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Forester - Headgasket Repair & Engine Rebuild

I'm hoping I might be able to get some feedback here. My lovely little 99 Forester was running fine up until about 6 weeks ago. Now it has always burned oil and my dealership gave the the run around saying it was "normal". Fine, so I've driven around with quarts of oil in my car for the last 8 years, and I dump a quart in every 500 miles. Every time I bring it into for oil changes them I've told them it burns oil.

So 6 weeks ago, I start the car and no heat. The temp gauge shoots up to H and then the heat kicks on and the temp gauge goes immediately back down to N. I call the dealership - they say the thermostat is sticking and I'm find to drive it - I get an appt for 2 weeks later.

2 weeks later, car is in the shop and I'm told because I've been driving the car and its been overheating the headgasket is cracked. So I pay the $1,700 to repair it and replace the timing belt and temp gauge.

I pick up the car and it is running WORSE than it was when I brought it in with the cracked headgasket and sticking temperature gauge. I call the dealership from the traffic signal up the road. They schedule another appt for a week later.

Week later I bring the car in and the oil light blinks on as I'm driving car into their driveway. Get a call the next day saying I need a new shortblock and it will be $3,000.

At this point I'm furious - have another mechanic look at car and they tell me 2 cylinders have problems.

I meet with dealership and tell them 1) they should have checked the engine/cylinders when they replaced the headgasket and 2) I'm not repaying them to do the headgaskets twice basically.

So they tell me they are crediting me for the headgasket repair job. And get this - the price is $3,000. It actually is $5,000, but they are crediting the headgasket repair job to that.

I'm just disguisted and furious at this point. Car has 140,000 miles, and I'm really anal about changing the oil every 3,000 miles - despite the fact since 12,000 miles the car has been having 6 new quarts of oil dumped into it between changes.

They are telling me "its my fault" the cylinders are bad because I allowed the engine to run repeatedly overheated.

Feedback needed please on the cost range for replacing a refurbished short block. Maybe an estimate of labor hours.

Also - your thoughts on my saga?



  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    First off, that stinks, and I'm sorry that this happened.

    However, you do have an alloy block, and significant overheating will absolutely warp the heads. The thing to do would have been to shut off the engine the second the temp hit the red area.

    The other thing is the mileage - 140k is a lot of miles. Subaru did extend the powertrain warranty for some models (00-02 IIRC) but not yours, but even those were only covered for 100k miles and only if you used a stop leak that they added to the radiator.

    The dealer should have noticed the warped heads when they first changed the gaskets, but FWIW they are paying you back for their mistake.

    I would not go the refurbished short block route, as those will likely be warped as well.

    Sorry but I don't think it's fair to expect any more from them given the very high mileage and the warping caused by the overheating.

    You can call 800-SUBARU3 and speak to SoA customer service, ask them for a little help. It's still a very stiff bill you'd have to pay to fix it. See if they can pay for half of it, or offer any help.

    Be very nice. I used to work at a Help Desk and trust me, it was the nice, friendly people that got the best service.

    I'll be really impressed if they help, but it's worth a shot. Best of luck.

  • bought a 99 in august. just replaced the motor.
    the heads on these are attached with 4 bolts. so the pressure on the head gasket is uneven. then, when the head gasket blows, a bunch of bad stuff can happen. sometimes, the motor can overheat, like in your case, which means new motor. what happened to me was that the gasket leaked antifreeze into the #1 cylender, constantly washing down the cylender walls, reducing lubrication, destroying the piston ring. Then you need a new motor.
    I bought and shipped a crate motor from: Basically a brand new motor, and it comes with a 36,000 mile warrantee.
    as much as I now hate subaru, the ccr engine folks are great.
    the ridiculous part is that dealers wont take more than 1500 for a trade in, because they know about the head gasket issues, so, as bizzare as it seems, it makes economical sense to put in a new motor in a lot of cases.
    a few things to watch out for when replacing your engine:
    1. get a new radiator. its worth the few extra bucks.
    2. if its a standard, replace the clutch. you've already got everything apart, so all you have to pay for is the part which is cheap.
    3. make sure your mechanic and ccr engines are ok dealing with each other - this is important if you have a warrantee issue.
    4. have your mechanic double check which cam sprokets you need on the new motor - there are two different types.
    5. if ou burned a bunch of oil for a while, you might need new catalytic converters because the old ones mght be fouled with burned oil.

    sorry. have fun. it sucks.
  • asaasa Posts: 359
    I think Subaru knows they have a continuing problem with failed head gaskets because they now recommend adding Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner” per Subaru TSB 09-42-05 (of April 15, 2005). The TSB is applicable to all vehicles. A head gasket failed on our '04 without a repair resolution and after the dealer adding one or two bottles of the 'Conditioner', the leak seems to have been stopped ..... but for how long? You'd think that after a long history of gasket failures, Subaru would re-engineer the application or materials. We're not real happy owners either.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587

    The heads should be attached with 6 bolts, as can be clearly seen in this photo:


    Perhaps your mechanic broke off (from over-torqueing) or simply overlooked two of those studs, if so he's completely incompetent and is to blame for the problem, not Subaru.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    The TSB is applicable to all vehicles

    Where'd you hear that? That's not true at all.

