Electronics Universal Fit Blogging

Crank up your Acura’s audio system with a tuned ELS amplifier from Phantom Audio

Audiophiles are an interesting subset of the automotive world.¬†They’ll go to no end to get the perfect sound from their car’s sound system. Yet cars are not exactly designed as great places to listen to music. So to achieve that perfect sound a slew of aftermarket componentry must be used installed in the dash, doors, trunk, and wherever else space can be found.¬†Those wishing to keep their car’s interior simpler¬†and more factory-like run into an issue with adapter kits and extraneous wires being run throughout the interior. Sub-boxes take up valuable trunk space, and wiring up aftermarket amplifiers is nearly impossible to make like factory.

But as it turns out, some cars are designed to have great audio. And their components are generally up to the task of providing outstanding audio. Just a little “tweak” is needed to substantially bring out even more sound.

Here is the factory ELS sound system layout in a 2004-08 Acura TL:

Impressive array, yes?

With all these speakers, the amplifier has to be really sophisticated. The factory amp is the best way to utilize all these speakers and locations, especially with the way Elliot Scheiner laid them out. Much like how Hondata has found amazing success in re-tuning factory ECUs for optimal engine control, Phantom Audio tackles a re-tune of the factory amplifier to turn the standard ELS sound system into a thing of wonderment.

Retuning the factory ELS amplifier construction requires a lot of knowledge and experience. As an audio and auto enthusiast for more than twenty years, Jesse Levi Kelley of Phantom Audio decided to tackle the task to make the factory amplifier create sound better than one could possibly expect. He’s got the experience and know-how to do amazing things with cars’ systems with a strong eye on quality and factory integration. Phantom Audio exists as your go-to solution for audio componentry that melds perfectly with your car’s factory design.

Phantom Audio’s first product¬†is a series of tuned amplifiers for the¬†ELS system in 2004-08 Acura TL models and 2007-09 Acura MDX. 2004-08 Acura TSX amplifiers can also be tuned by Phantom Audio even though they are not branded as ELS. The¬†amazing ELS audio system¬†creates the perfect sound stage with sophisticated speaker placement and calibrated sizing. However,¬†the amplifier internals suffer from cost-cutting¬†by the manufacturer.¬†With huge respect paid to Elliot Scheiner, Phantom Audio opens up these amps and re-tunes them with specially selected combinations of upgraded capacitors to provide¬†considerably better sound that one would even believe possible.

Early adopters have taken to YouTube attempting to capture the extended frequency range and improved bass they experience with a tuned amp. Check out this user’s before and after videos for an idea of what to expect from your Phantom Audio tuned amplifier.

Here is a video from “before” the amp tuning in an otherwise stock Acura TL:

Now, here is the same car after the amplifier is installed:

These videos hope to convey the “after”:

  • Volume is significantly better. At 10 volume level, it sounds like it did at 20 before.
  • Treble is crisp and clear, even at high volumes.
  • Bass is clean and strong, can actually feel the bass at high volumes.

Another user had access to a studio-grade microphone for their video. To get the full effect you really need to be listening with a desktop and decent speakers:


How to order: Find PHANTOM AUDIO on

The ordering process is simple.

  1. Navigate to and select your vehicle from the Vehicle Selector.
  2. Use the Electric / Audio System category path to find the re-tuned amps for your car.
  3. You may find different levels of amps for you application. Phantom Audio offers a “Signature Series” amplifier and a “Bass-Plus” for some applications. Check out the products for details on what is right for you.
  4. Read Heeltoe’s pricing includes a core charge that is refunded once your original amp is sent in, see individual product listings for details and restrictions on cores.

For you Radio Shack geeks out there, know that¬†what Phantom Audio does to these amps is more than a simple capacitor swap. He’s mixed and matched different capacitors from all over the globe and strategically installed them in each of the amplifier’s channels to give the tweeters, center channel speaker, door-drivers, and a subwoofer the optimal frequency range.¬†He also polishes the amplifier cases¬†prior to shipping as a nice finishing touch.

