Making Head gaskets Last on my Subaru

September 22, 2009

Subaru head gaskets are about as hot of a topic as national health care lately.  If you own a Subaru you know what I mean.

Since the 2.5 liter Subaru engine was put into production there have been thousands of head gaskets replaced across the country. We’ve done a good portion of those ourselves. In another post I’ll go into further detail about the details of Subaru head gaskets but for today I would like to offer some suggestions on how to help prolong the ones you have.

Subaru head gaskets can fail for numerous reasons. Failure of sealant, improper torque, surface imperfections in the cylinder head or engine block and of course heat or excess heat.

I’m going to focus on excess heat. Within the engine block the coolant is circulating to keep the engine cool due to internal combustion occurring. The coolant remains in contact with the metal and is able to absorb heat, travel to the radiator and release the heat to the atmosphere.

Two important things must occur to for the coolant to do it’s job. It must have adequate flow to move the heat away from the internal areas of the engine and it must remain in contact with the areas it’s trying to cool.

There are 3 very important items that may individually have a negative impact on the coolant’s ability to do it’s job. If all 3 components are bad or inferior,  problems could develop even sooner.

Subaru Radiator Caps OLD vs NEW
Subaru Radiator Cap

Subaru Radiator Cap

Radiator cap:

Keeps coolant in a sealed system, allows overflow to exit and return as coolant expands and contracts,  but most importantly it raises the boiling point of the coolant in the system by keeping the cooling system pressurized.  Most radiator caps for stock vehicles keep the system pressurized between 13-15psi. This can raise the boiling point depending on the mix of coolant/water an additional 35-40 degrees.  A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water has a boiling point around 265 degrees. Add to that a radiator cap that holds 13psi and now you have coolant that won’t boil until 300 degrees .

There are areas throughout the engine where the coolant circulates that become very hot. So hot that it can boil coolant. Since we must have the coolant in contact with the metal to perform it’s heat transfer duties we now have a problem. Scenario: Radiator cap is weak (which we run into all the time on Subarus). A weak radiator cap not holding pressure may not let all of the coolant get hot enough to boil but there are areas within the engine that are now boiling. Boiling coolant has air bubbles that now keep the coolant from contacting the cylinder walls and other extremely hot areas within the engine. This heat is more than the engine and gasket were designed to withstand on a regular basis and thus a situation that will accelerate the failure of the gasket.

Flow of the coolant is important also. To keep from boiling the hot coolant must be quickly moved away from the hot cylinder walls up to the radiator so it can release it’s heat. Below is a picture of a Subaru water pump and also a quality Japanese aftermarket water pump. Although we for the most part believe in genuine Subaru parts, here’s a case where genuine Subaru part’s may not  be the best choice. Note the  stamped steel vanes on the Subaru pump vs the quality cast and machined impeller on the Japanese counterpart. The tight clearances and  defined impeller vanes are very efficient at moving coolant through your Subaru engine. (an interesting side note that  older Subaru water pumps  were made nearly identical to the pump on the right).

Subaru Water Pump1

Genuine Subaru Water Pump VS Aftermarket Japanese Waterpump

Genuine Subaru Water Pump VS Aftermarket Japanese Water Pump

Another important part of keeping the hot coolant flowing out to the radiator and away from the internal hot spots in the engine is a high quality thermostat. I’ve shown below the comparison between a generic aftermarket brand on the left and a genuine Subaru thermostat on the right.

 

Aftermarket Thermostat VS Subaru Thermostat

Aftermarket Thermostat VS Subaru Thermostat

Note the Subaru version has a much larger spring, larger diameter central area for coolant flow and is made of steel and brass. The generic brand contains copper, a big no no with Subaru. Subaru actually states that copper in a Subaru cooling system is ill advised and may cause excessive electrolysis and corrosion.

Even after trying to be dilligent about providing the best possible cooling for your Subaru you still may need to cross the head gasket bridge some day. If you ever get to that point, Smart Service will have a solution for you. We now offer  new and improved aftermarket head gaskets which we believe will be the last ones your car will ever need. I’ll make a future post with more details about their construction.

Cheers,

Mike

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Mike Corbin

About Mike Corbin

Smart Service is a Subaru service repair and maintenance shop operated independently of Subaru of America or Fuji Heavy Industries. We are a family run business that combine high quality Subaru care, personal friendly atmosphere and a cost savings over the Subaru dealer. We have been supporting the Subaru community since 1999. Follow Mike on Google+.

325 Responses to “Making Head gaskets Last on my Subaru”

  1. I Like your site a lot. I have a 98 Forester with 170K miles that has been blowing coolant thru the reservoir for about a year. At first I had to add 1/2 gal. every week or so. Now its every other day. Temp sometimes rises close to red hot, but still the engine runs smoothly, no smoke, just coolant loss. Is there still hope for this engine? What about the chemical gasket fixes? My regular mechanics want to replace the engine($4000K)but I don’t have that kind of money. Will gasket replacement lead to discoveries like warped heads, etc? Help! George

  2. Hi George,

    Thank you for the question about your Subaru head gaskets. I’m sorry to hear of the situation.

    Based on the many Subaru engines we’ve seen with this issue I think it is a strong possibility that if you disassemble the engine you will find warpage in the cylinder heads and engine block deck from hot exhasust gasses and overheating instances. Also the fact that the engine has 170k on it would also increase the odds of finding cylinder wall wear that would lead to replicing the block. Your description leades me to belive that the engine is in the later stages of head gasket failure. Subaru’s engine block and cylinder heads are aluminum and are more suseptable to damage from overheating than a cast iron engine.

    Here’s the thought process we suggest when dealing with an obvious failure of Subaru head gaskets, especially when there is a strong possibility that the engine will be damaged beyond an economically sensible repair.

    Do you still love your Subaru? If the answer is yes and it still meets your needs, then we anaylize the following. (0thwise now is the time to make the move into your next Subaru).

    What is the condition of the rest of the Forester?

    An overall analysis of all mechanical aspects of the your Subaru plays an important part in deciding whether to fix it or not.(this applys to any Subaru in need of a large repair) If it has few needs or issues, then it still may make sense to fix it, even if you have to spend 4k on a new engine. It still may be worth it compared to having car payments for the next 5 years plus a down payment to cough up. (make sure what they are suggesting really is new… some shops refer to used engines as new since they are new to the car… make sure of what you’re getting).

    Now, if the vehicle inspection reveals there are many other problems with the car, now is the time to cut your losses and move on.

    If one decides to move forward on the repair, the next step is to remove the engine, disassemble it and evaluate it’s condition. If the engine block is warped or damaged from the exhaust gasses burning the aluminum it will be necessary to replace the engine block. This can certainly push the repair into the $4k range and sometimes above depnding if any other items are included at the same time such as additional seals and gaskets, water pump, timing belt pulleys etc. I suggest being prepared for a worst case sceneario. If an engine isn’t needed then life is good and the Forester lives on for much less than expected. If not, you end up spending the larger amount of 4-5k and your Subaru Forester has a new lease on life.

    As far as being sensible compared to “blue book” value… You’ll probably be spending about what the car is worth so look at it like you’re re-investing in your Subie in the hope of getting another 5+ years of trouble free transportation.

    Another note… a shop disassembles your car, they discover the worst, and you decide not to go further, you’ll be left with an engine in pieces and a bill for the removal and dissambly of the engine.

    As far as chemical fixes, I’ve never seen any work in this instance. The size of the failed spot in the head gasket is usually far larger than a chemical can repair. Subaru did offer a sort of chemical repair for head gaskets that were dripping coolant externally. I’ve seen it work for some cars and not for others. I’ve never seen it resolve an internal leak where combustion gas is being pumped into the coolant.

    good luck,

    Mike

  3. I have a ’98 Subaru that I bought in ’05 as the third owner. I had it checked before I bought by a Subaru specialized shop in Boulder, CO. Everything checked out at the time. I drove it back to my parents house in Aspen, CO where I lived for two years, while getting a foot in my profession. The motor started leaking oil, I was told by the mechanic, due to a leaking cam shaft. As a result of the costs I was told it would take to repair, I decided to put a newer (used from Japan) motor into it. I’m now about 2 years down the road and am being told the motor I put into the car is a ’96 with hydrolic lifters, and now blown headgaskets. I’m looking at having the headgaskets replaced, but don’t have the money to do it, and don’t have the freedom not to drive it, as it is the daily driver to and from work. The engine has yet to over heat, and I’m told that is a good thing, but it’s only a matter of time. I trust the mechanics I have been taking it to, and know they aren’t just blowing smoke. I’m wondering if you would say it’s worth while to invest the money into repairing the motor that’s in it, or any suggestions you might have. Thank you for your time and consideration. And if you have any need for more information on other symptoms the car is displaying, I’ll be happy to share.

    Dave

  4. Hello Dave,

    I’m sorry to hear of your dilemma, espescially the problems and expenses leading up to it. After reading your post I think your best option may very well be to repair the current engine. Since I don’t know how bad your head gaskets are or how they were diagnosed I really can’t tell you how soon to get them done. Just because the car isn’t overheating doesn’t mean it isn’t doing damage to the engine. If even the slightest bit of coolant seeps into the engine cylinder it can begin to damage the cylinder wall.

    The 96 hydraulic lifter engine was overall a very good 2.5 for Subaru. If they do replace the head gaskets, make sure they evaluate the cylinder conditon, the head and block surface, and all the other surrounding parts like water pump, timing belt tensioners and idlers, seals etc.

    The other factor to consider is the overall condition of the Outback. If, other than the head gasket problem, the rest of the car is in good shape with no immediate needs it would be a good investment. If the car is riddled with surrounding problems that are going to cause you to put large amounts of additional money into the car within the next 12 months then it may be time to either drive it into the ground or sell/trade it.

    Good luck with your Subaru whatever you choose!

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  5. Hi Mike

    I have a 2002 Subaru Forester. I bought it in ’04 off-lease when it had 48K on it. I was not concerned about the high mileage since I walk to the train for work; since then I’ve only put about 8K a year on it. Now it’s at 98,000 miles.

    Over the past couple of years, everything has seemed to go wrong — in 2008 I had to replace the center pipe (exhaust donut)and that gasket/nuts/bolt assemblage due to leak. At my next service, they replaced the oil pump o-ring and resealed the pump. Spring of 2009 it was the rear catalytic converter shields, which were cracked.

    (I am not including “normal” stuff, like my battery, timing belt, and F/R brake jobs, the repairs and replacement of which happened when one would expect.)

    I just took it in for service and they told me my head gasket had an oil leak (NOT a coolant leak). I was also told it was something I wouldn’t notice myself since the oil wasn’t hitting the ground, i.e. no tell-tale spots on the driveway or anything. Expensive repair, as you know. I asked how urgent it was, and the service dept said I could get through ’til spring as long as I keep an eye on the oil level.

    This is the thing: I have religiously followed the Subaru maintenance schedule for service; my last one was September. But every time I go in there’s another major repair, and it always an expensive problem.

    Should I get a second opinion on this? I guess I find it interesting that they specified *oil* — in other words, I have the gasket problem which isn’t covered by warranty. Plus, it just seems like I’m getting nickeled and dimed on this car, which is amazing to me on an ’02 model with less than 100K on it. Do I start looking for a new vehicle? Or a different Subaru service department?

  6. Mike,

    What make of water pumps do you suggest for 99 OBW 2.5L DOHC?

    I can find ones made by Bosch, NPW, and Paraut (claim to be OEM). The one by GMB is similar to the stamped impeller shown as OEM.

    http://www.partsgeek.com/catalog/1999/subaru/legacy/cooling_system/water_pump.html

    Planning for TB change and wonder what supplier you use for your Subaru Water Pumps. Bosch name is familiar and appears to match you photo. Any comments?

    Thanks!

  7. Hello Mike,
    My 1999 Subaru legacy outback had the head gasket problem and repair in 2005. Now(2009) at 140, 000 + miles, it is working fine. I love my car. But am thinking it won’t go another 75,000 miles and should get another one. Do you have any advice?
    thanks.

  8. Hi Iian,

    I think first I’d like to comment on your exhaust. Subaru makes a good exhaust system but depending on where you live rust can be a big issue where they salt the roads for snow. Up in the Seattle area the exhausts just about last the life of the vehicle (as long as the catalytic converter doesn’t wear out). Also lot’s of short trips can rot an exhaust system from the inside out much quicker because of the moisture inside the exhaust never fully evaporates. (you’ll notice vapor and water drips off your tailpipe when your car is warming up).

    As far as the head gasket question, I think from your attention to detail keeping your Forester serviced it should be a good car for miles to come. The oil leak is somewhat of a concern but from the sounds of yours it may be quite a while before you have to address the issue. My concern is if you have any coolant leaking from the same area. If your coolant level has remained steady you’re probably fine. That area of the head gasket may go a few years or less than a year. It’s tough to tell. The one thing I’ve learned about that particular engine is that eventually you will have to replace the head gaskets. The key is to save ahead of time and make sure it’s done at a quality shop. In the mean time it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. If it’s a light leak, they may just advise you to monitor it until it becomes bad or until coolant starts making it’s way out.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  9. Mike,
    Go with the Paraut. When you compare it to your Subaru water pump you’ll see the difference in quality. That’s what we use.

    good luck,

    Mike

  10. Hi Catherine,

    Keep driving!

    Your Subaru sounds like it got the tlc it needed when they replaced the head gaskets last time. If they haven’t failed by now there’s a good chance you’ll get another 75k out of it. I’m guessing you’ll have other repairs like small leaks, and other extraneous repairs but I’m guessing the head gaskets won’t be one of them.

    My second reason to keep driving your Outback is that by now a 1999 Outback with 140k on it isn’t valued that high blue book anyway and you’ll get way more value out of it driving it vs. selling or trading it in. You’d probably get the same for a trade in even if the head gaskets eventually did go.

    Take care,

    Mike

  11. Mike,

    I wrote in a few weeks ago, and am preparing to have some major work done to my Subie. The mechanic I go to has diagnosed the problems of the car to be a blown headgasket in cylinders 1 and 3, a cracked CV boot on the front passenger side, and I need to replace the rear brakes and rotors. They told me I should be able to smell exhaust in the coolant overflow, and I check this weekend, but I can’t say I smell anything aside from coolant. On top of that, after reading what you’ve advised other folks, the coolant level is full in the radiator and above full in the coolant overflow box. The oil has been leaking for some time, from I don’t know where, they told me I have a warped separator plate and that drips onto the catalytic converter and that is why I can smell burning oil when the car is running, but it seems to be a small enough amount that it doesn’t require oil added on a regular basis, and I check the oil level every couple of weeks. The car is a ’98 Legacy, with a ’96 2.5L DOHC, I had to have it replaced as you will recall from my previous post. I love the car, and I figure I can’t buy a new car for the price of what they are asking to repair this car. The estimate is about $3400 to cover all parts, labor and taxes. That included all the parts to be replaced for the headgaskets, (i.e. coolant system, etc.) which is most of the expense (about $2400), the CV boot so long as it’s just the boot is about $300, and brakes and rotors is about $600. I trust the shop I go to, and I know the guys do the best they can without tearing everything apart to diagnose things. My question is this, what other signs should I be looking for that would indicate that it is a blown headgasket and not something else less major? I would really be upset if they get into it, and find that it wasn’t the headgaskets after all but rather something really simple like a dirty spark plug or something that was causing the check engine light to go on. Also, do you think the price they are charging is fair? Ultimately, I am wondering if I should just focus on the brakes, rotors, and CV boot for now, and let the headgaskets go for a while longer before getting them fixed? Thanks for your input.

    Dave

  12. Hi Dave,
    It all sounds like a reasonable course of action and price. Failure of the head gaskets is best diagnosed by either visible coolant dripping from area of head gaskets or hydrocarbons are detected in cooling system. (an emissions gas analyzer is best used for this). The seperator plates do tend to leak and are good to do at the same time as the head gaskets due to some overlapping labor savings. I would want a definitive answer on what the exact failure of the head gaskets is. One can also pressurize each cylinder individually with compressed air (leakdown test) and monitor for bubbles coming out of radiator. No bubbles, no internal head gasket failure. (there are exceptions that only leak when warm or cold).

    As far as the check engine light being related, maybe they are thinking of a valve problem that would be solved with a valve grind when the heads are off. More specifics would be helpful.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  13. Mike,
    I took my 2002 Legacy Wagon to the dealer for a scheduled oil change, and was told I needed new headgaslets, fuel pump , timing belt. I’m wondering about the gaskets since it was done at 58000 miles.(I now have 92000miles) I wondered if this is usual and if Subaru could bear some of this cost of the new headgaskets again. I didn’t notice anything different about my car this time since it is not leaking in my garage or any warning lights, but they told me it was a major problem that needed immediately done. I am taking the car in tomorrow and the cost is $1500. What do you think? thanks

  14. Hi Suzie,
    The price if doing just the head gaskets is reasonable. I am wondering the same thing as you, why did hey already fail again and what kind of failure is it? Also, not sure why the fuel pump is being included. Having head gaskets fail multiple times if the job was done at the dealer might qualify from some help from Subaru corporate. I would call 1-800-SUBARU3 and explain your situation to them. It may go nowhere but I’ve also heard instances where Subaru has reimbursed people in special cases.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  15. I have a 1998 Subaru Forester with 146K miles on it. Up until three weeks ago it was fine, having required very few repairs over its life [axles, rotors, that's about it.] But it began running hot at speeds over 50, and after replacing the radiator to no avail, my mechanic tells me that, in all likelihood it’s the head gasket. He recommends I consider replacing the entire engine with a used, low mileage one with a warranty. While it costs a little more than doing the heads [$2K vs $1.5K], there are fewer old parts to break down. The only downside is the risk that a new engine will put pressure on an old drive train and transmission, leading to more costly repairs. I have to decide over the next week or so whether to repair a 12 year old car, or buy something new, as not being able to do highway driving is a problem. While I’d love to get a new car, I can’t afford it right now. I’m tempted to get a new engine and hope I can get a few more years out of the car, but I’m wondering if it’s throwing good money after bad. Thoughts?

  16. Hi Mike,

    As many others on this post I am having a headgasket issue on my 04′ Forester. The engine has 125K in mileage. I was recently told by my mechanic the right bank headgasket is leaking oil. He stated I should keep an eye on the oil level for now and watch out for coolant consumption and/or leaking. I was advised they would have to pull the engine out completely to replace both headgaskets and the cost to be $1200 to $1500 depending on any other issues found. I know at some point I will have to go through the process, however is it really necessary replacing both headgaskets at the same time? The left side is bone dry with no issues. I was told the right side is known to be a problem. Any reasons why the right over the left? Thanks for any advice/comments you may have.

    Cam

  17. Sorry to hear of your Subaru problem. The Forester drivetrain should have no problem handling a newer engine, even a brand new engine if money were no object. If you do get a used engine I recommend replacing the known weak components before you install it into your car. It can be a great long term fix (assuming it’s done correctly) with some short term hits to the pocket book. The parts I’d recommend are the head gaskets, the front and rear seals, the timing belt and possibly the waterpump and timing belt tensioners depending on their condition. This could up the price a bit further but if the rest of the Subaru is in good shape it could get you another 100k with regular repairs and maintenance along the way. This could end up saving quite a bit in the long run compared to buying a new Subaru.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  18. Hi Cam,

    Your Forester may not need head gaskets as soon as you think. If you have no loss of coolant or no visible coolant on the head gasket area and it’s just oil it may be OK for now. If the oil is residual and not a drip it may take quite a while before it develops into something more serious. Also, it’s the left side that tends to be the problem gasket. We advising doing both at the same time once you decide to do the gaskets because of the labor savings while everything is disassembeled.

    I would say for now, monitor the oil and coolant level until the next oil change and if there is no loss of either then just have a visual inspection done to make sure it’s not getting worse. It may be at the stage where we’d advise a Subaru owner to monitor until it worsens. (which can be 3 months or 3 years). The fact that the predominant failure side is bone dry is a good thing.

    Good luck in your Forester

    Mike Corbin

  19. I’ve been smelling burning oil on a 1999 Subaru Forester I recently purchased. Today while looking for an oil leak with the engine running, I discovered a small amount of a thick black oil around the Driver’s side head gasket as well as some coolant drops.

    How long can we drive the car like this? We have only had it a very short time and did purchase an extended warranty, but I am not sure if the warranty has kicked in yet. The car only has 65,000 miles on it.

    I’m wondering about the timing belt and water pump as well. I do not think these items would be covered on the ext warranty, but would like to know what is a fair price to pay to have these done.

    Thanks!
    Rick

  20. Hi Mike,

    The short block on my 2002 subaru forester engine was replaced recently. Someone told me in order to do that the mechanic would have to chnage the headgaskets too. Is that true? I appreciate your feedback.

    Tom

  21. Yes, you must install new head gaskets during a short block replacement.

    Mike

  22. Hi. Very useful site, thanks for setting it up. I am considering buying a Subaru Forester for my son to take to college in the snowy Midwest (Iowa). And I have been reading about the head gasket issue. Pre-2005 Foresters are significantly cheaper than post-2005 Foresters, presumably both because of overall aging and the headgasket issue being more serious for models before 2005. I have found a 2002 Forester with 85K mile for a reasonable price at a Subaru dealer who took it in trade because the previous owner did not want to deal with the HG problem. Their service dept immediately replaced the head gasket and did some minor repairs. The question is, how well do engines with the replaced head gaskets perform? Is it likely we will get a a few years before having to do the job again? Note that when we lived in Australia 1997-2005, we drove a 1992 Liberty sedan up to 200K miles (and then sold it for $2500) , with an engine overhaul (oil leaks etc) around 140K. Thanks in advance for your help. JHH

  23. I’m a firm believer that if a head gasket job is done with care and precision that it may never need to be done again. The later generation Subaru gaskets held up fairly well although there have been some aftermarket brands that appear to be lasting even longer.

    If the job was done right I’d have confidence that you’ll get many many miles out of the Forester.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert

  24. Mr. Corbin
    thank you for posting this blog.
    2000 legacy 245,876 mi original owner.
    i am DIY mech. i do as much of the work that i can. but i have reached the end of my rope. last spring i replace the timing belt by myself (second time). by oct/nov 2009 the water pump went. ( it was the OEM. 225,000 mi) replaced it but was still having leaking issues. mild one off the water pump itself i did not get the seal right. this spring i started to have issues with the cooling fans running constantly. Replaced the Engine coolant temp sensor which fixed the poor idle on cold start ups; but not the fan problem. i have replaced Rad cap and the thermostat with quality after market parts. fans still engage and stay on unless i’m moving at hi-way speeds. then only the primary fan runs . once i stop and idle the secondary fan kicks in. i just replaced the water pump gasket with an OEM style and inspected the inside of Radiator(clean no contaminates) but the issues still is the fans engages. the fans only operate after about 45 min of driving ; and problem will stop if i let the engine cool for about 10 min. i added the coolant supplement to cooling system per SUBARU TSB. I can smell no coolant at the tail pipe but i have a small oil leaks under the block right side. i have no oil in the coolant and coolant in the oil that i can detect. cold engine at start up and i do not get any large bubbles at the filler neck.
    what can i do next to diagnose the fan issue. or what is the next step.
    once again thank you for this web page and i wish you were in the Washington D.C. area.

