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Timing Belt and Stuff on '97 Outback


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44 replies to this topic

#1 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 11:03 AM

Alrighty. I've been sifting through information on this topic for literally years and still haven't come up with a straight answer.

I've got a '97 Outback Limited now with 205k on the clock. Naturally, it's got the Phase 1 EJ25. The engine was rebuilt (short block, same heads, due to the infamous craptastic head gasket issue) at about 120k. The guy I bought it from said his mechanic said that the timing belt looked to be new-ish then, so he didn't replace it. Seems like a stupid way to save $50, but then it's in the past.

About two years ago, I gave the ol' Scoob to my sister who was at the time in dire need of a car. It was my second car (opposite an '02 BMW 325Ci), so it didn't matter. Not living at home with the car and having someone else driving it all the time meant that my normal anal-retentive maintenance schedule was not followed at all. The car's a bit worse for the wear.

I've got it back now and have noticed (besides some rust and a fairly big hole in the exhaust I plan to fix with creativity and a welder) some issues that have me wanting to do what amounts to a super-tuneup. It idles rough and lacks power, especially when cold. I've also got a squeal/squeak that I am pretty sure is a timing belt idler or the tensioner.

It definitely needs spark plugs as those were done the better part of five years ago, but as the timing belt is at least 80k old, I feel like it's not a bad idea to change it. Rather, if I want to have a Scoob with more than a paperweight for an engine, I'd better change it. I suspect it's stretched some too, with would contribute to the rough idle, lack of power and crap gas milage.

I figure I'd better do the cam seals (if they're leaking), the water pump and check the oil pump while I'm in there and definitely do the tensioner and idler pulley. I'm considering doing the front mainseal too, but I know that's not leaking and frankly don't want to be bothered.



The problem I'm having is the old "why the heck do I need those stupid $300 tools to hold the cams down while I change the belt" thing. Do I really need those? Some people say no, others say yes. The Endwrench guys know what they're talking about, but they are somewhat biased because they write for dealer techs; they just have those tools lying around.

Now, based on how a DOHC direct actuation cylinder head is put together, theoretically the valves could hit each other if the camshafts spun unrelated to each other. That does, however, assume that valves would get forced open. I would tend to think that the pressure of the springs would try to force the valves shut and spin the cam around to settle in some equilibrium state where a few valves are a little bit open. I guess that if you let them spin slowly by going slowly, things should be fine. There are some reports of people doing this and coming out just fine.

Thing is, I'm not one to rely on luck. I tend to like to plan for the worst. I am, however, a cheapskate at heart and see no reason to buy $300 worth of timing tools I'd use once. Especially on a car that's worth all of about $1500...



What I'm looking for from you guys is positive confirmation that it's possible and safe to do this job without those stupid things. I'm also looking for your wisdom. I know I'm going to hear the "do a search" comment, but know that I've already done that a lot (see my previous comment about looking at this info for years). I need the myths dispelled.

I want the old girl to run right again.

#2 grossgary

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 11:38 AM

There's no need for that tool, I've never used one. Even my first time doing a DOHC engine was rather simple. It's a "little" trickier given the DOHC nature but really it's just like a tiny percent extra paying attention and making sure you're doing it right. If that messes you up you shouldn't be doing a timing belt on an interference engine. So you'll be fine.

They are actually stricktly for holding it in alignment anyway, not removing the bolts. A friend bought the tool and bent it :lol::lol::lol:, sorry friend, by thinking it was to hold the pulleys still. Those cam bolts are TIGHT. So he ended up not using the tool after all.

Rough running is not likely timing belt related. Plugs, wires, air filter, injector cleaner, O2 sensor, etc are all more likely if it's noticable at idle. If there's slight hesitation while shifting and an auto replace that small round circular filter for $7 from subaru on the passengers side vacuum hose.

As for timing belt - if you want to do it right consider the ebay kits. Import experts are the board favorite for quality and service. Much cheaper than dealer and you get all new parts, at your age and milegae there's no point in my oppinion of installing a new belt with the age and greaseless nature of those pulleys.

Sounds like you're on your way to a good tune.

My recommendation is plugs, wires, PCV valve, air filiter, sea foam the engine. Then timing belt, water pump, and reseal anything that's wet with oil - oil pump (backing plate screws will need to be tightened), cam seals, crank seal.

All of that stuff is covered in detail on here or endwrench if you have questions.

#3 Gloyale

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 12:07 PM

Pull the valve covers, and replace their seals while you are doing this job.

The reason I suggest this, is that there are large hex sections of the CAM shafts that can be held with a wrench (26mm or 1")

this will allow you all the torque you need to remove the pulleys to replace cam seals.

Replace the Crank seal as well.

Make sure to put he pulleys back on and tighten the bolts down BEFORE reinstalling the valve covers.

Lining them up for the timing belt is pretty easy, spring clamps are a great extra hand for holding belt to pulley in proper position.

