By on April 25, 2012


TTAC commentator gessvt writes:

Sajeev –

Looking for some advice on a “to sell or not to sell” situation. A little background: I’ve been a fairly faithful Blue Oval guy for most of my driving years, with a few brief forays into cheap, reliable imports for college duty, and a recent contract gig that required me to drive The General’s products (GMC Sierra 4×4, Saab 9-5 Aero and Chevy Cobalt SS). We also own a trouble free Monterey minivan and a perfect ’93 5.0 notchback. My new job has no such requirement, so I made the decision to pay cash for a unique, fun, safe daily driver.

I’m outside of Chicago, and with the exception of this year, am usually subjected to significant snowfall and slow-to-react city
plowing service. A friend left his WRX wagon with me last winter so that a local body shop buddy could do a quick bumper respray in order to sell it. We had a blizzard during this time, and the WRX had Blizzaks, so I drove it around and was *hooked*. This car had too many miles and had been subjected to his car-guy wrath, so I searched for the Holy Grail of Subarus: the 2005 Legacy GT 5-speed wagon.

After a few months, I found one with 60,000 miles, had the dealer replace the clutch (first warning sign), and paid cash for it. Since then, I’ve put 20,000 miles on it, and have really enjoyed the car…when something wasn’t going wrong with it. In 12 months, the following repairs have occurred:

  • replaced a hung up front brake caliper and pads/rotors (did both sides to be safe)
  • chased down an intermittent cylinder misfire and poor idle (replaced intake manifold gaskets, air fuel sensor and a fuel injector)
  • had a wheel bearing replaced under a Subaru TSB.

It sounds like another wheel bearing is getting ready to die, the 3rd gear synchro grinds (something I attributed to the weak clutch before I purchased), and one of the new front calipers got hung up on my drive to work this morning.

I’m at the point where I think I should fix the synchro and other misc issues and unload the car. At 80,000 miles, it’s still worth about what I paid for it. I love the power, the way it looks and drives and the poor weather performance, but I’m thinking that I’ve purchased a sorely neglected or problematic car. It may have turned me away from turbo Subarus for good. My question for the B&B: sell it and head back to Ford, or suck it up and drive it?

Apologies for the wordy rant.

Sajeev answers:

OMG SON! You said “perfect ’93 5.0 notchback” and…now that’s all I can think about.

Mmmmmmmm, Fox Body. (drooling)

Well then! I understand your Subie situation and agree with your assessment.  Turbo and manual transmission optioned Subarus are a serious threat to your wallet when purchasing on the used car market: they are too fragile for the abuse that might be thrown at them. And it sounds like you are one of the unlucky ones.  Not a big deal, since we all know that true Internet Pistonhead street cred comes from owning a wagon with a diesel and a stick. The Internet does not lie, you aren’t that cool.

I would do the bare minimum to the car for reconditioning, and let your service records do the talking.  You obviously loved the car enough to write this well crafted letter to Piston Slap, so I suggest you take all those receipts (that you saved) and put them in a cheapo 3-ring binder. Presentation is everything in selling a niche vehicle like this.  If your receipts show you care, the potential buyer will appreciate it…and won’t be so mad when stuff breaks on their clock.

And since you are a Ford guy, the 5.0 and the Mercury van need a Panther or Ranger 4×4 companion.  Obviously!  Too bad I can’t decide which is better for you!

Send your queries to [email protected]. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.



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40 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Sticky Subie Situation?...”

  • avatar

    Personally, I’d keep it. Stick wagons are almost a dead species, and stick AWD wagons, well, I can only think of the BMW 325ix as the sole surviving example. Replacement options might be a used BMW or that new mazda CUV thingie that reviews well and comes with a stick. Neither is as beastly as the Legacy GT, IMO.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Wouldn’t at all be surprised if about two dozen of the B&B are beating on Sajeev’s e-mail box for your contact information in order to relieve you of your angst-creating dilemma…..a stick wagon IS the Holy Grail, mate….

  • avatar

    Unless your constantly drive in the hills where awd on slippery surfaces will reign supreme, fwd with snows will offer similar performance and the same stopping on the slick stuff.

    I’d look to Volvo or Saab for a slightly bigger wagon and much better fuel economy.

