Subaru engine self destruction

My daughter drives an 04 WRX. We purchased the car new, taught her to drive in it and have kept up with the maintenance. Including changing the timing belt and water pump about 13 months ago. The odometer was at about 96K then and is now at about 102K.
A week ago my daughter came inside and told me that her car would not start. I went out turned the key. She was right, the engine cranked but would not fire. The cranking of the engine was unusually fast and the sound it made during cranking was off. I immediately thought that the starter was bust.
I replaced the starter and while at it replaced the plugs the belts and the front pulley (the pulley because our Forester’s pulley’s rubber ring had recently de-bonded it self). I put it all back together and turned the key. To my horror the car would not start. The starter sound and crank speeds were the same as before I did my mini tune up.
To bring the pain to an end I had the car towed to my local Subaru dealer. I momentarily blacked out when he called and told me that the timing belt had probably jumped and that the engine heads and valves were now ruined. My engine will need to be replaced. Final punch in the gut, it will cost $8000.
Is this for real given that the engine did not start and that the damage would have had to be done by just cranking with the starter?

The odd cranking you mentioned sounds like there is no compression in the engine. My first guess was timing belt. Did you replace the idler pulleys and tensioner? If the belt jumped off, then yes, the starter is enough to damage the valves when the piston hits them. And, yours is an interference engine.

Facing $8k, I’d go ahead and reset the belt and pray. Either the engine is damaged and it will not run, or it will run badly, or you dodged a bullet and it will start right up.

If the engine is damaged, a used engine would be cheaper. A remanufactured long block will be pricier, but still be cheaper than the dealer price.

I agree completely with BustedKnuckles.
Additionally, I would suggest that the OP check his repair invoice, to see if it lists replacement of the belt’s tensioner(s). If the tensioner(s) were replaced, I would think that failure of this component after only 6k miles should result in the service facility coming to your aid with repair expenses.

If the tensioner(s) were not replaced, then the question arises of whether the service facility never recommended this important procedure, or if the OP decided to “cheap out” and skip it.
In any event, if the tensioner(s) were not replaced, that was a fatal error–no matter who is to blame for skipping that step.

I’m wondering if the OP didn’t do this job himself? If he had no quals about tackling the starter and pulleys perhaps the timing belt was a home repair too. If not, I’d be having a serious conversation with whatever shop performed the timing belt replacement.

@Proacfan, That’s What I Was Thinking.
Although it’s been beyond a warranty period that would be the norm for any repair facility, a shop with pride and one wanting to preserve a good reputation and loyal customers, would at least help out with making things right, depending on what is found to be the cause . . .

. . . unless the owner did the t-belt job and then it could be a case of being shot by one’s own gun.


Evidence Of A DIY Repair ?
" She was right, the engine cranked but would not fire. The cranking of the engine was unusually fast and the sound it made during cranking was off. I immediately thought that the starter was bust. "

" I replaced the starter and . . . "

" The starter sound and crank speeds were the same as before I did my mini tune up. "


I too agree with Busted, however I’d suggest that you confirm damage before spending large amounts of money. A simple attempt at a compression test should do it. From there you may want to either pull the heads or try peeking in the cylinders with a borescope to see if there is in fact damage.

Good luck with this.

Replace the entire engine? At only 104k it’s hardly worn!! The starter motor could bend a valve or two but hardly worth replacing the entire engine for relatively minor head damage. And he’s guessing at there even being any damage, giving you worst case scenario as fact.

TT, I’m guessing that the damage happened before the daughter got home the evening before.
But I wholeheartedly agree with you that the heads should be pulled and the valves and pistons checked for damage before making any assumptions. I retract my suggestion to use the less definitive techniques I mentioned.

Since the car was running normally when it was parked, the belt probably broke when your daughter tried to start it. At this very low RPM, it is possible the engine escaped serious damage, even if a valve or two did hit a piston…With $8000 on the line, I would at least replace the timing belt and see if any serious damage was done before I sent this vehicle off to the salvage yard…

Does Subaru STILL insist on using rubber timing belts?? If so, they will put themselves out of business as most of there competitors have abandoned this engine design…

Fool me once, shame on you…Fool me twice, shame on ME…

“Still”, Caddyman? It’s an '04. It was built 9 years ago.

TSM- I was thinking along the lines that Caddyman stated. Ran fine up until parked then the stress of starting took it out. Hard to be verbose on small phone keyboard. Could easily be wrong assumption on my part!

At any rate, given the few details we do have available, I would hardly default to “replace the engine” as the mechanic seemed to do. Especially given the relatively low mileage on it. Either he doesn’t want the work or figures maybe they’ll bite and he’ll get a bigger payday. Time to tow it somewhere else after calling around and gauging how they would approach the problem knowing the details of the conditions leading up to the “no-start”.

BTW- if it were mine, I would do exactly as you described. If I didn’t see any compression issues, I’d run what I brung until it showed signs of needing more attention. Looking back, it’s the daughter’s ride so I might be inclined to be more careful to minimize the potential for being stranded. Hadn’t considered that aspect initially…

On a more humorous note- I couldn’t help but think about a funny analogy. Anyone who has had a belt break knows that sound of unloaded cranking. Whoa! that’s not right, STOP!

I don’t blame anyone who hasn’t heard it before for not recognizing the tell-tale signs. But looking back at the sequence of events here makes those who have, wince a little at the prospect of multiple attempts to start it.

Reminded me of the time I was working on a car and having my girlfriend at the time “help”. I was grabbing the open door jamb to get out from under the car when she tried to close the door. Naturally, it made an uncharacteristic dull thud and did not close. Still under the car, my mouth was wide open in shock with a silent scream when the second attempt to shut the door came along. Naturally, much harder this time since it didn’t latch the first time. If my fingers weren’t broken the first time, they were the second…and I did manage to let out a scream the second time…

TT, I wholeheartedly agree.

It’s been my experience that dealerships have no qualms about replacing major things, like a whole engine without actually checking the old one, or an entire oil pan because the drain plug threads are stripped. They seem far too ready to take large amounts of other people’s money needlessly. IMHO it’s way too early in the assessment process to say “you need a new engine”.

So, what does pulling motor and replacing heads cost? At an independent shop?

You’ll have to call around. Labor rates vary regionally.

I think Subaru’s STILL use rubber timing belts to this day…But I could be wrong…

Less than $8k I bet

“I think Subaru’s STILL use rubber timing belts to this day…But I could be wrong…”

Yes, you are wrong.
The old 3.0 liter six (introduced in 2001) and the newer 3.6 liter six, both use a timing chain.
The timing chain is the main reason why I bought a 2002 Outback 3.0, and why I followed it up with a 2011 Outback 3.6, but the added power and the lower noise level are two additional reasons why I opted for the larger engine.

The new version of the 2.5 liter four cylinder engine, which was introduced last year, also uses a timing chain.

I would take the gamble, replace the belt as cheaply as possible, and see what happens…Anything else you do is likely to cost you more money…Perhaps you can find someone with a fiber-optic cylinder inspection 'scope that could spot any obvious damage before you start on repairs…There are some pretty trick inspection tools out there, digital cameras that can look anywhere…