This new product is one we are extremely excited about.¬†In addition to offering TL ELS Amp Tunes, Phantom Audio can wave a wand over your 2004-08 Acura TSX or 2007-09 Acura MDX’s amps. We at Heeltoe believe in Phantom Audio’s capabilities, so¬†we’re sending in the amplifiers from our HTSpecTSX and HTSpecMDX for Phantom Audio tuning!

As products come available we’ll announce them for our loyal fans. Meahwhile, get that order in for a Phantom Audio re-tuned amp NOW!

Engine Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging

Will a Cold Air Intake Suck Up Water and Hydrolock My Engine?

A performance intake system is one of the first things people buy to improve the performance of their cars. For the most, the “cold-air” class of intake is preferred as it is known to bring in denser, cooler air than “short rams” for the maximum gain in power. Oftentimes these cars are daily use, and it also comes up fairly often that cold-air intakes are questioned for use in rainy or wet areas because of the risk of engine damage.

A recent email from a customer asks it all:

“I understand that heat soak is possible with short ram & can slow me down, but the possibility of hydrolocking on a brand new car [with a cold-air intake] doesn’t sound very appealing to me. All my friends have very conflicting opinions on this & I’m basically caught up in the middle!”

Before we get to the response, I’ll explain a little about the reason for the concern.

Why are CAIs a concern?

Cold-air intakes (CAIs) work by placing the air inlet down behind the bumper cover, away from the engine bay where hot air accumulates. Because the air filter is low and closer to the ground, there is a concern that it might suck up water, and hydrolock the engine.

In a very brief explanation, hydrolocking is a catastrophic condition where water enters the engine’s cylinder. This is a problem because engines operate by creating an air-tight cylinder to compress gas and control combustion. Water is non-compressable, so if the cylinder on the compression stroke is full of water it will break the engine. Most commonly, the connecting rod will bend or break, and most likely cause the piston to break or tweak inside the bore causing it to get jammed (or locked). Hence the term hyrdolock. So, one should definitely avoid sucking water into the engine!

So how real are the risks?

Our reply puts it in real, honest terms:

“The hydrolocking issue with cold-air intakes has been blown out of proportion. While it is a real possibility, the chances of you actually encountering that scenario are very slim. Unless your daily commute involves fording small creeks or pools, that is.

“In all seriousness, you would have to be driving through deep water, fully submerging the filter, for this to be a real threat. You’d also have to apply common sense and not drive through floods. We would not hesitate to use cold air in a place where it rains heavily all the time (we have a store in the Portland, we know rain). You do need to be mindful that if you’re driving through a freakishly deep puddle, it might be time to re-evaluate your route.”

It’s a deep concern

In a cold air system where the filter is placed near the ground, the amount of water that is required to submerge the filter is usually 8-10 inches or more. Hold a tape measure up to your leg to see how deep that is. You would not likely drive through water this deep, and so you really should not have an issue if you can avoid driving in such deep waters.

Furthermore, the engine is going to want to stall if it tries to suck up water. The deeper you go, you might find that more throttle is needed to push through the river, but more than that you are just going to ingest more water. If you are driving through water and the engine starts bogging, don’t floor it. Shut it down!

But, I’m a special case…

The next argument made is typically regarding special cases where the filters aren’t just lower to the ground because of the CAI, it’s “really really” low because the car is lowered a lot as well.

“My car is really low though…the water would not need to be really deep for me to have an issue then?”

Well, how much lower than the next car is yours? My car is lowered 2″ and yours is lowered 3.5″ That means if my car is “safe” in 8″ of water, yours is only “safe” to 6.5″? the point is the same. Whether the car is stock height, or lowered 3″ isn’t the point. The point is, try not to drive through water deeper than you would walk through in rain boots.

But, aside from the issue of driving a car at an unsafe ride-height, this argument can also be made about water being just a little bit deeper than you might think. In other words, the false judgment of how deep the water is causing issues more than the filter being a little lower to the ground because of your static stance life.

The best rule of thumb is if you cannot see or tell how deep the water is, avoid it. Go around or go another way. There are possibly times when you have no choice, but that would not preclude you from having an issue even in a completely stock car. At the end of the day, floods cause issues for cars. A cold air intake is not likely to work against you dramatically.

Keep your splash shields and fender liners

Are your fender liners and splash shields in place? They should be. If they are, this won’t get you out of the flooding issue because those shields aren’t water-tight. But with them, the filter is going to be pretty well protected from splashing water.