    • 0 avatar

      Similar performance? Not likely. I’ve personally noticed an enormous difference in acceleration – especially 0-30 mph – between AWD and FWD vehicles in winter conditions. With FWD, you wait and wait for a huge gap in traffic to merge because you expect that it will take forever to get going, and then often end up cursing at the car and its stupid open diff or stupid electronics that are supposed to substitute for limited slip because it takes even longer than expected and you hold people up. With proper AWD/4WD and good winter tires, you simply get around the city like it’s summer, but way more fun.

  • avatar

    “I’ve been a fairly faithful Blue Oval guy for most of my driving years”

    Blue Oval? Does that mean Ford or Subaru? Or even Avtovaz?

  • avatar

    I’m married to the owner of a 2005 Outback…her 3rd Subie and the 2nd with the 2.5. Now at 138,000 and doing well. 2 things I can address:

    At 110,000, you’ll need a new timing belt per maintenance schedule.

    Also, plan on a head gasket job before 150,000 as Subie 2.5’s eat head gaskets.

    • 0 avatar

      My 2007 (2.5i, 5MT) had it’s headgaskets replaced at 36k!!!!!!!!!!!! Under warranty, hopefully I’m good to go for a while (not at 62k).

      Other than that, I do love the car. Got in some deep snow and mud the other day, had a blast getting it dirty.

      • 0 avatar

        The turbo engine has semi-closed deck cylinders. Head gaskets are not a problem with this engine, unlike the normal 2.5i.

        The poster should go to, join, and post the car for sale. It’ll be gone in 30 minutes. And they’ll put a new injector on that cylinder, check the PCV valve, and probably be happy.

        The 2005s had injector and turbo problems, plus wheelbearings. Later models, not so much.

  • avatar

    This car has obviously been abused and neglected, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t unload it to the right buyer. Look around all the Subaru forums that exist, NASIOC being the big daddy and tell a potential buyer that you’re selling the car in its current condition and note the issues that you are having with it.

    The first thing that somebody (a Subaru enthusiast/masochist) is going to do on this car is replace or modify the banjo bolt on the turbo and probably rebuild the transmission while they are at it. This isn’t a big deal to most Subaru nutters. Seriously.

    The Legacy GT actually has a pretty stout manual gearbox. Most people modify their 5 speed manual gearboxes in their WRX with a Legacy GT/WRX hybrid. For third gear to be going out, means that somebody really put this car through hell before you purchased it.

    You could probably get this done at a good Subaru shop for around 2 grand all said and done. That’s not a small bill, but from there on out, you shouldn’t see any other major issues.

    Sounds like you don’t want the headache, so check out the NASIOC regional forums. Somebody would love to take this off your hands, even as is.

    • 0 avatar

      Before I bought it, the car was purchased new by a female who lived right in the city. Maybe she had a teenaged son who liked to street race, but I’m thinking that she liked to rest her hand on the shifter in 3rd while she navigated the stop-n-go traffic of Chicago? I’ve gotten pretty adept at double clutching, but the revs and boost drop, so 3rd gear is a big letdown.

      I’ve consulted the forums on most issues and have to say that is an excellent resource. These 2.5 turbos have a problem delivering fuel to the 4th cylinder, which usually leads to burnt valves and whopping repair bills. I did a leakdown and compression test on all cylinders, and thankfully all of them are holding up well. Lumpy idle has returned though.

      And yep, banjo bolt removal and a catless uppipe (a cat in front of a turbo? What were they thinking?!) are next on the list if I decide to keep her.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s less about enough fuel to cylinder 4 and more about the absolute idiocy of massively unequal length exhaust headers. This causes cylinder 4 to always run hotter than the rest of the motor, which then requires it to run richer to cool off. It’s a horrible setup that only equal length headers can fix, but then you need a tune for them.

        It’s something I have been seriously considering for our Forester if we are keeping it long term.

        Also, check into the oil pickup issues; long-term owners would be wise to replace these as preventive maintenance, though it is a rare failure.

      • 0 avatar

        Any theories on why the brake calipers seized up? I’ve seen that happen on some poorly remaned calipers, but not OEM calipers.

