Subaru Forester transm/differential help

I have a standard 2001 Forester with ~150k miles. The other morning, when I’d put it into any gear (1st or Reverse) to move, it would just sputter and die. I had it towed to a transmission place, who (after taking the transmission out/apart) told me the stickshift was stuck in gear, and it needed the front differential fixed and also a new clutch. It was $1946. This seemed high but what could I do? I agreed.

I picked it up today and not 2 miles out of the shop, it started acting up. It shook a bit when shifting from 4th to 5th, and it sputtered (the feeling where it’s not getting gas). The shop was closed so I can’t do anything until Monday. But looking at the bill, they claim to have ordered all these parts that don’t seem to have anything to do with the “differential” and they charged me for a lot of labor that they couldn’t have done (because they told me that they had to overnight the differential from the dealer & it wouldn’t be there until noon Sat, but then when I called at 11am Sat, the car was ready). How done one get 13 hours of labor out of this?! I feel like I’ve been scammed, but don’t want to take it back to get it fixed there if they are dishonest and do shoddy work.

Has anyone ever had the stickshift STUCK in gear? Why would it do that?! Does it really sound like a differential problem? I think they said the clutch issue wasn’t related but it was needed “also”.

You need to ask this question to folks who know Subarus. Go here: Go to General Subaru chat; New generation of Subarus. You’ll have to register, but it’s free.

It could have been stuck in one gear and when you shift it to the other one, you get two gears at once and you can’t move at all. Your engine will stall. One of the shifting rods which are internal could have had an end fall off. There is a finger on the shifter end (can’t describe it because it’s not directly on the shifter) that can come loose and not be able to pull one gear back into neutral. You would have to pull the shifter out and look at the mechanism. After that, you might see what could happen. Yes, I mess with everything and learn difficult lessons about what not to fool with. As far as their schedule goes; they’re screwier than a wooden watch and things don’t always go according to what you are told.

About all I can do for you is throw some theories out as there is not enough info here to get specific.
By “stuck in gear” do you mean the gearshift lever would not move or the lever would go into various gears but the car would not move? I’m assuming the latter here.

If I stick with that assumtion, then it’s possible the transaxle lost enough gear oil that the differential seized. This is not really that rare a problem and usually occurs on automatic transmissions more than manuals. I’ve done a number of them.
Subaru gearsets, differntial gears, etc. are expensive, no doubt about it.
Could you list the parts they charged you for? Just trying to clear the fog up a bit here.

Setting up a differential on a Subaru is really not for the mechanically meek. To do it properly requires some special Subaru tools and if anyone is going into a 150k mile transmission then there are a number of things that should be replaced while it’s apart. Subaru uses a large number of selective bearings, shift forks, shims, spacers, etc. and one CANNOT simply drop a new ring and pinion gear in there and call it good.
The clutch assembly should be replaced while the transmission is out; no problem there.

I’l be glad to ponder this one over some more but details on the symptom and the parts list would help.
(For what it’s worth, I’ve worked for 3 Subaru dealers and none of them ever stocked differential parts (ring, pinion gears, etc. That’s too much money sitting on the shelf for something seldom used and is normally an order as needed item.)

Thanks for your feedback everyone. Ok to answer ok4450, what pleasedodgevan described is EXACTLY what happened. The stickshift would move from gear to gear (roughly) but when I’d try to move by going forward or in reverse, it would stall. Given that, if this is the problem would it require a new differential and clutch?! They didn’t replace any shifting rods… in fact they didn’t do anything to the actual transmission except the differential.

I drove it today, and it drove fine other than the odd scraping noise that it has. I don’t think I mentioned that yesterday. Initially I thought that this was just because they didn’t properly secure the (I don’t know the name, sorry, I’m not mechanically inclined!) the big plastic plate that covers up underneath the front of the car… this has happened to me when getting oil changed at a new place and my regular mechanic fixed it free and stuck in an extra bolt. It falls down and sort of scrapes when I turn. However THIS scraping is different. It’s constant and pretty loud.

Why would one get a new clutch when the transmission is out? Is that absolutely necessary, if one, say, doens’t have any money?! :slight_smile: I thought they said it needed it or I wouldn’t have fixed it! This is the list of things they charged me for: snap ring, ring gear & pinion (oddly says L,S, Automatic Trans - 4.44 Ratio - but I have a manual not automatic…), clutch disc assembly, clutch pressure plate, clutch release bearing, seal & gasket kit, gear & hub assembly. The labor is 10.3 hrs for "transaxle assembly - remove, install & overheaul) plus ~1.6 hrs for the clutch.

