Matrix engine into Scion xA?
January 20, 2008 3:24 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to purchase a Scion xA with a blown engine (blown as in "ruined", not supercharged) for a very reasonable price.(more inside)

A friend has a Toyota Matrix which has been totalled, but the engine/transmission is undamaged, and has relatively few miles on it (less than 20,000 miles). Is it feasible, or even doable, to put the Matrix engine into the xA? I know the Matrix engine is of a larger displacement than the Scion engine, but physically they look roughly the same size, and I recall my Dad putting engines from different car manufacturers into smaller, lighter bodies to make hot rods, but all I want to accomplish is to make a usable, drivable car with a minimum of aggravation. Has anyone done this particular swap, and if so, what were some of the problems you encountered?
I'm fairly mechanically inclined, and infinitely patient, so any advice anyone has would be most appreciated.
posted by motown missile to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
Erm, I know absolutely nothing about those cars, but I'm thinking that the ECUs are going to be incompatible and that would be a real bitch alone. (Because I wouldn't *think* but wouldn't necessarily be surprised but... really wouldn't *think* you could swap ECUs and have it run at all without destroying other components.)

Plus, based on the xA, you'd likely need to ensure that it wasn't an all wheel drive model or anything like that...

And of course you know that "physically look roughly the same size" isn't grounds for you to be able to install them in a swappable form, right? This isn't a '69 Mustang where you can go with a Cleveland or Windsor, etc.

But I'm more than open to being completely corrected on these points since again, I know nothing about the car.

...what did the guy do to blow the xA's engine, and is there any other damage?
posted by disillusioned at 4:59 AM on January 20, 2008

make a usable, drivable car with a minimum of aggravation

This is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.
posted by IronLizard at 5:05 AM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This question would best be asked in a Toyota forum, where people knowledgeable about the specific motors and chassis can comment.

From your description, it sounds like the motor might indeed fit. But that doesn't guarantee it will just bolt in -- the motor mounts will very likely be in the wrong places. Also, who knows what the transaxle and driveshafts are like on these vehicles, they may be very different. In that case, you would be looking at custom fabrication to make everything work, which can get costly if you can't do it yourself.

IronLizard is also very correct to point out that swapping motors isn't generally how you get a reliable car.

disillusioned, typically when you swap a motor, you swap all the components needed for that motor to run, including the ECU, wiring, fuel rails and injectors, intake/exhaust manifolds, etc, etc.
posted by knave at 5:58 AM on January 20, 2008

man ... gotta say that you are in for a world of pain. I would probably be more interested in finding a scion that has been rear-ended ... swapping engines out of differing cars from the 70's is a world of difference from the same job from cars from the 00's.

And, as mentioned above, if the previous scion owner blew the engine you may find that the rest of the car has been a bit abused.
posted by jannw at 6:09 AM on January 20, 2008

Before you commit to this you should try to get some repair manuals for both cars and see if the interfacing systems appear compatible. appears to have some manuals online for the Matrix, and that might be another good place to ask around. Although both cars are Toyotaish products, neither is actually a pure Toyota.

Unlike your dad's hotrods, these engines are not purely mechanical/electrical but are increasingly computer controlled. In addition to the physical connections, the computers may have to be reprogrammed, if they are even compatible.

My friend had his truck stolen by some joyriders who blew the engine. He had a mechanic replaced the engine with a new one, but the truck's computer had been damaged, which cause problems with the new engine. He replaced the computer, but the new engine had already been damaged, etc.. etc.. In the end, he spent much more to replace the "engine" than he would have buying a comparable used truck.

I guess the point of that story is that, like others have alluded to, you don't know what else is wrong with the Scion, and you don't know that the Matrix engine and transmission are completely undamaged. I think you should do a cost analysis of what the car would be worth if you get it working compared to what it could conceivable cost to get everything together. Also, does your friend expect to be paid for the Matrix engine if it doesn't work? And you might want to check with some local mechanics to see if they can bail you out if you run into problems and how much it will cost you.

