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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Not quite sure where to start on this so please bear with me. I am going to lay everything out that has happened in the hope something important jumps out that may lead to a solution. The car in question belongs to my spouse, an original owner of a Subaru Outback (2004 base model, AT, EJ259 engine). I should first mention that the car received new spark plugs, radiator fan, belts, hoses, water pump and belt tensioners in 2017 with a new radiator and thermostat installed in 2019. (Fuel injectors, throttle body, intake manifold, fuel filter and fuel pump are original. The dealer has replaced the catalytic converters twice, most recently in 2016. The car has ~175,000 miles on it.)

In May 2019, the car overheated, the radiator cracked and the headgaskets failed at ~167,000 miles. One day out of the shop for the HG repair, the belts dropped. The shop owner blamed the presence of a tap/heli-coil in the cylinder head but claimed he was unaware during the first HG replacement that the tap was present. He blamed our prior mechanic even though we had no history of similar work. Although he agreed to re-do the HG work, he insisted we cover his parts/machining cost because the presence of the tap wasn't his fault ($624).

A concern I raised right away was the condition of the catalytic converter (whether there was any risk it had melted internally). The shop owner insisted the CAT was fine but it was never clear exactly how he came to that conclusion so we performed an early smog test to ensure it would pass (it did). While in Shop #1, completely new problems "coincidentally" arose: When the car was at last ready for pickup — six weeks after the second HG failure — we took it for a test drive only to find smoke arising from the engine compartment. We turned around and left the car again, only to be told that our rack-and-pinion required replacement (the fluid was smoking as it collected in the exhaust and shop owner ultimately had to remove parts of the undercarriage to clean it out). After arriving to pick up the car from the rack-and-pinion replacement, it began to whistle upon acceleration (required a new muffler). During the same test drive, the car began to shake/quake going into a turn (required a new drive shaft). Honestly, it feels like we were taken to the cleaners. (Shop # 1 knew we were new to the area where we live and no longer had the benefit of a trusted mechanic for a second opinion.)

After getting the car back in July 2019 — two months after we left it — we noticed it ran a bit rougher than before but there was no CEL. For a couple of weeks everything was fine. Then, in September, it threw a P10420. We returned to Shop #1 to ask about the code but was told the shop was too busy and to keep driving it to "see if anything else goes wrong". We considered that it may have been a bad tank of gas, cleared the code and didn't see it again until it came on briefly in November. The first week of January 2020, Shop # 1 repaired a leak in the lower crankshaft seal.

The headlights were badly fogged up due to age so spouse installed a new R/L aftermarket headlight assembly (DIY, not at a shop). During the daytime the car drove fine, but when the headlights were switched on the car began blowing a fuse. Initially, however, we didn't realize that the headlights were the trigger for losing power. AAA arrived after the car died in a parking lot and blamed a bad alternator (alternator was only a year old). Spouse called a mobile mechanic who replaced the alternator, after which it was necessary to replace the fuse that controlled the headlights, dash lights and alternator. The very next day, on the way in to work, a fuse blew again — except this time we appreciated that running the headlights was the trigger. The tow truck driver wanted to know where to take the car and since nothing was open at 5:30 a.m., spouse told the driver to take it to the shop that did the HG work. Shop owner diagnosed a short in the headlight assembly. When the car was ready for pickup, shop owner mentions on the phone that the ECM needs to be replaced. He said the P1092 code is associated with a Subaru turbo-equipped WRX, not an Outback, therefore the ECM must be bad. We decide to take the car directly to a Subaru dealer for a second opinion. On the drive over, we experience new symptoms: The car has no power on hills and it's hard to reach 25mp on any kind of grade.

Car sits on the Subaru dealer lot from the end of January 2020 to late February (we are new to the area so this is also a new-to-us dealer). We call and can't get through to the service department (calls go to voicemail, no call back). We show up in person and talk to the service manager to ask what the holdup is. He subsequently quits his job, unknown to us, so it's back to phone tag with the service advisor. Repeatedly we authorize the service advisor to run a computer diagnostic but it's never clear that they complete the work (dealer blames the pandemic, doesn't charge for the service). Only after the car has been gone nearly six weeks do we come to appreciate that the dealer broke a part they were attempting to replace called a "motor AY intake manifold" (part # 14120AA020). We learn they ordered a new one — only for that new part to fail to resolve the check engine light. As a result, the dealer pulls off the new part and re-installs the original part, after which we are advised to clean the intake manifold. We ask if that will solve the problem. They say they don't know if it will clear the code — and on the service ticket it states they will not warranty the work. (On the service ticket, they also mention an "exhaust leak" but they are vague about where it is and the significance.) Since we're going nowhere with Subaru, we have the car towed off the dealer lot to an independent repair shop (Shop # 3). We get a call a few days later that the alternator was found to be installed incorrectly. The shop owner says that a bolt/bracket was protruding into the (butterfly?) valve causing a mechanical obstruction. We are grateful it's fixed — although confused as to why Subaru didn't catch it. We drive off the lot with no more CEL. Car is due for smog check, so we immediately proceed to a smog test station where it passes.

