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DIY 2001 Subaru Cylinder Head Gasket Replacement

143933 Views 116 Replies 27 Participants Last post by  greengoblin68
Hi everyone,
Yes, I'm new to posting on this forum, but trust me, I have poured over the threads and used this site on several occasions to fix my 2001 Subaru Outback, standard transmission, 2.5L SOHC 4 cylinder engine. Finally, at over 160K, my subie has developed the famous external head gasket leak. Yes, drivers side, rear. I have oil weeping from the seam, coolant in the back. Yes, I have strange odor. The coolant in my reservoir is still green but seems to be leaking more than the oil in my engine (which is not milky). I know what I need to do, the question is whether or not I can do it myself. I'm strongly inclined to try, but this would be the biggest automotive repair project I've ever tried. I've been studying these forums and reading and rereading my Haynes guide. My Haynes is going to be the step-by-step for my actions, specifically Chapter 2, Section 12 (Cylinder heads - removal and installation). Most of the instructions on this refer you to other manual sections, which I've spent the last two weekends just reading, looking and planning, and I think now is a good time to ask a couple of questions.

1) TDC vs. camshaft sprockets. Haynes instructs me to find Top Dead Center of the #1 cylinder by adjusting the camshaft pulley with a breaker bar while a compression gauge is in the sparkplug hole. I have a pretty good idea where this is already (the marks are still on the pulley from an earlier timing belt change), but I will run through the procedure anyways. I'm not really sure what to look for on the compression gauge though. Are there any play-by-plays out there for what to do exactly? Next I take off my drivebelts, then after a few other removals, Haynes recommends using a chain wrench to hold the pulley while loosening the crankshaft pulley bolt. I'm not sure about using a chain wrench here. Does anyone have any comments or alternatives? I feel like I'm going to have to wrench the heck out of the crankshaft pulley bolt. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I get even ONE tick off of TDC I'm screwed here correct? Last question on this point, and I feel like I have a big knowledge gap here, but after removing the pulley and the covers and the timing belt guide, the next step is to "Turn the crankshaft and align the marks on the crankshaft sprocket, the left camshaft sprocket and the right camshaft sprocket with etc., " Won't this throw off my TDC? I'm hugely concerned about this, if you respond to nothing else, please advise on this.

2) Camshaft removal - after removing sprockets, valve covers, CMP, rocker arm assembly, tb tensioner/bracket, and dipstick Haynes says to remove the "camshaft end cap assembly" then "remove the camshaft carefully from the cylinder head so that the lobes do not nick the journal bores. Remove the camshaft oil seal and the end plug from the camshaft end cap assembly." Is this it? There are no diagrams, no photos. I'm just really vague on what to expect when I get in there, what it will look like.

3) Unforeseen difficulties - I'm planning on being methodical. In fact, I will be photographing EVERYTHING, labeling EVERYTHING with tags and I writing EVERYTHING down. When I'm done, it will be posted. Promise. I'm planning on having to buy some tools. Of course I'll need a torque wrench, spark plug remover, compressor gauge, chain wrench, and pin wrench. I have a wrench set, socket set, hammer (just kidding). I also plan on replacing the left/right valve cover gaskets, spark plugs and, of course, cylinder gaskets. I guess I'll need new cam seals too. I have some money for unforeseen expenses, I have a little time, a place to work. Is there anything else that I'll need that you can think of? Has anyone who has followed the Haynes (or Chilton. . .it's about the same) done this before and found out that something just wasn't covered properly? I want to get everything I need, then do this all at once. I want to keep this car running a while longer, I also want to learn about what is under my hood. Thanks for all your help.
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Wow. You are brave! Not that it hasn't been done before, of course it has, but personally, I would be very hesitant.

Let me ask just a few questions: have you decided on which head gaskets to get? Do you have a machine shop nearby that can check the heads for you and machine them if necessary? Do you have a way to pull the engine, or are you going to do it with the engine in place? It's pretty cramped in there.

I found the Haynes manuals to be insufficient for something as involved as what you are planning to do. The proper service manual would be much better. It's available online... But it may just be my lack of experience.

