CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Is my Subaru worth repairing?

A little history… I bought my Subaru Forester almost 3 years ago… it was fine the first year in a half, then the head gasket blew… then some months later it started to vibrate real bad, after a thousand dollars of random repairs a new shop found it was the CV shaft and needed transmission mounts… THEN the head gasket blew again (free repair)… NOW… I was driving on the highway a few weeks ago and my steering wheel started to vibrate violently. I took it to my shop and they found it was a bering in the transmission. They told me transmission repairs start at $1000… What should I do? Should I get it repaired? I don’t have the money for a new car, I do have the money for this repair but are these repairs going to be at least $1000 a piece?? WHAT DO I DO?

How old is the Forester, and how many miles on its odometer?

Manual or automatic transmission?

oh yeah… It’s '99, 150,000 miles and it’s an automatic.

Just curious, but exactly what bearing is it in the transmission that is stated to causing this vibration?

I will say this. AT 10 years of age and 150k miles no way should someone be doing a piecemeal repair on a transmission. Complete overhaul or nothing and setting up a Subaru transmission (IF done properly) is time consuming and requires a fair amount of expertise, not to mention having to work around the considerable number of specialized Subaru only tools that are needed.

As to that price you’re being quoted, I have no idea what’s going on without knowing what bearing is being discussed, etc.
If the bearing in question (based on the symptom) is a carrier bearing then what I mentioned above about expertise and tools applies double.

It would be interesting to hear the story behind the repeated head gasket failure too.

“Transmission repairs start at $1,000.” That’s probably true, but there’s no way to know where they will end. My guess is the transmission repair will cost several thousand dollars. Without knowing the overall condition of the car it’s difficult to advise on this one.

There seem to be several issues revolving around the transmission and drive train on this car. I wonder if something happened to it before you bought it.

If you spend several thousand and the car lasts another 100K miles it will be worth it. If you spend several thousand and a few months later something else needs work you may be unhappy with your original decision.

The only way I’d spend the money on this is if you have a Subaru specialist doing the work. I wouldn’t trust it to a general mechanic. Subarus have their eccentricities and only a specialist really understands them. Is there an independent Subaru shop in your area?

I’m not sure of the bearing. The shop that told me that is who replaced the head gasket. They just told me it was a bearing in the transmission but that they were not a transmission shop, therefore, they could not help, but gave me a number to a shop. I called this guy and he told me to bring the car in for an estimate and that they work on Subaru’s all the time. He said generally Subaru transmission repairs are around $2000. I haven’t taken it in yet because I’m trying to come up with $2000. … and It needs to be towed.

The shop that did the repeated head gasket guaranteed me the first time so they repaired it the second time. The only thing he told me when I asked what happened was " well I had wished it was the part, but it just didn’t hold." He doesn’t talk much and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m stupid. When I looked for a shop to do the head gasket the first time, I probably called 15 shops before I came to this one, they gave a me reasonable estimate and they had a guy who specialized in Subarus, when most places turned me down immediately when I said Subaru.

I just found the paper that said what kind of bearing it is… it is a carrier barring. I just wonder if I shouldn’t even bother with it, just try to sell it how it is and get another car?

Your car is worth very little money. Think about it. A $2,000 repair for certain, and other issues that are going to come up, in a car worth about $3,500 if it’s running OK. What would you pay for it? Not much.

Now is a good time to buy a car if you have a job. New cars are expensive, high insurance and state fees and the purchase price; but there are plenty of very good 3 or 4 year old cars that cost a lot less and should run for quite some time. If you can put the $1,500 you might get for the Subaru, and the $2,000 you can save by not fixing the Subaru, into a 2006 or 2007 car you will be better off in the long run.

I was thinking to myself that a carrier bearing was being referred to and now you have confirmed it. One cannot simply remove the transmission, install a carrier bearing (there are 2) and call it good. The process of set-up is pretty technical and if the ring/pinion gear has any damage or wear this would mean procuring another transmission because you do not even want to have to purchase a new ring/pinion gear due to cost.

My feeling is that the ring/pinion is likely wiped out due to lack of oil (internal seal leak or someone mistakenly draining the final drive oil in the transmission while changing the engine oil. The latter is very easy to do if one is not careful so maybe someone in the past erred while changing the engine oil.)

A properly repaired head gasket(s) (both should be done at the same time) should not fail again. Without knowing the details about what the shop did or did not do it’s impossible to tell what happened.

Just my opinion but I could not see sinking 2 grand (or more if the ring/pinion is gone) into this car. Find a used transmission and take a chance on that.
One thing I would advise that you do is inspect the final drive oil level. This is NOT the automatic transmission fluid. If there is no oil in the final drive then you need to seriously consider the possibility of an engine oil change gone wrong with someone draining the trans final drive by mistake. This is not a rare thing to occur and proving it could be near impossible. Hope some of that helps.

NO; too many things wrong and fixing them may in the future set you up for more of the same. There are many good used ones on the market, as stated.

I think I’m done putting money into the Subaru, I’m going to rid of it, trade in? … what’s your take on a used Toyota Tacoma? I’m looking at anywhere from a '98 to '03, around 100,000 miles(preferably less), 4x4 extended cab, under $9,000…

A used vehicle is a used vehicle and the badge on the back end doesn’t make it better than any other vehicle out there.

Any used car should have a thorough inspection performed but a thorough inspection can get costly as it’s labor intensive. Even with a thorough inspection there is no guarantee that the vehicle will be problem free. There are simply too many things on vehicles that cannot be inspected and there is no test for.

Failing to perform an inspection, the next best thing is to take the car on a long test drive. (preferably 40-50 miles)
Turn the radio off, tell any other occupants to keep their mouths shut, and concentrate solely on the vehicle; paying attention to how the transmission shift, any noises that may be present, operation of the A/C, how the vehicle drives down the road, etc.
That’s no guarantee of anything but it stacks the odds more in your favor. A 2 mile test drive simply does not cut it. Hope that helps.