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97 Subaru Outback Crisis

I bought my first car, a 97 Subarbu Outback, 6 months ago, drove it from NYC to Minnesota, and suddenly things are going haywire! It has 158,000 miles on it, and up until recently I was driving about 300 miles a week, most of the time less. It had a small oil leak that I wasn’t worried about. Mid Sept I overheated and had to replace the radiator (cha-ching, $575). It ran well for 2 weeks and last Saturday the temp spiked and steam started pouring out of the hood while I was driving on the highway. The coolant reservoir was empty, so I refilled it. Got it looked at again and they had to replace a small plastic plug that blew off the radiator (not sure what it is, air vent?), and the mechanic also said the water pump was worn out, thus the reason I ran out of coolant, and that the timing belt needs replacing. Estimated $600 for these things.

Now I have an arsenal of family men working on it (people with mechanical skills that I trust). Now the oil leak is worse, something with the head gaskets. So my question is, on a car this old, with this many miles, is it worth getting these repairs done? I bought the car for $2600, put in the new radiator for $575. Does this all sound like unavoidable doom to anyone? And if so, how can I get rid of this car and make some money back on it?

Thanks for any thoughts!

This looks somewhat ominous. Repeat overheating and new radiators springing leaks is often a problem bad enough that the engine needs replacing.

That said, $600 to replace the water pump and timing belt is a reasonable price. Down right reasonable. I expect if you check around with the big box auto parts stores, a non-OEM radiator can be obtained for less than $200, that will save you some money provided the install is done for free by your family men.

Me? Probably before I spent any more money, I’d ask my mechanic to do a compression and leak down test and check the fluids to see if there’s any signs of cross contamination.

It was driven today about 15 miles and apparently nothing overheated, however they found a missing gasket around the thermastat area (I know that’s really vague, I’m just getting this all second hand from the guys). I hope I didn’t screw up too much by driving it while overheated the first time. I’ll let them know about the leak down test!

You sure you don’t have the famous Subbie head gasket failure? Spikes and pressure sure sounds like it.

I agree with GeorgeSanJose; do a compression test and determine if there’s a piston ring problem.
Overheating can often damage rings and cylinder walls with the end result that after a head gasket replacement one may be left with a car that burns oil at an alarming rate.
Both a dry and wet test should be performed.

Sorry you had to replace the radiator which was probably unnecessary. What you probably had was the notorious Subaru head gasket failure. If you had that replaced, it would have most likely solved that problem. For a 15 year old car, having the timing belt and water pump replaced was a good idea anyway.

The old radiator had a huge 4 inch rip in the bottom with definitely a noticeable coolant leak, so that is the one thing I know was a for sure! But after getting a second opinion, the timing belt actually is new, and most likely there is a water pump problem. But I’ll ask the mechanic to look at the head gaskets since that seems to be a consensus about Subarus!

That model year of Subaru is pretty noted for headgasket troubles. If you don’t have a headgasket problem at this point it would be pretty amazing. You are now into the car for a fair amount of cash and if headgaskets are needed you can expext at least another 1,300 dollars or more. If it was me I would sell the car and get something newer beyond model year 2000. The engines had less trouble.