        I have seen a few people who autocross these that experience wheel bearing failures, but that’s due to a lot of stress on the bearings that cars normally don’t see. Maybe if there was a teenaged son in the house who drove it, he was doing some left foot braking and boiled the brakes a few times?

        I have been lucky with the turbocharged Subaru’s that I have owned, but that’s not to say that they don’t require a bit more maintenance and extra care. Probably true of any turbocharged vehicle.

      • 0 avatar

        By “caliper locking up”, do you mean the piston is stuck in the bore? Or pads seizing on their slides. If I was to wager a guess it would be the latter, and poor installation would be to blame. The slides have to be clean, rust free and well lubricated. If the piston is seizing, you need a very good brake fluid flush to get the old fluid out. It has absorbed so much moisture that the fluid is now acidic and causing corrosion in your system. Calipers very rarely seize in normal conditions.

  • avatar

    I’m currently 117,000 miles into a non-turbo automatic Legacy sedan. I really like the car, but there are a couple of GT wagons in the area that throw me into a jealous funk whenever I see them. I guess they might not be as happy as I imagine they are.

  • avatar

    If you want to sell, a few things you can do to up the price or make negotiations easier:

    Replace the passenger side valve-cover gasket. These go between 80-100k on the turbo motors and cause a slow oil leak onto the exhaust manifold, resulting in tons of smoke.

    As mentioned above, replacing the banjo for the oil feed and return on the turbo. These crack at the brazing points and results in a similar situation as above.

    As a qualification, I’m in a similar situation with our 2005 Forester XT (auto; wife’s car). I’ve recently done a ton of maintenance and there isn’t anything else like it available, so we are keeping it. In addition, I did all the same things to my previous 2005 WRX STi (traded for the Forester when we had a kid).

    It really comes down to whether you will be happy with the replacement. Subarus may have their issues, but they don’t come close to the cost of a new car, and it doesn’t seem that Subaru will be returning to the Mid 2000 model’s styles (Impreza, Forester/Legacy) anytime soon, so there is nothing like it to replace it with.

  • avatar

    I have a feeling you will regret selling a manual turbo AWD wagon.

  • avatar

    Sell. You are standing at the abyss hoping this is the last repair, but history is showing you a undeniable trend.

    On the bright side you won’t have any shortage of prospective buyers in the snow belt, and Craigslist will allow you to hold to a good price (no dealer trade needed).

    For what it’s worth, a manual transmission car + Chicago driving = drivetrain abuse and/or high wear. Big city traffic means that the clutch worked hard in its short life. Chicagoland miles are very hard miles, and the 60k your car had when you bought it may equal 120k miles in distant suburbia or the hinterlands. If you are going to buy used again find something far away from the city, and preferably out of the salt/rust belt.

    A new Escape may put you back in the Blue Oval family. Good luck!

  • avatar

    You could do a Volvo…although extremely rare, there was a V50 T5 AWD available with a 6 speed for a few years. I was watching one that, had it still been for sale when I was ready to get a new car, I probably would be driving that now instead of my BMW. I don’t think the V70’s were available stick shift AWD except the R models and I know those can worse than your Subaru as well as the V50’s (although I forget which TTAC editor recently got rid of his V70R and could probably talk better about ownership than me).

  • avatar

    Does the Focus come in a wagon? He is a blue oval guy.

  • avatar

    Do with it as I did with mine; sell it ASAP. Don’t take a bath selling it, but do sell it. Otherwise get ready for more of the same.

  • avatar

    If you don’t mind the fact that they no longer exist, you could always pick up a Saab 9-3 AWD stick wagon for dirt cheap. If you want a semblance of factory support, get a 2008-2010 (the latter made before 2-2010), as GM is required to stock parts for 10 years past the last model year. The Aero V6 turbo should be stupid quick, while the turbo-4 should be boostable in the aftermarket to maybe 250-260 hp.

    I’m considering it, once I can find a Turbo-X wagon with stick that’s on the market without an extortion-level asking price.

    • 0 avatar

      A SAAB turbo might be cheaper to buy up front, but good luck finding replacement parts for it. No aftermarket support either, like their is with the Subie.

    • 0 avatar

      A SAAB turbo might be cheaper to buy up front, but good luck finding replacement parts for it. No aftermarket support either, like there is with the Subie.

