Subaru turbo blowout -- second within 2,000 miles

2005 Subaru Outback 2.5xt. 4-cyl boxer with turbo. Purchased used May 2009, 52,000 miles. Driven to 59,800 miles without oil change.

At that point, in January 2010, CEL came on during the final 50 miles of a 250-mile drive. Turbo started emitting grinding/sandy noise shortly thereafter. Drove car final 45 miles into town; turbo effect appeared to have disappeared. Took to Chevy dealer (western Nebraska; no Subaru dealers/specialists within 300 miles), codes were p0021 and p0011.

Garage had new turbo unit shipped in ($1,095) and replaced damaged unit. Seals, gaskets, washers, hose replaced. Engine oil changed – but unknown if synthetic was used.

At 1,800 miles beyond the repair, the CEL came on again (as well as a blinking “cruise” indicator light – nothing in the manual explains that one). Within 20 miles, the turbo begins to exhibit exact same symptoms as previous breakdown: grinding/sandy noise accompanied by loss of turbo effect. Eventually the grinding noise ceased, followed by intense oil smell. Oil smell dissipated quickly; engine-oil light did not come on.

Got car home and parked within 30-40 miles of CEL light first coming on.

After sitting all night, engine oil shows a full reading on the dipstick. No obvious oil leak that I can see.

In both cases – the breakdowns at 59,800 miles and now at 61,600 miles – the cruise control had been used for long stretches prior to CEL/blinking cruise indicator.

Faulty replacement turbo? Insufficient oil changes? Something to do with cruise? Shoulda had the car hauled to a Subaru dealer? Just bad karma?

This is just a guess, but I would be pretty willing to bet that the previous owner did not change the oil every 3,500 miles, as is prescribed for the turbo engine. Also, synthetic may not have been used. If the engine is filled with sludge, when that gunk travels to the turbo it can kill that unit pretty fast.

Did you get the maintenance records from the previous owner?
That is very important with any car, but it is vital with a car that has a turbocharged engine and AWD.

No records, but also a clean carfax report. But even if the first owner failed to change oil at every 3,500 miles (yet turbo was running fine when car was purchased at 52K miles), and assuming synthetic was used for the oil change 1,800 miles ago, why would the second turbo fail after only 1,800 miles?

I’m learning an expensive lesson about how to care for turbos, at least!

Unfortunately, you were lulled by Carfax’s slick advertising to believe that it shows any and all problems with a car. More often than not, there is more information missing from a Carfax report than is included.

As to why the second turbo failed so soon, if (and that is the key word–IF) the engine is filled with sludge from prior bad maintenance, it is possible that the fresh oil with lots of detergent dislodged some of that crud and carried it to the turbo. Since that turbo spins at an incredible speed, it needs really good lubrication and a bit of crud blocking a minute passage could be enough to cause the turbo to self-destruct from lack of lubrication.

I would suggest that you do the following:

Locate a Subaru specialist, even if he is far from home.
Have everything listed for the 60k service performed by him, since you have no idea of what maintenance has ever been done on this car. Expect that this service will cost a few hundred $$.
Have that mechanic inspect the engine for evidence of sludging, and follow his advice for how to deal with it if it is present.
Spend some time reading both the Owner’s Manual and the separate maintenance booklet. The fact that you drove this car (with an unknown maintenance history) for 7,800 miles without changing the oil or doing other maintenance indicates that you need to become familiar with overall care of the car, in addition to the turbo.

I can’t say that I memorized the manual and service book. But I did read them upon purchasing the car, and having just reviewed them today, can report that the recommended oil-change interval is 7,500 miles, even for the turbo model. The service book that came with this car, new, has no special chapters or service-interval tables that are specific to turbos. The same maintenance schedule applies, as far as I can determine, to all variants of the 2005 Outback.

Subaru later revised the oil change schedule for their turbo-charged models, and reduced the maxium odometer mileage to 3,750 miles between oil changes. This revision was as a result of engine damage from engine sludging. A quick phone call to a Subaru dealer’s service department should yield the same information.

