Subaru Outback: Catastrophic Engine Failure at 70K Miles---Need Advice!

lreinsteinlreinstein Posts: 18
edited March 2014 in Subaru
I own a 1998 Subaru Outback Limited. 4 days ago, when trying to start it, the engine cranked but did not start. Mechanic thought was timing belt but this was not the case. He believes the engine needs replacement--there is no compression and camshafts turn easily by hand.

I called SOA and they told me to go through the dealership. The Service Manager at our Local Subaru Dealer (where I bought the car) says that since it is out of warranty, Subaru will do nothing about it. Interestingly, they replaced the "short block" on this 4 cylinder engine at 30K under warranty. THe car is meticulously cared for. How can a SUBARU engine suddenly fail after only 70K (40K really since short block)? Isnt there an implied warranty that an engine should last beyond this.

I am very upset at the way SUBARU is handling this. I loved how the car drived and wanted to buy another one (a 6 cylinder) next year. Given this attitude I never want to buy one again.

Any advice is appreciated.


  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    it's called the Implied Warranty of Merchantibilty, and it's found in the Federal Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The only problem is you have to file suit and prevail in court to prove it.

    I would ask to talk with the district warranty person and propose a split of parts and labor or something.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    What was the warranty on the short block, do you recall?

    If someone hasn't torn down the engine I'd be very curious why it isn't the timing belts, given the symptoms of instant loss of compression in all cylinders simultaneously and free-spinning cams.

    How can they deny any culpability if they don't even know the problem yet? What if the block cracked in half or the main bearing bolts came loose? (not saying this is what happened, just to show that this could be a metallurgical failure on a 40K block).
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    since it was installed at 30K, it would have had a 12/12...
  • lreinsteinlreinstein Posts: 18
    Thanks for your replies. Here is the story. After purchasing the car in 1998 here in Port Jefferson NY, we continued regular service visits at the dealership. I complained of a tapping sound when engine running cold (a common complaint i now know) and after some initial resistance they told me this was a known problem and replaced the short block at no cost. Actually the sound continued and I was unhappy with service so switched to another service garage who specializes in Japanese cars. I had routine checks performed, oil changes, according to schedule. Even the 60,000 mile check with timing belt replacement (I think) etc. Car ran fine and we loved it.

    THe odd thing is that the failure happend in my driveway when trying to start the car. No symptoms prior!!!! We had it towed to my Mechanic (not the dealership), and he thought it was timing belt so removed belts etc for access. He tells me that he found no compression, and could "easily hand turn" the cams which he said is a really bad sign, and that I would probably need a new engine.

    I told him not to do anything until I called SUBARU. I called the 800SUBARU3 number and they assigned it a case number, but said I must go through the Service Manager at the dealership. I went to see him and he told me that he "spoke to subaru and that they refused to provide assistance since it was out of warranty". He did not even want me to tow the car to his dealership to have them look at it.

    I tried to offer him a chance to keep me happy. I actually told him (truly, though perhaps not wisely) that we were planning to trade this car in to get a newer top of the line 6VDC model. I asked if he could talk to the Sales Manager and offer some kind of compromise which would keep me in the SUBARU family, by giving me a reasonable trade-in based upon the book value (with a working engine of course). He declined this as well saying that it would not work out.

    Why do the dealerships not realize that by having this attitude towards service they are spoiling future sales. Out of curiousity I went to the sales room and talked to a salesman (did not tell him my problem( and asked him how long I could expect the engine to last. He told me that 200K was not unreasonable and certainly 150K. So, shouldnt they be embarrased about this?

    I will certainly not be able to buy another SUBARU after this.

  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    but I've never seen a blown engine in any recent Subaru product, so in my area (gillions of Subarus running around), your problem is unique.

    Again, I advise you to contact the district warranty rep through your service manager.

    The other idea is a used motor, then trade the car...
  • subaru_teamsubaru_team Posts: 1,676
    other board.


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    You know, I'm still not happy with this diagnosis about the engine.

    The only other thing I can think of is that the engine locked hydraulically in your driveway; that is, overnight the piston tops were covered with coolant from a bad head gasket leak, and in the morning you started the car, thereby causing the pistons to try and compress water (which can't be done), thereby bending all the valves. Voila, a no start, no compression, etc.