You might very well be able to pull it off; just trying to make sure you got your bases covered.
Hi everyone,
Yes, I'm new to posting on this forum, but trust me, I have poured over the threads and used this site on several occasions to fix my 2001 Subaru Outback, standard transmission, 2.5L SOHC 4 cylinder engine. Finally, at over 160K, my subie has developed the famous external head gasket leak. Yes, drivers side, rear. I have oil weeping from the seam, coolant in the back. Yes, I have strange odor. The coolant in my reservoir is still green but seems to be leaking more than the oil in my engine (which is not milky). I know what I need to do, the question is whether or not I can do it myself. I'm strongly inclined to try, but this would be the biggest automotive repair project I've ever tried. I've been studying these forums and reading and rereading my Haynes guide. My Haynes is going to be the step-by-step for my actions, specifically Chapter 2, Section 12 (Cylinder heads - removal and installation). Most of the instructions on this refer you to other manual sections, which I've spent the last two weekends just reading, looking and planning, and I think now is a good time to ask a couple of questions.

1) TDC vs. camshaft sprockets. Haynes instructs me to find Top Dead Center of the #1 cylinder by adjusting the camshaft pulley with a breaker bar while a compression gauge is in the sparkplug hole. I have a pretty good idea where this is already (the marks are still on the pulley from an earlier timing belt change), but I will run through the procedure anyways. I'm not really sure what to look for on the compression gauge though. Are there any play-by-plays out there for what to do exactly? Next I take off my drivebelts, then after a few other removals, Haynes recommends using a chain wrench to hold the pulley while loosening the crankshaft pulley bolt. I'm not sure about using a chain wrench here. Does anyone have any comments or alternatives? I feel like I'm going to have to wrench the heck out of the crankshaft pulley bolt. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I get even ONE tick off of TDC I'm screwed here correct? Last question on this point, and I feel like I have a big knowledge gap here, but after removing the pulley and the covers and the timing belt guide, the next step is to "Turn the crankshaft and align the marks on the crankshaft sprocket, the left camshaft sprocket and the right camshaft sprocket with etc., " Won't this throw off my TDC? I'm hugely concerned about this, if you respond to nothing else, please advise on this.

2) Camshaft removal - after removing sprockets, valve covers, CMP, rocker arm assembly, tb tensioner/bracket, and dipstick Haynes says to remove the "camshaft end cap assembly" then "remove the camshaft carefully from the cylinder head so that the lobes do not nick the journal bores. Remove the camshaft oil seal and the end plug from the camshaft end cap assembly." Is this it? There are no diagrams, no photos. I'm just really vague on what to expect when I get in there, what it will look like.

3) Unforeseen difficulties - I'm planning on being methodical. In fact, I will be photographing EVERYTHING, labeling EVERYTHING with tags and I writing EVERYTHING down. When I'm done, it will be posted. Promise. I'm planning on having to buy some tools. Of course I'll need a torque wrench, spark plug remover, compressor gauge, chain wrench, and pin wrench. I have a wrench set, socket set, hammer (just kidding). I also plan on replacing the left/right valve cover gaskets, spark plugs and, of course, cylinder gaskets. I guess I'll need new cam seals too. I have some money for unforeseen expenses, I have a little time, a place to work. Is there anything else that I'll need that you can think of? Has anyone who has followed the Haynes (or Chilton. . .it's about the same) done this before and found out that something just wasn't covered properly? I want to get everything I need, then do this all at once. I want to keep this car running a while longer, I also want to learn about what is under my hood. Thanks for all your help.
This is likely something you can do yourself if you have worked on engines before. Be very careful of the Haines book. Some of their instructions are just plain WRONG. I assume your 2001 is a non-turbo SOHC. If that is the case, you do not remove the camshafts to get the head off. The bolts are readily accessible. Forget about that TDC instruction. If you set the #1 piston to TDC, you could bend a couple of valves. You will be setting the crankshaft mark to the vertical position and aligning both cam marks as if you were setting it up for a timing belt replacement job. That sets all 4 pistons half way down in the cylinders. At that location, with the timing belt off, you can safely move the camshaft sprockets without fear of piston/valve collision.

The big problem with this job is the tight clearances. You can remove the nuts for the engine mounts and remove the dog bone mount under the airbox (top center at firewall area), and with a block of wood protecting your oil pan, raise the engine and move it left or right about 1-2 inches. That gets you some badly needed clearance to R&R the heads. The head bolts will have to stay in the head as you remove it since there is not enough clearance to get all of them to fully slide out. The same goes for re-installing them and you may need a 2nd person to help lift and guid the head back up into place. Doing it by yourself may cause you to scrape the heagasket with a bolt. It is not real straightforward. Spend a lot of time cleaning up the block and head mating surfaces using a very fine wire wheel and 400 grit paper. It might be worth having a machine shop check the heads and smoothing the surface.

It is also not necessary to completely remove the intake manifold. Once the intake manifold bolts are off, each side can be lifted high enough, either by a helper or a couple of heavy black rubber bungy cords. There are locating pins on the head that stick up (to locate the intake manifold gaskets), so you must lift to clear those when re-installing the heads.

Be sure to have a 14 mm 12 point 1/2" socket with 1/2" breaker bar for removal, and a 3/8" 14 mm 12 point socket along with various adapters and a torque wrench. The Haines loosening/tightning sequence is correct, but if you are doing valve lash adjustment, Haines is wrong (use your underhood label).

I just completed one on a 2001 that required a lot more work (i.e. bent valves), so if I am online, I'll try to answer your question. There are also many other knowledgeable folks here to give you good advice.
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I was not planning on pulling the engine. I know it will be more difficult but I was told that it wasn't necessary for SOHC. Basically virtually everything will be removed from the engine compartment anyways.

I was planning on purchasing the manual but there are costs to that and I am in an exploratory stage.

I haven't selected head gaskets for sure. I was thinking about buying a SOHC full package from the Allwheeldriveauto.com http://allwheeldriveauto.com/subaru-parts/

Do I really need to get the heads checked? I'm fixing the gaskets. I imagine checking the heads (and machine work) will add significantly to cost. But yes, there are machine shops available nearby. If this is a definite must do then I will do it.

Not brave, mainly just stupid. But I'm really interested to see if I can make this happen or not. It feels like if I just go through it step-by-step, take my time, be methodical, then I could get it done.
If you are already getting the kit from Allwheeldrive, then you are likely familiar with that long thread on that site about head gasket issues (Subaru Head Gasket Problems Explained. - Seattle Subaru Repair). If not, I would recommend reading through it.

You will see that it is highly recommended to pull the engine. Also, you must have the heads checked (as far as I remember, the gaskets you have selected require a flatter surface than OEM gaskets), unless you have a way to check for yourself. The gaskets need to match the head surface perfectly after all. Also, surfacing the heads in place is a very tricky proposition. If you do it the way jbwood5 suggested, you will need to be extremely careful.
BTW, you might want to check this out:

www.main.experiencetherave.com - /subaru_manual_scans/2000+_Legacy_FSM/

Not sure if it helps, but worth a look :)
absolutely go to josh's site and down load the 2000 FSM. you will be glad you did.

i don't recommend doing it in the car. i just did my first ''head gasket'' job and it was tedious on an engine stand. i cant imagine doing it in the car on a 2.5L engine. single or double cam does not matter. my .02 worth.

use ''subaru'' head gaskets, period. others may work fine, but you can get them online, both for about 75$ total plus shipping. others are not going to be dramatically cheaper. i use subau plug wires, and seals /gaskets for the cam, crank, oil pump o-ring (reseal it), and maybe the coolant crossover pipe o-rings, depending on the miles. everything else i use generic stuff from the parts store.

on my 01 HG job i spent $140 with a lacal dealer, wholesale (same as the online dealer cost) in subaru parts. i then spent about $250 for a timing belt kit (new belt and everything it touches, water pump, all idlers, and tensioner) on ebay, i use ''theimportexperts''. fluids and manifold gaskets, and NGK plugs i got from the local parts chain store.

also my opinion, if the engine has not over heated, you probably do not need to have the heads re-surfaced. (use the reverse torquing sequence to remove the heads) i did not send mine to the machine shop and mine runs great. i have heard that the some dealers don't even do it. if he engine runs good now, and you remove the head and re-install the head properly, it will run good when you are done.

FORGET top dead center. subaru almost NEVER uses it. they have adjusted all of the instructions for timing belt / head gasket work to be done with the pistons at mid stroke. use the FSM, or ask here, and set the crank to the timing alignment mark before you remove the belt. IT"S EASY.

use the hash marks , NEVER use the arrows. notice that the crank keyway is located down in the 6 o'clock position.


DO NOT remove the cam shafts. you do need to remove the cam sprockets to replace the seals, but not the shafts.

i would use a braker bar on the crank bolt BEFORE you pull the engine. put the trans in 1st and the hand brake on and have a friend stand on the brake pedal. or use the ''starter bump'' method. i have used a chain wrench and it works, but you run the risk of destroying the harmonic balancer. (your best bet is to use an impact wrench after you have pulled the engine, but they cost ~$50 at harbor freight). on reinstall, put the trans in gear and the hand brake on. (auto trans have a different procedure.)

TORQUE the crank bolt on re-assembly to 135 ft lbs. failure to do so and it will work loose over time causing trouble $$$.

no need to replace the head bolts. some folks insist that you must, but no where in the FSM does it say to replace them. be sure to coat the head bolt threads and washers with fresh motor oil at install. follow the torquing procedure very closely. you will need a torque wrench that goes down to 11 ft lbs.

good luck and stay in touch.
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use ''subaru'' head gaskets, period. others may work fine, but you can get them online, both for about 75$ total plus shipping. others are not going to be dramatically cheaper.
If you go with Subaru head gaskets make sure you're not getting the same ones that you are taking out. There is no updated Subaru head gasket for this particular engine, but you can use the ones made for the turbo engine. They seem to work fine, even if they don't fit exactly. The point here is not trying to get the cheapest parts but the best parts for the job.

also my opinion, if the engine has not over heated, you probably do not need to have the heads re-surfaced. (use the reverse torquing sequence to remove the heads) i did not send mine to the machine shop and mine runs great. i have heard that the some dealers don't even do it. if he engine runs good now, and you remove the head and re-install the head properly, it will run good when you are done.
The point is to make sure that the heads are flat. If they are, then there is no need to do anything to them. But one has to check. Dealers may not have the tools to flatten or surface the heads, but they usually can determine flatness.

no need to replace the head bolts. some folks insist that you must, but no where in the FSM does it say to replace them. be sure to coat the head bolt threads and washers with fresh motor oil at install. follow the torquing procedure very closely. you will need a torque wrench that goes down to 11 ft lbs.
Just had a little discussion with my shop about the bolts. They always replace them. Oh well. Again, if they are fine, then there is no need to replace them. If they are stretched too much, then obviously yes. The key here is again being able to ascertain that they are still good.
The head gasket purchase comes up in discussion quite often. If Subaru does not provide an updated MLS gasket for your 2001 (and it sounds like they don't), buy the Six Star gaskets which are supposedly better than any of the OEM gaskets. Do a search on how to get these. For my 01, I went with an MLS gasket I got off of E-Bay that is advertised for a certain Saab model that uses the Subaru 2.5 engine. So far, I think I'm the first here on the board that has tried that one. It is holding fine, but only time will tell. I would not suggest buying any of the composite gaskets I see advertised. Also, I hear that headbolts can be re-used 1 time if they are not distorted. Be sure to wire brush the threads and oil the threads and washer prior to lifting the heads in-place and torquing them down.
subaru does not sell any head gaskets any more for the ej25 that are not MLS.
Thank you SO much to everyone who responded so quickly. . thank you especially for the FSM link! AWESOME! And some great advice too. I do have a couple of questions. I'll shoot them out quick. . .

1) If I don't need to find TDC to remove the timing belt, then it sounds like that issues is completely unimportant. How does this work though? I thought TDC was an essential component of almost all engine repairs. It seems so dodgy to just ignore it. "set the crank to the timing alignment mark before you remove the belt." What is the timing alignment mark? How do I make sure I have correct timing when I put the belt back on? (I won't be replacing the belt, it is only a couple thousand miles old)

2) Don't have to remove camshafts! Awesome. That seems to make my job ten million times easier.

