I'm reading all kinds of reports of late model Impreza Forester and
wagon rear wheel bearings failing time and time again with no warranty
coverage by Subaru, clutch chatter that leads to premature clutch
failure and of course head gasket failure. All before 90,000 miles. Is
this just a lot of whiners on the web or have people here experienced
the same and just are tired of talking about it?
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Having driven over a million miles in Subarus I can say the minor problems
you mentioned are correct. Head gasket problems only plague certain
engines/years and you can add automatic transmissions into that category.
You missed the numerous oil leaks and water pump failures (leak).
All in all if a Subaru fits the bill for what you need in a vehicle then
they are hard to beat. Most of these things happen with such regularity they
are easy to head off in advance and if you only drive 15,000 miles per year
like most then what the hey.
Also I have yet to find anything on a Subaru that wasn't too simple to fix
myself and save a small fortune. TG
A week ago I was all set to trade my truck in on a Forester, but now I'm
not sure. I'm am again looking at the 2001 Rav4 which I had ruled out
before because it does not have the handling or power of the Forester.
Basically I want the rally car with the SUV cago room. My 4 Runner is
over 10 years old but it doens't leak any fluid, has never had a hiccup
from the transmission, doesn't burn any oil or eat any bearings, so I
will feel quite the fool if I trade it in on something 7 years newer
that does some or all of those. I would keep the 4 runner if it was a
little easier on gas and had AWD.
Is it really a $500-600 US job to put wheel bearings in an Impreze rear
end? I guess I will just have to speak to more owners to find out their
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According to SOAs TSB on the new procedure for rear wheel bearing
replacement. Labor for one rear wheel bearing is 0.8 hours labor and 1.5
hours for both. I think some dealers are over charging 100-300 percent so I
would shop around. Repeated failures on the same vehicle is caused by poor
installation or a out-of-round carrier which the installer should spot
Thank you for that info, I'm going to ask a few local independent
mechanics if they have experience replacing them. The nearest subaru
dealer is a 3 hours highway drive from here where as the Toyota dealer
is just down the street so this further complicates the decision for me.
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The documented fix for repeated bearing failure is to repleace the ball
bearings with roller bearings. Mine were going out approx every 7,000
miles. They were replaced with the rollers, and I have about 20,000 on them
now - no problems. My shop (Pennsylvania) charged something like $220 to do
First suggestion: if I were 3 hours from a Subaru dealer, I would
probably hesitate to go with Subaru for that reason alone. Maybe not
justified in your case, but worth considering. I am still at this time
pro-Subaru, and pro-Forester but read on:
We have two 99 Foresters, both owned since new, one purchased Jan 99,
the other July 99. We have 89,000 miles on the first one, and 78,000 miles
on the second. I have just been through MUCH haggling with both the local
Subaru dealership here in western part of Virginia and SOA concerning these
Bottom line: _Apparently_, neither car has the problem. We thought one
did, but it seems that the noise we were hearing and thought was a rear
bearing (and which the dealership Subaru technician thought also) was not
bearing related. We now think it may have been uneven tire wear in the rear
making the noise, though a front to back tire rotation didn't initially seem
to eliminate the noise (got new tires about 8,000 miles ago; the rears were
wearing on the outside edges; I need to align again, I guess.) When the shop
did put the car up on the rack and listen for noise (after I had rotated
first, as suggested) they could hear nothing. I don't hear the noise anymore
either, and have to admit I'm a bit baffled. Could have been oversensitivity
on my part once I was sure I had a bearing problem (since the technician--a
good tech, I believe-- thought so too after a test-drive with me.)
In any case, I can say that Subaru of America is VERY hard to deal with
concerning the bearing issue. They admit to nothing, they minimize the
problem, and yet Subaru has gone to the trouble of designing a special tool
for the express purpose of repairing these bearings ON THE CAR, saving
repair time, and getting dealerships to buy this tool.
