October 17

Subaru Reliability Update

Subaru

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Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Remarkable Speaking. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, and we're talking cars. And today we're gonna talk about the reliability and the changes in the modern Subarus compared to the old ones. How you doing, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So how reliable are Subarus today?

Bernie: I think they're really reliable. I'd say they're definitely one of the better cars on the market for reliability, and they've improved at least from what I can see over the years, they keep improving and they're certainly not bulletproof, but they're definitely an excellent car.

Mark: So, I know in the past we've done podcasts about head gaskets, about timing chains or timing belts having to be changed on a very regular basis to avoid catastrophic issues. Is that still an issue with the latest Subarus? 

Bernie: No timing belts are a thing in the past. At least with any model I can think, no, actually WRX's I believe still have timing belts. Maybe not the very newest models, but they use timing belts in the WRX engine for quite a while. I will say that actually the timing belts while they can cause catastrophic damage, they don't need to be replaced very often.

The factory intervals about 168,000 kilometres. Can't remember what that is in miles, but that is a pretty long amount of time to be driving a car for most people before you need to change the belt. And normally when we change 'em at that amount, the belt still looks in good shape.

I'm not saying you should go any longer, but if you did, it does have a nice bit of a buffer built into it. And if we go way back to Subaru's like the 1.8 litre engine that had the two timing belts, absolute piece of garbage. I owned one of those cars. The timing belts would often break at 50,000 kilometres. I mean, they were recommended at 96 and almost no car ever even made it to 96 before the belt broke. 

There's two belts. One of 'em, for some reason, the long one would just break. Horrible design. Really crappy. The good news is it was not an interference fit engine, so your car would just die on the road and you have to have it towed in and you wouldn't have to replace the engine. But 2.5 litre engines if they break, the pistons and valves will collide and cause damage. 

So that has been pretty much eliminated except for the WRX and any model, and if that's almost like almost all models, they now use a timing chain in the four cylinder engines, which they used in the sixes. And it's a much more reliable design. I mean, unless you abuse it and don't change your oil, you'll probably get, you know, two to 300,000 kilometres easily outta the engine without any repairs. 

Mark: And Subarus are a horizontally opposed engine rather than a straight four or a V or VR or whatever. 

Bernie: Yeah. They've used that design throughout and interestingly enough, I was actually at an aircraft museum in Arizona and they actually had, on a stand, they had a Subaru six cylinder engine. The same type as my 2001 H6 model. And the American military actually used it in some kind of it's not a drone, but it's like a, a drone piloted helicopter or something like that, where they had like a big huge turbo charger on it. I thought, this is so cool seeing a Subaru car engine adapted for a helicopter use. So I thought that's pretty cool. That says a lot about that engine that they would actually use that. Now this is the timing chain modelled engine. But we're going back a little.

Mark: And the head gasket issue, has that been solved as well? 

Bernie: I would say so. I mean, we have not done a head gasket replacement on one of the timing chain four cylinder Subarus yet. And the six cylinders, they lasted a very long time, but eventually the head gaskets would leak and it's a very expensive job. On the four cylinders it's a guarantee, like on a timing belted 2.5, litre four cylinder Subaru, you will replace the head gaskets, whether that's at a hundred thousand kilometres or 200, they will start leaking oil. Sometimes they'll leak coolant. But we have not seen one yet on the timing chain modelled four cylinder. So that's a positive note. 

Mark: So one thing I've read and heard and we've talked about previously, is that even the new ones seem to use a lot of oil. They burn more oil. What's causing that?

Bernie: Well, I believe that it's probably from some low tension piston rings that, of course in any engine, the more internal combustion engine, the less friction you have, the more power you have, to better fuel economy and better efficiency. So I believe they use like a very low tension piston ring design.

And of course that can cause oil to seep past the rings. I'm not a hundred percent sure that's the cause of this, but I'd say pretty likely. So this has been a problem with these engines, not all years, but I certainly when they, and we're talking about the 2.5 litre four cylinder with the timing chain model.

This is when these problems happen. And most of the complaints are in the earlier generation, so, 2012, 13, 14, 15, somewhere around that area. Now, again, I'm not a hundred percent sure in all those years, but those are, those are kind of where a lot of the issues lie. And like really excessive oil consumption.

A lot of it you know, is replaced by warranty. Subaru would just replace an engine. But this is just sort of one thing that I'm a little reluctant when people say, Hey, should I buy a used Subaru? You know what, How reliable are they? The question I'm off often thinking is, Well the only issue you might run into is it might be an oil burner and you won't really know it until you actually own the car.

So that's really the only bad thing I've heard about these engines. I mean, if you have to add a litre of oil every thousand kilometres, I mean, it's a bit of a pain, but it's not really that bad of a thing. But, you know, it's just something you have to keep on top of. But of course, it'd be preferable not to have to.

Mark: It was pretty normal for all vehicles back in the sixties, realistically. 

Bernie: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But we've moved, we've moved on from the sixties and... back in the dinosaur days. Yeah, back in the olden days. And, you know it's amazing that engines even ran back then. When I think about how the technology's changed. That's for another podcast. 

