Dead subaru. I'm in love with it

I have a 1996 subaru impreza outback. It is now dead. Billowing white smoke, coolant coming out of the tailpipe, terrible rocky idle and some smoke coming from the exhaust at the manifold. (assuming it cracked from the harsh idle) I’m pretty good with cars but I’ve never taken on a head gasket problem myself. I have time to fix it, I just don’t really know if it will be worth it. Should i just replace the motor w/ a scrapyard motor? Should I take this opportunity to rebuild and upgrade? I have a crappy chevy to get me around in the meantime. I may mess it up, who knows. Does anybody have any helpful info for a first timer? Should I give it a try or just scrap it. I paid 800 bucks for this car and it has 220k miles. No major problems until now. New alt a few months back. Previous two(only two) didn’t have any problems at all. I feel like it would be worth it. Convince me I’m wrong.

Never fall in love with something that can’t love you back.

The vehicle is 20 years old, with over 200,000 miles on it, with a blown engine.

Time to say goodbye.

Then go into the house, and kiss the refrigerator for keeping the beer cold during these hot summer days.


A used engine for a 96 would be a gamble. You only paid 800 so why pour several thousands into something that won’t be worth that. At 220K there is a whole shopping list of things just waiting to fail. So the answer is yes you are wrong.

You’re only $800 into it, plus the alternators

Call the local auto junkyards, to see who’ll give you the most for it

No offense to Subaru fans, but this one is going to be a money pit

@VOLVO_V70 If the OP does the work himself, why should it cost “thousands”? Hundreds maybe, I’d guess six of them if he has the heads planed and replaces the timing belt kit too. If he likes the car, and it didn’t overheat, and is otherwise OK, I’d say buy a good shop manual, check for parts, and go for it.

@ok4450, what is your estimation of this engine being resurrected?

It may be worth a shot at fixing but there are so many unknowns I can’t say for sure whether it’s worth the effort or not.

If the car is halfway clean and seeing as how the OP likes the car I’d say give it a shot by fixing it.
The OP could probably pick up a head gasket set and timing belt kit on eBay as it would be a lot cheaper than from a local parts house. Given the car and miles I would have no problem giving it a go if it’s not knocking and hasn’t been burning oil.

What I would advise the OP to do and it’s not in any manual is this. Make sure both block and head surfaces are clean. Use razor blades rather than gasket scrapers. Spray the head gaskets with aerosol Copper Coat. Tighten the head bolts in order and allow the engine to sit all night before reinstalling. Next morning retighten those head bolts because they’ve likely loosened a little while sitting. Check the valve lash and adjust as needed.
Reinstall engine with fresh oil and coolant and knock on wood.

If the car has an automatic transmission replace the torque converter seal while the engine is out.
Make SURE the converter is fully seated on the splines before reinstalling the engine carefully.
I’ve seen a few Subarus in which this was not done and it cracked the flex plate. Sometimes the flex plate did not crack until 50 miles later.

Did it burn oil before the head gasket let go? If not, give it a shot. You will need torque specs/order and a torque wrench. The manual would be your best friend. I would do the timing belt, idlers, water pump, all seals, belts and anything else while I had the head being redone.

Too many red flags to consider keeping it. My wife had a Subaru when I was stationed in Maine and she loved it. When it finally broke down…I had to sell it for her because she just couldn’t bring herself to part with it. Subaru’s sell well in Maine and it was gone after a couple of phone calls. The car was dead but plenty of the other parts were alive and well.

I say, what the heck, try to fix it. He’s says he’s got the time and it sounds like some experience. These days there are lots of YouTube videos to help people tackle these jobs. The parts could cost some, but right now he’s got very little of value and if it gets fixed he’s got more. If he fails, he still sells the car for parts.

I have done this sort of thing several times; just get a manual and tools and dive in. It’s broken now, so the worst he can do is break it even more, give up and part it out.

If you do decide to fix it make sure you use the correct timing marks and the proper timing procedure. Replace all the common wear parts for the timing area, water pump, oil pump, maybe even the radiator. Purchase a factory service manual from Ebay if you do this as it will pay for itself in short order. You will most likely end up with a fun car to drive that will last you a good while if you do the engine rebuild correctly. The job won’t be cheap but you will get a good learning experience from it and be able to enjoy the drive. Long live the Soob.

Here is a good site for dedicated Soob WRX owners and can find good help for any questions you might have.

Since you have the time, assuming you have a place and the tools, have decent skills and have another ride . . . why not? At least you can pull the motor and see what you really need. You said an exhaust manifold, head gasket(s), maybe all of the other stuff which is easy with the motor removed. But as kenfenimore said, “did it burn oil ?” It would be a waste if you did all of the work and later found it to be an oil burning nightmare. You can test for stuff like that BTW, how 'bout it folks? Tests for oil burning? rocketman

My feeling is to always run a dry and wet compression test on an engine that has a head gasket problem. The test will not be valid on a cylinder with a head gasket breach but can on the remaining cylinders.
If there’s a ring issue on even one of the other cylinders then I would not fix it. A used engine is an option if the price and miles is right.

"dead subaru. I’m in love with it."
Ah, autonecrophelia. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

I say “give it a shot”. Get the repair manual, study the procedure for headgasket replacement, and see if you feel up to it. It’s worth zip the way it is. Worst case, you’ll have spent a bit of cash for a worthwhile learning experience. Think of the pride you’ll feel if you succeed. And the story you’ll have to tell whether you succeed or not.

TSM - I think you coined a term for loving yourself when you are dead…

Oops. I think you’re right. Perhaps I should have said carnecrophelia.

If OP has to involve any machine shop, repair shop, etc., then I say it’s not worth fixing

In other words, if it’s not all “free labor” . . . scrap the car

Its junk,get another,newer one.

For the $800 if you got >6 months you did quite well. Move on.