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1996 Subaru Impreza blown head gasket?

My friend bought a used Subaru Impreza for $5000 about a year ago, and has drove it with no problems since. Recently, when he was driving in town for about 5 minutes a high pitched squealing starting coming from the engine. After about a minute of squeling, a white smoke started coming from the hood. He tried to make it to the closest service station, but after about a minute of driving the engine slowly died. The car has been sitting outside for the last month, and I recently took a look at what the problem could be. The radiator had lost most of it’s coolant, and the oil was about twice as full as it should have been. This looks like a classic blown head gasket, but I am not very experienced with cars, so any confirmation would be helpful. Thanks,


If the oil looks like coffee with creme in it, then yes, BHG (Blown Head Gasket).

Maybe, but I’m going to say the intake manifold gasket blew.

You’ll soon find out as the intake manifold has to come off to get to the head gasket.

“The engine overheated and while still driving the vehicle the engine slowly died”.

Probably seized it up tight too.

The classic head gasket problem didn’t involve the coolant getting into the engine oil. If coolant fluid has gotten into the engine oil you may be better of replacing the engine with a used one if your friend wants to keep the car. From the statements of your post it sounds like the engine has been cooked due to lack of coolant. There are used Japanese engines available for a reasonable cost, perhaps around $1,100 dollars, plus installation.

The 2.2 liter SOHC engine most likely in this Impreza is not known for blowing the head gaskets. That’s more of a problem for the 2.5 DOHC engines. The high pitched squeal makes me thing a pulley froze up, possibly an idler pulley, and the smoke was from a belt burning as it rotated around the frozen pulley.

A leaking coolant hose could be the culprit, as well, and would account for all of the symptoms you describe. If the engine overheated, there could be serious problems. Overheating is often death to Subaru engines.

On the other hand it could be something else. I recently had a high pitched squeal coming from my '96 Legacy, and it turned out to be a bad alternator. It never froze or smoked, but I could see the alternator pulley vibrating as the squeal occurred, and it happened whenever I added an electrical load, such as turning on the AC or the headlights.

A new alternator seems to have solved the problem.

Does the engine still turn over? Will it start, and if so, how does it run? Before you try to start it, change the oil and refill the radiator.

If the engine oil is full of coolant then the engine is on shaky ground. Coolant is not much of a lubricant at all and it will wash out the crankshaft bearings along with doing cam lobe damage, etc.

In the future what your friend, and anyone else, should do is stop immediately whenver the car is making noise, overheating, etc.
This could have started out as a simple seized belt tensioner and become a total engine job.

It’s also quite often true that when someone says “only a minute” it usually means much longer than that.