Mark: So what else has kind of evolved into a better version of itself in the suspension? The steering, the brakes, what else? 

Bernie: Okay. Well brakes excellent question. So brakes pretty much seem to be the same consistency all the way through. If you're going from like, let's just talk some like 2000 up to 2022, the brakes for the most part are pretty much the same technology, no problem. Subaru brakes have been pretty good. I mean, one complaint I do have on my 2001 Outback H6 is I used to warp brake rotors all the time, and I'm not really a hard braker, but it seemed like the moment, I'd have to make a hard stop somewhere the rotors would warp. 

I can't remember how many years I owned that car for a long time. I replaced the rotors probably at least on an annual basis, if not more. Very frustrating. But other than that, I mean, that's the only complaint I have personally about the brakes. Other than that, they're pretty decent quality all the way through.

Suspensions have changed. And I'll just talk about the Outback, the 2001 Outback had very robust lower control arm bushings in the front, and then they went to the newer design, which I think is around 05. They put a much cheaper design bushing in, and they wore out a lot quicker. And then I noticed you know, when you look at like a 2012 or 13 and newer, they went back to much more robust design.

So I think the actual suspensions are tougher on the newer ones. You know, getting into the past sort of decade, the suspensions, I think are better built. 

Mark: Which is a good thing. I remember we did a podcast about those bushing. 

Bernie: We did. And you know, the thing about the car is, it's meant to be a semi off road, you know, it's not an off road truck. But it's a kind of car where a lot of people buy these, they wanna drive on the highway, they wanna go through the snow. They wanna drive down a logging road or something, like a gravel road and go somewhere and it's a perfect car for it. 

Some of the cars are lower, but when you get the Outbacks and those kinda things, that's what people use 'em for. So you want it to be built properly. So I think they've done that as they've improved it. 

Mark: What else has evolved that you've noticed? 

Bernie: Transmissions have changed. So a lot of 'em have gone for CVT, which is a continuously variable automatic transmission. I don't really like that style of transmission. I mean, there are good reasons to use it from an emissions and fuel economy points of view. But there've been a lot of problems with those transmissions in many models of vehicles. For some weird reason, very easy to rebuild. We don't do the transmissions in house here. But when you have a problem with a CVT transmission, it usually ends up being a nightmare to fix or replace. It insanely expensive. For something that has very few moving parts, I would think that that should be a really cheap thing to fix, but for some reason that's not. 

Now the good thing about Subarus is they don't seem to be too problematic. Nissan you know, was kind of an early adopter of CVTs and they had a huge number of problems and they extended their warranties from, I think it was like originally five years to 10 for most models. I think they spent a lot of money fixing up their bad CVTs. 

But Subarus seem to be pretty good so far. And overall, I mean, Subaru transmissions have been really good. Like their regular automatics have been, you know, for going back like even three decades have been bulletproof, reliable. The standards are again no problem. The four wheel drive system seems to work, you know, with very few problems. So overall, you know, hopefully the CVTs, so far they seem to be pretty good. 

Mark: And a CVT is basically a non shifting automatic transmission. You just press on the gas, press on the brake. That's all you have to do. 

Bernie: Yeah, there's a manual shifting option. But it doesn't have the gear, like a traditional transmission has planetary gears and clutches and bands and that lock the different gears together for different speeds. So CVT doesn't have that. A lot of times they'll have like conical drums with bands that move back and forth. So it's not like first, second, and third gear. You have like an infinite number of gears anywhere in between. And so from a perspective of tuning a vehicle, drive train, it's much better really than a transmission because you've got that infinite variability where you can have the throttle open to this amount and the transmission and this gear and you know you can change it.

Whereas with the multiple speed transmission, you're kind of locked. Although many cars will have like an eight speed transmission nowadays, or some even have tens. It's kind of crazy. Just, you know, a 10 speed is almost infinitely variable, but you know, it still has to make those notchy shifts.

Mark: Right. Anything else that's upgraded on Subarus over the years. 

Bernie: You know, those are kind of the things I think of most of all. I mean, the quality of the build is good. And I still think they're an excellent, very reliable car. I would say about the engine, know the timing, we were saying about the head gasket's not leaking. I mean, should you have one that leaks on a newer design, 2.5, it will be much more expensive job to fix than the old ones. The ones we have traditionally done. So the key, good maintenance, change your oil regularly and your fluids. Get the vehicle inspected. Just keep up with your maintenance and change the oil. It's probably the best thing you can do, you know, especially the engines are now more complex than they used to be. So when you have a timing chain, all those components require good lubrication.

Mark: If you need service for your Subaru, or you're thinking of buying a used Subaru and you want to check it out prior to purchase, they do inspections ahead of time. Pre-purchase inspections of all makes and models at Pawlik Automotive. So you can take advantage of that. You need to book ahead at pawlikautomotive.com or you can give them a call at (604) 327-7112. They'll talk it over with you and find out what you're thinking. Thank you so much for watching and listening. We really appreciate it and thank you, Bernie. 

Bernie: And thank you, Mark, and thank you for watching.

Pawlik Automotive
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Mark Bossert

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