NOTE, the time frame for changing this bearing is NOT NECESSARILY the
0.8 hours for one bearing and 1.5 hours for two bearings as Ed Hayes
suggested. That time frame ONLY APPLIES IF some of the cost is being covered
by Subaru, which according to SOA customer service person I dealt with,
forces the whole repair to be covered at WARRANTY rates, where book rates
are used. Many dealerships (maybe all?) will not use this rate for the wheel
bearing repair because they say the time frame is actually much longer than
allowed by warranty rate, and they will charge you whatever the ACTUAL time
requires for this repair. They estimate 1.5 to 2 hours PER bearing (per
side?) is reasonable, though it can take much longer if some of the parts
are resistant to removal, like a long bolt that sometimes takes much
difficulty to get it out.
I investigated ALL of this in advance of letting anyone put my car on
the lift to work on it. SOA was unwilling (flat out refused!) to let me meet
with or talk with my regional representative about this problem. I could
only call the CS reps and talk to them, and what it all boiled down to was
that they wanted the dealership to confirm the problem first, and THEN they
would talk to me about POSSIBLE coverage of PART of the repair. I used every
point of leverage I could, including emphasizing that these are our first
Subarus ever, and we very much want to continue to buy Foresters since they
fit our needs so well, but I insisted these would be the LAST Subarus in our
family if we end up eating rear bearing repair costs long before reasonable
life expectations, or repeated repairs of same problem. I have read about
both of these issues on this group and online, as have you.
SOA is not going to admit to a problem, will minimize it, and will
suggest it is normal to have some failures (true, but what we do not have
access to is _how many_ are failing.) They assure us we should not expect to
have recurring problems with them. In fact, as the CS rep told me, they are
still today building these Foresters with the _ball bearings_, even in 2005
models. The rep told me he had ordered a 2005 for his mother, and had no
lack of confidence in the ball bearings on these cars. (Good for him!)
I'm uneasy about it, myself. I'm still stuck on the fence about the
issue. We might have been ready to buy new Foresters before long (ours are
running wonderfully well, though, so only desires for additional features
would push us that direction, and we might well wait several years depending
on how ours keep holding up.) I now will not even consider new Foresters
until I am satisfied that this problem has been blown out of proportion (it
may indeed) and that the newer models are NOT having any occurrences of
failed wheel bearings.
No wheel bearings should be failing at the 30 and 40 and 50 thousand
mile points as have sometimes been reported. Nor should they be failing
within 3-10K after being repaired, as has also been reported. Any auto
manufacturer tolerating these numbers is headed for bad times, in my
opinion. I sure hope SOA doesn't go that route; they do make fine cars, I'm
I do not know where one can lay hands on the actual numbers of problems,
however, and so I have had to base all my conclusions on the circumstantial
evidence available: There are many reports of problems online; there IS a
special tool designed just for this repair, so it has to be happening enough
to justify the existence of the tool; SOA HAS covered PART of many repairs
under warranty terms long after the warranty expired; the fix uses roller
bearings rather than ball bearings.
(IN FAIRNESS ON THIS ISSUE: the SOA CS reps have told me that the reason
for this is that the ball type bearing cannot be changed ON THE CAR, only
the roller type will work with the specially designed tool. He insisted that
there is no inherent weakness or underbuilt aspect to the ball bearings, and
the fact that they are still the standard bearing put in the current cars
says it is sufficient for the loads encountered by the vehicle. I can't
argue with that, since I have not enough knowledge of the various concerns
involved with switching to roller type bearings in new manufactured
Foresters. Maybe it is needed, maybe not. Time will tell on that one.)
This is a long post, but I think I have been around the issue from
enough angles to say that the only conclusion _I_ can come to is, KEEP
WATCHING. Maybe _we_ will never have the problem on either Forester. Maybe
we already have it on both but it isn't bad enough to warrant detection or
repair yet. For now, we're going to keep driving, and yes, keep enjoying our
Foresters. Good luck to you on whatever you choose to buy.
