Coolant leak... head gasket? - Subaru Outback - Subaru Outback Forums

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Old 01-01-2011, 04:26 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Coolant leak... head gasket?

Hello,

Relatively new to Subarus and not real familiar with these engines. Bought one back in February 2010. In late March we moved 750 miles and during the drive began to smell a burning. We were in the middle of the mountains, so I just assumed it was something getting over hot, and it eventually went away.

It came back every so often, but quickly went away. Realized it was a coolant burning smell. Read other threads on here that said many Subarus do it, old and new, so wasn't REAL worried about it as it wasn't even that often. Assumed it was a small leak in a hose. Now it is coming back more and more and its time to do something. Randomly does it, and worse when you first start the car with the heater on. Once you turn the heater off for about 3 seconds, you can turn it back on and the smell is gone. You can some-what smell it from outside the car, but not bad and can't see smoke with the hood shut.

The car:
2001 Outback
4 cyl
Automatic
~96k miles

-Idle: Tach sits perfect, no bouncing. Car doesn't sit perfectly smooth, but I am used to my BMW which you can't tell it is on, so its hard to tell if its even rough or if it is just me.
-Temp: Sits perfectly still. Never any fluctuation at all
-Exhaust: colorless and odorless
-Oil: Time for changing, but doesn't look milky

Here are a couple shots of the leak I found. It is behind one of the heads... unless I am confused. Looks like it is leaking out of the valve cover. If it was, wouldn't that mean a blown head gasket and terribly running car? Am I looking at this wrong? It is mostly coolant, but unless I am confusing some of the dirt, it looks like it has some oil in it as well. Can a head gasket leak like this and not make it into the engine, and wouldn't the car run like crap? The coolant appears to be dripping off here and onto the exhaust piece you can see, causing the smell and small smoke when examining closely. I know these years have head gasket problems... this a sign mine is about to blow?

These shots were taking after the car sat for about 15 hours, last drive was about a 15 mile highway trip. Never wiped any of it off in the past before these pictures.

Thanks for any help, all is appreciated!



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Old 01-01-2011, 04:34 PM   #2 (permalink)
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By the way, have larger versions of these images if closer inspection would help.

Also took pictures of the buildup from underneath, as well as wipe samples from the oil dipstick, where the pictures are of, as well as a buildup underneath... if any of that would help.
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Old 01-01-2011, 05:49 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Definitely looks like the external coolant leaks that are typical of the 2000-2002 Outbacks. The 1996-1999 typically had an internal HG failure that leaked high pressure, hot exhaust into the coolant system; the 2000-2002 tended to leak coolant externally, with some leaking oil as well; and the 2003+ models seem to leak oil externally primarily with some leaking coolant.

Remember, head gaskets can fail in a huge variety of ways. They prevent coolant, cylinder gases, oil, and the outside air from mixing with one another, and you can get failures between any combination of those things (between cylinder and coolant jacket, coolant and outside, oil and outside, coolant and oil, etc, etc). In your case, you need to change the head gasket, but you're lucky in that if you need to wait a month or to two to get the money together, you can still drive without really risking damage to the engine, as long as you keep an eye on the coolant level, and make sure there is no coolant in your oil.
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Old 01-01-2011, 10:32 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Get some of the Subaru coolant conditioner and add that in. It might just help.
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Old 01-01-2011, 10:45 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bstone View Post
Get some of the Subaru coolant conditioner and add that in. It might just help.
I have a feeling its a bit late for the that. The coolant conditioner doesn't help once the head gasket is blown, it just helps prevent/delay the failure.
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Old 01-02-2011, 12:28 PM   #6 (permalink)
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All advice to be taken with a pinch of salt..so here is my pound of it...the photos don't show the underneath of the head area..Now, if you Don't see any Oil seeping from the headgasket area (not the valve cover) I would think there is a good possiblity that the subi conditioner could work..drain the coolant system and add 2 bottles(maximum number) of the conditioner with fresh coolant and go for a drive on the highway, maybe for a min. of 20min and give it 1 or 2 days for the product to work....Keep an eye on it, but, "once you see oil and coolant leaking at the same time", the hdgk. job is just around the corner...
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Old 01-02-2011, 01:48 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Thanks for the help guys. Couple more questions.

Do I just pick up this conditioner at the Subaru dealership, or is it something I can find at the local corner auto parts store? Is it something that might actually fix the problem, or just delay the replacement?

There is only a small amount of oil coming out, really not a significant amount. Time for an oil change and its barely below full. I have to put in more coolant about once a month. Do those levels of loss help put a time frame/severity of the issue?

Also, how much do the headgasket replacements normally run? Is it something I can trust your average mechanic with, or should I take it to the dealership? Being a different setup engine, just curious if everyone can be trusted with them.

Is the headgasket something that goes out, or will it slowly give warning to wear I can limp home if a few miles away?

Again, thanks for the help.
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Old 01-02-2011, 02:49 PM   #8 (permalink)
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If you know a good mechanic who has done Subarus that would be ok, if they have never done Subarus go to dealer, I would be prepaired to do valve seals, timing belt, pulleys, tensioner and waterpump, I also assume they will re-shim the valves while they are in there, probably run around $2500. You should be able to drive the car, just keep the coolant full and dont let it overheat.
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Old 01-02-2011, 03:45 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Been looking online with the information you have given me. Looks like I am going to throw in some of the conditioner and cross my fingers. I have read a lot of stories of leaking in these years, but not of any overheating, so I am not TOO scared in that sense. Looks like overheating is mostly a Phase 1 problem.

A while ago I was glancing around under the hood trying to understand the engine, and saw in the coolant tank there was a bit of a sandy/clay looking stuff. Was that the conditioner being spoken of? I read somewhere that it was a bit of a sandy looking compound. Looks like my car had it in there and I dumped it out. Oops.

By the way, for others who might come across this thread, here is a link I have found that explain the situation.

Head Gasket Problems - Subaru 2.5 liter engine - Phase 1 and 2

Appears that the conditioner is less than $5 and found at Subaru dealership part stores.

Thanks again for everyones help and not just yelling at me to search, which it looks like I should have done!
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Old 01-02-2011, 11:27 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warpig2003 View Post
Been looking online with the information you have given me. Looks like I am going to throw in some of the conditioner and cross my fingers. I have read a lot of stories of leaking in these years, but not of any overheating, so I am not TOO scared in that sense. Looks like overheating is mostly a Phase 1 problem.

A while ago I was glancing around under the hood trying to understand the engine, and saw in the coolant tank there was a bit of a sandy/clay looking stuff. Was that the conditioner being spoken of? I read somewhere that it was a bit of a sandy looking compound. Looks like my car had it in there and I dumped it out. Oops.

By the way, for others who might come across this thread, here is a link I have found that explain the situation.

Head Gasket Problems - Subaru 2.5 liter engine - Phase 1 and 2

Appears that the conditioner is less than $5 and found at Subaru dealership part stores.

Thanks again for everyones help and not just yelling at me to search, which it looks like I should have done!
...For your reading.. A Better Subaru 2.5l Head Gasket in Seattle - Seattle Subaru Repair
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