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Does the Subaru turbo engine have a design flaw?

Hi, I have a 2005 Subaru Forester with a turbo engine. It has about 108,000 miles on it, so I was expecting to get a lot more life out of it. However, a clogged mesh screen in the banjo (!) bolt starved the turbo and engine of oil and now the car is deader than a door nail. I found articles online that said this clogged mesh screen is a problem independent Subaru mechanics have seen and that when they fix the problem they do NOT put this mesh screen back in the car and that this eliminates the problem. I have maintained my car over the years and feel that Subaru should have told me that this could be a problem and that I should make sure this screen was checked. Subaru of America said it is not a known problem, that they only published a Technical Service Bulletin (to Subaru dealers only) in regard to replacing a turbo (which I have not had to do until now), and that the part is not “serviceable,” meaning it’s not easy to get to and my regular oil changes and tune-ups wouldn’t have included an inspection of this part. What? Is this just a load of bull? Am I crazy or does Subaru of America bear some responsibility here because this is a problem they could have told me about.

How often do you change the oil (miles and time wise) and what type of oil do you use?

Problems related to engine oil sludging or coking are generally due to a lax oil change regimen.

Sorry, but there’s not a car made (or ever been made) that one can’t point a finger at for one reason or the other and Subaru owes you nothing.

I’ve done the oil changes pretty regularly according to the schedule and used the synthetic oil recommended. I did recently have a Check Engine light issue that the mechanic said meant I needed to add oil every two months instead of three months, which I was doing when this happened. I guess I’m still in shock that a car I thought would be good for a few more years needs $6,000 worth of work. I work for a non-profit, so money is always tight. I finally had a paid-off car and now this, darn it!

I’ve heard this over the years from other Subby owners. However, the condition usually leads to just starving the turbo of oil, not the whole engine. The use of fully synthetic oil in turbo Subbies seems to avoid this problem. Synthetic oil is far less prone to sludging and coking, especially under the punishment and heat of the turbo. And, yes, I’ve also heard about the removal of the screen to prevent future problems. But, the car is out of warranty. Subaru cannot be held liable.

Thank you both for your input. It helps a lot to give me a reality check. So, do you think I should spend the money to repair my 2005 Subaru Forester and have a smaller loan to pay off or see what kind of deal I can get on a 2013 (new 2014 are coming in late winter) and have a bigger loan to pay off?

The mesh screen should not wipe out the entire engine as mentioned; unless there are other issues at play here related to the oil consumption you reference and the possibility of oil sludging or coking elsewhere in the engine.

The bulletin states that this screen should be removed and cleaned with oil changes; especially so when lengthy oil change intervals, severe driving conditions, etc are involved. Regarding severe, that includes almost every car on the road.

Sometimes the factory recommendations are simply not often enough. One example would be the Toyota oil sludge problem that developed some years ago and which is actually a problem on every make of car if the oil change regimen is extended.

The engine should not have died at 108k miles unless there’s a reason other than the screen. Is the engine frozen up, knocking, or what?

I’ve Never Heard Of A “Check Engine” Light That Means A Driver Has To Add Oil Every 2 Months, 3 Months, Etcetera. Please Explain.

“I did recently have a Check Engine light issue that the mechanic said meant I needed to add oil every two months instead of three months, which I was doing when this happened.”

How did the mechanic translate the “Check Engine” to “Add Oil every 2 months” ?

Were you getting a “Low Oil Level” warning or “Low Oil Pressure” warning ?

Also, how regular is “pretty regularly” ? " I’ve done the oil changes pretty regularly according to the schedule . . . "

CSA

Hi All. This summer, the Cruise Control light started blinking and the Check Engine light came on. I took it to the auto shop I normally go to and they did some reading up. A second source confirmed that this was not atypical for this model to use oil more frequently and to start with a complete oil change and then repeat every two months. The lights went off following this advice, so when the blinking Cruise Control and the steady Check Engine light came on, I made a mental get the oil changed the next day. As I continuing to drive that same day, a scraping sound started under the engine. When I got to my destination, I added oil and drove straight home. The noise dissipated a bit. The next day, I drove it 3 miles to Jiffy Lube and on the way it started belching white smoke out the back. Jiffy Lube did an oil change and said it was probably an exhaust problem. The smoke was still coming out on the 3 miles back home and the 4 miles the next day to the muffler/exhaust shop. That’s when I found out the turbo and engine were gone. I had it towed to the Subaru dealer in town and they confirmed that I need a new turbo and engine. They took out the oil pan and it has metal shavings in it. I did research on the Internet and found stories of the same kind of turbo problem. I contacted Subaru of America and said that this mesh screen in the banjo bolt was cited as causing a problem by getting clogged, which created failure of the turbo and starved the engine of oil, leading to its demise. I said I was upset that it seemed Subaru and mechanics specializing in Subarus knew this could be a potential problem, but that consumers were never informed. Sof A said sorry, it’s out of warranty, it’s not a known issue, but we’ll give you $1,500 toward the $6,000+ repair. Since I don’t know much about cars, my explanation here may have a lot of holes in it, but this is my understanding of the events and information. Feedback here has indicated that SofA doesn’t bear any responsibilty, so now I’m trying to figure out whether to take out a loan to repair the 2005 Forester I have or take out an even bigger loan for six years to pay for a newer car. Since my car is dead and at the dealer, I don’t think I have any other option that to either fix it there or buy another car there.

“I did recently have a Check Engine light issue that the mechanic said meant I needed to add oil every two months instead of three months, which I was doing when this happened.”

