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Forester - Headgasket Repair & Engine Rebuild



  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Call 800-SUBARU3 for help if your dealer doesn't seem helpful to you.

    Good luck and please keep us posted.
  • aathertonaatherton Posts: 617
    "There was a previous post regarding the correlation between head gasket failure and the type of coolant used. Recommending only Subaru brand coolant? Can't find that post but it might help prevent further problems."

    There is no correlation between head gasket leaks and coolant. The proper coolant is used to assure no corrosion in the system. The proper sealant additive is what Subaru believes helps seal head gasket leaks. The actual cause of the gasket leaks is movement of the unsupported tops of the cylinders in the "open deck" cylinder blocks, which the gaskets cannot endure.

    Subaru has given the DOHC turbo and diesel engines "semi-open deck" cylinder blocks which brace the cylinder tops and avoids the problem.

    The open deck is die cast, where the metal die is reusable. The semi-closed deck has bridges (braces) between the cylinder tops and the block, requiring a single-use sand casting for each block, which is much more expensive.
  • jbur1jbur1 Posts: 14
    I first noticed a little leakage last winter on the extreme cold days (around 70,000 miles). At that time I didn't attribute it to the head gasket because it went away as soon as the engine warmed up so I thought it was a loose hose clamp somewhere. Then the problem went away during spring, summer, and autumn. Now it has returned this winter (around 81,000 miles). I changed the coolant myself at 30,000 and 60,000 miles. I also added the Subaru conditioner to be on the safe side. I did not use Subaru coolant but I spoke to an engineer at the coolant manufacturer and he said that their coolant met the Subaru recommendation to use a phosphate non-amine formula. In fact he also said that amines were banned years ago because they were deemed to be a carcinogen.
  • dk11dk11 Posts: 3
    UPDATE: Subaru has decided to pitch in with the repair cost. My co-payment will be around $300. The dealer of course called me this morning with about a dozen other things they said needed to be done, including changing the transmission fluid which I had just had done last spring, so no thanks on that. I am having them replace the timing belt while they are in the engine ($100) Asked them to change the coolant as well, for which they wanted to charge $140. I then realized they would have to do that as part of the gasket replacement, so questioned them on that charge and they removed it. They also suggested replacing the power steering and alternator drive belts for $50 (OK), changing the cabin air filter for $125 (OK), doing a "small tuneup" (PCV valve, air filter, fuel filter and spark plugs) for $225 (OK, even though seems high), and fuel induction service (additive) for $140 which I passed on as I understand I can buy a bottle and add myself for a heck of a lot less. Can't believe they were going to charge me for the coolant when they had to do that anyway as part of the gasket replacement. Subaru wondered why I didn't get all my service done at the dealer. Subaru - if you're listening - this is why. But I am pleased Subary stepped up to the plate. I love my Forester and hope to get at least another 6 years out of it. Thanks for all the posts. Hope mine were helpful to some one.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,925
    Great news! Thank you for updating us - it just goes to show that you won't know unless you ask....
    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 would probably have ordered the same services you did. Good call.

    A new timing belt for $100, heck yeah!
  • "... changing the cabin air filter for $125 (OK)..."

    You could have done that yourself. The filter is $40 from the dealer, or $10 aftermarket, and it is easy to remove the glove box to change filters.
  • vtdogvtdog Posts: 163
    If you have a "minor" head gasket leak can it be repaired with the pour in goop from the auto parts store?
  • I am from Canada. I also have a 2003 Forester with less than 100,000 km. The head gaskets started to leak about 2 weeks ago. I also asked Subaru Canada to extend the warranty because of this known problem and the low mileage. The service representative advised me to visit the dealership and showed all my maintenance records. I did this morning. The service manager recorded all my past services in a spreadsheet and sent it to Subaru. They finally agreed to share with me 50/50. The dealership also agreed to give me 15% discount on parts & labour. The final amount before tax is C$590. So I am not getting a good deal as you. But I am glad that they at least did something for me.
  • aathertonaatherton Posts: 617
    edited February 2010
    If you have a "minor" head gasket leak can it be repaired with the pour in goop from the auto parts store?