Yep. All turbo models are limited to 3750. It’s to cover the fringe. They have a fine screen in line for the turbo. When it clogs, good bye turbo. Personally I’d punch a few holes in the screen or eliminate it. 3750 is just way too often for a modern engine using the right oil and driven like a sane person (that doesn’t mean that you don’t “enjoy” the ride).

This is another application where I would use Auto-Rx. You could also have an eternity on Redline oils. The ester content will assure a clean engine with a very high tolerance for heat related deposit formation. Auto-Rx would be the cheaper alternative to cleaning it up and allowing the use of other synthetics. Others would surely work well too, but this is where my normal “throw caution to the wind” demeanor really runs out of steam.

I would manage a very reliable environment for a long turbo life …and I would not be doing 3750 oil changes. Not a chance unless I was in geezer mode. While I qualify as a geezer, I tend not to let a life time of mishap experiences dictate my behavior. With all the accidents that one can accumulate, to err on the side of caution typically means that you can’t do anything without body armor or padded walls …if you catch my drift.

I own the similar engine car 2005 Legacy GT (same turbo engine). In 2005 and part of 2006 they had a serious fault. They put a little screen(called banjo bolt) in the oil line going to the turbo(see here->>> ). It clogs and then the turbo is starved of oil and fails. It is a bit difficult to service and no interval was specified. This screen keeps clean with regular oil changes.

However Subaru really messed up and specified 7500 oil changes using dino oil back in 2005/2006. They back peddled and sent original owners for 2005/2006 a letter recommending using severe interval of 4 months/3750 miles. Thankfully I have alsways used this and no issues at 85k with my turbo Subaru. In 2007-present all turbo engines require 4 mo/3750 mile oil changes. They also removed this oil screen.

The reason your turbo failed the second time is the Subaru dealer likely did not change out the clogged banjo bolt screen starving the turbo of oil.

The major issue is if you decide to continue driving for longer period with a failed turbo is it will break apart introducing metal bits into the engine oil stream. These metal bits destroy the internals of your engine leading to full replacement or rebuild.

Have your car towed to dealer make sure beyond the turbo they replace the banjo bolt. Also have them drop the oil and see if metal bits introduced. The damage will be warrantied likely.

A good summary of the issue here with most relevant facts, remember this is a merchant trying to sell their product.

I’ve always thought that if your car had forced induction, then you’re better off with the old school 3000 mile oil change interval. Cheap insurance if you ask me. The $1100 the OP spent on a new turbo would covered plenty of oil changes.

“the Subaru dealer likely did not change out the clogged banjo bolt screen starving the turbo of oil.”

In this case, it was a Chevy dealership that likely did not remove the clogged banjo belt. However, I don’t think that it is valid to blame them for failing to do a procedure on an engine with which they are not familiar. For all we know, this could have been the very first turbocharged Subaru engine that they ever put a wrench to. As much as I like Subarus, they do require some specialized knowledge, and there is no way that I would allow any major work to be performed by someone not knowledgeable in Subaru-specific issues.

“The damage will be warrantied likely.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. Since this is yet another case of someone buying a used car without getting copies of all maintenance records, this engine could have been woefully under-maintained by the previous owner. Even the present owner drove the car for 7,800 miles after buying it without doing any maintenance. I hope that he/she lucks out with warranty coverage, but I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting Subaru to cover turbo damage when the revised oil change schedule was likely not adhered to by the previous owner and definitely wasn’t adhered to by the present owner.

The present owner can’t be faulted for not knowing about the revised oil change schedule that was sent to the previous owner, but once again, this illustrates the potential pitfalls of buying a used car–particularly one with a turbocharged engine.

If this were a Subaru dealer, the turbo repair(parts/labor) would be warrantied(1yr/12000 miles) irregardless of previous care of vehicle. Typically a Chevy dealer provides this warranty also for their own make.

The part most likely covered under warranty. The labor is the major question now and up to Chevy dealer.

The thing is that warranty will not pay for damage caused by someone else’s mistake if the second turbo failed due to any sludging problems.