PS. The Forester handles beautifully, has plenty of power for fast
highway speeds, and is very functional for active lifestyles, and in my
opinion, are good looking vehicles. I personally PREFER the smaller size of
a mini-SUV. (I think the bigger SUVs are rather excessive for many folks,
unless they truly have enough passengers in normal use, or usually haul
heavy loads to justify their higher fuel consumption.)
DH; Thanks for the information. The TSB on the wheel bearing replacement
time i.e. 0.8 hours to replace one bearing was written in the TSB. I called
SOA with my vin number and was told my 2000 Forester does have rear ball
bearings and gave me the vin # of the Foresters that are roller bearings
(installed at the factory). From other information I gleaned from SOA is
that the problem was partly due to the bearing carriers being distorted at
the factory. That to me explains why those with failures often have repeated
failures as a new bearing is pressed into a distorted carrier. My Forester
now has 66,000 trouble free miles and hope it continues. I have no problems
with vehicles using ball bearing for front or rear wheels as all of my
Porsches and VWs used balls and I never replaced one in probably 300,000
miles. Subaru obliviously has a problem either with the bearing quality ot
bearing carrier and should take responsibility for this by extending the
warranty to 100,000 miles. This type of situation if not addressed quickly
and professionally will discourage the average buyer and eventually us
Subaru enthusiasts. Just my observations and opinions Ed Hayes
Interesting, Ed. That means there ARE some Foresters that got roller
bearings at the factory? Hmmm. The CS guy I talked to either 1. did not know
that, or 2. possibly just felt it was better not to muddy the waters with
it, if in fact they went to rollers, then stopped with rollers and went back
to ball bearings. That would be as much as admitting guilt, IMO. He claimed
all Foresters are "still manufactured with ball bearings." If what you said
is correct, his statement would not be a complete lie, but would be less
than the complete truth, IMO.
Makes sense to me too. That fact alone, if Subaru would admit to it and
take full responsibility when problems arise, would go a LONG way in
satisfying me about Subaru's integrity. I suggest that they have hurt
themselves greatly by NOT coming clean about this issue, but rather have
minimized it enough that I find it hard to trust their word at this point.
If in fact they only THOUGHT it might have been a carrier damage issue, but
later found out otherwise, I recognize that might leave them guessing again,
and maybe they haven't gotten a handle on the WHY yet. However, that would
only make we wonder _even more_ as to whether I could trust buying another
Forester when the time comes. Failure to come clean about this issue is the
real bottom line that is hurting them.
I personally believe they know what the problem was by now, and have
decided it's too costly to admit to whatever the truth is, for one reason or
maybe many. But my conscience has to rule my behavior, and even if it costs
me personally, I need to take responsibility for my errors. I'm trying my
best to do that. I hope Subaru does the same.
I agree totally, Ed. Let's hope we both got Foresters without the
damaged carriers. More than that, let's hope this problem has seen its day
and been addressed successfully, for the benefit of ALL future Forester
owners. I sure _hope_ to be in that category for a long time.
DH: I have emailed SOA again asking for what year the Foresters rear wheel
bearings were changed from ball to roller. About two year ago I emailed SOA
with my vin # and was told I had ball bearing in my 2000 Forester and later
years had rollers. We will see if I get the same response and will post it
when I get a reply. If you DH want to see the response other than this NG
just send me your email address. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks Ed
Bruce said a car should get 100 000 miles on wheel bearings. I had a '89
Mercury Tracer (i.e., a bastard Mazda 323 born in Mexico; actually a
very good car) that made "that" grinding noise after about 85,000. I
fixed it myself and it was pretty easy although another car might be
harder. Maybe the toughest part was deciding how tight to make the wheel
against the bearing, without some fancy tool. Well, back when daddy was
a machinist in WW2 they didn't have a fancy tool; he taught me get it
SNUG then back it off a 1/4 turn. Much easier to fix than a water pump
:-| or head gasket :-O
To the OrigPoster, I'm having the same problem as you, shopping for a
new car. Look hard, and you can find a defect on any fairly priced car.
Saturns were notorious in this respect: a budget car, and buyers with
very high expectation. For example, supposedly Saturns eat brake rotors.