#4 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 02:06 PM

Pull the valve covers, and replace their seals while you are doing this job.

The reason I suggest this, is that there are large hex sections of the CAM shafts that can be held with a wrench (26mm or 1")

this will allow you all the torque you need to remove the pulleys to replace cam seals.

Replace the Crank seal as well.

Make sure to put he pulleys back on and tighten the bolts down BEFORE reinstalling the valve covers.

Lining them up for the timing belt is pretty easy, spring clamps are a great extra hand for holding belt to pulley in proper position.


I was planning to do the valve cover gaskets as well too. They leak. I forgot to mention that.

Think I should do the front mainseal? I guess I'll have to buy a puller. I probably should have one anyway...

As for the spring clamp, you mean this thing?
Posted Image

How would you put it on there? Can you draw me a picture?

#5 grossgary

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 02:51 PM

just clip the belt to the pulley, very simple. belt wraps around pulley (sprocket with teeth). clamp belt to pulley lip to keep it in place.

don't need a seal puller, i dont' even know if there's enough room to use one down there.

if you replace the crank seal (part of the oil pump) i'd just remove the entire oil pump. tighten backing plate screws, replace oring, replace crank seal and resael it. doesn't take long.

#6 Mike104

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 03:29 PM

I think they mean this:

http://t1.gstatic.co...Paper Clamp.jpg

Others have said to use wooden clothes pins

Posted Image

to hold the timing belt onto the cam sprockets

#7 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 04:33 PM

Oh, I see. You're using them just to keep the belt from coming off. Now I get it.

#8 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 09:47 PM

Alrighty. I've got everything on order to do this job. Got all the seals and stuff sitting on the kitchen floor and the timing belt kit with all new pulleys and seals (and a water pump!) coming tomorrow. I forgot to get a PCV valve, but I'll just swing by AutoZone and throw $6 at them for a new one. Any words of wisdom for me?

I'm especially nervous about initially taking the belt off. I don't know what to expect the cams to do when the belt gets loose or comes off.

I'm also not clear on how to get the cam gears off to get to the seals. There's a hex shaped thing on the cam I gan grab with a big wrench, right? How the heck do you get the wrench in there? Or is there more room than I think?

I know I'm worrying too much, but I don't want to kill the Scoob.

#9 porcupine73

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 10:00 PM

Those cam sprockets are some kind of polymer on that engine. People have broken then trying to use a wrench on the flat spots. If you have the valve covers off the cams might have a flat spot you can use to hold the cam while breaking loose the bolt. Many people break loose the cam bolts before removing the old timing belt, then torque them back up after the new belt is on.

This is the Subaru tool for doing it (at least on the sohc's):
Posted Image
Posted Image

I've used clothes pins, but that was on a sohc, more as an experiment to see if it helped keep the belt where i wanted it while lining things up. It was kind of helpful.

Posted Image

#10 Fairtax4me

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 10:41 PM

Hold the cams by the flats on the shaft, don't try to rig something to hold the sprockets or use a wrench because the sprockets can and do break as Porcupine said.

Removing/installing the cam seals can be made easier if you feel like taking off the bearing caps. Then you can slide the seal right on the cam and bolt the cap back in place over the seal. No need for a puller or installer, and much less chance of leaks around the outer bore of the seal.

#11 Olnick

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 11:02 PM

but I'll just swing by AutoZone and throw $6 at them for a new one. Any words of wisdom for me?


Yes . . . don't!!!

Swing by Subaru and throw down a couple of dollars extra for the correct thermostat. Seriously, aftermarket 'stats are not good for a Subie--stick with OEM on this one.

Edit: OOOOPS! Guess I had Thermostats on my mind!!! Sorry.

Edited by Olnick, 06 September 2010 - 11:05 PM.


#12 porcupine73

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 09:05 AM

Yes stick with the genuine thermostats. And cam and crank seals.

Posted Image

I've found this Lisle tool to be very helpful in pulling the cam seals. I had scratched up a few cams before I found this tool:
Posted Image
Posted Image

Posted Image

#13 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 07:31 PM

I replaced the thermostat not that long ago. I do like that seal puller. I may have to get myself one of those. I don't know how I feel about pulling the bearing caps for the cams, though.

Edited by SchwarzeEwigkt, 08 September 2010 - 09:29 AM.
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#14 porcupine73

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 07:39 PM

I'm not sure on the dohc, but on the sohc's the caps are easy to pull. In fact on the sohc it should be pulled because there is an o-ring in there that can be replaced.

Posted ImagePosted Image

#15 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 01:17 AM

Oh, I see what you mean. The DOHC's aren't like that. The bearings and caps are all under the valve cover. The seal goes right into a bore cast into the head.

#16 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 09:37 AM

I've yet to see a write-up on a DOHC timing belt job. There's tons on SOHC's. Anybody think they'd benefit from me taking the extra time to do that while I'm in there?

