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Valve/engine woes. Should I call it a day?

Hi. I could really use some advice, but first some background.

Let me first say that I love the Forester, and I'd buy another. My 2004 Forester 2.5X currently has around 68,000 miles and is less than five years old – it was taken care of very well. On a few occasions (before 60,000 miles), usually going uphill, my car would feel like it was about to stall, but the dealership found no problems. A little over a month ago, my car sputtered again, this time on a freeway. I pulled over before it stalled. It had to be towed. The code that showed up was a P0304. What the dealership found, via a compression test, was that an exhaust valve in the #4 cylinder was bent and basically dead. I did not touch nor change the timing belt. I knew this would be an expensive fix. (Interestingly enough, I had this same code pop-up before my 60,0000-mile warranty was up. The previous dealership service dept. changed the sparkplugs.)

I was out of warranty (68,000 miles), but upset. I had taken great care of my car and never missed regular maintenance. I’m sorry, a car should not crap out on you like this, and the dealership service dept concurred. Despite this, my only chance was to talk directly with Subaru. The dealership mentioned that they might extend a “goodwill” gesture where they would cover some of the cost. Subaru asked for all my maintenance records, which I kept. After handing over a copy of all my records (40+ pages!), I received a call from the service department saying that Subaru would cover the cost of the repair! All I’d have to do is pay for the part ($300 timing belt). I was ecstatic – faith restored. I knew I had taken good care of my car, and Subaru agreed (but, of course, took no responsibility/blame) – this ailment was a rare occurrence.

The repair itself was intensive. They sent part of my engine to the machinist to redo the valves. It took about a week. I was a happy camper.

Flash forward, about two weeks, to last night. I start my engine and the check engine light turns on. Great – I check the code and P0302 pops-up (and yes, I’ve had this code too!). I took it back to the dealer. I just got word back from the dealer and everything seems okay. The code popped-up during a cold start. I was told that if it were to happen again, they would adjust the valves on that side of the engine.

Now to my question(s) – with the problems my engine have had, that it was machined, and considering the age and mileage of my car, should I cut my losses and get rid of it? Trade it in? (I do not want another bent valve. I was out of a car for almost a month!) I’d prefer to keep my car for ten years plus, but will I be able to? Am I being unreasonable and/or irrational? I’m inclined to say that my particular car, and not Foresters in general, is kinda defective, but will listen to arguments stating otherwise. I’d really appreciate your opinions. Thanks for reading!


  • I have no mechanical expertise, so take my opinion with that in mind:

    Sell it privately (don't trade it in) and buy another used Forester, maybe a 2006 or 2007.
  • bigfrank3bigfrank3 Posts: 426
    A few things pop into mind. First, I think it is unlikely you had any bent valves, more likely burnt valves, usually the exhaust. Sending the head out to a machine shop to redo the valves is how you fix burnt valves. The valves and head are machined to make them like-new and the problem should go away. Valves only get bent through mechanical contact, in which case you have more serious problems.

    When a head is done they should be doing the whole head and not just the cylinder in question. Since 2 and 4 are the same head they should have cleaned-up both cylinders. It would be ridiculous to do a valve job on 1 cylinder.

    It is entirely possible that they set the valve clearances too tight and therefore not closing correctly. A compression test would show that, low compression in number 2.

    Of course the codes you have been getting are for a misfire in cylinder 4 and now 2. There are many things that would give that code, ignition, fuel injector, and the appropriate wiring for each of those, but given that they found a compression problem in 4 the cause is most likely something involved with them working on the head, so tight valves are certainly first on the list. The other option is that something got damaged while they worked on it.

    I would give them a chance to fix the problem. If they find it and it is simple like the valve adjustment, you should have a good chance of getting good life out of at least that half of the engine. :)

    Of course that assumes they did the valve job correctly.

    If they say nothing is wrong but you still aren't happy or comfortable then I would trade it in to them for another. If they think it is fine but you don't, then let them have it. I wouldn't stick another consumer with the problem. If someone buys it from them they will get a warranty, so it will have to be fixed correctly to their satisfaction.

