Subaru: No longer worth considering in my family

Discussion in 'Other Manufacturers' started by brick, Jul 30, 2010.

  1. brick

    brick Answers to "that guy."

    On the topic of the "clean" in CleanMPG.

    So my brother has a '04 (I think) Subaru Outback that threw a CEL and a P0420 code: catalytic converter efficiency below threshold. In theory this is no big deal because it's still well under the 80k mile emissions warranty. So Subaru should diagnose the problem and do what is necessary to get the car running within its required emissions specs, right? Not so much.

    The first time this code appeared was in early June. He left the car at the dealership for a day and they said, yup, the catalytic converter isn't working properly. But no, your car isn't fixed. They just reset the CEL and sent him away. The explanation is that their diagnostic system needs to see something **else** beyond the CEL in order to satisfy Subaru corporate that the cat needs replacing so that they will authorize the warranty claim. So he was just supposed to keep bringing this stupid car back to the dealer until it reaches some magical threshold.

    Now it's almost August and the car is still running with the same problem after many trips to the dealer for diagnosis. Worse, he's going to have to pass an emissions inspection soon and it **will** fail because of the CEL. A call to Subaru corporate gave no results.

    "The dealer is doing what they are supposed to. They can't replace the converter unless they see the right results on the diagnostic."

    "We know the catalytic converter is not working because the CEL keeps coming back."

    "No, the CEL just means you are supposed to have it diagnosed."

    Bunch of clowns. I don't know how this story is going to end because it isn't over. But apparently this is becoming a widespread problem with that generation of Legacy/Outback. One theory is that Subaru is using stall tactics to stem what is now an increasing flood of vehicles with defective in-warranty emissions systems. But whatever it is, that's the last Subaru that will enter any of our family households. What good is an emissions warranty if Subaru won't execute it when needed? What good is a car that will soon be legally un-driveable due to the emissions fault? Two months of fighting to get Subaru to honor the warranty is insane.

    In case anybody might have had an eye on a new family hauler...
  2. ILAveo

    ILAveo Well-Known Member

    That's unacceptable. Your brother needs to make a scene to the point where either they honor the warantee or call the police to remove him from the dealership. In particular, he should not leave the public customer area until he receives satisfaction and he should filibuster the service rep. It sucks to have to do that.

    My Grandfather received similar treatment from Subaru regarding premature clutch failures in his Justy back in the late 80's. Deaf elderly men just didn't get much consideration. My family still doesn't shop Subaru or that particular dealer.
  3. WriConsult

    WriConsult Super Moderator

    Very disappointing. The emissions system should at least be covered.

    Of course, Subaru's got an even worse problem on their hands with head gasket failures on their open deck 2.5L engines (found in about 90% of Subarus sold in the last 10 years). There start to be failures among a few cars when they get to be 2-3 years old. Then about 5 years old it becomes fairly widespread, enough to show up in reliability ratings. At 7-8 years it becomes epidemic, though needless to say Subaru washes their hands of any responsibility for cars aged beyond 100,000 miles.

    For several years everyone thought Subaru might have resolved the problem with the 2003 redesign of the Forester. But nope, it's epidemic now in 2003s and 2004s. 2005s are starting to fail at higher rates than most cars as well, and it's starting to show up in a few '06s and '07s too. This may have FINALLY been fixed with the 2010 Outback, which has gone to a semi-closed deck design. So far it's not on any other models yet; it probably will show up on the others as they go through redesigns or freshenings.

    That, and their failure to improve fuel economy are the reasons I can no longer consider Subaru. That's really frustrating, because my Subarus were the best-built cars I've ever owned, and the Forester is absolutely our ideal "family car" size for our family. Fortunately they should have hybrids within the next couple years thanks to their part ownership by Toyota.
  4. bomber991

    bomber991 Well-Known Member

    I wasn't aware of any 80k emissions warranty. I would say it could be a bad o2 sensor, but I guess the people at the shop would have checked that. Just call SOA, and take it to another dealer. There's always dealers that try to get out of warranty repairs.
  5. Ophbalance

    Ophbalance Administrator Staff Member

    Call your local news outlet, and get a fire lit under someones butt... At the very least, if enough people do so, it'll start having a much greater impact on the brand if the news starts crying "foul"
  6. Blackbelt

    Blackbelt Well-Known Member

    The emissions warranty is a federally mandated warranty. If that Subaru fails an emissions test, Subaru is required by federal law to repair it. Here is a link to the federal warranty
  7. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    Wow-I always thought Suburu was a good company.
    They have put you in a catch 22.

    On another note-what is the best guess of folks on the Suburu forums on the "why" of the head gasket failures? There must be some educated guessing going on?

    GM has a different sort of ongoing problem-the intake manifold gaskets fail-initially at maybe 60,000-100,000 miles-and then they re-fail a bit more often.Usually the first sign of failure is loss of coolant. Sometimes it is lost to the outside-sometimes it is lost to the inside getting into the combustion chamber(a much bigger deal of course). The blame is placed- by many-on Dexcool-the long life not too toxic to animals-coolant. I just switched to the latest greatest aftermarket gaskets that are supposed to FIX the problem.

    Sorry about your problem!
  8. RobertSmalls

    RobertSmalls Ecodriver

    Ah, I thought this was going to be a thread about FE. Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi: not worth considering.