  • avatar

    The blue one in the pic is tasty, I would have a hard time giving one of those up, considering how impossible they are to find. And yours has low enough mileage to justify keeping it, yet high enough that it will hurt a bit for resale. Seems to me you should fix it, and I mean fix it yourself so you are not paying out the nose for mechanics. Wheel bearings are wear items, so you cant really complain too much about that. The misfire sounds like its fixed now, so only the brakes are troublesome IMO. Perhaps upgrade the calipers to STI grade? I think this is one of those situations where you have to really love the car to justify the extra maintenance it will require. Most good performance cars will be like this though, so whatever you replace it with could have the same types of issues, unless you go CamCord next time.

    By the way, how about pics of that Fox body? It keeps running through my head to get one, I keep discovering them on eBay!

  • avatar

    Saab parts should no longer be a big issue…the parts factory never went out of business and is still pumping out parts, etc. and will continue to do so…As well, they are now ramping up to start making body panels and such again. So, if you should choose to want a Saab you shouldn’t have big problems finding what you need.

  • avatar

    I didn’t go through all the comments, but I don’t think it was mentioned that the rear wheel bearings are notorious on all 2005 Legacy/Outbacks. Subarus recognized this and addressed it with an extended warranty to 100K miles or 8 years:
    Technical Service Bulletin number 03-58-08

    As a current owner of same said car, I think getting rid of it will be become one of those “I wish I still had it” moments later on. I’ve had mine since new, so I know the history. As mentioned previously, it could be you got an abused car, but mine has been rock solid mechanically, except for the wheel bearings and headlights (another weak, but easily fixed point). At 75K, I have had no brake problems and am even still with the original pads. I do also put up with a rather rough idle, though, but the fun/practicality factor far outweighs any negative brought up here IMHO.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Punt. Had a WRX wagon, stick. Fun car when it worked. I am not sold on the perception that subsides are bullet proof, mine was temperamental to the nth degree. Bought a dodge to stay out of the shop and did. I know, weird huh?

    Oh, I second, third, whatever the notchback drool……

  • avatar

    Hirsch, Nordic and BSR all make aftermarket tuning parts for Saabs. All have stores/distributors in the US/Canada or you can buy straight bolt on parts online.

  • avatar

    I have owned 5 Subarus, have had several in the extended family and several owned by friends.

    I see nothing unusual in this story. These problems are minor and common.

    My advise: learn to double clutch. Keep your car.

  • avatar

    “Looking for some advice on a “to sell or not to sell” situation. A little background: I’ve been a fairly faithful Blue Oval guy for most of my driving years”…

    I wanted a diesel-powered 2005 Subaru Outback Wagon (which doesn’t exist here in the USA), but I ended up purchasing a Ford Escape V6 AWD — mostly because the Escape is cheaper, and because Ford is the devil I know.

    To be honest, the Ford Escape clearly solves the same problem as the Outback. Yes, the engine is in the compartment sideways, and it’s taller and more-truck-looking than it needs to be. But, when you look past the cosmetics, the Escape really is the American Subaru.

    It’s a pretty good to all-weather all-wheel-drive family transportation that can do light towing.

    Only downsides are the looks and the MPGs. The same could be said for the Subaru, though, and Ford’s been steadily improving the Escape’s MPGs over time, and Subaru has been doing the same for their models.

    An Escape is worth considering as a replacement for the Subie. For all of its faults, the Escape solves the same problem with roughly the same weight/efficiency/capability envelope, and lightly-used ones are fairly cheap. I’m not actually recommending an Escape, but I am pointing out that these vehicles are much more comparable than they appear at first glance.

    • 0 avatar

      An Outback is not the same as a Legacy GT. The Escape is not going to drive like the L-GT. IMO it doesnt even really replace the Outback, you bought a fairly standard (and ancient) compact SUV, aside from the wagony shape they are nothing alike.

      • 0 avatar

        I was going to say the same thing but you beat me to it. I drive a Leggy 2.5i wagon and a friend has a 2010?(does the year really matter when talking about the Escape) Escape and they are words apart in how they drive. I will take my slow Legacy over the V6 Escape any day of the week. My in-laws have a 2007 Outback and again, I would take that over the Escape any day. Now the new Escape?…looking mighty interesting to me.

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