If you enjoyed the cliffhanger ending from last week, imagine living through it. It was awful.
My puff of smoke happened on a Thursday morning. The dealer was able to diagnose the problem the following Monday. Fortunately, they gave me a loaner car for the weekend. If I recall correctly it was a white Outback, brand new. It didn't look nearly as good in my garage as the WRX STI. I cursed myself for ever taking that fast car for granted.
Monday afternoon I received "the call". The bad news came first: ringland failure. Oil was leaking into the combustion chamber and compression was low. The good news couldn't come quick enough: the failure would be covered under warranty. I was upset at what happened. At least I didn't have a thousand-dollar bill to pay. I did have to drive the Outback some more. It was comfortable and had a good stereo.
A quick word about warranties: it's all business. A warranty is an insurance policy. The cost is baked into the price of a new car. None of the parties involved fix your car out of goodwill. Vehicle manufacturers weigh the cost of repairing the failures versus redesigning the flawed part. Auto dealers want to keep customers happy and to sell more cars. (I'm sure a dealer's sales figures has an influence on warranty claim outcomes. Similarly, small R&D budgets at vehicle manufacturers. That's not a story for today.) Also, investigating the claim has a price. The cost of labor to diagnose the vehicle, and the cost in time to snoop on Facebook for evidence of sins. Sometimes it's cheaper to pay for an iffy claim than to pay to investigate it. In the world of insurance this is called paying a "nuissance" claim. In other words, you're not getting something for free when a modded car receives warranty work. You're just getting lucky.
My car wasn't modded, but I was worried nonetheless. I asked the service adviser what it would take to prevent ringland failure from happening again. The answer (unofficially) was to rebuild the motor with forged pistons. Though, the official response was reasonable, too: "The car is under warranty, so keep it the way it is." The implication was clear: don't jeopardize future warranty coverage. The conversation reminded me of all the questions I asked over the previous year: what would it take to build a more reliable car?
Option 1: fix all of the obvious flaws. Swap in a free flowing turboback exhaust. Plug in an E85 flex-fuel kit to keep cylinder temperatures down and knock resistance high. (This requires a new fuel pump and bigger fuel injectors.) Add a boost control solenoid and an external wastegate for precise turbo control. Perhaps include an oil catch can to prevent inevitable oil blow-by from reaching the combustion chamber. Finally, the highly motivated WRX owner could rebuild the motor with forged pistons. The list goes on and never stops, even if you aren't chasing after big power figures.
If you do all of the above, you may run into two issues. The first I call "Schrodinger's Warranty": your warranty is simultaneously void and intact until you try to use it. While I have seen such vehicles repaired under warranty, you will never convince Subaru that the modifications were done in the interest of reliability. A vehicle manufacturer with thousands of engineers knows more than you. Granted, sacrifices are made in the name of cost savings and fuel economy standards. The same interest in cost savings is what helps your case here. Like I said above, you may get lucky. If you are an adventurous soul with a healthy wallet, go for it. You will not be disappointed! A "Stage 2" WRX STI is a rocket ship. You will cover ground at warp speed. In the rain and the snow and on the track and on the highway and ...
The second issue is called Irritable Wallet Syndrome. I have met some enthusiasts that are living a life they can't afford.
But that's none of my business. I have observed far too many people mod their car, break it and be unable to pay for repairs. This sometimes leads to selling the car. While modding your car is cool, selling it is not. Keep your car goals modest and you'll have fun for a long time. If you're at risk of Irritable Wallet Syndrome, go with Option 2: keep your car stock (ish). Pay off your car! Come to meets, go on cruises, and enjoy your car as is. You can break the law in plenty of ways with 300 horsepower. But don't do it. Sin lightly.
So that's what I did. I went to a lot of meets. I asked a lot of questions. I cruised to St. Louis for Scoobapalooza*. Most of all, I enjoyed the car. As I said in my first post, a big part of my enjoyment is a result of the Chitown Subarus community. If it wasn't for their moral support during both of my motor failures, I would not be driving a Subaru today.
Wait a minute, what do you mean "both motor failures"? That's right, dear reader. This was not the last time "Warranty" had to make a warranty claim. When you're 250 miles from Chicago and your motor makes an unholy rattling noise, you're in for a long trip back home...and a whole lot of soul searching.
* While cruising with 10+ friends was fun, the event was not. Though, I'd take another vacation with CTS friends in a heartbeat.