But here’s another weird thing. I asked for the receipt from the Subaru dealer for the differential (I wanted the Subaru brand) and the receipt they gave me was for $514.70, a charge that doesn’t appear on the bill. That bill includes what appears to be $52.50 “frght” presumably freight but they charged me $80 for shipping. Also they overnighted it on Friday, so wouldn’t have gotten it until Sat morn at 8am at the EARLIEST. (he’d actually told me it wouldn’t be there til noon). So how the heck did they have it ready by 1130am when I called Sat, and charge for 10.3 hrs? So far as I can gather from research, these rates were simply the estimates from the Mitchell 1 Mechanical Labor Estimating Guide rather than the actual hours they worked on the car. Can they charge for the estimate not the actual?

Thanks for any feedback!

Well, I’ll see if I can try to clear a few things up here.
One is that the proper thing to do is replace the clutch while the transmssion is out. Should they do this automatically without consulting with you first? No. The clutch could be reused but a disclaimer would need to be made that if the clutch was acting up later on the shop would not be liable.

As to the flat rate labor time this is how shops work. They MUST do it this way. From your point of view being charged for more time than is spent is not fair. The system is done like this to prevent mechanics from loitering over a job. The reverse would be if the tech spent 20 hours on your car and charged you 20, with about half of it spent hanging around a coffee pot. The labor hours you were charged sounds about right, EXCEPT for the 1.6 on the clutch. I do NOT understand that one at all. The transmission is out and changing the clutch is a 10 minutes max job. I do not see any way that 1.6 could be gotten from anywhere considering the transmission is out.

It could be possible to have your car done Sat. morning with the part being overnighted on Fri. if the trans was already apart, the repl. parts were picked up early on Sat. morning, and someone was going at it without any regards to whether things were assembled correctly or not.
Some of the labor would have already been done prior to Sat. morning.

Now the bad part. I have a bad feeling about this one. A ring/pinion gear and a snap ring is the sum total of internal parts used in the transmission??? That is asinine. If that scraping noise appears to be coming from the transmission I would be very worried. One would hope they filled the transmission with gear oil.
Even if the trans is full of oil, one CANNOT simply drop a ring/pinion gear into a Sub. transmission. It’s a very technical procedure requiring special tools, books, and preferably prior Sub. experience in doing this.
As I mentioned, a 150k miles trans requiring a ring/pinion gear should mean a complete overhaul and the parts list would be fairly lengthy.

I wished I could be of more help here but right offhand this does not sound right; there are too many questions here. You could ask them if the ring/pinion gear simply drops into place. If they say yes, then they’re liars and clueless. You might also ask to see your old ring/pinion gear set.

I also think you should contact the Subaru dealer about this ring/pinion gear set and verify that the part number is the legitimate one called for on your car. Subaru has a number of gear sets available (with different ratios) and one would hope they have not used the wrong one. Not that it makes much difference IMHO since this repair sounds kind of disjointed anyway.

I tried to keep this post down a bit length-wise but you may have a pretty convuluted problem here. Keep us informed on what’s going on and maybe we can wade thrugh this eventually.

Thanks again for your feedback. So this is also the question. If I needed a “front differential” why did I get a “ring and pinion” and “snap ring”? If you replace a differential, is the ring & pinion necessary? Or is that the same thing? (What about the seal & gasket kit, and gear & hub assembly - do those go to the clutch or the transmission). The Subaru dealer receipt does not say what was ordered, just a price and part #. I plan to call them to verify tomorrow.

Also I searched online and you can get a Subaru “clutch kit” that has all the parts needed for $260. So why did all my parts broken down for the clutch (disc assembly, pressure plate, and release bearing) cost over $400?

Thanks! :slight_smile:

I need to get my problem on Car Talk! :slight_smile:

Just to clarify this a little better, the differential is the ring/pinion assembly. The Subaru transmission is actually a transaxle rather than a transmission and the front differential is part of the transmission along with being located inside the transmission housing.
The pics below are not of the identical items but should show you how they do it.

This is a manual trans. Look at where the axles attach to the transaxle. That is the differential area. Note the trans case is 2 piece and is separated lengthwise.
Here is an automatic. Note in the same area how the trans separates into 2 sections behind the little stub axles that the axle shafts connect to. That front section is the differential assembly.
Here is a differential assembly from an automatic transmission.

