Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Subaru Tire Replacement

Ten months in, I'm as happy as can be with my decision to buy a Subaru Forester. However...

So, Amber is in a few "mommy Facebook groups" where moms (and sometimes dads too) ask a wide range of questions. Usually it's about kids pooping in the bathtub or something like that, but there was a car question the other day to the effect of, "I want a small SUV. What should I get?" Amber responded "We like our Subaru!"*, but the author's response was that Subarus have high maintenance costs. We didn't follow up, so I don't know if they were just talking about the fact that the Forester requires synthetic oil instead of conventional (which makes oil changes quite a bit more expensive), or if there was more to it than that.

(* - By the way, almost EVERYONE will tell you that his or her car is the best.)

Well, here's something. All Subarus are All Wheel Drive cars. That's great, and I generally like having an AWD car. However, here's one problem with that: it is very important that all four tires be matched. If the circumference of one tire is longer or shorter than any of the others, because of the way the AWD works, it can break the transmission. And I don't just mean mixing/matching different types of tires; even if one tire is simply more worn than the others - if the difference in tread is 2/32 of an inch or more - that's enough of a difference to cause a huge problem, more so with Subarus than with other AWD cars (source). This doesn't seem to be a thing that car repair places are simply exaggerating for the sake of profit, either. It's a real thing.

The bottom line is this. If you have a Subaru with four partially used tires, and one of them gets punctured beyond repair and has to be replaced, that means you have to replace all four tires. Boo! With every car, there's always something that gets you, it seems.

So, yeah, I had a flat the other day. (Only took 10,000 miles to get my first flat with the Subaru!) Fortunately, it was patchable, so I didn't need a brand new tire...or four brand new tires.

Hopefully every flat I get over the life of the Subaru is a) patchable, and b) happens close to home, because driving on a spare - even a full size spare - for more than just a few miles can cause the same transmission issues as mismatched tires. How likely am I to get that lucky? Well, my Honda had three flat tires in 125,000 miles of driving; two of the flats were patchable, one was not. So...we'll see.

Because of the synthetic oil - and because I pretty much have to rotate the tires with every single oil change to keep the wear as even as possible - I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'll be paying more for maintenance with the Subaru than I did with the Honda. With the Honda, maintenance costs came out to around $500/year over 6½ years. (Most of that was spent on tire-related issues.) With the Subaru, if each oil change + tire rotation is already going to cost me a full $100 - that's how much the first one was, anyway; I may shop around some and see if I can get a better deal - then those costs are going to add up.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports says that Foresters are as reliable as any small SUV on the market (one big reason why I got one), so I am less likely to need major work down the road with the Subaru than with other small SUVs. As long as I keep the tires closely matched, of course.

1 comment:

NickW said...

Interesting. We were thinking of getting an Outback. If we do, I guess I better learn to do our own oil changes. BTW, Walmart has synthetic oil for a good price, and my neighbor (who is a mechanic) says the quality is similar to the other brands.