  25. Give us a call at 1-866-417-0880 and we can give you the part number and or sell them to you directly.

    You will normally only find that they are available at a Subaru independent repair shop.

    Mike

  26. Hi Garth,

    Before going too much further I would advise you find someone with an emissions exhaust gas anaylizer.

    These are very proficient in diagnosing Subaru head gasket issues. An unsolvable overheating condition can many times be the result of exhaust gasses pushing into the cooling system and creating air pockets. (exhaust pockets).
    As these air pockets move around within the engine they can cause strange things to occur includint overheating.

    We recommend that a person hold the test hose of an emission anaylizer over their radiator neck and coolant recovery bottle while watching the hydrocarbon reading on the anaylizer. If the Subaru has a blown head gasket you will se the HC’s climb. Zero is the reading you want to see.

    Last but not least, a simple thing that can get some Subaru DIY’s is bleeding the cooling system properly.

    As long as your thermostat has a bleed hole in it you should be able to slowly fill the radiator while the bleed screw on the other end of the radiator is removed to burp out air pockets. Running the Subaru after doing this with the radiator cap off will purge out a few more pockets but most will be gone if the above procedure is followed. If the thermostat is aftermarket and doesn’t have a bleed hole, it may be difficult to bleed out the air.

    Good luck with your Subaru!

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  27. Hi Mike,

    so happy to come across this website as I am having just about every issue mentioned above or have already fixed…(basically been their done that stage) with my 98 Forester. So here I am already put a used engine in a month ago. The guy who fixed it said the engine would have a loud tapping sound until I drove it awhile and the oil works it’s way through. He said the cause is the engine sitting waiting to be put in a car.. Is there anything I can do to make the sound stop. My brother said I mite be able to have it adjusted but he said he was unsure with this being a 98. I would have thought if it could be done the guy who fixed it would have, but I keep hearing comment’s about them not wanting to bother with it. So if you say it can be adjusted I will take it else where. I just need enough time to drive it and save what I already put into it and it’s gone.. Thank you, M

  28. MaryAnn,

    It depends on what the loud tapping sound is on your Subaru Forester.

    If it is a tapping sound that goes away after 10-15 minutes as the car warms up, don’t worry it’s normal. It’s a sound that occurs because of the pistons slapping against the cylinder walls until they warm up, expand and reduce the clearance between the piston and cylinder wall. I have yet to see a Subaru engine fail because of this noise.

    It may also be a valve that is misadjusted. One can listen with a stethescope to see if it’s on the outer reaches of the engine. If so you may need to check the valve clearance.

    The other tapping sound can be the result of worn internal engine components. If it’s there all the time, it could also be a failing rod bearing, piston wrist pin or main bearing.

    I would definately have another shop at least evaluate the noise.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert at Smart Service

  29. Mike,

    Myself and my mechanic friend are at our wits end! We are located in Florida but I came across your website and am seriously hoping you can help. I have a 98 Outback Legacy wagon. The car won’t accelerate even if you “floor it” from a complete stop but if you shifted it into 1st gear and manually shifted it would “go” and then once it got up to 25/30 MPH it rode just fine and shifted fine. But as soon as you had to stop at a light it would bog down again and the whole scenerio started over. Someone mentioned the Mass airflow sensor? Scott (my friend) said that the fuel injectors were very dirty. He cleaned these but that didn’t help much. After doing this he noticed that the car wouldn’t continue to run it almost sounded like it was out of gas (which it wasn’t) I’m hoping you have some idea what it may be. I really could use some of your expert advice. Thank you in advance.

  30. I would need a bit more information on what you’ve done so far. If the plugs, wires and coil have been eliminated as possibilities, the MAF Sensor may be the culprit (especially if it has a “160″ for the last 3 numbers in the part number). Does the check engine light ever illuminate, or are there any resident codes in the memory?

    If it were a MAF sensor, a person should be able to monitor it’s function with a scan tool and verify that it’s signal to the ECM is erroneous when the symptom occurs.

    Good luck with your Subaru!

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Smart Service

  31. Hi Mike, We bought a subura forester 2001, with 112,00 miles on it , owned by 1 owner,and carfax had all the service work , and was always service on time as well as preventive maintance , there is a sticker under the hood that says something about w something 80 service campaign service done in 2002 a year after the car came out in 2001 . i was told this had something to do with the recall of the headgaskets, now does this mean they recalled it and they fixed the headgaskets , or they put something it them to seal the gaskets ? i took it it not to long ago cause the check engine light was on , they told it was the cat , so i had the back cat replaced , cause they said thats the one that usally fails , have had a problem since, but the mechanic said he had to flush the radator , and put some subaru head gaskets sealant. it really hasnt leaked any anti freeze , no sign anyways , but he said to keep a eye on loseing anti freeze , at this year do i have to have the head gaskets replace??

  32. Hi Keith,
    The service campaign sticker under the hood of your Subaru Forester probably refers to the “Coolant Conditioner” campaign that Subaru did on many of it’s models. In short, you were asked to come into the Subaru dealer so that they could add this “Conditioner” to the coolant. Once the coolant conditioner was done, Subaru would then extend the warranty on the vehicle’s head gaskets for 8 years or 100,000 miles for external coolant leakage only. Once past on time or mileage the warranty would expire.

    At first Subaru recommend that only specific years of their vehicles should get the coolant conditioner added when changing coolant on a Subaru. They then came out with a subsequent bulletin recommend the addition of the conditioner to all Subarus when the coolant was changed.

    In short, it seems to contain some kind of aerobic “stop leak”.

    The negative outcome of the additive could be more plugged radiators and heater cores down the road.

    As far as whether to replace the head gaskets yet, I see no need to replace them as long as they are still holding up.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  33. MR. Corbin…
    once again thanks for the site. after much hair pulling and 2800 dollars i have had the head gasket replaced by a local Subi shop. here is what i learned after replacing many parts.
    Yes The head gasket was ( not HAD) failing. oil was entering the cooling system. as i was chasing the issues with new parts the cooling system was “tightening up”. the Subi shop was as stumped as i was because of know tell tale signs of blow head gasket were not present. what was causing the engine fans to run all the time and the wild temp swings was because the oil was congealing and cloging the cooling system. most of the sludge was in the radiator. the shop was truly amazed that the car had 250,000 miles when the gaskets went. you can see were the gaskets failed both almost in the exact same location. i hope this blog helps future customers make a educated guess.
    P.S. i would have done the job my self. but when the manual tell to remove the Cams… that is were i threw in the towel.

  34. Thank you for your input on your head gasket issue. I have not come across that scenario yet in either of our shops where oil is entering the cooling system (although I have seen coolant making it into the oil in a couple of cases).Just one more thing for the Subaru owner to be aware of when diagnosing an overheating condition.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  35. Mike,

    I have a 1996 Subaru SVX with 74K miles on it. I bought it from the original owner. It was a southern car so it looks pretty clean and solid. The only issue is that the temperature gauge fluctuates slightly from low (30-35%) to normal (40-45%) as I drive it. The temp isn’t random but does seem to correlate with the driving conditions. I didn’t see any evidence of coolant in the oil or oil in the coolant. I don’t see white smoke from the exhaust. The coolant level in the overflow tank will go from just above “L” when cold to just below “H” when warm. I am getting the thermostat and radiator cap changed today and they will do a flush. What are the odds that I have a head gasket issue. I have been told it is rare for the H6 engines but others say it is inevitable with age.

  36. From your description of your temperature fluctiation you may have nothing wrong with your SVX. The coolant recovery bottle seems to be functioning as designed. Your thoughts to change your thermostat are a good logical start. We rarely see head gasket issues on the Subaru SVX or any of the H6′s for that matter. Once you change the thermostat, it would be interesting to monitor the coolant temperature with a scan tool to see when the cooling system fans kick in and when they shut off. It would also be interesting to see if the temperature on the scan tool correlated with the temperature on the dash. When eliminating possibilities, don’t forget to include the temperature gauge and temp sender in the process.

    A final test of the cooling system with an emission analyzer should also confirm the head gaskets are ok. If there are no hydrocarbons in the cooling system and no external leaks, they should be fine.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  37. Thanks Mike. I just recently discovered the “dead zone” in the temperature gauge. I never realized that they were designed to sit dead for a range of “normal” temperatures and only move when the temperature was too cool or too hot and outside of this normal range. Now that I know that, the temperature sender is a logical thing to change. I suppose I should have done that before changing the thermostat and radiator cap. But I guess a coolant flush on a new-used car is a good idea and the other parts weren’t really too expensive so it wasn’t all for not. Tomorrow I swap out the sender!

  38. One more question. Should the Subaru “conditioner” be used on the H6 engine or is the TSB only for the H4 engines? If not, is there any decent seal/gasket conditioner coolant additive out there worth using?

  39. Subaru recommends the coolant conditioner be added to all of their vehicles at this time any time the coolant is changed.

    Mike

  40. Can the conditioner be added to the overflow tank if my mechanic missed it when filling the radiator?

    By the way, my issues were due to the temperature sender. I guess the resistance drifted high over the years.

  41. I would suggest sucking out some from the radiator itself then adding the coolant conditioner. If you put it in your overflow tank it may take a while for it to become dispersed throughout the engine.

    Glad it was only a sensor issue!

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  42. Dear Mike,

    I recently purchased my 3rd Subaru: 1996 legacy outback, 2.5l with 147,000 miles. The main issues are: it gets very bad gas mileage, @ 12 mpg, wires and plugs look pretty old. I was reading the previous owners maintenance paperwork and there was contaminated coolant in overflow bottle, which was cleaned and changed (2007). Then a year later there was a hole in the radiator hose, so they replaced it and then a month later “possible oil in coolant”, so they drained and refilled the radiator. I obviously should have checked this first or gotten an inspection, stupid move on my part. They also replaced the crank position sensor and the form says “advise on possible oil leak on rear main seal.” Yikes, I can’t afford all that labor -tranny removal, ect.

    My question is, are the gasket/s blown or leaking internally? It passed smog with flying colors in July, right before I bought it. I have since changed the air and oil filters, oil change, radiator flush, fuel injection cleaning, and CV joints. There was sludge in the overflow bottle. The car wasn’t driven for over a year before I bought it, which I now know is bad for seals and gaskets. Everyone I take it to says if the CEL isn’t on, it’s fine. It doesn’t overheat, at least not yet and drives well, besides for the poor gas mileage problem. Should I try to fix this car, or is it a goner? BTW, I don’t have money for an engine rebuild or head gasket repair, but if there is anything I can do that will make it run longer that is below 4 figures, I would do it in a heartbeat. Also, I can’t sell the car ethically knowing there may be a serious problem with it. It’s a pickle… can you please impart some car wisdom for me Mike?

  43. Mike,

    My 02 Outback H6 VDC is in the independent shop right now. They replacing head gaskets because I complained about engine overheating and bubbles in coolant tank. I trust the mechanic but he is not a Subaru specialist and it a first time he disassemble Subaru H6 engine. He got head gasket repair kit, sent heads to machine shop and assembled the engine but noticed a small oil leak from head gasket area. He disassembled engine again, got original Subaru head gaskets
    (he found no difference between first and second sets of head gaskets) and going to reassemble the engine again today. He told me that will will throw a towel if the engine leak will reappear and he is out of ideas about the reason for leak. He told me that Subaru do not use any sealant for head gaskets assembly – it’s just metal on metal. Have you heard about this or similar problems ?
    Do you have any advise ?

    Thanks!

  44. I have not heard of an H6 leaking immediately after installing head gaskets. I agree with using the genuine Subaru head gaskets on that job and agree that they need to be installed with a perfectly clean surface and no sealant.

    The only idea that I may have about the oil leak is to question the condition of the surface of the engine block itself in the area that the leak develops if this round doesn’t do the trick.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  45. Hi Morgan,

    First of all, if you do have a head gasket issue going on with your Subaru, it may not be worth putting the additional time and money into chasing down the other problems based on your budget. A simple test is to have someone with an exhaust emissions analyzer sniff the contents of the coolant recovery bottle and radiator for presence of hydrocarbons.

    If hydrocarbons are present then this confirms either a failed head gasket (most probable) or worse, a cracked head or block (unlikely).

    It may be the type of vehicle that makes sense to repair if you can do the work yourself but if you are paying a shop to do it all it may blow your budget.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  46. Mike, what’s the price range for engine block of H6 outback resurfacing and how can i find machine shop who does the job?
    I got a quote for $750 and it seems too high. I am in San Francisco Bay area.

  47. Hi Dan.

    I believe that price may well be within the reasonable range. To surface a Subaru engine block, the block must be fully disassembeled, all the way down to the crank. Once the case halves are empty, the machine shop can then resurface them.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  48. I have a 2002 Subaru Forester with 77,000 miles which I just recently took to the dealer for the scheduled oil change. I religiously take it to the dealer for oil changes and maintanence. They told me and later showed me that I had a “small” oil leak coming from the cylinder head gasket (driver’s side) and barely anything from the other side. They quoted me $2,200 for the head gasket repair (ouch!). At just 77,000 miles I’m thinking of getting a coolant flush (with the conditioner) and a new radiator cap and ride it out until I see oil in the coolant or coolant in the oil or it starts to overheat. What do you think?
    Thanks,
    Marty

  49. Mike,

    What coolant should be used for various model years though the 90s and 2000s? It seems like Subaru switched at least once, if not twice. Should we go with the latest or with what our cars originally came with? And what did they originally come with? For example, my car is a 1996 SVX. Zerex suggests the G-05 or the Dex-Cool stuff. I am very weary of Dex-Cool and the G-05 is a special version of low silicate, zero phosphate formula that has, I believe, nitrites in it to prevent cavitation. Ironically, they sell an “Asian” coolant that is a zero silicate phosphated HOAT formula which, I believe, is similar to one of the Subaru coolants. It is very confusing. And then you add in the possibility of water wetters like Redline’s Water Wetter and it gets more confusing because that supposedly causes brown sludge in some coolants (blue long life?).

    Speaking of brown sludge, can the Subaru additive cause a small amount of light brown sludge/goo/deposits in the overflow tank?

  50. hey,

    the timing belt on my 2000 subaru forester has snapped,the mechanic has told me that it needs some valves changed,timing belt of course the pulley and will need head resurface,what would be the approximate quote for the whole thing!!!including labor?he says it just needs changed some valves on the right only about 2 .am in oakland md

    thanks

    ken

  51. Hi Ken,
    I agree with your mechanics diagnosis of bent valves. If a Subaru newer than 1997 breaks a timing belt it is inevitable that the valves bend. I would guess in your situation you may spend between $2500-3000 for the repair depending on how many other seals and gaskets they opt to replace.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  52. Hi Marty,

    No worries yet.

    It’s actually good news to hear when someone only reports only a minor oil leak from a Subaru head gasket. If they ever report coolant coming from that area of the head gasket then it’s time to take action.

    Here’s what I’d do:
    Continue driving as you normally would.
    Have the vehicle serviced at Subarus recommended intervals (next coolant change due at 90000 miles if you already had your 60000 mile service done)
    Each oil change, have someone inspect the head gasket area for any sign of coolant and at the same time see if the coolant level has gone down over the same peroid of time.

    In summary, as long as it’s just oil seeping from the head gaskets, there is no need for action. If coolant ever begins to drip from the same area, then head gaskets are a must. Maybe not upon first sign of coolant residue but don’t put it off until oil/coolant mix. If you wait that long the motor will probably be damaged beyond repair. (the coolant leaks slowly over a long period of time and if the owner isn’t aware and topping up the coolant, an overheating event occurs and causes heavy damage to the engine and block).

    I hope it’s years before you have to cross the head gasket bridge.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  53. Hi Tony,
    Subaru recommends a non-amine phosphat type of coolant in all of their vehicles. I don’t feel the need to put any other additives like water wetters etc. I’d stay away from Dex-cool also.

    I’ll also email you an article specific to Subaru Coolant.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  54. Recently overheated & blew a HG on my 95 legacy this is the EJ22 which I am told is a robust little motor, I removed both heads sent them off to a auto machinists to get resurfaced & pressure tested, that said what is the likely hood of having warp age from excessive Over heating on the block, If so do the casings need to be split for the block to be machined?
    Thanks in Advanced

  55. Greetings Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer all the questions. That’s fantastic!

    I have a 2002 Forester with 95,000 miles. Just had the timing best replaced as well as the water pump, thermostat and various belts and seals. (no issue with the head gasket) The work was done by my mechanic whom I have dealt with for over 20 years and whom I trust.

    One small issue. It “seems” to me that the cooling fans are running far too often and long. (outside temp. now about 45 degrees) Before the fix I can’t remember them running much at all, but now they are on almost all the time. The temp. gauge is normal and the engine is not overheating. My mechanic put a meter on and read 194 degrees while driving. He said things seem ok to him. He offered to replace the new thermostat, but didn’t think it was necessary.

    Should the fans be running that much? If not would a Subaru thermostat help as you mention above? Any other and all comments would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Nelson

  56. Hi Nelson,

    It sounds like the fans on the Forester may be running too much as you suspect. Your idea about the thermostat may be valid. If there’s not a genuine Subaru thermostat in place I’d recommend that first. The other condition that may be occuring is that the radiator may be starting to plug up. If the radiator is emptied and has coolant contitioner in the system, it may solidify when exposed to air, thus creating a restricted radiator.

    If you’re in changing the thermostat, check the flow of the radiator when the coolant is out.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  57. I agree that the EJ22 is a robust motor. Frankly probably the best engine Subaru ever built to date. They are pretty forgiving when they overheat and most of the time you can get by with just machining the heads. The only way to tell if the block needs to be machined is to measure it for warpage.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  58. Mike,

    I just bought my first Subaru, a used 2005 Forester XT, a week ago. It has about 44,000 miles on it and runs like a dream. However, I checked the oil in it today, exactly 7 days after purchase, and I’m low on oil….right at the ‘L’. I checked it when I bought it and it was clean and full. I haven’t noticed anything on the ground or on the engine itself, but now I’ve got the new car jitters. Needless to say this has me a little uneasy! Wisdom to offer? Thanx!

  59. Wow, I don’t know what to tell you other than keep an close eye on the level. I would also recommend switching to full synthetic oil asap. Subaru now recommends using synthetic oil in all 2002 and up turbocharged Subarus and requires it on 2011 turbo Subarus. Mobil 1 is excellent and if the oil consumption still exists after switching you may try Pennzoil Platinum synthetic. It has won great support from some of our clients that have had oil burning issues in the past.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  60. I have always found the web forums to be extremely insightful, and especially this one. My beloved ’99 Subaru Legacy Outback has just developed what I believe to be this dreaded head gasket problem with only 89,000 miles on it. It overheated once a month ago, and since then I have been diligent about the level of fluid and only driving it for very short distances in the village and not much at all. But it just developed a gurgling noise which is becoming louder and occurs when I accelerate and on turns to the right. If I didn’t hate the closest dealership so much I would go there, but I have notbeen satisfied at all that they do proper servicing. I will need to have this addressed and buying a new car is not an option right now. Is this gurgling a radiator problem or head gasket???

  61. I have a 2008 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 43,000 miles on it. I took it in today for the routine oil change, the dealership told me the head gasket needed to be replaced. Luckily SOA will cover the cost under warranty, but since I am in Canada and the car is US spec I will need to pay the cost up front and get reimbursed from SOA. The mechanic quoted me 6.6 hours ($300/hr), $300 for the part. Would it be better to replace both gaskets at the same time? Also, are there other components that should be repalced at the same time?
    I can say I’m actually surprised the gasket failed. I’ve kept the car in good working order, all routine maintenance has been done and the only thing I noticed lately was a slight smell of burning oil when coming home from work the other day….no visible leaks and no engine overheating.

  62. Wow, that’s the first I’ve heard of a 2008 Outback with failing head gaskets. I’m glad for you that it will be covered under the dealer warranty.

    The mechanic’s quote sounds about right for what Subaru allows for warranty time. I don’t think it would be advisable to replace both head gaskets in your case since you have very low miles on the car. I’d say otherwise if you were around 100000 miles or more.

    Hopefully once it’s done it’ll provide you with many trouble free miles for years to come.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  63. Hi Karen,
    It is common to develop the gurgling sound when the head gaskets on a 99 Outback begin to fail.

    The sound is from air bubbles (more specifically exhaust bubbles) circulating through the coolant. They are pushed into the cooling system past the failing head gaskets and creat air pockets.

    The radiator itself will not cause the gurgling but it is a good practice to check it’s condition at the time you repair the head gaskets. If new head gaskets are installed on a Subaru with a restricted radiator, you chance overheating the engine and damaging the new head gaskets.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  64. Hi Mike,

    I have own this 1999 Subaru Legacy GT sedan 2.5L since August, 2010. It recently started over heating. I’ve replaced the thermostat with a new OEM, radiator flush w/ Jiffy Lube, new radiator cap & also tried a sealant called K-Seal (high positive feedback,so I tried it), all in which failed. I believe the K-seal liquid metal helped slow down the over heating a little bit. I’ve taken it for a test drive after each different replacement to find the cause. K-seal seems to work the best but all to conclude with overheating after Highway driving of 45-60 minutes. It use to last only 15 mins HWY driving w/out K-seal.

    I’ve come to find your wonderful website with a lot of helpful information for Subaru problems. I’ll be ordering the MLS head gaskets you guys sell. I’ll also be getting the water pump you recommended from partsgeek. My question would be is when would be the right time for a new timing belt? I’d like to tackle it all when having a local mechanic shop install the water pump and head gaskets. I currently have 98k miles on the car. Thank you!

  65. Hello,

    The normal replacement interval for the timing belt is 105k miles so since you’re that close, just replace it when you’re doing the head gaskets and water pump.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert

  66. hey Mike
    Firstly–thanks for helping us out with these Subaru problems..its a great forum to read!
    I have a 99 outback…it has 168,000 miles on it..I Love the car and really cant afford a new one. I have a slightly mysterious problem. At around 90000 miles…I brought the car to a local mechanic–who did a major tune up and some other various repairs…He called me to tell me the car was ready–but when I arrived to pick it up,,he said there was something strange going on..the car was overheating..the gauge pinned and he asked me had it ever happened before.I said “no” he changed the thermostat and it seemed to be ok..i took it home but it overheated again soon after.. I talked to a friend/fellow Subaru owner who alerted me to the common head gasket issue,
    I read posts and posts on the internet–and was quite concerned–but my mechanic wasnt convinced..I brought it back to him –i believe (if i recall properly) that he said it was a bad radiator cap–changed it for free and off I went..without another issue with overheating for years,
    Last week–at 168,000 miles-years later!-I decided to bite the bullet and get much work done..because i decided to attempt to drive the car a few more years…so I spent 2100.00 on tires, struts, brakes-rotors and new catalytic converter…
    Picked it up–the car ran great..Took it to Mieneke the following day to change the valve cover gaskets..which had been leaking for years…the last fix (i thought) They changed them–told me to pick the car up (just like the mechanic at 90,000 miles did!) and when i arrived..they said ‘There’s a problem– we test drove your car and all of a sudden-the temp spiked—has this ever happened before?” I told them about the previous issue years back…It was SO strange how it happened BOTH times right after work had been done–and for totally unrelated issues…there was never a problem with overheating when I brought it in either time! so they kept it over night…and changed the thermostat..and temp sensor… (the mechanic claimed that though the gauge was on “high”–it wasnt really overheating –because the coolant wasnt that hot and the upper hose not especially hot either.
    So they said it was fixed..I drove on a 300 mile trip the next day–no problems.
    yesterday..i drove 150 miles–the car was like a dream…got off the highway and all of a sudden..the temp spiked up..
    got it to my destination (very close by)…this time it was actually overheating..coolant coming out….This morning..added coolant…and drove home 150 miles with no problems.
    .any ideas? why is it intermittent like that? and why did it happen BOTH times after having it serviced for unrelated issues..
    .Two other details…after they fixed it last week..each time I started the car–i would hear this weird gurgling sound like liquid flowing behind the dashboard that id NEVER heard before..and also–after it overheated yesterday–i opened the hood–and as the car cooled down–the upper hose completely collapsed..then inflated again later..
    I did see some bubbling in the overflow tank as the car was cooling down..and some sludge along the sides of the tank too.

    could I luck out with another bad radiator cap–or is it my headgaskets. .if so—after having JUST spent 2400.00- what do i do?
    do i repair the gaskets–running the risk that when they disassemble the engine–there could me more damage to the block??
    id otherwise just keep driving the car until it dies..but what about this intermittent overheating? maybe it wont happen again..last time it went 4-5 years without reoccurrence? sorry for the long post–any thoughts? thanks!!!

