Timing Belt replacement issues!

I brought my 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback in for repair in the early fall as the timing belt desperately needed to be replaced. Once the mechanic opened the car it was evident that other repairs were needed, all of which we did and finally the car was running nicely again!

Since replacing the timing belt in the fall, I’ve driven the car for probably a total of 10 hours- one trip from Manhattan to Annapolis, which was four hours there and back, an one trip upstate which was about 2 hours there and back, plus incidental trips around Manhattan and Brooklyn. The other morning (after that drive upstate)the car just wouldn’t start. I had it towed back to the mechanic who said that the hydraulic timing tensioner went and the timing belt would have to be replaced all over again AND that he couldn’t guarantee that the engine wasn’t shot. He said, “it’s the tensioner, totally rotted through, it hasn’t been touched in years”.

My question is, shouldn’t the tensioner have been replaced along with the new timing belt in the first place and wouldn’t he have seen the tensioner in the process of replacing the belt? He charged me for a full timing belt kit. So…what kind of responsibility does the mechanic need to take here? FYI, this mechanic (“Repairs on Wheels”) has ONLY 5 start reviews on Yelp…and a lot of them.


The cheaper belt kits apparently do not include the hydraulic tensioner. Apparently your mechanic installed the cheaper kit and didn’t go the extra mile to replace the hydraulic tensioner.

It’s a gray area. Some mechanics don’t replace tensioners like this because they don’t want to be accused of installing unneeded parts and to keep their prices down. In retrospect, obviously he should have replaced it, but probably he eyeballed it, said to himself “looks ok,” and moved on. On the other hand, now saying the tensioner is “totally rotted through” is rather a self-incriminating statement.

Not much you can do, IMO, but try to get as much sympathy/goodwill repair out of him as you can.

I’ve Replaced My Own Timing Belts (Non-Subaru) And I’ve Always Replaced The Tensioner And Any Idler Pulleys In Conjunction With The T-Belt. Since Timing Belt Engines Usually Drive The Water Pump With That Belt, I Replace The Pump In Those Situations, Too.

I believe if you go onto the Gates Automotive Belts website, you’ll see that they market kits that contain T-belt, tensioners, pulleys, etcetera.

Proving the mechanic was negligent could be difficult, but he/she should have brought the belt accessory items to your attention with an estimate for replacing them at the same time and let you decide if it was worth the gamble to not replace them.


I agree with CSA. The mechanic should have given you the option of replacing the tensioner. It would then have been on you whether or not to take the risk, rather than the mechanic forcing the risk upon you. This is especially true when you’re talking about interference engines like yours in which a broken belt means quite a bit more more than just irritation and inconvenience.

The mechanic should have replaced the tensioner as part of a full kit and especially so on an aged car.

From the comment about the engine being shot does this mean the belt he replaced has jumped or broken? If so, that can cause engine damage as this is an interference fit motor.

I might add that one thing you do not want to do is pay this guy to install a new kit and then give you the news that the engine is damaged. That can be easily determined without replacement of anything. and running up a bill.

On my previous car (an Acura MDX), the manual didn’t specifically call for replacing the tensioner with the timing belt. My dealership gave me the option of replacing it, saying that some people did and some people didn’t (which matched the information I saw on the MDX message board that I followed). I chose to replace it to be safe. I’d say a good mechanic should present both options to you with prices.

I just pulled out my bill from the original repair in October and guess what… $150 charge for “Timing Belt Tensioner”! The plot thickens. He said, “that’s the belt tensioner, not the hydraulic tensioner”… malarky, right? From what I can tell, these cars have only the hydraulic timing tensioner. Subaru confirmed this for me. I remember at the time of the repair talking at length about what was really necessary and I knew he was doing a replacement “kit” as he said that was really the only way to do it right. But yeah, now today he says the thing was rotted through, hadn’t been touched in years, etc… He’s getting back to me tomorrow with a “solution”, so we’ll see!

Thanks OK4450! He did imply that he wouldn’t know if the engine was damaged until the repair had been done!

Basically what he’s saying is that the tensioner snapped and the whole “kit” has to be replaced, but that the snap could have resulted in engine damage. The car was parked whenever this happened, just didn’t start the next morning, so I’m hoping the engine is okay. I think he is too. When I dropped it off he said, “well, I’m hoping it’s not the timing belt, cause that means we didn’t put it in right or something.” I said, “Well, that would be better news for me than for you cause I really don’t want to sink more money in this car”.

With that tidbit, your mechanic is either an idiot and doesn’t know what the tensioner is, or he’s a crook and he’s trying to tell you that your car has two and he replaced one of them, which is not true.

Unless I’m mistaken the Hydraulic tensioner is for the timing belt and at $150 that’s about what the cost would be with his mark up.

The kit with the tensioner, all the idler pulleys, and water pump runs about $350-$400

Because you supposedly paid extra for the tensioner , I’d wonder what came with the kit that he installed.


good you kept the receipt. Also the receipt should have the mileage on the car along with the date the repair was done. I think you have a case that the mechanic needs to redo this job and if the motor is “shot” it is his responsibility to replace the motor. This all may take a lawyer to sort out.

