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Maintaining / repairing Subarus

A mechanic once told me that, in general, Subarus are harder/more difficult to maintain/repair than Toyotas and Hondas.
Is this true, and if so, is this because most (or all?) Subarus are AWD, whereas most Toyotas/Hondas aren’t, or is it because of something else?

Used to see a few Subies with bad headgaskets on CL. They are fewer and fewer. Now I see more with bad trans. Never see toyotas with issues. Just worn out/ hi miles. Hondas? Don’t recall their main issue.

I know a few folks who own and DIY maintain these cars. Turbocharged versions, mostly. Light mechanical work is not too bad as the flat 4 engine has the components splayed across the top of the engine. Except the spark plugs, you need tiny hands to get those out. Head gaskets are a pain, and many Subies had this problem, because there are 2 heads and they snuggle up to the frame rails. Clutches, on a turbo, AWD car are a weak link and are a bear to get to because of the driveline.

Chassis stuff like springs and shocks are pretty much the same as any other car. Same for the interior bits.

Subaru tends to have stricter rules on how much variance is allowed in the circumferences of the tires, meaning that owners do need to be more careful about proper rotation. This is a tradeoff for having a very capable AWD system.

Subaru might require a bit more maintenance than Honda’s, but AWD is a good choice if you need a car that can provide better grip.

In addition to the good points already made, Subies have “horizontally opposed” engines. That means they have two sets of cylinders, one on each side, laid down and opposing each other. That can tend to require that peripheral things be placed in places not common to inline 4 engines.

Does that make it more difficult to work on? That depends on perspective. I think so, but that’s mostly because I can’t bend over and reach down like I could when I was younger.
There are, however, experienced Subie mechanics on the forum who can offer much more knowledgeable answers to this question.
Does it make it a lesser vehicle? Not in my opinion. Treat them right and Subies are perfectly fine cars. Just a bit different.

IMHO the most difficult setups to work on are transversely mounted V6 engines. The rear back of cylinders is almost always a pain to access.

I think from problem reports we get here, Subie may be a little over-represented. So your mechanic may well be right. Not a big difference, but enough to be noticeable. It’s always a good idea when purchasing a car to see how Consumer Reports rates its reliability. Differences in reliability between models and years of the same manufacturers are often bigger than differences between brands, so a lot depends on which specific model and model year you choose.

I’ll add one more tidbit of data. I’ve never owned a Subie, but my parents did, and from their comments they thought it was quite reliable and trustworthy; until one day, maybe when it was 12-15 years old, it wasn’t. What differentiated the Subie from their other cars, is that when it became unreliable, it was nearly impossible for the mechanic to figure out why. Eventually they just sold it to the mechanic I think and bought a new Ford. It wasn’t 4wd, just 2w-front drive. The problem it had was fuel related, but the shop, try as they might, could never fix it.

I’ve never considered Subaru to be any more problem intensive than any other car; and I’ve quite likely seen more of them that most of the people on this board. Excuse the language because it is not meant to be snide or arrogant in any way.

@GeorgeSanJose, if the Subaru your parents owned was an 80s era model with the EEC carburetion then odds are that fuel related problem was due to one, or both, of two things.

  1. Vapor lock. This was a major issue on them; even on the ones with the mods to prevent this.
    2/. The vapor separators under the hood were all incorrectly manufactured and basically came out of the factory upside down on the car. Subaru said this was never an issue but the number of irate Subaru owners and myself would disagree with that premise… :slight_smile:
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No, it’s not true. Subarus on the whole are no less reliable than most other makes of cars, Subarus are no harder or more expensive to maintain than most other cars. I’m a professional mechanic and can attest to the fact that there are many makes of cars out there that are more expensive to own than Subarus.

Some people will say that Subarus tend to have head gasket failures. True, but then so do other cars as well. The last few head gasket jobs we had at the shop were on a Dodge Dakota, Toyota Yaris, Honda Civic. In my experience, I see Subaru head gasket failures about as often as I see Hondas. And in years past I saw far more Ford Taurus and Windstar head gaskets fail than I ever did Subarus.

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One fallacy that I used to hear all of the time was when I worked for SAAB. It was amazing to see the number of people who complained that this or that shop would refuse to work on their cars “because it’s a SAAB”.

Quirky and even a bit weird at times but certainly nothing to be afraid of. There is something about the name that puts the fear of God into some facilities. :smile:

While my brother’s trusted mechanic never refused to work on my nephew’s SAAB, he made it pretty clear that he wasn’t happy to be working on cars of that make. One day, when my brother was picking up his son’s SAAB from the mechanic’s shop, the mechanic was just finishing up with that car, and my brother tried to make conversation with the mechanic while he finished the repair job. The conversation with Henry, the mechanic, went like this:
Henry: You know, there’s just one thing that I can’t figure out about SAABs.
Brother: Really? What’s that?
Henry: Why they make the damned things!


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Have they ever sold a 2 wheel drive Subaru in the US? I can’t recall one.

@oldtimer_11, yes they made 2 wheel drive Subarus well into the 80s. As a matter of fact up until the mid or so 80s the majority of Subarus were 2 wheel drive vehicles.

Some of the wagons and even the hatchbacks were 4WD optional with all of the Subaru Brats being 4WD.

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Well into the 90’s as well, maybe even later than that. There were plenty of Legacy sedans and wagons on the road that were 2WD.

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Here’s one (two).

Thank you all for your insights and discussion!

Yes, I believe some Justys were FWD only

Subarus are more complicated than Toyotas (other than the Prius). They have all wheel drive, meaning they have a transfer case, extra driveshaft, differential, and half-shafts with CV joints that the Toyotas don’t have. The engine is a flat four rather than an inline four, so it has twice as many camshafts as a Toyota Corolla and a more complex timing belt routing. And some Subaru engines are turbocharged, which adds yet more complexity.

That said, on a part-by-part basis, a Subaru is no more difficult to maintain than a Toyota. You just have more parts, and thus more maintenance. A CV joint is a CV joint, but you have twice as many of them on the Subaru, so.

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A Subaru does not have a transfer case in the normal sense or extra driveshaft. One transaxle with a center differential,one rear differential, one driveshaft, and 4 halfshafts. It’s a very clean, simple 4WD system.

Thank you, @elgreen99, for the most lucid and detailed explanation yet!