How To Repair
1994 Subaru Legacy 2.2L

© 2014 Brian Mork

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This web page contains a narrative log and pictorial essay to maintain a 1994 Subaru Legacy L 2.2L 130hp flat-4 cylinder with 245,000+ miles.  It was inspired by the positive feedback I receive from a similar page documenting my work on 1989 Dodge B250 Ram Van with 5.2L engine.  The Subaru engine is the same one a lot of homebuilt aircraft builders are using, so maybe I have a lot more miles of life in the car!  It has been a tremendous workhorse - even some 12,000 miles towing trailers back and forth 7 across the nation, with trailer weights of 1560 to 2200 pounds.  Full fuel, no load weight is 2860 pounds.

At the bottom of this page, I also have some simple graphs aggregating LOTS of data on costs data for older cars.  This page is meant to teach you, document technical data, and perhaps most of all motivate and encourage you as you try to figure out your non-working Subaru. I included lots of links to web resources I found useful. I always appreciate your link back to this page so Google thinks what I say is important!

Before you start work on a car project that may take several weeks,
consider canceling insurance or doing "storage" to save insurance money. My insurer used to provide a "storage" option that provides only comprehensive coverage and drops the cost of a newer vehicle from $52.50/mo down to $5.00/mo.  Or, if you can handle the risk, you could remove ALL coverage including comprensive and save a boatload of money.


Let me know if this page helps you, and I'll put your comments here!

Pictures for Reference as You Read

In the text, pictures are referenced by "row x column", so you know which one I'm talking about.

Click on any picture to see a big view.

Looking behind the (removed) glove compartment.  Fan blower on the right. Big black box in the middle houses the evaporative cooler.  Connector as annotated is the thermister and the amp  circuit "in line" in a small rectangular plastic box
The red arrow points to the paperclip I installed to bypass the thermister transistor, which was telling the AC that the evaporator was always frozen over, preventing the compressor from running.

This is the window switch module.  White side is right side up, and the black top cover is flipped over.

Electrical contacts were fine. The problem was the two little broken ears shown to the right.  You're looking at the bottom side of the user toggles. The left one is healthy.

Assembling the electrical switch assembly back into the door.

June 2012 - Replace Disk Brakes

An ugly scraping sound was coming from the brakes.  It turns out the back right outer pad had frozen, making the inner pad takeup all the work, which was used up.  Steel on steel scraping.  I replaced both pads with recycled pads that had been pulled months or years ago, but had a bit of life left in them.  The slider alignment groove slot didn't slide easily, so I filed down the slider slot grooves until it slid easily.

June 2012 - Air Conditioning

It is getting too hot.  Worked to repair to the air conditioning. AC runs for about 5 minutes, and then the compressor cut out.  Sometimes it never came on.

High and Low side pressures were checked with a guage.  About 55 psi on the low side and about 215 psi on the high side.  Feeling the tubes revealed the proper cold/warm temperatures, so I think the chemical side part of the AC is fine.  I disconnected the connector to the the coolant pressure switch and it was appropriately low resistance indicating that the contact was closed and it was asking the AC compressor to run.

Picture r1c1 above shows the view behind the glove box.  The critical item is the thermister amplifier connector.  The thermister sits on the downstream side of the evaporative cooler and monitors when things get too cold.  For example, did you know that the AC system engages when you put on window defrost heat?  This is done so that the compressor and coolant get circulated during the winter, too.  Obviously, you don't use the cold air setting in the winter, but the AC compressor and circuits are still running behind the scenes.  The purpose of the thermistor is to keep ice from building up on your evaporator and wrecking it.

The thermistor amplifier connector has 3 wires.  One is +V (that's the red one in the upper right of the photo).  The other is the emitter of a switching transistor that is pulled to ground so long as 2 other switches are in the correct position somewhere else in the car.  Out of memory, I think it's the dashboard AC switch and the coolant pressure switch.  The third wire comes from one of the AC relays in the fuse box and pulls one side of the coil toward ground to turn on the relay.  The other side of the AC relay coil is always +V.

When the thermister is not too cold, it allows enough current from the +V red wire to go into the switch transistor base, which "pulls down" the voltage at the transistor collector.  Current goes out the transistor emitter and through the two switches holding that wire at functional ground.  When the thermister is too cold, then no current goes into the transistor base, and the collecor is not pulled to ground.  In other words, the collector to emitter current path goes to high resistance, and the coil of the AC relay in the fuse box is not energized, and the compressor won't run.

In my case, I think the comparitor that amplifies the thermister signal was dead.  Or the switching transistor was dead.  But in any case, when I connected the bottom of the AC relay wire directly to the functional ground wire, the switching transistor is bypassed as if it is always turned on.

April 2013 - Window Switch

The window up/down switch quit working.  The driver switch used to raise and lower the passenger side front window went intermittent for about a week, and then totally quit working.  I could lower the window, but to get it back up, I had to lean across the car and use the passenger side switch.  The driver switch snapped crisply backward, but when pressed forward, it was mushy and must have quit making electrical contact.

