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Old 02-03-2002, 12:58 PM   #1
Scooby Newbie
Member#: 9289
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: New Hudson, MI
2002 WRX Sport Wagon
WR Blue

Angry Another warranty headache

As a new guy on this forum, I'm not sure if this should be an open letter to the SCCA or otherwise, but I have had nothing but trouble with my WRX and now Subaru is holding their own marketing, advertising, and product campaign against me. While this has me frustrated to no end (a call to a Lemon Law lawyer is probably next), I absolutely LOVE my car and would really do anything to keep it, but Subaru apparently has no such opinion and wishes to blame me for their product's shortcomings. Talk about a tough situation...so anyway, here's the story.


I took delivery of my wagon back in April. I quickly began to rack up the miles, and at the 2000 mark I purchased and installed a set of 17" wheels. While they were not the "official Subaru $3500 BBS" wheels, they were of the identical size and offset - 17x7, 52mm offset - the Speedline P7. Again, these are the exact same size that you can get right from your dealer installed on your brand new car. At the same time, I had interest in autocrossing the car (using that free SCCA membership) so I adjusted an extra -1 degree of front camber into the front suspension and set the toe to factory specs. The rest of the car was bone stock.


All was great until about 4000 miles. The steering began to "lose its memory" of where the center position was. In so many words, after turning left the wheel would remain off-center to the left and after turning right it would remain off-center to the right. Over the next couple weeks the problem only got worse, so we put it back on the alignment rack (I am a chassis engineer and have access to such toys) and put paint stripes on everything to see what in the alignment was shifting, but after another week of driving none of the marks had moved.

On to the first dealer. I went back to the dealership where I bought the car (Dwyer) and told them the whole story. They kept the car overnight and called the next morning to say that they had realigned the car and that the problem was gone. Of course, when I picked it up I noticed immediately that the problem was still there, and after putting it back in the air myself that night I noticed that all of the paint marks were still untouched - in fact they had done nothing at ALL to my alignment.

I hate being lied to.

The next morning I called the dealer and stated that my problem was not fixed and that I noticed they had not performed the alignment as stated on my service order (side note: I am sure Subaru of America still paid them for the "warranty work" performed). They said simply and without emotion "It is your wheels. They have the wrong offset." It was as if they didn't even care that I had called their bluff on the alignment, and after explaining to them that the wheels actually have the same geometry as stock they said again, "It is your wheels. They have the wrong offset." Deaf ears.

Towards the end of July I also entered a local autocross and ran on my street tires (not R-compound tires). This point will be important later. After the event the car felt the same as it had before - no better, no worse. I also talked to a few other WRX owners who were driving that day and told them the story but none had similar experiences.


Next I called the Subaru nationwide service center and explained the situation. They referred me (case # 329069) to a different dealer and sent a Regional Rep to look at my car directly (this took over one month to coordinate). After keeping the car for a week and installing 16" stock wheels and tires they came to the conclusion that the rack was bad (they didn't say why it was bad). They also said that it might have been caused by the 17" wheels and alignment, but couldn't be sure.

Sidebar: again, I am a chassis engineer. This sort of thing is my job. Changing camber angles does nothing to rack input loads, and installing 52mm wheels maintains stock geometry. In summary, this was ill-founded advice, but they had nothing else to go on. Oh yea - they also told me that while they had the car in their possession a power steering line came loose (sound familiar?) during a test drive and sprayed fluid everywhere. They cleaned it up, by could not explain that one either but after two months my car was apparently fixed....and about 6000 miles later, as the odometer was now at 10,100.

So, I left the dealership and deiced that I was going to return the car 100% to stock just to see for myself if the car was really sensitive to these things. I removed and SOLD the wheels, realigned the car to stock specifications (I even bought a $300 complete set of Subaru service manuals to do this) and drove the car BONE STOCK from this point forward in the story. Every single modification was undone.


All was good for a while until October when the car one day began to go "clunk" from the front end. We're not talking a subtle little 'clunk' but a big-time major "CLUNK" when hitting the smallest of bumps. I took the car back and was told that a cradle bolt had fallen out! Not what I wanted to hear, but they said they fixed it. This was at about 11,700 miles.

Two days later I notice the body making a creaking sound from the passenger B-pillar area when the body was loaded in torsion (twisted). Over the next couple weeks the creaking got worse and worse...and my steering problem came back as well. Exact same symptoms as last time. Here we go again.


