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leaking head gasket on Subaru Forester

edited November -1 in Repair and Maintenance
I have a 1998 Subaru Forester with what appears to be a leaking head gasket. I am trying to limp the car along for the next 6-12 months. If I am careful to keep the coolant topped-off can I pull this off? More specifically, as long as I do not let the car overheat, is their any chance of a castrophic gasket failure? Or, will it just continue to burn more and more coolant?
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  • edited May 2010
    I wonder...Of all the Subaru's that have ever been made, what percentage have blown their head gasket(s)??

    In your local parts store, look in the stop-leak section for "Block & Head Gasket Repair". What the heck, it's worth a try...If it's possible to re-torque the heads with the engine in place, I would try that too. Can't hurt....
  • edited May 2010
    leaky is blown. If the head is warped or there is loss of coolant into the cylinders you have a serious problem. Can these head bolts be retorqued or are they the one use only type? IF the head is warped beyond spec. re-torqueing is not likely to cure the problem. Replace the head gasket, and while the head is off, straight edge it to find out if it is warped. replace if needed, or have it machined. By the way how do you know it is the gasket, and not a cracked head? Check the disscussion thread on the guy with water damage for a preview of you next question if you dont bother to get this fixed.
  • edited May 2010
    I have a 98 Ford taurus I bought last July with a bad headgasket. It's now May and 6000+ plus miles later and it is still running. My consumption of anti freeze has increased some, but I have yet to see any signs other than that. I have no white smoke from the tailpipe or knocking as of yet and am still getting decent gas milage. Are you getting white smoke yet?
  • edited May 2010
    This vehicle seems to be very susceptable to head gasket failure. One OP explained the engine design and Subaru no longer specifying the re-torquing of the head bolts.

    When heads and blocks were made of the same material (cast iron) this was never a problem. The last and only head gasket problem I had was an external leak on my 1965 Dodge Dart 273 V8 on the left bank in 1971. The cost was around $55 then to fix it for good.
  • edited May 2010
    Indy, you are running on luck. by the way, how do you know you have a leaky head gasket and not some other cause for your coolant loss? Do you have excess condensation in the exhaust? Have you run a compression test? Why have you not done anything about this problem if you now it exists? Just hate to do maintainance, can't afford it but can afford to replace an engine, what?
  • edited May 2010
    He, he,...Ignoramus9 feels punchy today :-)
  • edited May 2010
    We are moving overseas sometime in the next 6-12 months. The car does not get heavy use and we have no intention of pawning the car off on someone with this problem. So long term damage is not much of a concern. Given these parameters, can I continue to drive without fear of catastrophic failure (assumng I keep the coolant up)? Thanks for the input.
  • edited May 2010
    Blown head gaskets are unique to the 96-2004 2.5L engines. However they had great sales number of that period so it may reflect a lot.

    Of 10 Subaru's in my family(sis in laws) two have had this demise at 250k and 280k miles. Both had the 2.5L and interestingly enough very few other issues.

    Finishing my thought a sealer was applied to both Subaru's and they motored on for at least 6 months making sure to check coolant level. Both were traded in with no CEL illuminated or Subaru dealer figuring out the gasket was blown. However my guess these cars became auction fodder.
  • edited May 2010
    Nothing "CATASTROPHIC" will happen.. As the problem gets worse, it will blow the coolant out of the radiator quicker and overheat sooner...
  • edited May 2010
    Head gaskets can fail in several ways. Many of the Subaru head gaskets leak externally and this is at least somewhat benign if the coolant level is kept up. This can usually be seen around the edges of the cylinder head and sometimes a wisp of steam or sweet smell may be present.
    The other more serious type is a head gasket breach into the combustion chamber. This can cause overheating, serious loss of coolant, and all bets are off on how long a head gasket can hold up in this condition.

    Just my opinion here, but I think the problems with Subaru head gaskets are due to a combination of things.
    One is decreasing the number of head bolts and failure to retorque the head bolts after a certain mileage. At one time Subaru used to recommend and pay for a retorque on every new car at 1000 miles. The bean counters took care of that.

    Subaru recommends (still does as far as I know) coating all replacement head gaskets with a sealer; something that is not done at the factory when new.

    Subaru heads also seem to have a propensity to warp a bit out of specs. One would think that a short stubby cylinder head would not warp at all but my rough guess would be that of all the ones I've checked about 90% of them needed to be surfaced. A warped head will not seal properly of course; especially with no head bolt retorque being performed.

    At one time Nissan did the same thing. They used to recommend and pay for a head bolt retorque. This procedure was eliminated and shortly afterwards the engines that did not get a retorque would start leaking oil from the pressure port that fed oil to the overhead camshaft.

    If the coolant level is kept up and there are no serious overheating issues just drive it. If the leak is of the benign type you might consider adding a stop leak product to the cooling system. This could slow or even stop the leak.
    Just my 2 cents and hope it helps.
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