    I'm not so sure you have an entirely bad engine for one thing, and I'm not so sure your mechanic is right on this one.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    regardless, I'd go to a dealer and pay $300-400 for a teardown to make sure you're not overspending and making a $2000-3000 mistake.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    I have a 97 Outback with 79,000 miles. While on a trip last weekend the engine threw a rod right through the engine block!!!!! My engine also suffered form the ticking noise that others have. It was towed to a Subaru dealership where they told me that it was out of warranty and Subaru would not cover any of the 5,000 repair. I also believe that Subaru implies that there cars will last well beyond 100,000 miles and to not take any responsibility in such a case is really bad for future sales. I think the quality of the late 90’s Subaru is questionable and these engine problems are more than “a rarity”
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    Well it's a terrible thing that happened to you but really, a warranty states what it states and that's it. They can't go warrantying a little further and a little further, where does it stop?

    Statistically, there are going to be a certain small percentage of any manufactured product that is going to self-destruct "before its time" (average lifespan). No car escapes this, not Rolls or Ferrari or Lexus or Aston Martin. A certain number of them will blow up and you can count on it.

    As for your unfortunate situation, a used engine sounds like a good solution since you don't even have a block to rebuild and a crate engine from the factory would be a shock to pay for. Also it doesn't make sense to put a brand new engine in a car that is otherwise about 1/2 worn out.

    So I hope you'll at least consider that alternative. You might get by with $1,500-2,000 instead of $5,0000.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    Subaru owners had as much of an opportunity as anyone to purchase a factory-backed or private extended service contract.

    I strongly feel that people who don't purchase an ESC, if given the opportunity (and we all are), shouldn't get a free ride when something breaks outside of warranty - unless, of course, it's a repetitive issue that surfaced before the warranty expired.

    They can't warranty things forever, you know...
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    damage to the engine. So let say that the timing belt is the reason ... that would be 25,000 miles before it was due for service. I think there is reason to feel that it should be a least partially covered. I think alot of people would feel the same way. Maybe it is no big deal to some but if you go from having a car worth 7-8k to scrap you feel let down. If it happens to so few cars out of the millons sold then why not cover the cost and keep a loyal customer?
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    I will look into the possibility of putting in a used engine....but it would not have any warranty I bet. I am a little leary of anything w/out a warranty....gee I wonder why?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    what's the difference?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I don't think a broken timing belt could cause a rod to push right through the block. This is more probably oil starvation (rapid loss of oil) or a freak metallurgical accident.

    Some of the higher grade wrecking yards will give a limited warranty on an engine, or, if not that, at least run them, test them, bag them and post compression and oil pressure readings for you.

    It's either new engine, used engine or sell it has a cripple, that's about it for choices. Given that #1 and #3 are at either extreme, the used engine does seem (to me anyway) a sober choice, if not perfect in all respects. An engine-less 5 year old Subaru has little value while one with a used engine is probably worth $8,500 or so.

    So you can

    spend nothing and have a $1,000 car
    spend $2000 and have a $8,500 car
    spend $5000 and have an $8,750 car

    If you no longer have faith in Sabaru engines, you could sell the car and try something else once the used engine is installed.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    great point, and funny in light of the serious issue!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    Well, sadly, it's true. A brand new engine wouldn't make the car worth very much more--could make it easier to sell though, if your competition was an identical car with a 70K motor. But supply and demand dictate the price and there are plenty of these cars around.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    used engine is the way to go -

    Although I've never suggested that an ESC be mandated in every case, it should always be offered...

    I got a really bad feeling when I had two Dodge Caravan owners at my service desk a while back. Both vans had tranny failures, both were out of basic warranty, and were towed in, we had trannies is stock (of course). One guy bought a $1200 DCC warranty at time of purchase. He paid a $100 deductible. The other guy threw a friggin' fit and whined to DCC, and DCC covered his transmission, save for a $200 deductible.

    I don't see that as fair at all.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    I would get a extended warranty on a new Subaru, but almost all -consumer- organizations, including the site you are on now, do not recommend them.

    And PLEASE! FAIR!, since when is the world fair?..... That is really funny coming from someone who works anywhere near a service desk at a auto dealer.

    Mr. Shift......I will see if the service dept. can find a used engine, it sounds like a good option....thanks
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    the timing belt broke is because. As I was driving along a flat strech of highway eveything was as normal, then there was a sensation very simular to the transmition (manual) being thrown out of gear, I looked down to see if my wife had somehow knocked the shifter out of gear...but it was still in gear...I started to move to the side of the road.... and 1 or 2 seconds later all the negine lights came on and alot of smoke was steaming from the enging compartment. I got to the sholder of the road and jumped out, fearing that the engine was going to catch fire I franticly got my twin boys out of there car car seats and away from the car. The smoke continued for awhile when subsided.

