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1996 Subaru Legacy Outback overheating

rylandwrylandw Posts: 2
edited August 2014 in Subaru
I've had this car for a while and I love it. It's got 178k miles on it and recently it's been having trouble.

Started overheating (white smoke out the tail etc, pulled over immediately - no hot air coming out of the heater when I put the heat all the way up to help), had it taken to a local guy He said it was heads. So I figure if i'm going to have to deal with that i'll get a converted 2.2L in and have it towed to a guy my family knows who I trust to do it and who has been working on subaru's exclusively for about 15-20 years.

He tells me he put it under pressure testing (repeatedly) and has found no evidence of a head gasket being out. He noticed leakage from the radiator hose and went and replaced that. He tested it for several days, driving it around - no problems - took it up to 45-55 maybe 60.

I get up there to pick it up and take it onto the highway and get it up to 75/80mph - and it's fine. However once I slowed back down and made a stop I noticed coolant leaking out under the car (a considerable amount - it looked like it happened suddenly). Sure enough when I started it back up it it immediately started overheating.

He seems to think the fluid isn't going through the radiator for some reason once it gets up to speed. (Pressure thing perhaps? I'm uneducated on how precisely this works). Currently he's hoping it's some sort of block and has a solvent or something along those lines running through the system and will flush it tomorrow to see if that helps to clear things up.

Any help/advice/suggestions from anyone with similiar problems? Sorry this is such a long post but I wanted to give as much information as I could on the subject.




  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    How many miles have you put on the car? Do you know its previous history?

    The white smoke out the exhaust makes me think there was coolant getting into the cylinders. If so, a head gasket is most likely at fault unless it has a cracked block. Has the oil been checked for signs of contamination? If that is not the case, then I would suggest the water pump as the likely problem.

    If original, the water pump may have just failed. It has a weep hole in at the base of the impeller and can leak coolant from there. If you get under the car, the hole is above and just in front of the thermostat housing (where the lower radiator hose connects to the engine). If that is leaking, your pump either has or will soon fail.

    The lack of heat inside the car is either due to air in the system that breaks the flow of the coolant (also points to a head gasket problem) or a lack of circulation due to water pump failure.

    The water pump on my '96 Outback failed at 177,xxx miles. It was 2am and -20F outside, but it could have worked out far worse than it did....

    Just be very careful about it overheating. You do not want to end up with a cracked block or warped heads!

    The 2.5L is a good engine, but those head gaskets are troublesome. Lucky you, 178,000 really is not bad compared to the miles many had when theirs failed! If you end up fixing it, replace the timing belt, water pump, crankshaft and camshaft seals, and head gaskets all at the same time. Your engine will most likely give you many more miles of trouble-free driving afterward.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • rylandwrylandw Posts: 2
    Hey. This car has been in my family since about 20k miles - my mother bought it used from a friend of hers and when I was 19 they made a present of it to me. I am 24 now. This car has had no significant issues since we bought it (until recently). So I don't specifically know the history of the vehicle but I believe her friend had bought it new and was selling it to her for some reason or another.

    I don't think it was oil contamination. And has since had all it's fluids changed out (oil change etc). There was no white smoke the most recent time it overheated. I'm unsure about the water pump thing - I will suggest that as something to look into to my mechanic.

    It's been repeatedly pressure tested and is not losing pressure. Can you have blown heads or a cracked block without pressure loss? The initial time it was overheating was the morning after driving 3hrs up and 3hrs back for a ski trip after a snow storm. So, something to do with the cold =p.

    Any change it could be some type of failure in the radiator or suchlike?

    Thank you for the reply!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    Some quick responses....

    1. Yes, you can have head gasket problems that are not apparent as a result of a compression test. It really all depends on the nature and severity of the problem. My car did not register poor compression in any cylinder that would alert me of a gasket issue, but I was getting compression gases in my overflow tank. I did not have overheating issues as a result of head gasket failure, but at 192,000 miles, I decided it was time to replace them anyway; it was only a matter of time before overheating ensued.

    2. Yes, it could be a failure in the radiator. You can, however, have it flow tested to determine whether that is a problem.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Don't forget to check that as well.

    My 93 Miata was running hot and I spent nearly a grand on a new water pump, hoses, timing belt, etc.

    Then it still ran hot.

    Needed a new thermostat, then it was fine. Makes me wonder if I really needed to replace the water pump, actually.
  • Ok, A little history report. I bought this car about a month ago. The previous guy said he overheated the car and it was blowing white smoke. He said he put in the thermostat backwards(car didn't start up). I bought the car for a good price knowing I would need to replace head gaskets, etc. I replaced the head gaskets/shaved the heads, and even had a compression test on the heads done once they were off(very expensive, i recommend buying the tool and doing it yourself before taking engine apart). I put everything back together and made sure the thermostat was facing the right way etc.