It can happen that the filter may get WET, but not actually suck up water. The filter, if installed properly on the car, is covered in the front by the bumper, and the bottom and sides by a splash shield. If you remove the splash shields from your car (or they are torn off by scraping along the ground or poorly fitting wheels), it is highly recommended not to install a cold air intake.

Without splash shields, the filter will be exposed to water and will surely become saturated in rain. This will not cause a hydrolock, but the saturation of the filter will not allow air to pass through. Without air, the engine will suffocate and stall the engine. Aside from the fact that driving with the filter exposed so close to the road will dramatically accelerate dirt accumulation and generally lead to poor performance.

So to sum it up

  • Driving with a cold-air intake in the rain will not cause your engine to hydrolock.
  • Driving with a coil-air intake without splash shields and fender lines will cause you problems.
  • If you aren’t able to avoid driving through water deeper than 6-8 inches deep, a cold-air probably isn’t for you.
  • Don’t lower your car too much and then worry about performance concerns, because the low-life and the #gridlife are mutually exclusive.

Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging

What is the difference between OE, Genuine, OEM, and OER/Aftermarket Parts?

There are all kinds of replacement parts available for your car. This article is to help you understand the differences between different types of parts that may be available so you can decide on the part that is right for your needs. Know that there is a time and place for choosing each of the below part types, so education is really key when parts shopping.

OE Parts
Genuine Parts
OEM Parts
OE Replacement or Aftermarket Parts

OE Parts

An OE part is an Original Equipment part. It is one that is installed on the car when it is first assembled in the factory. Technically, you cannot buy an OE part as new unless you are getting a new car.


OER, OE Replacement Parts

Any part you buy for the car, no matter what it is, is considered “aftermarket” from a manufacturer’s perspective. To the rest of us, replacement parts are‚Ķreplacements for other parts! Any part that is installed to replace an originally installed part is a replacement.

Genuine Parts

As replacement parts go,¬†Genuine is number one. If there are 50 identical parts and 20 of them are installed on new cars at a factory, the other 30 go into a box and are sold as replacements. These are Genuine parts. New genuine parts come in manufacturer’s branded packaging. When you go to a Honda dealer to buy parts, you are expecting Genuine; “Genuine Honda” is written right on the box (even if you have an Acura! Most of your Genuine Acura parts say Honda on them as well).

Genuine parts are generally regarded as the best you can get for the car. If you are restoring a car, you really should be sticking with Genuine. Aside from an original equipment part swapped over from another car,¬†you can’t get more original than genuine.

The confusing thing is, most people will call Genuine parts “OEM,” when really that isn’t quite accurate.

Shop Heeltoe Genuine Honda and Acura OEM Parts in our Heeltoe Genuine OEM Parts store!


OEM Parts

Of course, not everyone is restoring their car, and often times the expense of Genuine parts is hard to justify. That’s where enthusiasts will usually turn to OEM parts for their maintenance and repair items.

OEM means Original Equipment Manufacturer. If Original Equipment is a part that came on the car when it was originally made, the OEM is the company that made that part. A company such as Honda does not internally manufacture every part on their cars. Honda may outsource many items to other vendors and then install these parts on cars on the assembly line.¬†Manufacturers that produce parts for original equipment installation are called OEM or OE Suppliers (OEMs for short).¬†Effectively, an OEM part becomes a “Honda” part, even though Honda did not make it themselves.

There are many OEMs in the world. The fit, quality, and reliability of an OEM part is expected to be the same as a Genuine part, but usually, OEM parts are available at a lower cost than Genuine parts. Nobody is ever going to look down on you for buying an OEM part.¬†But please do understand, if you want a part that comes in a Honda or Acura package, the “genuine article” so to speak, you need to specify Genuine parts; not OEM parts.¬†Your concourse judging may suffer!

