Project Justy: A Tune-Up and Unearthing Problems

This Subaru Justy, as with most cars that sell in the very-low-four-figure range, has had an unknown number of previous owners. It’s not worth the trouble to find out. That simple fact, combined with its low price, means the Justy had problems that were ignored because they’re not worth the cost to repair, and has problems that were repaired poorly.


The first red flag I ignored was that this guy had put 12,000 miles on the Justy between when he bought it and when he sold it. The second through whatever number flags that should’ve raised when I was looking at the car were:

  • an oil leak claimed to be from the oil pan (new gasket included in the sale)
  • definitely worn out motor mounts
  • lots of slop in the steering
  • fuel smell when he first fired it up
  • his unconfident claim of getting 30 mpg
  • a possible exhaust leak
  • a clutch pedal that engages very close to the floor
  • 4WD didn’t engage, claimed to be a pinched wire

Not all of these turned out to be problems, but I likely could’ve pushed the purchase price further down quite a bit if I had been more aggressive. Let’s face it: I’m a weenie. I had driven 3 hours to look at a car I was buying for $1,300. I had a tow dolly and a wad of cash; I wasn’t coming home empty-handed. Which is how I ended up with a 23-year-old forgotten car with issues. But I digress.
I hopped on Amazon and RockAuto, shopping for parts. I shopped Dusty’s Justys (which, appropriately, also offers Daihatsu and Yugo parts) and various OE Subaru parts websites. Some were not available. Some were on get-these-parts-the-hell-out-of-my-warehouse super closeout. Some were only available from the OEM, with the appropriate sky-high dealer price.


This Justy had what looked a new set of spark plug wires, so upon examination, I was surprised to find that the spark plugs and distributor cap were both worn out. The middle cylinder’s spark plug (this is a 3-pot, remember) was also coated in black soot, indicating possibly a bad injector. This jives with the car’s poor gas mileage (about 20 mpg) and the fuel smell from the exhaust. It’s running rich. I installed new ignition parts hoping that the problem was ignition. The ignition system showed plenty of neglect, including loose distributor bolts. I set the timing as part of the process.
A bit later I checked the replacement plug on cylinder No. 2. It came out just as black as the one preceding it. I had to order an injector.


 The upper torque mount had seen better days. Though this is a transverse-mounted inline engine, it has a dog bone-style upper mount just like its boxer-powered brethren. Thankfully, this didn’t require a parts purchase.


I didn’t want to spend $80 for a new mount, so a bit of 3M Window Weld and some cure time took care of the clunk whenever I engaged a gear.
There are still plenty of small issues to tackle with this car, but it’s still taken me to work and back mostly reliably. The gas mileage is no better than my WRX, so it’s still not yet fulfilling its purpose, and it does require quite a bit of tinkering before it’ll be a really decent daily driver. I haven’t even tackled all the problems I mentioned at the top of this post. At least it doesn’t drink premium fuel.

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  1. Hatchtopia Avatar

    Can't wait to see the progress. A new neighbor moved in around the corner from me with a wide variety of vehicles, including a 3-door Justy. He's been working on it, and drove it around the block the other night – sounded like a hornet's nest. I'll be interested to see what he does with his Justy as well.

  2. dukeisduke Avatar

    Windo-Weld – is that the stuff they use to glue in windshields? How did you find out about using it to repair motor mounts?

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Yes, that's the stuff. I heard about it on a Ford ZX2 message board several years ago. Apparently the Honda guys had already been doing it for a while at that point. They often use it to stiffen stock mounts on the cheap. It's urethane, which is the same thing as the aftermarket inserts are made of. Window Weld is a bit softer than aftermarket mount inserts, but it's a good upgrade at a reasonable price. As you see, it also serves well at repairing old, broken mounts.

  3. Drives Dead Marques Avatar
    Drives Dead Marques

    I wanted one of these when I was younger. The 4WD, the CVT, the 3 cylinder. I wound up with an '83 Civic HF instead. Not as quirky, but a great car outside the low power.

  4. Night Traveller Avatar
    Night Traveller

    Nice old commuter for very little money,good luck.

  5. anonymic79 Avatar

    These are fun cars, I've owned 4 of them, mostly on purpose. You'd do well to mount a mechanical oil pressure gauge, the pump is the weak point in this engine as it is very badly designed and requires a new engine face plate to repair when it fails. Also, don't replace the timing chain without a manual, but if you do, the engine will come back to life and your fuel consumption will improve. Replacing the belt doesn't seem to do a whole lot. If I were irresponsible I'd say that this engine will rev ~2k rpm past red-line reliably, but since I am not irresponsible, I won't say that at all. YMMV. If your car has a shift light, and you obey it, you should be able to hit 40+ MPG easily, 50 if you're light footed and 55+ if you draft large vehicles. Of course you have a lot of work to do mechanically first.

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      I do have a repair manual. If my memory serves, the chain operates the balance shaft. Why would replacing that improve fuel consumption?

      1. anonymic79 Avatar

        As any timing chain stretches, timing goes with it. Basically it's a harmonics thing that I don't think I can explain, but when the engine vibrates it sucks energy from the combustion cycle.

  6. krazykarguy Avatar

    "3M Windo-Weld: the official engine mount repair kludge of NASCAR"