    The car started up great and sounded very good. I let it idle for awhile and it stayed cold for about 5 or more minutes(i was worried). I shut the car off and turned it back on, this time it showed the temperature was starting to get warm. I was relieved thinking that at least the temp sensor is working and i let the car run for awhile. The car's temp gauge was in the middle and it was fine. Later on i took the car on a test run, it was still blowing white smoke but stopped when i wasn't giving it any gas. The car ran like a dream, it was very smooth and nice. After a few minutes driving at higher speeds it started to warm up even more and got up near the H(hot) mark. It was close to that for about 10-15 seconds before i was able to pull over and shut the car off. I waited for about 15 minutes and started the car(since i only had a few blocks to get back home) and the car was running rough and missing. Now the check engine light came on(it didn't come on until after it got hot and i turned the car back on).

    I ended up pushing it back home after an attempt to get it home but it just ran rough so i pulled back over. I let it sit for about 30-45 minutes before starting it to see if it was still idling rough, and it was.

    I'm gonna check the thermostat soon and also see if the water pump has been leaking. Do u think that by overheating for that time period would call the head gaskets to blow? Also there wasn't any hot air blowing when i turned the heat on. The upper radiator hose was blazing hot and the lower radiator hose(on the thermostat) was cold.

    Any Ideas?

    Any help is appreciated.

    Thanks in advance
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    Sounds like a bad water pump to me; especially if you just replaced the thermostat. I had my water pump fail on my '96 Outback and it had identical symptoms, though the engine never ran rough and it did NOT blow white smoke. If you have white smoke, then there is coolant getting into your exhaust. I assume you flushed out the old engine oil, etc., when you did the head work? If so, you may have a cracked block that is allowing coolant seepage.

    When you have it torn apart again, you might also flush the radiator to ensure that you have good flow through there. I doubt it is clogged, but you never know. Also, these engines can sometimes be problematic about coolant refills and get air pockets trapped in the system. I always put my car up on ramps to set the vehicle at an incline while refilling. Once the coolant is full in the radiator, I would repeatedly squeeze the upper radiator hose to force fluid movement; this would always give me more bubbles and allow more space for fluid.

    Good luck to you.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • Thanks, that helps alot. U know when i put the radiator fluid in i didn't loosen this valve thing it has near the top radiator hose, so i think i did get an air pocket in it(won't do that again). It has new oil in it too. I will take your advice and check that water pump. Thanks again for your comment. Just finished reading your comment in the other post( i posted in a new thread to make sure i got a response. :)) I will see if i can delete it instead. ;)
  • Thanks again for your advice. It is good now, lots of air inside the system but not now. Everything works good. ;)

    Woohoo, i don't have to do a head job again. :)
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    That's great! I will have to remember that condition and not jump right to the water pump as the most likely source. :blush: I remember that one very well, though, due to the conditions under which mine failed (it was 2am on a Sunday morning and a little more than 20-degrees below zero F).
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ebony5ebony5 Posts: 142
    As stated above also cool air coming out of the vents car has 108k -parked it and will have towed tomorrow. I have heard in the past that this is a sign of a blown head gasket-could it be anything else - if it is the head gasket is it worth repairing - I have taken good car of it -has new tires
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    Cool air coming out of the vents.... could be thermostat, water pump, or an air pocket. If it is an air pocket, it is likely due to the head gasket condition (combustion blow-by forcing air into the coolant). You can tell, though, if you pull the radiator cap and let the car run, you can see bubbles being produced as the car runs.

    With that mileage on the car and assuming everything else is in good shape, I would say that it is worth the repair if you are planning to keep it a while longer. If it is destined for a trade-in or sale any time soon, I would say no. The car is probably 14 years old, give or take a couple months, and it only has 108,000 miles. 7500 miles a year; how do you do it?! :P
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ebony5ebony5 Posts: 142
    Was wondering if you were still reading these postings-it has been a couple of years - I remember when you said good bye to your '96. Are you still in Alaska? More shall be revealed tomorrow. It is the oil in the coolant reservoir that has me concerned. If I remember correctly that is an indication of a head gasket situation. I only drive for a short while when I noticed the situation. I have had the same mechanic working on my car at Subaru for a number of years now and we have a nice relationship. The low milage is because I live in NYC and only use the car at night and on the weekends. But even so at 14 years even with being diligent parts wear out and get corroded.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    Yep; still in Alaska. We just recently purchased a '10 Forester and are really enjoying it.

    Oil in the coolant is a sure sign of a head gasket failure, but that is not going to immediately translate to overheating. It depends on how/where the gasket failed as to how likely an overheat episode is to occur. Oil in the coolant is a a far better situation than coolant in the oil, but both must be addressed as soon as possible.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ebony5ebony5 Posts: 142
    Yes the dreaded head gasket failure- am getting it repaired-did the numbers and seemed like the way to go-it was due to have a new timing chain and water pump, so having that done as well . From reading these posts over the years, I thought it was the head gasket. Good luck with the new Forrester
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    I recently purchased a 1996 outback with a 2.5 from a repo Auction. i got the car home it ran great but i noticed the temp gauge never raised. so i went bought a thermostat and put it in and now the car overheats. the radiator is cold, and the bottom radiator is cold but the top radiator hose is hot, so i flushed the whole system and still no help... my next step is a water pump what do you think?
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    edited March 2010
    I think it is either water pump or air in the system that is preventing proper circulation.

