Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Suebedo Resurrection

As I understand it, the shade tree mechanic is a dying breed. Growing up, I helped my dad work on cars, doing everything from oil changes to exhaust systems. My dad imparted a love of all things mechanical on me. And to this day, I do all the repairs on my cars that I can. The ability to work on cars has saved me countless thousands of dollars. Thanks Dad!

The point of this post is our 3rd car, a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback, driven by my teenage son. We bought it used with around 100,00 miles on it, and so far it has been relatively reliable. As expected, I've had to do some repairs such as brakes and both transaxles. It needed a CV boot and I found that I could replace both axles for under $100! Didn't make sense to me to just replace a CV boot. It's also needed a gas filler neck (a common Legacy problem), and knock sensor (another common Legacy problem), and tires. The last thing I've done were the fan (drive) belts. Originally, I had planned on replacing the belts along with the Timing Belt in the spring. Unfortunately, the drive belts failed and I had to replace them. Not a week after doing this, I got a call from my son that the car had quit on him while he sat at a stop light. A good Samaritan help pushed the car to the side of the road where I found him. I looked under the hood and found that the drive belts had come off and jammed the drive pulleys causing the car to quit. I figured it was due to something I did or didn't do when I replaced the belts. I don't usually have problems like this when I work on cars, so was a little perturbed that I was having issues. We got the car towed home and with a little more looking realized that the problem was a little bigger than I anticipated. When looking at the belt pulleys, it was apparent that they were no longer lining up. Especially the main drive pulley on the crankshaft. I started to pull apart the front of the engine and found this:

What you are seeing is the Crankshaft pulley or as some people call it, the Harmonic Balancer. It's not supposed to be in 2 pieces! It's supposed to look like this:

After a little research, I found that Subaru suggests replacement of the balancer when replacement of the Timing Belt is performed. It is a two piece bonded unit that will fail after time. The belt had been replaced, but obviously this had not. I think the stress of the new belts put this part over the edge and caused it to fail along with causing additional damage such as:

What you are seeing it the center timing belt cover where the pulley grooved out a nice little bit of plastic. A undamaged one looks like this:

Now here is where the story takes an interesting turn. Once the pulley has been removed, the engine should be able to start up and run on it's own. When I tried to start it, it would crank, but just would not fire. After consulting with one of my fellow shade tree mechanics, we suspected that the timing belt might have jumped some teeth. With this suspicion, the possibility of a high dollar repair just increased. One thing I learned about this flat four engine is that it is an interference engine. When it has Timing Belt failure, the valves will make contact with the pistons usually bending them beyond usage. If this happens, you might as well start shopping for a replacement engine. These engines are shoe horned into the engine bay and the cost to remove and repair the heads can exceed a low mileage used engine. With this in mind, I proceeded to pull the timing covers off and with the help of my Subaru Guru, we found the the timing belt had jumped 3 teeth! We check the compression (one way to check for bent valves) and reset the timing. Woo hoo! The engine started and seemed to run fine. Being this deep into the engine and no apparent further damage, I ordered a Timing Belt Kit with all of the idler pulleys, a new belt tensioner, and water pump. We think the tensioner was going bad and allowed the belt to jump the teeth. Here is what the front of the engine looks like without the timing covers on:

Along with the kit, I replaced a bunch of the coolant hoses that looked original to the car. Once together, Suebedo fired right up like she had never missed a beat! 

What did I learn from this experience?
  1. Never rely on someone else doing all of the recommended maintenance and proper repairs on a used car.
  2. Never buy a car that has lived it's early life in the Northeast as this one did. Every time I tried to take something apart on this car a bolt broke or something didn't want to come apart without some extra persuasion.
  3. This car is like a Chevy or a Ford. They made millions of these cars and the parts are plentiful and easy to find at a good price. is the king for the best parts prices. I was surprised at how much cheaper they are than any other parts seller on the internet. For factory only parts was the place to go.
  4. In the end, I spent around $500 to get Suebedo back on the road. If I had to pay someone to do this job, it would have cost me around $2000.
Thank you Dad again for the love of mechanics and the ability to turn a wrench the right way. I love you.....