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Discussion Starter #1
Have to decide about my my 2006 outback with a 2.5 l non-turbo. The car has 120k miles on it. It’s in 9.5/10 condition. I have been losing coolant through the rad cap out the reservoir slowly at first but finally so quickly on my last trip, I couldn’t keep coolant in the car. Engine has not seized but rad is now toast. Flat-bedded her to my mechanic. I redid the head gaskets at 85k. My mechanic said I need to invest in a new rad and perhaps water pump but I think the head gaskets are shot. He can’t tell until the first repair is done. So I am into potentially $4000 + for repair. Maybe the head gasket isn’t gone? He doesn’t think so but can’t explain the symptoms. What else could it be? Symptoms: fire it up and within 15 seconds, level in coolant reservoir rises, eventually little bubbles, then big bubbles, then violent bubbles. Tried a new rad cap but no change.

Thoughts appreciated.

Thanks.



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If you aren't getting any visible leaks of coolant, I would think the only other way air could be getting into the system like that would be through the head gasket from the exhaust. I have never done a compression/leak down test, but it should identify if it is a head gasket and I imagine it should take a mechanic less than an hour to complete. Is the mechanic stating that the radiator is clogged or leaking? $4,000 sounds steep for head gaskets.

Pressurizing the coolant system might identify a leak too.
 

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Top off the radiator and check the coolant for exhaust gases. There are two methods, the first one anyone can do - you can even do it yourself if you want - but it's not always conclusive. It could test "good headgasket" - but it could be wrong. As bad as yours sounds we might guess it should work here. Local stores sell them as well, here's an example:


The second is an exhaust gas analyzer which is better than the chemical test, it can confirm this in a matter of seconds. Ask your shop if they know any shops that have one or call around and ask - that's the difference between you guessing, throwing money at the car twice or wasting money. They're expensive so not all shops have them, but a good one that doesn't want to waste their time and your money will have one.

A headgasket job is not $4,000. It should be $2,500-$3,000.

If you're going to price out a headgasket on that vehicle here's the lowest cost/best long term-100,000 mile repair:
Headgaskets and heads resurfaced (you do not need a full valve job), valve cover gaskets, spark plugs
Timing belt and lower toothed idler
Radiator and thermostat

Personally Id replace all the timing pulleys and water pump but my labor is free and those are low failure rate items.

It's almost certainly headgaskets...but it may not be. All we have is circumstantial evidence relayed to us about a car we can't see. So it could be something else, but I'd guess 99 times out of 100 a post like this is the headgaskets.

The previous 85k headgasket repalcement may not have been done well - poor parts choices, install, clean/prep/torque.
 

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4,000 dollars is no small chunk of change, however I don't think cheap and repairs go together much anymore with today's cars.

I had a runner back in the day I used as a commuter/beater (96 Chevy Corsica)....and ran into a similar situation as your current vehicle which ultimately ended up being exhaust gaskets. Another symptom I noticed was it was air locking my coolant system and the thermostat rised up (not get quite to the red) before ultimately opening up and then cooling the vehicle. This all happened in a matter of a few days....and ultimately, I decided to send the ol' girl out to pasture and cut my loss....it was a good car, but rust, about 180,000 miles and paint flaking (wonderful mid 90's GM paint job) it wasn't worth the dollars to stick into it.

How I approach major repairs is I look at the cost of the repair, and then average a 400-500 dollar/month car payment.....figure out how many months that repair would cover in payments. For your vehicle, I'd figure myself 8-10 months and if the repair would get me more than the 8-10 months, I'm money ahead. If the car is a 9.5/10, 120K would be considered low miles on a vehicle (looking at it from an average of 12K a year), and you bought it new or with low miles....you know the history. I wouldn't think twice about repairing it and continuing to drive it vs finding a new option. Hopefully it's cheaper than the quote.

Take a look at what 4K will buy for a used car.....not a whole lot anymore these days.

Good Luck!

Steve
 

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Thinking the OP's $ 4000 is for a head gasket job and a new radiator? OEM radiator goes for $ 230 (bestbuysubaru.com). Add hoses, shipping and handling and tax and it's ~ $ 300. Question is, can you bring in your own parts for the mechanic to install? Labor to install? Should be less than $ 300. $ 200 sounds fair. Does it even need a new radiator if it's 'just' the head gaskets?

Head gasket jobs around these (Denver metro area) parts should be around $ 1500. Say it's $ 1700. Not sure where the OP is located. Total with radiator should be less than $ 2500. Throw in timing belt kit with pump replacement and it should still be around or under $ 3000. But that's in this area where some mechanics are doing 3-5 head gasket jobs a week, know what they're doing and charge fair prices.

If the vehicle is 9.5/10 I would pay that money rather than getting another (used) vehicle which comes with a purchase price (less the selling price of the current vehicle) and more than likely will encounter its own set of unknowns potentially leading to maintenance costs.
 