    Probably, but if might plug up the fine passages in the radiator or engine. Subaru requires a specific sealant additive that they know is compatible with their engine.
    Subaru calls their additive a "conditioner":
    But it appears to be repackaged Holts Radweld "sealant": - stems#holts-radweld

    Use one or the other, preferably the Subaru label if you expect to be dealing with Subaru over the problem.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    That's a reasonable amount to pay, IMHO. Glad they helped you.
  • optimystic1optimystic1 Posts: 2
    edited March 2010
    I've been looking hard to find a Subaru Outback or Forester in my area and finally found one today. It's a 99 Forester, manual trans with 177k miles. The woman selling it says she's had it for 3 years with no problems, is only the second owner, but wasn't sure if the gasket's been replaced. She said she has most of the maintenance records from the first owner and all of hers. After reading all the reviews I'm worried as heck about the gasket. I have about a thousand dollars after what I'll pay for it left. Think I should just go ahead and replace the gasket? Would Subaru help pay for it after this long and me being the 3rd owner? It's also got a bearing going out, should i replace it with one from a Legacy? I have a 91 Legacy that I've replaced both front bearings once and the right side 2 times, which I find not too bad compared with the extreme value I've gotten from this little car(had it 3 years, traded a few hours work for it). This is a one time deal for me as I have a low paying job, might not have money for a new car til' next years tax return; any advice would be helpful! Thanks!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Yes on the bearing, that's exactly what to do - replace it with a more durable Legacy bearing.

    No on the help from Subaru though. 177k miles and you're the 3rd owner? I don't think there is a manufacturer in the world that would help an owner in that position.

    At 177k miles, the condition and care are vital. Does it look well taken care of?

    If the original gaskets have not failed yet, I doubt they ever will. Certainly it would have failed by now (perhaps twice).

    To be on the safe side, have a mechanic check the compression on each cylinder, look for no more than 10% variance. Inspect the head and valve cover gaskets for oil leaks. Also check the front and rear main seals. Those and the gaskets are all the trouble spots.

    If all that checks out OK, buy it. :shades:
  • Great advice! Thanks, I will have the compression and seals checked. I appreciate your time & thought very, very much. I go to see it tomorrow. Hopefully I can find a reasonably priced mechanic open on Saturday afternoon!
  • aathertonaatherton Posts: 617
    "... At 177k miles... If the original gaskets have not failed yet, I doubt they ever will. Certainly it would have failed by now (perhaps twice)..."

    So if the original gaskets have not failed once or twice before 177K, they will probably not fail after 177K. The more miles on an original head gasket, the less likely it is to ever fail.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I was thinking the same thing.

    Those gaskets belong in Guinness for the highest longevity in a boxer.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,925
    edited March 2010
    I do not think I would agree with that. I replaced the gaskets in mine at 192,000. I don't think high mileage means less likelihood of failure, but it certainly does not fall into the "premature failure" category at that point. ;)

    Frankly, anyone buying a high mileage car has to accept the fact that maintenance and repair expenses are par for the course. Spending money on those items does not mean the car will not be reliable, though; it just means one must prepare and plan for the regular maintenance and periodic repairs that come along with the lower initial cost of the vehicle. All cars get there at some point.
    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
    Heck, even new ones have problems, only they're taken care of by the dealer under warranty.

    There's no perfect car. ;)
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,925
    Yeah, but by the time you get above 150,000 miles, most of the flakes (be that the previous owners or the cars) are weeded out through attrition.

    Heck, I took our Caravan on a 12,000-mile trip last year and it had about 196,000 miles on it when we left. :D
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • I just recently purchased a 99 forester from an auction, it had a lot of miles on it and i knew that something would need to be done on it. It didnt hold a charge and it would not idle. I took it in to a dealership and they mechanic said that the head gasket was blown and quoted me $2600. Needless to say I was shocked. Hoping that he simply high-balled me on the cost to cover anything else that may happen, I let it slide and i let them do the repairs. A week later, they said that they replaced the head gasket and fixed an oil leak, they now said that there was a clog in the radiator that they couldn't fix without the new part. After this repair, my bill comes out to $3300! This is almost double what I paid for the car! Now, this is my first experience dealing with dealership services and I was assuming it would be a little more reliable and honest, but I just can't help but feel like they're taking advantage of me. If anyone could shed some light on this for me, I would be grateful. Thanks.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,925
    $2,600 is on the far side of the high end for replacing both gaskets (along with all the other stuff like the oil seals, water pump, timing belt, pulleys, etc., that are accessible and/or have to be removed during the gasket replacement). So, if they charged you that, I would expect the service to be absolutely thorough and complete. The radiator, if clogged, could be replaced at the price of the part only, since it has to be removed as part of the gasket repair and should have been tested as part of their initial diagnostics. So, estimating about $200 for the part, that puts you to $2,800. I'm not seeing where they get the $3,300.

    I think you're right in questioning their credibility here.
    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
    Plus, given the age, it's out of warranty, so why not try a local independent shop? I bet their labor rates are a lot lower.

    Still, I sold my '98 Forester for $7 grand about 2 years ago, so a '99 in decent shape should still be worth $5-6 grand or so.
  • once_for_allonce_for_all Posts: 1,640
    My 2003 Forester XS has been a great car, 148k so far. About 2 years ago (~ 40k ago) it started dripping oil from somewhere, not enough to make it to the ground, but enough to give an obnoxious burning oil smell from dripping on the exhaust.

