All Wheel Drive Auto: Independent Seattle Subaru Service


Subaru Timing Belt Repair Gone Wrong

Not every customer automatically knows who should service their Subaru, many don’t do any research at all prior to making appointment somewhere.

I often stress that you should have a good relationship with your service provider, so that when its time to have something done you know where your going.  This can eliminate situations where you are calling around and making a decision based on price rather than quality and expertise.

Pictured below is what happens when someone doesn’t fully understand all of the proper adjustments and repair procedures when replacing the timing belt on a Subaru.

Damaged Subaru  Timing Belt
Damaged Subaru Timing Belt

You can see in the picture that the timing belt has been severely damaged.   The reason for this is the person who replaced the timing belt didn’t adjust the guide over the crank sprocket to the proper specification and as a result  the belt rubbed into the guide.

Subaru Timing Belt Guide
Subaru Timing Belt Guide

The guide over the crank sprocket is there to prevent the the timing belt from skipping or jumping especially if the vehicle is in gear and the car rolls backward.  This came about when Subaru switched timing belt tensioner types in the late 90s.  I have seen and repaired Subaru’s that didn’t survive a trip from Japan on the barge before this guide was implemented.  It can and will cause valve damage if the cam shaft sprockets are allowed to spin out of time with the crank shaft sprockets.

The guide is installed on most to all Subaru engines with a Manual transmission from 1998 on.  The DOHC Turbo models also have guides over each camshaft sprocket as well.

There is a gap that must be established and a specification for that gap so the belt wont rub as it expands and wont jump or skip either.  If the guide is not installed on a manual transmission equipped Subaru it can ruin the engine under the right circumstances, and if its not installed properly the same is true.

You should really only take your vehicle to a specialty shop for important repairs.  Its not the same as buying a pair of shoes where you can gravitate to the lower price with out to much consequence.   Whenever there is service work involved the skill set, knowledge of the platform and ownership of the proper tools and literature are required.    This is the same reason that there are eye specialists, orthodontists, and vascular surgeons.  You wouldn’t make an appointment to see the surgeon when little Johnny has the sniffles and you surely don’t expect your family doctor to perform a triple bypass.  What I am trying to point out is there are to many variances between a Subaru and a Audi and all of the makes in between to know enough about all of them.  Its why we specialize, its why I suggest wherever you are you take your car to a specialist, unless that isn’t an option for you.

Thanks for reading



27 Responses

  1. Can you rotate the crankshaft backwards at all on a 98 WRX EJ20? I was undoing the crank bolt and used a ratchet on the bolt on left inlet cam (right hand side if facing it) as leverage while trying to undo the crank bolt again after lining up the timing with all the timing covers off.

    Anyways, the camshaft slipped I believe and moved independently without the crank and went out of timing! I did two revolutions of the crank and it still wouldn’t line up with the markings again (way out) I went a bit further gently but felt resistance so stopped. Currently the timing mark on the crank is sitting around 9 o’clock and I cant go forward to it’s mark because I feel resistance. The old belt is still on, can I turn the crank backwards to the timing mark again, take the belt off and re-align the cams?

    Thanks heaps for your advice.

    1. Hey Ben,

      Remove the belt before you try and turn anything if it has jumped time. Get the cams into Overlap (carefully) than try rotating the crank. Id strongly suggest buying the proper tools if your going to service it yourself, there is a tool to hold the crank pulley while removing the bolt, more importantly its not possible to properly torque the crank shaft bolt with out it…

      Good luck!


  2. My sister has a 2008 outback xt turbo (auto) we have had some complications with the machinist. She blew her turbo last year and we have been slowly putting the engine back together. it been fully gone through. My question is in regards to the timing belt guide. i thought i took the guide off when i pulled the timing belt but its been so long since we stared the project. can you tell me if there is or needs to have a guide on an automatic?

    i contacted Subaru parts department and they tell me that the guide is only offered on the manual transmission models. is this true? and should i buy and install this anyway?

    1. Hi Zach,

      The Manuals are in fact the only models that came with the guide over the crank sprocket. The oil pump is the same regardless of transmission types so that’s why you see a place for it to bolt up. It does not really need one, but also it wouldn’t hurt anything to have one either, if it was there prior, perhaps the engine had been swapped or even at the factory level a manual engine was installed. The whole reason for the guide was the timing belt could jump on a manual in gear when “rocked” in reverse, was actually happening to some cars when on the ship from Japan.

      Hope that helps


  3. Hi Justin,
    I recently inherited a 2004 Forester X with 70K miles. It has been serviced per the recommended intervals, etc. What are your recommendations regarding timing belt/H20 pump replacement? Although it doesn’t have 105K miles yet, it is 10 years old. Should I wait until 105K or is there a time interval that you recommend? Are the kits you sell (incl H20 pump) Subaru OEM?