    Many times burnt valves can be caused by overly lean mixtures so you might want to consider where you buy your gas. I don't know what part of the country you are in but you might be getting too much alcohol content in your gas.

    Good luck!
  • bethanndee, thanks for the suggestion. I'd probably trade it in though. If it were serious, I wouldn't want to pass on to another owner....let the dealer handle it.

    Thanks very much! I really appreciate it.
  • bigfrank3, wow! Thanks so much for the thorough reply. Here's my response:

    I double-checked the work order (my receipt) and here's what it states:

    "...bent exhaust valve. Valve guide damaged. ... Check for codes. P0302 & P0304 found. Engine riding rough. Perform compression test ... #4 0 PSI. Remove cylinder head for inspection. Found bent exhaust valve and valve guide had dropped down. Sublet cylinder head to machine shop for replacement of all valves and two valve guides. pressure test, and resurface. Replace valve seals and perform valve seating. Reinstall cylinder head and all other applicable components. Test drove vehicle, checked for leaks, none found, operation normal at this time..."

    So all the above happened, and then P0302 popped up again. I was told that if the check engine appeared again, they'd probably have to readjust the valves - hence the purpose of my original post.

    Just for the record, the most recent receipt regarding the recent misfire (P0302) states:

    "...302 missfire #2 cylinder, set at cold startup, not a hard code. Possible low grade fuel. Cleared code."

    Personally, I have no qualms about the dealership service dept - I would take my Subie back for maintenance, no problem. I think they do great work. Honestly, I think I just got a bad car.

    So since my valve was bent through mechanical contact, what is your opinion? Trade it in?

    Thanks so much for the reply. I really appreciate it!
  • bigfrank3bigfrank3 Posts: 426
    Well that IS unusual. The mechanical contact that causes bent valves is usually the valve hitting the piston. Sounds like the valve keeper let go and the valve dropped onto the piston while it was running. There could always be some fatigue that wouldn't necessarily show up with a visual inspection, and they don't indicate doing anything high-tech to inspect the head or the piston.

    While it would most likely be ok I personally would trade it in, but wouldn't have the mind-set that it is junk because you will then spend too much money to trade. As I said before, if they think it is fine let them take it, and they can't low-ball you because it isn't fine. Tell them you have spent so much time there looking around that you have started thinking you want something newer. :)
  • On further thought, I think you are right that a trade in would be better than a private sale here. Usually, I think of trade-in as a bad deal, but in this case, if the dealer insists that they have fixed it correctly, then they should be paying full trade in value; if you sell it privately, the buyer will be paying less than regular private party value, due to the car's history. So the trade in value is probably higher in this case.

    Of course, the dealer will then tempt you to buy a brand new shiny one!
  • heroine said:
    "... 2004 Forester 2.5X currently has around 68,000 miles... On a few occasions (before 60,000 miles), usually going uphill, my car would feel like it was about to stall, but the dealership found no problems. A little over a month ago, my car sputtered again, this time on a freeway. I pulled over before it stalled. It had to be towed. The code that showed up was a P0304. What the dealership found, via a compression test, was that an exhaust valve in the #4 cylinder was bent..."

    bigfrank3 said:
    "... The mechanical contact that causes bent valves is usually the valve hitting the piston. Sounds like the valve keeper let go and the valve dropped onto the piston while it was running. There could always be some fatigue that wouldn't necessarily show up with a visual inspection, and they don't indicate doing anything high-tech to inspect the head or the piston..."

    It doe not sound like the keeper suddenly came loose and suddenly dropped the valve onto the piston to make a mechanical contact. This would have caused more extensive damage than reported. The owner says the car ran for 8,000 miles with the problem. More likely the guide worked loose in the head and dropped down a bit as the shop reported. The valve would have been poorly guided and supported, causing a slight bend. As the guide dropped lower, the valve would also eventually be unable to close completely, causing compression gradually falling to zero. It is fortunate that the valve did not break or the guide fall completely out, as the piston and cylinder would have suffered severe damage with particles going throughout the engine. As it was, any particles from an exhaust guide working loose in the head would have been blown outward to accumulate as a residue in the valve cover.
  • Allan, that is certainly plausible, except that I have never found valves to be fragile and bend unless they are struck. Perhaps the most likely cause is somewhere between the 2 scenarios. If the valve was in fact still "kept" but the entire assembly moved lower in the head, then maybe the valve still got kissed by the piston. There is not a lot of clearance there. I have never found a valve to get bent just because it was allowed to "wobble" a bit because of a bad guide, unless it got hit by the piston.

