Forester NIGHTMARE-- 1 overheating = NEW ENGINE

Hello car people, I’m a new owner but I’ve visited the site many times for advice. I know there are many threads regarding my issue but mine might be a bit different once I get into it.

Hope you’re comfortable…

03 Forrster with only 85k miles. Was passed down to me from a deceased relative. First free car ever! It was amazing! Drove it for a little over a year. Took good care of it. Oil changed every 5k or so. Didn’t take it to a dealership to have done but they were well known places. Put new 80k mile tires on. Little did I know I wouldn’t make it 50 miles on it.

One summer day I noticed my air-conditioned wouldn’t put out cold air anymore. I had an old Chevy truck that did that too and I figured it just needed to be recharged. Shut it off, put it on the to do list and moved on.

Then one day driving with 2 others in the car I happen to look at the temp gauge. It’s full on peaking hot! I pull over, pop the hood and smoke bellows out. I see coolant sprayed everywhere. Get it towed to a reputable shop where they tell me the radiator is busted. I say “ok, fix it up”. Then I get the call,. “OK, your radiator is fixed, that’ll be 300$ but…your head gasket is broken and we don’t do HG’s. Likely that’s what caused the overheat to begin with”

So I pay the $300 and have it towed to my house. I then begin to do research on the INFAMOUS head gasket problem. I educate myself on the entire problem and decide to call Subaru of America and open a case. I explain my situation and they say to have the car inspected at a Sube dealership. I get it towed down, they look, and say, “yep it’s the HG, it’ll be $1,200 to fix and we’ll talk to SOA and tell confirm”. SOA calls back and says, “OK, of that $1,200, we’ll give you $400.”OK…random number but sure better than nothing.

I’m bummed out but I’m feeling good, it’ll be fixed. They wind up doing HG, temp gauge, timing belt. I go to pick it up, plop down $1,200 bones and go on my way. Not 3 days later, I’m in Boston traffic and my temp gauge is peaking hard. I have no way of pulling over and I’m super late for a work gig. I finally get driving again and temp goes down. I get to my destination and pop the hood. The coolant in the reservoir is very high up and boiling hot…literally boiling bubbles. But no actual overheat. No steam, no weird noises, nothing like that.

I leave it and go to work. That night I check it and it’s good. Drive it home with no temp change whatsoever. Call the Sube dealership that fixed it and explain the problem. They say send it back down . So once again I tow it on down.

Few days go by…not looking good. I get the call. “OK, it’s the short block in the engine, it has a pin hole crack in it. Best thing to do is to find a low mileage used engine”…REPLACE THE ENTIRE ENGINE!!!

So apparently the very first time my car overheated for that short amount of time, it resulted in a broken radiator ($300) timing belt,temp gauge and head gasket ($1,200) and now an entire new motor ($2-$3k)! = possibly $4,500 !!!

I say, “OK, say I buy the used motor…wouldn’t the SAME COMMON Subaru Forester problem happen to me again down the line, HG, short block etc??” He says…”it’s likely, yes”

So I gave Subaru of America one last try and they basically told me “tough luck, you still want the $400?”

So hear I am…carless for almost 2 weeks. Affecting my work and livelihood. On the fence as to what to do with this freekin car!

Options being–(keep in mind I own this car and don’t owe a dime on it…payment wise)

***buy the used engine for maybe 2-3k {I would have spent a total of $4,500 to fix it, but it’s still less than buying a new or used car. Plus no payments. BUT risking the same problem happening again sooner or later}

***They offered me $4,500 for the car as is. So take that and get a new used car? Either a Junker that I don’t know what I’m getting or put towards a new car and have PAYMENTS.

***Commit murder so that I can be thrown in jail and never have to worry about cars, bills, money again.

Thank you so much for reading this all the way. Any advice you may have is so very much appreciated.


That’s a tough one… since the car was free, the $4500 is tempting. You could probably get a decent used car for that money, plus the $400 from Subaru. I haven’t looked at what the resale value is of your year of car, but if you do the math considering what they sell for, what you’ve already spent, and what it would cost to fix this, you might be ahead of the game.

Though if the '03 is in good shape otherwise, a used engine might not be a bad deal–though you may have the infamous head gasket problem again…

I suppose I’d try one more last ditch effort with Subaru to get them to cover some of the problem. Be polite but firm. Mention that you’ve always thought that Subarus were reliable cars, and that to have such a major repair at such low mileage is unacceptable. If you’re getting nowhere, perhaps mention that you’ll make it your life’s task to inform other would-be Subaru owners of the terrible quality and runaround you got from Subaru when trying to get some satisfaction. After all, as an ethical person, it wouldn’t be right to let someone else make the same mistake, right? Make sure you get the names of everyone you’ve dealt with, and make sure they know you have their names, possibly by asking them to clarify the spelling of their names. Mentioning that you’re the author of a popular web blog might help :slight_smile: They don’t need to know the name of the blog. I hate to have to do these things, but the old saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” rings true.

In essence, they’re playing dirty and admitting no fault, which is their job unfortunately, so give it right back to them.