The car still feels a bit "off" — like the front axle is binding. Shop #3 thinks it may be our transmission. We take it to AMCO where we are told the transmission is fine but the drive shaft is not. Even though we had already paid Shop #1 to replace the drive shaft, we no longer want them working on the car so we replace the drive shaft at AMCO (we keep the old part and Shop #1 refunded us the cost of the faulty drive shaft). From there, we begin the drive home. We get a few miles down the road when the car loses power — still ~25 miles from home. We pull into a nearby auto repair shop to get the code read. Shop #4 reads a P2138 and diagnoses a faulty accelerator peddle assembly (oddly, this same part was replaced by a dealer back in 2016).

We are told by Shop #4 that we also have an "exhaust leak" but they say it's not going to cause any harm to drive it. Spouse gets a couple weeks of normal driving out of the car when I notice that it is making a squeaking sound upon startup (sounds like a belt/tensioner). During this time the P0420 comes and goes (we blame bad gas and put Tekron in the tank). Spouse drives the car another two months when, without warning, the car loses power while driving. The car limps home at 10mph. We use our own code reader and get the following: P10638 and a P01731 and a P2109 and the P0420. We take it back to the shop that installed the accelerator peddle assembly, thinking that the peddle assembly may have failed since the symptoms are similar. Shop #4 instead concludes the throttle needs to be replaced (claims the noise we are hearing is from the throttle, not a belt/tensioner). Before we throw money into the throttle replacement, we indicate that we would like to get a handle on the bigger picture (understand the cause of the P0420 code). At this point, the shop owner indicates that the 02 sensor mounted on the catalytic converter — a CAT which had been replaced by a California Subaru dealer in 2016 under warranty — is cross threaded.

We ask Shop #4 whether the exhaust leaks could be masking a bad catalytic converter. She says it is possible that once the exhaust leaks are repaired there will be too much back pressure in the CAT — but she won't know until she checks it out. We OK her to go ahead and take a closer look. (I am still concerned the CAT sustained damage when car overheated and the HGs blew — in which case we may be looking at more than just bad gas or a faulty throttle.) The next call we get is that the shop removed the 02 sensor but the threads stripped out of our passenger side CAT and now they can't reattach the 02 sensor. We also learn that where the exhaust pipe attaches to the bottom of the cylinder head that this, too, is stripped out (lower passenger side cylinder head will need to be tapped — they say they found it had been cross threaded too). We figure it should be possible for an exhaust/muffler shop to repair the damage to the CAT — assuming the CAT itself is not bad — but Shop #4 informs us that A) they were unable to determine if the CAT had gone bad due to the cross-threaded components that had stripped, and B) as a smog check station they can't be party to any modifications (bung, tap, etc.). The only choice we are given for repair is brand new parts, a quote of ~$5K for all of the work (CAT, 02 sensor, throttle).

At this point, there remains a question as to whether Shop # 1 created secondary problems — but officially we don't have any service record to confirm that Shop #1 removed the CAT while installing the new muffler, rack-and-pinion or drive shaft — nor do we know if he would have had reason to remove/reinstall the 02 sensor (the car ran rougher after we got it back after the second HG job but when we stopped in to personally ask the service manager at Subaru last year to do a complete inspection of the prior work, the dealer failed to even complete a basic multi-point inspection).

If we go purely off of service history, Subaru would have been responsible for cross-threading the 02 sensor upon installation of the new CAT back in 2016. (The dealer where that work was done is over 80 miles away from us and has also changed ownership.) In any event, the car remains at Shop #4 and is still in pieces — even as we're being pressured to either pay up or tow it elsewhere.

It was news to us that repairing stripped threads on an 02 sensor mounted to a CAT constitutes an illegal modification in California and could cause us to fail our next smog even if there is no CEL. Had we known the risk, we would have told Shop # 4 to leave the cross-threaded 02 sensor alone. Likewise, if hindsight is 20/20, the shop owner should have advised us to return to the dealer upon learning that Subaru had replaced the CAT not once but twice under warranty.

On Monday, I told Shop # 4 to do their level best to find us a used part off a compatible salvage yard vehicle since we don't know — they were never able to determine — if the CAT itself had failed. In the meantime, I called Subaru of America to ask if the catalytic converter is still under warranty. SOA claimed there is only a one-year warranty on the CAT. Upon calling another Subaru dealer, they backed up the SOA's assertion that the 2016 CAT is out of warranty. But that flies in the face of my understanding that these parts, in CA, typically have a 7-year warranty. (If anybody who is knowledgeable about CA emissions can verify that the warranty may still apply, please reply.)