They’re essentially the same except that on the automatics it is removed as an assembly. On a manual transmission the ring/pinion gear is inside the transmission case.
Here is a VW air-cooled (Beetle) ring and pinion gear set to show you what looks like. Could not find a Subaru pic right off the bat but the VW is very similar.

I had forgotten about the gasket kit and the gear/hub. There are a number of gears and hubs inside the transmission so I don’t know which particular ones they’re talking about. My guess only is that the gear and hub are related to something on the countershaft, which is also the pinion gear shaft. The pinion gear and shaft are one piece and maybe there was a problem with a synchronizer hub on the pinion shaft. These should go with the transmission, not the clutch.
If you drop by a Subaru parts department they should not mind pulling those numbers up for you along with showing you pictures of the parts.
There are also a number of snap rings in the transmission but I’m assuming the one in question is an odd one used on the pinion shaft, or countershaft as it’s called.

There can be a legitimate reason for price differences on the clutch. The part prices can vary a lot depending on the supplier and the shop will also have a certain markup they apply to parts. This ia all normal and legitimate.
I don’t have a problem with the new clutch or the clutch costs, but the continued problems you’re having and the work behind the ring/pinion replacement is an area of concern.
Swapping the pinion shaft out along with setting the ring/pinion up properly as to backlash, pinion depth, preload, etc. takes time and it’s very hard for me to see how they could get the parts on Sat. morning, perform this job, and have it done by 11.
Note those little toothed wheels around the stub axles sticking out of the differential. Even those are there for a critical reason; it’s to adjust the carrier bearings in setting the whole thing up.

Hope some of that helps to explain some of it anyway. Keep us informed on this.

I called this morn and said first my car is making a scraping noise and 2nd I did some research & want to talk to you again about the bill. He didn’t want to, and was extremely rude, said no I couldn’t talk to a technician (when I asked which one worked on it he said “lots of them”), no he wouldn’t give me the owner’s name (“If you did so much research why don’t you use some of that research to find out for yourself”) etc. I mentioned small claims court and that I reserved the right to cancel my credit card fee until the work was done right. He said I’m not going over the bill but bring it down and he’d drive it with me.

So I did and the tech who worked on my car drove it with me and sure enough there’s a problem. I actually remember now that the scraping started immediately AFTER the “weird feeling” when I shifted between 4th and 5th on the way home, and then it’s been constant since. They determined they had to take it apart again so gave me a rental car which they’re paying for. They were also calm when I got there and (there is a manager in training as well) and did show me the parts (I will take them home and take pics & post here). I have no idea of knowing whether the parts were actually bad and needed replacing or what. He said that only rear differentials make noise when they’re about to go out, the front differential is inside the transmission and also called the “drive train”. When I asked if the gear ring & pinion just dropped in, to the tech - he said yes, then said no, and I said do you have special Subaru tools and he said no, we use the same tools on every car. I said that I’ve been told Subarus require some special tuning afetr it goes back together but I didn’t really get a clear story. The tech was not a native English speaker so I’m not sure he could fully comunicate back to me what he was trying to explain with the engine though. That was the impression I had. I asked the manager the same thing about it slipping in, and he didn’t give me a clear cut answer either but I certainly didn’t get any sense of confidence like “oh yea, Subarus require special this that or the other, and we’ve dealt with hundreds of them…” or something to that effect.

can you use non-Subaru tools on them?! I’ll post again when I get word on what’s wrong this time…The scraping sound happens in all gears, and definitely heightens in intensity while pushing the gas pedal. It seems to be related to driving, not idling. It doesn’t sound when sitting at a light.

I just got word from the dealer that they had forgotten a “bearing” or something like that. Doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the shop… but… what does that mean? Does that sound like something that would really make that sound?

I’ll say one thing. They’ve definitely shoveled a lot of BS your way and it certainly would not inspire a lot of confidence in what they’ve done; or not done.

It’s not a matter of special tools used after it’s together. Those special tools are used DURING the repair and while a few tools such as a dial indicator, etc. can be a generic tool, most of those tools are Subaru tools only. They can only be purchased, AFTER ordering them, from the Subaru dealer and they are expensive. I doubt very seriously they ordered the tools nor are they willing to pay for them.
It can be possible to perform a proper job without Subaru tools but let me put it this way. It will require much thinking, improvising, and require a lot of time to work your way around things and it’s going to take someone really in the know on this stuff; and I mean REALLY in the know.