After diddling and dawdling for several months, I found time to visit the local junk yard.  They looked up on their computer and found a newer model in the yard (I think it was a 1995 car as opposed to my 1994, but I'm not sure).  They wanted $30 for the entire door module for all the windows.  I figured that's cheap in the bigger scheme of things, so he called the yard man to go get the switch.  I asked to accompany him to see what else I could see.

We got to the desired car, but the door electrical switch was a totally different design.  The yard guy remembered seeing a different type over on the "U pick parts" side of the yard, so we walked over.  After about 5 minutes, we came upon some similar looking model car with an identical looking window switch arrangment.  I offered to go get my tools and do the work so I could get it for a lower price.

After 15 minutes with a flat blade screw driver and a phillips screwdriver, I had the module in hand.  I checked in at the counter and they offered to let it go for $10 with no warrantee.  I took it.

Gently snap the door trim away from the door, and unscrew the 3 screens lower front.  The little triangle piece in the front corner of the window needs to come off, too.  Jiggle the trim away from the door after removing two screws.  I laid down on my back and looked up into the door for the rest of the work.   I removed my existing module and replaced it with the junk-yard module, and electrically tested it before putting everything back together.  Oh no!  It had exactly the same problem!!

Time for deeper investigations to salvage my $10.  Picture r1c3 shows the switch module disassembled.  You can see the front right and the two back switches are the same; the front left one of the four is different.  Turns out the electronics were fine. Instead, there is a little while spring-loaded double-eared piece, retained and switched back and forth by the black plastic toggle.  The black retainer piece had broken off two tiny pieces, so the white piece was able to tilt sideways and escape.  See picture r1c4. No way to reglue these parts, and the exact same thing had happened on both my car and the junk yard car.  All the other toggles were fine.

Turns out the individual black toggles can be removed.  The way they are retained is challenging.  The best way I found to release them is to put a flat bladed screwdriver between the moveable part and the body of the module.  Twist gently, applying separation pressure repeat from the other direction.  Eventually the pivot will let loose.  Repeat on the other side of the toggle.

The window plastic toggles are interchangeable.  I took a back-seat toggle from the salvage yard item and replaced the broken right-front toggle on on my car's assembly.  Picture r1c5 shows the assembly going back into the car.

It works fine, and I have another spare toggle for when the black ears break off in another 200,000 miles!

January 2014 - Water Pump, Timing Belt, Crankshaft Oil Seal

There was a gentle growling with the engine every once in a while, and heading to work one day in January, it did a distinct growling sound like bearing going out on a pulley.  I knew something wasn't right.  It was a cold morning and 6 miles later the hot air coming out of the vent stopped.  Water was not circulating or I had already leaked a lot of water out the water pump shaft when the impeller shaft wore too much, hit the side of the housing and broke.  About 15 seconds later, the temperature thermostat climbed very quickly to near max indication and I knew I had to stop immediately.  I put the car in neutral to take the load off the engine and pulled off onto a driveway a few hundred feet down the road and turned off the engine.  Steam was coming out from the hood, and water was aggressively dripping from the bottom of the car.  Hitched a ride to work, and towed it home after work.

The replacement interval for timing belts is 80,000 miles.  I experienced a belt failure with a 1986 Subaru station wagon at 85,000 miles, so I trust that interval.  However, life gets busy...  I replaced the first belt on this car in 2001 at 90188 miles.  It didn't look worn in any way, so I kept it for a spare.  The second belt has run 155000 miles.  Time to change it, but since the engine has no interference between the valves and the pistons, I was kind of just waiting for it to fail.  Because it has to be removed to get to the water pump, I replaced it while doing the pump.

Oil seepage out the bottom of the timing belt cover was getting pretty bad, too.  Back in 2002, at 100160 miles, I had someone replace the front crank oil seal.  They didn't replace the rubber gasket at the bottom of the timing belt cover, and that always bothered me, because some dirt could get into the timing belt cavity.  Also, he never tighted the four bolts across the bottom holding in the radiator fans.  They were loose and finally rusted in place over the past 10 years.
As I serviced the water pump, it was obvious the crankshaft seal had been leaking for many years because there was a little path of clean oil which was washing away the road grime.

Worse yet, I could not believe my eyes as aligned the timing marks to take off the timing belt.  When I lined up the crank and passenger side timing cam marks, I was amazed that the driver side cam was about 3 ribs out of position!  The cam was too far toward the passenger side of the car, meaning the cam timing was about 10 advanced from where it should be.  Nobody has touched the timing belt since 2002, and there's no way it can slip a gear. Ignition timing is taken from the crankshaft, so that means the driver side valves were about 10 degrees early for the last 10 years! 

MercedesDieselGuy has a good YouTube video covering most of the work. 
$65 water pump, $35 timing belt OR buy the $290 water pump kit which includes the timing belt, pump, and all idler pulleys. Crank oil seal $4.   For me, work consisted of these steps:
  1. Remove shrouds over alternator, A/C compressor and power steering.
  2. Loosen and remove two belts accessory belts.
  3. Remove coolent reservoir, and remove driver side radiator cooling fan. Bottom fan bolts need to be only loosened, not removed. 
  4. Remove out plastic timing belt covers.
  5. Remove crank pulley and remove center plastic timing belt cover.  Special tools can hold the pulleys from turning while you loosen the bolts.  Or, under the carburator stuff, there's a portal to reach into the transmission and brace the engine from turnig.  this is what MercedesDieselGuy shows. 

    I found success getting the pulleys loose by pulling the front passenger side spark plug and without getting dirt or anything else undesireable into the engine, rotated the crank until the piston was at the bottom.  Then I fed about 28" of flexible rope into the cylinder and rotated the crank until the piston was locked against the rope.  Crank and cam bolts were loosened, and then the engine turned back a little bit to pull the rope out and close the spark plug hole.

  6. Loosen driver side cam pulley (not sure this was necessary to clear the water pump).
  7. Remove the lower most idling pulley.
  8. Remove the hydraulic piston tensioner, and tighter pulley.
  9. Remove the timing belt.
  10. Remove 2 more idling pulleys.
  11. Remove driver side cam pulley (not sure this was necessary).
  12. Remove the crankshaft timing belt driver gear and check leaking seal.  This should slide off the shaft, but it's a tight fit.  In my case, it took a spray of WD-40 and about 40-50 wiggles pulling with my hands to get it loose.
  13. Remove water pump and unhook two water tubes.
  14. Remove thermostat and check 169-196 deg F operation in hot water.

  15. Flush water system - especially if water pump did metal on metal abrasion.
  16. Force water in small hose separate from water pump.  This water back flushes the heater core in the passenger compartment.  Repeat until clear water comes out the engine block at the water pump mount.
  17. Remove the passenger side hot water return to radiator and squirt water into the engine until clear water comes out the water pump mount.
  18. Force water in the large hose separate from the water pump to backflush the radiator until clear water comes out the return hose to the radiator.

  19. {Option to unhook both transmission cooling lines and backflush.}

  20. Swap thermostat to the new pump. Thermostat bolts 26-35 in-lbs, MercedesDieselGuy states 48-60 in-lbs.
  21. Swap the little plastic strip seal on the pump - careful, it's brittle plastic, not rubber.
  22. With a thin layer of sealant RTV to hold the seal in place, reposition new water pump from beneath the car up against the rubber bumpers.  I found it easy to put some dish soap on the rubber bumpers so the pump housing would slide in against them easily.  Finger screw the top center bolt and wiggle other bolts into position.  Tighten bolts in CW order starting with upper outboard bolt.  Tighten bolts to 7-10 ft-lb around the circle twice.

  23. {Need to remove and replace crank seal}

  24. Replace crank drive gear.
  25. Replace cam pulley finger tight.
  26. Replace 2 idler pulleys.
  27. Replace tightening pulley and hydraulic tightener (leave pin in place).
  28. Replace bottom idler pulley
  29. Replace timing belt, while checking 3 timing marks.
  30. Using the rope trick, tighten the crank and cam bolts, and pull hydraulic tighter release pin.
  31. Replace 3 plastic timing belt covers.
  32. Replace radiator cooling fan and coolant reservoir.
  33. Replace and tention two accessory belts.
I put everything back and every time I started the car it started leaking water out of the right side of the radiator and dripping on the driveway.  Doing a close inspection showed a hairline vertical crack in the radiator manifold on the passenter side.  I think the hot temperature as the water leaked out and I stopped the engine must have cracked the plastic.

I purchased a mail order radiator and installed it.  That fixed everything the car is now running as good as new.

May 2014 - Goodbye to an Old Friend

After one more cross country run, pulling a 1600 lb trailer across the nation for the 7th time, I gave the trusty Subaru away.  It was running great.  The only thing "wrong" with it is about 15 years ago I disconnected the seat belt motors so that the auto-lap belts did not move any more.  Instead I just manually clicked them into place each time.
245,000 miles or so - almost 1/4 of a million miles.  If I was in a more stable living situation, I would have kept the car.  I just had to cut down on the number of vehicles I had to move every time I moved, so the oldest car needed to retire.  ... actually it's not retired, but now commuting every day to work for someone else.  I'm wondering how long it will keep going.  My bet is it would have made 1/2 million miles before giving out.  Since it took me 20 years to reach half of that, I'm not sure I have 20 more years in me to push a vehicle to 1/2 million miles.  I do have my eyes on the newer Subaru Outbacks, though...


vehicle-cost-comparisonAfter the costs incurred above, I began to wonder what the vehicles actually cost me.  I've kept mileage and repair and insurance data for years and spent some time with a spreadsheet program to reduce this to meaningful data.  Click on the little graph here to download a pdf document.

A lot of people say, "Sell the car when the repair costs are more than the costs of a new car."  Actually, I think they mean cashflow repair costs vs. the monthly payment on a new car. I'm not sure that's the correct reason, because they haven't included depreciation in the comparison.  Instead, I am watching for when the total cost cashflow for repairs, depreciation, and fuel has bottomed out and then starts going back up.

© 2010-2014 Brian Mork. Please contact me using the copyright link prior to commercial use, or reproducing for distribution in a commercial context.