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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Forester with (replaced) blown head gasket in Maryland - cheap

A Maryland dealer is advertising a Subaru Forester with about 100,000 miles, at significantly below blue book value. I ran an vehicle history. (I don't see how you can trust a history printed by a seller - too easy to fake.) There were no flags, though it had been spent a couple years somewhat further north, where it must have seen some snow and salt, which could produce rust if it wasn't taken care of right. It seemed worth a look.

I'm not a mechanic, and don't know much about cars, but I would love to have a vehicle like that, so I went. I used a flashlight to examine everything under the vehicle. (A high ground clearance makes that so easy!) There was a little rust, but not a lot. There was also a small dent from what was obviously a very minor unreported collision, and a few minor cosmetic flaws. Nothing seemed excessive for a 14 year old car.

Except there were signs of an oil leak - a spot under the vehicle, and a wet spot on the bottom of the car. Also, I thought the radiator fluid was a bit low too, but wasn't sure, as I didn't look in the owner's manual. I have been told that most oil leaks aren't hard to fix, but everyone says you should pay an independent mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection, so I was planning to.

But first, since it cost me nothing, I spoke to a dealer mechanic, and asked about the oil leak. He said it had had a blown head gasket, which had been replaced, so the leak should be gone.

He mentioned some other repairs that had been done there.

I went home thinking I might buy the vehicle, though I wondered why the dealer would put the car on sale without cleaning up the oil spot on the bottom. So I looked up blown head gaskets, and realized what the rest of you probably know - that replacing them isn't sufficient - that, among other things, it introduces distortions in the metal that mean it may never seal right, and that the engine may be a lost cause, unless it undergoes a major overhaul. A blown head gasket might also explain the possibly low radiator fluid.

I have no idea how complete the dealer's repairs were. Perhaps they fixed everything that the blown head gasket did, perhaps they didn't. Anyway, I have decided I am not up for buying a car which once had a blown head gasket, even if it has been replaced.

Perhaps one of you experts might be more interested. I won't explicitly mention the dealer name, but you can find it through TrueCar. Look within 50 miles of Washington, DC, for a 2004 Subaru Forester with between 90,000 and 110,000 miles.

If no one buys it at that price, perhaps they will sell it even cheaper as a parts car.

I guess the real moral of the story is that if you are a mechanic working for a dealer, don't talk to a potential buyer about a car he/she hasn't bought yet. Nonetheless, from the buyer's perspective it may be worth trying to get the dealer mechanic to do just that. It doesn't cost anything to try... :smile2:
 

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you can link it now that you have 11 posts.

if it is so cheap that you can round up another engine for it (if need be), seems like a buy if it is rust free.
 
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I'm guessing he is talking about the blue one at College Park Honda.

Was 6995 now 5995.

If that is the one it has have a Maryland State Inspection so safety wise it should be OK.

Dealer probably hoping to sell to some University of MD college student looking for cheap transportation.
 

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I don't think you can ever go wrong with a Subaru, as long as you are willing to fix it. If you fix whatever they need you have an excellent chance of happy ownership. They are the best in the long run!
 

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I don't think you can ever go wrong with a Subaru, as long as you are willing to fix it. If you fix whatever they need you have an excellent chance of happy ownership. They are the best in the long run!
Couldn't you say that about any vehicle?
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
You found the right listing. I didn't want to list the dealer (actually, I listed it, then edited it out) because it usually isn't considered proper to mention specific businesses or people in most forums, especially if it might be seen as in any way negative. That sort of thing gets people and forums sued.

The way I see it, the mechanic chose to be honest, but not to place proper emphasis on the risks involved in a vehicle that has blown a head gasket. The sales person didn't mention the issue at all - but this close to the DC beltway, almost no one advertises cars or trucks for sale under book value unless there is something wrong with it. I should have guessed.

