TTAC Commentator theduke writes:
I bought a 2003 Subaru Legacy SE sedan a little while back for my girlfriend. It has the “Phase 2” EJ25 SOHC motor. Living in Michigan the AWD is nice, and it was a one owner car with documented service history and I got a good price. The car has 105,000 miles on it, and the previous owner had the head gaskets and timing belts replaced about 10k miles ago by the Subaru dealer.
I have no complaints other than the car really ticks on cold start, and does so until it warms up when it the sound goes away. The car doesn’t seem to burn any oil. Based on what I’ve seen online (youtube video and forums) this vintage Subaru is notorious for piston slap and its supposedly nothing to worry about, although Subaru apparently will replace the two noisy pistons for persistent customers. At this point the car was cheap and runs well and I have no desire to tear it down just to replace pistons, but want to know its reliable for my girlfriend. So what are your thoughts on Subaru piston slap: ticking boxer bomb, or nature of the flat-four beast?
Your letter reminds me why I have a love-hate relationship with Subies. Some are quirky, illegally fun, loyal friends while others, uh, eat head gaskets, have piston slap and make the underhood’s labor intensive real estate borderline unbearable. There’s a reason why Toyota owns Subaru and not the other way around.
But let’s be clear on one thing: piston slap is just a terrible annoyance, not a serious concern for any automobile owner. It’s much like the TTAC column of the same name, son.
Now this website does a fair job assessing the situation. Piston slap is an unfortunate by-product of a manufacturer that picked the wrong piston rings for a particular motor. Your reseach is valid, you have very little to worry about. It will suck on re-sale, if you sell it on your own to an unsympathetic buying public on craigslist. But keep up with the maintenance, don’t thrash it and I predict it will last for another 50-100,000 miles. If that’s what you really want.
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