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Subaru Legacy/Outback Wagons Maintenance & Repair



  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,913
    I'd hardly call the head gasket problem you are having with your '98 a car-killer and I certainly would not recommend complete replacement of the engine as a fix. The head gasket failure is a mix of poor design and age. I think that you probably would have had this failure even if there were only 50K on the car today. Heck, at this point, I'd buy your car for dirt and fix it myself for a '98 with only 113K! But, transferring to the replacement topic since that seems to be where you have headed:

    Are you looking at auto or manual? I drove an '06 Ltd auto and it sure had a lot more pep than my '96 auto! If you are driving a decent mix of highway and city, you should get better than 21 mpg out of a new 2.5. I am sure you must have been getting better than that when your 98 was newer. I was getting a solid 27 mpg out of my '96 2.5 for the first year I had it, and it was at 83K when I purchased in 2000. If it is burning oil, then your compression surely is not as good as it once was and therefore mileage will suffer. Once broken in, I would expect 24-25 quite consistently out of a base '06 Outback.

    In the end, it should be whatever fits your needs best, but do not allow the current head gasket problem to factor too heavily against Subaru as you will most likely not have that problem again with either a new one or your '98 should you opt for gasket replacement.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • tkanictkanic Posts: 78
    My 05 Legacy 2.5i (5spMT)averaged about 28 MPG, so I am a little disappointed with the (one month old) Outback MPG (I think it's largely due to the auto trans).

    More likely due to the break-in, When I got my 2.5i I got low miliage, it creapt up to the 27 over 10,000 miles - yes it took that long.
  • kenskens Posts: 5,869
    As a Subaru owner, I'm going to give you the biased answer of staying with Subaru.


    As for your engine concerns, the Phase I DOHC engine used in your 98 Outback has gone through a few major revisions since it's inception. The headgasket problem primarily afflicted the earlier models (Phase I) and earlier Phase II models. Although Subaru never did a recall, they were very aware of this problem and have addressed it in later designs.

    As for the pick-up, did you drive a 2006 model? The OB gained quite a bit of weight with the 2000 model change and then lost some in 2005. I'm not sure where it stands relative to the 98 model, but it may still be a tad heavy. Also, are you taking into account that any 2006 you test drive is still not broken in and will be a bit more sluggish.

    If at all possible, I would use the $5K to purchase another OB rather than put it into your current model. As you suspected, you'll probably run into other wear and tear items.

    Also something else to think about with the Prius -- Consumer Reports did an analysis recently on the cost-effectiveness of Hybrids and most of them did not come out ahead in terms of gas savings. Of course there are some assumptions with that analysis, but it shows that unless you're absolutely enamored with the "green" side of hybrids, you really don't make up for it at the pump.

  • slickdogslickdog Posts: 225
    As for your engine concerns, the Phase I DOHC engine used in your 98 Outback has gone through a few major revisions since it's inception. The headgasket problem primarily afflicted the earlier models (Phase I) and earlier Phase II models. Although Subaru never did a recall, they were very aware of this problem and have addressed it in later designs.

    Not sure if it was a recall per se, but I have an '01 Outback with the Phase II and they did extend an 8yr/100Kmi warranty on the head gaskets to some cars (including ours), on the condition that the car had to have Subaru's special coolant additive put in at a dealership by a specified date.
  • age2age2 Posts: 1
    i found a 2002 OB that peaked my interest until i heard about this gasket issue. this one has 37,000 miles and has had the gasket problem. the second owner purchased it a year ago, and the gasket has been replaced under her ownership (she has kept maintenance records). my sense is that if this has happened so early on, it's likely to happen again. is this a reason to pass on this one?
  • maddy5maddy5 Posts: 2
    I am looking for a little help on an idle issue I have with my '06 legacy 2.5i wagon (manual trans.). Recently I have noticed that when the clutch is engaged but with my foot off of the accelerator the engine idle will go back and forth between 1000 and 2000 r.p.m. as if searching for an appropriate idle speed. It will repeat this pattern over and over until the clutch is released. Has anyone else noticed this on their '06 and/or able to offer any explanation/solution for it?
    Thanks in advance.
  • We had this problem in our 2000 OB. Dealer FINALLY believed me and changed out the O2 sensors (twice I think) and a couple other exhaust system parts. It fixed it for only a little while then seemed to build to doing it again more frequently. After they did n't believe actually did it on test drive for them! Yeah!
    they replaced the air filter, did some other "stuff" and it has been fine since.They dont' know what they did to fix it actually. I had no idea there was a recall on the O2 sensors until I saw your posts and this explains why they did not charge me the first time they "fixed" it.

