There’s a lesson in this post, and that is keep track of the choices you have made on parts when hotrodding your car. That’s the moral of the story in this tale of woe for those who don’t feel like slogging through the whole thing.
I grew up hanging around my father’s personal garage. He was a teacher, he did the car restoration thing for fun. But he had a service center that he hung out at and did occasional work for, just like I do now. His service center of choice was Beck’s Service Center. I spent a bit of time in the shop as well growing up, and the people who frequented the shop are people that I grew up looking up to. My parents stayed in touch with the whole crew and happened to be having them all down for a picnic. My father invited me and I was honored to bring my creation down to show the grufty crew.
I went over the car one final time before the big show to make sure everything was right. Battery hold down, check. High quality head gaskets and head studs, check. I even got the shoulder harness tabs welded on to the roll bar for the occasion. I broke out my car duster and got the biggest dirtballs off the car, then hopped in, fired it up, and took off. Both my kids were out at their various after school jobs, so I pressed my daughter’s boyfriend into service as my follower. The beauty of a follower is that when the Fireturd lets me sit I can just hop in the reliable air conditioned car and ride home then come back some time later with the flatbed to drag it home.
So the kid hops in his 2017 Subaru WRX and follows me the fifteen or so miles to my parent’s house. Other than sweating my guts out, the ‘turd made it there with no drama. For any wanna-be racecar people out there, gutting the insulation from your car makes it hot. And not like “warmer than usual” hot, we’re talking soaked through your britches in twenty minutes hot. Roads are hot. Engines are hotter. The insulation was there for a reason. But now it’s gone. Poor choices.
Anyway, the car makes a good showing. None of my heroes spit out the contents of their beer laughing at it. I’m feeling pretty darn good right about now. I eat a steak (thanks Dad–it was delicious) and me and my follower hit the road.
Heading out the winding roads between our respective houses, there is a straight section with a passing zone. I’m driving a full-on racecar. Junior back there is driving an off-the-shelf fast car. Plus he’s junior, and I’m the boss. The big cheese. The greasy enchilada. As soon as the passing zone opens up, I’m on the mat. The car is pulling like an out of control freight train. I had visions of the Delorean in Back to the Future with the flaming tire marks left on the road. There is no contest, the gap between the Subaru and the Fireturd widens. When the passing zone ends, I coast it down to normal speeds and roll up to the traffic light at a big intersection. Junior in the Subaru chooses a lane better than I do and he ends up in front of me anyway, despite my show of aggression. This does not bother me in the least, I know who’s fast around here.
Pulling away from the light while breaking my own arm patting myself on the back is no easy task. Right about now, watching the Subaru pull three cars ahead of me as the road narrows back down to one lane, is when the motor shut off the first time. “Odd”, I think. The engine starts right back up, so no worries. About 45 seconds later, it’s off again. I restart it and start looking for problems. The oil pressure is a little low, it’s around 25psi, but it is really hot so it’s to be expected and WHOA, just like that, the oil pressure is at 6psi.
The blue cloud of cuss words is probably still hanging over that road.
I pull into the nearest parking lot and shut everything off. Pop the hood, look around for anything obvious. Nothing. Check the oil, it’s all there. Very strange. Perhaps it is just the sending unit? I have the car set up with two oil pressure sending units, one for the gauge cluster and one for the ECU. I dig out the laptop, fire it up, connect it, and fire the motor. I have oil pressure now, both on the gauge and in the ECU. Hmmph, wonder what could have caused that? I take off towards home with less gusto than previously.
I drive for a minute to ninety seconds with the oil pressure slowly dropping down, and then suddenly dropping to almost nothing again (between 6-8psi). Not a single cuss word fixed the problem unbelievably. I pulled over again and checked the computer with engine still running. Unfortunately the ECU was reading the same amount of oil pressure as the gauge cluster. I shut off the engine again and waited a few minutes.
After restarting the engine I had oil pressure again. I slapped it into gear right away and made for home. I took advantage of the hills, running the engine up the hill and then turning it off and coasting it down the hills. This method was working well. The engine didn’t need to be off very long for the oil pressure to magically fix itself. The future son-in-law finally noticed I hadn’t arrived yet so he called to check on me. “Everything’s fine, no worries”, said I. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. And besides, it wasn’t really a lie, I was still moving and I wasn’t worried.
I got her limped home and put in the garage. Feeling rather morose about the whole situation, I went in the house to mope. I spent a bit of time googling for LS1 low oil pressure. Lots of people talking about it. There are two primary sources for low oil pressure in those engines, cam bearings popping out or bad o-rings in the oil pickup tubes. I had replaced my o-ring when I swapped oil pans so I figured I must have popped a cam bearing. Very depressing.
I talked to the honest guy at work. I told him my plan of finding another junkyard engine and putting a whole bearing set into it which would mean the car is laid up for the rest of the year at a minimum. It sucked. Luckily he talked me into yanking the oil pan and checking the oil pickup tube o-ring anyway. He reasoned that I should check the easy stuff first even if it’s unlikely.
I picked the car up on my home lift and used the engine crane to pull up the front of the motor slightly. I pulled the solid mount bolts out and lifted enough to sneak the pan out from above the k-member. I dropped the oil pickup and the windage tray and then used my ever-present Chinese awesome LED flashlight to peek up past the crank at the cam bearings. Everything appeared fine from what I could see. Maybe there was more to this whole o-ring thing after all.
I grabbed the pickup tube and took a closer look at the red o-ring that I had slapped onto the tube before assembly. Sure enough, it was sporting a split about 1/2″ long right down the center. What do you know, I had put a brand new o-ring in there. I used the VIN of the truck I pulled the engine out of to make sure I bought the right one. Let the Googling begin.
I triple checked the VIN and the part number of the official GM o-ring for my engine. Everything checked out. More Googling. As I’m tightening up my search parameters I’m starting to see a trend–people swapping oil pans suffer from low oil pressure. And finally, the motherlode–https://www.lsxmag.com/news/identifying-the-correct-oil-pick-up-tube-o-ring-for-your-ls-swap/
For those who aren’t interested in reading a whole article all about o-rings, the low down is this: deep pan LS based engines use a different shape pickup tube neck which requires a different o-ring. I had swapped a Camaro pickup tube and pan onto my deep pan truck engine but I had purchased and installed the larger truck o-ring onto my Camaro pickup tube. This held up for a while (about 70 miles) but eventually gave up the ghost during my display of power and manhood versus the Subaru. There was a Memorial Day picnic at my parent’s house and I really, really wanted to take the Fireturd. Most of my high school teachers were going to be present and for some reason I felt like being able to show that I built a car, no matter how poorly, would somehow absolve me of the bad grades I earned throughout my education.
It was about 6:30PM Sunday evening. Autozone and Advance Auto did not stock the o-rings individually, although Autozone had an oil pump replacement that came with all three o-rings. I did consider buying the oil pump, thiefing the o-rings out of the package, and then returning it. I considered it a lot more than an honest person should have. I’m proud to say that I chose not to be a dick and take that course of action. Instead I waited until Memorial day itself and started calling Chevy dealers. I knew they were having all kinds of Memorial day sales, they had been advertising like crazy and ruining all the good songs normally playing on my garage radio. Alas, it was not to be. Although the sales departments were open, the dealers universally had their service departments closed for the holiday. My English teacher was right, I’m never going to amount to anything.
The necessary parts were found online and ordered. When they arrived a few days after Memorial day I got them installed and buttoned everything up. I’m proud to say there is now oil pressure for days and no leaks. You hear that, English teacher? I did it!