Subaru Turbo and Short Block $6,000?

Returning to Upstate NY from a T’giving visit in Boston, my turbo bit the bullet on the Mass pike around Worcester. Just prior to losing it, I smelled what seemed like plastic burning, but thought it was coming from the old van in front of me.

Next I started hearing a whirring sound and felt the loss in power.

I limped to the Subaru dealer just outside of Worcester where they told me that the repair would cost ~$6,000 … the quote included ~$4,000 in parts, 16 hours of labor and some cushion for incidentals.

The parts list included a short block for $2,100 and the turbo itself for $1,100.

I guess my main question is … why would they need to replace the short block? The engine seemed to be running ok (except for the turbo) and there were no check engine lights on at any time.

BTW, this is a 2005 with ~86,000 miles. Regular oil changes at ~3,500 miles. Ok, I probably slipped a couple times, but I certainly did not ignore the oil changes. And, I’m not sure what sort of oil was used, which probably means that it was not synthetic (saw that on another thread).

You would be better off asking that question to the shop folks. It sounds like there may have been oil pressure problem and perhaps the engine was damaged also.

I’m not sure of the particular setup on this car but I have heard of turbos failing in such a way resulting in the engine ingesting internal pieces of the turbo which could result in severe engine damage. The dealer should be able to explain to you why they’re saying the short block needs to be replaced.

You need to post this on a Subaru forum, you might get additional insight there. But I agree, you need to get the full story from the mechanic.

Yeah, I was so shocked by the estimate that I failed to get much detail. I’ll call in on Monday morning. Also, I’m not very savvy re:auto mechanics.

I think there is a very fine oil filter for the turbo unit and it may have become clogged, which will restrict the needed oil lubrication for the turbo unit. The estimate you got really isn’t out of line in my opinion if all the items mentioned really do need to be replaced. I can understand your shock though.

Sorry for your trouble. When you get the car back together you should use full synthetic oil on any car with a turbo charger, and get the oil changed every 5K miles at least with a turbo.

It is very possible this turbo failed due to poor quality oil. Turbo’s run hot and synthetic oil doesn’t break down due to the stress of the high operating temps of the turbo. Cheap conventional oil can break down, then the turbo isn’t getting proper lubrication and the bearing gives out, and the turbo flys apart. A turbo spins at something like 20,000 rpm and is driven by hot exhaust flowing through it. It is not an easy enviornment to live a long life without full synthetic oil.

A few comments. You change the oil at 3500 mile intervals but you did not state how often, if ever, you raise the hood and check the oil level.

Prior to losing it you smelled something and kept going.
Next you heard a noise, felt the power loss, and kept going, or limped as you put it. In the next to last paragraph you refer to it running ok except for the turbo and this does not come across as limping.

The original problem may not have been serious. Continuing on may be the root cause of the turbocharger and engine failure.

Thanks for the lecture. Overall, your post was completely useless. I wonder if you thought otherwise when you posted it? Take another look and see if you think so.

Limping may have been too strong of a word. I was able to go along at highway speeds, but was subjected to the whirring noise.

Once I heard the whirring, as quickly as I could, I safely got off the highway and into a rest area to assess options. Called Subaru and they recommended that we bring it in.

BTW, checked my repair records and found that Ron has been filling it with synthetic oil …

I’m not trying to be combative or offend you at all here; just trying to figure out what’s going on with your vehicle.

What I posed was to glean something about whether you check the oil level regularly or not.
So. Do you check the oil every few weeks as you should?
Have you checked the oil level during this episode; or has the dealer done this, found the oil low or nil, and this is the reason for the short block?

My comment about motoring on when there is a known problem is simply to let you know that many very minor and inexpensive fixes turn into godawful expensive ones if ignored; even for 5 minutes.
This is a very common thing to occur and motoring on after the fact is what does an engine in, not the original fault which caused the problem.

You made it into a rest area and the dealer says bring the car in. This brings up a point.
Did you drive it to the dealer or have it towed?