With respect to the various check engine lights: tumble generator valve, throttle body, gas peddle sensor and intermittent CAT code, I can't help but observe that the common denominator is loss of acceleration power. So my first question is this: Is there any discernible pattern here that may offer up hope of a simpler, less costly fix? (As an example, when would it be necessary to replace the throttle vs. clean it?) Alternately, is the throttle in a place where it could have been reinstalled incorrectly or damaged during the prior work?

Additional questions include: Do we have any rights as consumers to request Shop #4 to share the cost of replacing the CAT now that they stripped out the threads? Are there after-market CATs that is legal in CA for this car? Will sourcing a used CAT really jeopardize Shop #4 with their smog check license were they to locate one and install it? (They insist our only option is a new CAT because anything else would endanger their CA "Star" smog station certification. Is that true?)

Apologies, in conclusion, for this long post. My spouse isn't prepared to see this car go from Shop # 4 to a salvage yard before the car hits the 200K mark — nor are we prepared to dump $5K more into it — so we're open to any workarounds that may allow for a happier ending.

Thank you.
 

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Sorry for the problems you have had and for what seems like bad workmanship from multiple workshops.

As you were advised the O2 sensor was cross threaded before workshop #4 did any work, I do not think they would have any need to compensate you as you approved them to remove the sensor knowing of the problem.

I have no idea if you can fit an aftermarket CAT but I am sure others forum members have mentioned you can purchase Californian spec aftermarket CAT’s so that implies you should be able to use them in California.

I suspect you are referring to the “throttle body” when you mention throttle and while I believe these can be disassembled and cleaned the cost of labour to do this may be more than the cost of a new unit.

As the vehicle has 175,000 miles I would be putting the 5K towards a new vehicle and selling the current vehicle as is to someone who can do their own repairs to get it back on the road.

Seagrass
 

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First, this sucks. I hear and witness this kind of thing all the time. Nothing to do except find a solution.

Shop 1 is the most likely culprit in the cat and engine issues. They would remove the pipes and manifild to remove the engine. They would remove the manifold to change the steering rack. They would remove the O2 sensor when removing the pipes. They would have had the axle out and reinstalled during this work also; possibly causing damage at either point, either coming out or going in.

Whomever installed the alternator wasn't paying attention either and may have changed the bracket bolt out. The alternator bolts are the correct length to insure that they can not interfere with the throttle valve on this engine.

Stripped head bolts was also most likely caused by the shop that did the head work. If they were the first to disassemble the engine since production, it's on them, but you can't prove it.

Careless parts changers. They certainly are not qualified to be called a technician.

You really can't prove liability on anyone. The car has been to more than 1 place and too many hands. The shops, the dealers; "not me" will come up a lot.

The throttle should be cleaned every 30k miles. If the engine is using a lot of oil, 15k. Anytime you get throttle/pedal codes you go first to the throttle to check for obstruction. Then go to the battery and grounding. Which with the latter, grounding, could also be a contributor if the shop that did the head work didn't get all the grounds connected, and subsequent "techs" didn't notice or check. Any electrical fault on any car requires you check the grounds. It's in all the manufacturers' service data.

Where to go from here? No one that runs a shop in the US is going to install a cat from a salvage yard at their shop. EPA won't even let salvage yards sell them to individuals. They have to be recycled.

The exhaust manifold w/o a cat is acceptable as long as it's OEM. At least that's my understanding of CA overly strict regulation of parts.

Heli-coils - someone that works in a shop in CA will have to answer this one. Maybe you can look up the guidelines and regulations. Too many shops, even here where emission testing is done annually, use the emissions requirements to goad unnecessary, or overpriced repair options.

I will say that your 04, under 200k miles, if it's in good shape, apparently no rust (??), would be worth $5k easy here. But I don't think 5k is a necessary number to valuate the actual needed repairs. You should find an honest shop that knows these cars, and especially that 259 engine and how it's different from the 251 and 252.

Another option is to find a wreck and swap some parts. Namely the heads if no one wants to fix the threads for the manifold. Maybe the exhaust system, hint, hint. If you are capable and can put the cars side by side for the swap, it would drastically reduce the final bill. If you are not able, I'm sure there is someone out there who can do it for a reasonable cost. After the parts from 2 make 1, salvage the donor. And you won't be able to get a wreck from salvage for the "exhaust". You'd have to find one being sold by an individual, or Copart, which is an auctioning company that is mostly "totalled" vehicles from insurance companies.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
First, this sucks. I hear and witness this kind of thing all the time. Nothing to do except find a solution.

