Repair costs suck. Saving money for your new set of wheels is so much better than replacing that frustrating headgasket, radiator or damaged suspension damper. We know that we have to spend big money to fix everything, right? Well, maybe, or maybe not. Are you smart enough to find ways to save yourself money on repairs? Maybe you'd appreciate a guide? Here's some advice I can give you.
Let's start off with the easiest way to save yourself money; knowing your car. If you own a car which is fairly common, look at the parts that most of the owners replace most frequently. Here's a quick list of things to expect from various classes of cars. Bonus: reading every car's various problems will help you to understand how to prevent problems on every car.
Common Inline 4 Engines
Inline 4s are generally fairly reliable, given the usual manufacturer concerns, with things like fuel economy, reliability and the acceptance of the idea that lower power output is inherent. These engines are usually slightly detuned to allow them to keep running for longer periods of time, which is something that the majority of automotive consumers appreciate because it saves money.
These are the sorts of cars that really run well with only the usual things, such as oil changes, coolant flushes, power steering fluid changes, and other fluid refreshes. Keep an eye out for oil leaks at the valve covers. They're fairly easy to fix and even easier to spot. Keeping the valve cover gasket in perfect condition can prevent contaminants from getting into your valves, which will cause very expensive damage. You should do it on any car and engine type, but I've seen lots of cars with oil leaking from the valve covers, and many/most are Inline 4 cars, not because of the design of the engines, but because the engines are so common. Remember, you're not just replacing the valve cover gasket to keep oil in, but instead, to keep dirt out. A $20 gasket to save you a $1000+ engine replacement or rebuild? I'd say that's a great investment.
Subaru's EJ2x Series Engines
You've got a Subaru and you've heard the horror stories about head gaskets. You don't want your head gaskets to go bad, right? That's a hefty bill. Did I mention that every car with two cylinder banks will always have two head gaskets? That's why Subaru cars blow head gaskets so frequently. They have two of them.
Oh, and the static electricity built up by the function of the engine also does a huge amount of damage to your engine and head gaskets. When the engine is running, static electricity is generated by friction. Keeping your oil and coolant fresh can minimize the friction, for sure. But, there's an awesome way to verify that your car's engine won't develop static electricity. Every engine made after the discovery that engines create static electricity should be equipped with a ground strap. Your Subaru EJ2x series engine has several of these ground straps. Some of them might come out due to idiot/lazy mechanics, stray stones, (yeah, we know, Subaru is a rally car!), rust, or accidentally tugging on it while removing the engine to change the spark plugs and/or timing belt, because you or your mechanic forgot to remove the strap. It breaks. Replace it! It costs about $3 Canadian to buy another one, but it is the first and best line of defense against the buildup of static electricity, alongside the frequent changes of engine oil (5000 km. or less, please!) and coolant (once every year or two. I like to replace my coolant while I'm replacing my brake fluid, since they go on the same interval (every two years).
"So, a $3 ground strap and a $4 bottle of coolant can save my Subaru engine's head gaskets?"
Okay, okay, I can't promise it, no. BUT, I recommend it anyways. It's $10 total, after taxes and the pack of gum you buy because those sneaky department stores have gum marketing strategies nailed to absolute perfection. Well, it's not even $10, but the cashier is beautiful and friendly so you give her a tip, right?
Also specific to Subaru's engines, is the idea that boxer engines can experience oil starvation in hard cornering. At least, one cylinder bank will experience some oil starvation. Gravity pulls your oil away from cylinder bank 1 in a left hand corner, and from cylinder bank 2 in a right hand corner. If you've got a Subaru and you're about to hit the track with some grippy tires... You need to intentionally overfill your dipstick by about a tenth of a litre or two. Go to full and then a tenth of a litre beyond that. It won't damage the engine unless you put like an extra litre in, in which case the increased oil pressure does produce more friction and wears out gaskets, rods and things sooner. But, ensuring that your Subaru has slightly more oil than necessary really helps keep your boxer engine alive. If you can afford one, get an oil baffle. The EJ series engine is the one engine that benefits the most from an oil baffle.
Race Cars, Drift Cars and Rally Cars
Anyone who drives hard knows that some components wear out faster than others, when they're exposed to track/racing/rally/drift usage. Right? Right.
But, that doesn't mean that you can't do more to prevent damage.
Step one is engine oil. Always engine oil. In an upcoming article, I'd love to invite a friend of mine, Andrew Hughes, to discuss his aftermarket oil catchcan's function and so on, to explain why he did it and why it helps him get more power, and more reliability. Then, read the final paragraph about the Subaru EJ series engine if you're going to put racing slicks on your car. You need to have an adequate oil supply and an oil baffle if you want to put on proper racing slicks onto your car. That'll really help you make that engine last.
Step two is about your driving. If you're in fourth gear at 8000 RPM, don't go into second gear right away. If you want to use engine braking, you need to go from 4th to 3rd at around 5500 RPM, depending on your gear ratio. Going above redline does indeed slow the car down a little more, but only at the risk of blowing it up. This is the most common engine failure I've seen in racing, second only to oil starvation.
Step three is adequate cooling and temperature/heat resistance. Before you go out and shred the track, let the car get up to temperature. Put on some trustworthy brake pads and (rotors if you have the spare money), and get a big brake kit if you really need more braking potential. If you've got a big brake kit, you'll want an aftermarket radiator. Some uprated radiators are a great investment to keep your engine cool. I plan on purchasing a Mishimoto radiator for my Eilish the EK Civic build, and maybe a big brake kit. Keep an eye on your engine temperatures.
Step 4 is pressures. Oil pressures and water pressures are vital. If you lose oil pressure or water pressure, re-read steps 2 and 3, respectively. Shut the engine down and pull the car into the grass, in a safe zone, ASAP. If you lost oil pressure or water pressure on track, well, you may be spitting engine oil or coolant all over the track behind you, creating a serious safety hazard. I'm serious. My friend Milan was driving a Volvo S60 R at a track day, when he went into a corner and found a nice slippery oil patch. He ended up in the grass in a dangerous way under yellow flag conditions. Marshals were not happy with him, but he apologized and agreed to drive more carefully under yellow flag conditions in the future. With that aside, paying attention to your water/oil gauges could prevent more serious damage, versus if you kept the car running.
Step five is the air-fuel ratio. Things happen at the track that you would never expect to happen. A stray cloth clogged my intake in my old 2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS Sportwagon "Hanna," which led it to spontaneously shut off with no warning signs. I looked at my air-fuel ratio and realized that the car wasn't able to get any air into the engine. I took my intake apart, found and removed the cloth, and proceeded to drive home from the track with no damage to the engine or anything, all because I knew how to get the car running again, with more air.
Step six leads on from step five. During my loss-of-power experience, I used a diagnostic tool to read the engine data and saw that there was no airflow into the intake manifold, even with the throttle body wide open. Something was blocking it, because the other numbers seemed normal and there was no sign of any other damage or problems, but the car simply couldn't get air. The ability to see 40-50 engine performance parameters in a split second of work (plugging in the OBD-II reader) is the greatest way for you to save money. No tow truck, no expensive repair, no paying a mechanic to have a look around for you.
Bottom Line: thinking and planning, maintenance, and preparation will save you money on repairs. I've never had a car break down, except for the cloth-clog I mentioned in the article above. I don't mean to brag, I mean to inform: This is my method. This is how I've never had a car break down.
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.