    Resetting a CEL is a valid way to test for intermittent failure, but yours isn't intermittent. If they want to define a lower threshold of catalyst performance, that's their prerogative, but they need to reprogram the ECU so you don't see the CEL. Honda did exactly that with the first-gen Insight.

    Anyway, I think it's time to escalate: call Subaru corporate first, send a strongly worded letter second, get the media involved last.
  9. lightfoot

    lightfoot Reformed speeder

    I'm thankful I haven't (yet) had head gasket or cat problems with my 2003 Outback. But there have been other problems. A heat shield on the cat kept coming loose and rattling, and all they could do was keep spot welding it - there was no permanent fix. And the clutch creaks when I push down on it and let it up. Something to do with a pivot inside the housing that they can't reach to lube.

    I finally quit going to the dealer for service after a series of issues. The final straw was when I took it in for a timing belt replacement. They phoned and said all four brakes needed replacement, and I stupidly agreed to let them add that on. They had given me a (high) price for the brakes, but when I picked up the car they had tacked on an additional $150 for hazardous waste disposal. Which seemed excessive and in any case should have been included in the quoted price.

    I suspect but couldn't prove they did a shoddy job, because the right rear caliper started dragging within a month or two. I couldn't face going back to the dealer ever again, so I found a local mechanic who replaced the caliper. But the disc seems to have a bit of runout now because I can hear it occasionally.

    I wouldn't buy another Subaru. At the time I wanted a wagon to cartop rowing shells, which I do frequently. VW wagons are nice but there were reliability questions, Volvos even better (longer roof) but too pricey for me (and their wagons came only in AT), the CRV was too big (and the FWD version listed in the brochure was impossible to get). Didn't really need AWD but the Subaru seemed the best compromise at the time.

    Now I'd be looking at a Fit (new version is probably big enough), a VW, or the Mazda wagon.
  10. RobertSmalls

    RobertSmalls Ecodriver

    My Subaru, ten years old when I bought it, had a pair of extra large hose clamps holding the heat shield down. Get a spool of mechanics wire and tie down the heat shield nice and tight. There is no permanent fix, though. Anything you do in that 900°F zone is going to fail after enough time.
  11. WriConsult

    WriConsult Super Moderator

    The best guess is that this is due to the open deck design, which allows the cylinder walls to flex more at the "top" where they meet the head gasket. There's nothing absolutely wrong with open deck - I think Honda uses it too on some of its engines - but the Subie 2.5L is one of the larger engines to use it, and the theory goes that the larger the cylinders the more troublesome it is to have those unsupported cylinder walls flexing back and forth. Subarus 2.2Ls were also open deck, but didn't have this problem. (Full disclosure: I did have a 2.2L Subie blow a head gasket, but I chalk that one up to the the car having sat on a dealer lot for 9 months; it went out just a week and a half after I bought it).

    Most high performance or racing engines use a fully closed deck (solid metal covering the gaps between the cylinders) or semi-closed deck (braces connecting the gaps between cylinders) because those designs are more robust. They also cost quite a bit more to manufacture, and I think may also require more careful design to ensure proper coolant flow, which is why automakers use open deck when they can. By the way, Subaru does use a semi-closed deck on its 2.0L turbos (WRX, Forester and Outback XT models) because of the higher stresses. Those engines have had significant failure rates -- but more due to owner abuse, and head gaskets haven't been a major problem. Again, hopefully the adoption of semi-closed deck in the 2010 Outback will solve the problem on the 2.5Ls, and will be extended across the Subaru lineup.

    On another note, I had the same heat shield problem on my '96 Outback. I just ignored it because it was only a minor buzz at certain RPMs. Otherwise I had zero problems (bought with 90k on it, sold at 150k) except for a heater core failure just after I bought it. At one point I went nearly two years without taking it to my mechanic, only changing the oil a few times in between visits. Total maintenance cost was 6 cents per mile, barely 1/4 of what my Jetta has been costing me. My '90 Legacy (bought at 130k, stolen at 205k) was similarly reliable other than the initial head gasket failure mentioned above.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2010
  12. bomber991

    bomber991 Well-Known Member

    Well, I learn something new everyday. Anyways, according to that warranty, here's what should be done. Getting the reason in writing, that means they won't just write "Some magic number isn't showing up on our diagnostic machine"

    What Should I Do If My First Attempt to Obtain Warranty Coverage Is

    If your first attempt to receive emissions warranty coverage is
    denied, you should do the following:

    1) Ask for a detailed explanation, in writing as to why emissions
    warranty coverage was denied; and

    2) Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) involved in the decision
    to deny coverage, including anyone from the manufacturer's
    regional or zone office; and

    3) Ask for the name(s) of the person(s) with the manufacturer you
    should contact to appeal the denial of coverage under the
    emissions warranty.

    4) Contact and, if necessary, write to the person mentioned above
    requesting coverage and giving the basis for your request. Repeat
    and continue the appeal process until you are satisfied or have
    exhausted all means of appeal.

    I don't know. I think it has something to do with the material they make the head gaskets out of. Looking at the forums, someone says the head gasket is a "single layer coated gasked", and recommends to use the STi head gasket instead if you're replacing the head gasket. Or it could be about what WriConsult said, I just don't know.

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