Shop 1 is the most likely culprit in the cat and engine issues. They would remove the pipes and manifild to remove the engine. They would remove the manifold to change the steering rack. They would remove the O2 sensor when removing the pipes. They would have had the axle out and reinstalled during this work also; possibly causing damage at either point, either coming out or going in.

Whomever installed the alternator wasn't paying attention either and may have changed the bracket bolt out. The alternator bolts are the correct length to insure that they can not interfere with the throttle valve on this engine.

Stripped head bolts was also most likely caused by the shop that did the head work. If they were the first to disassemble the engine since production, it's on them, but you can't prove it.

Careless parts changers. They certainly are not qualified to be called a technician.

You really can't prove liability on anyone. The car has been to more than 1 place and too many hands. The shops, the dealers; "not me" will come up a lot.

The throttle should be cleaned every 30k miles. If the engine is using a lot of oil, 15k. Anytime you get throttle/pedal codes you go first to the throttle to check for obstruction. Then go to the battery and grounding. Which with the latter, grounding, could also be a contributor if the shop that did the head work didn't get all the grounds connected, and subsequent "techs" didn't notice or check. Any electrical fault on any car requires you check the grounds. It's in all the manufacturers' service data.

Where to go from here? No one that runs a shop in the US is going to install a cat from a salvage yard at their shop. EPA won't even let salvage yards sell them to individuals. They have to be recycled.

The exhaust manifold w/o a cat is acceptable as long as it's OEM. At least that's my understanding of CA overly strict regulation of parts.

Heli-coils - someone that works in a shop in CA will have to answer this one. Maybe you can look up the guidelines and regulations. Too many shops, even here where emission testing is done annually, use the emissions requirements to goad unnecessary, or overpriced repair options.

I will say that your 04, under 200k miles, if it's in good shape, apparently no rust (??), would be worth $5k easy here. But I don't think 5k is a necessary number to valuate the actual needed repairs. You should find an honest shop that knows these cars, and especially that 259 engine and how it's different from the 251 and 252.

Another option is to find a wreck and swap some parts. Namely the heads if no one wants to fix the threads for the manifold. Maybe the exhaust system, hint, hint. If you are capable and can put the cars side by side for the swap, it would drastically reduce the final bill. If you are not able, I'm sure there is someone out there who can do it for a reasonable cost. After the parts from 2 make 1, salvage the donor. And you won't be able to get a wreck from salvage for the "exhaust". You'd have to find one being sold by an individual, or Copart, which is an auctioning company that is mostly "totalled" vehicles from insurance companies.

Thanks for the reply, CarDoc. To our knowledge, the engine wasn't consuming any oil prior to the head gasket failure (we added coolant after finding it was low but not oil). Due to all the time last year spent in repair shops for the P1092 code, which stumped just about everyone, only ~10K has been put on the car since the HG were serviced in 2019.

If all had gone well, our second stop at the Subaru dealer after being told our ECM needed replacement should have been the end of the line. The dealer's behavior was truly perplexing. (The timing last year coincided with "15 days to slow the spread" as well as another round of Takata airbag recalls that had left our only Subaru dealer for ~80+ miles unusually busy at a time when they were just beginning to limit their service hours due to the pandemic and the CA "lockdowns".)

We stopped in and spoke to a Subaru service manager in late February last year to explicitly ask that they review the prior work. The service manager quit right after that so we were stuck with a flaky service advisor who never could explain to us the purpose of the "motor AY intake manifold" (part # 14120AA020) and why they thought it would resolve the P1092 code. When they broke the part trying to install it and then let the car sit without giving us an update, it threw up red flags — causing me to wonder if that might be when the throttle and/or intake manifold was damaged (one wonders why, if they had it apart to install the motor AY intake manifold two times in a row before they concluded that it wasn't going to solve the problem that they didn't just clean the intake manifold when they already had access to it as opposed to reinstalling the original part and contacting us with a quote of over $1K to open that same area up for cleaning).

Subaru didn't even perform a basic multi-point inspection and didn't charge for a computer diagnostic, either. As a last-ditch effort in March last year, we contacted SOA and asked them to intervene since it had been six weeks of no real updates — but they claimed that there was nothing they could do to verify what, if anything, the dealer had done with the car. That's why we ended up towing the car to Shop # 3 where the alternator bolt/bracket was found to be causing a physical obstruction (one wonders if Subaru touched the car at all why they didn't flag the problem first).

I forgot to mention that Shop # 3 also recommended replacing the intake manifold gasket — which we did. (Should have been done by Shop #1 when the HG work was done.) We asked Shop # 3 to weigh in on what he was seeing based on all the recent work, but he didn't have much to add apart from the fact that the intake manifold required a new gasket. Shop #4 claims that the throttle is in rough shape — but it was less than a year ago that Shop #3 presumably also had access to that area yet never commented on any throttle damage (nor did the dealer). One wonders why the throttle began acting up out of "nowhere". For example, if it was dirty why hasn't anybody recommend cleaning it?