    Given that there were also codes for cylinder number 2 along the way I did not make the assumption that this was the exact problem that appeared before the 60K mark.

    Too bad you and I weren't there to tear it down. :)
  • heroineheroine Posts: 6
    i just wanted to say thanks for all the comments and give a quick update on the thread. four months on (march 2009), the car seems fine. a final valve adjustment was made back in november 2008. i've driven about 6000 miles since then and no problems.

    thanks again for all your insight.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Glad to hear that.
  • dh314dh314 Posts: 1

    You said "I’m inclined to say that my particular car, and not Foresters in general, is kinda defective....."

    Not so, heroine!!!! I too have a 2004 Forester 2.5X. It has 80,000 miles and is maintained faithfully. I had the same highway experience - the engine started sputtering and choking. As soon as I pulled over, it died. It had to be towed. The diagnosis was the same as your: a bent valve. In my case, the valve did not crack the piston, just left on it a "smiley face" nick.

    The car is in the shop. It will take about a week and about $2K.
  • heroineheroine Posts: 6
    hi dh314.

    if i'm not misinterpreting your post, you're saying that your forester, with 80,000 miles and maintained faithfully, just died under similar circumstances, and the bill will be about $2K. it sounds very similar to mine.

    i definitely do not consider the entire line defective. i was only referring to my car.

    i'm sorry to hear you have similar problems. in this forum, bigfrank3 was a big help to me. i would call subaru and state my case, send all my well-kept maintenance receipts, and see what happens. the worst they can say is no. ;]

    it took a little prodding, but subaru really took care of me and my car. i have no qualms about buying another subaru.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Call 800-SUBARU3 and state your case, they may give you a partial reimbursement.

    Remember - be nice! You get more bees with honey.

    My family has owned about 6 or 7 Subies and no engine problems from any of them. Knock on wood.
  • magpie5magpie5 Posts: 2
    Last week just after I'd left the parking lot at work, my very conscientiously maintained 1999 Subaru Forester (about 115,000 mi) began sounding like she had rocks under the hood. The check engine light came on. I had her towed to my mechanics who first thought it was something to do with timing belt assembly, then next day said the problem is in the valves. They say compression is poor and the engine looks "oil deprived." I've spent thousands on the car in recent years (brakes, clutch, air, tires, battery, timing belt, etc. ) and do not want to throw her away, as these mechanics are recommending. Looking at this discussion makes me think there's more going on here. A consistent problem with these engines? My mechanics not on the right trail? I'd be grateful for advice. I cannot afford a new car right now.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Sorry but I gotta agree with the mechanics on this one. 115k is a lot of miles. It may even be cheaper to replace the whole engine if there was valve damage. The pistons probably hit the valves at the top of the travel, meaning there is internal damage as well.

    That's probably what made all the noise.
  • magpie5magpie5 Posts: 2
    I appreciate your response. I am indeed going to replace the engine, though another mechanic I consulted today felt that 115K is really not that much for a Subaru, especially if well maintained. My own mechanic confirmed today that the problem is a bent valve, the same issue I've seen referenced in other postings. Any special advice out there on replacing my engine? Anyone know if there's a possibility of getting some break from Subaru, given my exemplary maintenance, and the fact that this seems to be a weakness in these cars?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Their number is 800-SUBARU3, but keep in mind the powertrain warranty ran out at 60k miles, so you've nearly doubled it. I'd be surprised if they helped much, it wouldn't be fair to people who paid for an extended warranty.