(My '95 ate mine. So it goes.)
I was interested in a RAV4 also; don't you just love the way they use
the spare tire as a BUMPER? The CRX isn't much better.
And there have been some interesting threads on the Toyota ng about the
cars pulling to the left. Some owners vow they will never buy a Toyota
again! And don't some claim Toyotas form sludge and DESTROY the engine?
I'm not making this stuff up. Cars and women, huh? They look great until
you've had them a few years.
It's tough. Do you roll the dice, or look for a better bet? With my
Saturn I just lived with it, paid for the premature brake repairs. I
bought a certain motorcycle, ignoring several reports that they run
lean. Major mistake. At virtually every stop and shift the bike wants to
Maybe we should just keep the cars we have. Sometimes the devil you know
is better than the devil you don't know. And you won't be upside down. I
read a report that it's getting to be a problem, people go to get a new
car and their current car loan is upside down. And I think it's going to
get worse. But that only happens to other people.
Well American cars are right out, I don't need to do any further
research, the GMC S15 I had was little more than a tractor with a
highway plate and a great view of the road through the rusted out floor.
You'd think all that oil it leaked would help preserve it. I currently
own a 4 Runner and I know all about the sludge reports in Camry engines
which so far seems to mainly center around one kook named "charlene" who
got ripped off by a quick lube place and demands Toyota pay for it.
Can't say much about alignment problems since I've hit more curbs, logs
and big rocks than I can count with the wheel at full lock in the snow
and mud and have yet to put it so much as a half degree out of alignment
in the 5 times I've had it checked since owning it. I researched my
Toyota in a similar fashion to what I'm doing now, I knew that it had
head gasket troubles and that's about it. One head gasket in 133,000
km for a truck that has an engine, transmission and driveline that
typically sales past 250,000 km with no major work besides timeing belts
and valve adjustments was acceptable to me. 25,000 km wheel bearings
and 60,000 km transmissions that I can't change myself, that is not. I
have had to do brake work almost every year, but that is purely a
function of how I drive it. Both of the first two years I had it I
burned a set of pads up and cooked the seals right out of the front
calipers from left foot braking under power through corners on snow. I
calmed down a bit after that and now have 4 years on the current
calipers. The original wheel bearings are still in my truck and that
has spent a lot of time door deep in mud and even sea water.
Have you seen my truck with the 32" spare tire in the back? :)
It's what I bolt my bike
rack to so I can do extra damage to the econo boxes as they slide right
under it, I've been meaning to get a Red Baron style decal for the door,
3 and 1/2 cell phones to show how many of those blind retards have
shortened the life of their car behind me at a red light. I get to use
the same rack on the Rav4 that I have for my 4Runner and the door swings
out even with two bikes attached so that's a bonus. I always read in
reviews about rear mounted spare tires and how much it costs when you
back into a pole. I find it's much cheaper NOT to back into a pole,
I.e. don't let your wife drive. :) The CRV is not an option for me, and
I work at a Honda dealership so that should tell you something. I have
waited and waited for Honda to come out with a full time 4wd...anything,
even if it's twice as ugly as an Element I would buy it just to say I
have a Honda and be able to get parts cheap. But no, they just make
that same reactive system they always have. Pissing me off and keeping
me paying retail for parts on other brands.
The Rav4 has a full time 4wd system taken from the old Celica All-Track
not unlike the Subaru design (of course not as good), the CRV has a
reactive system, you are in front wheel drive until the front wheels
slip, then the back wheels engage 2 weeks later with a little bit of
power in time to toss you into the ditch just as you set up the pendulum
into the corner. It's a great system for people who need help getting
up their icy driveway but you'll embarrass yourself at a rally cross
event with it.
