Burnt valves: Did I really need new timing belt & water pump?

My 158K 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback was diagnosed with “only 30% compression in the something-or-other.” I was going to either need a $2500 repair or a $4000 repair (new engine). Did I want to spend a couple hundred dollars finding out? I decided yes. After, they say it’s a burnt valve, and a verbal estimate of “at most $2850.” Did I want them to go ahead and send it out to the machine shop? OK. Now I’m told the car is ready, the cost will be $3050. Why so high? “The machine shop bill is $550; you turned out to have two burnt valves.” Well, what the he**'s the other $2500 for then!!! (In my ignorance, I thought the whole $2800 estimate was to rebuild the head of the engine. Did I say it right?) “$1600 is for new parts – water pump, timing belt, a lot of gaskets.” Well, I wasn’t told about the need for all these new parts (no written estimate), and my timing belt and water pump were replaced at 120K (38K ago).

Have I been taken? Should I squawk? Or should I take a deep breath and just write the check, and be thankful I have a job to go to?

I just started seeing this mechanic because my mechanic, the best mechanic one in the world, threw in the solo business towel and started working for this guy. I went with the same sense of trust…was I naive? What do you think?

Didn’t your Father tell you NEVER take your back to the Dealer?? At least, don’t let YOUR children make the same mistake…$3050?? Your car is only worth $1800…

I think it’s time to move Subaru’s over into the same category as Fiats, Yugos, Vegas, Pintos, stuff like that. Lets stop pretending these are fine cars.

Technically speaking, replacing the water pump and timing belt again would be the right thing to do considering a pricy valve job and the passage of time. (time is rough on belts)
However, this repair cost sounds awfully high to me.

Surely this 550 dollars is not for the repair of one cylinder head only? If so, they’ve screwed up because you ALWAYS do these in pairs. No exceptions.

They’re saying that a water pump, timing belt, and top end gasket set is 1600 bucks? Ouch.
If that is really the case then in comparison Jesse James went pretty easy on the train crew during a robbery.
Is there more to this 1600 than that? I do realize that some shops present a bill that can be pretty vague. Any bill should have everything laid out in black and white as to parts, labor, shop charges, taxes, and whatnot.

Just curious as I’d like to hear how all of this was broken down.

I would add that since your engine suffered burnt valves this means that several of them tightened up. (likely exhaust valves)

This is caused by failure to inspect valve lash on a regular basis. (about every 30k miles)
A problem like this also affects other vehicles with mechanical lifters (Hondas, Nissans, etc.) and the failure to have this done is not your fault in my opinion.

It’s the fault of the factory engineers, or more than likely the marketing dept., who want the consumer to think their car needs little to no regular maintenance so they recommend these moronic, extended lash inspection intervals.
Since the lash is out of sight, out of mind by the time a problem crops up the car is out of warranty and the owner is hung out on the clothesline to dry.

Do “cammer” Subaru’s require periodic valve lash inspection / adjustment?? If so, yet another reason to put them in the POS category…

On these new cars, burned valves can be the result of the oxygen sensor talking trash to the ECM and getting things a little too lean…

Hi, Helpful Person! I have not yet seen the bill (tomorrow), and was naive enough (was used to my old, honest, thrifty, incredible mechanic) not to get a written estimate (which, I have read online, is against the law in Massachusetts, where I am). So all I have is the front desk guy over the phone, saying the bill is $200 more than the upper limit estimate because of the part of the bill from the machine shop ($550), and this is because I turned out to have two burnt valves instead of only one burnt valve (shouldn’t the mechanic have divined that before sending it out to the machine shop?). How does a cylinder head repair coincide with repair of the valve? (I know – I know nothing! sitting duck!).

When I asked what the other $2500 was for, he said $1600 was for parts. I said, wow, it better drive like the dickens when I get it back. He said, oh, the parts are just the water pump, timing belt, a lot of gaskets – “things you have to replace when you’re in there, you’d be crazy not to.” I haven’t seen the itemized bill yet.

I guess I plan to go in there very stern, examine the bill, then express extreme displeasure that he did not ask me if I wanted all those parts replaced, and that he was not clear about what costs were for, and perhaps remind him it’s against the law not to provide a written estimate. Then ask what he can do for me. Ugh. Then, find another mechanic.