     It is that loss of power.... then the smoke and engine lights coming on that make me think some thing happened first that caused the rod damage. If the rod was oil starved then froze and poped throough the block? why wouldn't I have seen a oil light before the failure? would it be able to cause the sudden loss of power equivelent of the car being taken out of gear/ or would it just make the engine run VERY poorly then pop through the block?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I'm a believer in extended warranties *most of the time*, but only if they are a)fairly inclusive and b) competitively priced.

    Have you been over to the Owners Board and then to the Subaru topic? Maybe they have some other ideas for you that could work to your advantage?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    if they're factory-sponsored. I have no faith in or support of private extended service contracts.
  • I dont agree that Subaru has no responsibility just because it is of warranty. we need to distinguish between normal statistical "wear and tear" based failures, and failures do to a faulty part from a supplier, bad batch of metal, whatever. I am surprised that from a QC perspective they are not even interested in understanding why this unusual occurrance occurred. It might be worth the cost of the repair to gain knowledge which will improve their product, or cause them to avoid a particular supplier, etc. If i pursued this in the court (which i will not) and if such was the case (faulty part) i have no doubt that i would win the expenses. this is how recalls begin. (this is a big "if" of course).

    anyway, i am given estimates of $3k for used engine and more to install it.

  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    had a responsibility IF the evidence showed it - was the engine torn down and a cause determined?

    Until then, we can "what if" ourselves to death.

    "If i pursued this in the court (which i will not) and if such was the case (faulty part) i have no doubt that i would win the expenses"

    I seriously doubt you would prevail - and Subaru knows it. I work on automotive warranty cases all day, all week, all year. It would take you $4-5K in attorney's fees and a year and a half, given normal court docket time, to fight this.

    They know this, that's why they don't have to care. It's certainly not right in my opinion, but that's just the way it is.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    Do a little internet searching. Many engine importers offer engines for much less than that. Installation should run between 10 and 15 hours..
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    Thanks for the information, I know how you feel! Keep us posted on what you do and the cost involved, I will do the same. Dealerships want it both ways the sales person tells you that a Subaru with 80,000 mile is "Like having 10,000 on other cars" and the service guy tells you 80,000 means nothing more than it is out of warranty. They want to pretend that what the sales person tells people about a car doesn't stand for any thing, but it does and it should!

    The Subaru dealership where my car is at did not want my Outback ether. They said if I was not going to fix it they would call around to junk yards to get me something for it. This seem funny since if they did the repairs and sold the car at below market price they would make three or four times what they say they make on a new car sale.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    So far the dealer has told me;

    $ 5,800 short block
     -1200 if new heads are not needed

      7,100 long block

    I was charged $150 just to get the estimate, but said cause could not be determined so far.

    HEY! anybody want to buy a Outback w/bad engine, Must pick it up in Normal, IL ..... LOL!
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    now, have them determine the cause, as rebuild by another shop may be possible if it's not a major issue.

    After you've determined the cause, contact a decent private shop and have them find a used motor for you.
  • i think that subaru is foolhardy in not wanting to know what the cause of an early engine failure is. if this is the tip of an iceberg it would be wiser for them to find it out now and address it than to wait for possible worse consequences and bad press for inaction.
  • Can you suggest a website or a place to look for an engine (4 cyl) for my 1998 outback?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I don't see any fault here on Subaru's part. The case, although most unfortunate, is one of the warranty being long over. That's it, game over. They said they'd stand behind it for this many miles, and they did.

    If Subaru engines were blowing up left and right, well, then for goodwill the company might do something. Mazda did this very thing, replacing engines out of warranty. But they were not legally compelled to do so, it was a good will gesture based on saving their corporate butt. Ditto the infamous Lexus sludge issue.

    I agree with zeus on this one, if you went to court you'd lose.

    Of course, no harm is throwing yourself on Subaru's mercy.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    sending in an engineer to tear down a motor on a 5/6 year old car.