The mechanic made a point of saying that there was no warranty. Also that if I wanted the car to run long, I should change the oil often, and use good quality gasoline, not the cheapest brands. He didn't say that advice might have anything to do with the blown gasket. He made it sound like that was good advice for any car - which perhaps it is, though I admit I used Costco gas in the recent past, with other vehicles - I wonder if that was a bad idea in theory.

In addition to the possibility that the engine might leak oil again, fast (if it was slow, it wouldn't bother me to add an extra quart between oil changes), I suppose that having metal shavings in the oil, as is supposed to be common with blown head gaskets, might have damaged a lot of things in the engine, as well as the oil and coolant circulation systems, and maybe the coolant system as well. I'm too cautious, as a non-mechanic, to buy such a car. As far as being meant for students, a typical poor starving student needs something that won't unexpectedly cost a lot of money. It's people with more money to burn who can afford to take such risks. Besides, over the past 10 years or so, the University and nearby businesses have built so many hi-rise dorm and apartment buildings, and gotten rid of so many parking spaces, that it is rapidly turning into much less of a commuter school than it used to be. A lot more students than before can live within walking distance of campus, or on the university shuttle routes.

BTW, I interpret the oil spot on the underside as meaning that the repair wasn't altogether successful. Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps they just haven't detailed it yet.

Maybe you can replace the engine. But it's only gone 100,000 miles. I was once told that on a light truck - which the Subaru sort of resembles - you replace engines around the 200,000 - 250,000 mark, and keep on going.

There seem to be an awful lot of Subarus out there that have blown head gaskets way under that. Something isn't right. I suppose it could just be that many people look at the high ground clearance on some of them, and the AWD, and treat them like more solidly built serious 4x4 off-road trucks, and therefore shake and bounce them to pieces. That's consistent with the idea they also get a fair number of AWD viscous coupler failures.

But it scares me away from buying an older Subaru. In fact, it scares me away from buying any vehicle with an obvious oil leak, because if it was simple to fix, the dealer should have fixed it, and detailed the old evidence away.
 

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I interpret the oil spot on the underside as meaning that the [head gasket] repair wasn't altogether successful. Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps they just haven't detailed it yet.
Could be. But lots of other issues can cause oil leaks besides head gaskets.

There seem to be an awful lot of Subarus out there that have blown head gaskets way under that [200k - 250k miles]. Something isn't right. I suppose it could just be that many people look at the high ground clearance on some of them, and the AWD, and treat them like more solidly built serious 4x4 off-road trucks, and therefore shake and bounce them to pieces.
The reason these head gaskets failed was Subaru's use of inferior gasket coating materials, combined with some particular aspects of the block design that led to fairly thin standoff distance between the water jacket and exterior on the bottom of the engine. It had nothing to do with how we used it.
 

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He said it had had a blown head gasket, which had been replaced, so the leak should be gone.
That sounds like after they got it on trade in they noticed the headgasket was previously replaced - and they didn't like something they saw about the repair - unknown gaskets, DIY hack job, loose bolts and reused exhaust gaskets with sealant slathered everywhere, zip tied timing covers, fluids everywhere - who knows what they saw.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Could be. But lots of other issues can cause oil leaks besides head gaskets.
But as a non-expert, I cannot distinguish the serious from the non-serious problems. If it is easy to repair, say, I assume any reasonably competent dealer would have fixed it before showing the vehicle. If it isn't, it might be something bad - so the safest thing to do for an ignorant purchaser is to find another vehicle. If I really, really wanted it anyway - I would pay for a pre-purchase inspection - I intend to on whatever car I buy anyway. The thing is, it seems to me too good to be true. This close to the DC beltway, it is more typical for used cars that age to be advertised 30-70% above book value.

The reason these head gaskets failed was Subaru's use of inferior gasket coating materials, combined with some particular aspects of the block design that led to fairly thin standoff distance between the water jacket and exterior on the bottom of the engine. It had nothing to do with how we used it.
So none of the things (like letting the vehicle overheat) mentioned at places like

Ways to Prevent a Blown Head Gasket ? Automobile Remedy ? Head Gasket Sealers

are a factor? Or do those make the failure more likely?