Everything got worse until I broke down over the Thanksgiving break and dropped the car off at the dealer once again. Again they said it was a defective rack but again did not say why it was defective or how it had gotten that way even though I asked. This was only 4000 miles after the second rack was installed (14,100ish). I also complained about the B-pillar creaking but was informed that (1) they could not reproduce it and (2) it was normal. Now is it just me, or do those two comments contradict one another?

I pick the car up and naturally (1) the car has the wheel off-center to the left and has a pull (2) the B-pillar creak is even worse than before and (3) the phantom steering is reduced, but not gone entirely.


Nearing the end of my rope, I call my dealership once again (by the way, my dealer, Livonia Autoplex, has been nothing but top-notch helpful and courteous through this whole thing) and they state that they have to call in the Regional Rep again to look at the car. I agree and drop it off that day (he just so happened to be in town the day I called) and here is the reply I got:

"Per SOA they have determined that the damage to the steering rack and mount bushings is due to altered wheel alignment specs, off set wheels, and or off road racing...not a warranty matter..."

That is a direct quote from my ticket here. Now, I just about went through the roof upon reading this because...

1) the current wheels and tires are stock
2) the 17" wheels were removed PRIOR to the second and third rack replacement
3) the alignment was STOCK for the second and third rack replacement

In addition, in each prior case they never identified a root cause, or even a failed component. In fact, here's a direct quote from the Rep after the second rack was installed: "We don't ever get to see what failed because they go back to Japan for analysis. We just replace parts to see if the problem goes away." If they don't know what failed, how can they say what caused it?

In addition, if the car had been stock for the past two racks, are they suggesting there is a long-term lingering effect of installing different wheels and tires that stays with the car even after they are removed? Do they realize how foolish that sounds?

In addition, my "off-road racing" as they state was nothing more than a single autocross on street tires. Mind you, I got a free SCCA membership from Subaru when I bought my car...and in Subaru's own press release (on their website) their VP of Marketing, Bill Cyphers, states "The SCCA provides a great opportunity for WRX owners to experience their cars' capabilities, while pitting their skills against other drivers." Oh yea, Subaru will also PAY YOU MONEY through SCCA contingencies if you place well in an autocross. Doesn't this sound like an activity they encourage? Yet when I bring this up to the Regional Rep (through my dealer), I am told "Subaru encourages you to attend these activities, but does not encourage your participation." Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in that statement? They will pay you money to do it, but do not encourage you to do it? What?!? Should Subaru contact every WRX owner and clearly explain that participating in these Subaru-sponsored events will void any warranty claims? This one especially blows my mind.

In addition (I am repeating that phrase for dramatic effect), if all of this is true, and if these things really did cause the problems I am having, why did they even touch my car in the first place the first time? Why not just state back in July "Sorry, Mr. Walker, but you voided your warranty" instead of trying to fix it for six months first? Did they just now realize what I had done? Obviously not, for the car has been stock for the last two rack replacements. They knew everything on my very first visit because, in the spirit of open communication, I told them everything. Maybe that was my mistake.


Naturally, I call the Subaru nationwide number again and file another complaint. The guy on the phone was friendly enough, but besides taking my complaint and giving me another case number (# 357381) didn't offer much assistance. He called me back two weeks later to say "Mr. Walker, we reviewed your case and found that nothing more needs to be done." When I asked him the litany of questions, concerns, and contradictions above he simply stated "You are obviously more technically oriented than I am. All I can do is refer you to my supervisor."

His supervisor, who was supposed to call me the next day, has now blown me off for one week.

So, to wrap it all up:

1) I installed 17" factory-sized wheels and changed my alignment
2) The steering rack failed
3) I went to an autocross
4) The first dealership lied to me
5) The second dealership replaced the rack

6) I returned the car to stock

7) A cradle bolt fell out
8) The body began to creak
9) The second rack failed and was replaced
10) The body creak got worse
11) The third rack failed
12) Subaru claims my wheels, alignment, and autocrossing voids everything
13) Game over


So, here I sit wondering what to do next. I love this car, but I hate being made out to be a scapegoat for what I believe to be a defect in the car. The cynic (and the Lemon Law lawyer) could certainly argue that there is a defect in the body structure of the car, allowing it to flex and slightly impact the steering wheel position, while at the same time causing the body to creak, and loosening critical chassis (cradle) fasteners. It all fits together nicely and could be defended by a Professional Engineer. That same person could argue that Subaru doesn't really know what's wrong with the car in the first place, and to avoid any further warranty claims or work they are now pulling the plug only after four rounds so that they don't have to step up and take action.

I have told them from day one that I am fully willing and ready to take any responsibility for anything that I may have done to my car to cause a defect. My returning the car back to stock after their very first suggestion backs this up, but I guess they are not willing to take the same stand. Really makes you want to tell your friends and neighbors about Subaru customer support, doesn't it? After owning five Saturns, this is a joke.

