Author Topic: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?  (Read 9814 times)

mountainfamily

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Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« on: June 17, 2017, 10:04:17 PM »
Our 2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 150k miles needs its second head gasket repair. Three separate mechanics have examined it and quoted and estimated cost of $3200-3500.

The stats:

-We live in Seattle and neither of us drives to work.
-We drive it about 11,000 miles per year, mostly on trips out of town, loaded down with skis, bikes, camping gear, etc.
-For the past 5 years, car expenses have averaged ~$4600/ year for everything - gas, insurance, car tabs, tires, maintenance, repairs. Yes, cars are a major expense.
-Freeway mpg= 27-30. City mpg = 16-18. We try to minimize city driving, but still end up using it a few times a week.
-The head gaskets were re-done in 2011 at 85k miles, along with the 100k maintenance.
-Since then, we kept on top of all 30 and 60k routine maintenance appointments, tire rotations, etc.
-We recently got a new alternator and a repair to the catalytic converter.
-We had newish tires (20k miles) but one blew out badly on a recent trip and we had to spend $800 to get 4 brand-new tires.
-brand new battery
-brakes are OK, rear is at 40% and front is at 80%
-rear struts getting a little bouncy but OK.
-headlights are fogged and we need to either buff them or buy new ones.

Some options I see...

1. suck it up, pay for the repair, and hope nothing else breaks.

2. New engine/rebuild engine/get a refurbished engine and keep the car for another 150k miles. This could be $5000-$8000. I've read that you can get the higher quality, double coated stainless steel head gaskets. Not sure about this.

3. Trade in the Subie and get a lightly used car that we'll use for 10-15+ years - but what kind?? Another Subaru? Apparently Subaru solved the head gasket and timing belt issue after 2013, but the dealer told me that and I don't know details. We considered getting a Honda Fit or similar efficiency car for improved mileage. However, we love the size of the Subaru and its main purpose is to get us OUT of the city with all our gear. When we have a family, we will be camping, hiking, etc. for most of our recreation. I realize you don't need a AWD for many outdoor trips, and Seattle never gets snow, but we have appreciated the size and clearance.

For the record, we have no debt and a respectable stash. We could go and buy a brand-new car for cash tomorrow, but obviously we want to be more frugal than that. Thoughts?

COEE

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2017, 06:56:27 AM »
I had never heard of this issue before - but sure enough: http://www.licmotorsports.com/blog/2014/01/30/dreaded-subaru-head-gasket-issue

I've also never heard of replacing the head gasket as being part of 'general maintenance'.  Yikes.  I'd sell it and disclose the problem to the buyer.  Then I'd get something that doesn't require head gasket changes as part of it's normal maintenance.

There are people that wouldn't mind getting the car as a mechanic's special and turning a small profit for their time replacing the gasket.

HipGnosis

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2017, 08:36:53 AM »
Find a Subaru forum to find out the 'best' (current) head gaskets.  I've heard of this problem enough to know that stock gaskets will leak again.  Go back to the mechanics and confirm they will install the gaskets you specify, even if you have to buy them yourself and take them to the mechanic.  I wouldn't pick the mechanic on price.  I'd use their google reviews (via google map).
Buff out the headlights.

COEE

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2017, 08:40:32 AM »
I'd use their google reviews (via google map).

I used to do this - but as time progresses - it seems that more people have learned to game that system as well.  So I rely on this less these days.  I prefer word of mouth.

FINate

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2017, 09:42:48 AM »
If you can get an additional 150K for an $8k rebuild than that's about 5 cents/mile. At 11k miles/year that's a little over 13 years of driving, or about $586/year for the rebuild. I usually plan to spend about $1000/year on average per vehicle beyond normal maintenance (tires, oil, brakes, etc.).  If your assumptions are more-or-less correct, then keeping it is probably the better option.

lbmustache

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2017, 11:03:30 AM »
If you can get an additional 150K for an $8k rebuild than that's about 5 cents/mile. At 11k miles/year that's a little over 13 years of driving, or about $586/year for the rebuild. I usually plan to spend about $1000/year on average per vehicle beyond normal maintenance (tires, oil, brakes, etc.).  If your assumptions are more-or-less correct, then keeping it is probably the better option.