    We do experience this flux in RPMs that you are referring to with the torque converter when we are going over the high bridge we use to get home. the change from level to climb to down hill to climb seems to be tricky for the TC to handle smoothly. Can this behavior be eliminated?
  • andyvtandyvt Posts: 2
    Hi Maddy,
    I have an 06 Outback Ltd Wagon 2.5i 5 MT and had almost the same problem. The engine would rev at 2500 rpm when the clutch was engaged during the first few minutes after a cold start (this WAS NOT a cold idle issue). I brought it to my dealer three times and they kept telling me SOA knows about the problem and is working on a solution. Finally, last month they said SOA had a partial fix. They sent my ECU to Indiana and reflashed it. Sure enough, the problem went away. (Actually, on occasion, I still get an occasional rev when I make a hard left like when pulling into a parking space, and I've depressed the clutch; I guess that's why the dealer told me Subaru had only a "partial fix." This sounds more like your problem) You can find a lot more on this at and search for phantom rev problem. --Andy in Vermont
  • goosegoggoosegog Posts: 206
    I do not recall any discussion about O2 sensor recall. Can you direct me to the post(s) please?

    I've just replaced mine after getting a code indicating that it had failed.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    By then you may need a new battery pack, and it might cost you more than fixing a Subaru engine for all we know.

  • Yes, message #4651. There are so many issues with this system, amazing. vicki
  • One more chance to get information if this has happened to anyone who has a 2003 Subaru Outback. this has happened twice causeing me to be in accidents.
  • maddy5maddy5 Posts: 2
    Thanks for the information and the link to It sounds like others are having identical problems. Reflashing appears to be the fix at this point.
  • slickdogslickdog Posts: 225
    It's hard to say. Subaru must feel that the coolant additive has some effectiveness in preventing the problem (or at least delaying it), and I guess you can hope that they designed a better replacement gasket (assuming the gasket itself is the problem), but I honestly don't know what the chances are that it could happen twice to the same car. If you do buy it, you should probably look into whether the coolant additive has been used, and if not get some put in.

    Since about 4 months ago our '01 occasionally smells of burnt coolant when it returns to the garage, so I suspect we too may be on our way to head gasket replacement, but we have about 68K miles now and there is no record of anything being done under warranty by the previous owner (and it was still under warranty when we got it).
  • I have similar problems with my 1991 Legacy (2.2L engine). Water is pushed out of the engine into the overflow bottle and pops the lid off pouring coolant onto the ground. There is no water in the oil or oil in the water, and no loss of power. I have replaced the radiator, radiator cap, replaced the thermostat, replaced the head gaskets, had the heads resurfaced, checked for cracks, valves and seats checked. And still have the same problem. I have not changed out the water pump. I have considered that possibly the heater core may be plugged but I feel that that would not cause the problem because coolant would leak into the interior or I would smell anti-freeze in the car. I have attempted to do an back flush of the cooling system by attaching a water hose (lots of pressure) to the output side (passenger side, top) of the engine after isolating the radiator completely. I see only a trickle of water at the input (lower, drivers side) of engine with thermostat removed. Have considered the following possibilities: gaskets on upside down? NO. Water pump impeller jammed causing a blockage? Saw no evidence of that when we had engine torn apart. We did not however pull the water pump to visually check it out. One mechanic mention the heater core as a possible cause, but I really don't think so. I feel the is a blockage in the water jacket of the engine but??????

    If anyone can give me some insight into the problem I would greatly appreciate it.

  • stevenm1stevenm1 Posts: 25
    You should install Prestone's backflush tee on the highest heater hose. When you fill the radiator with antifreeze, leave the cap off of the backflush tee until antifreeze comes out. This will allow air to more easily vent out of the cooling system, and prevent air block. Some Subaru radiators also have a vent that is opened when refilling the system with antifreeze to help prevent air block. If your car has air conditioning, you should allow check to see that the condenser in front of the radiator is not externally dirty, and preventing cooling air from making it through to the radiator. You can check if the heater core has a blockage by installing a short piece of 5/8" heater hose onto the inlet and outlet ports on the engine to bypass the heater core, and see if the same thing happens.
  • jfljfl Posts: 1,385

    Have you had the cooling system pressure tested?

  • I have the same problem on a 2000 Outback, 109K miles. Do you also have some white foam in the overflow bottle? I had the water pump replaced yesterday because they saw coolant dripping from the timing belt cover but today the problem is back. The foam indicates some air in the system. The over-full overflow bottle indicates... what? maybe engine or exhaust pressure leaking into the cooling system?

  • Thanks Steve I'll try that. The radiator does have a pressure relief vent at the input (upper right hand side) of the radiator. My intent is to try a slow fill with the vent open to see if I do in fact have air trapped in the engine. Didn't get a chance to do it this last weekend, but will today or tomorrow for sure. Will send feedback as to results. Also prder a pressuer tester to test for leaks and/or cracks. Have not received it as yet.

  • Thanks for the response Jim,

    I ordered the Tester last week and will test system as soon as I receive it. I did stopp by a couple parts houses just to see if they performed that type of testing. They didn't. I could take it to a shop but I'd have to tow it because I never know how far I'll be able to trive (5 miles or 15 miles) before the water overflows out of Overflow bottle. Will test as soon as tester arrives.

