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Dreaded Head Gasket Failure 2005 Subaru

I brought my Outback to one mechanic due to overheating and a strange skipping feeling when accelerating. First mechanic said head gaskets needed to be replaced, I wasn’t surprised since I have about 142k miles on it and it has been leaking oil, quoted between $1800 and $2000. I took it to another shop, recommended by a friend, and they agreed the gaskets needed to be replaced and there was also a misfire due to the spark plugs. This shop quoted me at $2200-2600 for the head gaskets, spark plugs, all wires and timing belt, all other engine gaskets, thermostat, engine oil and coolant. I still owe a good bit on this car (parents bought on the fly from a less than stellar used lot and now it is my problem), and my thinking is I do not want to bring on more debt by attempting to trade this one in and go for a new car. My question is, do I go with the second mechanic that wants to basically rebuild to top of my engine, or would I be ok limiting the repairs to the head gaskets and spark plugs? Thanks!

May I assume these are independent shops?

If you’re going for it, I recommend installing a kit, which includes everything you mentioned, but you should also do ALL of the cam seals, and the front crankshaft seal. If the waterpump is driven by the timing belt, do it also. Now is the time. If there’s a balance shaft, replace its seal, as well

Make SURE any and all chain tensioners and idlers are replaced. This is one thing you do NOT want to take a chance on

Once the heads are off, insist that the shop measure warpage with a straightedge. If it’s out of spec, have them sent out to be machined, as needed. That is CRUCIAL

This would also be an opportune time to check/adjust valve lash, if the engine does not use hydraulic lash adjusters

If you go for it, and all goes well, the repair should theoretically hold up several years, perhaps as long as you own the vehicle

WIth all the added work you suggest he is now up to above $3000. If I was “bluebird” and intend to keep the car I would go with the first shop, but ask them to throw in the timing belt. All the other stuff is overkill. Why change plugs and wires and all the other stuff that may not be broke? It doesn’t take a genious to change plugs and wires or thermostats when it is really needed.

I am recommending a complete and proper repair, one that will almost certainly last for several years

If you do a headgasket on that engine, you have to remove the timing belt, anyways

So asking them to “throw in the timing belt” isn’t exactly going to save you any money. The only difference would be that when it comes time to reassemble, they use a new belt, instead of the old one

My philosophy with brake jobs on duallies is the same

Bear with me, please

If the rear drums on a dually are warped, I do EVERYTHING in there . . . machine and/or replace drums, as needed, wheel cylinders, hardware kit, shoes, hub seals, axle shaft seals, etc.

It is a lot of work, and you don’t want to tear everything apart in a month’s time, because you cheaped out and didn’t replace the wheel cylinders, and now it’s coming back to bite you, because you have a soft pedal, and the cylinder is leaking. And the shoes are now soaked, and you can throw them out, as well

Same thing with head gaskets and timing belt jobs. Do a proper job. And if you don’t do a proper job, and the repair “doesn’t take” then put tape over your mouth, because you have no right to complain. You rolled the dice, and you LOST

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I have to side with @db4690 on this one. You already have most of this engine apart and it’s not much more to replace those seals and the timing belt/water pump kit while you’re in there.

There is not much of a point to replace the head gaskets…reassemble…and have the old timing belt or tensioner give up the ghost a few months later.

Besides, the outback that I helped with ( a head gasket job) a few years back…it was easier to just drop the entire engine and cradle from the bottom to do the job right. It took a little more work, but at least you had room to do the head gaskets without everything else in the way.

The nice part about Subaru’s is they are a breeze to drop the engine and cradle, then raise the vehicle up and roll the entire front end out where you can work on it.


Did you recover the AC first . . . or did you “tie it up” in the engine bay, while you dropped the cradle and engine

I’m not that familiar with Subarus, that’s why I’m asking

And I’ve seen guys remove engines on other applications, while leaving the AC compressor untouched, but tied up out of the way. Because they didn’t want to spend the extra time recovering, vacuuming, etc.

I would suggest a dry and wet compression test before wading into something like this.

What if that strange skipping feeling you refer to is caused by tight valve lash and a valve job is now needed…

What if compression is down on some or all cylinders and it has nothing to do at all with head gaskets or cylinder head issues…

What if you spend 2500 dollars, there are still issues, and you’re then told the lower end including the cylinders and rings are no good…

If it were me I’d want to know where I stood on compression before spending one dime other than the cost of performing that compression test.

@db4690 If I recall we hung the compressor under the hood. I was helping my buddy that had a shop here at the time and I don’t remember us recharging the system. He may have evacuated it before I had gotten there in the morning, but I don’t think so.
We did another engine swap on another Subaru near that same time. He had gotten the new/ used engine the day before. We started at 8am…had the old one out…swapped out parts to the new engine…installed it and we were test driving it by 3pm

But we also worked well together.


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Thanks everyone! Follow up: with all the potential add ons, taking the cost to closer to 3K, and knowing you still owed 2K on the vehicle, what would you do?

The deciding factor should be what the value of the car would be after it’s fixed, not what you owe on it. Whether you fix it or not you still owe the balance of the car payments.

At 134k miles, just replacing the head gaskets is a good bet, but at least put in a new timing belt kit.

Get a quote from a Subaru dealership, on this job, they may beat the independents on price and the mechanics are more experienced on this engine. They do them all the time.

If it was me, I get the head gasket replaced and the timing belt changed. That’s it.

Once the car is fixed you should be able to get many more years and miles out of it and very happy when the car is paid off. I would keep it, but that’s me and each individual has different opinions (and different financial status).