it down with brake cleaner? Simply because that will never get all the metal particles off the cylinders. The hot, soapy water combined with the ATF lifts everything away from the surface of the cylinders, preventing you from scoring your freshly honed cylinders when you first start up the engine! So, after you wash and rinse and wash and rise the block, how do you tell if everything is cleaned
up? Make a tool, of course! Get yourself a paint stick, some Bounty, and duct tape. Wrap the bounty around the end of the paint stick, double thick. Spray some WD40 onto the bounty, and start to go over the whole surface of the cylinder walls.

Check to see if there is any crud coming off the walls. Change the bounty as necessary. Once each cylinder passes this "white glove" test and has been coated in WD40 (which also prevents it from rusting), it is time to check the clearances for your piston rings.

Here are the boxen of rings!

Obviously, you need for sets in whatever size you are using. Since there was no boring done, the pistons were cleaned up and prepped to put back in. Cleaning pistons with the old piston rings is a bit tedious, but as soon as you pull the pistons out of your engine, you will see why it is necessary. And even further, when you put the new rings in and see how they are supposed to sit in the piston, you will really understand why sticking rings cause all sorts of issues!

Checking the ring end gap is rather simple. Simply take the ring you wish to check, place it into the cylinder, then, using a piston, level the ring in the bore. Don't push it down too far. Then, take your feeler gauges and see what size barely fits through the gap in the rings. Here is what the ring will look like in the bore:

Now a note of caution: Don't drop your pistons onto the floor, especially with the rod attached! This is what could very likely happen:
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This is what it should look like:

DUH! This meant I had to pull a piston from the spare D15 I had and use it. I chose the best looking one, tested to make sure it fit without any slop, and called it a day. Putting in the pistons rings isn't too hard. I have heard of people snapping them. If you are careful, that shouldn't be much of an issue. Start with the bottom rings (oil control) first. It also helps if you put the waffle-like spacer in first, then the two thinner rings. Make sure you pay attention to the ring "clocking." Where the openings of the rings go is of vital importance. There is a handy diagram in the Helm's to show you the correct position.

Now comes a critical juncture in the progress of our project! Once all the piston rings are checked and assembled, it's time to put them in the block! To do this, you double check the clocking of the rings, , then carefully clamp a ring compressor down over the piston. This compresses the rings to the outside circumference of the piston, which will allow the piston and ring to slip into the block. Position the piston and compressor on top of the block in the appropriate hole, like this:

Note that you want as much of the piston to be in the block as possible, and also that you may want to cover the threads and sharp edges of the big end of the rod with electrical tape to prevent them from scratching the cylinder wall.

To actually get the piston into the cylinder, you need to give the top of the piston a very solid, forceful bonk with the soft handle of a mallet or hammer, preferably one with some heft to it. You cannot push slowly. You must quickly and authoritatively push the piston in. Don't just quickly tap. You want to make initial contact, then maintain that contact to assure that the piston will enter the cylinder properly. If you do not apply enough pressure quickly, a ring will catch the lip of the cylinder and stop the piston from seating and possibly running the ring! Don't be afraid, just do it!

Also, as another note, that ring compressor you see in the pic seriously sucks. Don't get one of those. There are many other versions that are better.

Here are all the pistons in and ready to go!

Time to put the block together!

Now that I think about it, I should have taken some pics of putting in the bearings. It's not hard, you just line up the tabs and press firmly, but pics are usually better than rambling on and on. Anyway, the top half of the bearings are in place, lubed up with the assembly lube, and the crank in place.

Then came the tricky part of sliding the pistons up into place, torquing the caps into place after lubing both sides of the bearings and fitting the correct caps into each rod.

The main girdle emplaced and torqued down to spec:

The old rear crank seal:

This thing was a good bit of a pain in the butt to get out and in. I figured out that if you put it face up on a flat surface (with the sealing side in the air), then take a hammer and flat tip screwdriver to the back of the seal, it comes out pretty easily without damaging the seal cover. Out was easy. In was harder. It was much more difficult to get the seal to seat without the appropriate (hard to find, and expensive) seal driver. I opted to make my own seal driver (Of course!) from a piece of stainless and an old desk bit made from particle board that I didn't care too much about. I sandwiched the seal, seal cover, and flat pieces in a bench vise, and slowly seated the seal. This method required some rotation of the seal cover to make sure the whole seal was in place, but overall it turned out well:

Using Permatex gray, I installed the oil pump with Permatex Grey gasket maker. You can see it squishing out as I torqued down the bolts:
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Don't forget the gasket for the oil pickup!

Double don't forget to take off the old gasket from the oil pickup!