Thanks for clarifying on the emissions issue. Shop #4 says they can't install anything from a salvage yard, whereas I found that by calling a salvage yard in attempt to source the part that it was not be permitted for them to sell a CAT to me even if they had one. I suggested that since Shop # 4 knows exactly what part I need and can contact the salvage yards and the like without the same restriction I am under, that they do their best to find a replacement on my behalf — even if they aren't in a position to install it if/when they find it. It's a long shot but I asked them to try to see what they can do given the age of the car (doesn't make sense to put $5K into it). Not sure if another shop would agree to install it if they were to find one, but it was the best I could come up with to buy some time to figure out what to do next.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Sorry for the problems you have had and for what seems like bad workmanship from multiple workshops.

As you were advised the O2 sensor was cross threaded before workshop #4 did any work, I do not think they would have any need to compensate you as you approved them to remove the sensor knowing of the problem.



Seagrass

I don't think they need to cover the entire cost of a replacement CAT but I do think they should meet us half way — perhaps by waiving the labor in the event we can arrive at some kind of lower-cost repair alternative or by splitting the cost of a replacement CAT.

At no time did we ask the shop to remove the 02 sensor outright. We did not understand what role the cross-threading played, if anything, in answering our question of whether the CAT was damaged by the overheating that occurred when the radiator cracked and the head gaskets failed back in 2019. We failed to appreciate that in order to test the CAT for internal damage that the 02 sensor (apparently?) had to come off. After the threads stripped out, we were then told the 02 sensor must be reinstalled otherwise there is apparently no way to test the CAT further for damage. Since the explanations we received appeared to conflict, I turned the question around and asked why the shop didn't do more tests on the CAT to determine if it was plugged while the 02 sensor was still in place. I didn't get a clear answer to that, either. The upshot is, I'm not aware if removing the 02 sensor was a necessary first step.

It is true that Shop # 4 indicated that the CAT may need to be replaced — but I took that to be a reference to the P0420 code possibly pointing to the CAT having been damaged internally — not a warning on the part of the shop that we were agreeing to replace the CAT without learning if it was damaged apart from the issue with the cross-threading. We figured if they came to the conclusion that the 02 sensor itself was the fault — not the CAT — that they would give us a call and we would revisit how (or if) the 02 sensor could be successfully removed. As a result, we didn't take the comment about the 02 sensor being cross-threaded to mean an automatic: "If you authorize me to troubleshoot your P0420 code, we will pry this component off right way and charge you to replace the entire CAT whether the CAT has failed or not".

Pretty much anywhere else on the car where cross-threading may occur there are options. To learn only after the fact that CA emissions standards tied the shop's hands on how affordably they can address a problem of this kind is the aspect of this that feels like a failure to disclose. With most types of car repair, lower cost remanufactured, refurbished, salvaged or aftermarket parts are also options. Consequently, we were not in a position to appreciate that there would be no legal way to repair the stripped out threads short of a brand new ~$3,500 CAT. If Shop # 4 was not also a Star-certified smog test station I might understand the lack of disclosure — but they had full knowledge of how little they could actually do to repair the damage and yet never bothered to clarify that "replace" was synonymous with "new" (no lower cost alternatives will be made available to the customer if X, Y, Z happens).

We don't think it's fair for the shop to leave us in a lurch because we made the "mistake" of attempting to determine how or if the throttle problem was in any way related to the exhaust leaks, which apparently also may play a role in generating P0420 codes. From the looks of it, Shop # 4 figured that if we spent ~$5K with Shop # 1 we would gladly fork over another $5K — but we're not going to make that mistake twice. We live in a rural area outside of town and can't tow the car back to our home and attempt to sell or repair it. Since the shop wants the car out of their service bay and we don't have any other options lined up, we may be forced to tow the car to a scrapyard as soon as this weekend. 😢 I can't help but think that there should be a solution that will keep the shop from risking their license — but that won't require them to leave us high and dry. The best I could come up with on Monday was to ask the shop to source an used/salvaged part — to use their knowledge of what we need to locate one — even if it means we have to take the replacement CAT elsewhere to install it in the event they find one.
 

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The 259 is CA and New England states that mandate CARB emissions.

The following pic is the 259 intake manifold. The section circled in blue is the throttle gate valve assembly, aka tumbler generator valve. It it operated by a switch and there is a position sensor to tell the ECM where it is positioned. This valve only operates at cold start.

Inked259 intake_LI.jpg


The part # 14120AA020 is an idle control valve that sits next to the throttle body, #2 in the picture, to allow air to flow around the throttle plate. It's function is to control idle. While driving it is wide open.

The salvage yards are not going to sell a used cat to anyone, not even a shop. They will not risk their bond over it.

