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03 Forester with 190k miles. Worth the Timing Belt Repair?

Hello Subaru lovers / sometimes haters! I have a 2003 Forster with 190k miles on it. I’m technically the 2nd owner but the car was passed down to me at 80k miles buy a late relative so I have records of everything that’s ever been done to it. At 85k miles I had the infamous HEAD GASKET issue that resulted in a blown radiator all the way to a new crate engine block replacement. Very very expensive and after tons of research from wonderful forums like this I did the work to get some $ from Subaru of America because of the known issue and “recall”. Anyway since that repair I’ve kept up with everything either by a mechanic or myself.
But here’s where I am currently. I have a new job which requires a 120 mile daily commute (roundtrip). A bad New England pot hole hit lead to, no flat but a very noticeable high speed car shaking which taken to a “not so sure if I trust” repairmen lead to 4 new tires, front wheel ball joints. Also a random check engine light leading to a front 02 censor repair. Under 1k of repair total but seemingly worth it if I can keep her running longer. BUT I then started thinking, what else could happen which made me realize, the timing belt. It was changed when I had my head gasket issue at 85k miles. But here I am at 190k miles which (kick in the pants) is right on par with the suggested 105k mile timing belt change!
I got a quote from a (different) trustworthy repairmen at $900ish for timing belt, water pump and outside belts for good measure. That’s pretty high no?
So this leads me to the advise I seek. Should I save the money and not change the timing belt in hopes of getting a few more months or maybe a year out of it before I let her go and get a 2017 outback (would love thoughts on this as well) Or put in the money and hope for the best?
I should also mention that I got a check engine light for the catalytic converter, which the shop shut off and hasn’t turned on since (2 days). Which is a kick in the head considering I just replaced the 02 censor which I understand could all be related.
what to do!?
Thank you all in advance for your shared wisdom!

I don’t know a lot about Subaru engines… but more than likely if the timing belt fails, you’ll be buying another engine. Keep that in mind.

You know it’s due for one, so just bite the bullet. Plus, when (if) you sell off this one for a 2017, the next buyer is going to want to know if the timing belt’s been changed. If not, you’re going to probably eat the cost of that (delayed) maintenance. Point being you’re going to pay for the timing belt replacement either way.

Go ahead and get it done now. Just my 2 cents. Good luck.

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If you are sure you are going to sell/trade it in a year get the timing belt changed but probably safe to ignore the water pump. V-belts or serpentine (whichever it has) should be cheap with no additional labor charges.

First, yes, it is an interference engine which means if the belt breaks it’s going to take valves with it, and that will be expensive.

Second, I agree not to bother with the pump unless you’re keeping the car for a long time or you see it leaking.

As far as spending the money now - the dealership isn’t going to give you squat for a non-running vehicle, so the $900 you spend now should guarantee you more than that in trade. And if you sell it private party, well, they’re not going to buy a non-runner for much money either.

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Everything you describe except the head gasket issue is completely routine maintenance. So is the timing belt. If you want to buy a new 2017 Forester from a dealer then your maintenance issue is not important; go make your deal and move on.

If you want to keep the car so you can buy a new one in 6 months, then re-examine your plans and maybe try to buy it now.

If you might want that 2017 but you really know you should keep the old car for a while more, have someone who knows a lot about rust to look under your car and tell you if it’s solid or if it’s rotting away. When I lived in New England, especially rural areas, there were independent shops that did welding on trucks and cars and all sorts of metal things that people wanted to keep.

Do what the shop recommends, use the whole timing belt kit, including the tensioner. idler, & water pump. I’m saying this assuming you are paying for somebody else to do the work. If you’re doing the job as a diy’er yourself you could skip any part of the job you like (other than the actual timing belt), b/c you know what amount of labor is involved if you have to do it again. Nobody is a better judge of your time that you are. For me timing belts are a diy job, have 200 K miles on my Corolla, several timing belts replaced over the years, but still the original water pump.

So my wife has the same 2003 forester except its a base model where as mine is the XS. We’re also having the timing belt dilemma with that car so we took to a shop. He told me that the engine is an SOHC Non Interference. Which was a load off because technically we don’t need to preemptively change until it breaks. I know thats gambling but fact is we can’t afford it right now. So yes my car is “different” but wouldn’t it also be non interference?

I thought the same thing but the shop actually told me it won’t make a difference to a seller or a dealership if the timing belt was recently changed. Due to the age of the car. I sort of believe both points.