Personally, I think a project like this would be interesting if the goal was just a unique car and time and money were not a problem, but if your looking for a cheap and hassle free solution, this may not be it. If you go ahead with it, keep us updated.
posted by Yorrick at 6:35 AM on January 20, 2008

If the engine will physically fit into the car then you certainly can do this, but it's absolutely not the way "to make a usable, drivable car with a minimum of aggravation." It's a project I might tackle because I have a lot of auto knowledge and my brother and dad have even more. But the prices would have to be very good and I'd have to already have some other mode of transportation, like a running car.

Another aspect to consider is emissions laws. Some places, like California, are very strict on what sorts of swaps are legal and it's often dependent on the age of the vehicle. I think in Cali, at least with a new enough vehicle, the engine has to come from that year or newer and be an available engine for that model or they won't pass it, even if would pass all emissions tests with flying colors. So if you don't do your homework you might end up with a car you're unable to legally drive.
posted by 6550 at 6:50 AM on January 20, 2008

As pointed out, engine compatibility between chassis/electrical systems has nothing at all to do with physical size.

This is pie in the sky thinking and eternal optimism, hoping that you can do this. It may make an interesting (although not really) project for someone, but it will certainly be long winded and complicated. Now if you found another scion that had been rear ended, then you may have a chance. But anything else is asking for trouble, based on your knowledge.

Walk away. Get a cheap, reliable car by buying intelligently, not by trying to beat the system. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it...
posted by Brockles at 8:06 AM on January 20, 2008

You are better off asking this on a toyota/scion "tuner" site. What you will quickly realize is that the people who attempt swaps like this generally spend a lot of their free time and free cash on their cars.

In this particular case, it sounds like the matrix engine may be too large to fit the scion without at least modifying the hood, but you don't provide enough info about the cars to be sure.

In any case this isn't something you do if you care about minimizing hassle.
posted by Good Brain at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2008

A car with a blown engine is not worth "purchasing."
posted by Max Power at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2008

Here's a webpage where they're converting an Xa over to EV, which might have some interesting tidbits.

Siding with everybody else here: If you want something that's not going to be a headache, just sell the Matrix engine and buy/rebuild a new Xa engine.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:11 AM on January 20, 2008

The xA is freakishly small and densely packaged. I doubt a larger engine will physically fit.
posted by Doohickie at 9:53 AM on January 20, 2008

Here's a webpage where they're converting an Xa over to EV, which might have some interesting tidbits.

You may want to recheck that link.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2008

Is it feasible, or even doable, to put the Matrix engine into the xA?

No. The first-gen xA and xB shared an engine, but the second-gen xB in North America shares an engine with the Toyota Matrix -- and is much larger, because it also shares the same platform. This was done (and the second-gen xB in Japan did not go over to this larger platform, so they're selling two different cars under the same name now) to give Americans the additional power the consumer studies told them Americans wanted. If Toyota could have taken the smaller Japanese platform and put the larger engine into it, they would have done so.

That doesn't mean you can't pry open an xA and cram a larger engine in, but you'd be talking about a straight custom job; nothing like the engine swaps that Honda Civics are known for these days. You want reliable and cheap, buy yourself a Toyota Echo; same engine as the xA and xB, essentially, but lighter weight and better gas mileage, plus undervalued (because they're less than attractive.) It's conceivable that you could pull an engine from an Echo and drop it into an xB, but even then you'll find wiring harness and other differences, and you'd be getting into a lot more money than just grabbing a used Echo and living with that.
posted by davejay at 4:14 PM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

we are talking about front-wheel-drive vehicles here, right? because if we are, then you're also talking about swapping the transaxle and all the steering and suspension parts, too.

if you're just talking about bolting the new engine on to the transaxle, and you know that all the interface details (bolt pattern, shaft dimensions, etc) are the same, why not?

still, it's a huge waste of time, effort and money. if you're "fairly mechanically inclined" and not a hot-shot certified mechanic with the tools and facilities you need, you probably will be disappointed.

if you really want to swap some engines, find yourself a 510, and have at 'er.

i'd love for you to prove me wrong, though.
posted by klanawa at 7:19 PM on January 20, 2008

because if we are, then you're also talking about swapping the transaxle and all the steering and suspension parts, too.