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Given your statement that it's a 9.5 out of 10, and you appear to like the vehicle, I would invest in it. But full disclosure - I'm quite partial to this generation as well.

And - not with this mechanic, and not all at once. We can triage the symptoms based on your report:

1. The head gaskets may be a necessity, and the tests that others have outlined here can give you some confidence that the first mechanic made the correct call.
2. If and when the head gaskets are replaced, do the timing belt, idlers, and tensioner, if it's not been done yet on this engine. If it was done at 105 months / 105k, skip this part. This should cost you materials only, no labor, because all of these have to come off anyway for the heads to come off. And it's very easy with the engine pulled.
3. And also change the water pump - just because it's not that expensive, and likewise very easy with the engine pulled.
4. Don't do anything with the radiator right now, unless you know the flow is significantly impeded (not sure why you say it's toast). It sounds to me that the radiator and cap are doing their job properly, letting excess pressure out of the system.

Good luck, and do post here for recommendations on a better mechanic in your area!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks guys.

I did a compression test myself and passenger side is a bit low, around 110 both cylinders.

I didn’t know about testing for exhaust gasses. I will try that and order from amazon.

To do anything I need to be able to keep coolant in the engine. My rad has a hole in it so must be replaced. I think if I repair the car, I will do that myself. My son has an Impreza with the same engine and has recommended THE local mechanic for Subaru’s. I am going to call and get another estimate on a HG repair.

I will keep posting as I explore and make a decision. Thanks again all.


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I had a 2000 Legacy with very very similar symptoms and it turned out to be a badly blocked radiator.

I had the radiator replaced and the car is still going strong three years later (I no longer own it as it has been sold to a friend)

Seagrass
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Ok. Cheap to try that. And I can’t check anything else until I do the rad. Sounds like my weekend project. Thx!


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My rad has a hole in it so must be replaced.
This detail was missing from your original post. Obviously, you have to take care of this first, and since the head gaskets have been replaced once before, you have reason to be hopeful that this will take care of all the issues you are seeing, if the parts used were the correct multi-layer gaskets, and the work was done competently. Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yes but the rad started leaking after the pressure began building in cooling system. So I think the rad was caused by the problem. I did have it pressure tested before I went on the last trip - no leaks. To give you a sense of how bad it became, I would fill with coolant and start the engine, and run for five minutes and would need a jug of coolant to refill. A buddy of mine is an airplane mechanic. He thinks it’s a head gasket. The engine was design is for air cooling (opposed is common in airplanes) and was adapted for a car. His theory is the cooling system creates all kinds of issues for the design. I am still thinking about it.
 

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A buddy of mine is an airplane mechanic. He thinks it’s a head gasket. The engine was design is for air cooling (opposed is common in airplanes) and was adapted for a car. His theory is the cooling system creates all kinds of issues for the design. I am still thinking about it.
That's definitely incorrect. It is a completely different engine and design compared to an aircraft engine. Only thing common they share is cylinder layout. Aka opposed. The design process on a cooling system is a lot different than air cooled/oil cooled. Subaru definitely did not take an airplane engine and start drilling to make coolant passages. That's just completely wrong. I would not take any more advice from your buddy. Put a new radiator in it first. Then do the rest of the testing. The only reason for the headgasket to fail at this point, was neglecting the repair. Not the engine design or engine itself.
 

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That's definitely incorrect. It is a completely different engine and design compared to an aircraft engine. Only thing common they share is cylinder layout. Aka opposed. The design process on a cooling system is a lot different than air cooled/oil cooled. Subaru definitely did not take an airplane engine and start drilling to make coolant passages. That's just completely wrong. I would not take any more advice from your buddy. Put a new radiator in it first. Then do the rest of the testing. The only reason for the headgasket to fail at this point, was neglecting the repair. Not the engine design or engine itself.
The original Subaru engine was in fact an airplane designed engine adapted to an automobile.
 

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Sources please. I know Subaru engines are used in airplane conversions for home built guys.
Do a simple google search and you will find many sources! Also having worked on Subarus since the 80's and having attended the SOA Technical schools this was mentioned by the factory teachers.
 

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Do a simple google search and you will find many sources! Also having worked on Subarus since the 80's and having attended the SOA Technical schools this was mentioned by the factory teachers.
I did and only came up with subaru engines being used in aircraft taken from the automobile. Please show me sources for the ej25 being an aircraft engine then adapted to automobiles.
 

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Do a simple google search and you will find many sources!
Thanks for the advice, I did. What I found:

Karl Benz invented the boxer engine in 1896, and patented it the same year. His application was an automobile, of course.

Santos Dumont used the already-developed boxer engine concepts in the first production plane with a boxer in 1909, the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle.


All subsequent uses of this previously developed 1896 technology - notably VW, Porsche, BMW, Subaru, and many others - would have been built on this base.

Looks like there's really no basis for the statements you made.
 

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The EJ series of engines were inspired by boxer airplane engines, but were NOT originally an airplane engine design then adapted to automobile use.
 
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