    Appreciate your response..


    1. Hello Jeff,

      With the belt being ten years old , most likely its pretty stretched, it may not be cracked yet but you just don’t know until you take the timing belt covers off. Subaru doesn’t actually make parts they contract that out, we buy from the same companies they do.


  4. Hey AWD Auto,

    Have you guys worked with the Gates belt kits? They’ve tried to help with this problem by including a plastic spacer/shim tool with they’re kits to set the gap for the guide.

    Just wondering if you guys have used their kits with their tool, and if so, if you’ve seen problems with it. Thanks.

    1. Hello Ed,

      We wouldn’t ever use that product, and I think maybe you might be talking about the Ac belt with the belt install tool for the stretch belt application?


      1. Hi AWD Auto, thanks for responding. I thought I posted back yesterday but I guess it didn’t go through.

        No, I did mean the timing belt kit from Gates. I will try to include a link to their tool as they will explain it best. If the link doesn’t appear, please google ‘gates timing belt spacer tool’

        I was just wondering what you guys would think about this, thanks for your time.

        1. Hello Ed,

          The tool is fine but adjusting the gap to specs with a feeler gauge is still going to be the preferred method.

          With the gates kits we have seen here are my concerns;

          -Who says the belt will last 105k?
          -What are the brand name of the idlers and tensioner?


  5. I wished I would of seen this blog before I took my 04 Impreza to the dealer for a timing belt replacement .The car has 105K. The service manager told me that all I needed was the belt to be replaced. Then on the service receipt I noticed that the tech had recommended the tensioner be replaced as well.
    Now in reading your blog on idlers and such.. I feel I have been led down the wrong road with the dealer. According to your blog I could be looking at failed bearing(s) , timing belt, ( techs req on the tensioner) failure and end up with some odd noises at 150K.
    I had tried to save myself a bunch of money and do the job myself. But that stubborn harmonic dampener was in my way, and I succumbed to having the dealer do it.

    I don’t want to wait for 150k to roll around and pay for that failure.. But there is another issue with the car. The right side head gasket weeps oil. It’s not a lot and it has been doing it since the car had 55K on it. I will use a quart in about 5000 miles, so I am not afraid of buying a quart of synthetic. With head gaskets a seemingly common problem with these cars. I could wait for the failure to happen as the engine is going to get pulled apart any. Or do I spend the $900.00 and get it done right, that is in addition to the $420.00 I have already spent on the initial timing belt ?

    Thank you,

    1. Hello Brent,

      That’s really a tough call, if the HG are just leaking oil it’s probably okay to wait on that repair, but yes the dealer just took the easy money and no they don’t care.

      the only thing that should have happened is they should have called you while replacing the timing belt and advised the tensioner was on its way out and needed to be replaced, they should have also considered the idlers as well.


  6. Your site and this article were a great resource to me when I was troubleshooting a strange noise on my STi. It turned out one of the guides was not adjusted properly and was digging into my belt. Thanks

  7. Hi Justin,
    This is a great blog thanks for investing your time for us. I’m considering buying a o8 TriBeCa 74K miles. He’s the second owner his mom was first they trade cars every 3 years.What should I be looking for and what questions should I be asking about this particular year and model? I will also have a mechanic at least drive the car and if he were to take a closer look do you have a mechanic check list for him to follow for this year and model? Thank you.

    1. The front position lower control arm bushing typically start to tear at that mileage on that model.

      The Tribeca is a pretty reliable vehicle, but its wise to still have it inspected to make sure the one you are looking at fits that statement.


  8. Hi Justin.
    I posted tried to post these questions on Friday, but it didn’t make it to the blog.
    Ive blown two turbos on my 2006 OB XT 2.5L auto. the last one was replaced by my mechanic who ive come to trust impeccably over the years, but is a Toyota specialist, he does a lot of research before hand. booth p0021, and p0011 code came up just as the first turbo bit the bullet. He removed the accessible banjo bolt filters when replacing the turbo, and replaced the ocv on the passenger side, with the p0011 code, all subaru parts, always. the p0021 code didnt come back after replacement of the turbo, oil change etc…
    its been great for roughly 10,000 miles or so till the p0021 code came up a month ago again, he replaced the drivers side ocv. now, a month later… the p0021 code is back.
    My car is at 91,000 miles, he is telling me to do the timing belt, water pump, tension er and all idler wheels, and while he is in there hes going to get that last banjo bolt filter out thats rather hard to get at without the engine out.

    *with the provided info, do you know of anything i should be concerned about with the turbo’s going? and whats the life expectancy of a Subaru turbo for these cars?

    *any recommendations for things to look at while engine is out?

    *my car burns 2.5l of oil every 3000 miles or so, should anything be looked at regarding this?

    *should i be concerned about the head gasket, and maybe be ready to do it as well if the engine is out and accessible?

    Greg Jones

      1. Justin,
        Thank you for your time and reply. My Apologies for double posting.
        That is my worst fear, that the oil burn is something serious, and costly that directly affects the life of the engine.

        Greg Jones

  9. Hi Justin,
    My 2006 Outback XT automatic, is at 91,6000 miles now.
    It’s blown two turbos, the first was at 58,000 miles and a half hour into owning my first Subaru 10km off the used car sales lot I bought it from ( they replaced it with a new Subaru turbo).
    The second one, at 81,000miles. I have a mechanic that I’ve been using for 17 years, he is trustworthy, and educated, does research, but is Toyota specialist. He found out about the banjo bolt filters and how they clogg up, took them out, two were extremely clogged and believed to be the reason for starving the turbo, and it failing, it was getting P0021 and p0011 code at that time, and the turbo was replaced, along with the ocv valve on the passenger side.
    I did the bank 2 ocv valve a month ago when I got the p0021 again.
    Now Im getting the P0021 code again at 91,600 miles. My mechanic is telling me to do the timing belt, water pump, tension-er, and all 4 idler wheels, and while he is there he is going to get at that last banjo bolt filter that isn’t easily accessible.
    My car eats oil,I change it every 3000 miles and in between add 2 liters of synthetic to keep it topped up. (car is american) I’m Canadian.
    my question'(s) are; with that said , do you recommend any additional work done at this time? or anything else to look for while in there.
    :Should I get the head gasket done at this time as well, if it makes it more accessible while everything is pulled out for the timing belt replacement?
    :if the turbo was replaced properly, what is the life expectancy of them? —–(i see P0021 come up, I instantly feel faint thinking a Turbo is gone again!) though it seems fine at this point.
    and anything else that might educate me some in any of these issues I’ve mentioned, or links to previous blogs about any of these issues would be greatly appreciated.

    Greg Jones

    1. Hello Greg,

      If the car is using two quarts in between oil changes done every 3000 miles there is a mechanical issue that needs to be addressed such as worn oil control rings. There is no way to know whats going on with out tear down I am afraid.

      As far as the Code it could be a solenoid, low oil level / pressure or an issues with the pressure sensor and or sprocket.

      Without testing I just don’t have the answers.


  10. Hi Justin,
    Very informative and helpful website; wish I had found it sooner (!).

    I have an ’05 Forester X with 103k miles, almost all highway at 70mph. Recently I had the timing belt changed at the dealership and they replaced the tensioner and water pump per my request, but strongly recommended against changing the pulleys, saying that they never see those fail, and I followed their advice.

    Now I’m kicking myself for not insisting they change the pulleys. Do you recommend that I go back to a Subaru specialist and have the pulleys replaced? At what mileage do you typically see the cogged idler pulley fail? There’s no guarantees in life but I’m wondering if waiting until 150k or 180k usually doesn’t result in a disaster.

    Many thanks! John

    1. Hello John,

      What the Dealer always fails to realize if not now than when, I cant believe a Subaru dealer would claim to have never seen a timing belt idler fail and create a “tow in”.

      Anyways Its tough to say when they are going to fail, I hate to tell you that you will be fine, and it sucks that its going to cost double or so to do it right.

      Its really up to you comfort level, I am a do it right first time ind of a guy as I have seen what happens when its not done that way, but also have to admit I see people with so much luck its amazing.

      I would however look for a good independent if you can from here on out.


  11. Hi Justin.

    I emailed you the other day with concerns and after further research and discovering the tech bulletin by Gates and Dayco ( ) I believe I am victim to this disaster!

    Although with mine the other NTN bearing also collapsed.

    I have spoken with several fitter and turners on the possibility that the heat transfer from the tensioner bearing managed to get to the hydraulic oil reservoir and heat the oil therefore expanding pushing the piston further out putting increased tension on the belt to further cause destruction.

    It’s an absolute mess! Lucky the pistons were ok!


    1. Robert, that has to be the most complicated reasoning for the belt to wear out that I have ever heard! keep it simple

  12. I replaced my timing belt on my ’01 Subaru Legacy (manual transmission) last summer myself, and was surprised to find there was no timing belt guide installed! I bought it used with a lot of miles on it, so I have no idea when or who removed it and for what reason. I put it back together the way it was. Should I consider myself lucky that I haven’t had any problems because of this? I think I might be purchasing and installing one of these guides this weekend after reading this post!

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