And is it age, or miles, that determines the date of failure? In other words, will an older Subaru fail even if it has low miles?

That's important to me, because I think I want a used Outback or Forester. But if a Subaru will eventually and without warning have a major and costly breakdown like this, in the middle of nowhere, on a Sunday, on a long weekend, I don't want one. But I'm very willing to be gentle on my car to prevent it.
 

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But as a non-expert, I cannot distinguish the serious from the non-serious problems. If it is easy to repair, say, I assume any reasonably competent dealer would have fixed it before showing the vehicle. If it isn't, it might be something bad - so the safest thing to do for an ignorant purchaser is to find another vehicle. If I really, really wanted it anyway - I would pay for a pre-purchase inspection - I intend to on whatever car I buy anyway. The thing is, it seems to me too good to be true. This close to the DC beltway, it is more typical for used cars that age to be advertised 30-70% above book value.



So none of the things (like letting the vehicle overheat) mentioned at places like

Ways to Prevent a Blown Head Gasket ? Automobile Remedy ? Head Gasket Sealers

are a factor? Or do those make the failure more likely?

And is it age, or miles, that determines the date of failure? In other words, will an older Subaru fail even if it has low miles?

That's important to me, because I think I want a used Outback or Forester. But if a Subaru will eventually and without warning have a major and costly breakdown like this, in the middle of nowhere, on a Sunday, on a long weekend, I don't want one. But I'm very willing to be gentle on my car to prevent it.
for a initial subaru buyer. consider things that are listed as having their head gaskets already done.

outbacks/ legacy: 2000-2009, (this gets you right out of the worst engines,..and old suspension).

forester: 2003-2010. (earlier lean in turns).

impreza/ impreza outback sport: 2008-2011. (earlier ones are a bit smaller, cramped inside, and hop on the road more).

things to avoid: turbos. these are things for people that do all their own work, and have big wallets to fix and replace everything that dies even though they were lovingly taking care of it. (like even the expert mechanic can have one crap out randomly on the side of the road, and need $3000-5000 in parts to fix again).

six cylinder ones are nice, however get really thirsty in traffic. (so not ideal in baltimore/dc metro).
 
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And is it age, or miles, that determines the date of failure? In other words, will an older Subaru fail even if it has low miles?

That's important to me, because I think I want a used Outback or Forester. But if a Subaru will eventually and without warning have a major and costly breakdown like this, in the middle of nowhere, on a Sunday, on a long weekend, I don't want one. But I'm very willing to be gentle on my car to prevent it.[/QUOTE]

In general on subbies..
1. They won't strand you for a head gasket failure, unless there a seep/leak and it is unknown or known and neglected. They usually leak externally 99% of the time.
2. Easy to detect. Just look at them from underneath the vehicle. Every oil change is usually sufficient to check them for problems. You can spot a seep or leak well before you ever have a issue usually. So you can plan the repair. Most domestics fail with out warning. Big difference.
3. The parts are reasonable priced and available and are fairly straight forward and easy to change, just takes some time. And there is a lot of information on how to do them online also! Have a dealer do it if you are not sure or don't want to do it to get the best repair so you don't have to worry. I hope this helps.
 

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So none of the things (like letting the vehicle overheat) mentioned at places like

Ways to Prevent a Blown Head Gasket ? Automobile Remedy ? Head Gasket Sealers

are a factor? Or do those make the failure more likely?

And is it age, or miles, that determines the date of failure? In other words, will an older Subaru fail even if it has low miles?
Well, OK, my statement "It had nothing to do with how we used it" was a stretch. Everything matters to a degree. But at the end of the day, even a well cared for car will probably fail, and all that careful maintenance habits and easy driving will get you is longer time interval to that inevitable failure. The problem was in the chemistry of the coolant and oil eating into the coating of the gasket coating materials.

Regarding it being miles or time that is the determinant for failure, the answer is "both". We have a self-reported log of failures here:

http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums...83-hg-failure-log-no-discussion-log-only.html

It is concentrated around 80k-120k miles and 6-10 years age, but of course age and mileage is correlated similarly for a lot of owners around 10k-14k/year. And there are repeat failures listed; these were the people who repaired it with the OEM gasket the first time around, only to see it fail again for the same reason. To try to put a formula to it all is ludicrous.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I just realized, by the way, that this should have been posted to the subaru forester forum. I apologize for posting in the wrong place.

It is concentrated around 80k-120k miles and 6-10 years age, but of course age and mileage is correlated similarly for a lot of owners around 10k-14k/year. And there are repeat failures listed; these were the people who repaired it with the OEM gasket the first time around, only to see it fail again for the same reason. To try to put a formula to it all is ludicrous.
The car in question is advertised at 100290 miles, and is a 2004. It was first titled on 9/30/03. So I guess it can't be considered a pre-mature failure - for Subarus. I don't know it's previous history.

You may be scaring me away from Subaru.

I contrast this with the Ford Ranger I had for 11 years and 225,000 miles, which never had engine problems. I wore out 2 limited slip differentials, but that might be because I had to drive on compact spares, and maybe I used the part-time 4WD too much on spotty snow and ice. It had a slow (1 quart/2000 miles) oil leak through most of its life. But other than that, it never had any problems beyond routine maintenance except a critical rusted suspension part I couldn't replace. At the end everything else still worked perfectly. I wish I had known more about looking for used parts.

And my Chevette had no significant problems other than an exhaust system that rusted out until the carburetor failed at about 10 years and 110,000 or 120,000 miles. I should have repaired and kept that one too.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect Subaru to be more reliable than Ford and GM.

(BTW, My most recent vehicle, a Honda CRV, at 11 years and 125,000 miles, never had any problems beyond routine maintenance and a set of replaced brake disks until I crashed it. Sigh. it did initially take me 3 generations of VW bus to realize they were trouble prone. I didn't know any better. Though I'll never forgive the tire store tech who destroyed my beautiful Vanagon camper by lifting it in the wrong place.)
 

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I just realized, by the way, that this should have been posted to the subaru forester forum. I apologize for posting in the wrong place.



The car in question is advertised at 100290 miles, and is a 2004. It was first titled on 9/30/03. So I guess it can't be considered a pre-mature failure - for Subarus. I don't know it's previous history.

You may be scaring me away from Subaru.

I contrast this with the Ford Ranger I had for 11 years and 225,000 miles, which never had engine problems. I wore out 2 limited slip differentials, but that might be because I had to drive on compact spares, and maybe I used the part-time 4WD too much on spotty snow and ice. It had a slow (1 quart/2000 miles) oil leak through most of its life. But other than that, it never had any problems beyond routine maintenance except a critical rusted suspension part I couldn't replace. At the end everything else still worked perfectly. I wish I had known more about looking for used parts.

And my Chevette had no significant problems other than an exhaust system that rusted out until the carburetor failed at about 10 years and 110,000 or 120,000 miles. I should have repaired and kept that one too.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to expect Subaru to be more reliable than Ford and GM.

(BTW, My most recent vehicle, a Honda CRV, at 11 years and 125,000 miles, never had any problems beyond routine maintenance and a set of replaced brake disks until I crashed it. Sigh. it did initially take me 3 generations of VW bus to realize they were trouble prone. I didn't know any better. Though I'll never forgive the tire store tech who destroyed my beautiful Vanagon camper by lifting it in the wrong place.)
plenty of members here have foresters, and ask and type of them.

Chevette = Rolling Casket. glad you are still alive.

old CRVs. in the old gen1 and gen2, transmissions / engines fail up by 225,000.

sad story there about a VW camper...I hope you got something from the tire shop/ and its insurance company.
...people do put subaru engines in them when they want more power.
picking the right one is important though like a 2000-2004 EJ251/EJ252, or 2001-2004 EZ30D.
 
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