    Heck, I think even those only go to 100k.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    I do not agree that it is a weakness specific to the engine, but Subaru engines are sensitive, I think, to over/under-filling of oil. If there was something that caused excessive wear in a valve seat at some point, I can see it sticking and getting bent. While I do not consider 115,000 miles to be many, it is well beyond what most manufacturers would cover or really should cover.
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    Ok, sorry for the cheap attention grabbing header, but I'm in the middle of a major problem ... my 1999 Forester, which I love, died on the highway 3 weeks ago ... reading some of the posts here sounds familiar ... intermittent check engine light ... rough, choking acceleration a few times .... then Christmas-time, all the lights on the dashboard light up like a tree ... then engine would turn over but no start ... got it towed home ..still turned over but no start ... towed it to local garage ... the engine had seized by then ...

    so long story short ... I elected to have a new/used engine in ... now the mechanic can't get the thing to idle ... seems they got a 1998 twin cam engine from a Forester which they heard run and compression tested before I went to yard to purchase ...

    my question is , is there any nuances or special hook ups that my local mechanic, who is good but not a Subaru guy, may have missed? ... can this even be done?

    I'm a teacher who has one more week of summer vacation and needs to get my car back ...

    Thanx for any help!!
    Peace, Tbird69
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I think the 99 was still a twin cam but the intake changed a lot compared to the 98. Only in 2000 did they move to the Phase II SOHC engine.

    Engine internals should be the same from 98 to 99, I believe.

    I'd be pulling anything and everything off the 99 engine you took out, make sure all the intake especially is back on. I remember that if you didn't reconnect one single wire in the intake, the engine would not start.
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    thanx .. I'll pass it that on ... they seem to have gotten the engine to start, it just doesn't idle ... they are leaning to messin' with the onboard computer which scares me a bit ... :/
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    Yeah, I agree with AJ. Tell them to use the long block from the '98 only.... all the bolt-ons, sensors, etc., from the '99 should go back on it!
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    well the plot thickens ... seems the intake from my '99 is too long for 98 block, which is why they have connection issues ... could that be true or are these guys yankin' my chain ...

    starting to panic! OY
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    You can remove the intake silencer. I did, and it's not necessary. Anything before the air filter is optional.
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    I guess what I meant was wide then ... from head to head the '99 intake seems longer then the '98 ... is that what xwesx meant by "long block"?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I don't know about differences with the block, sorry.

    The intake is plastic - careful use of a heat gun can bend it a bit.
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    OY, I thought it was aluminum, felt like it .. I don't think I trust these guys with a heat gun ... maybe I'll see if junkyard will take twincam back in exchange for for a SOHC if they got one
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    I think you two are speaking of different parts of the intake! The intake manifold is aluminum, and that is what tbird69 is talking about. The pre-manifold piping (between the manifold and the air filter) is plastic.

    But, I am concerned about there being a difference in the sizes of the blocks! I am really surprised to hear that. Are both of these engines DOHC (dual overhead cams)? I thought that it was mentioned earlier that they are, but I am not aware of any block or head changes that would result in a differently sized manifold. Maybe one of these engines is a 2.2L rather than a 2.5. I think the Impreza still had 2.2L available in '98... isn't that right?

    By long block, I meant the block and heads... no manifolds, accessories, sensors, etc.
  • tbird69tbird69 Posts: 11
    Yes ...I meant the intake manifold ... and as I look back on my original post I notice I wasn't clear about the fact that I had blown a SOHC engine EJ253AXZVB and had bought a twin cam which is a DOHC right? because my mechanic was unfamiliar ( I know find) with the nuances of Subaru ... (only number I have on the DOHC is from junkyard receipt and that says '98 Forester EJ25 Engine) ....

    so am I in deep doo doo with this?
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,508
    Well, yes and no. The timing is, I think, quite a bit different on the two engines. And, as you found out, the accessories and parts are not entirely compatible. I think, though, that in order to fix the idling problem you will have to re-tune the engine control unit (ECU) or replace it with the '98 ECU. Even then, unless all the rest of the wiring in the car is the same, you may end up with other problems. It can be done.... I know a fella here who replaced his '97 Impreza L coupe's original engine with that of a 2006 WRX. But, it was a massive operation - he essentially stripped the entire car down and completely re-wired and otherwise re-built it with the WRX internals. But, for a stock WRX, it is the fastest one out there!

    Good luck; I am not sure how deep the "doo" goes, but you will not find out without digging....

    Who chose the engine; you or the shop?
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