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Forester - Headgasket Repair & Engine Rebuild



  • colosubcolosub Posts: 2
    Thank-you very much for the quick reply.
  • jetfishjetfish Posts: 15
    Hi everyone,

    Now it's time for me to change the air filter for my Forester '99 built in Jan'99. I am not sure which brand of the replacement air filter I should buy. I searched on
    and found there are a few brands for Forester'99 such as K&N, Denso, NPN and unbranded OEM. The prices vary from $60 to $9.

    Which brands do you guys recommend? I'm from PA.

    Thank you.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I'm not totally certain but I think Subaru uses Purolator filters. The oil filter for my '98 was Purolator, and I replaced the air filter with one and they looked the same IIRC.
  • chienchien Posts: 6
    98 Forester, 104,500 miles. It seems worth it to rebuild engine but really would like opinions. I'm nervous about future breakdowns of other parts.

    No major problems before this. Car runs tight, no weird shifts, clangs, wobbles, noises. Body in good shape. Been rearended 2x at low speed, but frame OK. Front windshield cracked 2x and replaced; power steering pump replaced. Preventative replacement of water pump and timing belt at 60K big service.

    Head gasket blew 75 miles from home. Stopped as soon as temp rose and found ugly oily bubbly in coolant overflow. Local shop flushed radiator, new thermostat, etc. did not fix overheating. Pressure test showed head gasket problem. Towed car back home to my mechanic as I am AAA Plus member (100 miles free).

    My trusted mechanic says rebuild your engine, oil and coolant mixed in engine so head gasket repair won't be enough. Rebuilding my engine costs $3100, includes 3 yr unlimited mileage guarantee. Labor $1400. Includes new water pump, new seals/gaskets, new oil pump, new timing belt, new rings, new cam bearings, regrind valves, recycle bloc and cylinder heads.

    Tradein value seems low $3600, used car prices around $4500-5000. I bought Subaru expecting 200K so upset at this major engine flaw. Prefer not to buy new car, but am liking Honda Element.

    Opinions/experiences on rebuilding your engines would be greatly appreciated!"> :confuse:
  • I had the same or a similar thing happen to my '98 - it didn't overheat and blow up but I had to have half of the engine rebuilt due to cylinder misfirings. That was at 113,000 and I'm now at 136,000. It seems to happen to most of the '98's and some of the later models and most say that if this is taken care of the cars can run forever. I had some problems last summer but these seemed to be cured by a coolant flush and conditioner, new filters, though I may have routine engine issues with summer heat. But it's running great now and I'm trying to go for 200,000 - waiting for a better alternative.

    If the body is good, I would do the repair, especially with the waranty - you also seem to be getting more work done than I had to do, so I can't comment on the price. It may be a closer call with your costs and the value of the car. There are others in this forum that are better on the mechanical and cost issues!

  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    I don't know, when the cost of the repair approaches the value of the vehicle most people will recommend you go the new car route. How much for a remanufactured engine?

    It does seem a shame to give up on an otherwise good vehicle and unfortunate that the headgasket failed in the worse possible way. I had a Nissan that developed a head gasket leak but the leak was external so was cheaper to repair.

    Unfortunately, headgasket failures is the biggest issue with your model year. By nay chance did you get the coolant conditioner added?

    FYI, I believe that Juice sold his 98 Forester this past summer for $5k.

  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,150
    So, just to clarify, the mechanic drained the engine oil and there was coolant in it? I ask, because if there was just oil and/or combustion gunk in the coolant, you need not go overboard with the head gasket repair. At 118K miles, that engine has a lot of life left. Barring warped heads, replaced gaskets will likely extend the reasonable life of the car through 200K or more miles.
    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
    I 2nd the nomination for a re-man....
  • chienchien Posts: 6
    Without install labor, a reman costs the same as the rebuilding of my own engine - $3K from both Neco and CCR. A new engine is $5K (from Jasper). A cleaned up salvaged engine with guarantee was $1500-1800.

    The coolant conditioner was for the 99 engine which was a SOHC vs my engine, a DOHC. I never got any notification from Subaru about it.

    The sale prices for a running car are $4-5K. My car is not what I would call "running", so I guess it's value is $0. It goes for 5 - 10 miles before overheating. Some might try to trade it in without mentioning the head gasket but I just can't do that. I'm mad at Subaru for ignoring this, so my next car will not be a Subaru -- probably a Honda.

    I'm not sure if the oil was drained but the first mechanic I had the car at did a pressure test after trying the radiator flush/new thermostat route. I had checked the oil before leaving on my trip and the oil on the dipstick was brown not black. I didn't realize what I was looking at but my trusted mechanic says that indicated that oil and coolant had mixed in the engine and compromised the bearings. He'll have a closer look before the rebuild starts.

    I thought a lot about getting a new car (Honda Element springs to mind and I got quotes from CarsDirect and others) but I decided to make that $5K bet that I could keep the Sub running at least 3 more years as everything else on the car seems in good running condition.