As an example of how quick these things can go south, I had to replace a Subaru turbocharger under warranty that had not only gone bad but was absolutely Southern fried.
It even required the use of a cutting torch to remove some of the fasteners and this new car had approximately 500 miles on it.

This unit was replaced under warranty only because the car was still technically owned by Subaru of America and one of their employees caused the damage. Still amazing that someone could whale on one hard enough to destroy it in a shade over 400 miles.

Here’s an update, for the benefit (?) of anyone who might later encounter this problem.

I had the Subaru towed to a Subaru dealer. For the record, it was Heuberger Subaru in Colorado Springs, which is, IIRC, the No. 1 (by volume) Subaru dealer in the U.S. In the front seat was the summary of work done 1,800 miles earlier by the Chevy dealership in Nebraska.

It turns out that the Chevy dealer in Nebraska had, in fact, replaced the “banjo” fitting. The part number, the Subaru mechanic told me, was listed on the work summary provided to me by the Chevy mechanic.

Yet, the banjo fitting was clogged and thus, the turbo once again (as it had in Nebraska) found itself starved of oil, only 1,800 miles after the new turbo had been installed. How could this be? After all, the oil had been drained and replaced in Nebraska when turbo No. 2 was installed, replacing the fried original turbo.

What the Chevy mechanic had failed to do, however, was remove the oil pan and clean it out when the oil was changed. When the Subaru mechanic did this, he discovered various bits of debris in the pan – remainders from the turbo blowout in Nebraska. Some of that debris, he said, eventually got sucked up into the brand-new oil and eventually made its way to the brand-new banjo fitting.

The Subaru dealership claims it is SOP to remove and clean the oil pan whenever any turbo anywhere burns out, no matter what the make of the car. “Chevrolet makes turbos, too,” the service adviser told me.

So the Subaru mechanic installed turbo No. 3 on the car, and replaced the banjo fitting once again. He drained the oil and cleaned out both the pan and the oil-filter screen in the pan. A fresh batch of oil, with some kind of aggressive detergent, was poured into the engine. The car was started, and idled for a while, up on the lift. During this time, the CEL went out, and the computer ceased to emit any trouble codes.

Eventually, the car was lowered from the lift, and the mechanic drove it around for a good time. No more CEL. All seemed to operate normally.

Once back in the shop, the hot oil was drained immediately, the pan was inspected a second time, and fresh synthetic oil – this time with a consumer-grade additive – was placed in the engine.

Following the advice of VDCdriver below, I then had the Subaru shop perform a complete 60K-mile service on the car. After performing the service, the mechanic drove the car again for a lengthy road test, to see if the CEL would come back on, and to see if the same trouble code (which had to do with camshaft timing and might have persisted for reasons unrelated to the turbo problem) would return. It didn’t. At that point, the car was returned to me.

I suggested to the service adviser that I would bring the car back after 1,000 miles for yet another oil change, and she agreed that would be a very good idea.

Total bill: $3,100. But the service adviser knocked a few hundred off that total, being an understanding sort who also likely recognized a good opportunity to lock up a devoted customer. I was very pleased with the way Heuberger handled the whole repair sequence.

BTW, despite the lack of service paperwork on the car when I bought it, the Subaru mechanic said it appeared the car was in good shape and that it was unlikely that the original owner had skimped on oil changes during the first 52K miles of its life.

So, looking back, it appears likely that my driving the car for nearly 8K miles after I bought it brought on the failure of the original turbo. What also appears likely is that the Chevy dealer’s failure to clean out the oil pan when it replaced the original trubo brought on the failure of turbo No. 2, a mere 1,800 miles after it was installed. The Subaru work summary details this sequence of events extensively. My next step is to pursue a warranty claim with the Chevy dealership.

Thank you for reporting back to us, which is something that OP’s rarely do.

I am glad that things appear to have been resolved for you, albeit with a high price tag.
Hopefully, you have learned from this experience that 8k oil changes are not a good thing, and are sure to lead to big problems with turbocharged engines.

Please remember to adhere to the 3,750 mile oil change schedule from here on, and to use the correct specification oil. Since this specification may differ from what is listed in the Owner’s Manual, be sure to check this detail with the Service Manager next time it is in for service. This way, when you have the oil changed at other facilities, you can be sure that you have the right type of oil installed.