  67. Hi Eugene,

    Not sure what the first problems were but you likely have a head gasket failure by now. From the sounds of the amount of times it has overheated I’d be prepared to find engine block warpage too once it’s disassembled. They can easily sniff the radiator with an emissions analyzer and confirm this. The gurgling in the dash is coolant with exhaust bubbles trapped in it going through the heater core. I can’t comment on money just spent but this might be the situation where it’s time to leave it behind. I’m sure it will repeat itself likely sooner than later. If the block has had overheating damage along with the head gasket failure, you’re going to spend at least $5000 or up to get it fixed right.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  68. hey Mike
    Thanks for this,,,any thoughts as to why it happened when they changed the valve cover gaskets? they insisted that what they did had nothing at all to do with the cooing system…coiincidence?
    like i said…it happened the SAME way the last time…when i was having other work done..and once resolved–.never occurred again for 5 years…
    whats the connection….and why so intermittemt?

    thanks for your help

    eugene

  69. Eugene,

    Without having actually seeing what they saw before and after I really can’t guess anything other than a coiincidence. There’s nothing mechanically related to the failure of a head gasket when you’re replacing the valve cover gaskets. Could it be that the guys doing the valve covers just are more attentive to the head gaskets?

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  70. I’m having a few issues w/my 99 Forrester. Bought it a few months ago and now it has started to use more gas(terrible gas mileage) and there is white smoke coming from the exhaust. No overheating problems. No power loss. I replaced plugs, wires, air cleaner, filters, no engine light problem. No oil in radiator. No coolant loss. Can’t figure out what the problem could be. (?) 12 mpg is not acceptable! Also tried fuel additives and cleaners. Any ideas? THANX!

  71. I would have someone check the tailpipe emissions, and the car’s fuel correction. It sounds like it may be dumping too much gas. A fault Mass Air Flow sensor can contribute to this but there are many other factors too.

    It would really be nice to be monitoring the computer to watch it’s sensors, fuel correction, O2 sensors etc to see what’s going on. It isn’t a common complaint that I have an answer too. I agree that 12mpg is very poor and I expect that a good running 99 Forester can get 20 in the city and 26 on the highway.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert

  72. Hello Mike,

    I have a question on the subaru coolant conditioner. My 2000 legacy had it added at 40k by subare due to the letter sent from soa, and it was never added again. My car now has 120 k on it and noticed coolant weeping from the lower back corner of the heads. I know it’s not the best solution, but would doing a coolant change with the conditioner possibly stop the leak? Or was the conditioner a preventive message?

    Thanks for all the great info.

    George

  73. Hi George,

    The coolant conditioner was added at the time of the recall and then was meant to be added every time your coolant was changed after that. If you have 120k on it now, hopefully it has had a couple of coolant changes in between. As far as adding the conditioner now… it can’t hurt and in a few rare cases, I have seen it stop a leak.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert

  74. Hi,

    I have a 2002 Forester, had the head gaskets replaced by our Subaru dealership. Ever since then I have had low oil levels when checked. About every three thousand miles I am very low on oil and the oil light will come on if no oil is added in time. I am wondering if this has to do with the head gasket replacement. Everything else with the car is fine for now. Thank you for your time!

  75. Hmm.. I have seen Subarus that do burn oil. Why it would start happening after a head gasket job doesn’t ringa bell. I would be interested in how much oil you have to add between 3000 mile oil changes.

    Let me know,
    Mike

  76. Thank you, Mike, for your reply. The last two oil changes, right at 3000 miles, it did not register at the shop at all. We need to add at least two quarts, possibly three. It is quite a bit. I see no smoke, no smell. I just had it in the shop for a boot to be replaced and they looked to see if they saw any leaks, etc, but none were seen. I was told just to keep adding oil between oil changes as needed, but it seems like a quick bandage fix. It has 103,000 miles on it, had it since Oct 2001, it is a 2002. They said if it is truly burning oil, it would be expensive. Not sure what the best thing to do really is. Should I just keep adding oil as they suggested or will that just bite me in the end? Just looking for a truthful answer :)

    Thanks!

  77. I would start by asking to have an “Oil System Flush” performed. It is a procedure where a shop pours a high detergent chemical in to the oil system and runs the car for a while with this circulating in the system. It can loosen and free up stuck oil rings and sometimes improve oil consumption problems.

    We use a BG Product called Engine Flush but there may be other competitive products out there that would do the same.

    Also, we’ve found that switching to Pennzoil Platinum synthetic 10/30 oil has reduced oil consumption in some of our customers Subarus.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  78. Thank you very much for your advice and tips, it does help me. I will do what you suggested for my car.

    Best,
    Jen

  79. You’re welcome Jen. Best of luck.

    Mike

  80. Hello,

    I have 2003 Forester that is in need of a new head gasket (leaking coolant). How important is it to have the cylinder heads resurfaced as a part of this service? I understand that the heads need to be inspected to be sure there is no warping or scratches, but how often does that inspection result in a head resurfacing?

    Thanks!
    Marta

  81. Hi Marta,

    With the amount of imperfections we find in the aluminum heads I’d guess that more than half get machined. Even if they are not warped, if there is any indentation from the compression ring of the head gasket it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and machine them.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  82. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for the super quick response and for all of your helpful guidance! How lucky we are to have you maintaining this blog – thank you!!

    One other question, if I may: while replacing the head gaskets and timing belt, it is expected that the other components only be replaced if, after inspection, they are deemed in need of replacement? In other words, should I expect that the water pump, tensioner, thermostat, idlers, crank seal, cam seals, valve cover gaskets, drive belts will be replaced as part of the head gasket/timing belt service by default or only if deemed necessary after being inspected? Should I insist that any/some/all be included? (My 2003 Forester has 71,000 miles on it.)

    Thanks again!

    Marta

  83. Any related seal or gasket should be replaced regardless as well as the thermostat. The idler/tensioner pulleys and waterpump are great to do as preventive maintenance if you can afford it but if they are still in good condition they can be re-used. (you just don’t know how long they may last and it’s much less to do them now than later).

    Good luck,
    Mike

  84. Thank you again for all of your sage advice!

    Marta

  85. I just realized that, due not replacing a clamp while trying to track down an Idle air valve code last summer, a coolant leak was diagnosed today. I think I may have gotten off lucky and taken it in for a flush-and-fill just as it had finally run out from the slow leak and the temps are creeping up (thank you, God, for the cool Spring). I’ve never overheated, but am wondering about any damage that might have been done, particularly in relation to the HGs.

    Last week, while running up to high speed while merging, I got a cylinder misfire #4. That code eventually reset, and I’m now back to the p0400 code that seems to come up during any cool weather. Admittedly, I’ve been ignoring it. At some point I will try a new gas cap, but I make sure to click it after a fuel-up…

    At any rate, I’m wondering could there be ANY relationship between running with low coolant and the misfire. When I go to get the care today, I’m going to have the code checked again.

  86. Hi CJ,

    I think you’re probably OK but there is an issue where a failing head gasket can cause a missfire. The symptom usually presents itself after sitting overnight or for a couple of days. Coolant can seep into a cylinder and thus when trying to start the car and until the coolant burns out of the cylinder, that cylinder can experience incomplete combustion from the coolant.

    If you suspect this, comparing the spark plug of the suspected cylinder to the rest of the plugs is the first step. It will have a whitish buildup from the burned coolant. An additional test would be to pressurize the suspected cylinder with a leak-down tester and watch for air bubbles coming out of the radiator.

    I think considering your car didn’t overheat it probably won’t be the case but at least there’s a couple of pointers to help if you do need to go further.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Indepepndent Subaru in Seattle

  87. I purchased my 1999 forester last fall, 2.5 5 speed standard. now 97,000. I have the same oil consupsion problem as Jennifer, No smoke or indication of where the oil is going. I do a lot of DYI repair and am planin to replace the timing belt and all related parts. Should I be concerned about the oil, using over 2QTs at 3000 miles. Also can’t get over 22mpg seem low. Any other sugestion would be of great value.
    thanks
    Dave

  88. Hi Dave,
    Since you are a DIY kind of guy, I think you’ll be able to make use of the next advice. First of all, 2 qts in 3000 miles isn’t great but it is certainly acceptable. Once you have verified that there are no external leaks contributing and that the PCV System is flowing freely, I sould suggest an oil flush. If your oil rings on the pistion are at all gummed up, this may clean them enough to help reduce the consumption. We prefer a product called BG Motor Oil Engine Purge. You change your oil, add the BG product, Run it per the directions, change the oil again and you’re done. One other helpful hint is that for whatever reason, we’ve found that our customers that burned oil before and then began using Pennzoil Platinum Synthetic had reduced oil consumption. As far as fuel mileage, make sure you’re using a 5/30 oil and have the tires at least to 34psi. Subies just don’t get premium mpg due to the awd.

    Cheers,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle

  89. Hi Mike
    What is the best way to check the PVC system?
    Dave

  90. Hi David,
    Check all the PCV Hoses to make sure they’re free of obstruction and connected properly. Also make sure the PCV Valve itself is clean and free moving. You can clean it out with carb cleaner spray or if in doubt, replace it with a genuine Subaru unit.

    Mike

  91. After a recent coolant flush, I noticed the coolant going into the reservoir and not back into the radiator issue, causing starvation and the temp to rise a couple times (never out of the normal range shown in the manual, though).

    I took it to a local ind. shop. The owner put it on the lift, but found no signs of leaks on the bottom half of the heads.

    Do you still think it could be bad HGs? He wants to just change the radiator, I went had and tried switching the thermostat yesterday, but now realize I put a cheap on in. We’ll see if there’s a change…

    I also added some PEAK stop leak, but think I didn’t do it correctly and think it may be blocking something,

  92. Hi,

    After you have put in a Genuine Subaru thermostat and driven the car, have the shop test the radiator and recovery bottle for the presence of hydrocarbons. (assuming a thermostat doesn’t fix it). Exhaust gasses pushing past the combustion ring into the cooling system can produce air pockets that lead to overheating. It would also explain why the recovery bottle overfills but doesn’t return to the radiator. I recommend never using stop leak.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  93. Hi my car overheated for the first time last week (the temp gauge redlined 1/2 miles before getting home); i pulled over, popped the hood, hear a bit of bubbling, waited, and then slowly drove home. i spoke with my mechanic in the morning asking if it was safe to drive it 4 miles into the shop; he suggested i add water to the coolant tank, and 5 blocks from the shop (right after the only short, uphill section from the beach inland), it redlined again. i waited maybe ten mins then completed the trip, and explained again what happened. i’ve a 2001 subaru leg outback wagon at 103K, and was planning to bring it in for a timing belt/wp replacement (recommended at 105k), though he said my radiator was leaking and so we replaced that instead (which was good news at the time, that it was a $1700 headgasket issue).

    I picked up the car before the holiday weekend with a new radiator installed, drove 30 miles south, around coastal mountains, without issue, and likewise, a trip out to the beach later in the long weekend. Unfortunately, 7 miles into the return trip the temp gauge redlined again, this time, popping the cooling tank cover and some green radiator fluid. The local gas attendant mentioned it could be a sticky thermostat; gave 2 jugs of water, we drove 2 mins back up the hill towards the freeway, and overheated again. Opted for a tow the next day to the shop, the thermostat (prob non-subaru) is being installed, and was told it might be a partially-blown head gasket issue.

    My questions are:

    Should I have had my car towed to the shop the 1st time (could i have damaged / blown / warped parts in the quick trip to my mechanic)?

    As I am unable to afford the HG replacement right now, is it safe to drive it around town, avoiding hills and checking coolant levels frequently?

    I’m finishing up making payments, still, so while I like having a car, am wondering if $500 for TB and WP within the next 1000 miles, possible $1700 for HG, and possibly blowing a 2nd radiator or other parts valves / damage / repair (‘new’ used engine?) might outweigh the value of what this car is worth to me and for resale.

    I appreciate reading these questions and of your expert advice and hopeful for a reply. Thank you!

  94. Hi,
    Deciding whether to fix the Subaru or not depends on how long you want to keep the car. It’s usually pretty simple. If you like the car it’s still way less expensive in dollars per year driven than purchasing a new car. I wrote an article a few years back that may help with your decision.

    http://www.smart-service.com/mikescorner-fixornot.html

    From your story above, I would recommend waiting until you can afford to do it all. There is overlapping labor when doing the timing belt and water pump with the head gasket job. I’m sure the valves are ok and probably the radiator too. I’d have them disassemble and inspect your engine before deciding on a used engine. Installing a used engine is still the same as your old engine before it failed. (unless you put all new gaskets on the used engine before installing it).

    Good luck and go ahead and call us if you have any more questions.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  95. Thanks for such a quick response. Do you think it was a bad idea to drive the car into the shop the first time, or do you think this that action was minor, given the mechanical problems with my car? Do you think it might be ok to drive my car with the new thermostat while waiting (saving) for the new TB and WP (and HG) and do you have any recommendations on how to maintain my car until the big repairs can be scheduled? Thanks again!!!

  96. It would have been better if you had the car towed in but in most cases I’ve seen you’re probably still ok. The less driving you do the better until the Subaru can be fixed. If it’s sitting you still want to start it once a day to make sure that coolant doesn’t leak into a cylinder and rust the cylinders. If you must drive it’s a risk vs reward decision. The risk becomes higher for more severe damage each time it overheats. You can open the radiator cap every morning before you start it and top it with water and then fill the coolant recovery tank about 1/2 full. This may help it limp along until further repairs are made.

    I hope it all works out for the best,

    Mike

  97. I have 1998 Subaru and was recently hit by a women in a Jeep
    Liberty who ran a stop sigh and smashed into my passenger rear door. There is about $3000 worth of damage (replacing front and rear doors) mostly in the front end of the rear quarter panel ~ no frame damage. I have had the head gasket replaced and transmission, radiator, etc. Regular maintenance. The insurance company wants to total it and pay $3100. I am trying to find support that the work I have had done increases the life and the value of the car but they are claiming it is maintenance. Any input or guidance is greatly appreciated. I really love my Subie. Thanx

  98. Hi Lisa,

    I was out of town so sorry for the late reply. I’m sorry to hear of the damage to the car. It’s really a bummer when you invest into the repairs of a vehicle and that happens. I think common sense alone prevails that the work you did on the Subaru increases the value. Routine maintenance and repair normally doesn’t increase the value but if it’s but major repairs if done recently can help add value. We’ve seen customers of ours take their Subaru repair receipts to an insurance claim and get more for their car than the original offer. It doesn’t increase the value the full amount of the repair but does help. Remember, be prepared with all of your documentation, be firm with them also. Reminding them of the fact that you’re only asking for replacement value. Also, if you weren’t injured, remind them that you’re not trying to take advantage with some bogus injury claim, just want the ability to replace what you had with the same. Request a personal meeting with the adjuster (it’s harder to say no in person) Look up multiple blue book information(nada.com and kbb.com) as well as print out dealer ads of similar makes and models to support your position that it will take more than $3100 to replace. An insurance adjuster can have significant leeway on what they finally give you for your wrecked vehicle. Used car values on Japanese cars have actually increased somewhat due to the shortage of new ones out of Japan. It’s been my experience that if you strongly focus on the fact of how much $$ the car’s replacement value is you’ll do better. The service and repair you’ve done only strengthens the argument that you should even get slightly more than replacement value.

    I know that if I were selling a mechanically sound 1998 Outback that had new head gaskets and had less than 150k miles on it in the Seattle area, I’d probably be asking $4500 and probably get it.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  99. I got my 02 Legacy in 2007 with 54k. @ about 90k I noticed a spot on our driveway, took it to the dealer and they said the rear main seal was bad. They replaced the head gaskets and so forth. Today I notice a puddle on the drive again. look under the car and there is oil everywhere. I cant tell where it is coming from but there is alot on the filter itself and around that area. I started it and the oil light came on. Check they oil and it didnt read on the stick. It ended up needed 3 qts. SOO, I called the dealer and they said that, there is no warranty for the work they did and head gaskets only last about 50k.. I do not believe this to be true, what is your opinion.

  100. Hi Tom,

    I guess my question is how long has it been since they did the repairs on your Subaru? It could be as simple as an oil filter that is improperly installed. By the way, any Subaru dealer will provide a 12month warranty on their repairs as long as they used their parts. If it’s still within 12 months of the repair I would take it back. It may have nothing to do with what they did but if it does it would be covered under warranty.

    If you don’t get the help you feel is fair, call 1800 SUBARU3.

    Be careful not to drive it any more if it’s leaking that badly. Running the engine low on oil is something they may not cover if you continue to drive it once you’ve identified a problem.

    Good luck and please let me know how it works out.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Seattle’s Largest Independent Subaru Expert

  101. Hi !

    I just read your original post from ages ago and I found it really informative. Thank you for having posts like these to help Subaru newbies like me:)

    i just bought a 2000 Subaru forester with 95k ( when I say recently, I mean yesterday) the guy i bought it from says that it has had all its regular maintenance but no major repairs. He said he expects that i will need to change the timing belt soon. He hass been the only owner of the car and swears by Subaru reliability.

    I live in NYC and am planning to relocate to Nashville and take the 14 hour car trip there with my new subie this weekend.

    On the drive today I noticed two issues that I did not catch during the test drive :

    1. when idling the car rumbles on and of , it will rumble for about 45 seconds and then stop for about 30 and rumble again for another 45. When not rumbling it sounds quiet and smooth. On the high way it is also VERY smooth. But it sometimes rumbles when driving on streets but not all the time.

    some times there is a very quick thd thd thd noise

    2. The car produces a gurgling or bubbling sound sometimes when I am driving it or when it has recently stopped I have not had it long enough to notice it too often but it seem to be in the center.

    my questions are

    do you have any idea what these issues might be ?

    do you think they are related ?

    what is the average cost of a timing belt and until when is it safe to drive it before I change it ?

    Thank you so much for reading :)

    Lis

  102. Hi Mike,
    I just pulled the head gaskets out of my 2000 subaru outback. I am replacing the water pump, just replaced the thermostat, replacing all the belts, and was wondering about getting the cylinder head/block looked at too. When looking into one of the intake ports I can see daylight through two of the valves. Does that mean that the valves are shot? The car’s temperature gauge redlined twice before I took the engine apart. I am going to take it to a machine shop to see if they can test them. But I did not take the valve rocker assembly or camshafts off before pulling the heads out. Do I have to completely disassemble cylinder head before taking it into the shop? Thanks

  103. Hi again Mike,

    Also I was wondering if I can re-use the original cylinder head bolts. I was reading that if they are TTY bolts you need to get new ones – is this true? If so I was looking on a parts website and they have the bolts listed as either “inner” or “outer” bolts. Which ones do I need? I tried to measure my original bolts and the closest measurements match the outer bolts. Here is the website if it helps.

    Ian

    http://www.autopartsway.ca/PartList.cfm?Subaru/2000/Outback/Limited/2.5L_H4/allB/Engine/Cylinder_Block_Components/Engine_Cylinder_Head_Bolt/pagenum1/tabS

  104. Hi Ian,

    Subaru does not recommend replacing the head bolts with the head gasket job. (unless it looked rusty, deformed, damaged etc). On the other hand Six Star does recommend it but does not actually require it.

    We have been re-using the head bolts with Six Star gaskets for years and have not had any issue with them. The threads of the bolt need to be clean and oiled before installing as well as the block threads need to be clean (run a tap down them to be sure).

    If you want to purchase new here’s what you need

    11095AA123 qty 8
    11095aa141 qty 4

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  105. I think the rumbling may have to do with when the Air Conditioning cycling on and off. It may be a good idea to listen with the hood up and turn the air conditioner on and off to see if the noise is duplicated.

    The bubbling noise could be a symptom of air pockets in the coolant circulating through the heater core or air pockets in the AC system cycling through the evaporator.

    Also, the timing belt is due at 105k miles and I’m guessing you will find timing belt replacement to run around $375-475 depending on labor rates etc.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  106. Hi,

    Daylight through the valves may be normal if the cam is stil in the head. If you rotate the cam so both the valves are closed, you should be able to put water in the intake and exhaust ports and not have any leak past the valves. If you close the valves and it leaks, you should get a valve job.

    Also, A machine shop can resurface the head with the cam/rockers in but will need it disassembeled to do a valve grind.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  107. Do you think it’s worth spending $5000 on a 2002 Outback with 163,000. It’s recently had headgasket, radiator, timing belt and brakes replaced. With these repairs all done in the last year, I was hoping to get to 200,000. What do you think?

  108. Hi Brian,

    I think with the price of todays cars and even the strong value of the used car market one can certainly justify spending $5000 on an 02 Outback in an effort to get another 5 years out of it or 50000 miles. That $5000 can be paid off pretty quickly compared to the 5 years of payments you have to deal with buying new. I would only caution to make sure there are no internal engine issues like a rod knock or a heavy oil consumption issue like bad rings.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert

  109. You don’t tell us what psi a subaru cap holds.

  110. There are different Subaru radiator caps. The pressure is printed on the cap.

    Mike

  111. Mike,
    Hello, I live in the Chicago area and have a 1998 Subaru Forester I bought new. I have used it on many camping and road trips adn so far it has never left me stranded. I have been very happy with it. I’ve had it maintained well, but now at 102,000 miles, it was leaking oil on the garage floor, so I took it to a neighborhood shop earlier this week. They diagnosed head gasket problem and I OK’d the repair. Including replacement of ignition wires, gaskets on both sides, and taxes, I paid $470. (The oil loss was actually only 3/4 quart in six months.) No coolant problem that I am aware of. After little driving for two days, I made a longer shopping trip and the next morning the biggest of the spots was back again!
    I’m taking it back Friday morning for them to look at again. My friend says I should have just kept a spare can of oil in the car and not spent money on this, but I didn’t want to chance a more serious problem down the road, since I like to occasionally take a long road trip (by myself).
    The car is only worth about $3,000 but I don’t have enough saved yet for the next one and my main source of income at the moment is Social Security.
    In the last few years, I’ve had new CV boots, a slave cylinder replaced, new brakes and tires. The clutch and timing belt were replaced a few years back. The car seems to be running fine, and I hope to keep it two or three more years.
    I know it’s hard at a distance, but if you have an advice I’d appreciate it. I was hoping to buy another Forester new someday, but I don’t like what they did with the styling for 2011 (ugh–are they trying to turn it into a minivan?).
    Thank you,
    Nancy

  112. Hello Nancy,

    From your description, it sounds like the shop replaced the valve cover gaskets on your Forester. If they would have replaced the head gaskets they would have charged you $1500-$2500 depending on their shop rates and procedures. Even though Subarus have head gasket problems, yours may not have them in this case. It may be that they just didn’t get something tight on the valve cover gasket job.

