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First Used Car Purchase = Subaru Disaster?

Did I buy a major lemon for my first car?

I just graduated college and moved out to Denver, Colorado. This past Saturday I bought a 2008 Subaru Forester I found on craigslist for getting around the city and to/from the mountains. It seemed like a great deal - ~25,000 miles, one owner, great condition, and $15,500.

Well, yesterday (my second day with the car) I was driving back from Boulder and noticed the A/C dying. I looked at the temperature gauge on the dash and saw it hovering right below red. On the drive back, the gauge fluctuated all over the place - but I never saw smoke/smelled anything so I just drove the last 10 or 15 minutes back to my place. This morning, the gauge showed overheating again (on my 15 minute commute to work, going about 35 mph), so I pulled into a parking lot and popped the hood. The engine didn’t feel hot at all, but there was blue from coolant all around the hood area.

I got Subaru roadside assistance to take the car to the dealership today (I’m still covered under the 3 year / 36,000 mile warranty) and the dealership just told me that a head gasket had blown + would be replaced under warranty.

So I think this situation is under control, but I’m starting to get really worried about my car + the guy who sold it to me. Is this just a crazy coincidence, or was the guy who sold me the car trying to dump a lemon on me? Should I talk to the guy who sold me the car? Is there anything else I should be thinking about?

Thanks for your help!

Since it is a warranty covered repair, I’d say this is just coincidence. The previous owner would have had the repair done the same way you are, under warranty. Just bad luck, but good that you’re covered.

That’s what I was thinking/hoping as well!

Would a blown engine gasket be a sign that the car has been driven aggressively/recklessly in the past?

It would be improbable to attribute a blown head gasket to driving habits.

This headgasket issue was suposed to be resolved years ago. How did Subaru ever manage to ever get any kind of a good reputation? You have one tire with a different tread pattern and the world comes to a end (OK I know I am exagerating but they do have that tire match issue on some types).

Your extended driving with the engine overheating blew the head gasket. There is a likely reason behind the overheating.

NEVER I repeat never continue driving with any engine in overheating or near overheat condition. Your warranty saved you a few thousand in repairs that may have been a simple sticking thermostat or leaking coolant fitting.

This owner blew it themselves by continuing to drive it in this manner according to the post.

You blow a head gasket by overheating a vehicle and continuing to run or failure of the part.

The temperature gauge is on the dash for a reason. It’s not to take up space. When it heads upwards this means stop now; not continue to drive on.

Continued operation of the car while overheating has a downside other than head gaskets.
It can coke oil around the piston ring lands or seize them in the lands along with cooking the cylinder wall surfaces. This means a car that may burn oil after the head gasket repair. Overheating can also cook valve seals; another reason for oil consumption. It’s a coin flip at this point.

At this point the car is not necessarily a Lemon at all. It’s 2 years old with 25k miles and the problem could be caused by something as simple as a blown fuse for the cooling fans or by someone in the past not having the cooling system filled up after a flush. Who knows.
It could also be that the guy who sold you the car whaled on it a bit, knew he had caused a problem, and decided to dump it.

For what it’s worth, Subaru has had head gasket issues since the early 70s except for one brief spell in the late 70s/mid 80s and there were even a few exceptions on the early/mid 80s ones.

I did not come to the same conclusion,I concluded the inital overheating was caused by the blown headgasket. Were you able to make a conclusion as to the cause of the inital overheating?

I would think Subaru would have denied warranty if they could prove that the headgasket failure was caused by continued use while overheated,instead they performed a warranty repair.

Dear DC: Please clear up: Did you buy from private seller off Craigs list or from dealer? If you bought from private seller that you found on Craigs list then yes, you got dumped on, and yes, 25K miles and 2 days driving was too little time for Head Gasket to blow “all of a sudden” but no worries, as with your in-force factory warranty covering what sounds like an Internal Head Gasket leak situation will be handled.
This may not be a lemon situation [>but there was blue from coolant all around the hood area.< is an indication that coolant from overflow reservoir may have been blown out by internal head gasket exhaust leak.]
Head Gasket repair Notes:
Just make sure and insist that the Suby dealer does an “out of car” head gasket repair so that any possible warpage of the head is checked and corrected and you get better installation “out of car” for H.G repair than in car! You don’t know how the previous owner treated this car!
For Engines that had head gasket problems and the two types of H.G issues , see/copy link at for the best descriptions ever!

I wouldn’t bother dickering with private seller if they sold car “as is” with portion of factory warranty in place from SOA, as they most probably already knew of intermittant temp. guage fluctuations, and promptly sold car.

Should there be anything else to worry about? Did you get any repair records-receipts from seller? If not, then consider all the posted reasons why folks sell cars in a real hurry!

You did not mention if this car had AT or manual tranny. For peace of mind, I would just go through entire car and re-check and do any/all fluid changes that seem even a little off!

So you know that your’re not alone, I had same issues with one [1997 Outback] 2.5 L DOHC buying as used from reputable dealer who courtiously refunded my purchase after discovery of intermittant temperature excursions was indeed a blown H.G., and I got similar car with Subaru rebuilt head gasket from a private seller which is fine so far and know what to look out for from experience.

Look for bubbling inside of overfill reservoir once engine is in normal running temp range and always check temp guage, especially from pulling off extended highway runs to dead stop like construction delay.
Continue to check coolant for a good, long period for distict, sulfery [rotten egg] smell from overfill reservoir with any black soot at reservoir fill line as this is a sure indicator of blown or going to blow H.G. Deal with it right away this can only get worse with each reoccuring overtemp.
After all make sure that you change the coolant once a year no matter what, [read the link] because $5 bucks for 6 quarts of 50/50 antifreeze mix is cheap insurance for a head gasket design that is always wetted in a horizontal 4 cyl. engine.

Yes, I agree that SOA really blew it with messing around with a proven gasket design and attempting to use a matrix type head gasket that made a lot of Suby lovers into haters!
Cannot understand why SOA still refuse to acknowledge it but popularity and sales did slump from 1997-2004 because of the problem and sometimes it can happen regardless of the proper maintenance taken or not!
I would relax and enjoy the next 150K miles!