But for $8k they could also get a decently reliable car that isn't going to nickel and dime them.

OP, I personally think it's time to move on although I know many may disagree. You do not need to get a brand-new vehicle and you can find plenty of vehicles with decent clearance and space (without without AWD) - Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, etc. Depending on how comfortable you are upping your budget, $15k will get you one of the above, while $8k will get you a decent Camry or Accord. Of course, that averages out to about $1k a year using the above method FINate has provided, however I do not see say, a CR-V costing a total of $4600 a year even with that factored in.

MMMdude

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2017, 11:30:58 AM »
We have a 2004 Forester 2.5.  Only has 50K miles as previous owner barely drove it.  When does head gasket issue normally start rearing it's ugly head?

lbmustache

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2017, 11:58:32 AM »
We have a 2004 Forester 2.5.  Only has 50K miles as previous owner barely drove it.  When does head gasket issue normally start rearing it's ugly head?

Around 80-100k.

Reynolds531

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2017, 02:08:21 PM »
I think you need to ask whether the head was machined properly when the first repair was done!? And can it be machined again?

I would be asking the shop that did the first repair some tough questions. And regardless of the outcome I would be finding another car.

BuffaloStache

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #9 on: June 18, 2017, 03:27:16 PM »
We have a 2004 Forester 2.5.  Only has 50K miles as previous owner barely drove it.  When does head gasket issue normally start rearing it's ugly head?

Totally depends on the car. My Subie has ~125k mi on it (through the 100k mi maintenance and timing belt stuff) and I'm just starting to see it.

retiringearly

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #10 on: June 18, 2017, 07:53:26 PM »
It is most likely a design flaw if the head gaskets have gone twice in 150k miles.  Count on it happening again if you choose the keep the car.

I previously worked for a gasket manufacturer.  There is only so much a gasket can do if the cylinder block is poorly designed.

I would move on to a different car.

mountainfamily

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #11 on: June 18, 2017, 11:30:05 PM »
Subies from this era are notorious for head gasket problems, and apparently they have been re-designed to eliminate this flaw. The shop that did the repair in 2011 is no longer in business (hmm). Maybe it will be time for a new car.

HipGnosis

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2017, 07:02:32 AM »
It is most likely a design flaw if the head gaskets have gone twice in 150k miles.  Count on it happening again if you choose the keep the car.
It's a known problem with those subarus.  It's a design flaw (actually a coating) of the stock, OEM head gaskets.  There are now better head gaskets.

BuffaloStache

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2017, 08:06:31 AM »
...  It's a design flaw (actually a coating) of the stock, OEM head gaskets.  There are now better head gaskets.

Do you know which gaskets are the best for this make/model of car?

bonustreats

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2017, 09:00:29 AM »
Subies from this era are notorious for head gasket problems, and apparently they have been re-designed to eliminate this flaw. The shop that did the repair in 2011 is no longer in business (hmm). Maybe it will be time for a new car.

I had a 2000 Legacy L (first year of this design of car) that had this problem.  I currently have a 2009 Legacy SE (last year of this design of car) that has this problem.  It's been pretty frustrating that they had ~10 years to improve on this design and either ignored all of the head gasket issues with this motor or decided that it was better to shift the issue to the customer.  My old car ran to ~180k miles before I accidentally murdered it (maybe carslaughter is a better term) and this one has ~150k miles on it.

The other problem with this is that the oil can/is forced to drip on the exhaust manifold which, when the car is not moving, fills the cabin with an acrid stench of burning death.  I've had to turn the fan down at stop lights to keep from gagging.