“Wait, I thought “OEM” meant…the real deal, like, from the dealer.”
You only thought that because of marketing. The term “OEM” has been used so much by OEMs, and so effectively labeled as “the same as a genuine part,” that this has become common knowledge. People assume OEM is the same as genuine! But it is not. The terms are so closely related we decided to call our Genuine parts store “Heeltoe Genuine OEM Parts.” We even needed to put OEM in the url, (, because people “know” what OEM is.*

OE Replacement Parts or Aftermarket Replacement

If you were reading above, thinking that OEM sounded almost like “aftermarket,” you are right. In Heeltoe terms, anything not OE or Genuine is Aftermarket. To the makers of the car, anything bought for the vehicle after it was originally made, is aftermarket.** To the general parts person or enthusiast,¬†aftermarket parts are made by companies who are not OEMs. Stuff you get at average parts stores are usually aftermarket.

While aftermarket parts are suitable replacements for the average user, the aftermarket belt may have a different load rating, fray differently on the edges, have a different service life, or vary more in length. OEM suppliers are forced into consistent production and quality value. It is the general preference not to stray from Genuine or OEM parts unless there is a really tight budget or no need to invest in the car more than necessary to keep it going.

Not to speculate, but aftermarket parts may generally carry a more questionable quality. It may not be critical on every application, but enthusiasts will not really prefer to use aftermarket parts unless there is a performance advance to them…we’ll cover performance aftermarket in another blog.

* People will call me and ask if such and such a part I am about to sell them is “OEM,” and I say “It’s better than OEM; it’s Genuine.” But, somehow that tosses them off and they don’t believe they are getting a factory part. It’s baffling…but, that’s a paradigm for you. Part of what this article is about is to educate people on what “Genuine” means. Ironically, the part you want, the one that says “Honda” on it, also says “genuine!”

** This is really just another play on wording. The term “aftermarket” can be broken into “after” and “market.” “Market” meaning, available to buy somewhere, and “after” meaning after the fact…after the manufacturing of the car. A part is generally either originally installed or aftermarket. Even Genuine Replacement parts are technically aftermarket parts from many OE perspectives.

Chassis Universal Fit Blogging

When A-Spec and HFP Suspension Kits Are Discontinued, What To Get Instead?

Updated as of December 2017:

With the popularity of this posting, we have added the Koni STR.T Dampers and popular spring options as pre-built combos on Heeltoe! Find links to them here:

2004-08 TL:¬†Heeltoe Automotive “A-Spec/HFP Evo” Coil-Over Damper Set, 2004-08 Acura TL

2004-08 TSX:¬†Heeltoe Automotive “A-Spec/HFP Evo” Coil-Over Damper Set, 2004-08 Acura TSX

Updated as of December 2016:

Times are tough for the Honda/Acura Enthusiast looking for a conservative drop, comfortable ride, but highly enhanced driving experience. The A-Spec & HFP kits from Honda/Acura were awesome but short-lived, solutions with factory quality you could count on. Then the Neuspeed Supercup Kit was a fantastic option, and promptly itself became discontinued in 2015.

NOW what do you do if you long for that “factory sport package” feel in your Honda Accord, Acura TSX, TL, or other naturally sporting Honda sedan?

Heeltoe has settled on the “next-best” answer… Combine a set of Koni STR.T dampers with a set of Tein HighTECH springs.

Koni STR.T Damper:

Tein HighTECH (HTECH) Spring:

This high-quality combo offers the long stroke and long life of a Koni damper, with excellent body control balanced with proper damping to soak up everyday road hiccups. It also features a slightly firmer spring than stock, with minimal lowering range.

So while this is decidedly not an A-Spec kit it will function excellently and keep your Honda/Acura performing better than new for years to come!

– Marcus


Legacy Post from January 2016:

The Acura A-Spec and Honda Factory Performance suspension packages for popular Honda and Acura models are the perfect suspension tuning parts for the conservative enthusiast. But as they become unavailable, what is the next-best package?

What made the A-Spec kit great for people with a conservative performance goal in mind for both lowering and for sport, was that it utilized springs that were similar to stock in ride height and firmness. The dampers were better at controlling body motions. The combination was great for someone with worn factory suspension but was looking to replace the part with just a bit more athletic ability.

A last look at the much-loved Acura A-Spec Suspension package.

So, with the A-Spec kit gone…what is the conservative-minded enthusiast’s best bet for minimal lowering with great improvements in weight-transfer management and reduction in float as compared to stock suspension? And all that at a reasonable cost?