The catalytic converter is part of the intermediate pipe and the only pipe that fits that car is the one that comes from Subaru. There is not an aftermarket availability for it. And given the shops make more money on emissions systems than anything else because "you have to have it" they are not going to just weld a cat in that will work, or weld in a bung that will allow the sensor to thread in. YES, that bung that the sensor threads in to is replaceable. And the shops know it.

This is an example of one.


Given you are in a highly regulated state, the shops are going to rake you over the coals and drag you back while feeding the fire, your best bet is to get a newer car. If you were in Austin, I could help you out because my overhead is low and I know what it will take to pass CA emissions, even with aftermarket parts. Worked on quite a few 259 engines that found their way from New England to Texas. But you aren't here, and I'm not there. So unless someone pipes up to an honest repair facility, car shopping is in your near future.
 

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I have to correct my post above, the cats on your car may be like the H6 an in a Y-pipe. Either way, the pipes/manifold were damaged during engine work. Same goes for the threaded holes in the head(s) that are stripped out.
 

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That's one crazy story and why I'm greatful my father taught me to work on cars. Wow.

Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk
 

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  • Cats would not be covered by any State or federal emissions warranty at this point,
  • Yes, you need a new, CARB-compliant cat,
  • No, no legit shop in CA will install a used or non-CARB one for cheaper,
  • Too many shops worked on the car to be able to easily lay blame on any particular repair,
  • You can submit a claim to the CA Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), but shop #4 won't be held liable for damage shop #1 caused,
  • This sounds like a nightmare and I'm amazed shop #4 was even willing to get involved,
  • Sell the car.
 
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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Thanks for the clarification on the salvage yard and the aftermarket limitations. From the looks of your picture and the explantion about the gate valve assembly — and that we know at this time last year Subaru had broken one of these "tumble generator valves" while attempting to install it, would it be a fair guess that the throttle was also damaged? (Dealer had this area apart 3x at this time last year yet somehow failed to notice that the alternator was installed in such a way that it was causing an obstruction and the P1092 code.)

We have had relatively little "road time" with the car since the major repairs were done in 2019 (two months at the shop since nobody we've taken our car to where we live is ever in a hurry to get anything done). After the 2x HG work, rack-and-pinion, muffler replacement and drive-shaft replacement we had a period between July and December 2019 where the car was in use with only two instances of the P0420 (this after passing a voluntary smog test following the HG work). Last year we lost the car for almost six months due to chasing the P1092 diagnosis and a faulty drive shaft, which we replaced in October. The accelerator peddle assembly was replaced in November, after which it drove fine for a couple of weeks but for the intermittent P0420 (on cold startup, heard what I thought was a noisy belt tensioner, though). Suddenly it became necessary in February to replace the entire throttle body — which we held off on doing so that the shop that currently has it could evaluate the CAT.

At this point, it is unclear why the current shop obtained no specific information on the underlying condition of the CAT before pulling the cross-threaded 02 sensor off and reporting that they couldn't get it back together again. (This is why I think the shop should bear some responsibility for helping us resolve the issue. If the CAT itself was bad otherwise, stripping out the threads would be of no consequence — but they never proved by their tests that there was anything wrong with it apart from damage it sustained being pulled off the car.)

I found this inexpensive 02 sensor re-threading tool on Amazon. Supposedly it is also sold at auto parts stores. Is there any benefit of trying this vs. a bung in terms of making sure it doesn't stand out as a "modified" CAT for purposes of future smog checks? Amazon.com: Lisle 12230 Oxygen Sensor Thread Chaser: Automotive

In this case, we knew that the P0420 code was intermittent since September 2019 but I can't rule out the no-name gas in our rural area that spouse keeps putting in the tank. On the other hand, the muffler did need to be replaced back in 2019 immediately following the HG work — it was making a high pitch whistling noise — so we can't rule out that the CAT wasn't at least somewhat damaged. (Presumably debris ended up in the muffler. However, immediately after replacing the muffler we did an unscheduled smog test to verify that it would pass.)

I had hoped I would have better news after a day or so since I last posted here, but Shop # 4 is still giving us only one choice. The sticking point for us is that the shop apparently didn't make a determination if the CAT was indeed failing vs. the P0420 code tracing to another cause so we're essentially being asked to replace it on the basis of damage, not failure. In addition to stripping out threads for the 02 sensor, the shop also says they will need to re-attach a pipe into the cylinder head with a tap — apparently a one-time fix. So my follow up question is this: Will putting a tap into the cylinder head to hold on the pipe impact the ability to remove the CAT (or other major parts) down the line? What is the significance of having to tap this location? Basically, I am trying to figure out if we should agree to the tap vs. tow it in pieces to an exhaust/muffler shop in the hope they can give us a better option — or would we be better served to file a complaint with the Bureau of Automotive Repair before we get another shop involved?