Good luck :slight_smile:

Sell for $4500 or repair for $4000 is really an $8500 swing, that’s a pretty decent car fund. You’ll never be happy if they put a reman engine in this car for you. Every time you get stuck in traffic you’ll be staring at the temp gauge wondering if today is the day it blows. Take the money and run.

Take that $4500 and RUN!!! You are so ahead. Used car loans are very low interest currently and for $10k you can get something really decent.

I own and love our Subaru but its a turbo manual transmission wagon and looks nice and drives incredible(handling/ride). It has been pretty reliable in 6yrs/115k to boot. However I really don’t get the Forester unless you live where you really need AWD (steep driveway or poorly maintained roads).

Take the money and buy a Ford (or whatever).
In the late '70s Hondas were plagued with HG failures, mainly due to dealing with tougher emissions limits.
I was lucky to miss that era with my '75 Civic and '81 Accord.

Take the money, get rid of the Subaru. Use the money for a down payment on a new car. You don’t sound like a “used car” candidate because you will have some problems with a used car requiring service and repair. Just start fresh with a new car.

Thank you all for the response. I just spoke with my mechanic. He still hasn’t found a low mileage used engine but I took the opportunity to ask some more questions…He says in his opinion considering the book value of the car it would be worth fixing. However the smartest move would be to get a brand new engine (for 3k, Not a low mileage used for possibly 2k) with all the gaskets and everything fresh and replaced so I don’t have the possibility of the INFAMOUS head gasket problem again down the road.

So basically if I spend 3k for a new engine I will have much more assurance that my car will last. Leading to a whopping grand total of $4,500 minus the $400 from Subaru of America leading to $4,100 to fix this car that I originally received for free.

I also asked about the (dealer) offer of 4,500 as is. And why they would offer so much for a dead car. he explained that it must have to do with the book value and low mileage. However I’m very sure he meant that $4,500 TOWARDS a car on their lot.

mechanic suggest to fix…dealer suggest to sell…hmmm

One other big thing I’m wondering is how much a new engine will cost (in the end). How likely IS IT that it wont have problems? Should I just lose the headache and move on, entering the wonderful world of monthly payments?..

Thanks you all again so much for your responses.

@oblivion - The response I got from SOA was without spiking a beat. There feelings are “you’re out of warranty and we made this offer when we didn’t even need to so take it or leave it” I did the sob story of my troubles (which was all truth) and explained about my families long line of subs but…bupkis. However I may still try again.

@StrongDreamsWaitHere - You’re absolutely right. However I’m getting the feeling that if I get the engine new that problem wont happen…I should hope.

@andrew_j / @circuitsmith - As I mentioned above supposedly I’m hearing the book value is up there so they could wind up getting a ton from it if they fix the engine themselves. I’m also not in the best position financially to have to shell out 200+ a month for 5 years…unfortunately.

For $3000 you are probably getting a remanufactured engine, which is better than used but not the same as new. I found two web sites that both indicate that Subaru has redesigned the head gasket to eliminate the problem. That suggests that the safest course of action would be to either,

  1. put in a remanufactured engine
  2. put in a used engine but change the head gasket first

If the mechanic can get a new crate motor for $3k, I think that is you most economic choice. At worse, you blow another head gasket in 85k from now. That would be a pretty good ROI. Anything over 85k will be gravy

A reman has its advantages too. The engine core has aged and taken what ever set (warp) it is going to take. Remachining will align the block like new and it won’t shift again. A high quality reman is a good choice too.

Well, a new engine should have a warranty. A crate engine should have a better warranty than a reman engine. It’d be worth spending a little more for a crate engine in my opinion if you go the repair route.

There’s a lot of post there but my feeling is that you go with a reman engine or dump the car off in trade, whichever you prefer.

You refer to head gasket in the singular. There are 2 of them and one should never perform the singular version of this job. Always do both at the same time.

SOA is under no obligation to offer one cent towards this repair so really, they should not even be involved in the discussion other than to praise them for offering what they did.

Now. You, like everyone else, need to develop the habit of glancing at the temp gauge now and then. Make it second nature. When that gauge is rising abnormally high it’s time to pull over right then and there or you run the risk of damaging the engine engine. This does not mean drive it 20 miles home with the needle stuck on H.
A head gasket weep is not going to cause overheating unless the coolant level gets too low or unless the breach is between the water jacket and the combustion chamber. You can essentially drive a weeping head gasket for half a million miles and with Subarus, that’s what most of them involve. They generally blow when ignored or abused.

I went through this a few weeks ago with my wife on our Lincoln although in this case it was running hotter than normaly but not near catastrophically hot. (iffy thermostat) She apparently drove the car after noticing a 12" puddle of anti-freeze on the ground due to the pressure cap popping off previously.
She stated that she “didn’t think that puddle meant anything”.
After the later, ensuing 10 minutes or argument with my questioning her about the temp gauge she stated that she had never looked at it. (It’s next to the gas gauge and she notices a 1 gallon discrepancy in that.)
Her final anwer when I asked why she doesn’t ever look at the temp gauge. “Why should I?”