    My first recommendation is to take the Forester badk to them and explain that you just had the oil leak repaired and now it’s leaking again. Hopefully they will take care of it under warranty for you or explain why they fixed one oil leak without making you aware of others.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin

    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    In Seattle

  113. Mike,
    Thank you–you are right on. I have to apologize because after reading about all these head gasket problems, I confused the two gaskets. In fact, they did replace the valve cover gaskets. I had taken the car back last Friday, they put dye in the oil, and I took it back yesterday. They determined that the new valve cover gaskets were leaking. They said they were defective and will be sent back because they are under warranty. They are to be replaced again today at no charge and hopefully everything will be OK this time.

  114. Nancy,
    Thanks for clearing that up. Glad to hear when a shop stands behind their work!

    Mike

  115. Hi Mike,
    My wifes car is a 1999 Outback and it is pushing 200,000 miles. It has been and still is a great and very sound car. I do all of the mechanic work myself as I grew up on a farm and my family has been involved in many facets of stock car racing since 1968.
    Reading through your blog on head gasket issues, I’m thinkin my wifes car has finally suffered this issue. It has been smelling of burned coolant for quite some time now when we stop and park and we have had to keep close tabs on the coolant level. This weekend on a Christmas outing, it was really pouring the smoke off the motor on the drivers side when we started the car. I’m thinking we’ve suffered that near catastrophic time when I’m going to have to be #1 mechanic real soon.
    I read a good portion of your blog here and didn’t see anything mentioning if I will need to pull the motor to replace head gaskets or can it be done in the car?
    Also, if I need to pull the motor, I may as well look at purchasing a rebuild or low mileage motor to re-install.
    Where do you recommend purchasing a replacement motor? I live in Central Washington near Wenatchee if that helps as to where to shop. I see you are in Seattle so we are close.
    Thanks for the info and taking the time to do what you do here.
    Nicholas

  116. Hi Nicholas,

    It sounds like the engine had enough miles on it and enough mechanical issues that it may be the better case to put in a used engine. I recommend Cory at BnR auto wrecking in Portland.(800) 332-1120. He usually has a reasonable selection of engines. If you get a used engine you may at least want to install new valve cover gaskets and a timing belt before installing it.

    Have fun!

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle

  117. Hi Mike,

    FYI, I just bought a Paraut water pump, and oddly enough, it looks just like the Subaru water pump with cast metal impeller (as on the left side of your picture, i.e. Subaru OEM), not like the one on the right side of your picture, which was what I was expecting based on a Web image of the product, just like the right side of your picture. I guess that they sell OEM as well as their own specs, and it is a ‘crap shoot’ as to which one is in the box when you buy on the Web. I will say that it is heavier than other aftermarket water pumps, and that it came with Subaru’s part number on the invoice and box, 21111 AA007.

  118. Hi Jim,

    I’m glad to hear that you got the better waterpump with the cast impeller. It’s a roll of the dice when you purchase from the internet.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle WA

  119. Mike,

    In your above discussion of thermostats, you write that “Subaru actually states that copper in a Subaru cooling system is ill advised and may cause excessive electrolysis and corrosion.” Do you have a reference for this statement? I am corresponding with Stant to ask them if they have any non-copper-containing thermostats for my 2004 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport (2.5 L normally aspirated), but they claim “All automotive thermostats have copper as the metal encasing the heat motor…including Subaru,” which seems to contradict your statement. I just want to know who is correct before I replace my thermostat since I have no desire to do anything that would prematurely damage my engine.

  120. Hi Eugene,
    I have posted the content of a bulletin posted by Subaru of America back in 2007 for your reference.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Edmonds, WA

    Bulletin Number: 09-47-07; Date: 08/31/07 Page
    Introduction
    The purpose of this bulletin is to reinforce Subaru of America’s policy regarding the use of
    coolant flushing machines and/or cooling system flushing agents. Subaru does not recommend
    the use of any flushing machine or flushing agent under any circumstances.
    If a flushing machine has been used to service other brand vehicles with copper radiators, a
    chemical reaction between copper ions and Subaru coolant may occur. This could also cause
    future clogging of the radiator. If a flushing machine is dedicated to only Subaru vehicles, it
    is still not recommended as there is no way to know that the coolants being removed and processed
    through the machine during servicing are / were exclusively Subaru Genuine Coolant.
    If regular flushing is required, only use fresh tap water. Do not use hard water. Hard water will
    create calcium build up which will clog the radiator.
    • When adding, replacing or servicing the cooling system, always use Genuine Subaru Long
    Life Coolant. Genuine Subaru Long Life Coolant is a phosphate (non-Amine) type and is
    specially formulated for all Subaru vehicles with aluminum engines and radiators. Coolant
    of other types may not provide the proper protection to aid against corrosion of aluminum
    parts.
    • Whenever the coolant is changed, you must add Genuine Subaru Cooling System
    Conditioner. Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner has been tested and approved
    for aluminum engines and radiators.
    • Do not use after-market coolant reinforcement agents, sealers and/or flushing agents as
    those chemicals could corrode aluminum parts.
    Warranty Information
    Any coolant system failure and/or damage resulting from that failure that is a direct result of
    using a coolant flushing machine is not a matter for warranty.
    CAUTION: VEHICLE SERVICING PERFORMED BY UNTRAINED PERSONS COULD
    RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY TO THOSE PERSONS OR TO OTHERS.
    Subaru Service Bulletins are intended for use by professional technicians ONLY. They are written to inform those technicians of
    conditions that may occur in some vehicles, or to provide information that could assist in the proper servicing of the vehicle. Properly
    trained technicians have the equipment, tools, safety instructions, and know-how to do the job correctly and safely. If a condition
    is described, DO NOT assume that this Service Bulletin applies to your vehicle, or that your vehicle will have that condition.
    NUMBER: 09-47-07
    DATE: 08/31/07
    APPLICABILITY: All Vehicles
    SUBJECT: Coolant Flushing Machines and Additives
    SERVICE BULLETIN
    ATTENTION:
    GENERAL MANAGER ❏
    PARTS MANAGER ❏
    CLAIMS PERSONNEL ❏
    SERVICE MANAGER ❏
    IMPORTANT – All
    Service Personnel
    Should Read and
    Initial in the boxes
    provided, right.
    PROUD PARTNER

  121. Thank you, Mike. The bulletin clarifies the issue.

  122. At 90K miles, our 2005 Forester’s CEL came on and engine started missing. Codes say #1 and 4 cylinder misfire. Plugs and wires look good. I did a compression check and #4 cylinder was 120psi, while the others were running about 170psi. Put a little oil in #4 cylinder for a compression retest and pressure was still 120.

    So, I’m thinking burnt valve and plan on doing a leak down test to see if air is coming out of the intake, exhaust or maybe the radiator, for a blown head gasket.

    I’ll do the timing belt, w pump, etc. since it’s needed at 105K anyway. From reading your post it looks like head gaskets are a problem with these rigs too.

    Do these engines have issues with burn valves? This rig has been doing great up to this point.

    How am I doing so far?

    I would like to buy the superior gasket set, and water pump you have written about, if you can give me the info.

    Do you have to pull the engine to get the heads off?

    Also, who makes the best timing belt?

    Thanks for your time!

  123. You’re welcome.

  124. Hi Dan,
    Part of my recommendation has to do with what engine your Subaru Forester is equipped with. If it’s a normally aspirated then replacing the head gaskets will be an eventuality so you might as well do it now when you’re doing the valve job(assuming you confirm it). There was no common issue with the valves on that model. We have seen a few turbo equipped models that were running regular unleaded (a big no-no) and did valve and or piston damage during the life of the car.

    Pulling the engine makes the job nicer but it can be done in the car. When you do it use Six Star Head gaskets and a Paraut water pump. The genuine Subaru timing belt is great as well as the Mitsuboshi brand. (original equipment manufacturer).

    Good luck in your endeavor!

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Greater Seattle, Kirkland and vicinity

  125. Thanks for your reply Mike.

    Have you seen a cylinder with low compression cause a cylinder misfire warning before? Particularly one with just a 50psi differential like I’m seeing. I’m sure it would show up if a cylinder had no compression at all.

    BTW, this engine is naturally aspirated. So, If do have a bad valve I’ll need to determine why it went bad. Like maybe the cylinder is running lean and overheating the exhaust valve. Any other ideas on why a valve would burn? I recall hearing that engine doing some pinging from time to time, but the plugs had no sign of pre-ignition.

    I’ll order the Six Star head gaskets. I saw them on your home page.

    Thanks again.

  126. A 50psi difference is enough to set a missfire code. As far as why the valve burned, it may have been poorly sealing due to carbon buildup on the seat. May have been a bit too tight from the factory etc. Make sure you look at all of the valves when you have it apart. If the car has had substandard fuel it may have pitting on the valve seats and at least need them to be lapped in.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  127. I pulled the exhaust on both heads and there is some oil dripping out of #4 exhaust port and it’s pretty carbon’d up. #2 has just a bit of oil coming out of it. #1 and 3 exhaust ports are nice and dry.

    Not sure where the oil is coming from, but it looks like you’re right about carbon getting under an exhaust valve.

    I’ve never done anything major to a Subaru before, but they seem pretty easy to work on so far. Lots of room and they seem to be engineer’d for ease of repair.

    I think I’ll pull the engine since it looks pretty easy to do on this car and I should change to clutch out while I’m at this. I may change my opinion about ease of repair in a few days though.

    Thanks for your input!

  128. Oh wait, I put a little oil in #4 to check for ring vs valve leakage. Still way more carbon’d up than #1 and 3 though.

  129. Is there an “RV” type cam available for Foresters? I’d like a little more low end torque, if I can get it, without spending a bunch of dough.

  130. Hi Dan,
    You can check with Delta Cams in our area to see what they have available. http://deltacam.com/

    Good luck,
    Mike

  131. Hey Dan,

    While you have it apart you may pull the pistons to inspect the rings. If the oil is coming out of the exhaust you may have a ring issue also. When it’s this far apart it never hurts to think about pulling the pistons and at least cleaning the oil rings.

    Mike

  132. I bought a leak-down tester and #4 is blowing air out of its exhaust, big time, and was showing almost 100% leakage! #’s 1 and 2 were at about 60% leakage, but I couldn’t hear anything anywhere. #3 was showing a little less than 40%.

    The engine was stone cold, but, I believe, it’s the differential I’m most interested in anyway, which kinda sucks!

    I’ll get the heads off and see how the cylinders look.

    I take back what I said about Subaru’s being easy to work on. Looking at where the valve covers are I can imagine getting them off and adjusting valves, pulling heads, etc. would be a PIA with the engine in the car!

    I found a machine shop that does all of the local Subaru dealer’s work, which is good.

    Just thought you might be interested in what I have found so far.

    Dan W

  133. Mike,

    I was blessed to find a mechanic that is willing to work with me with respect to the use of Six Star gaskets on my ’98 Outback Limited with a 2.5L. You have already mentioned and I understand the requirement for the heads to be machined to no rougher than a 50RA finish.

    However, his questions to me were:

    Is there any requirement to use a specific type or brand of coolant after installing Six Star head gaskets (you have already stated that it would not be necessary to use the Subaru coolant additive) and are the manufacturers bolt torque specifications still applicable?

  134. Although not required, we prefer to use genuine Subaru coolant ourselves.
    Mike

  135. Mike, great site and thanks for all your advice.
    When replacing a head gasket on a 2005 outback wagon, do the heads typically need resurfaced? It seems to be a small external oil leak which I assume will just get worse over time. Or could the repair wait for a month or two?
    Thanks again
    Michael Garrity

  136. Mike, I have a 2000 Subaru Forester I bought 2 years ago with 62K miles on it. In January 2011 it was diagnosed with a head gasket leak (esternal oil leak, not coolant) at 82K miles. I had read up on the problem and decided to go ahead and fix it since I really like the car. Well, now it is one year later and I am at 111K miles and it is already leaking again (as before, oil not coolant, and external again). The head gasket work was done by very reputable certified mechanic shop, so I trust the repairs, but I really don’t know if it is worth spending another $1600 to replace it again. The mechanic suggested retorquing the gasket first, but he isn’t sure it will work. Any suggestions?

  137. Hi Judy,

    First of all the severity of the leak is what I would need to understand before making any decisions. Subaru head gaskets as well as other manufactures can weep some oil without ever truley being a leak. If it’s not actually dripping down onto the frame of the vehicle I wouldn’t worry about it. We’ve seen a number of folks be steered into replacing head gaskets for some oil residue that would have remained the same for years. Unless it’s dripping oil and a mess under there, and as long as there is no coolant leakage, leave well enough alone. Have them raise it up so you can see it for yourself. Then have them clean off the oil and recheck it in 3000-6000 miles. If it’s back and real messy, you may opt to do them but my guess is that it will just be residue.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Subaru Head Gasket Specialist in Seattle

  138. Hi Michael,

    If it’s a small external leak, don’t worry about it for now. These can take years to develop into anything significant. Note it’s appearance, and then monitor it. Eventually it may become bad enough that it’s making quite a mess and you’ll have no choice. The heads will probably need resurfacing (even if they’re within specs I still think it lowers the chance of repeat failure if they get machined).

    Sounds like you may not have too much to worry about at this time unless a coolant leak ever develops.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Subaru Head Gasket Specialist in Seattle

  139. I have a 96 outback with 105k miles on it… Oil leak…1/4 of a quart every 250 miles… Mechjanic says rea and front seals leaking.. Does it make sense and what would be the approx cost and is it worth it? Thank you in advance.

  140. Hi Mike

    Front seals do leak from time to time on Subarus. If the car is at 105k miles it will be due for a timing belt replacement anyways. I would advise having them done during the timing belt replacement since there is a major labor savings to do them together. If the timing belt has already been replaced and you’re going in just for the seals, I’d only do it if they are medium to heavy leakage. If it’s just a seep you’re probably loosing oil from blowby and not a leak.

    Replacing the seals will range from $350-500 depending on where you go.

    Good luck with your Subaru.

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Shoreline, WA

  141. Mike,
    I have a 1997 Subaru SVX with 78,000 miles on it. It is in great shape and I took it in for an oil change, and my mechanic is suggesting a $3500 repair including replacement of head gasket (which is says is leaking) timing belt, thermostat, water pump etc. As you can tell we don’t put many miles on this car in a year. The mechanic is new to the car as we have moved. Thanks very much.

  142. What is up with my 98 Outback 2.5 DOHC with 180k, bought it used, had a new radiator and timing belt, fine for a month, but did smell like coolant after a long drive. Driving to work it blew a cork and overheated, it always ran fine, let it cool and nursed it 20 miles, and it would overheat in a couple miles as it was 0 degrees. Let it sit overnight, topped up fluid and it made it 20 miles before overheating. No obvious coolant or oil contamination. Tested thermostat and it opens, all the plugs look the same and have a dry almost white look. Small oil leak underneath car. Coolant does not bubble in radiator when car is running. Only thing is when you top off radiator, it spills out somewhere on the drivers side before it looks full. Can’t see if it is coming out overflow, cracked radiator or lower hose? Don’t know the HG hx. of this car. No unusual exhaust. Is the fact that the old owner had replaced the radiator a bad sign? Will overheating crack the radiator? What would you all think of pulling the motor yourself to save labor and taking it to a shop to have the gaskets done right? If you think it is the HGs, what do I do next? Thanks.

  143. Hi Dallas,

    If your question is whether to replace the head gaskets or not it depends on what the extent of their leak is. If it’s just minor external oil leakage you may be able to let it go for quite some time. If it’s leaking coolant or is getting exhaust gas into the coolant, you may need to do them now. On the SVX I recommend sticking with the Genuine Subaru gasket. They have worked very well on your model and rarely do I ever see an SVX that has blown it’s head gaskets.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Experts in Seattle
    206-417-0880

  144. Hi CB

    It sounds like it may be time to have the car professionally evaluated. With all the variables in your description it’s hard to say where to start. It likely does have head gaskets failing from the white buildup on the spark plugs and the mystery overheating but the fact coolant pours out as you pour it in is another problem altogether.

    I don’t think it’s worth taking the engine out for another shop to try and save money. If they are going to stand behind their work with a warranty, they will want to remove and install the engine themselves to make sure it all goes right.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Diagnostics and Repair
    425-315-9999

  145. Good morning Mike.
    I have a 2006 Outback, 78,000 miles on it. And from a local repair shop they discovered a small external oil head gasket leak using UV oil dye to track this down on front pass side above oil filter. My plan is to call Subaru on this issue and then go to Subaru dealer in Neb. where I purchased this vehicle for a second diag. Prob. every 3,000 miles we lose a 1/8 of a quart, drips on exhast and floor.
    My question is after reading many posts with head gaskets issues why did subaru, design or manufactoring, continue to have so many with issues with these and not able to fix the problem within a year or 2 of these cropping up?
    I would think 180,000K, and engine might expierence this, but 78,000K ??

  146. Good morning John,

    A Subaru expert I am, but that is one question I don’t have an answer for.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle

  147. Hi Mike,
    Great site and very informative.
    I have a 2008 OB with 4 cyl basic engine with 51k miles. I started smelling coolant near the front of the motor. The coolant level was low to the bottom of reservoir. I have checked all the obvious places for leaks and none are visable. The oil seemed fine when I changed it.
    Subaru dealer did preasure check and said it held 17psi for a “long” time. They said they couldn’t smell anything but I know what I smell. $75 dollars lighter I still dont have a satisfactory answer.

    Any clue or educated guesses? Could the head gasket or a internal leak be present but not detected by preasure test? I would like to get to the bottom of this before the warrantee is gone.

    Thanks for you help,
    Phil Rodgers

  148. Hi Phil,

    Check the underside of the upper radiator hose where it connects to the engine. I’ve seen some minor leakage from this area as the hose ages and the clamp just doesn’t hold as well. If there’s no wetness you might see some staining where it’s oozed out and dried up. Use a flashlight and mirror if necessary. Then just tighten up the clamp a bit.

    Other than that, top off the coolant and keep a close eye on things. Sometimes radiators will leak along the crimped seams also causing the coolant smell. Also, look at the underside of the engine for any coolant leak at the head gaskets.

    I hope you have luck finding the problem.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    206-417-0880

  149. it’s finally over! Bought a 2.2 legacy with 100,000miles on
    it and ran it to 250,000. I replaced the timing belt and
    water pump. it just started leaking large amounts of oil,
    and i think that’s all she wrote. never had any head gasket
    problems, never replaced the clutch. 1995 legacy L.
    I’m thinking of another Subaru and wonder what year I should get.

  150. Thanks for the infomation here! Last week while traveling for spring break our ’03 Outback began to get hot in the middle of nowhereville, ID. We were able to get it into UT for repair of the water pump. Just last year (less than 12K miles ago) we had the heads and 90K scheduled maintence done. I am now concerned if there will be continued pump issues? Any advice would be appreciated!

  151. Hi Matt,

    I understand your concern. Once your Subaru has overheated there’s a higher probability that the head gaskets will fail. They may still last quite some time but it just seems like Subarus that have blown coolant hoses and other non head gasket overheating situations tend to have a sooner failure than those that didnt. I don’t think you’ll have any water pump problems as long as the unit they installed is a quality part.

    Just keep an eye on the coolant level for any loss or any black ring of soot around the coolant recovery bottle. (you can also have it sniffed for hydrocarbons at a local shop to be on the safe side)

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru
    of Washington State

  152. Hi Mike,

    I just purchased a 2009 Subaru Outback PZEV with 80K on it. It’s been serviced regularly and entirely at the dealer from which I bought it. First thing I hear from a friend is “oh, a Subaru… Did you know about the head gasket issues?” No, I had not. Which brought me to your website and blog — which is great by the way!

    So, any words of advice, things I should watch for? Is there any preventative maintenance I should do or things I should mention to the service department to ensure that I don’t run into coolant and head gasket issues?

    Thanks for any and all assistance.

    Cheers,

  153. Hi VJ

    I hope your 2009 Subaru goes many miles without ever having a head gasket issue. My recommendation is to maintain it per factory recommendations, change the oil every 3 months/3000 miles and have the radiator cap tested once a year to make sure it holds the proper amount of pressure.

    As far as anything to tell the service department, I’d just stick with what I wrote above.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  154. Hi,
    I’ve been researching a 2012 Outback 2.5X. After reading all of these head gasket problems, I’m having reservations. Is there any reason to believe theses newer models won’t fail in the future?

    Thanks,
    Chris

  155. Hi Chris,

    There is no published information that I can find anywhere that would indicate that the 2012 head gaskets won’t ever fail. I will say though that the 07 and newer models seem to be coming a lot less frequently than their older counterparts.

    Good luck in your decision,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  156. Hi

    I have a subaru 99 WRX sti,turbo with 2 stage boost
    I’m using excessive coolant filling it up every 2days or after every drive or some times its ok
    It’s not leaking anywhere and the tempeture stays half way always
    There’s no oil in the coolant tank
    There’s no coolant in the oil and the oil level stays the same level.Can someone please help
    I luv me subie

    Kind Regards

    Dwaine

  157. Hello Mike,
    I have a 97 Outback Legacy with over 172k on it, and a definite head gasket issue. I’ve put in the head gasket fix and have been okay thus far, but know that I have to go in for the real repair and have gotten nothing but negativity from repair shops (“you should buy a new car” type of thing). Now, I’m being told that even if I repair my car, I will have oil burning issues that will make the car barely driveable. This is news to me. Is this legitimate or more smoke? If so, how can this be avoided? I love my car and don’t want to replace it (I’m also not interested in making car payments as my car is now all mine). I just want to get it fixed. I’d also like some recommendations for good (reliable, reasonable, don’t talk down to me because I’m female) mechanics in my area if you or anyone else has any (there are a lot of shady characters in Milwaukee, WI for some reason).

  158. Hi Mattie,

    There may be some truth to what they’re telling you about your Outback but they may not be explaining it correctly.

    The fact that the Subaru has 172,000 miles on could mean that the piston rings have been subject to a lot of wear and thus the engne may burn oil even if you install new Six Star head gaskets and reseal every other seal and gasket on that engine. Also, if it’s been overheated, that can also weeken the tensile strength of the piston rings, thus not allowing them to seal as well as they used to.

    For the most part if the car doesn’t burn oil now, it probably won’t burn oil after replacing the head gaskets.

