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Speedkar99 on YouTube
2003 Camry
1,901 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I’d like to share some behind the scenes info on my current project: Reverse Engineering an entire car! That’s right, I’ve completely taken apart an entire car, grinding it open part by part, and made a full video series on it. Here’s the introduction video, from which you can find links to the playlist:

I have many more videos to come, but for now here is some background on why I undertook this marvel.


My curious mind always had me set on how things work in this world. As a child, I always had a passion for cars, which grew into me undertaking engineering studies to pursue it. To further fulfill my hands-on curiosity, I started buying bits and pieces of car parts from the junkyard, and taking them apart to learn how they work.
Cars are quite intricate and trekking to the junkyard for each component would prove unfeasible. I pondered upon the idea of buying a complete car and completely gutting it out. I wouldn’t have to worry that I’d mess something up, nor would I have to put it back together to drive to work the next day. This led to the purchase of a 2004 Honda Accord with 311,000km on it.
Long story short, the Accord proved a tough car that wasn’t yet ready to take on the teeth of my Sawzall. I ended up fixing it up and selling it, learning a few things about Honda’s along the way. The following year, I again was in quest of finding an old car to cut up.
My requirements were that it had to be easy to work on, simple in mechanics, driveable so I can move it around my driveway, and a popular car that would appeal to an audience of viewers. Having already had lots of experience with Camry platform vehicles, I chose a humble beige 2001 Toyota Corolla CE with only 204,000km. It was cheap, yet solid and mechanically fit as I drove it all 35km home on the highway. I promptly named it “Mr. Rolla”.


I started this project with three primary goals:
1. To learn how the internals of cars work, down to the small details
2. Document my work in a video portfolio
3. Share the knowledge I learn with others in the community online
Now my mechanical engineering education and career satisfies the theoretical side of me during the day. However my YouTube channel was built upon my hands-on skills, making clear, easy to understand how-to videos and I wanted to extend my experience in the same format to viewers.
My feeling before starting this project was there was not sufficient content out there explaining some very basic components in cars, and if there is, it isn’t very practical as everything is either theorized in an animation or presented with very poor production quality. For those of you who want to see what real car guts actually look like without looking at dark, shaky or grainy camera work or listening to an uneducated vlogger blabber on, then I created this series with you in mind.


Having chosen a Japanese car, mostly basic metric hand tools were needed. I did have access to an air compressor with an impact and air ratchet to make larger, more tedious fasteners easy to bust open.
Some of the more custom tools I had to purchase were the axle nut socket, a large socket for the transmission gear and 12 point sockets for the crank-case bolts. I also borrowed an engine crane and engine stand.

Had I chosen a domestic or German vehicle I would have had to purchase an entire toolbox of new tools, since they tend not to standardize things the way Asian automakers have done.
Of course if you’re reverse engineering something, you’re not just going to stop by removing fasteners. I had my trusty 4.5” angle grinder with a wealth of cutting/grinding wheels for chopping things open, as well as a reciprocating saw with a 6” 18-tooth-per-inch metal cutting blade. These tools made things a lot easier to access what would have otherwise been welded or molded together during manufacturing and inaccessible.

My Experience

I began by listing all the major sub-components of a car, and started from the less destructive things like the muffler and HVAC system, eventually working my way to the engine. Logistically, tearing down a car isn’t an easy task, especially when you’re filming along the way.

For complex things, I relied on the vehicle’s factory repair manual to guide me along the way. Engine removal was the first major task, which took me many days coming home after work and working on removing pieces around it bit by bit. I got my hands on an engine crane and hoisted the engine out. No one usually inquires when they see me working on my driveway, but an engine suspended on a crane above the car certainly caught the eye of both my neighbors. That was quite an accomplishment for me, since I’ve never removed an engine before.

Disassembling the engine was very straight forward, as an inline 4 cylinder does not have too many complex components. I did however learn a lot about the engine’s oil lubrication system. I studied all the small little passages, and thought to myself how someone has to sit there and design the engine block, crank case and head to allow that oil to flow through to critical components. Then it has to sit on a mill and be machined out, feature by feature. That’s really something to think back upon!

