Piston Slap: Garbage In, Garbage Out!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap garbage in garbage out

Stefan writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I am the last person who would want to be even peripherally involved in you losing your job or impeding that great Lincoln rebuild. I am a loyal reader of TTAC and “slavishly” read your column.

My Subie is just touching 120,000 miles. It has been a really great, reliable ride and I fortunately have a good dealer and private mechanic for the routine issues that pop up.

I want to keep the car as long as possible. I do oil changes and the roughly 60,000 mile recommended scheduled service on time. The engine sounds good, has good (for a Subie) pick-up, averages 20 to 23 miles per gallon, and still has a tight body. I anticipate the need for new shocks at some point soon and a muffler/cat replacement.

I’ve read horror stories on Subaru engine issues and internet researching has not been definitive. Can you elaborate? I know you’ve done this many times before. What ought my ownership strategy be at this juncture? What might I expect in term of my auto transmission reliability?

I am not fond of the totally boring exchangeability of current grill “styling”, the blunt front ends dictated by European regs, the insane complications in radio usage, ridiculous, distracting computerization of the simplest driving acts with endemically poor quality et al. Thank God I’ve got my 1967 MGB with all it’s British “eccentricities” to keep me in touch with what driving is all about.

Your obvious question is why the Subie is automatic. The simple answer is I buy off lease or used.

Sajeev answers:

Stefan, sorry to throw you under the bus instead of sending you a clarification request via email

The problem is GIGO, and it’s not just a programming nerd problem. Making blanket generalizations on Subies (or anything else) are effective only to a point. Since you have a well-maintained Subie and are interested in continuing upkeep, know one thing:

You must always provide the year, model and (if applicable) the engine option of your Subaru if you wish to get a relevant answer from your research.

I can Internet Research up and down the litany of problems with Subaru engines (head gaskets, piston slap, etc.), but it’s meaningless as the manufacturer fixes problems as running changes occur and recalls/ TSBs come into play. There’s plenty of info about each motor if you plug in the character code into Google or the big name forums.

Without it? The armchair analyst or helpful concerned citizen cannot assist with any degree of relevancy. Go ahead and fix the exhaust if you have seen the problem (on a lift) for yourself. Get new shocks if the ride has deteriorated. (It has.) Don’t worry about the engine until fuel economy and power drop off significantly, or you hear anything else bad. Ditto the transmission, as 120,000 miles for a fluid servicing is a crap shoot as to the helpful/hurtful nature regarding life expectancy.

My advice is to do whatever your mechanics recommend whenever they put their trained eyes on the problem, as you trust them. And we’ll assume they won’t destroy a great working relationship just to upsell you on your next visit.

Because that could be your last visit, and neither party wants that.

[Image: Shutterstock user Kzenon]

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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  • Joe K Joe K on Oct 13, 2015

    2005 Outback Limited owner here. 2 years ago at 190,000 it blew the HG internally. The car is nice, black leather, auto, no rust, everything works and makes sense, so I put a rebuilt engine in it. I looked at new and I didnt like what I saw. Equivalent cars suv's cuv's hit the 30K range in price after taxes fees etc. I like my Outback for all the points the OP made. My only grumble is the stereo but I worked that out long ago. So I opted for a rebuilt engine and never looked back.

    • Gottacook Gottacook on Oct 13, 2015

      Likewise, I'm hoping to keep our Legacy and Foresters going even if an engine swap is eventually required. There simply are no present-day equivalents.

  • Cabriolet Cabriolet on Oct 13, 2015

    A Subaru with 120,000 miles and no repairs. Run as fast as you can to the closest exit. Advice from a former and never to buy again Subaru owner.

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  • ScarecrowRepair $1.2M at $1K per car is only 1200 cars, and if you spread that over 5 years, 240 cars per year, roughly one per work day and one more every weekend. Sell another every weekend for the interest. That seems plausible to me.
  • FreedMike There are the guys charging $20000 over sticker for a F150 Lightning. They won’t go broke.
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  • Dukeisduke The E23 here is wearing steelies - so is it because it arrived at the yard wearing winter shoes, or because someone swapped the factory alloys for steelies (either before or after it arrived)?Fun fact - the turbocharged 745i was called the 745i because it used the 3.2l six with a turbo, and at the time, F1 was using a 1.4 multiplication factor for turbocharged engines to arrive at a computed displacement. So, 3,210 times 1.4, divided by 1,000 equals 4.5 (rounded up from 4.494). The 745i was way cool, with its big 7" round low beam headlights paired with the 5-3/4" high beams.
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