    I’m sorry but I don’t have any recommendations for a Subaru shop in your area. Just scour the internet for a Subaru specialist in your area and if you can’t find a Subaru specific shop, at least find someone that only works on Japanese cars. Look for their reviews on Yelp, Google etc. Also if they are AAA Approved, they should be a reputable shop.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Shoreline

  159. Hello Dwaine,

    Thank you for your Subaru question.

    I would first advise you to use an exhaust gas analyzer to “sniff” the cooling system for the presence of hydrocarbons. It will let you know if there is exhaust getting by the head gaskets (thus the reverse of coolant getting into combustion chamber is possible too). You can also remove the plugs, perform a leakdown test and see if any of the cylinders cause air bubbles to come out of the radiator when the air pressure is applied.

    I suspect the head gaskets are failing but there is a slight chance the radiator may have a hairline crack. We’ve seen a few that get a hairline crack in the top and seep out coolant and it evaporates before you actually see a trail.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Washington
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  160. Great forum Mike,
    I have a 2000 Legacy Outback 136k. Started noticing low coolant levels about 2 months back after temp gauge came very close to red. No visible smoke, no visible leaking no sweet smelling exhaust and no wet spots on the passenger side floor. Nursed the coolant levels for a week until I could take it in to local mechanic. Here’s what they found:

    (1) After performing sniff test there was no presence of gasses to indicate that it was leaking in the head gasket.
    (2) There was no evidence of coolant in the oil
    (3) They pressurized the system to 17 PSI and noticed a pinhole leak in the radiator spitting fluid but even then they said the system was maintaining pressure. (not so sure the pressurizing of the system didn’t cause the rad to go)

    They replaced the radiator and hoses as well as the thermostat. They did not replace the Radiator cap. You know where i’m going with this because she’s still drinking Coolant at a rate of 1/2 gallon a week. Could it be a water pump ? Do I take it to the subaru dealer for a better diagnostic ? If its an internal leak wouldn’t the sniff test pick that up ? What do you suggest ?

    Thank you.

  161. Hi Steve,

    I guess alot depends on how accurate they were with their diagnosis and how properly they bleed the air pockets from the cooling system.

    If they used a 4 or 5 gas analyzer to sniff for hydrocarbons then odd’s are you’re fine. It’s rare that a head gasket fails without seeing hydrocarbons, oil/water mix or external leakage. If there’s still trouble figuring it out, perform a leakdown test on each cylinder while you observe the radiator. When you’re performing the leakdown and pressurizing the cylinder, if there’s a failure in the head gasket, you’ll see air bubbles coming out of the radiator. Test all 4 cylinders of course. Any reputable shop can perform this for you.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    SMart Service
    Independent Subaru in Everett and vicinity
    425-315-9999

  162. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for this very informative website. I have a Subaru 1999 Legacy Outback with almost 150k miles on it. The car has been well maintained thoughout the years and never had a head gasket failure yet. The car has never overheated, there has not been any signs of oil in the coolant nor a coolant or oil lose or leak. I am preparing for the 150k miles service (all fluids change, timing belt, etc) and my mechanic suggested that it would also be a good time to replace the headgaskets premptively, stating that their failure is, within the life span of car is inevitable.

    Would you recommend premptive replacement of head gaskes if there are no sighs of them failing in any way? Is it true that all 1999 Legacy Outbakcs, 2.5 engine develop the head gasket problem and it is matter of “when” not “if”.

    The estimate for the repair is $2,900 including replacement of the timing belt, water pump, thermostat, etc. Does this sound like a fair quote?

    Thank you for all your help.

    Michal

  163. Hi Michal,

    It does seem like a fair quote but it may be overkill to do them now.

    If there’s no sign of leakage at this time, I’d hold off for now if it were my Subaru. It does have some overlapping labor that can save money by combining them but if there’s no active signs of leakage it may be quite a long time until it becomes necessary.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru
    Seattle, WA
    206-417-0880

  164. Great article and comparison pictures, Mike!

    It’s interesting how much of a difference there is between the stock water pump and the aftermarket one. Do you know if all Subaru engines have that difference between stock and aftermarket? If so, I might just get the new one as preventative maintenance.

  165. Hi Stephen,
    I think most Subaru engines made today will have a similar water pump. I don’t think I’d just replace it as preventive maintenance though. Wait till it’s apart for a timing belt replacement or crank seal replacement then do it in conjunction with that repair to save some money on the overlapping labor.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle an vicinity
    Since 1999

  166. You have a great site and are providing terrific feedback. I have a 2003 H6 Wagon with 194,000 miles and an overheating situation. The local Subaru shop diagnosed a weeping head gasket among other problems. The question here is:
    1. repair the head gasket $3,500,
    2. replace the motor with a low mileage used unit $3,500
    3. sell the car for whatever I can get and buy something different.

    We loved the car for the couple years we owned it, but have become leery of the rampant engine issues we see reported everywhere.

  167. Have them go over the car with a fine toothed comb to make sure there’s no other major issues I’d tend to have the repair done if it were me. If you’ve been good at keeping up on maintenance, that engine should still have lots of life remaining. Just make sure they resurface the heads to insure good sealing of the head gasket.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  168. Hi Mike,

    I freaking out a little bit. My son bought a 2002 Subaru
    Forester in January 2012 with 99k miles. He just recently bought a newer vehicle and I agreed to buy the Forester from him for $6k. It now has 106k miles. After reading the information about the head gasket I’m quite concerned. I can’t afford $6k for the car and the eventual $2k for the head gasket. I did check the VIN and it falls in the range of Foresters having this issue. In your experience, do all Foresters in this VIN range have the head gasket issue?

    The title has not been transferred to my name nor has money changed hands so I can still beg off the deal.

    Thanks for your input.
    Janet

  169. Hi Janet,

    I totally understand your concern. That particular Subaru Forester may eventually need the head gaskets replaced. When they leak it’s not necessarily an overnight problem. You will have some warning signs. Someone should inspect the current condition of the head gaskets. If there’s no leaks at this time you may have years before they ever leak. On the other hand, If they are leaking oil and are kind of messy now, the coolant leak may be close behind. Also keep in mind that at 105000 miles you will need to have the timing belt replaced anyway. With that in mind sometimes it’s cost effective to just do both and get it out of the way. Either way, if you spend $6000 on a used vehicle you’ll still probably run into a couple thousand in repairs over the next couple of years no matter what you buy. At least in this case you know what you’re getting and you know it’s service history.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA
    206-417-0880

  170. Hello! As i have learned and read here and many other places, all of the 2.5 engines seem to have head gasket issues. I am looking to purchase a 1995 legacy wagon, low mileage and rust free. It has the 2.2l 5spd. Just wondering if the older 2.2 engines have any head gasket issues like the 2.5′s. I appreciate the info!

    Tony

  171. Hi Tony,

    Well you have the right idea in mind. The 1995 Legacy equipped with the 2.2 engine was one of the most reliable if not the most reliable engine/transmission combination that Subaru has ever made. If you find one that was well maintained you may never need to do head gaskets on it. I own a 1992 with over 360000 miles on it and it still has it’s original head gaskets.

    Take care and good luck in your purchase.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  172. Thank you for this informative writing, and also keeping the post alive all these years.

    I have a question concerning my 1999 Forester that I have been searching an answer for for several months in Subaru forum…perhaps you might have an idea.

    Several months back I took the car out on a dirt road with lots of steep hills. The car drove fine all day in hot desert sun. As i was driving it back home on interstate at night, when the temperature dropped to the point where i had to tutn the heater on I noticed the temp gage rising about 3/4 way up. I pulled over immediately and noticed that the coolantblowing into the overflow bottle. I refilled the bottle abd drove the car back home about 30miles with the temp gage hovering little below red. The heater was blowing hot air the whole time but the temp gage never dropped to normal.

    I subsequently took the car to a mechanic who races Subarus, and he found nothing wrong. He did compression test of the cooling system and found no leak. He filled up the bottle as it had dropped again. The bottle level dropped again several times over the next few days, after which it seems to stabilize. Its been many months but the car never overheated again, although i do seem to have to add a cup or so of coolant at random intervals.

    Btw the car has about 110k and the engine was completely rebuilt with new short block at 45k due to a bent valve. Any clues as to what might be happening would really be appreciated. Thanks.

  173. My first guess is that it may have just been low on coolant and eventually an air pocket made it’s way to the thermostat or water pump and interferred with their proper function or even a malfunctioning thermostat. I still would be looking closely for hydrocarbons in the cooling system or a slow residual external leak from a head gasket since you’re having to add coolant for no apparent reason.

    I hope this leads you down the right path.

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  174. Thanks Mike for the quick response…Your comment is similar to what my mechanic said, and I am relieved that there could be other explanations than the HG failure. I have been fairly vigilant about checking the coolant and oil levels since this happend, and was wondering what other things I need to keep my eyes on to detect a potential HG failure.

    The day after the boil over, I opened the radiator cap and turned the engine on, to see if I could see any evidence of HG failure (BTW, the overflow bottle is clean, with no oily residues and gasoline smell. Nor do I smell the coolant after shutting down the engine). I “thought” I saw tiny bubbles floating around in the radiator (like tiny roe eggs stuck together, about .5mm diameter) and a few tiny black flakes (which I thought were bits of graphite that came off the HG). My mechanic seemed to think that a small amount of bubbles floating on top of the radiator are normal, and I suppose a radiator this old is likely to have some residues falling off the surface and floating around.

    So the question is, is it possible to have a tiny leak in the HG and still have no compression loss in the cooling system? If so, are there other tests that can be done to detect the beginnings of a HG failure? And even if this can be done, can the deterioration of HG be slowed down or prevented?

    Thanks again, Gus

  175. Hi Mike:

    Thanks for this great blog. I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy wagon that overheated suddenly about a month ago. I refilled coolant, which seemed very low, took it into a shop I’d had a good experience with before. I told them that it had been making a percolating noise, and I was concerned about the head gaskets. They proceeded to replace the radiator, hoses, water pump, timing belt and thermostat. After these repairs, and $1500 poorer, I left the shop, and within five minutes, it had overheated again. They said it was a bad thermostat, replaced it. I asked them to check the head gaskets. They said they did a compression test on them and they were fine.I picked the car up again, and again it overheated within a very short time. I took it back; coolant was spewing out of the reservoir. After they looked at it again, they said it was an air pocket, and they had bled the system and it was now fixed for sure. I drove it for over three weeks with no problem. Then, suddenly, it seemed to develop a coolant leak after driving for a half hour on the highway. Coolant was dripping from what looked like the area near the water pump. The reservoir seemed empty. I took it back in again. They said it was a head gasket leak that only leaked when the engine got very hot, and also that one of the spark plugs was probably getting wet from coolant and causing the engine to misfire. The CEL is on. I took it today to a reputable Subaru mechanic, who saw no external leaks, and said it was probably an internal HG leak, given the year and model. He advised going on a ten minute drive at 60-70 mph, then checking the reservoir tank for bubbles. I did that, and there were bubbles percolating in the tank (at a slow rate of maybe one per second). He also mentioned that the radiator cap was bad, and I bought a new one, but did not yet put it on.I am wondering whether, given the first symptoms, there was always this HG issue, and the first mechanics failed to diagnose it properly. Is there any way of knowing? I don’t really want them to work on the car again, but I also already spent $1500 on a car with 230,000 miles on it, and the labor costs are a big part of the cost of HG replacement, which I would have saved if they had replaced them along with everything else. Any advice?

  176. Hello, I have a 1996 subaru legacy L 2.2 liter engine. I am currently experiencing head gasket issues. She is over heating when i climb a hill and when i turn on the air conditioner. I started with the cheaper repairs first hoping i was not going to have to go thru this head gasket thing because i have not had any water in my oil or visa versa. I have changed the thermostat and coolant temperature sensor. Done a radiator flush and a few other things. I am still currently having this issue. Someone mentioned liquid glass to seal the head. Would this be advisable or a total mistake? thank you for your time. Marlette

  177. Hi Marlette,

    I would avoid any quick fix snake oil. From what I’ve seen over the years it can cause more damage and rarely seal this type of Subaru leak if at all. What it can do is add to the repairs with plugging up your radiator and or heater core.

    Drive it as little as possible until you have a chance to have it done right then have those gaskets replaced.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  178. It sounds like you may have been another victim of Subaru ignorance. If I were guessing based on what I’ve seen over the years, you probably needed head gaskets from the get go. Based on your post, I definitely wouldn’t trust the shop that did all the work up to this point.

    I guess the good news is that if you have the Head gaskets done properly, all of the other cooling system items that can contribute to overheating have already been done.

    Good luck and I hope you find a reputable Subaru shop to take care if it for you.

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Seattle, WA

  179. Hi Gus,
    Hopefully we’re all right and you don’t need any head gaskets as of yet.
    Some bubbles are normal due to heat, cavitation etc. The best test is to us an emmisons gas analyzer and sniff over the radiator for any presence of hydrocarbons. If there are any hydrocarbons at all it signals that exhaust is getting past the head gasket into the coolant.

    Other than that, enjoy driving your Subaru!

    Mike

  180. Thank you Mike for answering so quickly, I do have another question for you however. I was talking to some of my friends who work on cars and they are all pretty stumped at the moment. I am not loosing any water and there is no water in my oil. So they are all saying they don’t think it is a head gasket issue however i am still thinking it is from everything i have read. If im not having a coolant leak but do have a small oil leak it is still the head gaskets correct? Sorry if this is long winded im just trying to fix my car. I love my Subie and it does wonders in the snow and where i am at snow is a big issue in the winter. When i do the gaskets how long does it usually take? My sub is my only mode of transpertation so i am trying to schedule the time to do it where i have a ride to and from work for me and my fiance and a ride to and from school for my kids. Thanks again for your answers and i wish i had found this page months ago could have saved me a LOT of time and un-needed repairs.
    Marlette

  181. Hi Mike
    I have a 2009 (manf in 2008) Impreza stick-shift. It has the EL15 1.5 litre engine. It has 22000km (about 15000 miles).

    Always checking first thing in the morning with the engine cold, I have noticed lately that the coolant reservoir level slowly drops with time. I let it go down to the LOW marker, and then refilled it to the MAX marker.

    After about another 1000km, it was down to the LOW marker again. My Subaru dealer did a coolant pressure test, and said everything is fine. It’s right at the end of its 3 years warranty, so I’m not inclined to believe them, as if they don’t want to look at replacing the head gasket at their own cost.

    My driving routine is very engine-friendly – we’re in a rural area (no stop/go driving), so the engine gets up to operating temp and stays there comfortably, with trips almost always in 5th gear at cruising speed.

    Is this normal for the head gasket to go at such a low mileage?
    Is the slow loss of coolant something I should be concerned about?
    Regards

    Menahem Yachad

  182. Mike, what would be the approximate cost for a head gasket repair on a 2005 outback? I had the timing belt and seals done last year.The head has been leaking for a while, but is getting worse. The car has 140,000 miles, runs great and is serviced regularly.
    Thanks
    Michael

  183. Hi Mike:

    Our local Subaru “experts” have charged me $2300 to do a timing belt and replace the head gaskets. From my research, I think this is high.

    Also, they said we need to refinish the head – which would have increased the cost another $1,000 (they don’t do that themselves). This outback has only 96,000 miles on it – it seems early to have a warped head. Any chance you think Subaru will cover that?

  184. Hello,

    I have a 2000 Subaru Forester that has run great the past 3 years. However, in the last couple weeks it has gotten really loud (sounds like a diesel engine), it doesn’t accelerate very well, and the gas mileage has dropped from around 20-22 in town to around 15 mpg. The check engine light is on because I need to have the O2 sensor replaced, but I’m wondering if that could be causing these problems or if there is probably something more serious happening?

    Thanks!

  185. Hi Marlette,

    If you have it tested and there are no hydrocarbons and you do not loose any coolant over the course of a month or so then you may luck out and not need the head gaskets after all. Even if they are oozing a little oil that may not be anything significant for many years to come.

    Good luck
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Washington
    206-417-0880

  186. H Menahem,

    I’m not sure what is going on with your vehicle but I suggest you ask the dealer to find out why you are loosing coolant. In a functioning cooling system there should be no loss of coolant. They may want to perform a coolant test of their own. Let them check the level and then bring it back to them to check it every time it is low. They can monitor how much coolant it is going through and decide what to do from there. You may want to look really closely at the head gaskets with a flashlight since it can drip out the same area where oil is already leaking at the back of the cylinder head. The coolant can be hard to see when it’s leaking through the oil. There are UV dyes that can be added to the coolant in order to find where it’s going.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Washington State.

  187. Hi Mike,

    I would guess in the $2000-2500 range depending on where you go and how thorough of a job is done. If they remove the motor and do all the rear seals, adjust the valves, machine the heads etc. you’ll be toward the higher end.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  188. Hello Amanda,

    The price seems to be in the normal range if they are doing a thorough job including removing the engine to do it, replacing the rear seals, adjusting the valves etc. If the heads are warped and they only need to be resurfaced (which most of the time is the case) I can’t see it being more than $200. Not sure why they want to do an additional 1k worth of work on them. Even a complete valve job on the heads should be in the $600 range. I would get a second opinion for a price comparison. To answer your second question, it never hurts to check but unless it’s only a few years old I doubt they’ll cover it. It cost’s nothing to ask though.

    Take care, Mike

  189. Hi Mary,
    The O2 sensor can certianly affect the mileage somewhat but I doubt it is causing the loud noise. I would have it diagnosed as soon as possible to avoid doing any subsequent damage to the engine.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  190. [...] switched to the stamped impellers on most of the water pumps so don't feel like you got screwed. Helping Subaru Head Gaskets Last | Smart Service Subaru Blog Not too impressed with this "new" water pump – Ultimate Subaru Message Board Subaru [...]

  191. I have a 2010 forseter 2.5 non turbo I have lost coolant from the overflow bottle I do not see any leaks around the head gaskets. When cold no coolant in overflow, but when hot it shows at the cold level mark.it only started the last two thound miles I will be going in for the thirty thound mile service. I notified the dealer they did not make much of it.

  192. Well I hope the dealer documented the customer complaint of an apparent loss of coolant. I would continue to monitor it closely because if it went low once, it may happen again.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  193. Hi Mike,
    Great website. 2003 Forester 2.5x, had my Subaru dealer replace head gaskets at 120,000 miles. Now at 187,000 miles they say some oil leakage, and possibly small coolant leakage, HG needs to be done again, they want $1,800. I don’t understand why after just 65,000 miles HG needs to be done again, maybe they didn’t resurface the heads the first time?

    No other major issues with the car, realistically how many more miles can I get if I have the work done? ie;, worth keeping or get rid of?

  194. Hi Gary,

    I think it’s rare that they are leaking a second time but it is possible. First of all I’d ask to see the leaks with your own eyes. Have them raise the car to show you what they mean. If they think there’s coolant have them point it out. If they can’t see coolant and your coolant level has remained steady you may only have an oil leak. Depending on the severity of the oil leak it may not need to be done right away. If it is leaking coolant and loosing coolant then you may think of going to Six Star head gaskets and making sure the head surfaces are machined before reassembly.

    For the price of new or newer used Subaru’s it’s still viable to make the repairs in my opinion.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  195. Hi Mike,

    I bought a 99 Subaru Forester 172k with the SOHC engine and she seems to run pretty peppy, but after changing the coolant it started overheating so I bled the system and that did not help. It’s blowing what seems to be some damp exhaust out the tail pipe. No check engine light. I found a loose clamp on one of the heater hoses, (the top one over the engine block not the firewall) it was just hanging there loose. Is it possible that it could suck enough air thru that connection to make the system overheat? It makes a gergaling sound around the heater core area. She’s blowing bubbles into the overflow tank and sometimes blows the coolant out into the overflow tank then gets hot from losing coolant. One thing I noticed was that she runs rough for about 30 seconds when first starting but then smooths out, is that coolant seaping thru the head gasket? Can I use a 1.3 radiator cap instead of a 1.1 or will that damage the head gasket more? Thanks, Carmen

  196. Hi Carmen,

    Not sure what came first the chicken or the egg. Did the hose blow off first and cause the overheat that damaged the head gaskets or did the blown head gaskets create enough pressure to blow the hose off? Either way it seems that now the head gaskets are the main issue and the longer it goes before repairing the more chance the coolant sitting in the cylinder will cause corrosion in the cylinder and damage it.

    To be sure you should have the cooling system tested for hydrocarbons but from the sounds of the bubbles coming out of it I won’t be surprised if it’s failed severely.

    One other note, if you have it repaired with 172k miles on it you may want to think about installing a reman Subaru shortblock at the time. You don’t have to but if you plan on keeping the car a long time it’s like installing a new engine.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  197. Mike,

    Thanks for the help. I should have been more clear about the hose clamp, it appears someone just didn’t bother to tighten the clamp to the hose, the hose itself was still attached to the fitting and did not blow off. If I can get it to run cool enough and stop blowing exhaust gas into the coolant with some aluminum stop leak, how long do you think this thing will last? I can bypass the heater core before putting the stop leak in but what will that stuff do to the water pump? She runs strong and I only paid $1100 for it, had to change the filler tube, still needs front CV shafts and it’s starting to rust so I don’t think it’s worth putting another engine in. How many hours to put new head gaskets in it? Will they just fail again? Thanks for all your help, great blog !

    Carmen

  198. Carmen,

    If you intend to keep the car for more than a couple of weeks I would NEVER put any form of stop leak in the engine. In my experience with this, it rarely ever solves your particular problem and it in many cases plugs up the radiator and heater core and ends up costing much more in the long run.

    Mike

    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  199. Hi Mike,

    Have you ever heard anything about Permatech intense sealer? They are saying it lasts for 5 years and does not use glass to seal. I think it’s a small combustion chamber leak but how can this stuff stay in when the explosion blows it back out? I’m going to research some more to find someone who actually used this stuff. Do you know anyone that tried it?

    Thanks,
    Carmen

  200. Hi Carmen,

    If it’s a car you don’t care about and want to experiment it’s worth a try. If you want to keep the car long term I’d advise against it due to the possible “side effects” that may follow.

    Good luck either way,
    Mike

  201. Mike,

    How long do you think that cylinder can hold up (Miles ? Years ?) if I keep the engine running cool and minmize the coolant loss ?

    Thanks,
    Carmen

  202. Yep…..99 Legacy 2.5 head gaskets
    Questions: With the 6 Star MLS gaskets, are the headbolt torque specs and procedure the same as factory or is it a torque n leave deal ? …..and do the gasket sets come with an electronic procedure manual ?

    Love this site !

  203. Sorry, I can’t even venture a guess on that one other than the longer you put it off the higher the risk of additional damage and expenses.

  204. Gret and Mike,

    It is the same as the factory. At this time there is no electronic procedure but there is a sheet enclosed that describes the torquing procedure.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Care in Seattle
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  205. Mike,

    I going to try and clean out all the glass based goop in there and try the non-glass 2 part flexible epoxy stop leak and see what happens. I will let you the results.