    They have all the info they need already.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I'd be curious to examine the motor but sometimes the destruction is so violent it's rather hard to tell what caused what.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    The written warranty on products is not the "end of story". There are many products, if not all, that we buy and expect they are going to last WELL beyond that. Lets say you went out and bought a brand new TV for several thousand dollars. A really nice one from a company known for there quality. It comes with the standard 12 month warranty and 16 months later it needs a repair equal to the value. you go back to the dealer who told you how this tv was twice as good as any other and he says "That is unfortunate but it is not the manufactures fault, out of warranty end of story" I really do not think you would be so matter of fact about your own loss. Can you imagine washing machines, refrigerators, telephones, and even houses only lasting as long as the warranty !!! Can you really imagine a subdivision that is ten years old(witch would be a good warranty on a new home) and some of the houses are no longer able to be lived in. I guess this would be a acceptable because it is out of warranty?

    I guess a big part of this is about empathy some people think they will act or feel a certain way in a given situation, but you never know until you are facing it head on. I was a Police Officer for several years and when I pulled people over for a traffic violation I was very likely to give people warnings. I did this because I could put myself in their place, they were thinking Oh crap I did not see that light change, I did not see a stop sign, I will have to go to court, pay a fine, my insurance rates are going to go up, what my spouse say....ect. Alot of Officers I worked with could care less, if they pulled you over you were going to get a ticket PERIOD! Who would you rather be pulled over buy me or them? What I am trying to say is their is more to things than black and white(no pun intended). The Officers I worked with saw it as they committed the violation "end of story". Sound familiar?

    The extended warranty is a mute point here. What we are talking about is how long you expect/are told, that some thing will last.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    and the legal aspect of the warranty are rwo entirely different items -- especially in court.

  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    By no means, did I indicate that the legal attitude of the warranty holder is right, just or fair. But that's the way the law is applied - as the contract reads.

    Of course an engine, with regular maintenance should last quite a while. With a written warranty, which is a contract, there are limitations, like it or not.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    then when the 1/1000 happens why not do what is right or just not what is legal or letter of the law.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    I have a 2003 PT Cruiser GT. In 7 months, it's had 8 service visits, for engine management system problems, for a total of 48 down days. It was towed 3 times because it stalled on the freeway, at 60 mph, in traffic.

    DaimlerChrysler offered me $1,000 - AFTER I filed suit against them.

    Please don't think that I don't understand what you're saying - it just doesn't work that way.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    'morally right' has little to do with the harsh realities of how contracts are written or enforced.

  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    to speak for Larry, but he said he was/would not go to court and nether would I. I think both of us know that going to court for a $7,000 car is foolish. But once you want others to deal with you with empathy or buy the letter of the law???
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    people, like the guys I worked with, can not find it in themselves to be empathic. Good luck on your next traffic stop!..LOL
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    back (which is what the law states in my case) or offer a large cash settlement so I could trade out of it without getting killed, but neither is happening without waiting until February for the arbitration, being deposed once or twice in the meantime, then winning at arb, having DCC appeal the decision, then waiting 6 more months to go to trial.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    I feel for you, I hope you get every thing you deserve. I know people who are on there third tranny on a p/t cruser! I would never say, hey its a car stuff breaks you should have bought a motor club plan to cover the cost of towing that cripple.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    because you feel picked on by the big car company, you're not alone.

    I've been involved in over 3,000 lemon law and breach of warranty cases in a little over 2 years - I shake my head at what the manufacturer's do to get out of complying with the law.

    If they complied, though, I wouldn't have a great paying job, and the 15 attorneys and 25 staff members would have to find other work.
  • So I had MY mechanic pull the engine and take it apart for Diagnosis. What he found is interesting and somewhat beyond my level of understanding. He found that all of the valves were bent! How does this happen?---no idea.
    He also observed a peculiarity: one side of the engine had gaskets and the other side had silicone seal. He found this strange as if, when they "replaced the short block" at 30K miles, they did not do a full job--only one cylinder??
    His advice is to do a "valve job" which is considerable labor and parts (needs new timing belt, water pump, etc)
    So thats the status.
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    I guess you got a P/T Loser and I got a Subaru Outofluck?!?!?! HEHEHEHEHE
  • ftdad1ftdad1 Posts: 29
    sounds a little better than having a hole in the block. You have a 2.5L right?
  • zueslewiszueslewis Posts: 2,353
    sounds like teh dealership didn't do a very good job on your engine at 30K. I would cordially invite the service manager to look at the teardown before you take photos and file suit against the dealer in small claims court.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    I guess some people, like the guys I worked with, can not find it in themselves to be empathic. Good luck on your next traffic stop!..LOL

    Look, we feel empathy, and I'd be upset too, if it happened to me; but that's not the point. You're simply letting your emotions cloud your thinking. Wishing things were different won't solve your problem.

This discussion has been closed.