    However, if you did not have an overheating problem before the work, I doubt it is the water pump. Did it have a thermostat in it when you installed the new one? I am stuck on the "temp gauge never raised." :confuse:
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    i did not have a thermostat in it... i too thought it was air in the system. because it was doing this after i first put the stat in after about an hour of working with it i had it to where the heater was working and not overheating then on my way to work last night about 15 miles away it started over heating again.. im a night guard so after finally making it there i parked my car on a incline so that all the air should be pushed towards the radiator and checked it every hour all night and topped it off with coolant every time, then this morning coming home it ran great didn't get close to over heating then this evening i didnt drive 2 miles b4 it was over heated so the only thing i can think of it being is a bad water pump...

    also i pulled the thermostat back out. because i have to make it to work heat or no heat and i tested the thermostat with a pan of water over heat and it was working good
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    It could be the water pump, but the intermittent nature of it makes me think you should perform a thorough inspection of the head gaskets (compression test, check for bubbles in the coolant, look for combustion gunk/oil sheen in coolant, check oil for signs of coolant, leak down test) as well. Head gasket problems often result in sporadic and unpredictable overheating. That said, I did have the water pump fail on my '96 Outback w/ 2.5L (it had about 177K on it at the time) and it warned me a couple of times before it quit altogether.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    Lucky my step dad is a certified GM Mechanic so he had everything to test if i had a bad head gasket he said everything looked good to him from what he could tell, we got the motor torn down and the old water pump off and the new one on it was putting the timing belt back on when the clouds busted and rained us out and since i have no way to get it in a garage im stuck the the rain stops... but comparing the new and old water pump, the impeller is a different design, and the new one doesnt spin as freely as the old one. but it is still smooth and the old one you could hear the bearing rubbing in it but other than that it looked good, i kinda have my doubts about it being bad but i guess ill find out tomorrow when the rain stops lol
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Sorry, it was my fault. I washed my car.

    100% chance of rain right after I do that, every time. :sick:
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    lol its ok... now i dont have to wash mine :D lol got it back together everything is working good so far
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Ha ha, I washed all 3 cars, now we have a full flood warning and two and a half days of rain in the forecast. :sick:
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    yea thats how it goes around here too.. lol well it looks like my luck keeps getting worse the car ran good for a day and started the same stuff again.... the only thing left is a bad radiator which i dont think it is. or head gaskets are blown :(
  • bigfrank3bigfrank3 Posts: 426
    If you are again getting no overheating signal on the gauge itself that is a sure sign of a big air pocket. Automotive temp sensors do not read air temp very well and are designed to be immersed in fluid. I have run into that a bunch of times.
  • dan_kochdan_koch Posts: 9
    yea im sure its not a air pocket i got all of the air out of the cars system it was doing good holding a good temp and when i drove less that one mile it was all the way up and shooting fluid out of the reservoir
  • madrona1madrona1 Posts: 2
    My 1996 Subaru Legacy Wagon (119000mi) overheated for the first time. I took it in and they said it needed a new water pump... They put one in, along with a new timing belt.

    It ran fine for two days and this morning it didn't want to start the first time (not uncommon in cool weather), started the second time and then there was a loud pop and the car was running really rough and sounded awful.

    Drove it to the garage that did the work (3 blocks) and when I turned it off and got out the car kept running. Looked like some white smoke coming out of the exhaust, never saw that before.

    The car wouldn't turn off until they disconnected the negative battery terminal. They had installed the new battery for me 4 months ago, it had quite a bit of white powdery corrosion on the neg. terminal and I noticed that the front clamp that holds the battery was completely disconnected so the battery was moving around. They said they hadn't disconnected the battery for the timing belt/water pump procedure.

    They say they think it's an unrelated electrical problem and will get back to me. Could this be related to the timing belt/water pump fix? I never had white smoke before that and didn't have oil in the coolant either (didn't look at that when I left it at the garage today).

    Any advice is greatly appreciated!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    White smoke, loud pop, rough idle.... I'd say the car either blew a head gasket, threw a rod, or something similar. White smoke means there is significant coolant getting into the cylinder(s), so that is a real problem. I think I would label this one as a catastrophic failure.

    It could be related to the fix, but it is really hard to say. More likely is that you had a head gasket issue (that caused the overheating) and it was misdiagnosed as the water pump. If so then that work essentially did nothing to address the root problem.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • madrona1madrona1 Posts: 2
    Thanks, turns out it was the starter... it went out with a bang!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 12,444
    Really.... well, that is a first!
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • now that the weather is getting warmer my car overheated last week. replaced the thremostat yesterday and it ran fine. went to the store today and it overheated again. dont know what is wrong. please help.
This discussion has been closed.