Piston Slap: Saabaru, The "Reliable" Subaru?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap saabaru the reliable subaru

95% Subaru, 5% Saab…100% Awesome?

Adam writes:

Hello Sajeev, I have a classic “keep it or sell it” question for you and the greater TTAC audience.

Two years ago I bought my wife a 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero (sadly an automatic, which was a non-negotiable requirement for my wife). You may remember these as being rebadged Subaru WRX wagons, and that was the main reason I bought the car at the time. I assumed that since the underlying platform was basically a “reliable” Subaru, repairs would be infrequent and parts would be plentiful.

The reality is that I’ve never spent so much money trying to keep a car in good running condition. The car is now at 127,000 miles, and in the past two years we’ve done the following work: valve cover gaskets (twice), rebuilt heads and head gaskets, new power steering pump, replaced valve breather assemblies, new radiator, just to name a few things off the top of my head. None of these pending repairs were brought to light through the very thorough pre-purchase inspection, and the car appeared to be well cared for when we bought it.

The head rebuild alone cost us almost $3000 and kept the car in the shop for almost a month, mostly due to parts availability issues, which really surprised me. Even after all these repairs, we are still dealing with a mystery oil leak that periodically drips onto the exhaust somewhere and fills the cabin with a wonderful burning smell.

My question is one of sustainability. Even though the car is comprised of 95% Subaru parts, it seems that the 5% that was supplied by Saab is becoming increasingly more difficult to come by. Things like plastic body panels (rocker panel covers, bumper covers, etc.) are nearly impossible to find now, and even the struts are specific to the Saab model, having been tuned specifically for the 9-2X. Even if I have taken care of most of the major repairs for the foreseeable future, is it really a great idea to hold onto a car that is losing replacement parts support? Even the Subaru parts seem much more scarce than they should be.

I should note that despite all these issues, the reason we haven’t already replaced the car is that we really enjoy driving it. It’s a fun, powerful car that’s good in Minnesota winters and can haul a decent amount of stuff with the seats down. I have no idea what I would replace it with if I did sell it.

I am open to any and all suggestions and advice!



Sajeev answers:

The answer is clear by the overall tone of your message: put it on Craigslist, wait for the right buyer because it’s still in good running condition.

You really like the car, but not enough to deal with the crap. Saabs are hard to live with because of parts/repair costs, Subarus are the same (to a lesser extent). What’s the benefit of being 95% Subaru when their motor popped the head gasket? Exit now, before you spend thousands more on a 10-year-old car at the bottom of the depreciation curve.

I can see why you might consider the alternative: all my old cars are in some state of serious disrepair. Only a fanboi fool like me does all this for no good reason. If I was a Saabaru fan, I’d love your car too.

Best of luck, and remember there are plenty of AWD hatchback utilities on the market for you and your wife to consider. Test drive them all, you have nothing but time!

[Image: Saab]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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2 of 130 comments
  • Cabriolet Cabriolet on Apr 02, 2015

    Great article. My wife owned a Subaru Brat back when and i thought they had solved those problems. I think we can write a book about Subaru. My first kick in the head was when the fuel pump went and Subaru told me to pound sand. For the life of me i can not see how Subaru could increase their sales. My son-in-law owned 3 Subaru's and finally gave up. One was enough for me. Subaru's seem to be OK up to about 90,000 / 100,000 miles. Then the fun begins. Head gaskets (If you complain they give you little pills to put in the radiator) wheel bearings, drive shafts, loose interior pieces, I could go on but why bring back bad dreams. I still like to work on cars and at 79 years of age i now have the time. Problem is i sold my 1991 Mazda Miata because it was running fine and my two VW's are trouble free. I might spend the weekend going thru Craigslist for that special car.

  • Bcjammerx Bcjammerx on Mar 26, 2017

    This all raises many red flags to this being a bad mechanic, every single aspect if the story in fact, can't believe this wasn't pointed out by the article writer! According to my research everyone that had this issue were using the single layer gasket and once replaced with the multilayer it didn't occur again. The mechanic could have done many things wrong, too many to go into, but everything in this story reaks of a bad mechanic not a bad car design. From what I found the 2005 and earlier engines used a single layer head gasket, it had a coating that deteriorated and caused leaks. In 2006 engines they went with a multilayer gasket and no more issues. Thanks to me using subpar quality parts I'm replacing some bent valves (only using aisin or oem timing belts from now on) and my 06 9-2x has multilayer gaskets, 115k and no leaks. Mine is the 2.5i (na) and also I religiously change fluids early using high quality synthetics. How ironic I used a subpar timing belt...at the time I didn't think it was. Word of warning, don't use dnj timing belt kits, the tensioner was also leaking when I took it off...it lasted 14,000 miles.

  • Azfelix From certain angles the bonnet appears oversized with respect to the rest of the car - like a skinny teenager wearing a bulky sweater nicked from her older sister's wardrobe.
  • Tassos This is way too god damned OLD, 21 years old to have all the necessary options you need TODAY. You need a 10 year old or less car. AND if you give us THIS POS, a 21 year old model, that is not even a LUXURY car, whoever pays $10k for a Golf, And I Do NOT care what anniversary it is (they are all UTTERLY INSIGNIFICANT) deserves to get this MOST UNRELIABLE AND COSTLY TO REPAIR OF ALL LOUSY ECONOBOXES< EVEN THE DOMESTICS AND THE KOREANS.
  • Tassos As you say, Toyota confirmed this on TUESDAY. Today is WEDNESDAY. Why is everything on TTAC held back one or more days before you tell us the NEWS when it is NO MORE THE NEWS?
  • MRF 95 T-Bird You can find a decent and far more stylish Audi TT or an S4 of a similar vintage for under $10k.
  • RHD "In all situations, the grip of the tires (225/40R18 front, 225/35R18 rear) brings with it road noise."Are the rear tires actually smaller than the fronts??!! Adding just a bit of sidewall would take care of the bumps and rough ride. I'm not a fan of BMWs, personally, but this is a very enjoyable car. There are times when driving a convertible is pure bliss, and with a bit of power it's fun as well. (And certainly a better drive than a gussied-up, overpriced German taxicab!)