Happy motoring!

Interesting thread post. Thanks for the update and also to the other good posters on this issue. It sounds like you have found a good service shop and it is good to hear about that instead of the other version you normally hear about.

It seems a little odd to me that the oil filter didn’t catch the small bits that clogged the banjo filter the second time. I would think it should filter out smaller debris than the banjo filter can.

I can’t say as I buy all of this story without a good explanation of something.
How does debris in the oil pan (which can hurt nothing) not only make its way through the pickup screen (which stops all but the smallest pieces) but then through the oil filter, which removes the little stuff?

If one uses the argument that a clogged oil pickup screen is clogged enough to cause a turbo failure this means other parts of the engine which are dependent on oil pressure (crankshaft journals and bearings for one) will also suffer damage.

I can’t answer these questions specifically, but my understanding is that the problem was not that the oil pickup screen was clogged. The problem was that it was the opposite: It was letting stuff through. And the point of discovering debris in the oil pan isn’t that the debris in the pan was causing damage; the point is that if there is debris in the oil pan, some other related bits of debris could be up in the engine somewhere. That was the way the Subaru technician explained it to me.

Could any of that debris get past the oil pickup screen (the mechanic says yes) and past the engine oil filter (question neither asked nor answered)? I have no idea. But one wonders why a banjo fitting would be necessary at all if, as ok4450 says, the engine oil filter would take care of any little stuff that got by the oil pickup screen. That banjo thingy must have some reason to exist. Perhaps the real mechanics here could explain.

Anyway, an update: I took the car in for an oil change at about 1,100 miles following the turbo replacement as described above. The car had no problems during those 1,100 miles. Following that oil change, the car was driven about 800 miles in 3 days. No problems. So, it appears the car is back to normal, and is now on a 3,500-mile oil-change interval schedule.

One thing, though: I got home from the Subaru dealer following the 1,100-mile oil change, and noticed that the price for the service was pretty low. Ordinarily, that would be a good thing, but in this case I wondered if I had been supplied conventional oil instead of the more expensive synthetic. I called; they checked, and yep: they had installed conventional oil. I brought the car back in and, on the spot and at no charge, they dumped the conventional oil and replaced it with synthetic. Lesson: always specify the type of oil you need.

Synthetic is not necessary for Subaru turbo. However frequent(3000-4000 miles) and consitent oil changes are.

Banjo bolt can be removed.

My feeling is that this debris clogging the banjo did not come from the oil pan.
The engine was obviously sludged to some extent by the failure to perform regular enough oil changes.

This means that sludging exists throughout the engine; not just in the pan.
Odds are the banjo bolt was clogged by debris breaking loose from various oil galleys and passages between the oil filter and everything else, including the banjo.

As an analogy, think of a failed fuel pump due to a rusty fuel system. Change the fuel pump in the tank and the fuel filter and with a rusty tank and fuel lines what’s going to happen?
Even with the fuel tank cleaned (think of it as the oil pan) rust in the fuel lines (consider this the oil galleys) will break free with use and clog the new filter and possibly the fuel injectors.

But one wonders why a banjo fitting would be necessary at all if, as ok4450 says, the engine oil filter would take care of any little stuff that got by the oil pickup screen. That banjo thingy must have some reason to exist. Perhaps the real mechanics here could explain.

I can’t speak specifically about this particular engine but many engines use a pressure bypass on the oil filter. The oil pump is driven mechanically off the engine and so the pressure developed is proportional to engine speed. The oil filter cannot take the full pressure developed at higher engine rpms. Therefore, a bypass valve is designed to open up and let the rest of the oil bypass the filter. Only at idle is most of the oil going through the particulate filter. As the engine is taken above idle speeds, the bypass opens and more and more of the oil circumvents the filter media.

The banjo filter is in place to screen 100% of the oil going to the turbo and likely the turbo is even more sensitive to smaller debris than the rest of the engine receiving lubrication. Also, as mentioned, sludge can develop and break loose after the filter and clog the turbo.