Subaru Timing Belt Replacement Tips & Advice

Subaru Timing Belt Facts

  • Subaru 2.5 DOHC and SOHC are interference engines
  • Subaru timing belts are due for replacement at 105K
  • Oil will shorten the life of your timing belt
  • The water pump should be replaced with the timing belt

When replacing the timing belt on a Subaru 2.5L SOHC or DOHC motors there are a few common things to look for and I have some tips to help you get through the job even if you don’t have the factory tools. If you’re interested in buying factory tools Subaru uses Kent Moore for their specialty tool manufacturer. Otherwise keep reading for some quick and easy Subaru timing belt tips and tricks.

What to look for when replacing a Subaru timing belt

Subaru timing belt recommendation is at 105K but it’s not common to have to replace the timing belt before this mileage due to oil leaks from either the cam seal’s or front crankshaft seal. There are other spots to check such as the oil pump and the large piston access 12mm allen head bolts in front of the block also leak oil sometimes. Now as far as the rest of the components go I almost always recommend the water pump to be replaced due to mileage and there are a few timing belt idler pulleys you need to inspect for bearing noise. If any of these pulleys don’t spin smooth or make bearing noise when you spin them then replace them. There is a cogged idler pulley that bolts to the water pump and I always recommend this pulley with the water pump just because this is the first one to go out because of the load it has from the belt. The other pulleys are not under as much tension so they’re usually good for a while. Last you need to inspect the timing belt tensioner for bearing wear on the pulley and also inspect the hydraulic portion of the tensioner for leakage. If the hydraulic fluid were leaking from the tensioner I would replace it. I have re-used them this way before but unless your experienced with the tensioner these tensioners hold on the belt I wouldn’t gamble, this is an interference motor.

Now it’s time to get to the timing belt to inspect all these parts we know now to look for. First challenge, break free and remove the front crankshaft pulley. Now these bolts are very tight from the factory and require a lot of torque to break them loose. How are you going to hold the pulley from moving to break it free? You could use the special Kent Moore tool or just take a breaker bar and 22mm socket on end of crank bolt, wedge the breaker bar next to the battery and crank the motor over. I would remove the battery hold down and place something over the transmission cooler lines to protect them if they’re present. Take a look at this pic to get a better idea:

crankbolt breakerbar

Breaker bar on the front crank bolt

Now you have the covers off and your ready to start taking off the timing belt. Before you get ahead of yourself you need to break loose the cam gear bolts and this is done best with the timing belt still on. Get a couple clips and attach them to the belt/gear to prevent the belt from jumping when breaking free the bolts. Now reinstall the crank bolt and turn the motor till the timing marks align. Install a 22mm wrench to the crank bolt and wedge it up against the alternator pulley. You can now break free the cam gear bolts with a breaker bar or whatever.

Replacing Subaru Cam Seals

So, you need to change the cam seals, water pump, inspect the timing belt tensioner and idler pulleys for wear and replace as needed. Most of these parts are sel explanatory for replacing except for the cam seals. You’re probably wondering how to remove them. We’ll there are lots of different techniques yu could use and I’m not going into detail about that because there are just so many different ways you could get them out. I use an actual cam seal puller.

cam seal puller

Here is a picture of the cam a cam seal puller. A cheap investment that could save you from an expensive repair.

I used to use a pick too, but no matter how you decide on how to remove them just be careful not to scratch the camshaft because it can cause the seal to leak. Not too long ago I had a customer in with an oil leak that was just that, he scratched the camshaft while removing the cam seals so just be careful.

Subaru Timing Belt Tensioners

The last thing I will tip you on is how to compress the hydraulic tensioner for the timing belt. All you really need is a decent bench vise that opens far enough to fit the tensioner in it and slowly compress the tensioner careful not to force the piston; you will fell the tension release after a short wait with each turn of the bench vise. Once the tensioner is compressed all the way use a small long allen key and slide through the lock pinhole. The picture below shows a compressed tensioner using the factory lock pin, which if you buy a new one it comes this way so you wouldn’t have to worry about compressing the timing belt tensioner at all but they’re not cheap. As faar as replacing the tensioner just inspect for bearing noise from the pulley and leakage from the hydraulic cylinder, either of those and you should replace the timing belt tensioner. I have seen Subaru timing belt tensioners go bad and make noise like an engine knock.

timing belt tensioner compressed

Subaru timing belt tensioner compressed in a bench vise. Pin locked and ready for installation.

That pretty much sums up all I have for now, if you like the article leave me a comment or ask a question. I’m always happy to answer them. Don’t forget to like my page too, thanks.