The transmission was another marvel. There are so many components inside the transmission, each having its own function, some of which I couldn’t even figure out. It is quite a marvel that two shafts, one input, and one counter shafts, with three planetary gear sets, a clutch, tranny pump, torque converter, valve body, pan and differential are all held in such a small compact space! Imagine how many iterations technology has had to develop the automatic transmission in order to refine it to such reliable operation that we take it for granted every day.

Of course there are smaller subsystems that we often don’t think about inside a car, nor can you find information as easily online. Some of those “dark areas” include the EVAP system – arguably one of the most mysterious because of where it’s situated underneath the car behind the gas tank. I bet a lot of people didn’t know it existed to fume gasoline vapors and how critical it is as a pollution control measure as well as a safety measure. Dropping and chopping the gas tank, EVAP charcoal canister and figuring out what all the valves and switches in that system work was quite intricate. There are so many valves and diaphragms in that system, no wonder it takes so much time to diagnose when you get that CEL!
A few other notable projects were the muffler, shifter assembly as well as the steering rack rotary valve. Even I had a hard time finding information on these online to gain some background knowledge before shooting my video.

Shooting Video

Filming video is something that takes time to get right. In fact it usually doubles or triples the time you’re going to do something, just because you’d be setting up the camera, rehearsing your lines and getting the lighting correct. All of these are not present in most mechanic POV videos.
I film everything outdoors in natural daylight, so there were many rainy and bright sunny days that I had to stage around. I feel like lighting is the most crucial part of a good video. I don’t do much most processing as I’m not too involved with software, fancy effects or enhancements. My videos are more of a straight to the point keep it simple persona.

Weather and daylight is another factor that you cannot control. With days getting shorter and colder as the year progresses, schedules have to flip around to accommodate filming, which mainly happens on weekends.
Once all the raw video is shot, I’ll go through it and make supplementary diagrams to help with explanations. I feel like having a tiny bit of engineering theory is important to balance the practical aspects, though not so much as to lose an audiences’ interest.

Additionally, I take photos of my teardown process along the way to keep as documentation. From that I also follow up my videos with a short write-up explaining the key aspects of what I’ve done or dissected. As you can imagine, all of this takes a lot of time.

Having Fun

Of course there were some videos I shot just for fun, because I have a scrap car at my disposal. The personality of the Toyota Corolla is that it’s a boring and slow car to drive. Well I decided to change that mentality by chopping the top off! That was good fun, and I bet it’s the first Corolla convertible in recent times out there.

I also had to do something interesting with the airbags. Instead of blowing them up in smoke and watching them fly high, I pondered if the force of an airbag can actually lift up a car. So instead, I deployed the airbags underneath the car – with no engine to make it even lighter. Sadly though I was a bit disappointed that the car didn’t really lift up off its wheels, though it did leave a huge dent in the floor pan. My neighbors were once again startled by the explosion and came over to make sure I was okay.


I learned so much doing this project, and I still have more videos to produce. I’m very excited and motivated to finish this car off so I can move back on to doing some repair, hacking and upgrading videos again. Little did I know I would have so much fun with the most boringest of cars… a Toyota Corolla!
While taking this car apart, I not only learned how each subcomponent worked. I learned how individual components are put together, how they are manufactured, what materials they are made of, their design relative to other components, as well as the order that these pieces are installed when making a car.

There is quite a lot that goes into a car than you would even see on the final assembly line. You can definitely see why cars are designed with 5+ year lifecycles, because so much engineering, testing and manufacturing preparations have to be made!

You may ask – would I ever do this again? Of course! If time and space allows, I’d look forward to reverse engineering something different and more complex, having already mastered the basics. I’m thinking a luxury car, with a V6 or V8 engine and RWD configuration, and lots of electronic gizmos and gadgets to dissect.
I hope you all enjoy my video series. I’m always open to constructive feedback, video suggestions and ways to improve. Make sure you stay tuned if you want to see more videos just like this!
Here’s the playlist:

- speedkar9
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