I'd heard that replacing the crappy regular gaskets with the beefier ones from the 2.5 turbo models were a good fix, but I'd double check that.  I'm currently ignoring the issue and just putting oil in when necessary. 

Not sure I'd buy a Subie again just based on their lack of corrective action.

Duchess of Stratosphear

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #15 on: June 19, 2017, 01:14:58 PM »
I just had the head gaskets done on my 08 Impreza in the last year or two, and the mechanic used some other kind of gasket, not the Subaru factory kind. He said it was better. He has his own repair shop but used to work for Subaru for years, and I took it to him because he has a good local reputation, and the dealership wanted to rip me off by charging thousands for this. I wish I had more details about what was special/better about this head gasket he used, but I don't remember the details.

I had been thinking about selling this car and buying a Prius--now I'm wondering if maybe I should, although, knock on wood, I think it's working okay now.

NEPA

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #16 on: June 20, 2017, 09:09:10 AM »
My 2004 went out at 107k, I can't imagine the engine layout being much different from 2004-2007 but I only paid $1500 to get the head gaskets replaced (at a dealership in Pennsylvania). What hourly labor rate are the mechanics charging? Did you try an independent mechanic/subaru shop? Sounds like you're getting burned.

Clean Shaven

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2017, 11:05:16 AM »
Our 2007 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 150k miles needs its second head gasket repair. Three separate mechanics have examined it and quoted and estimated cost of $3200-3500.

<snip>

-For the past 5 years, car expenses have averaged ~$4600/ year for everything - gas, insurance, car tabs, tires, maintenance, repairs.

<snip>

3. Trade in the Subie and get a lightly used car that we'll use for 10-15+ years - but what kind?? Another Subaru? Apparently Subaru solved the head gasket and timing belt issue after 2013, but the dealer told me that and I don't know details.

1) What's a car tab?

2) A 10 year old Subaru with two sets of failed head gaskets at 150K miles is ready for the scrap heap, or at least a Subaru Whisperer Guru who has the time/money/inclination to futz with that thing.

I'm biased against Subaru, having had a horrible experience with a 2009 Outback 2.5i, which had the same motor you have.  The story of "but they've improved it and the head gaskets aren't a problem anymore" is the same story today as it was back when we got the shitbox 2009 Outback -- which suffered signs of head gasket failure at 30K miles.  In other words, I'll believe Subaru can build a reliable motor when we get to around 2025, and I can look back at 2015 to 2025 motors and see no unusually frequent incidences of head gasket failures.

3) So, my general vote is anything other than Subaru, and no European brands.  From your post, it sounds like you do none of your own car repairs or maintenance, so buy something that will never break -- and then you won't have to fix it.

4) My specific recommendation for long-term reliability is any front-wheel drive econo box, 4-cyl, non-turbo, no CVT or dual-clutch  transmission (i.e. buy a manual or torque converter automatic), from any Japanese or Korean brand.  If you want inexpensive replacement tires, stick with 16" wheels on whatever you buy, or 17" at most. 

5) My very specific recommendation:  buy a Corolla/ Matrix/ Vibe/ Fit/ Civic/ Mazda 3/ Scion (any Scion other than the FRS).

Rosy

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2017, 02:17:18 PM »
Sell it!
 

Pizzabrewer

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2017, 04:10:34 PM »
The head gasket job shouldn't be more than $2k. It's a cheap way to get another 80-100k miles out of an otherwise reliable car.

Still a big Subaru fan. I'm on my 4th.

BuffaloStache

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #20 on: June 21, 2017, 07:18:53 AM »
The head gasket job shouldn't be more than $2k. It's a cheap way to get another 80-100k miles out of an otherwise reliable car...

$2K! Where are you getting this job done? Every quote I've gotten for a headgasket job is at least $2.5-3k+.

