Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a 2009 Subaru Outback, currently with 54,000 miles. Since April 2012, every time I take it in for an oil change (at two different places), I am told that the front axle clamps have failed and are seeping grease (last year, left axle; this year, both sides) and that they should be replaced by the dealer under the power-train warranty before the car reaches 60,000 miles. Every time I take it back to the dealer (three times), I'm told that it's not a problem and it's not covered under the warranty. The dealer's service department cleans around the clamps, says the clamps are not serviceable, that it's "very minor seepage" and that they'll monitor it at the next service. New clamps will cost $130. Who do I believe, and should anything be done? Is this leakage setting me up for other, more expensive problems in the future? — Karen
Tom: In our experience, Subaru axle clamps do tend to seep grease.
Ray: Kind of like we do when we get home from work at night.
Tom: I don't know why this happens on Subarus. It may be the unique angle created by their higher-mounted differentials that makes the CV boots hard to seal well against the CV joint housing.
Ray: But we've also noticed that the minor seepage usually does not lead to imminent, disastrous axle failure.
Tom: But without seeing your car, it's impossible for us to know how badly yours are leaking. If it's really minimal seepage, the dealer may be right. And lazy. But also right.
Ray: On the other hand, if it looks like grease has been slung all over the place, like after my brother tries to make lunch, that indicates a more serious leak, and then the answer to your question is yes, that will eventually lead to hundreds of dollars in repairs when your CV joint fails due to lack of lubrication.
Tom: The problem is that you're not sure who to trust in this situation. On the one hand, you've got a couple of oil-change guys who might not be Subaru experts, and on the other hand you've got a Subaru dealer who may have an interest in not fixing your car for free, perhaps because he won't be reimbursed under warranty from Subaru.
Ray: So my recommendation would be to find an independent repair shop that specializes in Subarus.
Tom: We maintain a free database of recommended mechanics all over the country (www.mechanicsfiles.com). These are shops that have been reviewed and vouched for by our newspaper readers and radio listeners. And if you enter your ZIP code, you'll get a list of highly rated shops in your area. Then you can look for one that has some Subaru expertise, and ask them to take a look and tell you what they think you should do.
Ray: My guess is that the dealer probably is right in this case. But a second opinion will give you peace of mind. And then you can forget about it and worry about more important issues, like how to get the bird droppings out from between the tiny crevices in your roof rack. Good luck, Karen.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)