Not necessarily at all, no. There would be no need to swap any suspension or steering parts over at all, even if the swap was possible. The two are unrelated. The biggest issues are electrical for the loom and sensors, the mating to the existing gearbox, and/or the position and length of the driveshafts if it didn't exactly line up with the original installation.

The difficulty in that, and the physical size of the engine, are so major that this idea is totally pie-in-the-sky as it is. No need to add extra implied complication that isn't relevant or necessary. It has already sunk itself just with swapping the engine alone.

It's just unrealistic as a possibility.
posted by Brockles at 7:44 PM on January 20, 2008

Thanks to all who answered...I didn't expect such detailed information, and I'm grateful to everyone who took the time. To answer some of the questions this post raises:

1) What the guy did to blow the xA's engine, is run it with very low oil and virtually no coolant for an extended period of time, which resulted in a piston seizing inside the cylinder, at almost the top of the cylinder. This caused an intake valve to hit the top of the piston and break, as well as cause the connecting rod to break, leaving chunks of metal in the oil pan. The head also warped enough to make it unsuitable for milling, and I'm guessing that the mating surface on top of the engine block is less than perfectly flat too. None of which is recommended in the Scion service manual.

2) I'm not trying to "beat the system", I'm trying to improve an already awesome car (disclaimer: I own a stock '06 xA, which I love.) to an even higher level of awesomeness...I always felt the xA would have caught on better if it had an optional higher displacement engine, sort of like the Detroit practice of offering different size engines within the same body..think Mustangs which were available in 6 cylinder, small block V8, and eventually big block V8 configurations.

3) I'm a little better than the average backyard mechanic, but not a "hot-shot certified" mechanic, and reading everyone's replies makes me realize sooner rather than later that I might have bitten off more than I could reasonably chew with this project. Also, I know virtually nothing about on-board computers, and hadn't even considered how many problems that particular aspect of the project could create. Now I have considered it, and this among many other considerations leads me to believe I won't be tackling this project.
posted by motown missile at 8:52 PM on January 20, 2008

The two are unrelated.

That's only true if the engine/transaxle interfaces are identical. If not, the whole works has to be transplanted. In a front-wheel drive car, the engine and transmission are usually a single unit and are installed as one. Engines and transmissions cannot be mixed and matched (unlike a rwd vehicle). If you swapped the transmission, the likelihood that the new one would match up with the driveline/steering/suspension geometry is approximately nil.

Anyway, it's moot. We've scared motown missile away from a quagmire.
posted by klanawa at 1:00 AM on January 21, 2008

That's only true if the engine/transaxle interfaces are identical.

No, it's true anyway. There is a slight chance the gearbox wither will, or could be made to fit (bolt pattern and input shaft spline dependant) - the fact that it is FWD has absolutely nothing to do with it. Manufacturers often have common bellhousing sizes; I have swapped several engines and gearboxes in and out of FWD cars, including putting a VR6 engine into a (previously 4 cyl GTi) Mk 2 Golf (which weren't made with that engine). Absolutely no suspension mods were required.

The only link between suspension and driveline in a FWD car is the driveshafts (halfshafts). As long as the flanges on the gearbox are in roughly the same place (three dimensionally) then there shouldn't be much an issue. Most of the problem would arise (if the 'box fitted) in trying to mount the larger engine in a manner that left the gearbox in the same place when teh engine bay is so tight.

If you swapped the transmission, the likelihood that the new one would match up with the driveline/steering/suspension geometry is approximately nil.

Not at all true. They are of the same source (Manufacturer) although different generations. So it could go either way. My guess is that it won't match up, but it is certainly no sure thing by any means.
posted by Brockles at 5:23 AM on January 21, 2008

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