This post was written by: Martin Hand

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Martin Hand

About Martin Hand

ASE Certified L1 Advanced Mastertech. Martin Hand has over 15 years experience in Asian and European Import Auto Repair. Specializing in electrical diagnosis, engine performance, AT/MT transmission repair/rebuild. Martin is also pursuing a degree in Computers Science & Information Systems starting at Portland Community College while he plans to transfer to OIT. Certified in Java application level programming, experienced with other languages such as PHP, Ruby, JavaScript and Swift. Martin has future plans of automotive diagnostic software development.

131 Comments

  • David says:

    I have a 2001 subaru forester…I have all new timing belt water pump and seals…I was told it jumped time…I have it tore apart myself…3 timing marks are everywhere..lol…can I take belt off and set all gears manually and then put the belt back on

  • Peter says:

    Do you need a puller to remove the toothed drive gear from the crankshaft nose and another to push it back on or can you simply pull & push it off with finger pressure?

  • Andy Dunn says:

    Hi I’m looking at buying a 2000 2.5 Legacy and it needs cambelt kit I think it’s on 90,000 miles now….I’ve read different intervals on changing the belt etc and would appreciate any advice on this?the car has full service history and has a year mot….Also how many hours labour would you say to do the work?

  • Chuck Cline says:

    My 2007 Subaru Legacy started running bad a few days back. First started cold and it was a little rough but ran ok. Drove about a 1/4 mile and it got worse until the car would only idle. Threw codes for plug misfires and a P0700. Any attempt to give the engine any gas would cause it to die. Had it towed home and did some basic checks but found nothing. Consensus was bad timing belt, car is just under 200,000 miles. I put a new belt kit on today, checked and rechecked the cam and crank timing marks. Now I have to give it some gas to get it to even try to start and its missing badly. The belt had two white marks for the cam gears and a row of blue arrows for the crank. I lined the crank dot up to be just ahead of the blue mark, or where the arrows pointed. Did I miss something? Should I be checking another source for the problem? Codes are all gone from having the battery disconnected.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Make sure you have the timing belt alignment correct and then check cylinder compression. It could have a bad valve guide or something mechanical with the engine.

      • Chuck Cline says:

        Little egg on my face. Turned out it was a collapsed Catalytic converter. Did the belt anyway and the advice here helped a lot. Replaced the exhaust and now its making Subaru Legacy noises when I drive it. Vroom, Vroom!

  • Dustin McGovern says:

    Great read…I am in the middle of a timing belt change myself and had success using the old, stretched out belt to get to work and advanced auto to get parts and now i have the new belt on and cant get the thing to run…smoke comes out the intake…i remove belt, turn passenger side cam 180 and still no start, jut backfiring slightly out of the exhaust. Plus im having problem with getting the tensioner pulley bolted…ugh…sucks…have missed 2 days of work in a row and if i miss tonight im fired…cant get physical help to weekend…

  • Enkhee says:

    2009 subaru forester japan standart 2.0 XT timing belt is same 2.5 XT Timing belt?

  • Jill Burlock says:

    Have 2005 Baja. Timing belt broke while driving. Are my valves messed up and my cams?

  • Matthew Price says:

    I have a 2011 Subaru legacy 2.5 single cam. I am just over 105k and need to replace my timing belt. Is there any special tools I need to rotate the cams? If so do you happen to have part numbers? Thank you

  • Andy says:

    Trying to replace timing belt and idlers on 2001 subaru forester when removing old timing belt all alignment marks was good took tensioner loose caused left cam shaft to turn dont know how much can i just spin it back to the alignment mark? Will it be ok?

  • Drew says:

    I have a 1999 Legacy GT (2.5L DOHC) with 160k miles (mostly spent in CA, thus relatively rust free). Just moved to the northeast, and have developed quite a bit of an oil leak on the front end and I can smell burning oil once the engine heats up. Local repair shop says it is coming from the camshaft seals. They notice no leakage from the head gaskets. The shop recommends that in addition to replacing the cam and crank shaft seals, I should also replace the timing belt/idler roller bearings/tentioner (last replaced in 2012), as well as the spark plugs and valve cover gaskets. Total cost ~ $2000.

    Given the age of the car, I am loathe to put $2k into repairs, especially if there is a chance the head gaskets (original) will fail soon. However, the body is in great shape (minimal rust), and thus I might be convinced to have the work done, as long as it does not just lead me to more expensive repairs in the near future (e.g. new head gaskets). Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      I would say it would be worth it but I would do the headgaskets and timing belt repairs at the same time. Our headgasket repair with timing belt water pump and all gaskets and seals runs about 2k so maybe shop around but your location can make pricing difference.

