Project Car Diaries: Here’s the Plan To Revive My $925 Audi S4

Here’s what it’ll take, so far, to get this old Audi back to good overall shape.

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Project Car Diaries: Here’s the Plan To Revive My $925 Audi S4 © Project Car Diaries: Here’s the Plan To Revive My $925 Audi S4

The crucial first step to breathing new life into a project car is assembling a proper "needs and wants" list. The proper ratio of which field gets the most attention is sometimes tricky, especially since I'm still over the moon about my new B5 Audi S4 project. I'd love to immediately throw on aftermarket suspension, a better exhaust system, and some other fun mods, especially since it's a generally clean starting point. But to ensure I enjoy these wants to the fullest, the needs must be addressed, first. This is especially true with an S4, which will leave you stranded faster than you can say Vorsprung durch Technik if it isn't paid enough maintenance attention.

With that in mind, I gave my four-ringed rescue a good go-over to get an idea of what it needs to be safe and mechanically sound, even though I couldn't quite take it for a thorough test drive just yet. Here's what I came up with.

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New diary entries every week—click here to catch up on more project car misadventures.

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The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance Engine
Peter Nelson

Smooth Operator

Thankfully, the S4 fired up and idled well with a fresh battery. This is often a far-off prospect for some fixer-uppers, and even though it couldn't hold much coolant, I could at least get an idea of how the mighty twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 sounded for a brief moment.

Last time, the battery struck itself off the top of the needs list and wrote the next: the coolant leak. Then, listening closely to the engine at startup, idle, and lightly revved revealed more. Or rather, not much—it all sounded pretty quiet and smooth. Even running on gasoline that's surely at least a few months old. The ultimate test is when an engine is fully up to temperature and under load, however, that'll have to wait for when the cooling system is in good working order.

The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance suspension chassis
Peter Nelson

CSI: Long Beach

Next up, I utilized some Gil Grisham-level forensic analysis to further figure out things. Popping the trunk revealed a mostly full bottle of Mobil 1 0W-30, so it probably either consumes or leaks a little oil. Also that the previous owner wasn't too concerned about running the proper viscosity. Though, I'd rather have too-thin of oil coursing through its tiny turbos' tiny oil passages than something horrendously out of spec like conventional Shell Rotella.

Then, it was time to don a pair of nitrile gloves, break out my faithful floor jack, some jack stands, and a flashlight, and do some closer examination.

My next finding was that the front suspension was replaced not too long ago. With a fresh-looking pair of Bilstein B8s up front, plus equally fresh suspension arms and bushings, this was a very nice bonus and relief to see. Replacing all of that would've been pricy. Grabbing and rocking all four unloaded wheels revealed no play, so wheel bearings weren't a concern, either. Though, intertwined in the web of front suspension was a very torn outer CV boot, so I ordered two new complete CV axles for good measure.

The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance brakes
Sonax makes high-quality cleaning sprays, plus it's a German brand which feels right to use on an Audi. Peter Nelson

Crawling underneath the safely supported Quattro sedan revealed nothing alarming. Sure, it was dirty, but a quick cleaning revealed nothing but undercoating, metal, and some very mild seepage. I love living in California.

The most apparent seepage was at the transmission pan—I'll source a new gasket, filter, and a couple of bottles of ATF.

Up next, the oil pan was miraculously clean, however, some leakage down the driver's side of the engine by way of some oil lines told me that it has a mild leak somewhere—more investigation will be needed.

The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance
Peter Nelson

Who Are You?

The timing belt and its pals are a complex system of potential misery. The timing belt service interval on the B5 S4 is every 75,000 miles (at the absolute longest, most enthusiasts don't go past 60,000), and you can't get to it without removing a bunch of components first. Hence, most folks just replace the thermostat and water pump while in there. In fact, replacing it all without too much struggle involves removing the front bumper, radiator, and then some.

It's definitely due again if it was originally done on time. The accessory belt is commonly replaced as well, and a peek at that showed a date code of early 2017. No matter what, these are all high-priority items for sure. Who knows when the timing belt was last done.

Further back on the S4's chassis, the rear suspension looked like it could be original. Though no bushings were too flexy or worn, so this region's not very high on the list at the moment. The CV axles also appeared to be in good, un-torn condition, so I'll keep an eye on them for the time being.

All of the brake pads barely have any meat left, and all rotors are starting to develop a mild lip, so two sets of pads and four rotors are in the mail. The power steering and brake fluid need replacing as well.

The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance interior
Besides the ripped-up seats, the interior is a lot more inhabitable.

Cleaning This Ol' Audi Up

To get an idea of what I truly was working with paint and glass-wise, I gave the car a quick wash with O'Reilly's solution and a wash mitt, then toweled it off with some Mother's Instant Detailer. It'll need a good buffing and paint correction, especially on the roof where the clear coat is just about ready to start fading off. Still, the car cleans up nicely, I can't wait to focus more energy here when everything mechanical is in good order.

Moving the car in and out of my garage was a mental chore due to how thoroughly disgusting its interior was, therefore I went to town with some Sonax Multi-Purpose Auto Interior Cleaner, Sonax Glass Cleaner, a set of detailing brushes, a vacuum cleaner, and three big microfiber cloths. The end result is an immense relief, though some thorough carpet shampooing is still in order.

The 2002 B5 Audi S4 onThe Autance and BMW 128i
Peter Nelson

The List

To tally it all up, here's what my needs list looks like so far:

    Which, when completed, will then ensure a well-deserved wants list:

      I can't wait to get to work restoring this thing into safe, reliable, and road-worthy condition!

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