2.2 SOHC engine was non-interference, but in 2003 it was only 2.5, and it is interference one from the best of my knowledge, no matter if SOHC or DOHC

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@thegreendrag0n is correct. All US Forester 2.5 engines are interference. Including your wife’s - the mechanic is wrong.

I’m not disagreeing with you but I really want to believe this guy and heres why. After the told me, I goggled it, saw “interference” then called back and questioned. He said ok I’ll check again, stayed on the phone with me while he read “this model has recessed pistons etc” Then he randomly texted me a picture of the computer screen from the website he uses saying DOHC Interference, SOHC Non-Interfearence. “yours is SOHC” He also sent me photos of some other issues of the car because I work very far from the shop. I’d like to believe he was just being kind and not trying to convince me not to change the belt, have it ruin the engine in hopes we take it to him for the work. if belt bust pistons then car is a loss for us, I’m fairly sure he understands that. what do you think?

You could call a Subaru service dept. and possibly get the correct answer . With your 3 threads I suspect your mechanic is not all that versed on Subaru.

This next vehicle you intend to purchase it sounds like you might want to avoid all wheel drive.

haha! didn’t know you could see the other treads. Just trying to keep it less cluttered. Good point on contacting Subaru dept. Why avoid AWD? more problems arise? I live in New England so it’s sort of a preferred luxury

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Why ? Because tire rotation is critical and mixing tires is not recommended . All wheel drive is just more complex . I still contend front wheel drive with good tires will work most of the time.

Why would you think we could not see all of your threads ?

I don’t suppose you still have that picture? It’d be helpful to know what he was looking at. I’ve seen some comments on discussion forums that claim the SOHC is non-interference, but every reputable site I’ve looked at says otherwise. From what I can see, the myth of post-90’s Subaru SOHC non-interference engines is pernicious, as illustrated with this post:

in which the OP (who, btw, has the same engine as your SOHC) describes bending exhaust valves after the belt jumped time, and still is convinced it’s a non-interference motor. Which is somewhat like saying “My tire is engineered to never go flat; this tire is not flat” as you’re changing the flat tire by the side of the road.

And please understand I’m not necessarily disparaging your mechanic. No mechanic knows every characteristic of every engine ever made - they all have to go to the reference manuals, and if the manual they go to got it wrong, then they’re going to get it wrong too. This is why I’d really like to know what site he’s looking at - if he was looking at Alldata, then that’s just him believing information from a professional organization that is generally recognized as accurate. If he was looking at some car forum populated by teenagers, then that raises concerns about his practices as a mechanic.

You’re very right, theres a lot of conflicting info out there. Unfortunately the photo he sent was just of the text on the screen Didn’t see the site, although he said it a few times I just don’t recall. It was a mans name. He said “we use ‘such n such’ very respected” I could ask him though. Fact still remains I don’t think we can afford 2 timing belt changes on cars pushing 200k. My wifes car is at 160k miles and no record of changed belts ever. I’m considering doing the job myself, belt only. Or going to a cheeper shop that is more around the $400 range I see as standard cost for job.

here is a good picture how 2.5 SOHC “non-interference” looks after belt snaps or jumps:

Repair high but it all depends where you live. The hourly rate varies widely.

The same maintenance for similar 2005 Legacy done in coastal NH at our Subaru expert who charges $65/hr was $500. He charged me I think 3hrs labor but called me at 2.5 hrs latter if tha

Not sure I’d do it if you want a newer ride which is such a superior car in every way, shape and form. My parents did similar 2000 Forester to 2016 Outback and whole new world for them.

There’s enough evidence on the internet about whether this is an interference engine or not to make me not want to rely on much of it. If you assume it’s not an interference engine, you’re gambling with the car. If you’re wrong, your car is essentially worth scrap values. You make the call.

No experience w/the issue myself, but AllData shows all Subie’s w/SOHC are a free-wheeling design, non-interference. All w/DOHC are interference. Not sure how far that goes back, but the assessment appears to go back as far as the early 1990’s at least.

Edit: There’s an inconsistency in AllData. In the actual timing belt replacement procedure they say the F4-2.5L SOHC engine in a 2003 Forester is an interference design.

How accurate this info is, don’t know. There are certain engines where the valves can’t interfere w/the pistons, so are technically termed “non-interference”, but the problem is that the valves can interfere with each other. So they may technically pass the non-interference test, but there’ll still be major valve damage if the timing belt breaks.

One other piece of the puzzle. AllData shows my Corolla’s 4afe as being an interference design, but not everybody here agrees with that either.