I'll end this by saying again that my dealer has been just great, and the my service contact, Glenn, has even taken heat from the Regional Rep for "standing up" for me. Since he (Glenn) has been with me every step of the way, he also sees the same contradictions and discontinuities in their story, but gets the same answers I do. For this reason he has been labeled as being "on my side."

Isn't it a sad day when the dealer is reprimanded when looking after the customer? I would buy another car from this dealer in a heartbeat, but Subaru themselves are making that impossible. This first-time Subaru owner is becoming a last-time Subaru owner.

I guess I don't expect this posting to change anything at all, but does anyone else see a trend here? This is sad...
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Old 02-03-2002, 01:28 PM   #2
SoLo OnE
Scooby Specialist
Member#: 9941
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: In hell, with the Waving Kitty
- ---------------


Subaru Customer service leaves ALOT to be desired. They're more crooked than the dealerships.

Trust me, I know.
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Old 02-03-2002, 08:04 PM   #3
Scooby Guru
Member#: 456
Join Date: Oct 1999
Chapter/Region: NWIC
Location: Redmond, WA, USA
2008 Forester XT
Steel Gray Metallic


This sort of thing is my job. Changing camber angles does nothing to rack input loads,
Actually, it does. By increasing negative camber, you increase tire grip (check out a camber vs grip graph for a tire) and therefore the rack loads.

But anyway, the P7's are the right offset.

A cradle bolt fell out
What is a cradle bolt?

If you read the warranty, it doesn't specifcally mention autocross.
Autocrossing is definitely hard on the rack -- I suspect it as a factor in causing the loose fluid lines to come off, but it doesn't excuse the racks failing or the lines falling off.

The best way to proceed is to write a letter to Subaru, at the address in your warranty and maintenance book.

Keep it very short. DON'T cover the history of the problem, they know all that. Just say you have a warranty problem and the dealership/region is refusing to fix it for a number of reasons.

Ask them to either fix it or explain why not in writing.

Armed with the reply, consult a consumer affairs lawyer.

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Old 02-04-2002, 08:59 AM   #4
Scooby Newbie
Member#: 9289
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: New Hudson, MI
2002 WRX Sport Wagon
WR Blue


I should have chosen my words more carefully. Of course, altering front camber angles will, to a point, increase the lateral load capability of a tire. However, up to the limit handling force generated by the stock set-up, the loading curves are identical. At this point, the curves diverge.

That said, the effect of static camber is still pretty small, in general - on street tires - adding less than 5-10% to the lateral force capability of the tire in question. One could argue that you pick up a larger gain simply from changing from an all-season tire that comes on the car to a summer-only performance tire such as the ones discussed on this board.

At the same time, my original point was that the car was only been exposed to limit handling during that one autocross, for the car is not driven hard on the street. Hard to believe, I know, but that's the way it is. In this regard, during steady-state driving and non-limit handling I stand by my original comment that static camber angle does nothing to rack input loads under the conditions that the car was exposed to.

Nice catch.

Of course, a stock alignment took out the next two racks, so it's not the root cause anyway...but that's another story.

PS - a cradle bolt holds the front cradle, or subframe, or lower suspension mounting structure, to the unitbody. Since the Subaru does not have a 1-piece structure it is more commonly refered to as a subframe bolt, but on the repair ticket it said "cradle bolt." Don't know why.
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Old 02-04-2002, 09:59 AM   #5
Scooby Newbie
Member#: 8211
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Mississauga, ON
2002 Impreza WRX
WR Blue



Here is the fix for the creaking noise. I took my car to fix this, but they couldn't find it, Atleast they fixed every single rattle in my car, spent 4.4 hours doing it. So I don't mind.

I sometimes hear a knock (pretty loud) in my suspension on the passenger side, going over uneven surfaces or if am am rolling slowly and accelerate. Do you know where the cradle bolt is located so I can check it?

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Old 02-04-2002, 10:29 AM   #6
Scooby Newbie
Member#: 9289
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: New Hudson, MI
2002 WRX Sport Wagon
WR Blue


Thanks for the b-pillar note, but since I am planning to get rid of the car anyway I probably will sell it as-is. Subaru has lost me.

W/R/T the cradle bolt(s) - there are many of them. All you need to do is get the car in the air (properly supported, naturally) and look for all the vertical fasteners that hold the suspension cradles to the body itself. If you have access to a service manual you can see and count them pretty clearly, but I do not have mine with me at this minute.

Hope this helps.
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