Part Deux: Swapping in the CA18DET



For most the formula is simple, stock motors are replaced with SR20DET’s. End of discussion. But then you have the guys that do things different. There are the RB guys, the KA-T guys and finally the CA18DET guys. So why, when the majority says SR20DET would this car receive a CA18DET, a motor already down .2 liters and almost 20 hp to its younger brother? Although reasons vary from person to person, one thing becomes clear, the CA community is full of enthusiasts who are passionate about their rides and enjoy exploring the potential of their car in new and innovative ways.

But for those of that want facts, here they are:

  • The CA18DET has an iron block and oil squirters and is known for its ability to handle lots of abuse. It is often referred to as a Skyline motor, minus 2 cylinders.
  • An 8000rpm plus redline on a boosted motor is therapy for any enthusiasts soul.
  • The cost of the CA, rather a clip or motorset is significantly cheaper than that of other swaps. This leaves more money for engine mods.
  • Pretty much any part made for a 1988 Nissan Pulsar SE will work with the CA18DET. This means that water pumps, oil pumps, gaskets, belts, etc… can all be found at your local auto parts store. This is a huge convenience considering some of the other swaps require parts to be sourced from Japan.
  • Lots of parts and upgrades made for the SR20DET work with the CA18DET. In fact, any turbo that bolts to the SR20DET will bolt to the CA with little to no modification, making hand me down upgrades very appealing.
  • A properly tuned CA can handle 20+ psi on the stock bottom end which will yield more than enough power for all but the most ambitious tuners.

The swap

Swapping the CA18DET motor into your s13 is a play by play of a SR20DET swap, with a few exceptions.The biggest difference with the CA compared to the SR is that your motor has probably sat for a while. It is a good idea to replace a few of the motor’s seals and hoses while the motor is out of the car. Doing this now can save a lot of work up front. Typically, the rear oil seal should be inspected and replaced, all hoses and vacuum lines should be inspected for cracks and leaks and you should replace the valve cover gaskets. Furthermore a lot of people go ahead and replace their clutch and flywheel before installing the motor. Once you have fully inspected
the motor, it is time to install it. The installation of the CA18DET is identical to the installion of a SR20DET, even down to the wiring. (I will write a full swap guide in the future but for the time being, a quick google search on SR20DET swaps will yield all of the information you need.)

Update: CA18DET swap guides now online.

Additional parts

Unless you ordered a full front clip there are going to be a few parts you may need to complete your install. Most motorsets will not come with an intercooler or the intercooler plumbing. There are a few quick solutions. You can use an SR20DET side mount intercooler (smic) and make the hot pipe and cold pipe fit, or you can use just about any front mount intercooler (fmic) kit made for the SR20DET. Again, with a few adjustments, you can make it fit. The final solution, and my personal favorite, is to buy a fmic and weld your own piping. This will yield a much more efficient piping design than a bolt on kit.

The moment of truth

After slaving for hours swapping the motor, tediously checking the wiring and giving all systems a once over, it is time to turn the key and bring the new motor to life. And as expected, my motor didn’t start. Count yourself lucky if your’s starts first time, but these swap can usually be a hit or miss affair. As such, it is usually something very small. For instance, I will be the first to admit that I have a knack for connecting the battery terminals in reverse and blowing starter fuses. So go ahead and check the small stuff first like blown fuses, disconnected plugs, improperly connected battery, disconnected or improperly wired ecu, missing grounding wires (another one I am notorious for) etc… (I will post a very detailed troubleshooting guide in the near future) With a quick check I realized that I had once again reversed the battery terminals which led to a blown fuse. Moments later I had the car started. Still not time for celebration as the motor was now idling and then dying. A bad idle is a common problem on newly swapped CA’s. It has to do with the carbon build-up and the fact that these motors have usually sat for a while. Apart from dismantling the IACV (Idle Air Control Valve) and cleaning it by hand, I have found that half a can of seam foam, sucked into the manifold through a vacuum line fixes this problem almost instantly.

Once the idle leveled out, I took the car out for a quick test drive and was instantly reminded of why i love this motor so much. After five minutes of constant grinning I pulled the car back into my garage, checked for any leaks and went to bed a very happy man knowing that I had driven project 240sx for the first time on its new motor.

A CA18DET motorset

Ah the potent little 1.8 liter CA18DET awaiting installation.

By 240am

Chris Simmons is a race car driver, instructor, business owner and all around gearhead. His passion for motorsport started in the drifting community over 10 years ago and progressed into wheel to wheel racing of all kinds. When off track Chris can be found training and working on a myriad of projects. After a hiatus from writing, he is back to share his passion, knowledge and experience in regard to motorsports on and off the track.

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