    Personally, I hate throwing away stuff that still has use in it. Would love a new car but that would cost $23-25K and I don't want to buy on payments or lease. This was not an easy decision to make and it still depends on what my mechanic finds when he pulls the engine. I'll know soon!

    Thanks for your input!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Sell it as is or to a salvage yard. I wonder how much they'd give you for it.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Not much, generally a non running car will not bring in much money. :(

  • chienchien Posts: 6
    Hi all -- re: the DOHC engine flaw causing blown head gasket.
    I ended up getting my blown engine rebuilt. Not an engine swap but my original engine rebuilt, with new rings, new water pump, new timing belt etc. I really wanted a Honda Element, but this was $5K vs $25K.

    I am the original owner. The body is still good and the car mechanically well-maintained, so I felt it was the most practical solution.

    My mechanic used a shop and person he absolutely trusted, and he is hard man to please. It took a 5 weeks because of end-of-year supply problems, but I got it back in late January and it runs really well. I also replaced the cassette player with a CD player and had the car detailed inside and out, so it would feel like new. My mechanic told me to let it warm up for a few minutes before taking off so the aluminum parts and steel parts were near the same temp.

    So far, so good. Everything runs smoothly and there are no new noises,weird engine shifts, or temperature issues. I'm taking it in soon for a 1,000 mile oil change as the engine is "new" still. I do smell a slight burning odor at the end of the day when I garage it, but it is slight.

    This may not be the best solution for everybody, but for me, who hates throwing away good things, it was. I figured it was an unacknowledged (by Subaru) engine design flaw. A rebuilt could make the engine go another 50-100K (I hope) which for me, means another 5-10 years as I don't drive more than 10K/yr.

    I also have a long-term relationship with a trusted mechanic who has maintained this car from Day 1. He did not push me to rebuild the engine because he knew it was a lot of money and a big decision, but I know he also likes to keep cars on the street for as long as possible. Most of the cost was for the rebuild itself. There is a 3 year warranty on the engine, parts and labor.

    I loved my Subaru before this, and hope to regain that love and trust after a few more miles!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,150
    Thanks for the update, chien! It sounds like you went all out on it, so there is absolutely no reason why it should have any engine problems in the next 100,000 miles.

    When I purchased my first Subaru, I had several problems that made me want to tear out my hair. I flatly declared that I was going to sell that car and never buy another Subaru. I, like you, decided that it was cheaper to keep the car I had than to buy something else. I am quite glad I did. Even though that car took more than a little of my blood and tears over the years, it turned out to be a fantastic machine. All told, my ownership experience with it was quite rewarding.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • jacksan1jacksan1 Posts: 504
    We have an '01 Forester L with 99,640 miles, and during a recent trip to our local mechanic, we discovered that there was a coolant leak from the head gasket. This car was serviced during the recall for the head gasket (WWP-99) back in 2004, and followed the maintenance schedule faithfully since which was required under the extended warranty for the head gasket coolant leak to 100,000 miles or 8 years from the initial date of service.

    Since when this was discovered, I only had less than 400 miles to go before this warranty was going to run, so I immediately took the Forester to a local Subaru dealer. However, later, the dealership reported that it was oil that was leaking, not coolant, and so this extended warranty for the head gasket did not apply. I naturally contested it (my mechanic said it was coolant), and in the end, Subaru USA agreed to pay half the cost of the head gasket repair. I did not want to agree to this, but I just could not risk having the warranty run out during the dispute process and needing to pay for the whole thing in case they turned out to be right about the coolant leak. If I had had several thousand miles left, I would have pushed the issue back to Subaru and insisted on a second opinion to decide whether it was oil or coolant leaking.

    I am now wondering whether it is some kind of a standard response by Subaru to pay half for the repair of the recalled head gasket claiming an oil leak versus coolant's in the hope that an owner would just accept it as I did. Has anyone had this kind of experience?
  • chienchien Posts: 6
    I believe that when your head gasket is leaking, BOTH oil and coolant get mixed together and cycle around in your engine. Your mechanic probably did a compression test and found the head gasket was leaking. I had oil globs in my coolant overflow tank. I think your dealer was trying to get you to go past your warranty mileage which is very, very unethical.

    Just the fact Subaru USA agreed to pay half means you were in the right and they were trying to get you to settle. Also very, very unethical.

    I have no idea what recourse you have -- perhaps registering a consumer complaint with your state Attorney General or suing the dealer and/or Subaru USA in Small Claims court for the other half. Depends on how upset you are. And don't buy another Subaru if you can't get resolution from them.

    Big companies count on you folding. I've had problems with Verizon Wireless and CIGNA Healthcare and had to spend many hours writing letters and talking to customer service reps (who should be called customer DIS-service reps). They simply ignore you unless you persist, persist, persist. It's not the money, it's the principle.