The fact they simply dropped a ring and pinion gear into the trans case tells me this job is not to be trusted.
They’re also 110% dead wrong when they say “only the rear differential makes noise”. The front differential uses a ring/pinion gear just like the rear can be as noisy as the rear. In the majority of cases the front diff. is the problem.
When they use the term “drive train” this refers to everything propelling the car from the engine on back. This includes the tranaaxle (which houses the front diff.) driveshaft, rear differential, front and rear half-shafts, etc.

I don’t know which “bearing” they forgot, but if they forgot a bearing that grinding noise you’ve been hearing means that something important is being ruined. “Forgetting” a bearing means the entire job is shaky IMHO.
About all I could suggest, without having the transaxle in my hands, is to stay on top of this and if necessary, be prepared to file a small claim and head to court if need be. If push came to shove, maybe they would refund your money rather than show up for court.

(I would also advise not putting much faith into anything a management or desk person says unless they have a good history of actually repairing cars themselves. Most have no clue and choose to BS their way through things.)

The problem as I see it is…what basis would I have for small claims court UNLESS I spend another $500 to have another car shop look at it and give em a signed affidavit of what is wrong? What IS a bearing? How many are in the transmission? Are they large or small? Do you think that forgetting a bearing could ruin something if i just drove it a total of around 40-50 miles from leaving the shop, going home, and going back? This could also be just an excuse for screwing something else up major. It’s been in there 3 days now and I just called and they said that they haven’t gotten it from the Subaru shop.

Are you a mechanic? Do you work on Subarus?

PS would you be willing to email me off list wholtcamp @ Thanks!!!

I’ll mail you this evening and yes I’m a tech, but prefer the term Parts Replacer of Unequaled Magnitude. :slight_smile:
Yes, I worked for Subaru a number of years and I’ve also been into a lot of Subaru transmissions for what it’s worth.

Another monkey wrench: If they put in the wrong ratio ring & pinion set, the center clutch pack is going to get torn up in short order.

Good point. Here’s another one. In one of the OPs earlier posts the receipt stated they used an automatic transmission 4.44 ratio gear set. The OP has a manual transmission and if my booklet here is correct, the manual transmission car has a 4.11 gear set.
Imagine that; a 4.11 on one end and a 4.44 on the other. Think they may kiss both ends goodbye now?


In one of the OPs earlier posts the receipt stated they used an automatic transmission 4.44 ratio gear set. The OP has a manual transmission

That’s exactly what got me thinking about the ratios.

OK I have to pick the car up in a few hours. I’m bringing a recorder in, and will record the conversation but can you explain to me what exactly the gear ratio means? So it’s clear that either they charged me for the wrong part (automatic trans, 4.44 gear ratio) OR they put the wrong part in the car. Which tends to be more expensive - the manual or the automatic trans ring gear&pinion?

What is “OP”?

Does anyone know how to actually submit this to the Car Talk show? I am curious and would love to do so!

NYBo is correct of course and “OP” is simply short for “original poster”, which is you.

There is really not much difference at all in ring/pinion gear pricing on an automatic or manual transmission. The manual is a bit more labor intensive and to be honest; if a manual trans suffers a ring/pinion gear failure at a 150k miles on an 8 year old Subaru, the most cost effective thing to do is buy a salvage yard unit. An older trans with that many miles should be completely overhauled and that much money is hard to justify.

To help you get a clearer picture of what is going on I took a pic of a junk Subaru 5 speed manual transmission. Most of the guts are gone but you can see the ring gear (the large round one) and the pinion gear/shaft (the small gear and the shaft are one and the same). The small gear turns the large gear which in turn is what propels the axle shafts and makes the car move.

The gear ratio is easy to see. If your car is a 4.11 ratio this simply means that the small gear is turning 4.11 times for each single revolution of the larger ring gear.
Same thing carries over to any ratio. A 4.44 means the pinion gear turns 4.44 times for each turn of the ring gear.

You can see the problem if you have different ratios on each end of the car. They’re working against each other and this means they probably won’t work against each other all that long.
If you can, find out about this “forgotten” bearing. That is still very curious to me and I would like to know the story behind it.

Hope this 'splains (Okie vernacular):slight_smile: some of it and keep us informed.