We would say, the Neuspeed Supercup Kit featuring German-made Sport springs and Sport/Yellow Shocks from Koni are the ticket!

For a little more of a lowering rate, the Neuspeed Supercup Kit is an A-Spec suspension on ‘roids.

Yes, there are a couple of compromises.

  1. The A-Spec kit came with new upper top-hat mounts pre-installed from the factory. Many viewed this as a great value feature, and the value was certainly there. Our counterpoint is that the upper mounts on these cars really do not wear from the factory. Replacement is something better done out of convenience rather than necessity (incidentally, does offer an Upper Mount Option on Neuspeed kits, as we know many customers do like replacing these parts oftentimes).
  2. While the Neuspeed Supercup Kit does come with a Race or Sport spring option, the Race is too aggressive for conservative drivers. The Sport is a great choice, however, the 1.5″ average lowering is a bit more than some drivers are looking for. holds that 1.5″ is a very reasonable lowering range for the average Honda or Acura. It is a compromise, but one worth considering.

Of course, if someone really did not want to lower their Acura but wanted all the sport and control benefit of an A-Spec kit, simply grab a set of Koni Sport replacement dampers!

The Koni Sport dampers do offer a relative degree of height adjustment, but more importantly, they have adjustable dampening. This allows a driver to tune in just the right amount of rebound for their particular tastes. Plus, as they wear, these dampers can be firmed up. They are extremely high quality, and with this tuning feature, can effectively last longer than most drivers will ever need them to.

Yes, the passing of the Acura A-Spec (and likewise, Honda Factory Performance) suspension kits is an unfortunate reality for enthusiasts. But thanks to Neuspeed and Koni, we are not without suitable alternative choices. is here to advise every customer on their specific needs, so don’t hesitate to¬†contact us¬†today for a consultation!

Exterior & Lighting Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging

Car 101: What color is my car? Honda/Acura Paint Codes, Names, and Variants!

Surprise…your car is not SILVER. It might be hard to describe your color properly, but when you have the color code at your disposal, you’ll get the right parts every time!

So here is how to know for sure what color your car is (at least, a Honda or Acura!)

Here we have the #HTSpecMDX. What color is it?

Step 1: Pop open the Driver’s door. Notice the sticker that says “Color?” That’s your car’s color code!

But what is the name of the color?

Step 2: Visit your car’s page on’s HTGarages (here is the HTSpecMDX’s page). Edit your “Vehicle Specs” and start typing in the color code. The field auto-searches and reveals your color (if you’ve got a custom color or your is not listed, type and save it to add it! Be sure to save changes!

Awesome! Yeah? Now you know your car’s color! But wait, there is more…

Just because you know the color code, does not mean you will get the “right color” from a paint shop with just this information.

There are actually slight variations in colors depending on where and when they were painted. Colors like Satin Silver Metallic and Nighthawk Black Pearl have widely used Honda colors applied to numerous models over many years and applied in various manufacturing plants. Because of these variances, colors that are the same code need a little extra info to tell paint shops what specific variation of the color is applied.

Step 3: Look at the 11th Digit of your VIN, to confirm what factory the car was painted at. Without this information, you cannot get the right tone of the color and you are going to get your parts painted juuust a little bit off.

So, if a paint shop sprays your car’s front end and the bumper doesn’t quite match…it’s probably because they got the pearl mix or metallic content off. Don’t let someone tell you that the color comes out differently just because the bumpers are plastic and the fenders are metal. If done properly that really isn’t the case.

So there you are! That is how you know what color your Honda/Acura is!

Exterior & Lighting Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging

Car 101: Right Side Left Side, Driver Side Passenger Side

Many people feel confused when discussing which side of the car they need to buy a part for. Some feel it is best to call out “driver” or “passenger” to try and get clarity.

The problem with this is, not everyone’s car has the driver’s seat on the same side! We mostly deal with Japanese cars here at Heeltoe, and in Japan, the driver sits on the right. “Driver’s side” would maybe buy you the wrong side.

Some might say, “Hey, this is ‘Merica! We all drive on the LEFT side.” Well, that is true if you live in America or most other countries on Earth. But, the importation of JDM cars to the US is on the rise. Likewise, Heeltoe ships parts all over the world! We’ve got customers in the UK, Japan, and even many places such as Barbados and Jamaica where they could be driving just about anything. As customer service experts, how are we to clearly know what side is the driver’s side?