So after a lifetime as a mechanic and 30 years of my carping over this that is what I end up with. :frowning:

At least on your Lincoln, the heads were heat treated and pre-aged so they take their final set before the machining is done. They are less likely to warp. As far as I know, Ford is the only company to do that.

@StrongDreamsWaitHere - I mentioned if they could take the gaskets and other repairs I paid for and use them in a new USED motor. He said I would then be getting into the same price as the NEW when factoring in labor…which seems unfair considering I paid for a job that wasn’t done right.

@keith @oblivion - Sorry I’m not as versed, “crate motor”? And when you say “reman” do you mean remanufactured?

@ok4450 - I believe it’s both HG’s. Yes, SOA is not obligated to offer anything but I read several cases in which people did receive something. I took the chance because it’s clearly related to the many years of recalls. Yes, you’re right I need to be in more of a habit to check the temp. Trust me even If I get a brand new car I’ll still be in the checking it religiously.

You never mention the thermostat. Was it changed? I just wonder why they would give you $4500 for a car that needs a new engine.

If you live anywhere near the Seacoast of NH I can recommend a really good Subaru independent(ASE master) mechanic with very reasonable hourly rates($60/hr).

“crate motor” = never run.

“used motor” = taken out of a used car that was totaled for some other reason. Might be “as is”, might have a short warranty.

“reman” = remanufactured or rebuilt. A used motor that was taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled with new rings, seals, bearings, etc. Should have a decent warranty.

I mentioned if they could take the gaskets and other repairs I paid for and use them in a new USED motor.

Indeed, if you wanted to use the new gasket to refit a used engine, you would be paying twice as much labor (to open up two engines instead of one), which is more than the cost of the parts, probably.

The issue is not that the dealership performed the gasket replacement incorrectly, the problem is that there was another hidden problem that they did not find. I might argue with them that you will let them change the motor, but you don’t want a $400 credit toward the final cost, instead you want the $1200 you already paid credited toward the final cost, since you would never have done the head gasket if they had found the leak first.

At this point, if the only thing Subaru is offering you is a $400 discount on the cost of changing the engine, I would consider having it towed to another repair shop, where the base cost of the engine change is probably $400 less anyway.

Trust me even If I get a brand new car I’ll still be in the checking it religiously.

That’s good, and more than most people do. But you also have to add “and I will pull over immediately and shut the motor off if it overheats” to that. I harp on that because I saw above where you noticed it overheating, and kept driving. It wouldn’t shock me if that’s what cracked your block.

Were I in your shoes, I’d take the $4500. The, as you correctly put it, infamous head gasket problem with Subarus is a design issue. Replacing the engine only means that you have a new poorly-designed engine that will eventually blow its gasket. $4500 makes a nice down payment on a used car, or even a new one (a $10k loan with that down payment gets you a brand new Hyundai).

Crate motor is a new factory motor usually used for warrantee replacements. They can be expensive, but I have seen discontinued crate motors sell for less than a reman. Its worth asking at the dealership parts counter.

Overhaul is a motor teardown, usually by a mechanic, in a small shop environment. Parts inspected, cylinders honed, valves reground, rings and bearings replaced, new gaskets, all other parts reused

Rebuilt is a motor torn down in a shop environment, usually by mechanics, minor machining done and normal replacement parts installed, new valves, new pistons and rings, new bearings, crankshaft reground, sometimes camshaft reground. Most other parts reused unless found to be out of tolerance.

Remanufactured is done in a factory like environment, not by mechanics. But the original engine was not built by mechanics either, just trained factory workers. In a reman facility, the workers are trained on specific functions and they can get pretty good at those functions. the block and heads are completely remachined to like new tolerances, all moving parts replaced and its almost like a new engine.

In all cases above, there are some places that are better than others. I’ve had good luck with Proformance out of Springfield, MO for remans. I hear there is a really good facility somewhere in MA. Don’t remember the name of it though.

Shortblock vs longblock. A shortblock reman or rebuild is just the main part of the engine, minus the heads. Your mechanic would reuse your heads and install them himself. You/he would decide if any head work was needed. A longblock is a complete motor minus the manifolds, valve covers and accessories. It usually does not come with a waterpump, but if you are going to this level, you should get a new waterpump while your at it. And a new serpentine belt while you are at it.

Let me see if I understand this…

you got a free 8-year old Forester passed down to you, drove it for a year, blew the headgasket and didn’t notice the temp gage until too late, had the headgasket replaced and discovered additional damage had been done, and now someone is willing to give you $4500 dollars for it? As is?

Good lord, man, take the $4500! and tell me how I can get so lucky!

Am I missing something here?

Just to add my 2 cents to the pool - Subaru has apparently fixed the infamous head gasket issue. They refuse to acknowledge their responsibility for the infamous head gasket issue, so no point in pursuing that. You got the car free - how awful is it to pay some $$ to get the vehicle into the shape that you need? To me, that is looking a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak. If you don’t think you can trust the car even after the repairs, then cut your losses and move on. Otherwise, go with the engine replacement and be happy. At least you have a temp gauge - a lot of new cars don’t come with those any longer because people don’t read them…