    When I first got the bad news about my car, I found a site dedicated to the Subaru head gasket leak with many disappointed and angry owners. Maybe there is a suggestion on there that will help you figure out a course of action. Leaves a bad taste, doesn't it?
  • vlh2vlh2 Posts: 1
    I have an 02 Forrester that developed head gasket leaks. I took it to the dealer and they didn't mention the recall or that it may still have warranty on it, just want a couple of thousand dollars. I took it to a repair shop and in the process of starting to repair it, they found the recall and called me. I verified with them that there was only coolant leaking and took it back to the dealer. The dealer then called and said one was only leaking coolant, but the other was also leaking oil and the warranty wouldn't cover it. I told them I had had it checked by someone else and had verified there was no oil leaking. I finally told them to only fix the one, because at this point I didn't trust them at all! I haven't called Subaru yet, but plan on it.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Some 02s were covered, others were not. They had a running change during that model year, supposedly.

    That's what I heard, anyway.
  • 2003 2.5X Forester, 110,000 miles. Was told by dealer oil leaking from head gasket. Called Subaru, they offered either to pay half or $1,000 off a new Forester.

    I had the head gasket work done, wound up costing me around $600.
  • vtdogvtdog Posts: 163
    My son has an '02 Forester which was bought used (off lease) in '05 from a Subaru dealer. He now has about 75k, but I don't think the recall for head gaskets was done. He did have the 60k service at a Subaru dealer, but I don't remember reading anything about a recall, or special additive to the coolant change.

    How would I check for him to see about the heaqd gasket recall?

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    You should get the VIN and call 800-SUBARU3. They should have the info.

    If you have an acct on it may also have it. I know it did for my old 98 Forester, but...I was the original owner. Not sure if it will catch data from a previous owner.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    I believe the "recall" is only that they extend the warranty to 100k IF you use the coolant conditioner (provided by a Subaru Dealer for free).

    Subaru Guru and Track Instructor
  • erikwierikwi Posts: 71
    The owners manual for my 06 Forester says the same thing. Always add genuine Subaru Cooling system conditioner to the cooling system whenever the coolant is changed. Don't know the exact page number, just remember seeing it.
  • erikwierikwi Posts: 71
    I've got a head gasket leak on my 06 Forester with 43k on the clock. Driver's side of the engine, rear cylinder to be exact. Dealer service tech spotted it at the 30k service back in Feb. 2008 and told me to keep an eye on it. When I took it in the for the 30k, I mentioned to the service advisor that I had to frequently add coolant to the recovery tank since the day I bought it and could smell hot coolant on occasion. The tech pressure tested the cooling system and said it held pressure for 20 minutes (I spoke directly to the tech) but the underside of the head was damp. Fast forward to this past Saturday. I was changing the oil and had the lower tray off to make things easier. I slid up underneath and looked at both heads. Sure enough, there was a greasy spot on the underside of the head and it was a little greasy on the topside of the head. I looked in the coolant overflow tank and there was brown slime on the inside of it. Pulled the rad cap once it cooled down but didn't see any evidence of oil in the radiator. No coolant in the oil I drained out. I use Castrol Syntec by the way.

    Is this a head gasket fixing to go? They put the conditioner in it at the 30k service and I don't know if the greasy spot is oil or coolant. Thankfully it's still under warranty!
  • bdymentbdyment Posts: 571
    Why take a chance. As you stated it is under warranty--so get it fixed.
  • erikwierikwi Posts: 71
    Taking it to the dealer Friday to get it done. I just find it hard to believe I'm having to replace headgaskets already. Is there anyone else with a similiar problem on the 06?
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,150
    It can and does happen, though it is far rarer of an occurrence than it once was. I think you are the first person of whom I have heard with this problem on the 05 and later models within Subaru's line. Unless there is an issue with the car's block or head, I highly doubt it will be a problem that recurs before 200,000 miles, if at all. You might consider requesting an extended warranty on the head gaskets to guard against being slapped with a hefty bill in the event of another premature failure. If there is strong resistance to agreeing, perhaps Subaru has better reason for that lack of confidence than the rest of us. ;)

    If that is the case, make sure you let us know! :surprise:
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • erikwierikwi Posts: 71
    WHo do I ask for the ex warranty? I don't think the dealer has the authority to permit it unless they do it themselves. Maybe a call to SOA is in order...........
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,150
    Yes, it would have to come from SOA directly, though I am not sure whether it requires a direct call or could be mediated by a dealer. There's no harm in calling, though....
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • erikwierikwi Posts: 71
    I called SOA right after I sent the reply to you. Rigid doesn't even begin to describe the experience. The rep I talked to said the new parts would be covered by a 1 yr, unlimited mileage warranty or the remainder of the factory warrant, whichever was longer. It would be nice if there was an SOA factory rep on here! I don't know if I trust the car now at all. I'm tempted to start looking for something else. Honda's starting to look pretty good now. During my time as a Honda tech, I can't recall anything as serious on any model until it had a lot of miles on it or was abused.

    As a tech though I can understand that cars break but I sure didn't expect HG replacement so soon. Thanks for listening to me fuss! I'll have the work done and then watch it like a hawk until the end of the warranty.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    I was about to say that any replaced part from a dealer comes with a 1 year warranty or the remainder of the factory or extended factory warranty whichever is longer so you are already covered on it.

    Subaru Guru and Track Instructor
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