The Ultimate Guide to Swapping a Subaru Engine in Your Honda Element

If you’re a Honda Element owner looking to spice up your ride’s performance, you might have wondered if it’s possible to swap your Honda engine with a Subaru one. After all, Subaru engines are known for their power, reliability, and modifiability, and they can add a new dimension to your driving experience. But is it feasible, legal, and safe to carry out such an engine swap? And if yes, what are the key things you need to know before embarking on this journey? In this article, we’ll provide you with the answers and insights you need to unleash the full potential of your Honda Element.

Engine Compatibility: The Differences Between Honda and Subaru Engines

The first thing to consider when contemplating an engine swap is whether the donor engine is compatible with the recipient car. In the case of Honda and Subaru engines, there are several differences to keep in mind:

  • Cylinder layout: While most Honda engines are inline or V-shaped, Subaru engines are usually horizontally opposed or ‘boxer’ engines. This means that the cylinders lie flat on either side of the engine block, giving the engine a lower center of gravity and distinctive sound. For a Subaru engine to fit into a Honda Element, the engine mountings, exhaust, and cooling systems need to be modified or fabricated to align with the Honda’s frame and drive shaft.

  • Transmission: The Honda Element comes with a front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive configuration, depending on the model year. Subaru engines, on the other hand, are typically paired with a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which may require significant modifications to integrate with the Honda’s transmission system. This includes adapting the clutch, gears, and drivetrain components, as well as addressing any electronic compatibility issues.

  • Emissions: Honda and Subaru engines have different emissions standards and requirements, which can affect their compliance with local regulations. If you plan to swap your engine, you need to ensure that the new engine meets the legal requirements for your area and that you obtain the necessary approvals and certifications.

Engine Swapping: The Process of Installing a Subaru Engine in a Honda Element

If you’ve decided that a Subaru engine swap is the way to go, you might wonder how to carry out the process. Here are some general steps involved:

  1. Choose the right engine: The first step is to select a suitable Subaru engine that matches your performance goals and budget. You can either buy a new or used engine from a dealership, private seller, or online vendor, or pick one from a junkyard or salvage yard.

  2. Gather the necessary tools and parts: You’ll need a range of tools, equipment, and accessories to remove the old engine, modify the Honda frame and drivetrain, and install the new engine. This includes wrenches, sockets, hoists, jacks, pulleys, belts, hoses, and wiring.

  3. Remove the existing engine: You’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to take out the old Honda engine safely and disconnect the relevant wires, hoses, and mounts. This may involve detaching the radiator, exhaust system, fuel lines, and ancillary components.

  4. Modify the frame and drivetrain: Depending on the Subaru engine you’ve chosen, you may need to alter the Honda Element’s frame, transmission, and axles to accommodate the new hardware and ensure proper alignment. This can include welding, drilling, cutting, and reinforcing various parts of the vehicle.

  5. Install the new engine: Once you’ve ensured that the frame and drivetrain are ready, you can begin installing the Subaru engine in the Honda Element. This typically involves connecting the engine to the transmission, driveshaft, and exhaust, as well as wiring the relevant sensors, gauges, and accessories.

  6. Test and tweak: After you’ve completed the installation, you’ll need to test the new engine to ensure that it runs smoothly, doesn’t leak, and meets your performance expectations. You may also need to make some adjustments or upgrades to optimize the engine’s power and efficiency.

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Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of Swapping Engines

Now that you know the basics of engine swapping, let’s look at some of the potential pros and cons of putting a Subaru engine in your Honda Element:


  • Increased horsepower and torque: Subaru engines are known for their sporty performance, and swapping them into a Honda Element can give you a significant power boost. Depending on the engine you choose, you can increase your horsepower from 160 to over 300, and your torque from 161 to 290 lb-ft.

  • Unique driving experience: A Subaru engine can add a new level of excitement and character to your Honda Element, with its distinctive boxer rumble and responsive throttle. You can also customize your engine’s sound and performance through exhaust, intake, and tuning upgrades.

  • Modifiability and support: Subaru engines are popular among car enthusiasts and tuners, and as such, there are numerous aftermarket parts, kits, and resources available to help you optimize and maintain your engine. You can also tap into a vibrant community of Subaru fans and experts who can provide you with advice, inspiration, and assistance.