  • Eric Smith says:

    I just replaced a timing belt on my 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback. With a strong battery and spark at each sparkplug, there is no ignition.

    First I shall indicate steps I used to replace the timing belt and align the camshaft and crankshaft sprockets, next I shall indicate ignition system troubleshooting tests and steps taken, including ignition system component replacements. Finally I will discuss fuel system troubleshooting steps taken and components replaced.

    My over-riding question is whether or not I might have to go back in and, after aligning the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets to their stationary reference marks, remove the timing belt, turn the crankshaft sprocket one turn (360 deg) and remount the timing belt paying vigilant attention to keeping the crankshaft and camshaft reference marks in alignment with their stationary reference marks. Might this make a difference?

    The previous owner had replaced the engine in this car with an EJ22 2.2L SOHC engine out of an Imprezza. I do not know what year Imprezza the engine came out of but I guess it to be a 1997 or 1998.

    This EJ22 engine has 3 outer timing belt covers rather than two as is found in later models- so I take this to be a so-called “Phase 1” engine even though it has an integrated tensioner (I was expecting to find the older style tensioner where the pulley and hydraulic arm were not mounted as a one-piece unit).

    My understanding is that so-called “phase one” engines are 1997 or earlier. It is also my understanding that the integrated style of belt tensioner (hydraulic arm and pulley are assembled as an integrated unit) was introduced in 1998.

    Parts replaced include:
    (1) Timing belt,
    (2) Timing Belt Tensioner (integrated style),
    (3) 2 smooth idler pullies,
    (4) idler sprocket near water pump,
    (5) water pump & gasket,
    (6) thermostat & gasket
    (7) rear timing covers (left & right)
    (8) camshaft seals (L&R),
    (9) crankshaft seal,
    (10) spark plugs (gapped at 0.40″).

    I replaced the spark plugs and spark plug wires with a set purchased from a Subaru dealer in November 2012 shortly after I bought the car. (The old wires had been seriously deteriorated). This car has not been driven since October 2015. Just a couple of months before parking the car for a year or so, the fuel pump failed, so I replaced it with a new Subaru fuel pump and the car ran fine after that. Plug wires have less than 55,000 miles on them. (Maybe it’s worth replacing them now).

    When I first removed the outer timing covers and attempted to align the timing marks on the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets before removing the timing belt, it became apparent that this belt had been replaced once before (the original Subaru belt was rated at 60,000 miles).

    Whoever completed the previous repair was evidently inexperienced judging by the following observations:
    (1) many of the 10mm timing cover fastening bolt heads were stripped (some required a 6-sided 10mm socket to remove),
    (2) The embedded nuts in the rear timing covers (L&R) had pulled through the covers (presumably by being over-torqued or because the outer covers were not properly aligned prior to torquing them down. At any rate, the L&R outer timing covers were held on by about one bolt apiece so I replaced the rear covers. (I replaced the camshaft sprockets while I was at it). I attribute this to the work of an inexperienced mechanic.
    (3) The alignment marks on the camshaft sprockets were not aligned with the notches on the rear timing covers (L&R respectively).
    (4) Rather, the left timing sprocket was mounted in such a way that the arrow on the sprocket arm that helps one locate the keyway on the camshaft sprocket was aligned with the notch in the timing cover as if that was the camshaft sprocket position alignment mark.
    a. I have two guesses about how such a mistake might be made:
    i. Perhaps the prior installer did not see the actual camshaft sprocket position alignment mark (the grooved line near the rim of the camshaft sprocket) so he simply used the arrow (an easy enough mistake to make if one is not clear about what the reference marks one is looking for look like)… or
    ii. because I found I had to use a breaker bar and 17mm socket to hold the (left) camshaft sprocket in the correct position (overcoming pull from a valve spring) before mounting the belt- maybe the installer decided that the grooved line was not the right reference mark to use- or maybe he didn’t think about finding a way to hold the camshaft sprocket in the correct position prior to installing the belt.
    Before installing the new timing belt, I replaced:
    (1) the crankshaft and two camshaft seals,
    (2) water pump & gasket
    (3) thermostat & gasket
    (4) back timing belt covers
    (5) camshaft tensioner (integrated style)
    (6) two smooth idler pullies,
    (7) idler sprocket

