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04 Forester - repair or replace?

So here’s the story. My wife has an 04 Forester that she likes a lot. She bought it new just before we met and we paid if off last year. So a few months ago, it rolled past the 100k mile mark. As recommended, we sent it in to a local shop to have the timing belt replaced. They did the water pump and tensioner at the same time.

Fast forward to yesterday, it died without warning as she was going about 40mph on a busy road. She coasted to the shoulder. She said she noticed that she the brakes worked the first time she applied them, but not the second. She used the emergency brake to stop. After she came to a stop, she turned the key to off and then tried to start it. The starter just spun and sounded as though it wasn’t engaged with anything.

We had it towed back to the shop that did the timing belt and they will look at it on Monday. We’re waiting eagerly to find out what the problem is, but in the meantime we’re assuming the worst.

That being that something involving the timing belt failed and the engine has internal damage as a result. I have no idea what, if anything, the shop will offer in terms of a warranty and again, I’m assuming the worst in that they won’t offer anything.

So that potentially leaves us with a tough decision to make. Assuming the engine is toast and assuming we’re on our own in terms of replacement cost, what would be our best option?

Our choices would be repair the existing engine, have the existing engine completely overhauled, or replace the existing engine with a rebuilt or replace the whole car.

My wife really likes the car, but we’ve found some used examples of similar age with low miles on local used lots.

So assuming the worst, what would be the smartest way to proceed in terms of money well spent?

Thanks in advance.

First, let the shop determine what happened. If the timing belt slipped off because the tensioner wasn’t properly adjusted, then they should be responsible for repairs. If it snapped and this was a new belt, you still shouldn’t be responsible, and the shop should get after the belt manufacturer. Many shops have some sort of guarantee on their work; hopefully they’ll honor theirs.

If you can get it repaired, then do so. It’s only five years old and should have a lot of life left in it.

I agree with budd. If this is indeed a timing belt issue, the shop and/or the belt manufacturer should be paying for repairs on their own dime. Please report back to us on what they find.

As to the brakes, you and your wife should be aware that when an engine stalls, the power brake booster has sufficient reserve only for one hard stop. After that one brake application, the power assist is almost always gone, so what she experienced with the brakes was totally normal for a vehicle with a stalled engine.

Since you did replace the timing belt at the appropriate time, that makes me optimistic that all of the other maintenance on this vehicle has been done as per the mfr’s maintenance schedule. If you have done so, then this vehicle has another good 100k life left in it once the current problem is repaired.

Good luck, and please report back to us.

Well, like I said, I’m asking what we should do if the situation turns out to be the worst case scenerio. I understand that the shop or the belt manufacturer should be liable for any damage. But I don’t know that they will without being dragged into court. I know that this issue should not be related to the timing belt, but I don’t yet know that it is and the symptoms certainly seem to point toward it so far.

Also, I am aware of how the vac system and power brakes behave during an engine stall. I mentioned it here only as acendotal evidence that the engine did indeed quit rather than a situation where the engine kept running but stopped making power for some reason.

So again, I realize it might not be the timing belt and the engine might not be trashed. I also realize that if the engine is trashed, the shop ought to be liable for repairing it. But my question involves what the best decision would be in the unlikely event that the engine is trashed and neither the shop nor the belt manufacturer will accept any responsibility without a court fight.

Obviously we are hoping it doesn’t come to that. But we’re trying to decide what we’ll do if it does come to that. As my wife put it, we need to decide on a dollar amount that we’ll invest in the car if we end up having to cover all the costs ourselves. It’s a five year old car with 100k on it. Do we invest another $5k into it or do sell the car and buy similar year and model with 29k miles for $12k as we’ve seen listed locally?

And if its better to keep the 100k mile car, do we repair or replace the engine? I know it would probably be worthwhile to repair the existing engine if it came down to that. But I come from an aviaiton background where most piston engines get overhaulled every 2000 hours or so. So if your aircraft engine makes it to 1700 hours and ends up needing two cylinders replaced, some guys just go ahead and do an entire overhaul if they’ve got the cash to do so and they’re going to keep the plane another 2000 hours.

So I see a 100k mile car engine as getting within range of overhaul time. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but that’s how I see it. So do I invest in major repairs on an 100k mile engine and leave other parts of the engine untouched to potentially start causing problems in another 40k miles? Or do I have the entire engine overhaulled or replaced?

Come tomorrow I expect to get a call from the shop and I expect that we’ll have some decisions to make. If the shop or the parts are at fault and they’re going to stand behind their work, then the descision is easy. But I’m trying to figure out what to do if that turns out not to be the case. I appreciate any and all input.

“So I see a 100k mile car engine as getting within therange of overhaul time”.

That was true back in the 1940’s, and with some cars in the 1950’s, but it isn’t true today. My dad owned a 1954 Buick that I bought from him when I was in graduate school. When I sold the car at 160,000 miles, it had never had the heads off the engine and was not using oil. Today’s engines are even better and should go over 200,000 miles without a rebuild.