    Here is the actual text from Subaru:

    Service Program WWP-99

    Dear Subaru Owner:

    This email is sent to you in the interest of continued customer satisfaction. Subaru of America recently announced a campaign on certain model year vehicles starting in 1999 through 2002. Official Owner Notification Letters will be mailed to all affected customers starting in late February through May of 2004. The timing of the mailings is based on the vehicle model year, starting with oldest affected model year in February through the newest affected model years in May. The following text is similar to that contained in the Official Owner Notification Letter that will be sent to you during the mailing phase affecting your vehicle. Therefore, this email is most likely arriving before most owners will receive their official Owner Notification Letter in the mail. Please do not schedule your vehicle for an appointment for this campaign until after you have received your Official Owner Notification Letter, unless you are experiencing vehicle problems. You can contact your local Subaru dealer for any questions related to this or e-mail us at, contact us.

    All vehicles? Where? Source?

    My '98 Forester was not affected.

    Our late-build 2002 Legacy was not affected.

    My sister's 03 Forester was not affected.

    My brother's 04 Legacy sedan was not affected.

    All vehicles? :confuse:

    C'mon folks, these forums are only useful when the information shared here is accurate. Spreading misinformation like this is harmful to everyone, both Subaru and the customer.

    I'm correcting you because I don't want Edmunds members to run off looking for a TSB for their car that simply does not exist.

    Please, folks, check your sources, quote them, offer references when they're available.

    That will make the advice here a lot more useful.

    Thanks all.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 13,082
    In the 2007 Outback/Legacy owner's manual, on page 11-15,

    "Always add genuine Subaru cooling system conditioner whenever the coolant is replaced. Change the engine coolant and add genuine Subaru cooling system conditioner using the following procedures according to the maintenance schedule in the “Warranty and Maintenance Booklet”."

    Apparently, they do not want to take any chances... ;)
    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
    That's not quite the same as saying "they have a continuing problem with failed head gaskets".

    That hit 99-02 models hard, sure.

    I haven't seen reports of head gaskets failures for 03 and later models. Nor did any of the Subarus in my family get a notice that it was to be added.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 13,082
    No, it is not. I just wanted to put out correct information for those who own, or are interested in owning, Subaru vehicles manufactured post-TSB. I cannot say for sure whether owner manuals from 03-06 request this additive, but it would stand to reason. If not used, I imagine this could be grounds for warranty denials.

    Actually, the head gasket problems hit '96 through '02 models hard. It was only addressed by Subaru in the phase II engines, for some reason.

    Not that this is indicative of widespread problems, but I heard from a fella in California about his gasket saga (1998 Outback, green), which lasted about 2 years and is just now coming to a close. He ended up having the gaskets (and a bunch of other work) replaced to the tune of $2200. His wife wanted him to dump the car, but he was stubborn and went ahead with the fix. Having owned it since new, he is convinced it has a lot of life left and the $2200 is well spent. I cannot recall the mileage - I think it was in the 80K range.

    Funny enough, I get many many emails from people who do Google searches and come up with my page covering gasket replacement on my '96 back in Sept '05. So many that I finally set up a folder on my email program called "Subaru Correspondence." :blush:
    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
    whether owner manuals from 03-06 request this additive

    I'll check in my sister's Forester Owner's Manual next time I see her, or my brother's 04 Legacy. I seriously doubt it, though.

    What section was it under?

    I don't see how Subaru could deny a warranty claim unless owners were officially notified (or unless it's in the manual, like for the 07s).

    I also wonder if it's in the Tribeca's manual, as the H6 wasn't ever really affected by the issue.

    I guess what set me off was the "all vehicles" comment, I still doubt that's true.
  • smittynycsmittynyc Posts: 291
    I can't say for sure whether it was mentioned in the owner's manual, but I am positive that there was a TSB about the coolant additive for my 04 Forester X.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 13,082
    No, I agree with you fully about spreading mis-information or just inflammatory posts in general.

    As for the coolant additive, it was in the Maintenance section (section 11 in my manual) under coolant replacement.

    Out of curiosity, is there not a law that manufacturers not require items specifically from the manufacturer unless those items are provided free of charge? If this is the case, this Subaru coolant additive must be a commercially available item. Is that so?
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • smittynycsmittynyc Posts: 291
    I don't know whether there's a law like that. It seems like there are an awful lot of products -- from vacuum cleaners to printers to water pitchers to various kids' toys -- whose consumables are available only from the OEM.

    I do know that you can buy the OEM coolant conditioner from your local Subaru dealer, or from any dealer which does online/phone parts orders.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I've been told it is exactly identical to Stop Leak.

    MythBusters had a cool episode about ground pepper doing essentially the same thing, i.e. they put pepper in a radiator and tested to see if it would clog up the leak.

    Guess what? It worked! :D

    Myth confirmed. Ground pepper has the same effect as Stop Leak.
  • tidestertidester Posts: 10,059
    MythBusters had a cool episode about ground pepper doing essentially the same thing ...