We still don’t know why the turbo failed, but the type of oil wasn’t the issue. Perhaps the oil level was low? Turbo’s don’t last forever but this one seems to have failed pre-maturely and as yet no reason to explain why.

ok, talked to the service rep at Subaru this morning.

They told me that 90% of the time they see metal in the oil pan and therefore replace the short block. Subaru would not warrant the repair on the turbo unless they also replace the short block (so I am now going to pay $2,000+ so that Subaru can provide warranty?).

I probed this a little based on my reading in this forum and asked the service rep more about the metal shavings they were worried about. In particular, I commented that I thought there were filters between the oil pan and the turbo that would catch any filings. They said “no” … which hopefully says more about the knowledge of the service rep than the dealership as a whole.

They did not drop the oil pan. They did not check compression. Nothing else. Rationale was that they just wanted to give me the worse case.

When I first brought it in, they said that the oil was fine, both in level and in quality. But, no, I do not check the oil every 2 weeks. Given their comment, I wouldn’t think that was the problem however.

I drove the vehicle to the dealer from the rest stop. As I said, I’m not particularly savvy on these things … Subaru didn’t instruct otherwise … to me, it sounded like it could have been a fan belt slipping.

Sorry about my response … this has really got me pissed off.

Contact Subaru of America directly. This is a common repair for 2005 and some of 2006 Legacy/Outback turbo due to a poor design of a filter screen in the oil lines. They revised the turbo setup a bit sometime in 2006. The worst part is a turbo failure if continued operation drops metal into the pan and wrecks the bottom end.

Subaru of America may cover part or all of the repair if you can turn up a service history for the vehicle.

I own the same vehicle(2005 Legacy turbo wagon) and love it. I have 100k miles and no issues but regular 3k-4k dino oil changes. I will check the oil filter screen soon which is not easy.

Based on what you’ve related so far I fail to see why the entire engine should be replaced, metal shavings or no. The oil level is fine so there should not be a problem in the engine itself.

Assume for the sake of argument that some metal shavings from the turbocharger did wind up in the oil pan. So what. That’s what an oil filter is for; to weed out particulants and in this case, debris. Anything in that pan is going to go through the filter before it goes anywhere else.

If it were me I’d just change the oil/filter, run it a little while, and then repeat the oil/filter change.
Take this for what it’s worth, but I’m an ex-Subaru Master Tech and have changed a number of turbochargers over the years. I’ve never seen an engine failure due to a failed turbo unit and would certainly never recommend a new engine based on what you’e stated.
Keep in mind that at the dealer you’re conversing most of the time with service writers. Very very few of these people have much mechanical ability and often relate erroneous information simply because they’re uniformed and do not wish to appear that way.
Hope some of this helps anyway.

A bad turbo does not mean a bad block. They can run a compression test and tell it the block is good. I would replace the turbo if the compression is good.

Loaded my car on a rented u-haul car carrier last weekend and hauled it home from Worcester. A 750 mile day-trip, the first and last 100 miles in snow. Fortunately I had the benefit of using a friends 6-month old Expedition. Aside from guzzling gas, a great ride.

My mechanic is just about done. Found just a little bit of fine metal in the oil pan. He’s replacing the turbo, but not the short block. Will run it a bit, change the oil, rinse, repeat. Should get it back tomorrow morning. Not sure what the final damage will be, but expect it to be a whole lot less than $6k.

My wife is encouraging me to get rid of the car as soon as I get it back … what to do, what to do. I had been pondering a new car before this event, so maybe there’s a message in this …

If you like the car, I don’t see any reason not to keep it. I doubt the engine is toast from this, but your mechanic can answer that better. I’d consider having him put a mechanical gauge on it and checking the oil pressure when hot after the repair, just to make sure it still has good oil pressure, and also changing the oil again after 500 miles just to get any residual debris out. The filter should catch it, but it’s fairly cheap for peace of mind.

I’m in agreement with oblivion. The car should be fine for a long time, assuming the timing belt job is not forgotten.