Q: I have a 2004
Subaru WRX STi with 50,000 miles. I haven’t changed the timing
belt on it – Subaru recommends changing it at 105,000. Am I living
on borrowed time?
A: Kevin, I’d get
on this right away! Your WRX STi engine is of interference design,
meaning the valves will hit the pistons should the timing belt fail.
Subaru recommends replacement of the belt at 105,000 miles or 105
months, which you are significantly past.
There are a variety
of factors that affect timing belt life. Miles driven, additional
friction/flexing due to frequent engine start/stops, temperature
extremes, humidity, degradation due to oil or coolant
seepage/leakage, and exposure to airborne contaminants will take
My take on this is
the risk of continuing to drive is unacceptable, as a belt failure
could result in a $3,000 or higher repair bill, and the 105/105
recommendation is at the higher end of typical manufacturer belt
replacement intervals. Removing covers to perform a visual
inspection of the belt is an option, but the labor to do can be
significant, and the limited inspection view won’t provide
When a timing belt is
replaced, it’s a best practice to also proactively replace the
water pump (often driven by the timing belt), idler pulleys and
perhaps the belt tensioner. This can almost double the cost of
service compared to a simple “belt slap,” but it is justified
due to the relationship these parts have with the belt and the labor
to get to them if need be in the future. Your WRX is an amazing car
and it deserves the best of care!
Q: I recently
clobbered a big pothole, which destroyed my left front tire. The
tire guy said the rim had a minor dent but the new tire holds air
fine and it “spun smoothly” when he balanced it. To play it safe
this was installed on the right rear of the car. After driving now
for a while I’m noticing the steering wheel is not quite straight.
Is this a problem? The car drives straight and smooth.
A: Ouch! This is
unfortunately becoming a more and more common situation! Your
crooked steering wheel indicates the pothole strike has affected
wheel alignment, particularly the toe (parallel tracking) of the
front wheels. If left unchecked you will likely see rapid tire wear
on one or both front tires, more so on the edge of the tread.
A careful inspection
of the front and rear suspension and left rear tire/wheel is needed!
It’s likely that a suspension component or chassis attachment
point has been bent slightly. When wheel alignment is checked the
technician will be concentrating on camber (inward or outward tilt
of the wheels/tires as viewed from front or rear) and caster (angle
of the steering axis, similar to the fork angle of a bicycle), in
addition to toe. If all components appear undamaged and camber and
caster are OK, a simple toe adjustment may suffice, restoring
steering wheel position and ensuring tire life. If left/front camber
and/or caster are incorrect or there are any signs of damage, I’d
begin an insurance claim and seek to have applicable left front
suspension parts, particularly the ball joint, replaced, along with
the damaged wheel.