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Discussion Starter #1
Hey everyone,

I am a new owner of a used 2003 Outback Limited Sedan with 105,000 miles and I have had the automobile since September 7, 2012.

First, let me state that I love this car. Very satisfied with the ride, features and overall performance...HOWEVER. (There's always a however, right? LOL)
Lately my check engine light has been holding steady when I drive the car. It does occasionally flash repetitvely, but that stops once the car starts moving.
I took the car to Autozone and the guy ran the free test and this is what was the result and probable causes are:

Cylinder 3 misfire

1) Leaking or blocked injector
2) Ignition system malfunction affecting one cylinder
3) Engine mechanical condition (really worried about this one!)
4) Valve adjustment needed

My father took the spark plugs out and there was oil around the inner casing on three and four. He said that's definitely not normal and I suggested is it possible that a head gasket is blown or cracked that would cause that? He wasn't sure. The spark plugs looked decent but he wasn't 100% on that either.

Not only do I have a 3 month dealership warranty but an extended 4 year waranty that covers pretty much everything of which I am fortunate.
So basically, I'm just fishing for info on this forum to see if anyone else has/had this problem with this particular model/year of Outback. :8:

Thanks for any advice!

e.:loveawd:
 

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Oil on spark plugs means you have leaking spark plug tube seals which could be causing the spark plugs to foul and misfire.

I would replace the spark plugs, tube seals and valve cover seals and sparkplug wires.

You are also due for the timing belt service (every 105,000 miles). Timing belt, all idlers, tensioner, cam & crank seals, possibly water pump.

It also may be a good time to do the headgaskets if they are leaking, most of the time on this generation of Outbacks it is an external oil or coolant leak.
 

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Oil on spark plugs means you have leaking spark plug tube seals which could be causing the spark plugs to foul and misfire.

I would replace the spark plugs, tube seals and valve cover seals and sparkplug wires.

You are also due for the timing belt service (every 105,000 miles). Timing belt, all idlers, tensioner, cam & crank seals, possibly water pump.

It also may be a good time to do the headgaskets if they are leaking, most of the time on this generation of Outbacks it is an external oil or coolant leak.
Yep, no time like the present to get all the maintenance caught up. You will know where you're at. May as well do the trans fluid and filter, diffs, alignment, lube everything, balance the tires, flush all the fluids.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Well I took the car back to where I bought it and (no surprise here) none of it is covered under my warranty which I am having a hard time understanding what exactly was checked with this car before I purchased it? I've had the car for only a month and 3 days and now this happens. The guy that sold me the car tells me that the "retail cost" of the work will cost $450 but they will do it for $350? Seriously?
I can understand that the spark plugs are normal "wear and tear" ****....but the seals too? I'm having a co-worker of mine (and former Subaru Legacy owner) look at my car tomorrow so maybe he can hook me up with a cheaper machanic or maybe he could even do the work for me? I'd like to say I'm a motorhead, but I really don't know too much about cars and their inner workings. :(
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Great. Check engine light on..AGAIN.

Took my car to Autozone and they did the diagnostics test which produced the same cylinder 3 misfiring issue which I thought was fixed last week when the mechanic replaced the spark plugs, wires and valve cover gasket set. I hope this isn't a head gasket problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Great. Check engine light on..AGAIN.

Took my car to Autozone and they did the diagnostics test which produced the same cylinder 3 misfiring issue which I thought was fixed last week when the mechanic replaced the spark plugs, wires and valve cover gasket set. I hope this isn't a head gasket problem.

Now I come home tonight and even though the check engine light wasn't on as soon as I pulled into the driveway, smoke bellowed out from my hood. My radiator overheated! I tell ya, what could happen next? I refilled the coolant and letting it sit overnight but I will have to drive it to work tomorrow. :(
 

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I hate to say it but I can promise you that the car was like this before you bought it, this is standard script that I just read. it was likely traded in for this very reason, that's the norm - people are more likely trade in cars that have issues creeping up, not perfectly running brilliant specimens. This makes dealerships the hands down worst place to buy a car because the most likely place for a car with issues to end up is in a dealer lot...trade in - off to auction/trade/partner/sell - dealer lot. If you buy a car from someones driveway at their home with their kids running around - that's likely to be a good deal and good car, they don't want a miffed owner coming back. That's the best deals out there private owners, better maintenance records, feedback, honesty, and cheaper.

so this is a 4 cylinder? those do have headgasket issues, but they don't overheat until they're run low on coolant.

if it's low on coolant find out where the coolant is going.
is there a leak and is it one of the headgaskets?

if it is HG's leaking externally - replace the coolant and add two bottles of Subaru conditioner (one is required for your car).

when the valve cover gaskets were replaced - did you have the valves adjusted? They are super easy to do.

do some reading on running some cleaners through the fuel system and Sea Foam through the intake.

problem with buying from dealers is they know nothing about a car. buy from private sellers in the future, get much better deals that way.


unfortunately 10 year old cars need maintenance - and plugs and gaskets are maintenance items, not unexpected failures. if you wanted full on coverage for any thing that could happen it would cost a LOT of money for a 10 year old vehicle.

in general those aftermarket warranty's are not that stellar in coverage and can be a hassle to deal with. front end loading to make a better informed purchase is a better use of resources over those warranty's.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I hate to say it but I can promise you that the car was like this before you bought it, this is standard script that I just read. it was likely traded in for this very reason, that's the norm - people are more likely trade in cars that have issues creeping up, not perfectly running brilliant specimens. This makes dealerships the hands down worst place to buy a car because the most likely place for a car with issues to end up is in a dealer lot...trade in - off to auction/trade/partner/sell - dealer lot. If you buy a car from someones driveway at their home with their kids running around - that's likely to be a good deal and good car, they don't want a miffed owner coming back. That's the best deals out there private owners, better maintenance records, feedback, honesty, and cheaper.

so this is a 4 cylinder? those do have headgasket issues, but they don't overheat until they're run low on coolant.

if it's low on coolant find out where the coolant is going.
is there a leak and is it one of the headgaskets?

if it is HG's leaking externally - replace the coolant and add two bottles of Subaru conditioner (one is required for your car).

when the valve cover gaskets were replaced - did you have the valves adjusted? They are super easy to do.

do some reading on running some cleaners through the fuel system and Sea Foam through the intake.

problem with buying from dealers is they know nothing about a car. buy from private sellers in the future, get much better deals that way.


unfortunately 10 year old cars need maintenance - and plugs and gaskets are maintenance items, not unexpected failures. if you wanted full on coverage for any thing that could happen it would cost a LOT of money for a 10 year old vehicle.

in general those aftermarket warranty's are not that stellar in coverage and can be a hassle to deal with. front end loading to make a better informed purchase is a better use of resources over those warranty's.
Well, here's what my father and I did. We removed the cover underneath and looked for any type of leak after running the car for 15 minutes. Nothing.
One thing that I saw was every time he gave the car gas, there were bubbles in the coolant reservoir.
The coolant looked like there were particles of something in there floating around so would it be wrong to assume that I should have a coolant flush done? What sucks is with this hurricane that hit here, all the stores are only accepting cash and the banks have all been closed so I can't even buy more coolant or the Sea Foam you mentioned! Crazy times.

Oh I also wanted to ask, where would I find that special Subaru conditioner? Plus, I was unaware that I shouldn't mix coolants because the first coolant I added I believe was not 50/50 coolant and I even checked in the Subaru manual and that was indeed specified. Oops. Do you think I damaged the coolant system?

Thanks for all your help!

e.
 

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Hey there possible outbacker. Sorry to hear about your issues with the car. I have been the happy owner of a 2000 OBS myself and the issues you raise are valid across the board. The head gaskets for the phase II engines were a known problem but there was no warranty that Subaru put out to recall all of them due to sheer volumes on the market. They seep oil and coolant. I know this because my 99 RS had the same SOHC engine and suffered the same leaks. The coolant conditioner that you talk about is Subaru's branded radiator stop leak, like a BARS product. It's only a bandaid for the situation. If you are getting bubbles in the radiator when you get on the accelerator then as much as I hate to say it, you might have a bad head gasket. This would contribute to the misfiring in cylinder 3 as well.
I wish you the best on getting your issues squared and my best to you with the weather situation that you all are enduring on the east coast.
 

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you didn't damage the cooling system.

Subaru conditioner is available from Subaru. $2.50 a bottle. If you have those issues you might as well put in two bottles.

If it's got bubbles in the radiator due to headgaskets that is not a good sign. It probably suggests the headgaskets have been worked on before or the car may have been severely overheated at some point in the past. Engines that have been overheated tend to have future internal engine failures - bearings. Hopefully it's 100,000 miles from now.

Maybe you'll get lucky and it's something else...but tread carefully. You can get block testing kits which test for hydrocarbons in the coolant, that will tell you if those bubbles are indeed from the combustion/exhaust/blown headgasket, or not.
 

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HGs sound bad and are leaking CC gasses internally into the coolant and the conditioner only helps with external leaks.

You could try the chemical HG test from the auto parts store - but some folks say it is indeterminate. There are youtube videos showing it's use. the bubbles in the coolant will turn the liquid yellow - but really now, where would bubbles in the coolant be coming from?
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Well I took the car to a Subaru dealer yesterday and am currently using a loaner to get around. I finally got a call from the Customer Service rep and after waiting four hours to get a reply back from the good people at C.A.R.S., they tell the rep that the repairs are NOT covered by the warranty. Subaru told me it's a leaking compression? I asked how much will it cost and they said around $1500 which I do not have. So I told them I would pick up the car on Monday and I owe them $92 just for them to analyze the issue.
 

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Well I took the car to a Subaru dealer yesterday and am currently using a loaner to get around. I finally got a call from the Customer Service rep and after waiting four hours to get a reply back from the good people at C.A.R.S., they tell the rep that the repairs are NOT covered by the warranty. Subaru told me it's a leaking compression? I asked how much will it cost and they said around $1500 which I do not have. So I told them I would pick up the car on Monday and I owe them $92 just for them to analyze the issue.
Well, if its losing compression, its most likely the head gaskets since the rings are long wearing, you have the "bubbles", and your are losing coolant.

Shop around if you are unable to do the repair yourself. If its done correctly, you won't have to worry about for 100s of thousands of miles.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Last night I met a guy that owns a Car service business and he suggested I try something called K-Seal first? He said if that doesn't fix the problem he would most certainly work on my car and he only charges $60 an hour labor. That was music to my ears. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Autozone didn't have K-Seal so I went with Bar's Leaks Head Gasket Repair fluid and so far so good. I let the car sit 24 hours and then topped off the radiator with 50/50 Antifreeze. Drove it all day today and no overheating at all and the temperature gauge was holding steady right in the middle. Hopefully it will last because this $10 fix just saved me $1500 to fix the issue according to a local Subaru dealer.
 
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