@jujubes I say this as a mechanic and as a Subaru mechanic, oftentimes I’m hesitant to dump on a mechanic out of the very common situation that occurs in which a detail or two is missing which could swing a story the other way. However, this one stinks to heaven. I think you have been shortcutted and are in the process of having the blame dumped on your lap.

A DIYer can shortcut a repair or omit something. A professional for hire should do the job right and in the case of a timing belt job that means belt, tensioner pulleys, hydraulic tensioners, and water pump. This is the kit your car should have gotten.

The fact that this guy says he has to replace the belt to determine engine damage tells me he has no clue because that premise is simply not correct. There are a number of easy ways to determine if the engine is damaged without replacing one single part. Sorry if I’m going off on a rant here but this guy sounds like a moron.

Some food for thought. Maybe this guy hammered you for 150 bucks for a tensioner to pad the ticket a bit and never actually replaced it on the assumption that it would be good forever on a gamble. He lost the gamble and expects you to cover the losses.

Offhand, I might suggest getting that car out of his hands and into the hands of someone else. It would be interesting to see if that failed tensioner is the original to the car and has never been replaced.
If the belt has jumped or broken the engine top end likely has damage and in extreme cases the engine lower end can be damaged also.
At best it sounds like incompetence; at worst, something crooked.
You might keep us up to date as this could get a bit messy.

The experts here usually recommend to replace the tensioner & water pump as part of a timing belt job. But I wouldn’t say it is mandatory. I’m no expert, just a driveway diy’er and when I replaced the timing belt in my Corolla, I visually inspected the tensioner, looked ok to me, so I didn’t replace it. I didn’t replace the water pump either. Neither shortcut has caused any problems for me. You could perhaps argue the mechanic should have given you the opportunity to replace the tensioner, but I don’t think he’s obligated to do so. He may have interpreted your questions about the price of the job that you were looking to get it done as inexpensive as possible. And in most cases not replacing the tensioner doesn’t result in this problem. I expect you got some bad luck is all OP.

WOW! Thank you so much for your help everybody!!

Luck has nothing to do with what happened to this engine.

I agree with ok4450. If we’re getting the full story here, this all seems shady.

I’d Even Go Another Step…

At this point, I’d find out what “kit” was used. Was it a kit put together by the mechanic? Was it a kit supplied by a parts vendor? Who was the manufacturer and supplier? I’d want to see part numbers and descriptions of this “kit.” I’d delve into information about these items or kit on my own.

I’d be sure I wasn’t being charged for a tensioner that was included in a kit I paid for, especially if the tensioner wasn’t even installed.

Once bitten, twice shy!


@ok4450 & @“common sense answer” - your insight is so helpful. These are things I felt intuitively but just didn’t have the knowledge to back up or articulate. After looking at a million images on line of what these parts look like, I have half a mind to go to the shop and see for myself exactly what he put in my car. @“common sense answer”, I’m definitely going to find out what kind of “kit” he bought (or more likely put together himself!) and what exactly became of this infamous tensioner I paid for.

What baffles me is that this shop has amazing Yelp reviews and really seems to care about keeping his reputation solid. I think the guy realized his mistake which is why he got off the phone quickly and said he’d call me back- probably needs to hash it out with his partners. I was thinking to look through reviews and see if they relate more to one kind of repair than another- maybe they are just really good at rotating tires or something but really bad at major repairs, or really bad with Subarus.

My plan is to press him to do the repair properly at no charge (since I basically already paid for it!), then to take the car elsewhere for an evaluation of damage. I’m really hoping this snafu didn’t hurt my engine because I don’t want to get into a battle with this guy! @ok4450 - I’ll be sure to note your advice on what kind of damage to look out for!

Man, I just can’t thank you guys enough for your guidance! Will definitely keep you updated!

I Don’t Know New York Laws Regarding Repair Shops/Licensing, But In My State It’s Regulated By The Secretary Of State Office (Department Of Motor Vehicles). Specific Estimates Must Be Given And Approved, Mechanic Certification Identification Must Appear On Repair Orders, Complaints And Arbitration Are Addressed By The SOS, Etcetera.

Looks like this shop also does State Inspections (We don’t have that in my state). Anyhow, if you think you’re going to have a problem with this at all, I’d visit the website in your state that regulates mechanics/shops and read a bit about it. Should this come up in a conversation it could give you a bit more leverage.

Hope you won’t have to go to any trouble, though. Hopefully, this is all an honest mistake or something being overlooked by accident and the shop will make things right to your satisfaction.


Good reviews and being a state inspection station doesn’t always translate into a competent or honest repair. The fact that these guys say the belt job has to be redone in order to determine engine damage speaks volumes to me about their competency.

There was a local guy here (now deceased) whom I worked with at a Subaru dealer years and years ago. He had a nice place outside of town with multiple buildings, etc and became self-employed. He was very successful, stayed swamped in work with a lot of it being done by his son. He owned 2 tow trucks including a flat bed and everyone for miles around knew him, patronized his operation, and liked him.

I can tell you for a 100% fact that there was more crookedness, incompetency, and downright butchery going on at his place with cars than anywhere I’ve ever seen or heard of.
In all seriousness, a medium thick tome of just highlights could have been written about that operation.

No internet complaints, no lawsuits, no BBB complaints; he would screw someone over intentionally or inadvertently and most victims would even return for more. This starts getting into pyschoanalysis territory at this point… :blush: