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Subaru Timing Belt Repair Gone Wrong

Not every customer automatically knows who should service their Subaru, many don’t do any research at all prior to making appointment somewhere.

I often stress that you should have a good relationship with your service provider, so that when its time to have something done you know where your going.  This can eliminate situations where you are calling around and making a decision based on price rather than quality and expertise.

Pictured below is what happens when someone doesn’t fully understand all of the proper adjustments and repair procedures when replacing the timing belt on a Subaru.

Damaged Subaru  Timing Belt

Damaged Subaru Timing Belt

You can see in the picture that the timing belt has been severely damaged.   The reason for this is the person who replaced the timing belt didn’t adjust the guide over the crank sprocket to the proper specification and as a result  the belt rubbed into the guide.

Subaru Timing Belt Guide

Subaru Timing Belt Guide

The guide over the crank sprocket is there to prevent the the timing belt from skipping or jumping especially if the vehicle is in gear and the car rolls backward.  This came about when Subaru switched timing belt tensioner types in the late 90s.  I have seen and repaired Subaru’s that didn’t survive a trip from Japan on the barge before this guide was implemented.  It can and will cause valve damage if the cam shaft sprockets are allowed to spin out of time with the crank shaft sprockets.

The guide is installed on most to all Subaru engines with a Manual transmission from 1998 on.  The DOHC Turbo models also have guides over each camshaft sprocket as well.

There is a gap that must be established and a specification for that gap so the belt wont rub as it expands and wont jump or skip either.  If the guide is not installed on a manual transmission equipped Subaru it can ruin the engine under the right circumstances, and if its not installed properly the same is true.

You should really only take your vehicle to a specialty shop for important repairs.  Its not the same as buying a pair of shoes where you can gravitate to the lower price with out to much consequence.   Whenever there is service work involved the skill set, knowledge of the platform and ownership of the proper tools and literature are required.    This is the same reason that there are eye specialists, orthodontists, and vascular surgeons.  You wouldn’t make an appointment to see the surgeon when little Johnny has the sniffles and you surely don’t expect your family doctor to perform a triple bypass.  What I am trying to point out is there are to many variances between a Subaru and a Audi and all of the makes in between to know enough about all of them.  Its why we specialize, its why I suggest wherever you are you take your car to a specialist, unless that isn’t an option for you.

Thanks for reading

Justin

About the Author

All Wheel Drive Auto is a unique independent Subaru service & repair facility. We combine years of dealer experience with a local neighborhood shop atmosphere. We use Subaru parts & test Equipment and have the expert knowledge to fix it right the first time.

Comments (15)

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  1. Andrew M says:

    I replaced my timing belt on my ’01 Subaru Legacy (manual transmission) last summer myself, and was surprised to find there was no timing belt guide installed! I bought it used with a lot of miles on it, so I have no idea when or who removed it and for what reason. I put it back together the way it was. Should I consider myself lucky that I haven’t had any problems because of this? I think I might be purchasing and installing one of these guides this weekend after reading this post!

  2. Robert says:

    Hi Justin.

    I emailed you the other day with concerns and after further research and discovering the tech bulletin by Gates and Dayco ( http://gatesaustralia.com.au/spacertool ) I believe I am victim to this disaster!

    Although with mine the other NTN bearing also collapsed.

    I have spoken with several fitter and turners on the possibility that the heat transfer from the tensioner bearing managed to get to the hydraulic oil reservoir and heat the oil therefore expanding pushing the piston further out putting increased tension on the belt to further cause destruction.

    It’s an absolute mess! Lucky the pistons were ok!

    Rob.

  3. John says:

    Hi Justin,
    Very informative and helpful website; wish I had found it sooner (!).

    I have an ’05 Forester X with 103k miles, almost all highway at 70mph. Recently I had the timing belt changed at the dealership and they replaced the tensioner and water pump per my request, but strongly recommended against changing the pulleys, saying that they never see those fail, and I followed their advice.

    Now I’m kicking myself for not insisting they change the pulleys. Do you recommend that I go back to a Subaru specialist and have the pulleys replaced? At what mileage do you typically see the cogged idler pulley fail? There’s no guarantees in life but I’m wondering if waiting until 150k or 180k usually doesn’t result in a disaster.

    Many thanks! John

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello John,

      What the Dealer always fails to realize if not now than when, I cant believe a Subaru dealer would claim to have never seen a timing belt idler fail and create a “tow in”.

      Anyways Its tough to say when they are going to fail, I hate to tell you that you will be fine, and it sucks that its going to cost double or so to do it right.

      Its really up to you comfort level, I am a do it right first time ind of a guy as I have seen what happens when its not done that way, but also have to admit I see people with so much luck its amazing.