#17 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 30 September 2010 - 09:20 PM

Finally got started on this job. More than a little bit of a pain in the butt. So far I've got the radiator out, outer timing covers off, three of the four spark plug wires off and the driver valve cover off and new gaskets installed.

I've fought with the one spark plug wire on #3 for hours. It doesn't want to come out. The other three came out without too much drama, but that one's being a jerk.

I also have to mention how really evident it is that the EJ25 really is too large a motor to fit in the Legacy engine bay properly. It is not a joy removing the valve cover bolts.

I also am a bit annoyed at some the fragility of some of the hardware. I've broken the alternator slider adjustment bolt, one of the coolant bottle mounting bolts (I just had it out a few months ago too!) and BOTH the washer fluid bottle bolts. I'm not looking forward to drilling those out. They all just twisted right off without even putting up a fight. They felt as if they were made of aluminum. I wasn't even using a big ratchet! Oh well.

So, yeah. That's it so far. Cams on the driver side look great, no scoring or anything and very little sludge in there.


The question I have at the moment is what is the part called that holds the left side of the alternator up and tensions the belt? The thing with the long bolt and the block of metal? I'd like to get a new bolt or whatever, but I can't figure out what it's called. Tensioner? Adjuster? Maybe someone has a part number?

#18 Gnuman

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 06:50 AM

Wait, are you doing this job in the car? yeah, it is going to be real tight working in those spaces (I always pull the engine when I do this job as it is that much easier). getting at the spark plugs may be easier if you remove the engine mount bolts and jack up the engine to bring the plug holes above the edge of the frame rails. . .

#19 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 01 October 2010 - 10:08 AM

Meh, I'm more just venting that it's kind of a pain. It's certainly doable. I just wish the #3 plug wire would come out. It's resisted me for about eight hours now. Maybe if I go out there right now it'll come out, having had overnight to think about what it's done.

But I'm going to have to replace this bolt here and maybe the whole thing.

Attached Files


Edited by SchwarzeEwigkt, 01 October 2010 - 10:08 AM.
Spelling? Key.


#20 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 09:39 AM

Well, it's all back together. Timing belt was lined up perfectly; checked about 30 times. Spins around fine, no noise or anything.

So, I went to start it...and it won't start. Doesn't even sputter. Cranks, has compression, sounds just like it did before I took it apart when starting, it just won't kick over. How annoying.

I cranked it a whole bunch of times and didn't smell any kind of fuel smell in the garage anywhere. I think something is going on with fuel delivery. I can hear the fuel pump when I turn it on initially.

Hrmph. Any ideas?

#21 rainman19154

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 09:42 AM

did you bleed off fuel pressure before starting the disassembly? How did you do that? Unplug fuel pump? Did it get plugged back in well enough? Pull the fuse?

I;m just spitballing, trying to jog your thoughts. Good luck and let us know.

#22 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 09:53 AM

Nope, didn't need to. I did timing belt, pulleys, water pump, seals, VCG's, spark plugs and wires. Nothing I needed to depressurize the fuel lines for. Plus, if I pulled/blew the fuse, I wouldn't hear that brief hum from the back of the car when setting the key to "ON," correct?

#23 rainman19154

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 10:07 AM

yeah you're right.

Assuming you've got the timing right ... compression, fuel and spark are the keys... Plug wires are seated well and nothing loose in the electrical at the coil? Have you checked for spark?

Pull the supply line to the fuel filter and put it into a handy (beverage) container, then try to start it. This will let you see if your getting any fuel delivery to the filter.
That supply line is just held on with a normal hose clamp- it's a very quick n ez way to see if you're at least fuel from the tank.

#24 johnceggleston

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 10:11 AM

uh .... gas in the tank?

#25 SchwarzeEwigkt

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 10:32 AM

yeah you're right.

Assuming you've got the timing right ... compression, fuel and spark are the keys... Plug wires are seated well and nothing loose in the electrical at the coil? Have you checked for spark?

Pull the supply line to the fuel filter and put it into a handy (beverage) container, then try to start it. This will let you see if your getting any fuel delivery to the filter.
That supply line is just held on with a normal hose clamp- it's a very quick n ez way to see if you're at least fuel from the tank.


I'm reasonably sure I got the timing right because it sounds normal; nothing is hanging up, crashing, clanking or banging; I checked all the marks and tooth counts like 30 times and I spun it without spark plugs with a breaker bar and it spun without any sort of issues.

I haven't yet checked for spark, but the reason I assume it's fuel delivery is that there's no smell at all. I'll have to try that trick out. I wonder if something went wrong with the filter in the month it was parked. It ran fine when I put it in the garage...well, until the battery died.

uh .... gas in the tank?


Yup. Full, in fact.

Edited by SchwarzeEwigkt, 07 October 2010 - 10:35 AM.
Forgot something.





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