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Harmonic balancer? Or?

My wife’s 2004 Subaru Impreza developed a problem when she was visiting her grandkids in North Carolina. As I got it from her and my son-in-law, the car would make a racket after the engine was started and the air conditioning was engaged. My son-in-law and I figured it was a faulty air conditioner compressor clutch, but when she took it to a shop (a national chain franchise), the mechanic said her harmonic balancer was shot. It cost $600 to replace it (you have to remove the radiator and the ac compressor) and install new belts, which were worn. My question: Can this sort of problem arise so suddenly? Given the nature of the harmonic balancer, I’d expect it would develop over time before reaching critical mass. She said the car had been running just fine before she drove to North Carolina, although maybe she just didn’t notice. What’s your take? Did she get taken for a ride when she only needed something like new belts or maybe an idler pulley?

We don’t have the old balancer to examine, but they can indeed come apart instantly…

I think she got taken for a ride in my opinion. Harmonic balancers don’t go bad that often. Taking the vehicle to a large chain franchise is like handing over your wallet and telling them to take what they want. In this case…they wanted $600. Has she had any other problems with the Subaru? Did she get to keep the “faulty” harmonic balancer?

Harmonic balancers can fail suddenly, and the symptoms match up well with a failed harmonic balancer. They often deteriorate and fall apart, resulting in lots of noise and, sometimes, vibration. It’s not a change in mass, but a mechanical failure that causes the symptoms, hence the sudden problems. If the problem is no longer present, and the engine does indeed have a new harmonic balancer, I would let it go and forget about it. If you really want to get upset, you could call around and find out if the job could have been done cheaper elsewhere, even though the car wouldn’t have made it back home. I believe that is what was wrong with the car. I would be glad it wasn’t the a/c compressor clutch, as it would have probably been more expensive than a new balancer. Worn belts or an idler pulley would not have been able to produce these symptoms.

Thanks! This is not a component I’m very familiar with, but I’m learning. I’ve got the same engine in my 2000 Forester, which has more than twice the mileage of my wife’s vehicle (90 k vs 191 k), and mine has not failed – yet. The AC still works great too.

I appreciate your reply. It definitely would not have been my choice to go to a national chain franchise shop. It’s too bad the problem did not arise here at home; I have a lot of confidence in the non-affiliated shop that has been doing the work on our cars.

I appreciate your detailed reply. She says the car now is running fine with no funny noises. Time will tell, perhaps. I’m too old to spend a lot of time fretting about these sorts of things, although I don’t like to throw money away unnecessarily, hence my posting.

I know this thread is a few months old, but thought I’d throw in my two cents… Coincidentally (or maybe not) I own a 2004 Subaru Impreza and my harmonic balancer just went! I found this out as a result of my A/C belt coming off and tearing some holes in my timing belt cover. I brought the car in to have the A/C belt replaced, along with the timing belt and timing belt cover and my mechanic (who I trust 100%) said that actually my harmonic balancer was totally gone. Perhaps this is a more frequent problem in this model subaru??