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Toyota Sienna RAV4 Engine Swap by Dropping The Subframe

Recently had the opportunity to work on this project and since this was the first time that I have ever dropped the engine out of a minivan I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of the issues that I ran into. A little background on the van itself - a 2009 Toyota Sienna powered by the 3.5L 2GR-FE V6. With around 80k miles on the van, the engine started to develop some problems. Mainly it had a pretty big leak around the timing cover and it was knocking very loudly, especially when cold. Now the knocking was not a huge concern since there have been many reports of piston slap on this engine and this van had the knocking sound since day one. However, its now gotten so loud that the owner would have a hard time selling the van. To fix the leak, the engine has to be dropped and combined with the knocking problem it was decided to just replace the whole engine.

The great thing about this engine is that Toyota uses it on many of their vehicles, even those manufactured at the time of this article. We were able to source a relatively fresh engine from a 2012 Toyota RAV4 with only 19k miles on it. Engine was purchased on eBay for a grand total of around $2,800. This thing looked mint in the photos and looked brand new in person.toyota sienna new engine from rav4In the case of the Sienna and RAV4 engines, there were three main differences between them, though nothing that some simple part swapping couldn't fix. They had totally different wiring harnesses, front mount brackets, and fuel tube sub-assemblies (short tube that connects fuel rail to the fuel line). For more details, see page 2 of the article.

Now it was time to actually remove the engine and do the swap. The issue is that we didn't have access to a proper lift so everything had to be done in the garage with jacks and jack stands. Because of limited room inside the engine bay, the engine and the transmission have to be removed as one unit. The preferred method is to drop the subframe along with the engine and transmission. At a minimum you will need a pair of 6-ton jack stands and a pair of 3 ton jacks. As far as hand tools go, you will need your standard 10mm - 19mm regular and deep sockets (along with a 22mm for rotating the crankshaft). To go with those sockets you will need a couple different length extensions. 10mm - 19mm wrenches. Some needle nose pliers and a vice grip for the hoses and clamps.

Sienna 2GR-FE Swap - Removing The Engine

Let me start off by saying that I hate working with the subframe. When possible I prefer to lift the engine using an engine hoist - to me its a safer, more controlled method of taking an engine out. Because I don't have a proper lift, dropping the subframe involves using multiple jacks and jack stands. Having said that, with the Sienna I still recommend dropping the subframe - it's just an overall faster and simpler process than taking everything out from the top. Basically anything that is connected between the engine and the body needs to be disconnected. Anything that is in the way of the subframe needs to be removed.

Note: The following steps are an overview of what needs to be done. For a more detailed look, you can watch the video at the bottom of the page

I started off by placing the van on the jack stands (at their lowest setting and on both sides of the subframe). Then proceeded to remove the air intake system along with the battery. There are a lot of vacuum hoses here so I recommend taking a photo of where everything goes. I also removed the cowl to get better access to some of the vacuum hoses in the back and to get access to the strut. Here is the result. toyota sienna removing air-box and cowl

With the air intake out of the way you then want to disconnect any hoses or wire harnesses that are connected to the body of the van. So that includes the brake booster, fuel vapor, heater, and radiator hoses. Obviously you need to drain the coolant before disconnecting any of the coolant hoses. There is a valve on the bottom of the radiator and two drain valves on the block. Check out the video of their exact location. Don't forget to also disconnect the large wire going to the fuse box and the ground wire connected to the body. Couple of things still left over - one is the the transmission shift cable and bracket. Remove the nut at the end of the cable, the cable bracket, and set the cable aside. Last thing is to disconnect the fuel line. Make sure the fuel system is not pressurized (let the van sit for a day or two and the pressure will drop on its own). Here is a shot of everything disconnected on the driver's side. toyota sienna disconnecting coolant and vacuum hoses

One of the choices I had to make was whether to leave the AC compressor bolted to the engine or unbolt it and leave it hanging in the engine bay. If I left it with the engine then I had to disconnect the AC lines which meant that I needed to recover the refrigerant beforehand and then refill once the van was up and running. On the other hand, leaving it hanging in the engine bay, meant I had to unbolt the compressor from the engine and then remove the radiator fan assembly to create more room. I didn't want to disconnect the AC lines so I ended up just leaving the compressor hanging. At this point you will also want to disconnect the two rubber hoses going to the transmission oil cooler. You can see below that I removed the radiator fan assembly, tied off the AC compressor, disconnected the cooler lines, and set them on top of the engine. toyota sienna AC compressor hanging

Front engine mount and bracket had to be removed and the power steering hose disconnected from the reservoir. There are a couple more power steering hoses on the subframe itself that have to be disconnected - check out the video for the exact location. Also don't forget the ground wire that is attached to the body. Notice the huge wire harness that goes back inside the cabin. This is the main engine harness and it needs to be unplugged from the ECU that is behind the passenger glove box. When the engine is lowered with the subframe this wire harness will need to be pulled out. toyota sienna front mount removal

In order to drop the subframe the front exhaust pipe need to be disconnected and moved out of the way. There will be two downstream oxygen sensors bolted to the pipe. Leave the sensors in the pipe and disconnect the electrical plugs instead. Once of the sensor wires goes inside the cabin. More details in the video. Exhaust is now out of the way. toyota sienna exhaust removed

The manual has you removing the axles, disconnecting the knuckle, and leaving it bolted to the strut. I prefer to leave the knuckle and axle alone. Instead I unbolt the brake caliper and tie it off so that it hangs with the van along with wheel speed sensor. Then I disconnect stabilizer bar link from the strut and then remove the two bolts connecting the strut and knuckle. I'll be rolling the engine out from the passenger side and will need to remove that strut since it will be in the way. toyota sienna removing brake caliper

Next step is to disconnect the intermediate steering shaft from the steering gear. There are splines on the steering gear so remove the bolt and lift the shaft off the gear. Before you do that however, mark the position of the shaft, you will need to reinstall it in the same position otherwise your steering will be off. I sprayed some primer on the steering gear and then made the mark. toyota sienna intermediate steering shaft

With everything disconnected and out of the way I then proceed to remove the subframe bolts and brackets. There are brackets on each corner of the subframe. toyota sienna subframe mount brackets

Now I place two jacks under the subframe - one in the front and one in the back. With the jacks in place, I remove the jack stands from the subframe and place them further back under the van body. At this point it's just a matter of slowly lowering each jack. Here is where I ran into a problem. The subframe started dropping from the front but the rear was still stuck to the body. It turns out that there are dowels at each rear subframe mount point. There was so much rust that these dowels were fused to the inside of the mounts and prevented the rear of the subframe from dropping. I had to soak these with PB Blaster and the hit the mounts from the bottom with a sledge hammer. After a while the subframe finally dropped. Here is a shot of the rusty dowel. toyota sienna rusty rear subframe dowel

I rested the subframe on a pair of vehicle dollies that I got from Harbor Freight. These little guys were perfect for the job - they are low profile and allow me to roll the subframe around. With the the engine and subframe lowered the next step is raising the body of the van so that there is enough room to roll everything out from under the van. This is where those 6 ton jack stands come into play as they can be raised fairly high. Be careful though. With the van sitting at this angle there is greater chance of it rolling backwards and off of the jack stands. I can't stress this enough - block the rear wheels and carefully watch the van so that it doesn't start rolling back. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever be under the van during this step. toyota sienna lowering the engine

With the van jacked up high enough it's just a matter of rolling the whole subframe assembly out. On the next page I will be going over how to swap everything over and reinstall the engine. toyota sienna engine removed

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