If you wanna tell us what side of the car you need a part for, just say, right or left. All directions are indicated as if you are sitting inside the car. To turn right, you use the right blinker, which is on the right side of the car.

Wherever this notion that right would need any more clarification than the surface definition baffles us. It must have been started because someone didn’t know right from left, and started calling it driver’s side for left.

That’s it! So don’t get confused by looking at the front of the car and thinking your right is the right side of the car. And next time you say “I need a left fender,” and the guy behind the counter asks “driver’s side?” say, “No, left side.” It might be fun.

FUN FACT: Honda part numbers are coded in such a way that the first 5 digits tell you what a part is. Bumper, piston, emblem, etc. if there is a right and left for a part, the right side is always numerically lower number. So for a 1997 Honda Civic headlight:

  • Right side:¬†33101-S01-305
  • Left side:¬†33151-S01-305
Universal Fit Blogging

Team Why-49 & The Curse of Y-49 : A History Lesson

Surfing on Facebook earlier this Throwback Thursday, I happened upon a post of a CRX for sale which was Y-49 in color. The vehicle was in a bit of poor state, which triggered a chill up my spine…further evidence the curse of Y-49 is still true to this day.

Naturally, I shared it on my Facebook wall.

In the comments, you will find the startling question in reply to my statement that the curse was alive and well: “How so? Are the yellow ones all cursed?”

Clearly, the seller deliriously citing “Y-49 original yellow paint” and “Body is straight” as “pros” indicates he is feeling the dreadful after-effects of the Y-49 paint. They are selling the car after only a few weeks of ownership. I mean, look at this poor thing:

How sad. But this is really just one in a string of long-cursed applications of Y-49. Unfortunate VINs of yore cursed with this hue, 3rd generation Preludes and 2nd generation CRXs have suffered untimely, sometimes inexplicable, always un-Honda-like, fates. So much so, it was documented on an old Geocities domain from a group dubbing themselves “Team Why-49.”

Sidebar: if you are under the age of 31, sidebar. (?) I lost you @Geocities. Frst, WHT was Geocities? Linkup: Wikipedia, y0! (because no matter how much your teacher will not think Wikipedia legit, it mostly is).

Back to our story… with a little Googleing I came across a Honda-Tech post linking me to the original page! Here is an actual link to the Geocities page, which, even though Geocities closed in 2009, is still alive today!

Ok, apparently Yahoo! does have a pretty good sense of humor.

Team Y-49 was a sub-set of Y-49 vehicle owners who were part of which was probably the next-best, long-lasting CRX website after the CRX Resource* took a dump (although I personally preferred This group made a site that WAS hosted on Geocities, but since that was taken down the page was emulated here:

On it, there are the main member’s cars, a bunch of other people’s submissions, and what was called a “Guest Book,” which on websites back in the day was a place where people could post up their own contributions to the site. I’ll leave the challenge of digging into this site to yourself.

Warning, it is not likely going to resolve well on a phone, since these phones were “the shit” when this site was a known reference:

I will give you this little navigation tip:

So there you have it. A little background on the curse of the Y-49. Don’t own a car that is painted Y-49. And if you do, sell it or be prepared to share your story in our comments!

PS: If you choose not to believe any of this, consider yourself fortunate, as you have not be impacted by the curse yourself, as I have.

Getcha Y-49 T-shirts!

* Hey! is still active, but, not CRXy anymore…last updated 2008

Chassis Universal Fit Blogging

BC Racing Coilovers: Implications of Ordering Custom Spring Rates

Many people are aware that BC Racing will allow you to customize your coilovers to your liking. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering a custom BC kit.

  • Swift Springs upgrade is mandatory for rates above 18k. This is because BC does not make a wide variety of springs (length, diameter) at rates above 18k. The Swift Spring upgrade does come at an increased cost as well.
  • Off the shelf, your kit can handle spring changes of 2-4k in each direction. Beyond that will require shocks with different valving.
  • Any kit that varies in specification from its “Off the Shelf” version is considered a custom kit. These are not eligible for cancellation or return once your order has been processed, and the build time will be 2-3 weeks. You must be committed to your custom kit, so be sure to think about this before you place your order!

