Piston Slap: Save Me From My WRX!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap save me from my wrx

TTAC Commentator PG writes:

Sajeev, my 2008 Subaru WRX is like a hot girl with a coke problem – lots of fun, but I can’t keep up. Now a few months back, Piston Slap gave me some great advice on my parents’ BMW X5. They haven’t unloaded it yet, but I think they will soon. Thanks again! Now, I was wondering if you and the Best and Brightest could help me out.

So save me from my WRX! Last year, I bought a rally-blue WRX sedan from a car lot. The lot was definitely a little shadier than your standard Carmax dealership, but the dealer gave me a good deal on the car, though a Subaru tech told me it had once been wrecked and repaired. Subaru was kind enough to replace the clutch for me when it failed not long after I got the car.

The car is fast, handles well and is a lot of fun to drive – when it works. Since buying it with 30,000 miles on the clock, I’ve had lots of expensive maintenance, including the replaced clutch, a busted brake light sensor (which is about to go bad again), a transmission that pops out of fifth gear on the highway, something that causes it to stall at low RPMs on cold days (Subaru never figured that one out), and now, a busted rod inside the clutch pedal assembly that’s gonna put me out a few hundred dollars. There’s more, I just can’t think of it at the top of my head.

I feel like I’m paying a lot in constant repairs for a relatively new car – it only has 65,000 miles on it now (I have to drive a lot for work.) I’m starting to regret my purchase and I dread what will go wrong next.

So, I’m thinking of getting rid of the ‘Rex and getting into something else. The car as it is now is worth more than I owe on the loan, so I should be able to get out of that easily enough. I’d like to replace it with something that’s fun to drive, though not necessarily as fast, but is much more reliable. I’m shooting for $16,000 or less if at all possible.

I’m thinking of trying to track down a Toyota MR-Spyder, hopefully an 04 or 05 with low mileage. I love the looks and that it’s mid-engined. I owned a Corolla for nine years and it was bulletproof reliable. Any word on whether it would be similarly dependable? Failing that, I’m maybe considering an S2000, though a decent used one may be out of my price range. I might consider a 350Z, but I’ve driven a few and I’ve never been too impressed.

Sajeev answers:

Keep in mind that I’m saying this with Love, pure and simple. But let me get this straight: your parents bought a used X5 (from Carmax) and you got a WRX that was an unknown quantity until after the purchase? Do you see your habit of buying the absolute worst representations of these respective brands, from the wrong places? The X5 was (is?) cursed with numerous problems (just ask a BMW Tech) and a ragged-out WRX is wrong on so many levels: a trip to NASIOC (LINK: http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/) was all you needed to avoid that mistake.

So now you want a used MR-Spyder? It’s time for wake up call that redefines fun: a car gives you the giggles without burning through money, getting you stranded/fired, etc. The odds of finding a clean little MR-droptop that hasn’t been abused isn’t super likely. More to the point, I recall the MR was plagued with exhaust catalyst bits entering the combustion chamber, subsequent engine failure shortly after. (FWIW, it happened to a former co-worker of mine, I have witnesses.)

Yes, you need a better car. No, you are not looking in the right direction. Get a new-ish Civic Si from a reputable source and do a lot of research on the tuner forums. Ditto a Mustang GT, Cobalt SS, MazdaSpeed 3 or 6, or any other (somewhat) durable, commonplace vehicle with a performance slant that’s not necessarily owned (cough, WRX) by the thrashing type.

My advice? Twofold: a Miata if you don’t mind the lack of power, or a C5 Corvette if you want to go the fastest for Honda levels of capital expenditures. Quite honestly, the C5 gets better with age, which is certainly a departure from your family’s current selection of cars.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Join the conversation
3 of 96 comments
  • Vilespankmachine Vilespankmachine on Dec 30, 2010