    Thanks,
    Carmen

  206. Mike,

    99 Forsester with exhaust gas bubbling out cooling system into the overflow tank. Combustion chamber head gasket leak.

    I tried the non glass type head gasket stop leak and it did not work at all. I used Perma-Tech, Dura-Seal and no improvement whatsoever, this stuff was supposed to be formulated just for 4 Cylinder Subaru’s and it cost $150, which is a huge rip-off because it does not work. It’s money back guaranteed but I had to contest it with my credit card company to get my money back. So Subie owners beware. Then I tried some Bars Leaks stop leak Head Gasket Fix #1111 and it only worked for a day because I drained the system after using it. Then I tried it again leaving it in and it seems to be working, not 100% but it’s only been a week now and it does seem to improve the more you drive the car. I strongly recomend removing the thermostat when using these products and leave your heater valve open all the time once you put it in and leave it in. Gut an old thermostat and just use the disc shell so you can put the gasket back in, the gutted disc will hold the gasket in place. My 4 cylinder 99 Forester does not overheat without the thermostat, the water flowing thru the radiator too fast theory does not apply with this engine. Anyways, it appears any product you have to drain from the system after use will not hold, you need a quality product that is designed to leave in and that appears to be what’s working on my Forester. Unfortunately, this means your water pump has to endure the metal flakes in these products so the jury is still out on how long the water pump will last. As far as the heater core getting plugged up, as long as you flush your system well and already have good flow thru your heater core you should be fine because these products are designed to only harden in spots where there is high temperature, the engine block not the heater core but I recommend you drive around with the heat valve open all the time just to keep an open flow thru it. Follow the instructions and I recomend placing a small rag by the throttle to keep the engine idling at about 1500 RPMs for at least 20 minutes after you put the stop leak in. Let it cool then top it off and drive carefully, try to stay under 3000 RPMs for at least a week if you have a combustion chamber leak like mine. Make sure you try to get it up to normal operating temp when you drive it, which is a little tricky when just driving on the freeway without a thermostat, stop lights and city driving should let it get up to temp. This way the circulating stop leak keeps coming in contact with the head leak over and over again hardening more and more at the leak repeatedly. I will post again and let everyone know if it’s still holding and the status of my water pump and heater core.

    Thanks,
    Carmen

  207. This is not the type of repair I will ever recommend someone do on their Subaru or any other model of vehicle. In this particular situation, it may be the only option to keep the car limping along. The best option is performing the proper repair at the first sign of head gasket failure, or odds of additional damage and expense is very high compared to fixing it right the first time.

    I applaud your persistence but I think the sooner you get around to repairing the head gaskets the less chance you have of finding an irrepairably damaged engine block, plugged radiator, plugged heater core. Removing the thermostat is great in a pinch to limp a car home but it won’t be a long term fix as well as the engine won’t operate at the temperature it was designed to.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle,WA
    206-417-0880

  208. we have a 99 sub. legacy sus. recently it started to overheat going uphill (only highway hills). I replaced thermostat. Filled back up with coolant. Test drive was fine. Had heat and gauge was normal. Next day going up hill again on way to work it overheated again also blew antifreeze out the over flow bottle. At that time wasn’t aware of the burp plug so i put in garage and let it run while filling it with coolant slowly until it warmed up and cooling fans came on, and also no more air bubbles out of burb hole. Test drive went fine. Was running it for 5 hours with no overheating, until next day going up the same hill on way to work. Got home again and this time put new radiator cap and refill. This time went right for the hill and the car overheated again only going up the hill. A machanic suggest maybe small hole in head gasket so once again i filled it up and this time added some radiator head gasket treatment. This worked for couple weeks but it seems to be acting up again. My question is there any way it could be the water pump instead of head gasket. The oil looks good always, no notice of oil in radiator, no white smoke from exhaust, only funny noise under hood comes from around waterpump area once in a while, but there are no coolant leaks of any kind. When it does run good the coolant level holds normal until i went up the hill and it blew out the overflow. Would appreciate any thoughts on this.

  209. Hi Mike,

    Before doing any more repairs, please have the cooling system tested at a shop for the presence of hydrocarbons. If you have hydrocarbons you can take the next step and disassemble and inspect the head gaskets, heads and cylinders. It sounds like the classic symptom of exhaust gasses pushing past head gaskets into the coolant and displacing the coolant. I recommend against any kind of head gasket fix in a can because of the unintended consequences it can cause like plugging up the radiator and heater core.

    Good luck with your Subaru,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  210. hi Have a subru outback 2.5 heating problem. As i see it the water pump moves water through the heater core and that is how the t stat sees heat fron the engine. Have changed head gaskets twice 5 tstats rad. tbelt water pump 5 times and countless rad caps. First thing that happens is no heat in car, temp goes up Stop the car temp goes down for a few min then back up. Took hosea off heater core cranked the engine with no flow through corc. Took hose of of core and still no flow. What elese would stop the pump from moving water. Screw driver through t stat hole showed pump solid with no movement.crank car w pump turns why no circulation going crasy doug

  211. Hi Doug,
    If you have an air pocket around the water pump from either improperly bleeding the system or from exhaust leaking past the head gaskets it could cause this mystery symptom. See if you can run water through the heater core to make sure it’s not clogged also.

    good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  212. Mike,
    I have a 98 legacy gt 2.5. I just performed a head gasket replacement. Due to air bubbles coming through the radiator. Engine ran smooth with a lot of water vapor out the tail pipe. After the head gasket replacement car runs great no bubbles coming from the radiator , but still a lot of water vapors out the exhaust… Did I just totally blow it with my gaskets or is there something I’m over looking. Resurfaced the heads OEM gaskets.

  213. Hi Bill,
    I think it may be fine to have steam coming out your tailpipe the way the current weather is. When it’s first started it should steam a lot and after an hour of driving it should be very minimal. In the summer time it will not even be visible once it’s warmed up.

    It sounds like you did the head gaskets properly and it may be a normal condition on your Legacy. If you monitor the radiator and coolant closely and there is no coolant loss than this will confirm they are ok.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Washington

  214. Hey Mike,
    I own a 2005 Outback which just had the head gasket, timing belt, water pump, and all the other things that come along with that done about a week ago.

    My valves were adjusted and now the valves are quite a bit louder. I have almost 160k miles on the car. Take care of it and maintain the vehicle on schedule.

    I was told that the noise that the car is making is because the valves were put back to factory recommendations. It is louder than it has ever been before. I had the independent shop which specializes in Subaru check the valves again to make sure that they where set correctly. He told me that they would eventually quiet down.

    Is this correct? What should the valves be set at? He said they were so close when he got the car and went to make the adjustment that he couldn’t get the feeler in between. Should I insist that he check again and make another adjustment to quiet the noise?

  215. Hi Erin,

    It is possible the valves may be slightly noisier than when you brought the vehicle in if they were too tight before the repair was done. It would be normal for them to be tight if they hadn’t ever been adjusted before 160k. There is a valve adjustment specification for your model of Subaru on a sticker right under the hood called “valve clearance”. The claim that the noise will eventually quiet down isn’t true unless he’s saying eventually means years down the road. I assume it can be slightly louder but if they’re really clattering it may be worth having someone else check them. Also they need to be checked completely cold after sitting overnight for best accuracy. If another shop deems them as really noisy even after adjustment it may be something else causing the noise.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  216. Hi Mike, I’ve enjoyed reading through your responses and learning quite a bit along the way. I am a long long time subaru owner and we love them. We currently own a 2002 outback, but it’s our 1997 legacy gt sedan I have a question about. We bought it from the original owner with 139k several years ago. I knew about potential hg issues and was trying to stay away from used subarus that didn’t have them replaced already. But it was a one owner vehicle with perfect service record history from the dealer. Car now was 207k and it has served us quite well. Nothing but scheduled maintenance and basic repairs. But….. It’s close to ready for another 30k service and timing belt service which means we’d do water pump, tensioners, etc. so that’s probably $1100. And the car is worth maybe 3000. Cosmetically the car interior and exterior are in good, but not excellent shape…. Not bad for being 15 years old and not an eyesore at all. I just put a grand into her for tires brakes and a few misc. repairs. And if I do this next big service in the next few months that’s pretty major on the wallet. And I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for the possibility of head gasket issues. Because if that came up… Forget it! I’m hoping to get 260k out of the car. Is it possible that hg problems will never arise? Trying to figure out if I should sell while I’m ahead or not. Is it worth the next round of scheduled maintenance in hopes hg problems pass me quietly by?

  217. Oops…. Other known info…. Car runs excellent… No back list of needed repairs. Transmission is nice and tight, clutch replaced at 180k. Thank you for your time and expertise.

  218. Wow David, That is a ton of miles without any head gasket issue. That’s how they’re supposed to be. What ever; you’re doing keep it up. As far as spending any more money on it right now vs. wondering if the head gasekets will fail? I guess I’d look at it as $1100 is about 2 car payments in todays world so if you put the 1100 into it and drive it more than two months it paid for itself. I have a feelint it will go far beyond that. It won’t hurt to have them check the head gaskets before they start the repair just to be sure nothing is creeping up on you.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  219. Hi Mike thanks for taking your time to post all this information.

    I have a 2003 Forester 2.5 XS, it has 138k miles and is perfect condition.

    The car has recently been diagnosed w/ blown Head gaskets.
    (an internal leak I believe)

    I had been adding 1/2 quart of coolant every 2 days(for around 3 weeks) till I stopped driving it. It has over heated 1 time for about 5 seconds.

    Is the car worth fixing? I owe 6k on it.

    My mechanic wants to change the gaskets, do all the timing components, clean and mill the heads, new studs, rear main seal, 3 way valve job, OEM water pump/thermostat and rear brakes for 2,300.

    or he will just do the head gaskets for 1,300.(I did the timing belt @ 98k)

    Could you please help me make an informed decision, I plan on keeping the car till it dies. I’m not sure if doing more now is necessary

    Thanks soooo much

    Hannah

  220. Great Site. I appreciate your explanation of coolant leak and head gasket especially with the water pump. I have a 2002 Forester that was leaking coolant at 110K. Shop indicated head gasket leak after they replaced my timing belt! I fumed and found out Subaru has an additive and tried it until the radiator blew. New radiator, new pump, no more leaky head gasket! Your explanation makes sense, OEM water pump was defective in removing heat, thus causing head gasket leaks.
    Now if I can just find out what is causing oil drip on the driveway which is not visible when car is on rack and running!

  221. If that’s all that’s wrong with it I think it’s worth fixing. The price to do everything is very good. Just make sure the quality of the workmanship and parts is very good also.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    206-417-0880
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  222. I’m glad the site helped.

    Take care,
    Mike

  223. Hi Mike,

    Thanks a lot for running this site and taking the time to answer everybody’s questions. I really appreciate it.

    I have a 5 speed 97 Legacy Outback with 95K miles. Until recently, I never had any issues with overheating, but the other day, I noticed that my heat gauge was all the up. (Incidentally, very little heat was getting into the cabin of the car.) I pulled over right away and popped the hood. There was coolant in the reservoir, but I added a little more. The oil was a quart low. I let the car cool off and added a quart of oil and drove about 20 minutes to my home. During that drive, the temperature gauge fluctuated dramatically, going all the way up, but then quickly returning to normal.

    The mechanic I brought it to said he didn’t see any signs that it needed new head gaskets. He said that the oil leak was slow and coming from the gasket seal. He replaced the thermostat and the radiator cap, but then when he test drove the car after the job, the car overheated in the same way I described earlier — getting very hot and then returning to normal. Although the tests for a faulty head gasket came back negative, my mechanic now believes that the head gaskets are, in fact, the problem but that the tests won’t pick up the problem at idle speed in the shop. Is it your opinion that the likely culprit is the head gaskets? Also, if I do decide to go ahead and replace the head gaskets, is there anything else I should have done at the same time besides the timing belt and water pump? I asked the mechanic whether this would be a good time to replace the original clutch. (The clutch is fine, but its endured almost 100K miles of city driving.) He said that the clutch was on the other side of the engine and thus it wouldn’t save on labor to prophylactically replace the clutch at this time.

    Thanks again for your terrifically informative website.

    -Ken

    Oh, one more thing. When I asked the mechanic about Six Star Gaskets, he said he hadn’t heard of them and that he’d recommend Subaru gaskets. If I okay the job, should I insist on the Six Star?

  224. I just bought a Forester 2010. I knew that was SUBARU quite reliable, but reading Internet (not just on your own website) I realized how big the problems are with head gaskets. Even with engines of 2009 50K miles. Another says that blame the coolant, maybe the radiator cap, maybe the water pump. But surely regret not bought a Toyota RAV 4. I like the car but do not want to get up every day and look at the coolant or oil. Is it a crime for subaru not have corrected such a need to thoroughly problem after so many years.

    Thanks

  225. Hi Ken,

    If he’s eliminated air pockets in the system and confirmed the thermostat is working then it’s probably the head gaskets. An emissions gas analyzer held above the radiator or coolant tank will usually pick up hydrocarbons and confirm this. It does sound like yours will probably be failing head gaskets. As far as what to do once it’s apart, adjust the valves, replace all the front timing components, all front and rear engine seals as well as clean the carbon from the pistons and combustion chambers. You should also think about coolant hoses and have the radiator flow tested and or replaced.

    We prefer Six Star gaskets over the Subaru from the success we’ve had but the Genuine Subaru gasket is still going to be an improvement over what you have now. It’s between you and the mechanic and what he feels comfortable putting his guarantee behind.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA

  226. Hi Mike,
    I have a 2008 Outback 2.5i LL bean , with 71k on it,
    I love it, but just found out that I most likely have oil leak from head gaskets, I have an appointment with the Subaru dealer for them to take a second look, I am hoping Subaru will bay for it any chance of this happening or am I just a dreamer?
    Erik

  227. I have been nursing a small head gasket coolant leak on a 2003 Forester (166,300 miles) for some time – coolant in the reservoir has been checked regularly and kept filled. I am considering having the HG replaced soon, but I would like your recommendation as to what else could/should be done at the same time (e.g. timing belt, water pump, seals (which)).

  228. Hello Erik,

    It would be great if Subaru does offer some help but also make sure you get lots of details about the severity of the leak.
    If you’re luck it may only be minor seepage and could go on for years without becoming a problem.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Shoreline, WA

  229. Hi Chuck,
    Here’s what we recommend on most of our customers head gasket replacements:

    HEAD GASKET REPLACEMENT INCLUDES ALL OF THE FOLLOWING

    Remove engine, disassemble and inspect/measure cylinder heads and engine block for warpage or defects. (.002 in max.)

    Inspect water pump and Timing belt tensioner pulleys. Replace if needed

    WATER PUMP Leaking____ OK____Repl due to Mileage____Customer declined preventative ____

    TENSIONER Worn_____ OK _____ Leaking______ Customer declined preventative ____

    IDLERS Worn_____ OK______ Customer declined preventative ____

    Replace head gaskets– Reseal cam cases– Repl. Timing belt– Valve cover gaskets– Intake gaskets– Exhaust manifold gaskets– Front crankshaft/oil pump seal– Camshaft seals and o-rings– Rear seperator plate– Rear main seal– Rear wrist pin o-rings– Oil and filter– Coolant– Thermostat and gasket. ADJUST VALVES.

    Warm up engine, bleed cooling system, confirm radiator cooling fans cycling properly, Test drive for quality control, Recheck engine for oil or coolant leaks.

  230. Mike,

    First, thanks for your reply and for offering a great web resource for Subaru owners. If I were in your area, your shop would be servicing my vehicles.

    I should have asked in the first post, but I have another question.

    I have not yet used the coolant conditioner. Given that the leak is small and apparently not getting worst, I was considering doing a complete coolant replacement with Subaru coolant and conditioner. In your opinion, is this worth a try or a waste of time?

    Thanks again,

    Chuck

  231. Hi Mike,

    I have a 2007 Subaru Outback Sport with 89,000 miles…I just had the 90,000 mile service performed at the local Subaru dealer and was told that my head gasket is starting to “seep oil on one side and leak oil on the other”. I’ve been pretty faithful in getting the oil changed regularly, every 5-7000 miles. Never used synthetic. Coolant level is good, never had to add anything. The car has been relatively inexpensive to own until now…(I also need front and rear brake pads). My question – If the head gaskets are replaced by the dealer can I expect them to last another 89,000 miles? Can they tell during the hg replacing if the oil pump is on it’s way out? Thanks for your website!

  232. Hi Mike,

    I have a ’96 Subaru Outback wagon with 202,000 miles on it. I had the head gasket job done by a mechanic I trust at 175,000 miles.

    I commute almost 100 miles round trip a day. About three weeks ago the car heated up a bit at a red light. Just a little above half way on the thermostat. As soon as I started moving, it went back down to normal range. I checked the coolant and it was about a quart low. I added coolant and got a new radiator cap. Since, there is no overheating. For the most part, when I check the coolant, it will be high in the overflow immediately after the long drive. Several hours later, after it cools, it sucks it back in to the radiator.

    However, I had the coolant above the full mark in the overflow when cold and now it is right about on the full mark. Additionally, the check engine light came on a few days ago and I had it checked. It is the catalytic converter. However, the car runs smoothly and doesn’t miss. Does this sound like a head gasket problem again? Thanks for your time.

  233. Hi Chuck, For the minor expense it’s certainly worth a try.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Seattle, WA

  234. Hi John,

    First of all the head gaskets on your car currently may not need replacement for a long time. They can ooze some oil here and there but it may not need replacement right away. Keep an eye on them for now and unless they get so messy you’re smelling burned oil or if the coolant starts to leak, I’d just continue to drive it.

    If they do the head gaskets I expect you’ll at least get the same or more mileage out of them before they have to be done if at all. As far as the oil pump goes, they can do a pressure test before removing the engine if you want to know how it’s doing. It’s probably just fine. Last but not least I’d encourage you to change your oil more often. Around every 3k to 3.5k miles will keep things clean inside that engine.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  235. Hi Eric,

    It may not be a head gasket problem at all if you’re fourtunate. If it only happens when you stop in traffic, it may be an issue with the radiator fans not coming on at idle.

    Check the cooling system functions first before jumping to the head gaskets.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair

  236. Mike,

    I’ll follow your recommendations for oil change intervals
    of 3-3500 miles. I do most of my own oil changes, what oil brand and weight do you recommend? My local Subaru dealer uses Castrol GTX 5W-30. Also, should I stick with a Subaru oil filter or is something like a Fram Extra Duty or Mobil-1 filter OK.

    Thanks,

    John

  237. Hi John,

    The oil depends on which Subaru model you have. If it’s a non-turbo 2.5 engine as most are, I recommend a quality 5w-30 oil. If it is a turbo I recommend full synthetic 5w-30.

    As far as filters are concerned, I like the genuine Subaru filter is high quality but there are some high quality aftermarket made by NPN and Six Star also. When I cut open a Fram I wasn’t impressed, Not sure about Mobil 1.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  238. I have 2006 Baha sport Subaru with 95K. It has never overheated even on long steep grades. Never low on oil at a change. Coolant level stable at all times but yet the Subaru service department claims it has a gasket leak. There is some discoloration but no leak. Could I cause damage driving as is ? How long before a gasket change is needed ?

  239. Hi Richard, If you are not loosing coolant them maybe what they are seeing is residue of oil around the head gasket. Residue is fine and is harmless. Eventually it may leak but until it does keep driving it while checking it from time to time. It may be 5000 or 50000 miles before it’s needed. One never knows.

    I hope for your sake it’s closer to 50!

    Take Care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA 98155

  240. Hello Mike,
    Thank you for all of the great information you post to this site.
    I have a 2004 Subaru Outback Wagon 4 Cyl. In December 2011 I had the head gaskets replaced at only 42,000 miles. Currently the car only has 49,975 miles on it. The car is overheating very quickly on mountain climbs on I-70 in Colorado. On flat roads or those without inclines, it does not seem to be overheating (or perhaps only slightly) as on one trip I drove for 30 miles at about 65 mph before getting on the highway pass to Eisenhower tunnel, at which point the heat indicator quickly rose from center on up to red in only 3.8 miles at about 40 mph as I was not pushing it hard.
    I had one Subaru mechanic tell me he believes it is the headgaskets…he was a small independent in a mountain town and did not have equipment to test much such as radiator pressure, etc. Another independent non-Subaru mechanic told me he believes it is the headgaskets as he tried to assist me while stranded. While stranded, I had the radiator cap and the thermostat replaced. This did not fix the problem.
    While the engine is off, the radiator fluid appears completely green in both the radiator and the overflow. If I stir it in the overflow tank, I see a lot of gold looking pieces/flecks. But once heated on the mtn passes, the overflow fluid becomes very discolored in a brownish gold foam. I am not seeing any black color and it does not look like oil to me. The oil does not show any signs of water to me either.
    (Considering the head gaskets where done only 7,000 miles or so ago, I’m obviously hoping it is not a head gasket problem again.)
    What are your thoughts on whether this is a head gasket problem, radiator problem, or other issues?
    Thank You,
    Tom

  241. Hi Tom,

    I wonder if the gold flecks you’re seeing are some sort of radiator stop-leak. From your description of what happens and when, I would be more inclined to think that the radiator may not be keeping up with the rest of the cooling system. Since the head gaskets were just done I would think odds are in your favor that they are still good. I would recommend having the radiator flow tested. It may be restricted internally. (or sometimes also can be external- plugged fins with mud/bugs etc.)

    Before you jump back into the head gaskets I think the radiator is the first thing to check. If it needs replacement, I would also backflush the rest of the system to get those metal flakes out. Otherwise they can plug up the heater core next.

    Good luck and let me know how it works out.

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle.
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  242. Hi I was wondering if you could help me I have a 1999 outback and it keeps loosing oil but i never see any spots on the ground it just loses it l have no idea where its going any help

  243. Hi Leah,
    If the engine has been checked over thoroughly for external oil leaks then your Subaru Outback may have a condition where it is burning some oil. As an engine wears and ages it can burn some oil between oil changes. Since the catalytic converter is so efficient, you normally won’t see any blue smoke out the tailpipe. In a severe condition you may see some blue smoke and may also see oily residue on the spark plugs. I would suggest that you monitor the oil level between oil changes. If you are adding a quart in less than 1000 miles of driving then it’s time to address the issue. If it’s more than that then it’s just a bit of an annoyance that you have to top off between oil changes. The 2.5 engine should still give you many years of use from your Outback as long as you keep up on it.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Serving Seattle, Kirkland, Bellevue and vicinity
    http://www.smart-service.com

  244. Hello:

    Have a ’98 Legacy Outback with 227K miles.

    Mechanic report:
    Runs hot at idle in hot weather gets near the red. Classic symptoms of head gasket failure. Idles hot with no circulation at idle.mfans stay on until radiator is cold. Temp normal on highway. VC gaskets oily. Replace head gaskets $2300.

    Am willing to invest in this repair rather than junk the car as some have advised. Mechanic is reliable and has worked on this car for 14 years.

    Any advice ? Is it worth doing? What questions should I ask?

    Thanks!

  245. What a useful long Subaru thread. Hoping I might get some advice on my issue. 2003 Forester, 143,000 miles, single owner. We started smelling some burning periodically a few weeks back. It appears to be coolant. My mechanic could not discover a leak in a pressure test and has said that it must be head gaskets leaking internally. (Car also needs new brake pads all around, rear struts and rear wheel cylinders.) Lots of long trips this summer, but no overheating, at all. I filled the overflow with coolant and it has gone down. The smell is the problem – and of course whatever the smell actually indicates.