The 259 is CA and New England states that mandate CARB emissions.

The following pic is the 259 intake manifold. The section circled in blue is the throttle gate valve assembly, aka tumbler generator valve. It it operated by a switch and there is a position sensor to tell the ECM where it is positioned. This valve only operates at cold start.

View attachment 506292

The part # 14120AA020 is an idle control valve that sits next to the throttle body, #2 in the picture, to allow air to flow around the throttle plate. It's function is to control idle. While driving it is wide open.

The salvage yards are not going to sell a used cat to anyone, not even a shop. They will not risk their bond over it.

The catalytic converter is part of the intermediate pipe and the only pipe that fits that car is the one that comes from Subaru. There is not an aftermarket availability for it. And given the shops make more money on emissions systems than anything else because "you have to have it" they are not going to just weld a cat in that will work, or weld in a bung that will allow the sensor to thread in. YES, that bung that the sensor threads in to is replaceable. And the shops know it.

This is an example of one.


Given you are in a highly regulated state, the shops are going to rake you over the coals and drag you back while feeding the fire, your best bet is to get a newer car. If you were in Austin, I could help you out because my overhead is low and I know what it will take to pass CA emissions, even with aftermarket parts. Worked on quite a few 259 engines that found their way from New England to Texas. But you aren't here, and I'm not there. So unless someone pipes up to an honest repair facility, car shopping is in your near future.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
That's one crazy story and why I'm greatful my father taught me to work on cars. Wow.

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Yes, it is one crazy story. My Dad owned an autobody shop in the 1980s and worked on cars before they were computerized — knew George Barris and Peterson of LA automotive fame back in the day — but he passed in '04 so I have no "automotive brains" to pick in the family. (Very thankful for this forum, though!) I'm working off general knowledge growing up with "shop talk" around the dinner table — but, admittedly, no car repair skills in my own right. I think my spouse might be able to handle some repairs if they are straightforward (working in IT, tearing down stuff is part of the job but this would be a first in terms of auto repair). Perhaps it's not too late to learn? On the throttle body: Would replacement be something worth tackling at home — or too involved on this car? If DIY replacement of the throttle body is feasible, what tools would be needed? (Since it's an old car, thinking about picking up a used one on Ebay, providing we can come up with a solution to get the CAT back together.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
I have to correct my post above, the cats on your car may be like the H6 an in a Y-pipe. Either way, the pipes/manifold were damaged during engine work. Same goes for the threaded holes in the head(s) that are stripped out.
Based on the fact that we got several months between July 2019 and early January 2020 with only the P0420 code — not persistent enough to fail a smog check, though — and only began having issues with the P1092 code after it was back at Shop # 1 for the electrical short (headlights), would you say the manifold (possibly also throttle body?) was damaged from the date of the major repairs to the HGs (summer 2019) or does it sound more likely that the dealer, which admitted to breaking one of these tumble generator valves, caused the problems that ultimately led to the throttle body failure (reason we asked Shop # 4 to hold off and investigate the P0420 before we took the hit).

Given that we met with the service manager in person last year with the request that the dealer fully inspect the car after coming from Shop #1, it makes no sense why the dealer did not recommend additional repairs if Shop # 1 screwed up that badly. (Their only comment on the car's condition, otherwise, was that there was an "exhaust leak" but the service advisor offer specifics — even after we asked.) When Shop # 4 had the car in for the peddle assembly replacement back in November, they too mentioned the exhaust leak, quoting $300 to fix it, yet never mentioned it was CAT-connected or that cross-threading was observed. Another possibility is that when Shop # 3 received the car directly from the dealer by tow truck to troubleshoot the P1092 code, they did damage to the manifold/throttle area while attempting to determine what was responsible for the code (allegedly the alternator). We gave the owner-operator of Shop # 3 and # 4 a run-down of the prior repairs — so if Shop #1 or # 2 (dealer) did anything wrong, we should have heard about it — but the only other recommended repair, aside from the peddle assembly, was an intake manifold gasket (which we did at Shop # 3).

At each step of the way somebody could have cued us in that the prior work was faulty but they didn't. It doesn't add up unless the repair shops in our area, dealer included, are dishonestly covering for everyone else (even though we didn't name names).😡
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
It occurs to me that since Subaru replaced the CAT two times, the most recent in 2016 — can't remember if the P0420 code was the reason — that there may be an undiagnosed problem, meaning even if we spring for a new CAT, it could have a very short life (particularly if it were aftermarket). That makes it even more unacceptable that Shop # 4 failed to determine if the CAT had gone bad.

