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2001 Subaru Outback leaky head gaskets

So this is an expense for the owner to cover even though this problem is widespread over Outbacks?

Expense for what ?

Describe the problem “expense” of your 18 year old vehicle.

Yes it is.

The problem is the left (driver side) head gasket is leaking some oil.

The car has 105,000 original miles on it

Found this on the web …

2/6/2004

1999-02 Phase2 2.5L engines, Legacy, Outback, Forester

Certain 1999 through 2002 2.5L equipped vehicles may experience an external coolant leak at the head gaskets. As a precautionary measure, SOA is adding a special conditioner to the engine cooling system. This conditioner prevents leaks from occurring and corrects existing leaks.
Only early Phase II 2.5 liter engines are affected. Phase I 2.5 liter engines (some 1999 model year and prior years) are not affected. Countermeasures applied to the manufacturing process for those 2002 and later VINS not affected by this campaign have eliminated the need for this campaign to be performed on those vehicles.
In the future, it will be necessary to add Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner to the SUBARU vehicle cooling system whenever the engine coolant is replaced.
If the vehicle owner has this repair performed promptly, Subaru will extend warranty coverage on cylinder head gasket external coolant leaks to a period of 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Warranty coverage begins on the date the vehicle was delivered to the first retail purchaser or on the date the vehicle was first placed in demo or rental service. The owner must have Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner added to the vehicle at any subsequent cooling system services at the interval specified in the Warranty and Maintenance Booklet under the heading “Schedule of Inspection and Maintenance Services”. Resulting damage caused by a lack of maintenance or low coolant level will not be covered.

So no matter what, the extended warranty ran out 10 years ago. In addition, you state “oil”, might be a valve cover gasket rather than head gasket. Either way the maintenance cost it’s yours.[quote=“JeffGehbauer, post:7, topic:132625”]
If the vehicle owner has this repair performed promptly, Subaru will extend warranty coverage on cylinder head gasket external coolant leaks to a period of 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever occurs first
[/quote]

If you’re lucky it’s merely a valve cover gasket, not uncommon on these cars and maybe a $500-600fix - fix any leakage into the spark plug wells at the same time. Head gasket leaks of either coolant or oil at around 100,000mi. or more also are common with the 4cyl and some 6cyl also are affected, reportedly even in model years after Subaru made changes. There is much information on this problem and what constitutes a proper fix (not necessarily what a dealership would do) on the subaruoutback.org forum which has sections for each Outback model generation. If it is a head gasket find a shop that specializes in this job for Subarus, one that thoroughly reconditions both heads, mills the mating surfaces to a higher flatness spec. than Subaru specifies, and uses a quality head gasket (not necessarily Subaru’s - discussed in the above forum). Unless they’re very new do the timing belt and water pump at the same time. Depending on local labor rates this may run in the neighborhood of $2500-3500 but all reports are that it will be good for the life of the car. Pay close attention to both coolant and oil type and change intervals going forward, though head gasket leaks occurred even with cars maintained by the book.

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That’s the leak you want! Not a problem if you keep up the oil level. But check closely - is it the head gasket or is it the valve cover?

The head gasket problem that’s a real problem is coolant leaking into the combustion chambers, with the potential for serious engine damage if much coolant is lost out the tailpipe or into the oil pan. And with Subarus, you get two head gaskets and valve cover gaskets to keep an eye on.

A cooling system conditioner is not going to help an oil leak one bit.

One thing that could be tried (and I’ve done it a number of times) is to retighten the head bolts; torque be damned. It works.
Not retightening head bolts after run-in is the cause of all of the problems IMHO.

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As others have noted, this sounds like a valve cover leak, not a head gasket leak since it involves oil, not coolant. Due to the horizontal orientation of the cylinders it is very common on these engines for the spark plug seals to leak as they get older. It’s not a terribly expensive fix. As to the head gaskets, make sure you use the Subaru coolant additive to keep things in check. If the engine starts to overheat at highway speeds, there is a good chance that is a head gasket issue.

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I’m wondering if you meant to say Overheat at highway speeds or rather Looks like it’s overheating at highway speeds. In other words, hot exhaust gas from a leaking head gasket causes the vapor to hit the temp sensor which makes it temporarily go way up. Actual overheating at highway speed would be caused by low coolant level. You might be saying that a leaking head gasket causes coolant loss and therefore overheating, but then the overheating would be at all speeds and at idle until coolant is added.