    I am wondering, among other things, if it makes sense to replace thermostat first, and check the water pump, before sinking the money into head gasket work. Hard to know which way to go here as the Blue Book is about $3800 and the total cost of repairs around $3300. The thought that we might get another 75,000 miles after the work is done is tempting, but…

  246. Hi Mike,

    I am thinking of buying a 2001 Forester with around 140k on it with a good service history. Most of the “typical” major work (timing belt, new clutch, new water pump etc) has been done, but the head gaskets haven’t. I had a mechanic’s inspection done and no issues were raised, except for a clutch slave cylinder leak. However, it was noted on the report that there was low coolant. The owner said they had had problems with losing coolant in the past and had smelt burning coolant a few years ago, which set off alarm bells in my mind. Together with the mechanic’s observation of low coolant, I am concerned this could be head gasket linked. However, I asked the mechanic for more details and they pressure tested the whole thing and found no evidence of fluid mixing. The owners said they added the coolant additive and haven’t had any burning smell problems since.

    My question is that if the Forester seems to run through a lot of coolant, but otherwise shows no signs of head gasket issues or leaks, would you suspect that the car is literally being “band-aided” together by the coolant additive and I should avoid it (as problems may have already occurred), or do you think that that the fact that a pressure test for leaks didn’t show up anything untoward, nor was there any evidence of head gasket “issues” other than the low coolant suggest that the car is likely fine?

    Thanks!

  247. Hi Armand,

    At 227k and the year it’s a tough call. If the car is in good shape and it gets you another 2 or 3 years without any other major issues it could be a reasonable investment. If it has numerous other needs I’d probably pass on the repair.

    Good luck whatever you decide.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  248. Hi Joe,

    I wouldn’t waste my time putting a thermostat in the Forester. I might get a second opinion to pinpoint the exact reason you’re loosing coolant. If you’re loosing it internally you’ll usually have hydrocarbons in the radiator. If it’s leaking externally, you’ll see it hanging off the head gasket.

    It sounds like he may be correct but you may want him to refine his diagnosis.

    That being said, If you can put 3300 into the car and have something that has no immediate mechanical needs for some time to come I think it makes sense to fix. Especially if you like the car and it serves all of your needs.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  249. Hi Kathryn,
    I think since they have been mysteriously loosing coolant from time to time that you should assume that under your watch it will probably need head gaskets. If they are original it’s amazing that they have lasted this long and although they may continue for some time, you should purchase the car at a point where you can afford to do them if they were needed immediately. If you can negotiate a price that leaves you room to fix them later then maybe it’s a reasonable purchase after all.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  250. Hi I have a 96 Subaru wrx,an have noticed a small water leak,directly under the middle off the car ,just forward of the sump,can u help me to justify the problem,I had to full the water coolant,drove to the shop 1 km away an back ,an it stoped leaking ,when I got back ,but the engine was not at running temp when I got back ,plz help

  251. Hello Mike,
    I have a 2000 Subaru Forester S. 104,000 miles. Now I have read pretty much all the threads here, and have been told several times by Subaru mechanics that I have a head gasket issue. Mine seems to be the internal variety. I noticed the car over heating first time about a year ago. The family and I took my wife’s forester (same one I am talking about) on a pretty long trip. Now my wife’s Subaru usually gets driven about a 1/4 to her work then shut off. Max driving maybe 10 miles to grocery store. So the car barely ever got warmed up before this. Anyway it over heated. I checked the coolant it was empty. Filled it up and finished our trip. No problem. Until we we t home. The temperature guage would go up and down, oddly it seemed the harder i drove it the cooler it stayed so thats what I did to make it home stopping to cool and check coolant. Thought it must be the thermostat so changed that. Car drove fine for a few months on my wife’s daily 1/4 mile commute. Or at least she reported that. Well I drove it to work one day on my 1.5 hour commute and… Over heated hard. Took it home tried to self diagnose again came up with nothing. Wife drove it a few more months no issues reported on her short commute. But then she drove it 5 miles to my parents in winter left it running in drive way dropping off our kids. She said it was i er heated in drive way but she drove it home anyway a good 5 minutes. Now the car over heats on her 1/4 commute. I was thinking of getting the gaskets fixed but i am afraid its too far gone and we may be looking at warping. Yesterday I drive it after sitting for 2 months the 1/4 stretch when I got back in my driveway the car basically died it didn’t shut off but when I hit the acceleration it just had 0 power it wouldn’t move. I shut it off for an hour started it back up and was able to move it to its parking spot. So my question is. I have $3000. That’s it. I can chance a repair that won’t work and be without a car we need. Or I can find a different used car or possibly put a down payment on a new one. I hate to have a loan is the issue. I got enough bills, but I know once the engine is pulled my money is already gone wether it gets fixed or not. So do you think there is any chance at all that warping hasn’t occurred? Some Guys have said they,ve never seen cracked or warped subie heads and i should let them fix it. But they want money. Do you think there is any hope for the Forester? Im not attached but dont want to waste a possibly good car after $2500 but also don’t want to waste a down payment..
    Sorry this is sooo long lol
    Thanks Allen

  252. Hi Allen,

    After reading all that has happened to the Forester and how many times it has overheated as well as the severity, I think I’d be looking for a replacement vehicle if it were me. If a person could do the work themselves and possibly install a good used engine (and installing head gaskets on it before installation) it may be worth it but if you have to pay someone else to do it you may be up in the $5000 range if it needs a shortblock (which from your description I bet it will)

    I hope this helps,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair

  253. It may be the water pump beginning to leak. The Subaru water pump is on the front of the engine just offset to the left hand side. It can drip then stop depending on heat, age, mileage etc. If it has stopped I would keep a close eye on it, it may start back up.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  254. Hi Mike. Thanks for all the great info.

    2001 Legacy. Head gaskets replaced under warranty at 110k. Now at 148k I had radiator hoses replaced prior to a 6,000 mile road trip. Next day I noticed the fans seem to run more than normal. A week later and I’m on my trip and the fans are running more than I recall and the temp gauge climbed to just under the red zone several times on long grades. It cooled off quickly and runs normal temp the rest of the time. Weather is in the 90s.

    No gurgling, no bubbles, no extra coolant in overflow, no coolant loss, no sweet smell.

    Any ideas? Heading to a dealer tomorrow. I guessI shouldn’t be driving it in this condition.

  255. If it happened immediately after having the hoses replaced I would suspect it may be low on coolant and may not have had all the air purged from the system. Also sometimes we see an issue where the draining of the radiator to replace hoses allows all of the sediment and any stop leak (Subaru Coolant Additive) that was in the system to be exposed to air therefore hardening and plugging up the radiator. So if you have plenty of coolant you may have a restricted radiator. (assuming the thermostat is good).

    Good luck either way,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA

  256. Thanks Mike. Tech said tests showed cool lower hose (I think) suggesting it was the thermostat. Replacing that and flushing the radiator then more tests. No sign of HG leak. I would imagine the could detect plugged radiator when flushing.

  257. It was indeed the radiator.

  258. Hi Mike-I have a 2003 subaru legacy that just had head gaskets done. I drove it 2000 miles and oil light came on. the shop that did the work says it must be burning oil. I have driven subarus for 20 years and I know what a subie burning oil looks like. this one doesnt have smoke coming out the tailpipe. it appears the oil is going into the radiator-is that possible and how do you fix it?

  259. Hi Trish,

    If the head gaskets were done I hope there is no oil going into the coolant. If it is it will be very evident. If the coolant looks clean I would advise topping off the oil and seeing how many miles it takes before you need to add a quart. If it needs a quart in under 1200 miles it’s excessive and should be considered as something that needs repair. You can also remove and inspect the spark plugs for any buildup. Sometimes if it’s burning oil there will be evidence which cylinder is the culprit on the plug. Now days you don’t see too much smoke out of a tailpipe even with a car that burns oil due to the catalytic converter cleaning it up before it makes it out the tailpipe.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  260. Hi Mike wonder if you can help, my engine cooked last year when I let a colleague drive it on a long journey whilst I was sleeping. It split the small hose at under the intake manifold, and blew the radiator. I live and work in a small town in Chile, so it was down to me to do the dirty deed and get it sorted. I purchased all new original parts from Santiago, including hoses, radiator, thermostat and all original Gaskets. I also replaced the timing belt and all pulleys and the tensioner. When I stripped the motor I found the heads had warped, so I had them machined flat at the local place and re-built the motor. Apart from the idle sensor playing up now again I have had a years and 60k km trouble free. now I have problems again. it started with water coming out of the radiator cap and either into the extra reservoir or over the rad. I replaced the cap and watched it and the temperature never changed, but I still lost fluid. once again it was passing by the cap. I had been told that the thermostats sometimes stick, so in my warped English mind the solution was clear, remove the stat and try that. Now the engine runs much cooler as expected, but I am still loosing water, but I cant see where, and I have no white smoke in the exhaust and the engine runs smoothly and well. I am loosing about half a liter every 5km trip, but once its lost the half liter it doesn’t loose any more, which is weird. I have another stat on order and will replace it. I have no water in the oil, so the only other thing I can think of is a head gasket failure where the engine is pressurizing the cooling system. As per usual its Christmas I am broke and this is Chile, so I am desperate for ideas. The Radiator cost me a thousand dollars alone and I also spent a bit more on gaskets and timing gear, parts are not cheap here and genuine ones are hard to source. Any ideas please. Andy, desperate and cheesed of, stuck in Chile with a 1999, 2.5 single cam normally aspirated Subaru legacy outback, and costing me an absolute fortune

  261. Hi Andy,

    Other than head gaskets being the high probability, I’d look for any kind of hairline crackor seepage on the upper area of the radiator for your coolant loss. Bad timing I know but hopefully you’re able to fix it.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  262. Hi Mike, I have 2004 2.5xs foz. Already replaced head gasket and then bad cap. What I want to know is why a scan tool show my ATP to be 8.6% and my rpm to be 25,when the engine is off.TPS is.451v at ctp and 4.53v at wot. engine tends to run open loop and cel tends to read p0030 or o2 heater circuit. Thank you, Eric

  263. I’m using Subaru Impreza AWD Wagon 1995 model… I’m the third user of the vehicle and it had run 194,563 miles; recently the car had been generating a lot of heat in the engine block and just two days ago, the engine always stops owing to overheating (this happened after the AC pulley was worked on and the AC pulley belt changed), the radiator was changed to a double cell radiator and the one there was removed…
    The problem still persist, what do you suggest I should do? I’m confused

  264. Hi Eric,
    I can’t explain why your scanner sees what it sees with the engine off but I have seen the o2 heater circuit short and cause the car to go into failsafe mode (which could explain the open loop) until it is resolved. Solving the O2 heater circuit issue and rechecking will be the first step. In most cases it will be the O2 sensor itself.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  265. Hi Shola,

    If the engine is getting hot enough that the car stops running than there are some serious issues going on. If an engine stops running because it is hot, it usually does enough damage that engine replacement may be necessary. I would start with a professional diagnosis and go from there.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    206-417-0880
    http://www.smart-service.com

  266. I have a Sub Legacy 01 that blew the head gasket. I have it replaced but now there is a strange sound (tuck..tuck..tuck- seems very sharp) coming through one of the head when I start the car. The sound slows down as the car warms up.

    Mechanic have told me that it is due to overheating prior to the replacement of head gasket and said that it is not a big issue. I would like to know what that sounds is from and if it can lead to serious engine failure or something.

    Any suggestion and contribution will be highly appricaited.

    Fred.

  267. Hi Fred,

    It’s hard to tell what noise you may be hearing or if it’s related to overheating or not. It’s possible the sound you’re hearing is a piston slap that usually can be heard on all cylinders until the engine warms up. Beyond that there could be issues with valve adjustment, rod bearing noise etc.

    If you’re not sure, have a second opinion at a different shop to see what they say.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

  268. Hi Mike,

    Thank you so much for your reply. You have mentioned that it may be the piston sound that usually goes away as the car warms up. If we assume that for an instance, do you think it can be fatal or may lead to other serious damage?

    People in this part of the state or not really familiar with the Subaru engines.

    Thank you again.

    Fred

  269. Hi Mike,
    I have a 1999 outback with 225,000 miles, we purchased it new and love the car. We have never had head gasket issues. I recently did a coolant flush several times over and switched to O’Reilly brand Dexcool compatible coolant. I know better than to mix coolants so I thoroughly flushed the system. My question is, is this coolant OK for my car? Should I use the conditioner with it as well? There’s so much conflicting info online that I thought it was time to ask a pro. Thanks.

  270. Hi Fred,
    I have yet to see the piston slap cause any problem if it goes away once the car warms up.

  271. Hi Justin,

    I have no idea what the composition of the Dexcool is. We only use genuine Subaru coolant hear due to the theory that some of the issues were due to coolant compatibility. I would tend to think in your case that whatever you have done to get the 225000 out of the car worked great so far so keep doing whatever you’re doing. It’s almost unheard of to have your head gaskets last that long.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

  272. Hi Mike,

    I have a 1999 legacy outback with about 160k miles. At the end of this past summer I had a leak and my local shop decided to put on a new radiator cap. Then, in November, I began to have overheating issues. The car would overhead but my heater would blow cold air. This time they replaced the radiator cap under warranty and had me keep an eye on the coolant level. Over the next few weeks I continued to have overheating issues and noticed the coolant was leaking. This time they replaced the waterpump and thermosat.

    A few days ago I was driving on the highway and my car began to smoke and overheat. I opened the hood to find the radiator hose had come off and there was coolant all over the engine. The shop in now telling me that the cause of this was that the radiator nipple broke off, and that the engine overheated to a point where the head gaskets failed and they think there could be add’l engine damage. They are suggesting replacing my 160k engine with another 160k engine for $3k.

    Any thoughts? Do these radiator nipples just break on their own or could this have been caused by their work on the car?

    Thanks so much,
    Scott

  273. Hi Scott,
    First of all the car may have had head gasket issues that just didn’t rear their ugly head until they put the new cap on and the system would hold pressure. The other items after the fact were probably related to the HG’s. The radiator plastic can deteriorate over time and espescially if the coolant has been getting exhaust gasses into it (this will accellerate the break down of the plastic).

    If your current engine with 160k did not overheat badly and still runs fine other than the overheat, I’d be inclined to repair it. Replacing it with a used engine is a crapshoot on whether it will be any better or worse than what you already have.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, Wa
    http://www.smart-service.com

  274. Hi Mike, thanks for all the posts here as this Subaru HG failure is quite frustrating. I have a 2003 forester 2.5x. Had both HG’s replaced at 73K. Now at 93K dealer is telling me both are leaking again (stage 3). To say the least I am disappointed. Kelly BB is around 4K and repair will be > 2K ( based on last time I had it done). Should I trade this car in ( probably wont get much with dealer knowing HG’s need repair) or repair and potentially be disappointed in another 20k miles? Will first try calling SOA to see what they can do but not holding my breath. These costly repairs are seriously making me reconsider Subaru in the future.

    Mike

  275. Good evening Mike
    I just want to say in advance thanx for any advice you can give me. I have a 2004 Forester with a 2.5l with 163000 kms on it, since I am in Canada that is our measure. Anyway it is at the point of needing a Timing belt, however recently I discovered an odd problem with the car, it is pushing coolant out of the top of the Reservoir, the motor is not heating up any more than normal. I have asked a few different mechanics for their thoughts. I cant talk to the dealer here, because they should not be the dealer, but that is a whole different story. Anyway I have been told that it could be the thermostat, also told it could be the water pump, and I immediately thought head gasket. Any input you could give is very appreciated.

  276. Hi Mike,

    First I’d put some pressure on the dealer themselves. If I had my head gaskets fail after 20k from any shop, I’d be back in there asking them for some kind of help. Especially if you have kept up on your maintenance. Technically it’s out of warranty but if you can get a meeting with the service manager, I would emphasize that they didn’t last very long especially if they’re leaking that bad now, they were probably leaking quite a while ago to get to a stage 3 leak in 20k. Your first set lasted 73k which is still not good but better than what they did. Even if they won’t do it for free, I would hope to get some kind of realistic fair solution of at least a 50/50 split on the costs or better.

    If you can’t get anywhere with him, then take it up with Subaru customer service.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

  277. Hi Jonathan,

    Well it’s hard to say without actually doing some kind of diagnostics. I would start by checking the coolant level first thing in the morning when the car is cold. The radiator should be full to the brim and the recovery bottle should be even with the lower mark.

    Start the car and let it run and warm up. Over the next 15 minutes during warmup, watch the recovery bottle as well as feel the temp of the upper radiator hose. If the upper hose slowly warms up then transitions to hot, the thermostat is working. If the upper hose stays cold even as the temp gauge says it’s warm then it’s sticking closed. If you see any bubbles in the reservoir as it warms up, it may be pushing hydrocarbons into the coolant which would then mean head gaskets. It’s also good to have a shop with an emission gas analyzer to sniff for hydrocarbons in the recovery bottle or radiator.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880
    Independent Subaru Service in Seattle

  278. hi mike,
    what a wealth of knowledge you provide to everyone on this site!
    anyway hears my deal. have a 2000 legacy outback w/223k miles on it and it’s overdue for the 2nd timing belt ($700 dlr.quote). it has had the head gasket replaced at 75k due to coolant leak at a dealer. head gasket oil leak noticed at 187k, covers the plastic splash guard under the engine and leaves spots on floor, but never needs at most 1 qt added every 3000 mile oil change. recently had the therm replaced w/lower housing (cracked) and hose. also notice leaking small amounts of oil inside the tubes where spark plug wires attach onto the plug wire boot. ABS light comes on intermittently, specially in colder weather. finally having some success with the strong fuel smell below freezing after 3 yrs.(replace 1 small section of fuel hose; slight odor ocasionally. Having some intermittent electrical issues; all lighting, inside and out flickers occasionaly, think it’s a faulty ground somewhere-yeah! most maintenance has been done on schedule, except for struts so far.
    Question is do i get the timing belt done, considering how it’s aging? seems to have alot of life in it, but i’d hate to drop 700 into it for another major issue to happen soon after. also, should i have the entire rest of rubber fuel lines replaced.
    thanks for your time!
    dave

  279. Well Dave, Unless you’re getting rid of the car real soon I don’t think you have much choice. If the timing belt breaks you’re looking at a $3000 minimum for repairs on up. The car seems to be about the norm for wear and tear at that mileage. Just make sure they go over the whole car with a fine toothed comb before doing the timing belt so if there are any other soon to be repairs needed, you want to know about them ahead of time.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  280. thanks mike for the recommendation!

    which water pump of these brands would be best from rockauto.com aside from OEM Subaru: airtex, cardone select, gates, ac-delco, valeo or beck/arnley. noticed you reccomended a paraut brand in your blog (12.29.09) also is it likely to put in a new tensioner at 224k miles? if so after market or oem?

    How about having emission gases in coolant tank ck’d before they start the timing belt job?
    would this be a good time to switch to a long-life antifreeze (no subaru additive needed anymore?) or harmful to engine components or head gasket etc?

    how bout those seahawks!

    thank you again for your time,
    dave

    BEARS

  281. thanks mike!
    which water pump of these brands would be best from rockauto.com aside from OEM Subaru: airtex, cardone select, gates, ac-delco, valeo or beck/arnley. noticed you recomended a paraut brand in your blog (12.29.09) also is it likely to put in a new tensioner and pulleys at 224k miles? if so after market or oem?
    How about having emission gases in coolant tank ck’d before they start the timing belt job?
    would this be a good time to switch to a long-life antifreeze (no subaru additive needed anymore?) or harmful to engine components or head gasket etc?
    thank you again for your time,
    dave

  282. Hi Dave, I would recommend either Genuine Subaru or Paraut. I don’t have any experience with the other brands you mention although it doesn’t mean they won’t last but I just don’t have any to recommend them.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Wa
    http://www.smart-service.com

  283. Hi Dave, I think I answered the water pump question in the prior post. Genuine Subaru or Paraut are my favorites.

    As far as tensioner pulleys, when in doubt, replace them. If not genuine, make sure they are NSK bearings. (which Subaru uses)

    Also, Checking HC’s never hurts when you’re taking things apart. You’d hate to do the whole timing belt job only to take it apart a week later to do head gaskets.

    Genuine Subaru coolant should be fine. Just change every 30000 miles. Use Subaru’s additive unless you have Six Star head gaskets.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  284. Hey Mike,

    I have a 01 forester that’s over heating.When u run it for about 45 mins the gauge would go up and the fan would come on and wont go off unless i shut the car off. The upper radiator hose would build pressure and the coolant in the res bottle would bubble. if i open the cap the pressure would release and the upper hose would go soft. If i leave the cap off and start it it would spout up coolant and stop. I’m thinking its the thermostat or the radiator needs to be flushed but i can use a next opinion

    Thanks

  285. Hi Mike,
    Sorry for the long post, and thank you very much for this helpful website, I would just like to share my experience thus far as a Subaru owner, and how I am dealing with the headgasket issue. I have owned my 1997 Legacy Outback Limited 5spd for about 19months now and I have been loving it for the most part. I bought it from a very sketchy craigslister (spelled his name wrong on the title) for a reasonable price, but have already dumped a couple grand into it bringing me to about $4000 total cost so far. When I first bought it I had no issues at all for about 4 months, then the exhaust started getting really loud and I had the entire system replaced along with new plugs, wires, and coolant flushed. A couple months later I suddenly realized that the temp gauge had climbed and I was overheating. Not sure how long I was driving it hot for because I was not yet in the habit of looking at the gauge. Long story short I had a pinhole leak in the upper radiator hose,replaced it the next day, topped the coolant off and kept driving for a few days with no issues. After this it started to overheat every so often and after reading a bit I had a friend replace the thermostat. I had not seen your site yet and didnt know I needed the genuine Subaru thermo put in. After driving a few weeks with the aftermarket thermo, I kept overheating, every so often. Told the mechanic and he suggested a new radiator, water pump, and timing belt and cam seals while he was in there. The guy hadn’t ever worked on a Subaru before and when I suggested HG as a possible issue he seemed to be of the persuasion that if there was no oil in the coolant or vice/versa there was no HG issue. I took his word for it and he went ahead with the other repairs. Sure enough a week after the repairs I was overheating again. After reading all of the forum posts on the issue I realized I hadn’t really been checking my coolant levels whatsoever, so I began to look every day. I realized my overflow tank was filling and not releasing back into the system after cooling down. I began to use a turkey baster each morning before driving and pulling coolant out of the tank and putting it back into the radiator, pushing on the upper hose to work out all of the air bubbles. Even though I kept checking every morning, on days I had to drive more than two hours, I would inevitably overheat. After dealing with the issue like this for a few months I finally had the guy replace the thermostat with a Subaru one. This was about 6 months ago and I haven’t overheated since then. I continue to “turkey baste” my coolant from my overflow into my radiator every other day, making sure to work out the air bubbles. I don’t mind doing this, it sure beats paying for the HG job. I have driven it for four hours straight with no overheating. The car is up over 215,000 and I assume a previous owner must have already replaced the HG once before, and perhaps the new leak started after my hose leaked and I drove it while it was overheating without realizing it. I plan to keep turkey basting it for as long as I can and hopefully the issue doesn’t get worse any time soon. Thanks for reading… any opinion or advice for my unconventional basting band-aid?
    -Reed (Buffalo, NY)

  286. Hi Reed,

    Thanks for sharing your Subaru experience.