    I finally dropped the belly pan and cleaned everything up...started it up and checked it 30 mins later...and saw that there was a very slow leak coming from the back lower portion of the head gasket, driver's side. Figuring it was a gravity feed return hole from the head back to the oil pan, and not wanting to spend a bunch to pull a great running engine apart, I thought I'd try a patch.

    There was no good access to the spot, the only possibility was between the motor mount and exhaust. I thought I'd try the RTV copper gasket maker to seal it. I found a small wooden handle brush in the shop, handle was about 1/2" wide, and used that as a dauber and applicator to put on a 1/4" bead about 3" long. Then I took a piece of aluminum tape, cut out about a 1 1/2" x 4" long piece, ran another 1/4" bead in the center, and used the same wooden handle to press it onto the area and smooth it out, making a tight seal.

    I didn't really expect this to work, but it's been clean now for several days and several hundred miles. "Good to go" the next 150k? Dunno, but not wrinkling my nose anymore at intersections.

  • jbur1jbur1 Posts: 14
    My 2003 Forester had the head gaskets replaced about 1 1/2 years ago at 85,000 miles. Subaru had even offered to pay part of the repair cost. So at that time I had the timing belt and water pump replaced as well. I just brought the car in to a different dealer for the recent lower control arm recall and was told that oil was leaking from the head gaskets again and it would cost $2300 to repair. :cry: I have put on about 16,000 miles since the first repair. I thought that this repair would last me at least three years minimum. Is the RTV fix you tried still holding? I would seriously consider this as an alternative fix if it is still holding.
  • I brought our Forester in for an oil change last week at the dealer and was told that the head gasket was leaking. We don't use the Subaru that much; it only has 54,000 miles on it!

    So it had taken us about 1.5 years to put the 5,000 miles on which made it time to bring it in again. Last time: everything fine

    This time they recommended:
    head gasket leaking $3200 repair
    throttle body service
    brake and power steering flush
    1 side valve cover gasket
    front and rear differential fluids
    drive belt
    all together $5000!

    Given that the car only has 54,000 miles on it, i'm pretty darned surprised that it needs this much work. I talked to an independent (ie, not at the dealer) mechanic. He said it is well known that the head gasket problems continued after 2002 but that Subaru refused to stand behind later model years and cover the work. And that it is common that Subaru dealers service departments would use stop leak fluid to deal with the problem until the car was out of warranty, at which time they would tell you that it needs to be replaced at your own cost.
    Given that i purchased the car 9.5 years ago, I really doubt that Subaru would give me any significant help to fix this.
    I'm thinking of trading in the car (for a new Rav4) rather than have all this work done to it. I probably can't, in good conscience, sell the car to an individual for very much since i would disclose this issue. I'm not sure that if i went to trade in at a dealer that the problem would be identified. Your thoughts? How long can one keep using the stop leak fluids rather than getting the thing repaired?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    If you only put 5k miles in 18 months, it could go for years before the problem got any worse. I'd try some stop-leak and just check the oil level at every fuel fill-up, which we should all do routinely anyway.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,925
    In addition to that, everything else mentioned on that list is just normal maintenance. Periodic flushing/changing of fluids is important.

    $3,200 for the gaskets?! You should find a mechanic that doesn't smoke so much crack. Swap those first two numbers, and you'll be getting closer to an appropriate price for both gaskets, which would also include timing belt, water pump, and the valve cover gasket mentioned in your list.

    If you have all that work done and pay over half the quoted amount, the mechanic took you to the cleaners. :sick:
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • It is still holding. Since there is no pressure on the oil, it doesn't take much to stop it. The keys however, are to clearly identify where the leak is coming from, get a good solid contact, and a large patch area. Depending on the leak area, this may not always be possible. I thought it might work, as the RTV compound is not easy to remove once applied (from experience with scraping old gaskets).

    The idea is not much different than putting a patch on a bicycle inner tube.

  • baherbaher Posts: 1
    Hi John,

    Although I haven't confirmed the location yet, I seem to be having this exact same problem. Is the patch still holding? If so I'm thinking of doing the same thing.
    Let me know your thoughts.

  • yes, still holding. The key on this type of fix is that the leak needs to be on a low pressure return passage through the head. Not a chance of working, otherwise. It's worth taking an hour or two to thoroughly clean the area and identify exactly where it is coming from. The RTV is a great sealer, and the heavy foil on top of the RTV creates a long pathway for a leak to get through.

    Have 173k on this car now. Did the rear bearings last month. Other than that, have had just the normal maintenance. Clutch isn't as light and feathery as new, but still very solid. This model Forester is well put together.

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