    For that budget, buy a better WRX, since you like it. If you are driving that much, maybe you should move closer to work. I have personally arranged this for myself beginning next week (I actually moved work closer to me though). I will cut my 30-35 min commute to 5 minutes each way. Times 5 days a week. Times 52 weeks a year. 260 hours a year I wasn't being paid for I get back, plus gas and depreciation, and sanity. That is SIX AND A HALF WEEKS. A MONTH AND A HALF OF WORK. I don't know about you, but I sure don't like not being paid for that time. If that is not possible you should get something that eats mileage and time and costs next to nothing. GM W-Body with the supercharged 3800 (or regular). Suspension needs replaced at 100kish. Parts are cheap, do it yourself ($800ish). Beware the rusted models. Supercharged and regular models need revised intake gaskets installed to prevent coolant going in the sump and spinning the bearings. Big performance community, a lot of these cars go to high miles and are replaced with another of the same. 98-02 Honda Accord. I would get the V-6 coupe. There was a discussion about that here the other day I believe. GTO/CTS-V. Some of the comments are better than others. As a former Mazda3 owner who was soooo pissed about not buying a used WRX and then the MS3 coming out right after I bought mine....AND trading my pristine GS-R Integra for the brand new 3...I cannot recommend the MS3 if you can't handle the WRX (not knocking the Speed3, just saying it's a similar animal but with newer and more expensive tech). They have their own set of turbo and engine problems. The Subaru has been around a lot longer, the engine and the tools to work on it and the drivetrain are known quantities/evils. They have issues but most cars do. You got one that needs a little bit of work. Nothing you listed seems particularly excessive or retarded. There are a few things in there that are odd but you bought a previously wrecked car for a good deal...you usually pay one way or the other. Hurts more if you pay a mechanic. If your clutch lasted almost 75k miles...um, that isn't terrible. IMO clutch life expectancy is 75k-100k. It is a wear item...first owner probably didn't know how to drive. I greatly shortened the life of the clutch in my '09 because I drove it with giant boots for 2 days and missed TWO whole shifts. That is just how it goes. Nobody has mentioned it yet to my surprise: You bought the first model year of a new car design. All new models have teething problems of some sort (build quality, lots of recalls, tire wear, etc.). Everybody knows you don't buy the first model year, especially used, especially wrecked. Don't know if you do your own wrenching or if you have a lift or access to a lift....IMO this makes a HUGE difference in car ownership and your relationship with your car....your cost becomes the parts only. If I screw up a job and have to buy the part again I can usually try 2 or 3 times before I even equal the cost of paying someone else to do it, and I gain experience, and it's usually done correctly (It's only taken me 3 tries once, every other time I do fine). Also good to buy a car people like to race/mod. Then there are hardened and upgraded parts for the common failure points (along with knowledge of said points), and as long as it's a jap/american car, the parts are usually cheap. If you owe less than you can sell the car for, but want to spend 16k on another, but can't keep up with the repairs, I am confused....2006-2008 WRXs with waaaaay less miles on them go for 16-20k in my market...it sounds like you like your car a lot so just get a better one, you can find one in your budget. 2004-2005 STI's are going for that much or less in my market as well if you want something more hardcore. My sister and one of my employees both picked up clean 04's for 16k and 18k. One with 48k and the other with 42k. Well clean except for the body kit on one.... To anyone who said RSX, you are out of your mind unless you think he could live with less than a Type-S. Those are hard to find with low miles and hold their value like crazy....That is quite the step down, even buying the type S.

  • Saponetta Saponetta on Dec 31, 2010

    damn this is some of the worst advice I have ever seen. Buy the newest GTI you can afford. Its the best cheap car you can buy period.

    • Mnm4ever Mnm4ever on Dec 31, 2010

      I love my GTI, and I do admire your passion. But even I have to admit a GTI is not the car for a guy who puts a lot of miles on his car and doesnt want to spend a lot on repairs/maintenance. Unless he wrenches his own (and it doesnt appear that he does so), he will be at the VW dealer just as much as he was at the Subaru dealer, and just as unhappy. A regular non-turbo Mazda3 S is the best cheap car you can buy.

  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.
  • Lorenzo The other automakers are putting silly horsepower into the few RWD vehicles they have, just as Stellantis is about to kill off the most appropriate vehicles for that much horsepower. Somehow, I get the impression the OTHER Carlos, Tavares, not Ghosn, doesn't have a firm grasp of the American market.