Honestly I can't find the Achilles heel of Rav4s yet aside from being
slow and everyone seems to have a dash rattle that they aren't willing
to fix themselves. Oh, and the 2000 body style which is what I'm
shopping for is by far the ugliest thing on the road, not counting the
whole lower subset of ugly that exists in american cars (Aztek, PT
Cruiser, Avalanche etc.) Ravs seem to be like my truck, an overbuilt
drive train with an underpowered engine so it doesn't have the ability
to wear itself out. Rather than smoke the heavy duty clutch in the Rav4
when you pop it, it just stalls. Lighting up the tires on pavement is a
physical impossibility. I think most of the Subaru tranny problems can
be easily traced back to the incredible torque the engine produces and
the owner's use of it, it has the potential to burn a clutch in one day
if you are not careful and with an automatic you don't get any lights or
screeming in pain to warn you that having your foot to the mat off the
light is killing some important parts. I found the 25% torque split of
the Rav to be fun to drive, the engine is a dog but with a 5 Speed is
sufficient for my purposes (other guys are driving Golfs and Subaru
Justies so it's no exactly top level competition and the few that show
up with WRXs were going to win anyway). I tried an Impreza TS and that
was WAY too much fun to drive. I think I would have to factor in the
cost of speeding tickets as part of my monthly payment plan. And then
there's insurance, it's almost like the insurance company knows what I
would do with that car.
More and more I keep thinking I should keep my 4 Runner. And I would
but I think the glares I get from the volunteers when it sails though a
carefully prepared snow berm at a rally cross event are starting to get
to me :) and still, if it was a 5 speed I probably would keep it, but
I've about had it with automatics, it's just no fun to drive around a
track and murder on brakes because of all the nastly little left foot
tricks you have to do to get it to corner. Plus the price of gas has
kept me from doing any long road trips in it for 2 years now. At least
another Toyota is a Devil I sort of know vs. a Devil I never met before.
I believe my next car after this one will be a Subaru, and I don't think
will bother with a Forester either, that Impreze TS wagon is a whole lot
of car for a lot less money and it's what I'll be pining after for next
time. Maybe I will even get lucky and a Subaru dealer will open up
here, we had one about 10 years go but they folded and no one ever
stepped in to replace them. If there was a dealer here I think I would
look past the problems reported and still buy one, but with no mechanics
around here having much of a clue about Subarus I jsut can't take the
plung with my limited funds.
P.S. One of the service guys at work told me I should get the TS, a car
is a car and any mechanic should be able to work on it. I showed him a
picture of a stock TS under the hood:
He said, "Uh, nevermind." :)
Double P.S., he drives a 1982 Honda Civic with 381,000 kms on it. All
you need to fix it is an ajustable wrench and a hammer.
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Thank you for that info, I think you are right, the proximity of a
dealership and indeed any experience qualitfied Subuaru mechanic is
going to have to be the desciding issue for me. I went back to speak to
a couple of people I met with Foresters that told me what needed
repairing in the last 4 years and at the time neither mentioned needing
wheel bearings or a clutch, but now that I ask specifically, one does
here a noise from the rear end (he has an automatic) and the other with
a manual says the clutch does slip when cold! I initially liked the
idea of having a car very few people have in this area but I guess I
will have to leave that to people with greater funds than I for now.
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Just received an email from SOA on when Forester wheel bearing were changed
from ball to roller type. I hope the attachment comes through. Ed
For those who do not have OE or Quick View Plus to decipher the
attached .eml document, here is the gist, minus header info.
Dear Mr. Hayes:
Thank you for visiting the Subaru Web site and for your inquiry. I have
the specifications available to me for the 2003 and 2004 model years.
For the 2003 and 2004 Forester specifications, it shows roller bearing
as the type of rear axle unit driving wheel bearing.
I will need to consult with other departments for an answer to your
exact question. Once I have this information, I will contact you again.
Thanks for your patience!
John J. Mergen
Subaru of America, Inc.
YOUR ORIGINAL MAIL:
In what year did the Subaru Forester change rear wheel bearing from ball
to roller?? Thank you Ed Hayes
I'm an old man and over my life have worried about many things.
most of them never happened. I suspect you're fixing something that ain't
Love my 04 Forester, at 16K miles. Love the Climate control system, but most
all, LOVE that auto-dimming mirror! (a surprise to me, too!)
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