If your engine has internal damage, I would recommend that you either get a remanufactured engine or try to find a good used engine. Many of the mechanics that could do a good engine overhaul back in the 1940’s and 1950’s are long gone.

I hear you on the lack of good overhaul mechanics left in the field. So you would go with a rebuilt swap vs a repair existing. That makes sense. Thanks for the reply.

The problem is that the mechanic in question will not be likely to buy into this idea, as it would cost him more than rebuilding your engine–if indeed that is what it needs and if he and/or his timing belt was at fault.

I also think that a quality rebuilt engine (Jasper comes to mind) is a very good idea, but this would likely be at your cost, rather than the mechanic’s.

The problem is that the mechanic in question will not be likely to buy into this idea, as it would cost him more than rebuilding your engine–if indeed that is what it needs and if he and/or his timing belt was at fault.

If the mechanic is going to stand behind his work and fix it at his own expense then there is no issue. I’m only asking about what I should do if I have to shoulder 100% of the cost of the repair. I know that the mechanic should take responsibility if he was at fault. But just because he should, doesn’t mean that he will. I’ve had shops refuse to stand behind their work in the past and I have friends who have had similar experiences. I’ve only lived in this area for a few years and the timing belt job was my first experience with this particular shop.

If it comes down to replacing the engine I recommend you check these folks out. They are well known and regarded in the Soob owners market. If you get an engine from them you will get a 3 year warranty with it.

When a timing belt breaks an engine can exhibit the symptom you mention. The starter motor will spin the motor over so easily that it will appear the rotating assembly (crankshaft, pistons, rods, etc.) is not even moving.

While it’s always possible that a new belt or whatever could break the odds of this are so remote that it should not be considered too seriously.
If the belt broke, or a tensioner came loose, this would more than likely be caused by an error on the part of the person who did the repair.

If the shop screwed up then they should be prepared to eat the cost of repairing or replacing the engine.
Since there’s a good chance the shop may try to “murky up the issue” so to speak, you may have to get an outside opinion on the damage from someone who does not have a vested interest in this repair. You may also have to be prepared to push the issue a bit if the shop did indeed screw up.

A careful examination of the problem should reveal some clues as to what happened.

UPDATE: When I was in HS, I took a year of automechanics and learned all the basics. One of the fisrt lessons I remember being taught was if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So I got a call from the shop. A pulley on the water pump that they insisted on changing when they did the timing belt, failed. This in turn caused the timing belt to either fail or come off, not sure if he said which. Yes I realize its recommended that the water pump be changed when doing the timing belt. But it still burns my butt to think that we changed out a servicable part which had gone 100k miles for a replacement that went less than 5k.

He’s replacing the water pump and the timing belt at his expense. When I asked about engine damage, he said its not a ‘zero tolorance’ engine so there shouldn’t be any damage. I told him that I’d been all over the 'net all weekend and every referrence I’ve found says it is definitely an interference engine. He said well we’ll know more once we get the parts on tomorrow and get it started. Any thoughts or comments appreciated.

This mechanic is either not fully competent, or he is trying to blow smoke up your butt.

This engine is most definitely an interference design engine.
I was pretty sure that it was this type of design, and then I checked with the Gates website, which confirmed my belief.

This engine surely suffered some kind of valve & piston damage when the timing belt snapped or came off.

I can’t say for sure what happened but it is sure a very strange thing to happen and I suspect that the job wasn’t done correctly. As far as the engine being an interference engine I believe you are correct. If you call the folks at CCR from the link I provided they could tell you for sure.

If the engine suffered damage, would it be evident without an internal inspection. IOW, is it possible that the engine would run normally or would the valve damage cause engine roughness such that he wouldn’t be able to claim no engine damage even if there was?

UPDATE #2: The shop called back. He found bent valves. He’s sending the head out for a valve job. He said it will take a couple of days and he will cover the cost of the work. I could not be happier that the shop is doing what’s right and standing behind their work. They’ve earned a loyal customer and every recommendation I can give them.

I suspect that we’ll end up replacing the car in the next few months anyway just because it will give my wife better peice of mind. I’m not claiming that makes total sense, but if it makes her feel better, its good enough for me.

Thanks a million to all who responded. You all really helped put my mind at ease while waiting for this to play out.

The mechanic is still withholding information or is not fully competent!

Bent valves?
Think about that.
What caused them to bend?
They bent because they collided with the pistons.

My suggestion is that you tell him that you want to SEE the pistons from your car. More than likely, one or two of them will have visible damage from having collided with the valves.

Make him include replacements for the damaged pistons, too.

And, whether you keep this car or not, do not continue to patronize this guy after he repairs this car.
Either his technical knowledge is very much deficient or he is trying to cheap out, rather than making good in full on the problems that resulted from his work.