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Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/22/20 9:03 a.m.

In April, I bought a Subaru 2004 WRX wagon. I got an unmodified, original owner, adult owned, Florida car for a good price.

It needed axles and a timing belt, and had some issues (wasn't making boost). Nobody that I use locally seemed well versed in these cars, so I ended up at a "subaru specialist" performance shop a couple of counties away from home. Replacing the boost control solenoid and the precat with a non-cat up-pipe took care of the lack of boost. I had provided all of the timing belt/water pump parts, including coolant, and ended up paying $2700 on a $1700 estimate. I left the car with them for about two weeks, so there was no rush to complete the job, and I didn't complain about the extra costs ($1000 more for a non-cat up-pipe and boost control solenoid).

The car didn't run right when I picked it up. It was surging under boost. I called the shop owner, and was told that the ECU needed to relearn how to respond to boost, and that it should smooth out, "maybe in 25 miles, maybe in 100."

When I got it home, I also found it was a bit over a quart low on oil, and over the next few days discovered that the cooling system was down about two quarts. The next week I replaced the panel filter and found that the clamp holding the mass air meter to the airbox was also loose. I hoped tightening the loose clamp would cure the boost surge, but it didn't make a difference. 

I kept driving the car, taking care to stay out of boost as much as possible to avoid overboosting the engine. Max boost is supposed to be about 13.5 lbs. At just part throttle it would surge to 17 lbs pretty easily (as reported by the ECU to a scan gauge), and at one point showed a momentary reading of 27 lbs.

The last theory suggested by the shop owner was that it either lacked the boost restrictor "pill" or had the wrong sized one. He said he would order the correct one, and install it at no charge when I needed my next oil change.

It's developed a leak in the high pressure power steering hose. I started looking at a couple of youtube videos on replacing the power steering hose, and that's when I discovered the likely reason that the ECU has been having so much trouble. The "subaru specialist" shop left off half of the air intake.

Air inlet duct.

Number one in the photo. Hopefully, the part's laying around the shop somewhere. They can be found used on ebay, or new for around $45 to $50.

Picture of the engine in my car the week I bought it. You can see the corner of the air inlet duct at the lower left.

The accumulation of mistakes and evidence of shoddy work makes me wonder what else could be wrong. Were the fasteners for the timing belt left finger tight like the clamp on the mass air meter? Were they installed dry, or did they have locktite used? Did they get slammed in with an air ratchet or impact? Or did they actually get torqued to spec with appropriate use of locktite?

It would be nice to get the inlet air duct and drive it, and hopefully it's solve the boost issues, but I'm really worried about having the timing assembly come apart and destroy my engine. The only way I can be confident would be to have the parts all removed and retorqued, and that's not going to be cheap.

It leaves me with three choices: drive it and hope, pay someone to remove and re-install all of the parts, or sell the car. I'll never find another original owner, unmodified car, so my dream of owning a WRX wagon would be over.

How would you recommend I approach the discussion with the shop owner? What would you ask for? There's no chance that I'm going to let them touch my car again. Trusted local shop with a 10 plus year history with me quoted about $450 for labor to remove and re-install the water pump/timing assembly.

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 9:07 a.m.

I would suggest that unless you enjoy yelling at the owner of the 'specialist' shop, I would just cut my losses and don't bother talking to them ever again. Then have the local trusted shop fix the mistakes, hopefully before anything goes kablooey.

Yes, it hurts to lose the money but what would you realistically expect from the other shop, especially as you don't want them to touch the car?

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/22/20 9:12 a.m.

I don't expect much, but I'd hope to get my missing part.

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
10/22/20 9:26 a.m.

Yep, get the part back if you can.  Take to trusted shop to check everything over. Go on with life.  If you can't do that and still enjoy the car, sell it.


Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 9:36 a.m.

A mechanic is born? You may have just figured out that the biggest factor in doing good mechanical work isn't actually knowing how to do anything, it's.. just giving a E36 M3. If that shop owner isn't worried about 27psi boost spikes on a car they just messed with the boost control system on, that is a giant middle finger to you, your money, and your engine.  You could have someone else fix it right, or you could fix it right yourself, or you could get rid of the car. But the attitude implied by what you've said about that shop owner tells me the only way you'll ever have a winning interaction with them is in a courtroom, and that might be more trouble than it's worth for $2700 if you already don't have time (assuming here) to do the work on the car yourself. 

EvanB (Forum Supporter)
EvanB (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 9:38 a.m.

I've heard more complaints about terrible Subaru specialists than any other shops. Some of that may be due to the typical modified Subaru owner but it still seems quite common.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 9:48 a.m.

In reply to Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) :

Was his name Rick?

mr2s2000elise UltraDork
10/22/20 9:53 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

. I'll never find another original owner, unmodified car, so my dream of owning a WRX wagon would be over.


People think that, but with BAT it isn't true. Over the last few months, there have been a LOT of 1 owner unmodified WRX/STI. 

Olemiss540 Reader
10/22/20 9:59 a.m.

His is why none of my cars will go to a shop outside of tire/alignment work. HATE this but the truth is when you pay a shop, you are usually getting the quickest or most inexperienced wrenching possible. 

If you have a good shop more power to you but my experience has been that it's a one in one hundred. And by good I mean barely competent. Bad being grossly negligent.

pointofdeparture UltimaDork
10/22/20 9:59 a.m.

In reply to EvanB (Forum Supporter) :

I used to be a die-hard Subaru guy until about 10 years ago when I decided to totally disconnect from the community because of how far downhill it seemed to be going at that time. I brought my Brat to a local Subaru meet and utterly confounded everyone, then when I tried to find common ground by talking about rallying, got into a heated argument with a walking Ken Block/Monster Energy advertisement about how the famous Group B Audis couldn't have a five-cylinder engine because that was "physically impossible." I was absolutely floored by the lack of knowledge among the people who called themselves marque enthusiasts at that time.

In the mean time it only seems to have become worse and a lot of those kinds of guys are probably calling themselves Subaru specialists now. Obviously there are good and bad people in every car community out there (and I know some super smart Subaru guys) but for some reason the Subaru community at  large has just really fallen into a dark place.

Olemiss540 Reader
10/22/20 10:03 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

I don't expect much, but I'd hope to get my missing part.

You should go have an in person conversation with the owner and see what they will do to make it as "right" as possible before bailing entirely. Once settled, leave a review online on the blatant disregard for workmanship and post on forums if applicable.



Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy SuperDork
10/22/20 10:04 a.m.

In reply to Vigo (Forum Supporter) :

Amen. "Giving a E36 M3" is the main reason I don't trust most shops and try to do most tasks on my cars.   I'm not a great mechanic and I'm slow as berkeley, but I do care about the results and will do what it takes to get things done right. 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/22/20 10:05 a.m.

Replies rolling in quickly. I love this forum. Thanks, people!

A few clarifications.

I could do the work, but I choose not to.

I'm (marginally) capable, have the tools, and it's getting to the time of year where I can work in the driveway again, but...I'm 65 years old, have a fair bit of wear and tear on the hands and wrists, and need to be able to do surgery for another seven or so years. It's just not fun any more, and I have to preserve myself.

BAT may get some nice ones, but I can't afford anything that gets sold there. I got wiped out in the last recession, which is why I'm going to be working well into my 70s.

Owner's name is not Rick. I'll take that as a clue on where else to avoid, though.

tremm Reader
10/22/20 10:07 a.m.

Get a number in mind you'd be satisfied with. Try cooly explaining what you said here about the service you received, why the car's special to you, why you sought them out specifically, and ask if they'd refund a portion of the repair in reflection of the service provided. If they say no or won't agree to your settled price, leave a review on Yelp, Google, and Subaru forums, wherever else they advertise, about your experience and the shop's response. Just the truth, no name calling. If they're aaa certified contact aaa, I hear they're fairly serious about quality of work, but I don't know if they can actually do anything for you beside punish the shop.

I think the optimistic outcome is the shop refunding you a portion of the labor and parting ways. You might be able to contact your credit card company and get a refund that way as well. If your goal is 100% maybe go that route; I don't know the legalities of that (how poor the work must be, how it needs to be documented/verified, etc.) But it's free to call them and ask.


Also, sorry, hope you get lots of future enjoyment from the car

Lof8 - Andy
Lof8 - Andy SuperDork
10/22/20 10:08 a.m.

I hope his name is not Ken either

Dave M (Forum Supporter)
Dave M (Forum Supporter) Dork
10/22/20 10:10 a.m.

They kept a part of your car? My CC company would charge that back to them no problem. All you have to do is have an email exchange, or even just an attempt at an exchange, documenting that you asked for your part and your refund.

Amex sucks for merchants but from a customer perspective they nearly always take your side!

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 10:14 a.m.
Lof8 - Andy said:

I hope his name is not Ken either

Or Alan, apparently. 

mr2s2000elise UltraDork
10/22/20 10:16 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

BAT may get some nice ones, but I can't afford anything that gets sold there. I got wiped out in the last recession, which is why I'm going to be working well into my 70s.

.I'm 65 years old, have a fair bit of wear and tear on the hands and wrists, and need to be able to do surgery for another seven or so years. It's just not fun any more, and I have to preserve myself.


Sorry to hear of your situation. I hope you get the WRX sorted, and enjoy it in the coming days. Best wishes. 

Saron81 HalfDork
10/22/20 10:24 a.m.

I can't see that part of the intake (or any part before the airbox) having any effect on the cars drivability. You have something else going on. 
I'd still want it back however. 

BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter)
BoxheadTim (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
10/22/20 10:26 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) said:

I don't expect much, but I'd hope to get my missing part.

That's fair enough.

Tom1200 Dork
10/22/20 10:28 a.m.

You will likely need to just take it to your trusted shop and cut your loses.

In the meantime speak to the owner of the shop and see where he stands. If the guy brushes you off, leave the appropriate review and move on.

If I had to guess, I'd say because your car wasn't some zooty special it went to the least experienced guy and the owner is too busy to check the car properly.

Here is the dilemma with many of the so called specialists / tuner shops; in many cases their experience is within a narrow range. To compound the issue their customers are willing to tolerate all sorts of compromises in the name of performance. Additionally while they may do great work on high end builds they do a poor job on run of the mill stuff because it's just filler work to them.

mr2s2000elise UltraDork
10/22/20 10:32 a.m.
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UberDork
10/22/20 10:35 a.m.

I could dispute the credit card charges, we're within the 60 days. Invoice was from August 31, 52 days ago. Never thought of that, but I only got to this point when I realized that the intake part was missing.

Byrneon27 Reader
10/22/20 10:42 a.m.

On your scangauge try to find an air metering reading or vacuum reading also look at short and long term fuel trims most scan tools could get you there as well as said above it is unlikely that a cool air duct is causing that wild a boost fluctuation. 

As far as the shop call the owner to explain your situation and your concern if the answer is anything other than "let's get it back here asap for a look" you're talking to a wall cut your losses and move on leave appropriate reviews at that point. 

Brett_Murphy (Ex-Patrón)
Brett_Murphy (Ex-Patrón) MegaDork
10/22/20 11:09 a.m.

I see shops dragged for all kinds of things that don't make sense. You've got legitimate complaints.

I agree with the others- show up in person to the shop and discuss how they're going to make this right for you. Be ready to roll the charges back on your credit card in front of them.

Then, take it to the dealer. It'll suck, but they'll actually know how to get your car back to running correctly in stock form. The catless up pipe is something that was implemented in later model turbo engines, do don't be afraid that they're going to balk at that.

There's a shop up here in North Carolina that pulls in business from all over the SouthEast. They're solid, do good work and care about their reputation greatly. There's a reason that they get folks driving hundreds of miles to get work done.

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