Davin

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #21 on: June 21, 2017, 08:30:03 AM »
Subaru's have horizontally opposed engines which they call boxer style. Much like the old air-cooled Volkswagens that share this design. The head gasket is the weakest link in this type of engine. What nobody ever mentions is that the automobile has to be absolutely level both side to side and front to back to check the oil level in these engines. If it is not, it is very easy to overfill them which will blow the head gaskets. I cannot even count the number of times I have seen car owners and even lube shop employees do this. I know because I have done it, and seen others do it and the end result is almost always a blown head gasket. Knowledge is power. Do your oil changes your self or take the car to someone who specializes in boxer style engines to get it done. Also if the car does blow a head gasket it can overheat. If this happens the heads can warp and a new gasket may not last nearly as long as it should under these conditions.

retiringearly

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #22 on: June 21, 2017, 10:27:50 AM »
The head gasket job shouldn't be more than $2k. It's a cheap way to get another 80-100k miles out of an otherwise reliable car...

$2K! Where are you getting this job done? Every quote I've gotten for a headgasket job is at least $2.5-3k+.
I just looked it up on repairpal.com, their estimate was $1,908 - $2,497

acroy

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #23 on: June 21, 2017, 11:12:31 AM »
Known issue... get out of it.
Sell it on CL for what you can get out of it. Some home mechanic will do it themselves for $250 and resell.
Buy a used minivan in good shape for $8k. I am partial to the Nissan Quest as they are very reliable, drive nicely, and much cheaper than the Toyota/Honda alternatives. Put good tires on it, carry chains if you're that hardcore, and be happy. good luck!

Clean Shaven

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #24 on: June 21, 2017, 11:27:40 AM »
Subaru's have horizontally opposed engines which they call boxer style. Much like the old air-cooled Volkswagens that share this design. The head gasket is the weakest link in this type of engine. What nobody ever mentions is that the automobile has to be absolutely level both side to side and front to back to check the oil level in these engines. If it is not, it is very easy to overfill them which will blow the head gaskets. I cannot even count the number of times I have seen car owners and even lube shop employees do this. I know because I have done it, and seen others do it and the end result is almost always a blown head gasket. Knowledge is power.

I have never heard this, not in relation to Subaru or Porsche (the only other manufacturer to use boxer engines today).  Source?

tarawa52

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #25 on: June 23, 2017, 07:56:57 AM »
Visit 'All Wheel Drive Auto' website, an independent Subaru expert in Seattle. The owner has written an excellent article (x2) on why Subaru head gaskets fail and how to properly fix the problem. Spend 30 minutes on the website, it is priceless! I have an 08 Forester.

HipGnosis

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #26 on: June 23, 2017, 11:25:28 AM »
Subaru's have horizontally opposed engines which they call boxer style. Much like the old air-cooled Volkswagens that share this design. The head gasket is the weakest link in this type of engine. What nobody ever mentions is that the automobile has to be absolutely level both side to side and front to back to check the oil level in these engines. If it is not, it is very easy to overfill them which will blow the head gaskets. I cannot even count the number of times I have seen car owners and even lube shop employees do this. I know because I have done it, and seen others do it and the end result is almost always a blown head gasket. Knowledge is power.

I have never heard this, not in relation to Subaru or Porsche (the only other manufacturer to use boxer engines today).  Source?

Some BMW motorcycles (their most popular ones) and Honda Goldwing motorcycles have boxer motors.   I've never heard of head gasket issues with them.

Clean Shaven

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Re: Subaru head gaskets (again) - what to do?
« Reply #27 on: June 23, 2017, 12:19:06 PM »
Visit 'All Wheel Drive Auto' website, an independent Subaru expert in Seattle. The owner has written an excellent article (x2) on why Subaru head gaskets fail and how to properly fix the problem. Spend 30 minutes on the website, it is priceless! I have an 08 Forester.

Link to those articles:
https://allwheeldriveauto.com/subaru-head-gasket-repair/