With this information, you see that BC Racing has a lot of flexibility and capability when it comes to building a kit tailored to your specific needs. is the place to go for all your BC Racing needs, from mild to wild.

Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging You Can Do It! DIYs

8 tips to get you going on that FWD Honda Transmission removal/rebuild

Based on the recent and disheartening news that the transaxle in our HTSpecTSX needed to be removed and rebuilt, we decided to put together this post to show some handy tips that might arm you with some knowledge you need to get the transmission out of your FWD Honda with that much smaller of a headache.

Factoid: A transaxle is a combination of the differential and the transmission in one unit. Front-wheel-drive cars generally all have transaxles, not technically transmissions!

1. Safety is cool

First and foremost, please please please, wear safety glasses. They might be uncomfortable to wear at first but once you get into your job with tools in hand, you’ll forget they are even on your face. If you don’t put them on I promise you will regret it the very moment you are on your back in a compromised position working on a very difficult bold, and a piece of crud will fall in your eye. It sucks. This is the best-case scenario. Worst case you’ll be like an old coworker of mine who was hammering on a ball joint and a piece of shrapnel shot into his eye and blinded him on that side.

Safety is cool. In addition to the glasses, gloves are a great idea as well. Other important things to have are proper jack stands, and most of all, brains. This job involves some very simple but very real forces of physics. Look at the load system in front of you, and decide where your forces and counter forces are going to be. If this last comment flies over your head, consider leaving the job to a professional.

Now that we have the basics mentioned, let’s talk about some more specific topics.

2. Get the right manual

If you have a Honda or Acura, that means buying a real Helm service manual and read it a week or two in advance of doing the job at hand.  Honda sends a team of people to their production plants with these manuals and literally disassemble an entire car to make sure it reads and works correctly before selling the cars and publishing the books. It will tell you everything you need to know, and nearly every step to take, in order to properly perform any job on the car. If special tools are needed, they will tell you. Need to replace a bolt, or use a specific grease, or need torque specs? Buy the book. Get your very own copy at or on eBay.

A Genuine Helm Manual is full of detail.

3. Tools are your key to success

The manual will tell you what special tools are needed and which are proprietary Honda ones. Now, before you go out and buy all these expensive and hard-to-get tools know that there are good aftermarket substitutions out there. Sears, Harbor Freight, Amazon…you can get good tools to work on the car other than the factory. And also know that you don’t need ALL the tools they are suggesting. Overall these manuals are written for dealers and dealers have a huge cache of tools that they get from the manufacturers. You won’t have access to these tools. And they are pricey! So look for good alternatives. The trick is knowing which ones REALLY need to be OEM ones…that might just be something you figure out in the trenches. For example, expensive seal and bearing drivers can often be substituted for pipes of various sizes or sockets. Be resourceful and get tools, but if you don’t need to buy them that is all the better.

Use a large socket as a bearing or seal driver.

Here you can see my solution for removing this sealing bolt for which I did not have a 14mm hex driver. Of course, I bought one on Amazon and it arrived, along with a new bolt from Acura, in time for me to reassemble properly. This technique has long been a favorite of mine for removing stripped brake rotor screws.

A hammer and chisel made quick work of this sealing bolt that I did not have a 12mm hex driver for.

4. Manage your time and be realistic

Now is an opportune time to mention time management. The prime thing to keep in mind is to be realistic. A professional can take a trans out and put it back in in a day. Maybe call it two days if there is a rebuild in there. You need to expect that this job may take you twice as long, or longer. The reason is not because of anything besides experience and the quality and variety of tools. Professional technicians (even the mediocre ones) spend more money on their personal tool collection than you’d believe (I’ve known guys to amass a tool collection of $100,000 or more). To techs, tools are time and time is money. The better the tools and experience using them, the shorter the time to do jobs. They have lots of shop equipment at their disposal (vehicle lifts, to say the least). You’ll save a lot of money doing jobs yourself, but look at your tool collection and understand that you CAN do the job, but it is going to take a lot of time if that collection is not extensive.

You could be hanging around for a while...mostly waiting for parts. Use time wisely.

