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1999 Subaru Forester 188,000 miles - to rebuild or not to rebuild, that is the question

my forester was recently diagnosed as having a “tired engine.” the Number 2 cylinder is on its way out. In the last 12 months I’ve invested at least $4500 in major maintenance including catalytic converter, water pump, timing belt, clutch, transpan gasket, several other gaskets to repair oil leaks. It still needs filler neck for gas tank, new front axle, and I’ve been told new radiator hoses.

I’m reticent to put a rebuilt or used engine in the vehicle (or send this engine in to be rebuilt), because I feel like at this point there will always be something next. At the same time, a car payment is quite un-appealing.

I’m looking for advice. To rebuild, or not to rebuild, and suck it up for car payments?

Seeing that you still have other problems that need to be fixed, I’d say replace it. Sell this car and hope that you can get enough to buy another car for what money you have. Don’t go new… But I’m a fan of older vehicles anyway. With the amount that you are putting into it, it’s becoming a money pit. You’ll spend quite a bit just to get a new motor, of get this one rebuilt, plus axles and more… Time for this one to give up the ghost. Pawn it off on someone else and let them deal with it… Seriously.

Much of your list is either regular maintenance or suggests internal engine wear. Seeping gaskets are a symptom of pressure buildup in the crankcase consistant with your other symptoms of excess wear. The cat converter could be normal or have been exascerbated by burning oil.

Honestly, if the rest of the vehicle is in as bad a shape as the engine apparently is, I’d start shopping.

For a complete economic analysis, have the rest of the car checked out (frame, body rust, struts, CV joints, etc). Add up the cost of all the repairs, then look to see what kind of car you could get for that much money, or that much in payments. (Let’s say $5000 to keep it running 2 more years, what could you get for $200/month.)

But I would say that with a 12 year old car it’s not about economics any more, it’s about love. I had a '96 Mazda that I loved and would have kept forever if my wife hadn’t made me replace it. Then I had a Saturn Vue, which I never really bonded with and which had some weird problems, so at the first sign of a transmission problem I ditched it even though economics would have said fix it.

Go with your heart and your gut on this. If your gut is telling you to fix it, you will flinch every time you write the check for the new car payment. If your gut is telling you it’s over but you keep it instead, every little noise and drop of oil on your driveway will drive you crazy.

thanks to all who have responded so far. the body of the car and the interior look darned good still. it’s a tough call…i don’t like waste, so feel this car shouldn’t end up scrapped…but I do feel like it’s a perfect match for a mechanic who wants to keep it going. until the engine threw this code for the cylinder, the car ran beautifully and was getting 26 mpg in mixed driving and 29 mpg on road trips. the new subaru’s all show 21 and 25mpg on the sticker in the windows.

if i shop for used, does anyone have an opinion on RAV4, CRV, or Hybrid Toyota Highlander, versus looking for another used Subaru Forester or Outback?

I appreciate your replies! Thanks!

All are great choices when new, but with used cars it depends 100% on how well they were maintained and treated. Any used car should be thoroughly checked out before purchase.

By the way, if this change in performance was sudden, it is possible that you have a valve not operating properly due to sticking, carbon buildup, or even sticking or weakening of those parts that open and close it (rocker arms, return springs, lifters/tappets, whatever. Did the mechanic do a good analysis that included lifting off a valve cover or using a vacuum gauge or just a quick check?

all good questions. i was standing there while they hooked up the computer to analyze the code. then the mechanic popped the hood and pulled a spark plug, then he checked something down lower on the engine, and said something about compression being at 25% on the number 2 cylinder. I don’t know if they used a vacuum gauge. I wish I had your knowledge so that I could ask the good follow up questions. the shop i take it to has done a lot of the work on the car for me. he was going to charge me $78 for the computer analysis of the check engine light, but when they gave me the news, he told me he didn’t want me to pay them…they’d made a lot already on the car. they looked as bummed about it as I felt.

thanks to all for your feedback.

Sounds like a good shop, but if he just put a pressure gauge into the spark plug hole, that might not rule out a sticky valve. It would not hurt to ask them if they considered it.

I agree with StrongDreams. And would add that since it’s the car’s regular shop, they probably have a pretty good idea of the engine’s overall condition. They probably made a good judgement based on things that we can only guess at.

again…thanks so much for your input. i’ll call and ask them if they used a pressure gauge, and ask them if they considered a sticky valve as a possibility.

Move on. Try your best to remove attachment and let this one go.

I would at least price out a remanufactured engine. It sounds like all your problems are with the engine, and a reman will take care of all that. Radiator hoses, fuel filler and axles are relatively minor. Except for the fuel filler, these are expected items at this age.

If you have a sticking valve, not likely by the way, you still need a teardown to fix it. If you have adjustable lifters and one is too tight, it might be possible to adjust it and get the compression back for that cylinder.

Anyway, you could be money ahead by doing the engine, you need to get an estimate first. I would avoid a used engine and if you do go with a reman, get one form a reputable company. The extra cost will be well spent. Also get a reman long block, not a short block.

looks like i have some research to do, before I make any final decision. If i go the route of "rebuilt " i’m wondering if I should have this engine rebuilt, or look for one that has already been done. If I buy a rebuilt one, is this engine worth anything on the market…what happens to it? just curious if it gets sold by the place that does the work.

thanks for all of your patience with my questions.

The old engine is sent to rebuilder and usually you get refunded a core charge.

A reputable enginer rebuiler is here>>>

I am unclear if pricing is decent.

A rebuilder does them all the time. How many rebuilds does your shop do in-house per month? On that theory, a rebuilder will probably do a better job, but it’s not guaranteed.

I’m with you…the shop I use didn’t even suggest they do it. I’ll research the link andrew_j provided. i’ve also started shopping…good grief cars (new or used) are expensive.

StrongDreamsWaitHere…just got off the phone with ccr engines in colorado. for a rebuilt long block, $3795, includes shipping of rebuilt to me, and my old engine back to them. I spoke with Lynette and she was very knowledgeable and provided great details on what I was getting for the money. 14-days to rebuild, plus a few more to receive it…pretty quick turnaround. She said it shouldn’t take a good shop more than 10 hours to do the work, and they do it for $750 for labor. My shop just told me they need 20-25 hours (~ $1800)…not going to take it there, if I go this route.

It stinks, because a lot of the components that are part of the rebuild I have already replaced in my current engine. I wish I’d been advised to replace the engine in its entirety when it was showing the signs of needing the repairs that were coming down the pike…20/20 hindsight…gotta love it!

to fix everything that is currently known is probably close to $5500. with $4000 put in it in the last 12 months…it doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.

If anyone is interested, I have a mechanic’s special for sale…make offer :slight_smile: