Car problem, what's most likely

The car is a 2000 Subaru Outback, 96K. At 80K, new timing belt. At 84K new engine. At 96k the timing belt breaks. Car is towed to the garage that did all the work. They replace the timing belt, car won’t start. Now they say the right side valves are broken, the head gasket leaks, and the radiator leaks. I have had no evidence previously of a coolant problem. No overheating, no fluid on the floor of the garage. I think they are trying to get out of repairing everything under warrenty for the work that they had done. With all these things wrong, what is the most likely chain of events? If they claim the car overheated, how can I prove it did not? I feel I am about to get screwed and don’t like it. Any advice will be most welcome.

IANAM(echanic) but you had to replace the engine on a 2000 model with less than 90K on it? Something’s rotten in Denmark friend.

IANAMEither, but the valves may have broken because the timing belt broke. A timing belt breaking on a running engine can cause all sorts of mayhem

Also, I would question any mechanic that doesn’t notice coolant leaking while replacing a timing belt. It is a fairly involved procedure. It could be an incredible coincidence that your cooling system went frappo right when the belt broke, but I am doubting it.

You posted this problem already. Why start a new thread?

Going from what’s in the OP and what I remember from the other thread, here’s my first thought:

Broken/bent valves are from the timing belt breaking. Broken timing belt may be from installation error, may be from oil contamination. Other causes are possible but no likely ones spring to mind.

Head gasket and/or radiator leakage are possible, but if the engine was running decently before the timing belt broke, it should still run with valves and timing belt repaired. I don’t see how symptomless (to you, the driver) head gasket or radiator leakage could have caused timing belt failure. So one path to consider is repairing the valves and timing belt, then carefully watching to see if there are any signs of the other problems mentioned.

A second opinion may be helpful.

Q.E.D.: This is ALMOST the same thread. Now I am seeking advice on how to prove that the radiator did not leak which caused the car to overheat which caused a piston to seize, which caused the timing belt to break, which is what they are claiming. Otherwise, everything that broke is under warrenty. I am looking for new information inasmuch as this garage is out to screw me.

In other words, my suspicion is they poked a hole in the radiator and said “Whew, our problem is solved.”

The timing of the events sure seems to suggest that’s just what happened. Have you pulled the radiator and inspected it for evident damage?

As of right now, I don’t have the car. It is at the garage. One thing I am banking on is that if an engine seized from overheating there would be definate evidence of that from examing said engine. Is that correct, or could it still look normal even if what they are claiming happened did? Fortunately (sort of) the engine has not worked since the timing belt broke so there is no way they could run it while dry and fake that.

The same thing just happened to my gramma’s Outback. These Subaru’s have aluminum engines, and it’s true that one episode of overheating can cause problems like you describe. We didn’t beleive it when they told us pretty much the same thing that you describe, so I opened up the engine, and sure enough, it was fried (it may look normal on the outside, but inside it could still be fried). It’s pretty likely that they are telling you the truth. However, my Subaru has 180K miles on the original engine, and it has no such problems. You should not be having problems at the amount of mileage you have. Sounds like there was a manufacturing mistake or something which lead to a whole chain reaction of other problems. You should probably sell the car.

Breaking the timing belt will NOT wreck the valves on this car. It is a non-interference engine. On other cars this does happen, but Suabru engines are not built that way. I assume you have the new 3-liter boxer 6 cylinder?

One other point… Subaru stock radiators are somewhat low quality in my experience. I replaced mine with a steel one instead of the stock aluminum radiator.

OK, I’ll have them pull the head for me. What does a fried engine look like?

I certainly feel you are getting screwed.

The first thing I would do is tow that car out of that garage and into someplace where you can get a second opinion.

A few things that I find “fishy”:

Your first engine only went 86K? On a modern car? Thats very unusual, being that most newer engines will go at least 200K.
So you got a new engine, or was it a rebuilt engine?

10K into the new engine, the timing belt breaks. Almost unheard of. Maybe it was a used engine they put in, with an old timing belt. Maybe it was a rebuilt engine with an old timing belt. Now your timing belt snaps again, so I would say that it almost certainly not a brand new engine.

But that doesn’t matter, cause they are trying to blame you, saying your car overheated.

You need to get second and third opinions. If your head gasket was blown, your engine oil will be “milky”, as it has coolant in it. The oil will also smell burnt. Once you pull the head, you should be able to see on the gasket where the coolant channeled into the oil passages. Also, your cylinders should be brown and burnt looking.

A seized piston? That’s a whole new animal here.

If there is indeed a seized piston, that could be the cause of the timing belt breaking and the valves bending.

At this point, I would suggest you go to the shop and see some things for yourself. Take someone knowledgeable with you if you think that will help. The shop should be able to show you the evidence of the leaking radiator and head gasket. There’s generally quite a difference between a hole punched in a radiator and a leak from natural causes. A leaking head gasket is pretty hard to finagle. If they can show and explain to you the tests and inspections that have led to their evaluation, that may ease your concerns.

dna_man: “Breaking the timing belt will NOT wreck the valves on this car. It is a non-interference engine. On other cars this does happen, but Suabru engines are not built that way. I assume you have the new 3-liter boxer 6 cylinder?”

My books show that a 2000 Outback would have either a 2.2 or a 2.5 engine. If it’s a 2.5 engine, it is interference, but not in the typical way. The valves don’t hit the pistons, but the intake valves can hit the exhaust valves if the camshafts get out of synch.

(Sorry, long hard day, thinking a bit slow.)


From the OP of the other thread: “…now the engine will turn over but will not start.” (I assume this means it was turning over at a normal cranking speed.)

From above (relating the word from the shop): “… a piston to seize, which caused the timing belt to break…”

The above allegations are contradictory. If a piston is seized, the crankshaft won’t rotate, thus the engine will not turn over (crank).

Something’s rotten in Denmark.


While a camshaft that won’t turn (or turn easily enough) could cause the belt to break (most likely by shearing its teeth) because the crankshaft is still pulling on the belt, anything that causes the crankshaft to stop turning (such as a seized piston) doesn’t put any stress on the timing belt. The motion of the crankshaft sprocket is the origin of force applied to the timing belt.

The more I think about this story, the more it stinks.


Sherlock Gary T Holmes has spoken. Good catch Gary. I’m not familiar with how non-interferance engines work, but I wouldn’t expect any seized engine to turn over.

Something’s rotten, I agree.

It could be a burned piston, which would still allow the engine to turn.
Burned pistons are consistant with overheating.