We've told them we can't put $5K into the car (with throttle body). What would they/we have to lose by trying a $6 "oxygen sensor thread chaser" to see if they can restore grip for the 02 sensor — even if it's only long enough to re-mount the 02 sensor to complete testing for CAT failure? (My understanding is that CA law is strict about when shops are allowed to replace a CAT — like proving that an OEM one, when present, has failed — something they haven't actually done unless stripping out threads counts.)

Shop blames their STAR license as reason to deny any/all repair alternatives. I still hope to learn if the shop is giving us legit excuses for refusing to work with us toward a lower cost option (they're pushing us to get it out as soon as this weekend).

@cardoc, is there any chance the other engine codes I mentioned at the top of the post have a tie-in to the P0420? The shop advised us, initially, to replace the throttle body but before pulling the trigger ($1500) — we asked for an explanation of the P0420, which led to the CATaclysm we're faced with now. 😠

Edit: I just found a website that says a car that is over five years old and outside the emissions warranty is supposed to be exempt from requiring an OEM CAT, so technically aftermarket should be an option (assuming this article isn't outdated): Bad Catalytic Converter: Is It Still Worth Fixing? - JunkCarMedics.com I may have no choice but to get the California Bureau of Automotive Repair involved since my email to them — and to the CA Air Resources Board — asking if the consumer has any options under these circumstances, has gone unanswered (lousy CA agencies don't answer their phones, either).
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
@Desert_Outback_Driver
Never to late to learn but you are right all the electronics make things difficult. I am sticking to older vehicles in my fleet 2015 or earlier.

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Agreed. This is a 2004 so I'm curious to know if DIY throttle body replacement is feasible without endangering the electronics. (Or does it need to be reprogrammed afterward?)
 

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I fear you are far far too invested emotionally (and financially) and I can see no way for you to recoup your financial investment now or at any time in the future.

For your own mental health it may be wise to take a deep breath and try and find your way out of the “rabbit hole” you are quickly descending. Trying to find ways for any of the four workshops to be held accountable for the mess you are now in is, I fear, going to just generate more frustration, anxiety, and other mental anguish.

I sincerely suggest it is time to get the vehicle away from workshop four (as they are not working with you to find an amicable resolution) and that may give you some thinking time to try and determine what to do.

If I was in your situation, as I have previously suggested, I would be selling this vehicle and finding another one rather than spending any more money on repairs.

Seagrass
 
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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Wise words. I don't expect to be able to do much about the other shops but I did go ahead and file a BBB on the shop that stripped our threads and won't even attempt to repair them (shouldn't be any risk to them to do so, as opposed to a "modification").

For me it's mostly the financial aspect that sticks since we poured a lot of money into it back in 2019 and expected to try to squeeze three more years out of it to recoup the cost. For my spouse, it's more of an emotional attachment (Subaru enthusiast).

During the time we had the car running late last year, our replacement car — a 2016 Subaru we bought last summer after being forced to evacuate from a wildfire while down one car — was damaged by hitting a deer. One would think that the autobody work would be straightforward since there was no airbag deployed and no windshield or hood damage (hit on the corner below the headlight at low speed, bending the fender and requiring a bumper replacement). But like everything automotive where we live, it turned into a long, long ordeal. That car ended up being gone two months because when it was ready for pickup, the repair shop had no after-hours options so they left it outside their gate where it was vandalized. (Collision shop was honest enough to admit it.) When they tried to repaint the door, the paint didn't match so we had to contact the adjuster and request a do-over. It ended up being very convenient that we had the 2004 running during the two months we were without the "new" car. Given that nearly every car experience we have had in our area has entailed six weeks or more with the car tied up in a shop, it almost started making sense to keep this one around as a backup. It doesn't have to run great — but ending up in pieces like this is not how we foresaw this ending.

The only reason why we haven't taken it out of Shop # 4 is because they made it sound like even if we take it elsewhere, there is no lawful lower-cost alternative (no bung, no tap, no thread repair). If we were to confirm that the shop is just trying to scare/pressure us into springing for an OEM cat, we would have taken it out already. But until we learn what our options are under CA strict standards, I don't want to chance repairing (not replacing) the cat if the result is that it won't pass smog due to an "illegal modification". (Smogs are every other year even on a car this old in CA.)

I fear you are far far too invested emotionally (and financially) and I can see no way for you to recoup your financial investment now or at any time in the future.

For your own mental health it may be wise to take a deep breath and try and find your way out of the “rabbit hole” you are quickly descending. Trying to find ways for any of the four workshops to be held accountable for the mess you are now in is, I fear, going to just generate more frustration, anxiety, and other mental anguish.

I sincerely suggest it is time to get the vehicle away from workshop four (as they are not working with you to find an amicable resolution) and that may give you some thinking time to try and determine what to do.

If I was in your situation, as I have previously suggested, I would be selling this vehicle and finding another one rather than spending any more money on repairs.

Seagrass
 
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