    Here is how I aligned the camshaft and crankshaft sprockets prior to installing the belt.
    (1) I counted teeth on the new timing belt between the three alignment marks on the belt: (These numbers are as specified in the Subaru Factory Shop Manual):
    a. there were 44 teeth between the timing belt marks for the right camshaft sprocket and the crankshaft sprocket
    b. there were 40-½ teeth between the timing belt mark for the crankshaft and the timing belt mark for the left camshaft.
    (2) I aligned the crankshaft sprocket mark to the reference mark on the engine block and aligned the camshaft sprocket marks (the grooved line on the outer rim of each camshaft sprocket) to their respective notches on the back timing belt covers.
    a. I used a breaker bar with a 17mm socket to hold the left camshaft sprocket in proper alignment during timing belt installation.
    b. The right camshaft sprocket stayed in alignment without a need to stabilize its position relative to the mark on the back timing cover.
    (3) The new timing belt hydraulic tensioner came with a pin installed to hold it in the untensioned position.
    (4) I installed the timing belt so that the three alignment marks on the belt lined up with the crankshaft alignment marks on the crankshaft sprocket and on the engine block;
    (5) I made sure that the alignment marks for the camshaft marks on the belt were lined up with each alignment mark on each camshaft and their respective alignment marks on the rear timing belt covers.
    (6) I used a ratchet with a 17mm socket on the right camshaft sprocket mounting bolt to apply just enough tension on it to stretch the belt the 1-2mm I needed so I could slip it over one of the smooth idler pulleys.
    a. (I started with the center mark on the belt aligned with the crankshaft marks and moved around, clockwise, aligning belt to right camshaft sprocket and correlative timing cover alignment mark, second to last and the smooth idler pulley last).
    (7) When all alignment marks were double and tripled checked, I removed the pin from the tensioner- applying tension to the belt.
    (8) I used a ratchet with a 22mm socket on the crankshaft bolt to turn the engine & belt around several times to check for valve/piston interference. There was none.
    a. I noticed that even though the alignment marks remained true- the marks on the timing belt no longer remained in alignment with the alignment marks on the crankshaft and camshaft sprockets. Although I found this a little puzzling, I was mostly concerned that the alignment marks on the sprockets and stationary reference points remained aligned- which they did.

    I re-installed and re-tensioned the A/C and alternator belts, re-installed the radiator, filled it with coolant, hooked up the electrical connections, and reconnected the negative terminal on the battery.

    I installed new spark plugs (gapped at 0.40”) and attempted to fire it up. Engine turns fine, does not start.

    Ignition troubleshooting:
    (1) Used an inline spark tester to check for spark to the spark plugs. All 4 plugs showed spark.
    (2) I checked for battery voltage to ignition coil (middle terminal of the three-prong connector to the ignition coil) and read 12+ volts.
    (3) I checked resistance on the primary and secondary circuits of the ignition coil (coil packs). Resistance on the primary circuit was not to spec, so I replaced the ignition coil.
    (4) Checked for voltage from the ignition control module (a.k.a. “igniter”) to the coil packs using an LED test light powered by the positive terminal on the battery and using the probe to check each of the outer two terminals on the electrical connector to the ignition coil as an assistant cranked the engine over with the starter. The LED light blinked on/off as expected as the engine turned over.
    a. Just to rule out a possible misreading of test results, I replaced the ignition module anyway.
    b. I also replaced the crankshaft position sensor because I don’t know a test that definitively tells me whether it is defective or not- and it wasn’t all that expensive.
    (5) Ignition control components replaced:
    a. Spark Plugs (gapped to 0.40”)
    b. Ignition coil (a.k.a. coil packs)
    c. Ignition control module (a.k.a. “igniter”)
    d. Crankshaft position sensor
    (6) Ignition control components not replaced:
    a. Spark plug wires (have about 55,000 miles since last replaced and seem to be in good condition).
    b. Electronic Control Module (ECM) or “brain.”
    c. Ignition relay
    d. Camshaft position sensor

    Fuel System Troubleshooting:
    · Gas tank is ¼ full.
    · Just a couple of months before parking the car for a year or so, the fuel pump had failed, so I replaced it with a new Subaru fuel pump and the car ran fine after that.
    · I tried spraying starting fluid into the air intake system: point of entry was between the Mass Air Flow Meter and intake manifold. Car would still not start.

    The engine cranks strongly but does not fire- after all of this! Attempting to achieve ignition in a heated garage (55°-60°F).

    This makes me wonder whether I might be able to make the engine fire if I:
    (1) remove the timing covers,
    (2) align the crankshaft and camshaft alignment marks with their stationary reference marks,
    (3) remove the timing belt, turn the crankshaft sprocket one full turn (360 deg.) and put it all back together again, keeping a vigilant eye on my alignment marks.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Have you checked fuel injection signal(noid lite)? Need to start by checking the cam and crank sensor signals. The cam timing would not effect spark it would just spark at the wrong time causing no start. If you have no spark then there is some type of ignition system failure. I also recommend to obtain a wiring diagram so you can check all your powers and grounds for the ignition system.

