CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

2012 Legacy - repairs will be more than its value

102000miles on my 2012 Subaru Legacy. Tooling down the interstate, the car starts shaking, and all the dash lights come on. Got it towed to a repair shop (reputable) and was told it would cost between 3500-4000 to repair it. A bad valve was causing compression issues. Car, in good shape, only valued at 5500 retail. Why fix it? Now, what do I do with the car?

How do they know it’s a bad valve?

They put it on a computer and that apparently was what the error code read. That’s what I was told anyway.

Which engine does the car have?

2.5i four cylinder

With very little info to go on, I will make an assumption here based on the complaint, bad valve, and compression issue.

The assumption would be valve lash has tightened and burned one or more exhaust valves. Yes, I know Subaru and other car makers only recommend a valve lash check (and a totally bogus audible one at that) every millennium or so but that recomendation is pure garbage.
Valve lash should be checked every 30k miles. Failure to do so leaves the car owner at risk for valve/cylinder head damage. In your case it’s likely that valve lash was tightening up over time and during the interstate tooling the tipping point arrived.

The price for what I assume (again, a dreaded assumption) is burned valve damage seems a bit high to me. You might price this job around and if possible you might clarify exactly what was said to you so the word assume and its various forms could be dropped from the discussion.

Thanks for the help. The Subaru dealer called me and said the repair would be between $4000-$5200, more than the car’s value. I bought the Subaru because they were supposed to be good cars. Mine only had 102,000 miles on it.

Remember that the Subaru dealership is motivated to sell you a new Subaru. Also remember that dealerships usually cost more (often a lot more) than independent shops. And finally, remember that the guy you talked to was probably not a mechanic, but a service advisor, which is dealership speak for “salesgoober who may or may not know anything about cars.”

This is a headgaskets repair in disguise. No worries. Take it to a non dealer shop, pulll the heads, replace 1 or both. It’s not 4000$

1 Like

You can have it towed to the junkyard

1 Like

You have received good advice above. First of all, it is very common for these type of engines to need new head gaskets at around this mileage, and the cost to replace one head with rebuilt doesn’t double the price of the job.

Second, you should be able to have this work done for less than $3k. It is not necessary to have this repair done at a dealer, and in fact would be better to have it done at an independent shop which will use better-quality aftermarket parts. Dealers generally use nothing but genuine OEM parts, which are sometimes the best, but not always. Their labor rates are often higher than other shops, as well.

Third, and most importantly, one should not fall into the trap of comparing repair costs to book value. What is important is not how much it costs to repair your car versus what you could sell this car for on the open market. What is important is how much the repair costs are versus the alternative (which for most people would be junking the car and buying a different new or used car). Unless the car has other issues, such as body damage, rust, salvage title, etc, it makes sense to do the repairs.

1 Like

What @bcohen2010 wrote is the correct view. The value of the car is its value TO YOU, not its retail value. Which would you rather own, your current car, repaired at a shop that specializes in Subarus (not a dealer that specializes in selling new cars) or another used car that you can buy for the same money as the cost of repair?

ok4450, I have a question. I was surprised the Subaru did not have hydraulic lifters. Don’t most other cars?
Mechanical valves and 100,000 mile head gaskets makes me a “never Subaru”.

@oldnotdeadyet. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, some of us had the opposite viewpoint. We thought solid lifters were better. In his book, “What You Should Know About Cars”, Tom Mccahill thought a properly adjusted valve with solid lifters was quieter than a valve with hydraulic lifters. He argued that hydraulic lifters required the use of detergent oil which he didn’t like. Mccahill said that he preferred to have detergent in his bathtub, but not in his engine. He argued that the detergent held particles in suspension and they were whipped through the engine bearings instead of settling to.the bottom of the oil pan.

Dis the Subaru dealer actually analyze the vehicle or only take the word of the shop? You need a second opinion and that must be done in the shop, so this means another tow.

The computer code will not identify a bad valve. It can identify a mis-firing cylinder and that is about it. It takes more in-depth trouble shooting to find the exact cause of the problem. For what is at stake here, I would have it towed to the dealer and pay for an in-depth diagnosis, including a compression test, a cylinder pressure test with sound monitoring at both the intake and exhaust for an air leak and a cooling system pressure test.

It is quite possible that you only need head gaskets. Also, did anyone check the coolant level after the incident? Low coolant would be a big clue that it is the head gasket.

1 Like

Subaru has used hydraulic lifters a few times over the years but for the most part it’s been solid lifters.

Needing a valve adjustment and not having it done which leads to a burned valve issue does not make the car a bad one. Valve lash is a maintenance item which should be performed every 30k miles IMO.

Consumers can be given a pass because their owners manuals (and this includes other makes also) may recommend a 100k, 120k miles lash inspections. That is done for one reason; to make your car appear to need less maintenance than it really does. And service advisors who know little only recite the corporate line.

On top of that idiocy, they also recommend an “audible” lash inspection which just compounds the idiocy factor. There is no way on God’s Green Earth that a mechanic can listen to an engine and determine what the valve lash is. I’ve been dealing with solid lifters for approx. 50 years and there’s no way I can tell what they are doing with my ears. If one is excessively loose it can be detected audibly but how does one know that a quiet lifter which is about to burn a valve exists? No one can.

I still think this repair (even if both cylinder heads are needed) can be done for far less than the given estimate. In most cases the heads can be reworked with a few valve seat replacements and a full valve job. They have to be pretty bad to reach junk status.

1 Like

Thanks ok4450

I have had it towed to a Subaru dealer. They have not run any tests on it yet. The shop that AAA took it to are the ones that said what it was, and that they couldn’t repair it as it needed special tools. They are a reputable shop, but I will wait to hear from the dealer. Thanks for the input.

I’m going to wait and get a final analysis from the dealer. The original shop it was taken to has a very good reputation both for doing good repairs, and for their pricing. So if they say they can’t repair it, I believe them. I, of course, did not want to take it to a Subaru dealer, but it was a last resort. The other concern I have is, if the repair is equal to the value of the car, and I get it fixed, I will be married to that car forever if other things go wrong.

I think I would have it repaired because it should sell or trade for at least enough to cover the repair costs. I might even drive it for a while and decide if I wanted to keep it. It has very little value now.