 I suggest that you get the actual error that caused the CEL (Check Engine Light)  It will be in the format "P0123"

How often do YOU check the oil level?  The Driver should get in the habit of checking the oil level every time he or she gets fuel.

Joseph, You’re Going In The Same Direction I Was Headed In When I Asked The Questions In My Previous Post. Seems A Little Information Was Inadvertently Left Out, Originally And Some Still Is.

To Norman, based on what has transpired, I think Subaru is very kind to make the offer that they’ve made. I’m not saying it’s worth doing, but they are being helpful. I think the $4500 spent on the car will be the most logical decision.

CSA

Hi All. Thanks for the input and questions. I wish I had checked in with you all much earlier, as your insights might have helped my head off the problem in the first place. Hard lesson learned.

At this point, since the engine is dead, dead, dead, I have to do one of three things:

  1. Repair/replace the engine and turbo in my existing car
  2. Buy a newer, non tubro used car at this dealer
  3. Buy a non turbo 2013 since the newly redesigned 2014s arrive soon

One response suggested repairing/replacing the turbo and engine. Do others of you agree or would it be better to invest $10,000 to $20,000 in a new(er) Subaru?

Many thanks for your advice!

How much will the dealer give you in trade? Since you are financing anything you do, a trade could be the best bet, but it doesn’t have to be a new Subaru or a used car from this dealer. The reason I say this is because new car interest rates are very low right now where the financing on a new engine could be very expensive. I’ve seen new car rates as low as 2% or less where a loan on an engine might be upwards of 18%.

You need to talk with your bank on the various loan rates and maybe get pre-approved for a new car loan at your bank, not at the dealership. Then see what kind of a deal the dealer will give you. Get everything on paper so you can compare.

Another option is look for an independent mechanic that may be able to set you up with a good used engine or a remanufactured engine at a much lower cost than the dealership. You can have your vehicle towed to them if you find an independent mechanic with a good reputation who makes you a good offer.

One last thing, newly redesigned 2014s arrive soon? It’s not even 2013 yet.

When you’ve had to add oil, what was the most you’ve had to add?
I.e., what was the lowest level the oil got to below full?
Have you been taking this car to Jiffy Lube on a regular basis?

Normally there shouldn’t be any debris flowing in the oil big enough to get caught in a screen.
But if the engine has had to run with only a little oil in the pan the oil remaining is highly stressed.
Too stressed even for synthetic in a turbo engine.
A cheap, low quality oil filter from Jiffy Lube wouldn’t help matters.

@MyCarNorman " Repair/replace the engine and turbo in my existing car"

Have you discussed the idea of replacing/repair the motor in your existing car W/O a turbo ?
Maybe from a wreck with low miles etc…with that help from the dealer, it could be cheap enough to do and be left with a pretty decent car. That $4500 could have a significant $$$ lopped off. Then, to heck with screens, hello to better mileage and to life in the slow lane.

Keep the decals/emblems on for show. What the heck ? It’s still a great little car ! If you buy too quickly without repairing and getting some use and having equity, you will be behind further financially.

You seem to be only looking at cars without a turbo charger. That is your choice, but the cars you are looking at without the turbo will be much less “peppy” unless you opt for a V6. More and more cars are coming with turbo’s (Ford EcoBoost motors for instance) so you are bucking the trend. Turbo’s are really fine, but they do put an extra burden on oil used in the motor. If you have a turbo in a motor you need to pay close attention to the quality of the oil you use, and the frequency of oil changes.

If you stick with Subaru you might be best with a 2013 or 2014 model with a V6. That motor is really good, powerful, and has been very long lived compared to Subaru 4’s. You’ll get a few less mpg, but the 2013 Subaru’s made big improvements in mpg over older models. Your actual mpg with a new V6 Subaru might even be better than your current turbo 4.

If you trade your “dead” car in, the dealer will fix it at “cost” and will be able to make a good profit reselling it. If the dealer won’t give you a good trade value, consider selling it to a Subaru mechanic who can also fix it and sell it.

Fixing the “dead” turbo and motor, or trading it in is really all about the numbers. Without hearing what the dealer is offering you no one can really give you a good answer.

I don’t think I have any other option that to either fix it there or buy another car there.

You have options. Depends on what the diagnostic fee is at this point. They could hold that over your head to make you want to buy from them. But you could always have it towed somewhere else if it was financially compelling to do so.

If you replace the engine and turbo, you still have a 7 year old everything else including some high dollar assemblies if they die. If it were me, it would depend HIGHLY on the condition of the rest of the car. Sometimes, it’s best to take your lumps and move on…

The mesh screen is a serious achilles heel. I have a similiar engine car the 2005 Legacy turbo. If the screen clogs your turbo starves of oil where you do get a noise and check engine warning typically and a few miles latter it then introduces broken metal bits of the turbo into the lower end of the motor demolishing your main bearings (lower end of block).

Another option is using an independent for work but $4500 is hard to beat to fix this. Make sure they do not install the banjo bolt.

You must check engine oil level every other fillup and change oil every 3750 miles(synthetic or dino). Knock wood I am at 140,000 miles with a trouble free Subaru turbo. The car is a hoot to drive.

Subaru recognizes the issue and stopped using the banjo bolt in late 2006. Beyond that they reverted the 7500 oil change interval normal(with dino!) to 3750 miles.

What oil change interval where you using?

Was the engine running when you last shut it down? do you think it would start right now (if the pan were put back on and the oil filled)? All the noise, smoke and particles in the oil pan could be due to the turbo and not the engine. I also have trouble seeing how the metal particles from teh turbo would affect the bearings in the engine. Before they could get to the bearings, they would have to pass through the screen on the oil pickup and the oil filter.