I'm thinking seriously about getting an engine stand for this after all, maybe changing out my clutch while I'm at it. I'm kind of feeling like this job might be easier than I thought (still hard though). I'll have more questions later I'm sure. Thank you again for all your help.
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. 1)I thought TDC was an essential component of almost all engine repairs. It seems so dodgy to just ignore it. "set the crank to the timing alignment mark before you remove the belt." What is the timing alignment mark? How do I make sure I have correct timing when I put the belt back on?
as i understand it, TDC for most engines is crucial for setting the timing on an engine. for 2 reasons, 1> it is the only way you KNOW everything is lined up right. and 2> there are no other timing marks.

but subaru has given you timing marks. (do some research and reading.) if you align the crank and both cams (or all four cams depending) to the correct timing alignment marks the timing will be right.

it is alittle bit like paint by numbers. you can't really tell how it is going to look untill you are done, but if you follow the directions it will be right.

subaru has taken the thinking out of it.

the timing alignment marks are ''hash'' marks located on the front outer edge of the cam sprockets and the rear most edge on a ''tab'' of the crank sprocket.

to make it simple for you , assuming your timing is correct and the timing belt is still on the engine, if you rotate the crank sprocket until the notch in the crank sprocket for the key that keeps it set on the crank is pointing down in the 6 o'clock position, the timing alignment marks on the cams will either be lined up or 180 degrees off. if off by 180, rotate the crank one full turn, then all will be right. do this BEFORE you remove the belt. (you will not be able to see the key way in the crank sprocket until you have removed the front crank pulley.)

> TIMING BELT ARTICLES

> timing belt pictures

good luck.
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Since you have a fairly new belt on there, go ahead and line up all the timing marks as explained. Then use some nail polish or white out to mark the edge of the belt and the cam sprocket. Then you will a 2nd reference and won't have to worry about the marks when it appears that one is about half way off. The half way off view occurs before you release the tensioner pin and the first couple of times I did it the job, I ended being off 1 tooth after making the 2 revolutions.

Unless you are planning on changing the cam seals, it is not necessary to remove the camshaft sprockets, but it does help a little when R&Ring the head with the engine in the vehicle. You will need to make or purchase a holding tool to get the camshaft to sprocket bolts off. They can be a little stubborn.
My Plan

Hi everyone! Thanks for all the fast responses and great links. I've poured over them and put together the following plan. If anyone has time I'd love to hear if there is anything you see that I am missing (or overdoing!) Thanks again for everyones help.

2001 Subaru Outback
2.5L, SOHC, 4 cylinders, standard transmission

Each step will be photographed before and after completion. All parts will be tagged and labeled. All bolts will be placed into labeled zip-lock bags. Each component will be stored in a separate box.

Procedure for replacing cylinder head gaskets
1. Check camshaft pulley bolt first. Either use “starter bump” method or impact wrench if the bolt is stuck.
2. Drive onto ramps.
3. Relieve fuel pressure by removing fuel pump fuse.
4. Remove washer fluid reservoir from engine compartment.
5. Remove battery from vehicle.
6. Drain coolant from radiator and from engine block. I might need to remove the radiator and fans for space, but I’m not sure yet. Inspect hoses while I am doing this. I might need a lower radiator hose and/or clamp.
7. Remove air intake components (housing, resonator and ducts).
8. Remove spark plugs.
9. Remove drive belts. Remove a/c tensioner adjuster and main drivebelt tensioner.
10. Remove timing belt covers. Remove crankshaft bolt completely. Remove crankshaft pulley. Remove timing belt guide. Turn crankshaft sprocket and align the marks on the crankshaft sprocket, the left camshaft sprocket and the right camshaft sprocket with the notches on the oil pump, the inner timing belt cover and the cylinder head seam. Clearly mark these areas and mark where the timing belt connects these areas. Mark the direction of the timing belt rotation. Remove idler pulley number 1 to release timing belt tension. Remove idler sprocket number 2 to make clearances for timing belt. Remove timing belt. After this point I can no longer adjust the crankshaft or camshaft sprockets or the valve heads may contact piston crowns. Remove crankshaft pulley sprocket from crankshaft. Remove bolt and timing belt tensioner. Without moving the camshaft sprockets from their alignments, remove sprocket bolts and sprockets and mark them as left and right. Remove inner timing belt covers.
11. Remove bolts from valve covers. Remove oil filler pipe on left side. Separate the covers from the cylinder heads. When replacing, replace valve gaskets
12. Remove camshaft position sensor.
13. Disconnect exhaust manifolds from underneath the cylinder heads.
14. Remove intake manifold. Detach spark plug wires from ignition coil on top. Clamp off and disconnect coolant hoses from throttle body (if I haven’t removed the radiator already). Disconnect fuel injectors, CKP, CMP, ECT, knock sensors, oxygen sensors. Remove power steering pump and position off to the side without disconnecting power steering fluid lines. Remove alternator. Remove a/c compressor and mounting bracket. Do not disconnect refrigerant lines. Disconnect PCV hose from intake manifold. Label and remove all vacuum hoses. Disconnect fuel delivery and return hoses from fuel rail. Remove the fuel rails from each cylinder head and keep injectors attached to the fuel rail. Disconnect accelerator cable and cruise control cable if equipped from the throttle body. Remove air assist injector solenoid valve and bracket. Disconnect and remove the air filter housing brace. Disconnect the vacuum hose, the vent hose and the purge hose from the evaporation pipe. Remove intake manifold mounting bolts and carefully lift the manifold off the engine with the throttle body attached.
15. Loosen cylinder head bolts in the reverse of the tightening sequence. Remove heads and old gaskets. Clean gasket mating surfaces of the cylinder heads and crankcase using a plastic scraper and light acetone or thinner. Have heads inspected by machinist at subarupair, inc. Replace both gaskets. Replace bolts. Carefully torque. Reverse order of operations.
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An update. Working on this repair this weekend. Canubarus first post has been invaluable so far. This website in general has been invaluable. Took all day for me to get to where I am at right now, (ready to remove sprockets). I found a couple of problems in my plan, but so far so good. I'm tgaking lots of pics. Ill put together a synopsis when I'm done. Thanks again for all the help!
Hi everyone! Thanks for all the fast responses and great links. I've poured over them and put together the following plan. If anyone has time I'd love to hear if there is anything you see that I am missing (or overdoing!) Thanks again for everyones help.

2001 Subaru Outback
2.5L, SOHC, 4 cylinders, standard transmission

Each step will be photographed before and after completion. All parts will be tagged and labeled. All bolts will be placed into labeled zip-lock bags. Each component will be stored in a separate box.

Procedure for replacing cylinder head gaskets
1.Check camshaft pulley bolt first. Either use “starter bump” method or impact wrench if the bolt is stuck.
2.Drive onto ramps.
3.Relieve fuel pressure by removing fuel pump fuse.
4.Remove washer fluid reservoir from engine compartment.
5.Remove battery from vehicle.
6.Drain coolant from radiator and from engine block. I might need to remove the radiator and fans for space, but I’m not sure yet. Inspect hoses while I am doing this. I might need a lower radiator hose and/or clamp.
7.Remove air intake components (housing, resonator and ducts).
8.Remove spark plugs.
9.Remove drive belts. Remove a/c tensioner adjuster and main drivebelt tensioner.
10.Remove timing belt covers. Remove crankshaft bolt completely. Remove crankshaft pulley. Remove timing belt guide. Turn crankshaft sprocket and align the marks on the crankshaft sprocket, the left camshaft sprocket and the right camshaft sprocket with the notches on the oil pump, the inner timing belt cover and the cylinder head seam. Clearly mark these areas and mark where the timing belt connects these areas. Mark the direction of the timing belt rotation. Remove idler pulley number 1 to release timing belt tension. Remove idler sprocket number 2 to make clearances for timing belt. Remove timing belt. After this point I can no longer adjust the crankshaft or camshaft sprockets or the valve heads may contact piston crowns. Remove crankshaft pulley sprocket from crankshaft. Remove bolt and timing belt tensioner. Without moving the camshaft sprockets from their alignments, remove sprocket bolts and sprockets and mark them as left and right. Remove inner timing belt covers.
11.Remove bolts from valve covers. Remove oil filler pipe on left side. Remove the bracket that holds the dipstick (i.e. brace). Separate the covers from the cylinder heads. When replacing, replace valve gaskets
12.Remove camshaft position sensor. Remove the camshaft sensor bracket and small bolt before sending heads to machine shop.
13.Disconnect exhaust manifolds from underneath the cylinder heads. Remove one supporting bolt for the exhaust pipe near the rear area of the transmission. Support the exhaust system on a stand or block. This allows the exhaust headers to be moved away (left or right) so that the heads can easily be dropped out the bottom.
13(a). Remove the 2 nuts for the engine cradle mounts. Remove the through bolt on the dog bone mount under the airbox (center, near firewall on top of engine). using a floor jack, raise the engine a couple of inches. Jack at the oil pan with a block of 2X4 protecting the oil pan. At this point the engine can be moved an inch or more left or right, as needed for more clearance.
14. (comment - this step is not necessary if you are dropping the heads out the bottom. See my text below) Remove intake manifold. Detach spark plug wires from ignition coil on top. Clamp off and disconnect coolant hoses from throttle body (if I haven’t removed the radiator already). Disconnect fuel injectors, CKP, CMP, ECT, knock sensors, oxygen sensors. Remove power steering pump and position off to the side without disconnecting power steering fluid lines. Remove alternator. Remove a/c compressor and mounting bracket. Do not disconnect refrigerant lines. Disconnect PCV hose from intake manifold. Label and remove all vacuum hoses. Disconnect fuel delivery and return hoses from fuel rail. Remove the fuel rails from each cylinder head and keep injectors attached to the fuel rail. Disconnect accelerator cable and cruise control cable if equipped from the throttle body. Remove air assist injector solenoid valve and bracket. Disconnect and remove the air filter housing brace. Disconnect the vacuum hose, the vent hose and the purge hose from the evaporation pipe. Remove intake manifold mounting bolts and carefully lift the manifold off the engine with the throttle body attached.
15.Loosen cylinder head bolts in the reverse of the tightening sequence. Remove heads and old gaskets. Clean gasket mating surfaces of the cylinder heads and crankcase using a plastic scraper and light acetone or thinner. Have heads inspected by machinist at subarupair, inc. Replace both gaskets. Replace bolts. Carefully torque. Reverse order of operations.
I know I am responding too late to help the original poster, but for anyone else doing this job, step 14 is totally not necessary. You only need to remove the 4 bolts on each side of the intake manifold that attach to the heads. The manifold will raise up enough to R&R the heads. I mentioned this in an early post, but apparently it was missed. A huge amount of time is saved by not unbolting the power steering pump, alternator, AC compressor, fuel rail/injectors, vacuum lines, electrical connectors, etc.
I believe this is one of the incorrect steps mentioned in the Haynes manual.

I added in a bit more information in red that will really simplify the job. Be sure to adjust the valve lash using the information on the underhood label (not the numbers shown in the Haynes manual). The go no-go feeler gauges work good for this application but some gauge sets are a bit long and cumbersome.

As a suggestion, when re-starting the engine for the first time after major work like this, temporarily remove the fuel pump fuse and leave the spark plugs out. Make sure the timing belt is properly installed and checked. Then crank the engine a few 5-10 second cycles to get the oil pressure up. You should be able to get the oil light to go out. With no sparkplugs in, the engine will crank pretty fast. This step is even more important if you have removed and re-installed the oil pump for re-sealing.
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I made some edits to the last post in this thread to help those who are DIYer's and are replacing the headgaskets on their SOHC 2.5. I suspect a lot of folks already do it this way, but for those who are working their first job, I hope this helps.
use 4th gear

put the trans in 1st and the hand brake on and have a friend stand on the brake pedal. or use the ''starter bump'' method.

i wouldnt use first, one of the dealers near me told me to use 3rd gear when doing a TB job and after it was complete i had a whine in the gearbox, use forth as that is is 1:1 meaning the force does not go throught any gears in the box so the risk of thsi hapening is non existant, supposedly.
I used the starter bump method. I broke my breaker bar on the first try because I gave the ignition too much "pop". On the second try I just barely feathered it (I was in neutral - standard transmission) and it worked like a charm.

Got the second cylinder head off last night. I gotta say that I just don't know how you would have the clearance to move that head around without removing the intake manifold. I know it's possible but I needed every inch I could get. I needed to lift the engine about two inches after loosening the engine mounts which were super rusted.

But both heads are off now. I'm going to get them looked at today. I already have a gasket set and hopefully if I don't need any resurfacing I can start putting them back on tonight. I don't know how I am going to get the torque I need for those cylinder head bolts. Clearance is so tight and those rockers are right there!!!
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