    As far as advice goes, I think keep on basting and hopefully it will make it past next Thanksgiveing! All joking aside, I’m glad you’ve found a way to get by with a car you’ve already spent a reasonable amount of time and money on.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle.
    http://www.smart-service.com

  287. Hello Aidion,

    With the symptom you describe about the water spouting up as soon as you start it, that sounds very much like when exhaust is really getting past the head gaskets. I would look immediately into having the cooling system checked for exhaust. As the head gaskets become worse, more and more exhaust is allowed past the head gaskets. If you rev the engine and it spouts even higher it’s probable that they are bad.

    It won’t hurt to flush the radiator and replace the thermostat during the head gasket job but I don’t think I’d do those first until determining if there is exhaust in the coolant.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  288. How can I get these indestructible head gaskets?
    My Subaru has just begun to leak coolant after leaking
    oil for a few months. Would you advise I totally stop
    driving to avoid warping the head? I just did a coolant flush and put in the subaru conditioner as I found out it is leaking coolant. But still probably going to stop driving it. I got a new water pump
    so I am just in need of the timing belt and head gasket kit.
    I want to get the best ones. Do you recommend using a certain grit block sander by hand to clean the head depending on condition?
    I am doing the job myself so any key tips would help. Note I am doing it with some guys who have done this a few times. Thanks.

  289. Hi Justin,
    Now that you are starting to see coolant leaking I would advise doing it as soon as conveniently possible. Keep the coolant topped in the mean time.

    You can go online to http://www.smart-service.com/store.html and purchase them and any other items related to the head gasket work for your Subaru.

    I would not recommend using a sanding block on your heads but take them to a machine shop that can mill them to a finish of a 50 RA or smoother. They should be mirror like when reassembling. As far as cleaning the block, a carbide edged gasket scraper called a “Superscraper” sold at Goodson.com is a good choice to carefully remove any stuck on material is all I recommend. Be VERY careful not to gouge the surface. There are procedures to sand the block deck but I would only recommend that be done by a seasoned professional.

    The only other tips are to make sure things are perfectly clean and residue free when reassembling. A drop of oil or coolant not wiped off can be the beginning of your next leak.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA

  290. Hello Mike.
    I am facing serious issues with my 98 Subaru forester. About a month and a half ago my heat stopped working in my car, I still continued to drive it with no heat being that I was desperate and had no money for a mechanic at the time. But then it started to overheat, due to the heat not working a family friend said. I then sucked it up and took it to the shop. Mechanic said my radiator was shot so I got that replaced and a new thermostat which cost me about 400 for radiator thermostat labor antifreeze, etc. After that it was fine. Heat worked. No overheating. About a month later the overheating continued. My check engine light also came on. Took it back to the shop bc I paid them to fix the heat and overheating & it was still doing it. Mechanic then said overheating could be a number of things, I then wondered why he hadn’t said that when I first took my car there. So he said he could do nothing but check why it was still overheating and me pay him for checking. I felt like I was getting ripped off. I then took it to another mechanic who said he would look at it for free. He told me wat I did not want to hear. Bad headgaskets and timing belt. He flushed the anti freeze and radiater and thought that should help the overheating but it didn’t. He basically told me my car was going bad and nothing I could do unles I wanted to pay about 3000 the least for headgaskets etc. I want to get another opinion. Do you have any advice for me? I am devastated and do not have the money right now for another car or headgasket repairs. Any advice Mike?????????

  291. Hi Antoinette, I’m so sorry to hear of the situation you’re in. In my opinion it looks like the first shop should have been a bit more thorough but unfortunately there are still many shops out there that are unaware of this issue with Subarus. I agree with the second opinion that you are going to need head gaskets to solve the problem. Otherwise further overheating and damage will occur.

    Good luck and if you do end up letting it sit while you save up the money for the repairs, make sure you start it every couple of days so no coolant builds up in the cylinders and causes corrosion.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  292. I have a bad head gasket in my 97 subaru legacy it has 135k miles on it. it started overheating in December so I’ve been really careful with it and have just been driving in town since. I’ve figured out that it has an internal leak, and I’m planning on fixing it myself. But I have 2 questions. The first being, is there anything else that I should replace or take a look at while I have the engine apart, I was planning in doing the timing belt but wasn’t sure if I should do anything else. The second is, I don’t have much experience working on Subarus and was wondering if the Haynes repair manual is a good source for instructions on the project.

  293. Hi Mike,
    I have a 1999 Subaru Legacy which I had head gaskets, water pump, thermostat and timing belt replaced about 5 years ago. Just this year the temperature gauge started rising above normal range when warmed up, usually when idling at a stop sign. It doesn’t happen all the time. Is this maybe a thermostat problem again. Coolant looks good and the car really doesn’t smell hot. I was wondering if the catalytic converter was going bad. It does have the original coolant cap on the radiator. The other question I have about the car is the speedometer quite working. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks
    Wanita

  294. Hi Wanita,

    If it only heats up at a stop sign,and you are not low on coolant, I would suggest having the radiator flow tested as well as confirming that the electric radiator cooling fans are coming on at the proper temperature.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  295. Hi Andrew,

    I commend you on your ambition to take on the head gasket job yourself.

    While you are doing it, I would replace the timing belt, all the other seals and gaskets on the engine as well. If it is a 5 speed you may also consider a clutch. As far as the Haynes manual, I’d rather see you use a Subaru factory manual. You can pick up a copy usually on a cd from Ebay for a reasonable price.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  296. Hi Mike,

    I’ve had the dealer replace my head gasket on my 05 Subaru Legacy GT with 130k miles for an internal leak. When they returned the vehicle to me it had a profound power hesitation. They then kept the vehicle for 10 months trying to figure out the problem. They replaced the fuel pump, coil packs, knock sensor, all O2 sensors, plugs, and MAF (and probably more) chasing the issue. Subaru engineers then determined the mechanic damaged the wire harness and inter-cooler during the head gasket repair. They replaced the parts and gave the car back.

    A few weeks later the power loss was happening again, but this time the turbo was glowing bright orange. Basically the turbo sounded like it was spooling but the car would go no where – even if the pedal was mashed – then it would kick in and you would get thrown into your seat as it took off! I refused to bring it back to the dealer because every time they touched it something got broke, or it would take them another year to diagnose.

    At this point the vehicle was running super rich, felt like the timing was retarding, gas mileage was horrible, and idle was a little rough. I brought it to a local performance shop and it took them 3 weeks to duplicate the problem because it came and went as it pleased. Eventually the car had complete turbo failure where the shaft cracked and the fins were curled inward. They replaced the turbo and all seems fine.

    Fast-forward 3 weeks and the issue is back in a different capacity. When the vehicle is running – after the motor and turbo are nicely heated up – it runs like a new car. But up to that point it hesitates with power loss like it did previously. I feel like I’m losing my freaking mind! And my money in the process! I am of the opinion now that it might have been bad/clogged catalytic converter/s all along. Or maybe a coolant sensor? The reason I think the cats is because on the highway I will get a wiff of sulfur, but also the turbo went bad at 72K, so I’m thinking with two bad turbos maybe oil and coolant gummed them up? I dunno. I guess in a long winded way I’m asking, what do you think it could be?

    Thanks!

    Lee

  297. Hi Lee, What a story.

    I think you leave me with a multiple choice not knowing who did what correctly and what else could be going on that isn’t a “natural cause” . The first thing I’d check ins the engine coolant temp sensor. Monitor it from cold start up through full warmup to make sure it tracks properly with actual engine temp. Also, with the turbo failing, did it do any harm to the variable valve timing valves? You may want someone with a scan tool watch the behavior of the variable valve system to make sure the cams are advancing/retarding properly too.

    I hope this helps,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  298. Thanks for the tip, Mike. Today I replaced the waste-gate solenoid and so far so good. It was gunked up a bit which may have been preventing proper vacuum. I will have to put in some drive time before chalking up a victory.

  299. Hello Mike- Just picked my 2000 subaru up after head gasget replaced- running great but air not working now (was working before i went to the mechanic) any ideas on that?

  300. Hi Lauren,
    I would take it back to the shop that did it if they have AC equipment. If it happened immediately after the job, it’s likely that they disturbed one of the AC lines going to the compressor. Usually it’s a simple fix involving replacing 2 orings at the compressor lines and recharging the system. It doesn’t take much of a bump to dislodge the old orings and create a slow leak.

    I hope this helps,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  301. I have just replaced the radiator and thermostat on 2004 2.5 engine. My mechanic cant get coolant to flow into the engine by burping etc. Top hose is hot bottom hose is ice cold. Temp. gauge is erratic but engine doesn’t seem to ever really overheat. He thinks it’s the head gaskets but he’s not sure. slight burning oil smell after you drive it some distance. Oil does not seem milky and no white smoke from exhaust. We’re stumped!

  302. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for taking the time to help the uninitiated with your Subaru expertise. I’m looking at buying my first Subaru — a 2000 Legacy Outback (haven’t bought yet). The ad (http://albuquerque.craigslist.org/cto/4420073676.html) has all kinds of the regular maintenance listed as recently performed. After reading of everyone’s troubles, particularly with this year and model, is it worth going down this path (i.e. are the repairs likely to “stick” for more than a few thousand miles)? Second, the seller is asking $4,750, which is a little under $1,000 more than KBB. Is it worth paying that much extra for the maintenance work performed? Third, are any of the aftermarket parts listed at the very end of the ad red flags?

    Thanks for any help!

  303. Hello Lou,

    I’m not sure what procedure he’s following to insure the coolant has burped out it’s air pockets but assuming he’s doing that properly, the next thing is to check and or replace the thermostat. It still may have bad head gaskets but usually that won’t cause that symptom immediately after filling the coolant.

    When the thermostat is out, make sure he confirms that the water pump rotates. (easy to view with thermostat out).

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

  304. Hi Brian, Welcome to the Subaru club!

    It’s a great feature if all the repairs claimed were done properly using the highest quality components but there’s the problem. If all the works comes with a warranty I would agree that it may be valued higher than blue book. In most cases though, even if the work is done at the dealer, there’s no warranty that is transferable to you. Without warranty you’re simply trusting that the repairs will hold up. They very well might hold up but it’s still a risk. Many of these cars are being purchased with failed head gaskets, repaired at home then resold for a profit so beware.

    I hope this helps.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  305. Hello Mike,
    I have a 2008 Forester with 105K and I just had the timing belt replaced. When I picked up the car, they told me I had “seepage” from my head gasket. They said it was both radiator fluid and oil. They said it could be a year or a couple of years before I need to replace the gaskets. Any advice on how I can increase my chances of making it last as long as possible? Thanks.

  306. Hi Patrick,

    Well darn it would have been nice if they would have told you about the leak BEFORE they did the timing belt repair. Not that you would have approved it but if you wanted to do the head gasket anyway, the labor savings on the timing belt would have been included in the job.

    As far as making it last, there’s no action I can advise you on other than to monitor the coolant level and keep it topped up until you get around to fixing them.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com
    Your Independent Subaru Expert

  307. Hi Mike!

    I’ve been reading through all these posts and I must say I appreciate all the information here.

    My story is similar to many, but perhaps a little different as well. I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been dealing with, and I’d more than welcome any thoughts you might have.

    So two weeks ago, I’m test driving a friend’s 1999 Legacy Outback. The speedometer and odometer stopped working at 130K miles but I bet it has probably 160K miles on it. And after about 20 mins on the freeway, the temp gauge goes all the way to hot. I let it sit for a while, burp it a little, fill it with water (coolant had leaked out the overflow res), and drive it home. About a mile before I get home (also on the freeway) the temp gauge zooms to hot again, and this time I also notice the heaters in the cab start blowing cool air (even though everything is set to full hot). I saw bubbles in the coolant overflow reservoir and some dark sludgy stuff.

    So I’ve been watching it very closely. I’ve been topping off the coolant before almost every trip. I notice that after driving the car, coolant has moved from the radiator to the reservoir, I can usually see bubbles in the reservoir as the car cools. Next time I check the water levels cold, the radiator might be 1/2 quart or so low.

    The car overheated while my friend drove it on a 7 hour trip 2 years ago. Since then, she has gotten the radiator replaced. A year ago, a local Goodyear shop did the head gasket job. The car overheated on her again since then, and the Goodyear place re-did the radiator under warranty, claiming a pinched hose. They have also replaced the thermostat. And most recently (two weeks ago) when I took it in for the recent spate of running hot, they claimed it happened to me because of a bad radiator cap (I swear it had a 3 lbs cap on – now it has a 13 lbs cap).

    So I thought to myself, “well dang this shop is screwy and they probably botched the head gasket job.” I know it can be difficult with proper torque and surfacing, etc. So I went up to the local O’Reilly’s and checked out the test kit that you used to look for exhaust fumes in the cooling system. You know, the one where the fluid turns from blue to yellow. My thought was that I could prove the head gasket job was bad and make the shop re-do the work under Goodyear’s 2 year warranty. Well, try for the life of me, I can’t get the fluid to turn yellow. I spent an hour out there, until I was sure I was doing the test properly. I did the test cold. I did the test hot. I did the test after the thermostat opened and water was circulating.

    So I started reading about how maybe there’s just air in the cooling system. I’ve been able to burp / bleed it quite a bit it seems, and right now my dad has it parked on two by fours on a steep hill and we’re trying to do our best to get any air pockets out.

    Any more ideas for us?

    It appears the bubbling in the overflow reservoir is becoming less as we burp it.

    I’ve heard the gurgling behind the dash one time.

    It hasn’t overheated again since the new radiator cap, despite 4 trips long enough to cause overheating (20 mins plus on freeway).

    Could it still be a bad head gasket job and the test just didn’t pick up the combustibles?

    Thanks a million for any thoughts you have. Please let me know if you have any questions.

  308. Hi Mike,

    I hope that it was just the radiator cap but I kind of doubt it based on what lead up to it. I would advise calling around to shops that have an emissions gas analyzer. (Used to test tailpipe emissions) Have them hold their tester above the coolant recovery bottle and also over an open radiator. If they detect any hydrocarbons (HC’s) over 10 or 15 ppm (parts per million) then there is exhaust getting into the cooling system. If that is the case then your idea of the “botched” head gasket job is likely correct. If it is confirmed that they botched it, I’d think twice about allowing them to do it again and try and get a refund so it can be done at a more reliable shop.

    I am not sure why your fluid tester did not show any exhaust in the coolant unless it truly doesn’t need head gaskets.

    I hope you find out what it is before spending too much more money.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  309. Hi again Mike,

    I just noticed that you are in Seattle! And it’s funny because I often times work up in Mukilteo (by the ferry) and I drive past the Smart Service on the Mukilteo Speedway all the time. A coworker of mine actually already recommended you guys when I told him I was thinking of picking up an old subaru.

    You guys have a hydrocarbon sniffer, right? Maybe next week I’ll stop by.

    We’ve been through 2 bottles of the test fluid and are having a hard time getting conclusive results… It’s frustrating, but I can’t think of another way for so much gas to be getting into the cooling system.

    It’s the Elliott’s Goodyear down in Ballard that has been doing all the work on this ’99 Legacy Outback. You’re right, if needed, a refund for the head gasket job would be best, but I’m not sure they’d go for it. And I’ve got to prove the head gasket is bad first.

  310. Hey Mike,
    Yep, we’re right on the speedway! Anyways, we do have a 4 gas analyzer and we do free HC test/Head gasket inspections. I’d advise just calling Tom at 425-315-9999 when you want to swing by. You won’t need to wait long. It’s pretty obvious if there’s a problem.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

  311. Well that’s perfect, will do!

  312. Just had a total loss of engine power while driving on the highway. Car is a 2000 Subaru Legacy GT. According to mechanic, the radiator failed (without any temperature indication), which then led to loss of compression. Oil and coolant were everywhere under the hood. Apparently, the head gasket did not fail. I had it replaced at 90,000 and the car is now at 130,000.

    Mechanic says its possible to regain compression, replace the radiator and the car will be “ok”. What do you think about going ahead with repairs? What’s the likelihood the car will last another 30-40000 miles?

    We like the car, don’t want to buy a comparable used car, but I’m just not sure how likely it is the car will be reliable in the future.

  313. Hi William,

    The first thing I must mention is that although you replaced the head gaskets on the Legacy at 90000 miles, this overheating event may have either caused a resulting failure again or at least shortened their life if they are still intact.

    Once your shop installs the new radiator and gets it running again, have them check for hydrocarbons in the cooling system. It may not show up for a couple of days if it’s a small leak. (exhaust leaking into coolant past head gasket). I recommend also monitoring the oil and coolant level closely for the next month or two to make sure you’re out of the woods. I wouldn’t advise any long trips until you’ve eliminated the possibility that it harmed the head gaskets.

    I wish you well,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  314. Hi mike I am unsure if you can answer this question for me but we will try it. I have a 2003 Subaru forester manual trans with a SOHC 2.5 and am wondering if the block from a 2005 Subaru forester manual SOHC 2.5 is interchangeable in that using heads and other external parts from the 2003. the engine code is EJ25 on both and the 2005 block I found is a short block and no one including the dealer can not seem to tell me anything about it.
    Thank-you
    Chris

  315. It probably is but the best way to tell is to have a Subaru dealer look up the engine block for both model years and if the part numbers match then it will work.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

  316. Hi Mike,

    I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to find all of this great information. Your expertise is so appreciated!

    My fiance and I have a 2007 Subaru Forester, L.L. Bean edition 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter engine. Recently on a 300-mile trip, the car overheated (temperature gauge all the way at the H) due to low coolant. A local mechanic was unable to find anything wrong and gave the car a clean bill of health, mentioning only that we might consider putting in a new internal thermometer.

    Since then, the car has very slowly but steadily been losing coolant. And we notice a burning smell, pretty much after any amount of driving.

    A second mechanic was also unable to find any problem, and also suggested that it might be an internal thermometer issue.

    After reading everything you’ve said, we’re fairly confident the problem is with the coolant system, and we hope we haven’t damaged the head gasket yet. We do have the new, less effective radiator cap. But we’re not sure which water pump we have, and we only just recently found out about the special Subaru coolant that would potentially help.

    We’d planned (and still hope!) to drive this car cross-county in a couple of months, and would so appreciate any advice you can give in helping to solve our coolant mystery!

    Thank you again!

    Maribeth

  317. Hello Maribeth,

    I think the most important thing you need to identify is where the coolant loss is. If the car is loosing coolant it will overheat again. As far as a radiator cap goes, I would stick with a stock Subaru unit.

    I would suggest that if either shop you took it to can’t find a coolant leak, find another shop familliar with Subarus. I wouldn’t take it on a long trip until you have solved that. Overheating it again may do a lot more damage the second time around.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com
    Your Independent Subaru Expert

  318. I bought a 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 VDC just 2 months ago via a mechanic who knew the owner of the car. he used to service it at the dealership. I got all the history etc. from day one till now. everything was done according to the book on time and lots of maintenance with wear and tear parts replaced. the car runs like new and no overheating etc.
    a few days ago I decided to change the oil after driving about 3000 kilometers and while doing this I saw the radiator overflow full with coolant and the radiator 1/2 empty. I removed the overflow container and used it to refill the radiator and had to top up the overflow a bit. I was told that maybe the Rad cap is bad so I replaced it. I heard some gurgling noises so I tried to get all the air out of the system which I eventually did and the gurgling noises stopped. I ran it for a while and had to fill up the reserve between the low and full mark since it went dry.I then took it for a long drive the next day and when I got home I checked the radiator after it cooled down I noticed the same thing again that the radiator was half empty and the overflow was full again.The Outback never overheated and it ran normal. there is no visible coolant in the oil.
    I was told that these 3.0 VDC 2005 Outback are usually reliable. The History of this vehicle seems to be as good as it gets in terms of Dealer maintenance.I have owned different vehicles in the past 35 years and usually do most of the routine repairs myself, but this is a first for me.
    I have read most of your responses to others, but could not find one as unique as mine.
    thanks for your expertise.
    cheers!

  319. Hello Dave,

    From the symptom you’re describing, I would have it tested for hydrocarbons in the cooling system. It is the classic symptom of coolant being displaced by exhaust pushing past a head gasket into the cooling system. The 6 cyl seems to hold up much longer before head gaskets become an issue but I do end up doing them once in a while. Usually the high mileage models.

    I wouldn’t drive it too much until you have solved the problem. There are situations where you could get an air pocket in the coolant temp sensor area and never know if the car is overheating until it starts running poorly, by then it’s done damage.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Wa
    http://www.smart-service.com

  320. Hi, Mike I have a 2009 tribeca 68000 milesand I want to change the coolant it looks like it has the super blue in it now.
    Should I drain the radiator and fill with water then drain again then fill with 50 50 blue. Or would it be wise to have it flushed at subaru dealer. I want to get all of the old coolant out

  321. Hey Mike!
    I have a 2002 Forester. I have a road trip planned from Minneapolis to about 100 miles into the Rockies, a total of 2000 or so miles round trip. My most recent experience at a local shop has me worried, though.
    They told me oil was leaking from a head-gasket, and that a hydrocarbon test came out positive, indicating a failed head-gasket. They said something about pressure dropping roughly 4 psi over about 30 minutes and mentioned a new radiator cap. The total repair cost was estimated at $2500, but that’s far beyond what I can afford.
    They didn’t mention at what level the hydrocarbons were found, or if any coolant was noticed at the spot of the oil leak. Other than hydrocarbons and an oil leak, I haven’t noticed any sludge in the coolant. The oil looks pretty normal, too.
    I think my coolant level might be dropping slowly, but its hard to tell with the expansion/contraction. My friend told me to check for a burning sweet smell and discolored exhaust. I don’t see any exhaust at all, though I think this might only be due to the exhaust system being rusted fairly severely.
    Am I going to end up on the side of the road if I make the trip? How long would you say I have after hydrocarbons appear in the coolant do I have until the fluids start mixing or the oil leak gets to a devastating state?

    Sincerely,
    Alex
    Minneapolis, MN

  322. Mike,
    thanks for your response…as you suggested I wont drive it too much until I get it tested for hydrocarbons. But in case the test dont show up anything….Do you think I should change the thermostat or anything else I should check into???
    thanks again for your valuable time.

  323. Hi Don,
    It isn’t due yet for its coolant change but if do and you want to get everything out of there, I’d drain the block, the radiator and then also disconnect the coolant hoses to the heater core and back flush them with water. After that I’d go back to the genuine Subaru Long life Super Coolant (blue) which comes pre-diluted at 50/50.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  324. Hi Alex,

    Without getting the specific diagnostics I can’t venture whether it will make it on the road trip or not. Assuming that their hydrocarbon assessment is correct and it’s pushing exhaust into the cooling system past the head gaskets then it will be very risk to take the car on that kind of a road trip. It may survive for quite some time by topping the coolant and taking short city trips but once you’re going up and over mountain passes and really working the engine, it will tend to accelerate the head gasket failure leading to a possible catastrophic overheating.

    Yours sounds like it would be best to get a second opinion for sure.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle.

    http://www.smart-service.com

  325. Hi Dave, If the overheating isn’t caused by hydrocarbons and none are showing up then it’s either thermostat related, radiator flow related (which can include inop fans) and or low coolant related due to leaks.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

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