      I would however look for a good independent if you can from here on out.

      -Justin

  4. Greg Jones says:

    Hi Justin,
    My 2006 Outback XT automatic, is at 91,6000 miles now.
    It’s blown two turbos, the first was at 58,000 miles and a half hour into owning my first Subaru 10km off the used car sales lot I bought it from ( they replaced it with a new Subaru turbo).
    The second one, at 81,000miles. I have a mechanic that I’ve been using for 17 years, he is trustworthy, and educated, does research, but is Toyota specialist. He found out about the banjo bolt filters and how they clogg up, took them out, two were extremely clogged and believed to be the reason for starving the turbo, and it failing, it was getting P0021 and p0011 code at that time, and the turbo was replaced, along with the ocv valve on the passenger side.
    I did the bank 2 ocv valve a month ago when I got the p0021 again.
    Now Im getting the P0021 code again at 91,600 miles. My mechanic is telling me to do the timing belt, water pump, tension-er, and all 4 idler wheels, and while he is there he is going to get at that last banjo bolt filter that isn’t easily accessible.
    My car eats oil,I change it every 3000 miles and in between add 2 liters of synthetic to keep it topped up. (car is american) I’m Canadian.
    my question’(s) are; with that said , do you recommend any additional work done at this time? or anything else to look for while in there.
    :Should I get the head gasket done at this time as well, if it makes it more accessible while everything is pulled out for the timing belt replacement?
    :if the turbo was replaced properly, what is the life expectancy of them? —–(i see P0021 come up, I instantly feel faint thinking a Turbo is gone again!) though it seems fine at this point.
    and anything else that might educate me some in any of these issues I’ve mentioned, or links to previous blogs about any of these issues would be greatly appreciated.

    thanks
    Greg Jones

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Greg,

      If the car is using two quarts in between oil changes done every 3000 miles there is a mechanical issue that needs to be addressed such as worn oil control rings. There is no way to know whats going on with out tear down I am afraid.

      As far as the Code it could be a solenoid, low oil level / pressure or an issues with the pressure sensor and or sprocket.

      Without testing I just don’t have the answers.

      -Justin

  5. Greg Jones says:

    Hi Justin.
    I posted tried to post these questions on Friday, but it didn’t make it to the blog.
    Ive blown two turbos on my 2006 OB XT 2.5L auto. the last one was replaced by my mechanic who ive come to trust impeccably over the years, but is a Toyota specialist, he does a lot of research before hand. booth p0021, and p0011 code came up just as the first turbo bit the bullet. He removed the accessible banjo bolt filters when replacing the turbo, and replaced the ocv on the passenger side, with the p0011 code, all subaru parts, always. the p0021 code didnt come back after replacement of the turbo, oil change etc…
    its been great for roughly 10,000 miles or so till the p0021 code came up a month ago again, he replaced the drivers side ocv. now, a month later… the p0021 code is back.
    My car is at 91,000 miles, he is telling me to do the timing belt, water pump, tension er and all idler wheels, and while he is in there hes going to get that last banjo bolt filter out thats rather hard to get at without the engine out.
    questions;

    *with the provided info, do you know of anything i should be concerned about with the turbo’s going? and whats the life expectancy of a Subaru turbo for these cars?

    *any recommendations for things to look at while engine is out?

    *my car burns 2.5l of oil every 3000 miles or so, should anything be looked at regarding this?

    *should i be concerned about the head gasket, and maybe be ready to do it as well if the engine is out and accessible?

    thanks
    Greg Jones

    • Justin Stobb says:

      All comments posted to the blog are held for moderation that prevents profanity and spam from being a part of this website.

      • Greg Jones says:

        Justin,
        Thank you for your time and reply. My Apologies for double posting.
        That is my worst fear, that the oil burn is something serious, and costly that directly affects the life of the engine.

        Greg Jones

  6. Mikiemike says:

    Hi Justin,
    This is a great blog thanks for investing your time for us. I’m considering buying a o8 TriBeCa 74K miles. He’s the second owner his mom was first they trade cars every 3 years.What should I be looking for and what questions should I be asking about this particular year and model? I will also have a mechanic at least drive the car and if he were to take a closer look do you have a mechanic check list for him to follow for this year and model? Thank you.
    Michael

    • Justin Stobb says:

      The front position lower control arm bushing typically start to tear at that mileage on that model.

      The Tribeca is a pretty reliable vehicle, but its wise to still have it inspected to make sure the one you are looking at fits that statement.

      -Justin

  7. Dustin says:

    Your site and this article were a great resource to me when I was troubleshooting a strange noise on my STi. It turned out one of the guides was not adjusted properly and was digging into my belt. Thanks

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