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2003 Subaru Forester question

My car was in Juneau Alaska until I came to Washington State in May of this year. During the first oil change after my 90,000 mile checkup, I found out the head gasket is leaking slightly. Shortly after that and before I’d had it fixed, the rear brake calipers seized up the rear brakes had to be replaced including rotors. When they did that work, they told me it happened because of rust and that the front brakes were going to do the same thing soon. They also said the struts are badly rusted and need replacing. Incidentally, the dash lights are going out and the metal where the driver’s seat connects to the car is rusted badly. My question is whether it makes financial sense to spend the $2500 or more to fix these things or if I’d be throwing good money after bad. It is paid off and I hate the idea of car payments, but… Help!

Check with a Subaru dealer on the head gasket. They are covered up to 8yrs/100k miles up the year 2003 or 2004.

NO NO! When this was diagnosed it was under 100,000 but now… why didn’t I know this!!!

Sorry I was incorrect. The problem exists in 2003/2004 however Subaru only covered 99-2002 officially with the 2.5L engines.

However Subaru tends to help offset the costs if this has been identified early and vehicle has a documented service history.

It sounds like your Subaru is in bad shape. You need to know if the rust is affecting the structure of the car to a point it could be unsafe. Rusted brake calipers, and rusted struts can be replaced fairly easily. A rusted frame member is another story. The rusted floor boards is a real concern. The seats have to be anchored firmly to be safe and protective in an accident.

I’d suggest you get a good body shop to evaluate the soundness and safety of the car and tell you exactly how much rust you have and where. Before you spend a lot of money on mechanical repairs get a handle on the rust.

Ah, that explains it. I checked through my service history last night and found that both head gaskets were replaced at 62112 miles and had to pay for it then. It doesn’t seem right for them to go bad again after only 36,000 more miles though.

Since this appears to be a matter of weeping head gasket(s) rather than a blown head gasket you might consider having someone remove the valve covers and retorque the head bolts.

The accepted premise in the theoretical world is that once tightened the head bolts will remain at whatever spec they’re torqued to. In the real world things change due to repeated heating and cooling cycles of the metal. If you have this done inform the shop you would like to know if the head bolts have loosened to any degree.

There are several other reasons why the head gasket could be weeping but consider the loose head bolt scenario first as this is not difficult to do at all.

The bigger issue here is rust in my opinion and that can be a car killer if bad enough. If the car were mine (and if the rust is bad) I’d do the brakes, check the head bolts, and drive it to the end.
The dash light problem could be due to a faulty main headlight switch circuit or a faulty rheostat. (latter is the dash dimmer mode) Hope that helps.

If a dealer did that work at 62k complain to Subaru loudly! Subaru would have goodwilled the repair anyway slightly over warranty. It is huge egg on Subaru’s face however it does not seem to effect their sales figures which are way up.

#1 It doesn’t sound good for this car. If $2500 will fix everything, then maybe ok, that’s 6 months of car payments. Will this car get you through one more winter? If there will still be problems after that much money, I’d strongly consider investing that money in something with fewer problems.

#2 If you had head gasket repairs already, it is possible that Subaru will refund the cost. Whenever I get notified of a recall or “owner satisfaction program,” the letter says that if I have already paid to fix the problem, I can get a refund.

I took the car to a body shop tonight. He looked underneath and around the seats and said he doesn’t think it’s too bad. He agrees that the brakes and struts are pretty rusted and need replacing, but thinks the rest is surface rust at this point. The car was undercoated when new and he said the structure is sound. The rust on the seat frame slides (is that the right term?) is ugly but not bad either at this point. He felt that I could handle it myself if I want to clean it up and put some paint or rust inhibitor on it. Whew!

I did write to Subaru about my head gasket woes and haven’t heard back from them yet. It’s worth a try anyway.

I sure appreciate all of the help!