  • Hi Don,
    There's no white foam in the bottle. Also, no water in the oil. So far I have replaced the radiator, thermostat and the headgaskets. Have not replaced the water pump only because it's making no noise. My thoughts are to do a slow fill of the system with just water, the remove the output side of the hose from engine to radiator to see if water is indeed being pushed thru the engine. I did try forcing water back thry=u the engine via the output side but all I got was a lot of wet rags and water spewing back out of the hose. Saw very little water (trickle) coming out of the inpu side (lower left side of engine. Talked to a certified subaru mechanic. He said that water should have flowed from top to bottom without that much restriction? So, will fill it up and run it without the output hose disconnected to see what happens.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,913
    "I did try forcing water back thry=u the engine via the output side but all I got was a lot of wet rags and water spewing back out of the hose. Saw very little water (trickle) coming out of the inpu side (lower left side of engine."

    Wait, you did this with the thermostat removed on the input side and you still only got a trickle? There should have been a steady flow of as much water as you put in... no resistance. You definitely have a block somewhere. When the head gaskets were being replaced, did you or anyone check the coolant manifold to see if it may be gummed up somehow? I'd sure hate for the blockage to be in the engine block or heads.... :cry:
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • wilkichwilkich Posts: 52
    A couple of the posts were very helpful in getting my gasket/seal issue answered. The question now is whether it's worth the two grand total for the 90k service and the seal/gasket fix. We use the car for commuting now but at the end of the school year (late June), our 97 OB with 91k miles will essentially be used very little over the summer and we will begin commuting in our Pilot next school year. (Oddly, the gas mileage is about the same in both vehicles but that's another issue :confuse: )

    One thought is to let it die and buy a another car when we absolutely need it. (Possibly in about a year) Right now, I just can't see putting the $ into a car we will rarely be using. However, on the other hand, we could do all the fixes and have a car that runs another 100,000 miles. I guess the real question is what's the worse case scenario if the front engine seals go? Is it worth taking the chance over the next couple of months?

  • u136646u136646 Posts: 17
    New to this forum. But has anyone discussed the hot rubbery smell that comes from an 2000 Outback of this age. Had local dealer look it up and down with no luck. Some say it may be the catalytic converter. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Car runs fine with 95K on it. Just smells sometimes.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,913
    The descriptor "hot rubbery smell" just is not clicking anything in my brain, but is it extremely pungent... somewhat like fresh tar? That could be a front differential leaking onto the exhaust system. I guess I just need more, or alternate, info. :blush:
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,913
    Well, if you are not going to use it much, then perhaps it is not worth the fix... but if you planned to replace it with another car that would be used no more than it, then I still say it would unless you plan to buy a used $2K car. The likelihood of the gaskets/seals up and failing on you in the next two months or even a year are slim.

    To give you a comparison, my cam seals and valve cover gaskets (I think you have the same things leaking on yours) began leaking (noticably) about 3 months after I drove my car home from the dealership (Russ-Dean Ford in Pasco, WA). Mistakenly for me, I assumed competency at this dealership since my father had made many (new vehicle) dealings with them in the past without incident. But, they had overfilled the oil by AT LEAST a quart! Well, needless to say that even after discovering the problem only 300 miles into my ownership, it was too late. At first they just leaked a little (Oct '00), but by July of '03 I was having to put 3 quarts of oil in between every fuel up! That is about 1 quart every 100 miles. I was finally able to secure a friend's garage for a week to pull the engine and make the necessary repairs. This increase in leakage was gradual - there were no big jumps - but constant.

    So, I imagine the course you are on to be similar to this. This is a scheduled repair, not an emergency. I would take that over a headgasket failure anyday! ;)
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • kevinfockevinfoc Posts: 2
    Vehicle has 108K. When backing up and turning, I hear a low freq. grumbling noise that appears to be coming from the rear. I do not hear this when moving forward. Reading this forum, I have read about problems with the differential that might be causing this. Others have told me it might be the CV's. Any possible thoughts?
  • guzda53guzda53 Posts: 2
    My wife has a 2004 Outback Wagon. Tire size is 225x60-16. I have a great set of Camaro tires, size is 235 x 55 -16. anybody know if I can use 'em on the Subaru Outback?


  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    You'll need a complete replacement. The "daughter" unit is proprietary to the "parent" unit.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Change the gear oil in the rear diff, you'll know right away.

    It's easy, just 2 bolts.

    VERY IMPORTANT - open the TOP bolt first, that's the fill hole, and if you can't get it out and have drained what's in there, you won't be able to fill it up unless you flip your car upside down. :surprise:

    Inspect the fluid that you drain. I bet it's either clowdy, mikly, or black. It should have been changed twice by now but most people forget.

    I had fluid in my Miata that looked more like milk chocolate than oil. At the time it was 8 years old, and just 26k miles, but still it was nasty.

    Look there first. You only need 1 quart, about $4, so that's the cheap fix to try first. You may need an hand-held oil pump, about $8.

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