Blown Head Gasket or Mechanic Blowing Hot Air?

I have a 2006 Subaru Forester (auto trans) with 97,000 miles on it. It’s behaving badly, and here are its symptoms:

  1. It is getting worse gas mileage now than it has in the past 5 years I’ve owned it. Up until the last few months I’ve been able to get about 26 mpg on average. Since Sept. or Oct. I’ve only been getting about 21 mpg.
  2. It shifts rough on a cold start when it shifts into 3rd and/or 4th. No rough shifting is noticed when the car is started on a moderate or warm day (roughly 35 degrees outside or warmer).
  3. When doing mountain driving (specifically up a hill at highway speeds that is about 10 miles long and a sustained 7%-10% grade), the engine temp rises to about 2/3 according to the gauge on the dash. (Under normal driving conditions it sits at about 1/3.)

I took the car to my mechanic and here’s what they said:

  1. The gas mileage on Subaru Foresters frequently isn’t much higher than 22 mpg, so for the first 5 years I owned the car I was just lucky.
  2. The fluids need to be flushed and changed: differential, transmission, etc. - approximate cost $400
  3. He’s almost certain that the cause of the 3rd problem is blown head gaskets, and the cost of that is about $3000.

In your professional opinions, is this guy likely to be right about #3, or did he just see dollar signs when I walked into the shop?

If he is right, is $3000 a reasonable price for the work? Would you recommend I get the work done for this price, shop for a new mechanic, or shop for a new car?

If the head gaskets are truly the culprit, is it a repair that needs immediate attention or is it something I can delay for a while?

Thanks in advance for any advice you all can provide!

The mechanic is correct about items 1 & 2.
Additionally, gas mileage does tend to drop by a few mpg as the ambient temperature drops–as it does in most areas in September/October.

Incidentally, you can verify his opinion on item #2 by simply opening your glove compartment, taking out the booklet entitled Subaru Maintenance and Warranty, and reading it. If you have not previously done this, the engine and transmission could be in dire straits as a result of failure to follow the mfr’s maintenance schedule.

As to item #3, he is correct that this situation cannot be ignored IF the engine has a breached head gasket or two (the engine has two cylinder heads, and thus has two head gaskets). A breached head gasket can allow coolant to contaminate the motor oil, and since coolant is not a lubricant, the outcome is…not pretty. Even if a head gasket problem is not currently allowing coolant to contaminate the motor oil, this situation can change for the worse at any time, without warning–hence, this is not something that should be deferred.

That being said, this guy’s price is so far out of line that I would strongly recommend that you get a second opinion regarding the head gasket. If he is trying to rake you over the coals in terms of price, it is also possible that he is intentionally mis-diagnosing the problem.

If you do have a breached head gasket, you need to have it done–albeit for about 1/3 of this guy’s price quote. Get a second opinion, and a second price quote, and–take out that maintenance schedule, paying particular attention to the VERY major maintenance that was due at 90k miles and the timing belt replacement that is due at 105k miles.

Are you losing oil or coolant, as would be indicative of a blown head gasket?
I’d make sure your fans are turning on when they should.

Umm where to start. $3000 for a head gasket, super high in my opinion. With that said the motor does need to be removed on that car to pull the head. With THAT said pulling o motor in a subby is not hard. For $3000 I would think you were getting both heads rebuilt and r&r’ed but that still seems high.

Let me ask why he thinks it needs a head gasket and that it’s not a clogged radiator or weak water pump or 101 other things?? Did he by chance just buy a boat ??

#3 is a classic symptom of a radiator cap that cannot hold specified pressure. Try a $13 cap and save the $3000 for when you really need a head gasket.

Thanks for the tips guys.

I took the car to this specific shop for the 90K service back in August… prior to that things #1 and #3 weren’t an issue. #2 had been an issue before the 90K service, and continues to be an issue.

According to the invoice from the 90K service he did the following:
–replace engine oil and engine oil filter
–replace spark plugs
–rotate tires
–replace differential fluid front & rear
–replace brake fluid
–replace automatic transaxle fluid
–inspect the following: parking brake, drive belts, brake drums/shoes, cooling system, hoses & clamps, brake lines & cables, disc brake pads and rotors, axle shaft joints, fuel system, steering system, suspension system, timing belt, air bag system, supplemental restraint system

I had my timing belt changed at 60K, so that should be in good shape.

If you guys have any other thoughts, please feel free to share them.

There is never a need to guess about a head gasket. There are plenty of tests that can be run, including looking for signs of coolant in oil, coolant in the exhaust, exhaust in the coolant, cylinder leakdown tests…

You’ll /know/ it is bad.

I agree with most above, clogged radiator needs flush and new radiator cap, I would also change thermostat and make sure both fans work well also check fan thermostat functions.
I also agree $3000 is robbery, big time
I also think there are very definitive test for head gasket problems.
Before you spend that much money, trade it towards new car, get book and spend money towards slightly used or new car, let dealer deal with any issues at wholesale labor costs.