Hello again. I just bought this car, from a friend at a very good price (or so it seemed then, $2500) last April, 140K. She had good records, and I set up my spreadsheet, and noticed that the “valve clearance” should be checked. But my great mechanic told me I didn’t need to do that (I didn’t even know what “it” was, really). When I found out my current problem is with valves, I asked the new guy if having the valve clearance checked would have found the problem, and he said the valve clearance had nothing to do with my problem – that if I had bad valve clearance, I would have heard a loud ticking. (I had been hearing a faint low “duggaduggaduggaduggaduggaduggadugga” when the car is running, but neither old nor new mechanic heard anything wrong.) So, these folks don’t think valve clearance was the problem. Do you disagree?

His final price is only $200 more than the verbal estimate. And he explained this by saying that there were two burnt valves instead of one. He obviously had a good idea of what needed to be done to do the job correctly when he originally quoted you. The gaskets needed to be replaced because they cannot be reused one the parts are separated. As far as the timing belt and water pump, did he know they were recently replaced? After 38K miles (or about 2 years), you can’t tell how old a timing belt or water pump is. A written estimate would have this spelled out as a line item cost. Did your mechanic know about this job, and was he there to advise the boss that the timing belt and water pump only had 38K miles on it?

I think you should take this as a learning moment and always ask for a written estimate on a big job like this. That way, you know what the mechanic thinks needs to be replaced as he spells it out on the estimate, and you can have a position to haggle from. Just my two cents. Now that the work is done, I think you should just take that breath.

Each cylinder head (a Subaru has two heads) has a number of intake and exhaust valves for each cylinder. (two cylinders for each head)

Burnt valves, even on one head only, means a complete valve job and this should be done on the other head also; even if that other head does not have any valve damage. At high mileage and considering the burnt valve situation the correct thing is to do both.

Wished I could be of more help but without details it’s difficult to do. My point here, other than what seems to be a bit overly priced repair, is that if this shop did one head only they did not do a proper job.

If you live in the San Francisco area or something like that where labor rates are absolutely astronomical then maybe the bill could hit that high. I guess. Around here (OK) you could probably figure on 7-900 labor, 2-300 hundred at the auto machine shop, and 500 or so in parts. Ball parking of course.

Thanks for answering. He never mentioned the water pump and timing belt to me, until the job was done and they were installed. My mechanic was out of the picture on this one (now that he works for this other man, you have to request and schedule him special, and this was a drive-in-because-the-engine-light-was-blinking repair, so my old mechanic wasn’t the one put on it). Anyway, he wouldn’t have known, as it was my friend who sold me the car who had those things replaced at 120K.

I know, I was completely spoiled by my old mechanic, who I think is a mechanical genius, and a thrifty, honest person. Now after ten years, I guess I am back out in the cold cold world.

Thank you again for responding. I will make sure to check that “a complete valve job” was done, including “both cylinder heads.” Does that say it right? I live in Western Massachusetts; not sure how prices here should compare to other areas like SF or OK. Thanks for your attention. I will post tomorrow on how things went when I pick the car up (and, I guess, pay the bill).

I don’t just disagree; I strongly disagree with their logic and I can assure you without any hesitation what they are telling you about valve clearance is dead wrong.

The problem with the valve clearance issue is that valves can tighten up and by the time this is discovered it’s often too late. The horses done escaped the barn so to speak.

He is dead wrong by referring to your hearing a ticking sound. The ticking sound won’t harm your engine as this means if anything the valve or valves could be a little loose.
The quiet valves are the ones you have to worry about and there is no way of determining this without actually checking the lash on a regular basis.

A quiet (tight) valve will not tick and once the clearance hits 0 it does not take long for the damage to begin. What happens is that the exhaust valve runs near red hot and the only way the valve can get rid of that heat is by mating with the valve seat in the cylinder head. Once the valve cannot seat (even by a measly .0005 of an inch) heat will not be disappated, hot exhaust gas will start leaking through the tiny gap, and soon both the valve and valve seat will be damaged.

Sorry, your mechanic here is totally wrong and as I mentioned this problem is not your fault. Lay it at the feet of those moronic engineering, marketing people, or whomever they have dishing out equally moronic recommendations like inspecting valve lash at infinity or engine damage, whichever comes first.

Recent Subaru’s require a valve lash inspection at 105k miles when the timing belt is changed for clarity.

I believe the majority of them do not require any adjustment however if you do it leads to problems like this.

I know everyone has gone home/on to other things, but thought I would finish the thread by posting the bill. When I went to pay, it turns out the bill was $700 more than the highest estimate ($3,550 altogether–the price I was given over the phone was NOT INCLUDING the $500 deposit I had already made!). Anyway, the attached shows the total we paid after a long, tense argument with the sales manager, in which we insisted that he split the difference between his quote and the final amount–so we made him knock off about $350, and ended up paying about $3,200 altogether.