Here is the bottom end almost completely back together:

You may wonder what I am doing with the torque wrench on the crank. I am checking the break- torque. That simply means how much torque it takes to turn the engine over. If something is binding, this is the time to find out, not when the engine frags itself upon start-up! Fortunately, due to careful selection of parts and good lubricity, the bottom end spun with less than 5ft.lbs. of torque applied! That's great! Of course, it will be much harder when the head is bolted in place and the timing belt connects the crank to the cam.

Here is another lesson for us all: just because it looks clean to your eyes, doesn't mean it is clean to Bounty! This stuff was still left on the gasket surface of the oil pan:

Here you will see that I apply some sealant to the "humps" on the pan. This is not strictly necessary, but it's a good idea, in my opinion. Those are the hardest parts to seal and can use some extra help.

Not a lot is needed:

Here's the pan torqued down:
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Here is another oops:

I forgot to check to make sure block was clean! I hope that won't lead to a leak.

Make sure you wait a few hours before putting oil in the engine. The Permatex needs a while to set before it comes into contact with oil.

Here are the new tensioner, tensioner bolt, and water pump:

I don't have pics of getting on the rear main seal and seal cover because it was a royal pain in the butt to get off and install while the engine was on the stand. I would like to eventually make a head for the stand that doesn't interfere with the flywheel side of the engine. It would make things like this much easier.

The water pipe on the back of the block is cause for some concern on my part. It's not exactly the most secure design, as you just jam the thin in there and bolt it down. I of course used a new gasket on the water pump end, so I hope it holds.

Remember to put the water pipe on before you bolt the breather onto the block:

Here is the next critical step: the head gasket!

As you can see, there is a can of copper gasket dressing. I have heard good things about this and plan to use it on every build I do in the future, especially if they are budget builds where the head and block are not machined. A note about how I cleaned up the head gasket sealing surfaces: I used an air-powered die grinder with an aluminum finishing kit purchased from AutoZone. Basically, it's a variety of "wizzer" discs that worked extraordinarily well at removing the old gasket material. Yes, lots of people don't recommend this, but as long as you are steady and careful, it is rather difficult to remove any amount of material that would affect the sealing of the head gasket. This method is used at many dealers with great success. Yes, it's not technically the "right" way, but it is an effective and cost efficient way if
you are willing to use the tools carefully!

This is the head gasket after being coated:

That's pretty hot!

Here it is on the block:

I forgot how much of a pain in the but doing a timing belt can be, but I finally got it on and timed correctly:
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Here's the thermostat, just because:

This is the stock distributor designation for a 1.5L OBD0 engine:

Old distributor gasket, fairly chewed up:

What is this?

That doesn't look right now does it?

Oh, THAT is the right gasket!

Double checking helps a lot! The first o-ring I tried was actually for the other side of the water pipe. Oops!

I poured oil over the whole valve train assembly and then filled up the engine, if you can tell from this picture:

I wish the oil would stay that clean!
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Here is the engine, ready for the last stuff to get stuck on (manifolds, mounts, timing belt cover, crank pulley) and then installed:

I really do hope I didn't botch anything up, but I just followed the procedures and specifications in the Helm's. I should be fine. Hopefully this engine will get swapped in by the middle of February. I can then give a final report as to
weather or not the rebuild was a success or failure!

I hope this helps.
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VERY nice!!

could have used a little more detail on bearings(plastigauge and such), lapping the valves, and reinstallation of the valvesprings, but nonetheless a pretty good write-up
very good write up. reminds me of when i rebuilt my z6.
great write, lot of good photos for referance !!!!
Clevite bearings were slapped in, no checking. Anything is better than the bearings that were in there. I didn't lap the valves (I REALLY should have done that, but, well, I didn't even know what that was until after I finished putting the engine back together and someone mentioned it). I had to have two hands to re-install the valve springs and I didn't have anyone else handy to take pics. This is a super-low budget build, put together in stolen bits of time in between (stupid) Army stuff.

The next build I do is not going to be like that, though I learned a LOT actually taking everything apart, going through the Helm's and then putting everything back together.
Very nice. Reminds me of my own Z6 (x2) rebuild as well.
Takes time to do all the work AND take pictures too, but it's worth it in the end.

My ring compressor was shitty also, and made it kind of hard to make certain that the rings where in fact clocked correctly.
But the engine runs fine now, so I guess it worked out.

Some rep for your effort mate :)
Some rep for your effort mate :)
x2, 'cept I'd call him 'dude', cause I live in the U.S. :D
I'm loving this! :TU: :TU: :TU:
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