  • Matthew says:

    Is 105k mile or kms? Im at 130,000 kms on my 2000 legacy 2.5L SOHC. Just purchased, had oil in the plug chambers so replaces valve head gaskets. It was giving a misfire. Sense there was a terrible misfire, should the belt be changed for this simple fact?

  • Mark J says:

    Hello. Local shop with excellent reputation replaced timing belt & water pump (2011 Outback wagon). About a hundred miles later, overheat light came on, then numerous warning signals. Stopped & checked – coolant overflow tank empty (cabin heat blowing cool).
    Called shop & they advised to fill with coolant, that the engine just needed to “burp” an air bubble. Engine was cool, so I opened radiator & poured about half gallon 50/50 coolant in radiator & overflow tank.
    Now, couple thousand miles later. Overheat light comes on again. Cabin heat blowing cool again. Under hood, coolant has splashed in the area between battery & block. No obvious holes or active spraying. Coolant on ground. Coolant in overflow tank bubbling like it’s boiling (cap still on overflow tank).
    Best hope – something simple at thermostat.
    Worst fear – blown head gasket.
    Any ideas, or possibility of connection to timing belt work connected to all this?
    Thanks

  • John lorusso says:

    Hello. I have a 2008 Subaru Outback non turbo base 4 cyl model. I bought used with 135k two years ago. Last (original owner) said they changed timing belt and pump at 100kbbut didn’t have receipts to prove. I believed them. Now at 155k my timing belt broke at about 40mph driving. Not knowing what happened I look online and find out what happens when timing belt breaks. I checked and my belt did break. Are my valves likely damaged ? I was going to buy a “Kit” for timing belt that includes belt, gaskets, tensioner. And two of the wheels that belt goes on. As you figured out by now, I’m Not a mechanic. Just a guy with a Subaru and no money! But at same time I NEED this car and since I’m screwed already, I want to replace anything and everything that makes any sense at this time incl head gasket and whatever else could be a problem in the next 50-60k miles. Can you advise what I should be changing ? How much this should cost at a reputable mechanic and if it’s ok to buy quality aftermarket parts. Ex. Felpro gaskets instead of Subaru OEM? I doubt I can afford a mechanic but I also can’t afford to be without the car for too long. I am handy. I have a decent amount of tools and a garage to work in.
    Next question is your donation section…. Is $20-$25 donation insulting? I don’t know much on the process so the last thing I want do is make an insulting donation!
    Thanks in advance for all your time. The info I read from your posts so far were a huge help. A response would be tremendous. Thank you!

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      I would remove the cylinder heads. The valves are most likely bent. You have to install the belt to find out so you could order belt, install it and run vehicle to see if it’s okay. Just install crank pulley and leave off the timing covers. We are happy to receive anything as a donation, even a couple dollars would be a compliment not insulting at all. Replace any idlers that have bearing noise, failed idler pulleys usually cause the belt to throw before it breaks.

  • basil says:

    i have a subaru b4 twin turbo millege is on 125.000 l havnt changed the timming yet will it give me a warning when it will need to be replaced?

  • James says:

    Thanks for the guide. I was curious, if you need to replace the camshaft seals or crankshaft seal, how do you reset the timing after removing the pulley’s? I know the crankshaft pulley is keyed, are the cam sprockets keyed as well? Do you then just realign the sprockets to the timing marks on the motor?

    Thanks again!

  • Jim Hoffmann says:

    I have a 2004 Subaru Forester 2.5 non-turbo. I have a squeak in it, I all ready changed the belts, & I changed the Idler Pulley for the A/C. But the squeak is still there, I removed both of the belts & I started it again & the squeak Is still there. Besides the water pump, & tensioner, should I replace any of the pulleys as well or just check them first? The squeak is still there, I just want to make sure the auto parts has they before I start the belt & pump, I need the car for Work. All of your insight would be helpful thank you. Oh yeah I also saw something about changing the two bolts with an Allen bolts.

  • Aggripa says:

    Thanks for the good advises .Are you able to supply me with the timing belt and other supportive parts like water pump to Zimbabwe for a SUBARU IMPREZA 1.5L Japanese make?thank you.

  • William Bowen says:

    When replacing the timing belt do you know the torque specs for all the pulleys and such,my manuals not good for that

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