5. Save the beer for the fat lady

So, you are following instructions in the service manual, using some handy tools, taking your time, listening to music. Things are going well! Don’t crack a beer!

Even if your intentions are not to get drunk, a casual beer makes for casual work which is both inefficient and unsafe. Save the beer for when you are done working for the day. Because once you start the beer, it is the start of the end. Trust me; beer is a great tool, for celebrating. Not for working.

I wanted to rotate this pic, but my photo editor was drunk.

6. Get an impact wrench

One of the tools that will come in handy is an impact wrench. Commonly, impact wrenches are powered by air thus requiring an air compressor. I’ll tell you that since getting my electric one, my life has changed. I use the air compressor mostly for filling tires these days. While things like an air hammer and air rachets can be handy, nothing beats the convenience of an electric impact wrench. I have a¬†Bosch¬†one and I highly recommend it. It is compact, lightweight, and powerful. There are cheaper ones but they are more bulky and heavy. But, it won’t make you superman: Some fasteners need to be removed by hand so have a breaker bar also.

Say hello to my little friend.

7. Special fasteners can throw you a curveball or ruin your day

Watch out for left-hand threads. Righty-tighty-lefty-loosey applies almost universally, but there may be left-hand threads inside the transmission. Actually, the TSX trans is held together by them! Special black-coated bolts designed to prevent galvanic corrosion against the Magnesium case cannot be substituted and are distinctively left-handed. Usually, these special fasteners have arrows on them telling you to turn the opposite way you are used to. Also, some fasteners require special sockets to remove. The flywheel and clutch are held on with 12-point fasteners. The important message here is that if you need to cut one off, or break it by doing the wrong procedure for removal, you won’t end up with a new one by doing an 11th-hour run to the hardware store. Most likely your dealer won’t stock these parts, either. Again, read the book!

Arrows mark the direction to tighten.

8. The aftermarket provides more unknowns

Are you installing aftermarket parts in your transmission? If so, realize that no matter how good they are they probably are not going to fit exactly the same as OEM parts. I found out the hard way that the differential in my TSX transmission needed a different shim than the OEM one did, and had to order new shims at the last minute. Even though I’d given myself plenty of time, this little curveball could have really ruined things for my deadline. Tools can be improvised but actual components inside the trans have to come from specific manufacturers and substitutions won’t do. All the research in the world can’t protect you against Murphy’s Law. You don’t want to get details like this wrong because it could mean taking that transmission back out again sooner than later.

That is a good list to get you going. Be prepared by getting a manual and doing as much shopping as you can ahead of time. Expect to have something like a transmission rebuild to take a full week; this is in addition to the time to remove and install the trans from the car. Don’t be afraid to call Heeltoe if you have any questions or need advice!

Intake & Exhaust Universal Fit Blogging

Import Tuner Power Pages Featuring ATLP Cat-Back for the Acura RDX

Import Tuner likes taking parts and slapping them on cars in a segment called Power Pages, displaying what power benefits they offer. We found a nice article showing some great gains with the ATLP cat-back for the RDX.

Honda Tuning RDX "Black Pearl"

Here is a link to the full article:

Among a Hondata Reflash and K&N Intake, gains were handily made with the addition of the ATLP Cat-Back.

Here is what they had to say:

Reducing exhaust backpressure is crucial to freeing up power in turbocharged cars. But, in vehicles like the RDX, so is maintaining a subtle appearance and sound. No one wants to outfit their $30K luxury crossover with a raspy “fart can”; that’s why the ATLP unit is an attractive addition. Mandrel-bent, 2.5-inch 439 stainless steel piping scavenges exhaust gas efficiently, resists corrosion and remains durable under high-heat duress, while proprietary heat resistant packing in straight-through silencers ensures years of quiet operation, and a polished 402 stainless muffler and dual four-inch tips give a more aggressive, yet mature finish.

Again, midrange and top-end power come at the cost of a few ponies down low, but with more than 10 whp and 11 lb-ft of torque throughout the powerband from below 4,500 rpm until redline, we consider this a non-issue.

I’m not sure I see where the power compromise is in their chart because it is such a small difference below 4000 rpm, but the midrange gains are undeniable: