STis – They’re like Marriage – Engine Failure

by Zach Billings on May 23, 2011

Subaru STi Blown MotorWe all know the classic view of marriage. Everyone jokes about it and many believe it. Marriage is the bane of your existence 95% of the time, but the 5% of the time that it works, it makes it all worth while. My car is much the same way, as it turns out. When I bought my 2005 Subaru STi in July of 2010, there was evidence to suggest that some pain might be in its future. If only I had known what I was signing myself up for….

When I first drove my STi, it was missing its windshield washer fluid reservoir (indicating that Methanol injection had been previously used) and had a boost leak among other small concerns. The boost leak was fixed by replacing a silicone elbow and Steve – who helps me with all my car work – fixed up all the squeaks and rattles that were of note. We then addressed the issue I was having with the transmission grinding me out of 3rd, 4th, and 5th gear during hard shifting. My syncros were on their way out but we used a transmission fluid cocktail from Grimmspeed to sort that out. By the time the little jobs were done, the STi was far from perfect but was definitely a very enjoyable car, which had too much skill for my level of driving ability.

The following few months were a blast. I got to drive the STi through the prime driving season, from mid summer into early fall. Drove my car hard on a regular basis, asking it to do much more than just flex its muscles. I made the car really exercise its abilities. A stock STi in good condition, which has been well maintained since new, should not have a problem with this. Unfortunately my car was in marginal mechanical condition (as it turns out) and had been heavily abused since it was new. My antics exacerbated a problem that would have reared its head on its own before too long, but possibly not to the same degree.

One day during October of 2010, I drove down to UMass Dartmouth to pick up my friend Ethan and drive him back to Framingham. The drive down went fine, minus my GPS dying in a town I’d never been to before and we got dinner at Five Guys before heading back to Framingham. On the drive home, I did a number of hard pulls at highway speeds and at one point got into a little contest with a couple kids in a pickup truck. It was one of those weird nights where all the traffic is doing 85-90mph on the highway. I was doing about 90 in the fast lane and this pickup truck came cruising up behind me and got a little close. Lightly annoyed, I moved over a lane out of respect for him having the balls to do 100mph in an old pickup. As he roared past me, I decided to catch him up then play a little chicken game with him.

I got in front of the pickup and dropped to around 90. Every time he would catch up to me, he would switch into the middle lane to pass me on the right. As he did so, I would downshift and blast up to 110 or so and do it all over again. After toying with each other at high speed for a while, I noticed that I could smell a pretty obvious burning smell every time I got on the throttle. So began my nightmare.

A week before all this, I got a check-oil light on my dash. I thought little of it and just figured it was nearly time for an oil change. I didn’t realize I was actually partially starving my engine and doing damage. As it turns out, I partially burnt out the cylinder rings, casing the burning smell on the highway. Between these events and my having to gently drive the car for another 3 months on the gimped engine, I totally ruined the car’s shortblock.

It needed to be replaced, along with its many peripheral components, and I decided it would be wise to buy a new clutch setup at the same time since I had a feeling mine didn’t have much more life in it. After 3 months of having to avoid getting into turbo boost at all costs, I was itching to get the engine work underway. I borrowed a total of $3000 between my mom and friends and added another $3000 of my own over the course of the job. The car came off the road in late December of 2010, then sat for a month or two before we had all the parts and Steve found the time to pull the motor.

Once the motor was out, it took until late February to have it rebuilt and ready to go back in the car. Finally in March it came time to reinstall it. Using the – the out of commission – photo studio at work to work on the car, we reinstalled the motor over the course of a week. Finally the time came to start the car. It started flawlessly and Steve let it idle for a minute before beginning test revving. He revved it to 2000rpm. He revved it again. Then he revved to 3000rpm and I heard a light whirring noise start emanating from the engine bay. Lightly concerned, I hoped it was normal and leaned closer as Steve revved to 3000 again. As I leaned closer he revved a fifth time; this time to 3500rpm. BANG. A loud sound came from the motor and pieces of material flew everywhere. I jumped back out of reflex and noticed oil dripping onto the ground. One of the cam gears had exploded, breaking the plastic case that goes over it and allowing some of the oil to ooze out. All I could do was laugh out of shock. Sort of like when someone gets horribly wounded then says something funny.

We were back to square one…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Henry November 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

How many miles were on the engine?? Also, did you preform regular ingine maintenance?? oil chainge every 2200-3000 miles??

Zach Billings December 1, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I bought the car with 58k miles on it and the previous owner had modded it to hell and back and had clearly beat it. I personally do oil changes every 2000 miles with the best oil I can get my hands on.

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