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Larry, Automotive technical expert
Category: Car
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Experience:  30 years automotive technical writer, editor & author
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My 2001 Subaru Outback has 120k miles and my mechanic ...

Customer Question

My 2001 Subaru Outback has 120k miles and my mechanic recommended a timing belt replacement at a cost of $1200. Does this seem reasonable? Also since the timing belt cover will be removed should I ask that he replace anything else (i.e. water pump). Thanks!
Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Car
Expert:  Larry replied 9 years ago.
The 2.5L engine in your Subaru is an "interference" engine. That means if the timing belt breaks, there is not enough clearance between the pistons and valves to prevent them from hitting each other and causing expensive damage.

I just checked the Subaru servide literature and could not find a recommended replacement interval for your timing belt. Subura only says the belt should be inspected every 30,000 miles and replaced if necessary.

On most other makes and models of cars, the recommended replacement interval for a timing belt ranges from 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles.

Subaru says a new belt costs $85, and the labor to install it is about 2.5 hours. If your mechanic charged $100 per hour, thats about $250 for labor plus parts. I don't see how he can justify $1200 to replace the timing belt. Maybe you should shop around for a better deal.

Although the job is expensive because of the labor required to replace the belt, I would recommend having it replaced. You belt has a LOT of miles on it, and at such high mileage the risk of breakage is high and will continue to go up.

If you do not plan to keep your car much longer, though, and are considering selling it or trading it in, then don't spend the money on a new timing belt. Let the next owner pay for that job.

Below is an illustration showing the timing belt on the engine:


If you do decide to have the belt replaced, I would also recommend replacing the water pump at the same time. The typical original equipment water pump usually starts to leak after 80,000 to 100,000 miles because the seals wear out. There should be little extra labor charge for this.

As for the exhasut leak, it could be a rusted out pipe connection or possibly the converter or muffler. Might cost $150 to $200 to replace the pipes or muffler.
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Customer: replied 9 years ago.
Relist: I still need help.
It was recommended to me that when the timing belt is replaced on the 2001 Subaru Outback that they water pump, idler bearing, other bearings?, cam? seals, thermostat, etc... all be replaced so that all of those parts that have 120k miles on them are replaced....does this make sense so if I want to keep the car for another 120k miles?

The cost for all of this is about $1,200
Expert:  Larry replied 9 years ago.
As I said earlier, the timing belt is about $85 and it takes about 2.5 hours to install ($250 labor), the water pump is probably about $100, idler pulley for timing belt is maybe $25, add another hour for labor ($100), thermostat is cheap ($6) and is quick to change, so based on these parts, I'd say the total bill should be about $600. I'm not sure what else your mechanic is including in the list to come up with a total of $1200.

Replacing the timing belt is a good idea, and the water pump and thermostat, and idler pulley. These can be thought of as maintenance items.

Whether or not your engine will go another 120,000 miles is hard to say. If it has good oil pressure and good compression (which your mechanic can test), and is not making any internal noise that would indicate problems like worn wrist pins, pistons or bearings, chances are it worth spending the money to keep it going.

On the other hand, if compression is not that good, or oil pressure is low, you would be looking at an expensive engine overhaul (probably $3000 or more!).

Keep in mind the other major components that wear out include things like the automatic transmission ($2000 to replace that if it goes bad), brake components such as the calipers, master cylinder, hoses (less than $1000 to replace all), exhasut system (few hundred bucks to replace everything aft of the converter), tires, battery, alternator, starter, A/C compressor, etc.

Cars don't last forever, but you can keep spending money forever trying to keep them running. Eventually you reach the point where putting a lot of money into an older car doesn't make a lot of economic sense. But if you really like your car and can't afford new car payments, keep your Subaru going.