  • Expensive and labor-intensive: Engine swapping is not a cheap or easy process, especially if you’re doing it yourself. You need to invest in the right tools, parts, and services, and spend a lot of time and effort in the garage. Depending on the engine and modifications you choose, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 or more on the swap.

  • Legal and regulatory issues: Swapping engines can also raise some legal and compliance issues, especially if you’re upgrading your engine’s power significantly. You need to ensure that your new engine meets the emissions and safety standards for your area, and that you obtain any necessary permits and certificates. Failure to do so can result in fines, impoundment, or other legal penalties.

  • Performance tradeoffs: While Subaru engines offer many benefits, they can also have some drawbacks compared to Honda engines, especially in terms of reliability, fuel economy, and maintenance. Depending on the engine you choose and your driving conditions, you may experience higher repair costs, shorter intervals between oil changes, and lower MPG.

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Cost and Time Estimates for Engine Swapping

As mentioned earlier, engine swapping can be a costly and time-consuming process, and you need to factor in these considerations before embarking on the project. Here’s a rough breakdown of what you can expect in terms of expenses and durations:

  • Cost: Depending on the engine and parts you choose, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 or more on the conversion. This includes the cost of the donor engine, the installation labor, the required modifications, and any associated upgrades (such as transmission or brake upgrades).

  • Time: Engine swapping can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or months, depending on your skill level, the availability of tools and parts, and any unforeseen issues that may arise. You need to be patient, meticulous, and prepared for some setbacks during the process, and avoid rushing or cutting corners.

Optimization and Maintenance Tips for Your New Engine

Once you’ve successfully installed your new Subaru engine in your Honda Element, you might wonder how to get the most out of it and keep it running smoothly. Here are some tips:

  • Optimize your engine’s performance: To unlock the full potential of your Subaru engine, you can explore various modifications and upgrades, such as installing a freer-flowing intake and exhaust, adding a turbocharger or supercharger, or tuning the engine’s ECU. You can also upgrade your suspension, brakes, and tires to handle the increased power and improve your vehicle’s overall handling.

  • Maintain your engine regularly: To ensure that your engine stays reliable and efficient, you need to follow the recommended maintenance schedule and perform regular checkups and repairs. This includes changing the oil, filters, and spark plugs frequently, inspecting the belts, hoses, and gaskets for wear, and monitoring the engine’s performance indicators. You can also consider using high-quality lubricants, coolants, and additives to enhance your engine’s durability and performance.

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  1. Is it legal to swap engines in a Honda Element?

Answer: It depends on your local regulations and emissions standards. You need to check with your state or country’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that your new engine meets the applicable standards and that you obtain the necessary permits and inspections.

  1. Can any Subaru engine fit into a Honda Element?

Answer: No, not all Subaru engines are compatible with the Honda Element’s frame, transmission, and axles. You need to select an engine that matches these specifications and that can be safely and effectively integrated into the Honda Element’s systems.

  1. How much does it cost to install a Subaru engine in a Honda Element?

Answer: The cost of engine swapping varies depending on the engine and parts you choose, as well as the labor and services you require. You can expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 or more on the conversion.

  1. What are some common performance upgrades for a Subaru engine?

Answer: Some popular upgrades for Subaru engines include turbocharging, supercharging, cold air intakes, high-performance exhausts, intercoolers, tuning software, and oversized injectors. You can also consider upgrading your suspension, brakes, and tires to match your engine’s power and torque.


Swapping a Subaru engine into your Honda Element can be a challenging but rewarding project that can transform your car’s performance and personality. However, it requires careful planning, execution, and maintenance, and can involve some legal and financial risks. By following the advice and insights provided in this article, you can make an informed decision about whether a Subaru engine swap is right for you, and how to carry it out safely and effectively. With the right mindset, skills, and resources, you can turn your Honda Element into a speed monster that turns heads,

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Alton Brobst

As a longtime Subaru enthusiast, Alton brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our blog. From his early days of tinkering with engines to his current role as a certified Subaru technician, Alton has seen it all when it comes to Subarus. When he's not working on cars, he enjoys hiking and exploring the great outdoors.

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