    I missed that one! Got any details?

    tidester, host
    SUVs and Smart Shopper
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 13,082
    Oh, I thought that they could not require, say, that you "must" use OEM fuel filters, air filters, oil filters, fluids, etc; they could only specify that the items used meet certain established industry standards. Perhaps a specialty additive like the "conditioner" is exempt from that requirement. Even though, for the Legacy, it is a required maintenance item...

    Maybe it is another of those myths, though! I love finely ground pepper. It might not be a good idea to make coolant both sweet and spicy..... :surprise:
    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
    Yep, that's due to the Magnussen-Moss Warranty Act. If they require OE stuff they must provide it to you for free.

    As for MythBusters, yeah, they used an egg, too. I only caught part of the episode, though. Cool show. :shades:
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Hmm I know about the magnussen-Moss Warranty Act, but how does that effect the use of XYZ fluids? A lot of cars these days require special ATF, Power Steering fluids, and now it looks like coolant as well. They are not "readily" available from 3rd parties, so while they don't "require" you to use theirs, if they are the only ones on the market you are required to use it.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Well, put it this way - they have to make the information on what additives they use publicly available, so that the aftermarket has a chance to come up with their own formula that meets OE standards.

    In other words, Subaru can come up with a formula, but if they patent it and they're the only ones who make it, they cannnot require that you use that specific fluid unless they provide it to customers for free.

    Example: they can require SH grade oil, but not a specific brand.

    Another example: they can require DOT3 brake fluid, but not their own.
  • larryinallarryinal Posts: 2
    Posted this over at 'sub crew - prob and solutions' but wanted to post here also. Had the valves replaced in my 99 forester (sohc) engine. Valve clearances values shown on the underside of the engine hood show a fairly wide range =
    intake 0.10 - 0.25 .. exhaust 0.15 - 0.30. The shop that did the engine work set the upper value on initial replacement to allow for break-in - 1000m later they re-adjusted the valves to tighter (lower clearance) and now am having power issues, i.e. hesititation on acceleration and surging of power in certain rpm ranges. Anyone have any experience in setting valve clearance. I am wondering also if I may need to reset the ecu?? thanks .. Larry
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I thought these valves were self-adjusting? :confuse:
  • leharveyleharvey Posts: 10
    They may be but there are 'specs' for clearance.
    These were replacement valves so adjustment would be necessary on initial install I would think??
  • asaasa Posts: 359
    You didn't reference the correct TSB; this is straight from an image of the official TSB. I've listed two in hope that people can link to one or the other:

    It reads that anytime coolant is changed, the Subaru stop leak must be added to the fresh fill and is clearly directed to 'All Models' on the header.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    They only say that WHEN SUBARU PAYS FOR THE REPAIR. It doesn't require it for non subaru paid for repairs. It also doesn't specify that it should be done on all repairs, if it were required they would have to put it in the owner's manual or notify the owners.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Still useful info. Thanks. :shades:
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Definitely useful, just didn't want folks to get the wrong idea.

  • asaasa Posts: 359
    I want to be clear that other than our head gasket woes, our (5-Speed) '04 Forester is a blast to drive and I like knowing that my wife and family are safe. We'd never owned an AWD vehicle before and the accelleration and handling are exceptional -- and ours is only normally aspirated. We'll see how long the engine lasts. The dealer added stop leak and it stopped coolant consumption for several months, but the steady drop in the bottle has recently resumed. However, there are definitely worse things in life to be faced with, right? :surprise:
  • colosubcolosub Posts: 2
    My 2000 Forester has had to have 3 O2 Sensors, 3 rear wheel bearings, and 2 head gaskets replaced. Does anyone know if these issues have been alleviated in the 2007 models? Any independent reviews I can read with proof in regards to these problems? I am trading in my 2000, and not sure if I want to deal with more potential problems, although I love other features about the car.
  • 98in_cuse98in_cuse Posts: 9
    I had to have a couple of cylinders "machined" and the valve guides repaired a couple of years ago on my '98 Forester. Since then the check engine light keeps coming on with the same message about misfire on the cylinder, but the shop keeps changing the explanation. I replaced the spark plugs twice and the wires again, they then blew out the injector and switched the wires. Now they are saying that the injectors need to be replaced. I am taking it to another shop for a post mortem but it may be at the end of the road at 130,000 miles as I am afraid it may be endless. I would like to hold onto it for two more years but hearing some of these stories, I wonder. The afore-mentioned job cost $1900, not to mention the followups. I did complain to Subaru but got no response - there was also an issue with warranty on the spark plugs. I don't know if this is a different issue from the one you are discussing, but it's interesting...
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Might be the ignition coil, too, that would trigger a misfire CEL.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Wheel bearing design changed significantly for MY2003. They now use sealed ones, completely different. We haven't observed nearly the same level of problems.

    Head gasket materials were revised several times, and again, the frequency of complaints here on Edmunds is way down.

    I didn't see a major pattern with 02 sensors before, so I cannot comment.

    If you check Consumer Reports, you will see higher problem rates on engine (headgasket) and drivetrain (wheelbearings) on certain years in the ranges I describe, so yes, they seem to have improved measurably.
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