HELP! 2 month old reconditioned 2005 Subaru engine blown

Riding on the highway to the summit of Vail Pass, car loses power, check engine light goes on, by the time I maneuver it past huge trucks to right shoulder, BAM!!! White steam radiater fluid explosion dead car…mechanic says “small block” (I think) broken, need new engine. Towing it back to my guys who sold me the car about 2 months ago with reconditioned engine & brand new head gaskets. I have done business with these guys for yrs! Very reputable. Any ideas on how to handle this issue with them?

It depends what the language of your guarantee says.

These guys generally guarantee reconditioned parts for 90 days. We are pretty casual about these things however. I guess I want to be certain that the overheating which resulted in a ruined engine happened because the engine was faulty to begin with…I need some leverage going in. Like I said, I know these guys very well & never have had an issue with them. Am I right to believe the engine was faulty to begin with?

Did the mechanic who said the short block was kaput have a theory how it happened? This may require a certain amount of engine tear down to determine the best remedy, and who should be responsible for paying for it.

If the folks who did the original jobs are easy to work with, what about towing the car to their shop and asking them for an assessment. They might can spot what caused the problem without much work. Until the cause is known, it’s hard to say what the next step is.

The mechanic who did the diagnosis didn’t seem to want to be too accusatory. I am bringing it back to my guys…this tow will end up costing me about $500 out of pocket & I am in a hotel for the night & will need a rental car until this is resolved. So I am not a happy person. Yeah, these guys are great to work with, so I’m hoping for a fair outcome. I don’t expect a free replacement, by the way.

That seems like a good plan. Best of luck.

One idea to consider in the future, when getting insurance for a reconditioned car like that, ask your insurance agent if they provide coverage for emergency road towing. I think with my insurance, if I purchase something extra called “comprehensive” coverage, which doesn’t cost that much, then towing reimbursement comes with that add’l coverage.

Thanks George. Yeah my insurance only picked up 15 miles of towing I think. And I was about 150 miles from home. Oh well! I’ll post the outcome.

Overheating can be caused by a number of things not even directly related to the engine so there’s no way of knowing what went wrong from my perspective.

The odds of a faulty engine causing this are not very high unless there was a poor job done on the head gasket installation.

This was towed on a flat bed, right? Not with two wheels on the ground? That would mess up the AWD.

These Subarus are famous for that,my Mechanics make a lot of money off of Subaru engine replacement,if you have a Subaru,be very meticulous about maintenance and use the right coolant(wasnt no Dexcool put in there,right?)I wouldnt repair this engine,I would try to find a low mile engine with a good history to replace it with.Apparently,this "reconditioned engine"had the heads replaced only.

Oh yes, flatbed abso!utely. As for the overheating, there wasn’t anything obvious under the hood…hoses were all intact, there was coolant In the reservoir (which had a brownish tint, however… Oil !!?). I had made the trip from Denver to Aspen on Sunday with no problem. The mechanic I saw here in Silverthorne where I am stranded did say the engine type in the 2005 model is not as good for mountain driving as the older models!! He works on a lot of highway breakdowns especially during ski season because of his location.and Subaru is pretty much the “state car” in Colorado (this is my 5th one). I have never experienced such a traumatic and sudden breakdown with any of my other cars. My mechanics only do Subaru’s and this is the second car I bought from them. My last car from them had a brand new engine & I virtually had no major issues with it for 10 years.

If the coolant overflow showed a brownish tint–especially if there is a dark line at the upper limit of the fluid–that is a pretty strong indication of a breached head gasket.

Based on the information provided, I would say that whoever did the head gasket replacement did not do a thorough job. Perhaps the heads were already warped, and were not “planed” before reinstallation.

There are many questions about this reconditioned motor that no one will ever be able to answer. Even the shop that sold you the car.

Though they put new head gaskets on this engine, there was no way that they could guarantee the rest of the engine. They most likely bought the car off of someone who didn’t want to put the money into it for the head gaskets.
Basically, the shop bought the car at a reduced price, did a head gasket job and resold the car to you, and making a little profit out of the deal.

There is no real way of knowing weather the previous owner did the routine maintenance, like oil changes.

As an example, the water pump may have failed, the engine was overheating for miles until you noticed, and at that point all hell broke loose.
This engine may have been losing coolant so slowly over the last two months that when on your trip it was almost bone dry.

Then there is the question of your maintenance, was the coolant and oil checked before this trip, or did you presume that it was new to you and good to go.

Personally, when I buy a used car I always keep an closer eye on all the fluids, tire wear and pressure, gauges, etc., until I’m comfortable that everything is in good working order. Only then do I trust it enough to check on the normal basis.

I’m not trying to blame the OP for this, it’s just the roll of the dice weather the rest of the engine was worthy of fixing. The shop could have only looked at the mileage and the condition of the car to access weather it was worth buying and fixing.


It’s true…you do have to maintain these cars and they will last a long time if you do that. These guys did put brand new head gaskets in…I was a bit leery about the reconditioned (“used”) engine, but they have always been great (same 2 guys, excellent mechanics) so I bought the car. They also installed new brakes & some other stuff too before I bought it for $6500 in May. I got $1500 for my '97 from another mechanic friend, so with “trade in allowance” I guess I can say I paid $5,000 for the 2005, haha! I will definitely hold out for an engine with lower miles on it or maybe even a new one. I will see them today…waiting for call from tow truck driver.

Thank you all for your input. All very good information!! K is a master mechanic who rarely makes mistakes, but nobody’s perfect all the time. Also the owners son is “learning the business”… I will ask if it was him they let install the head gaskets. That would not be acceptable to me, and would the owner dad even admit to that? Yosemite, you are spot on…this trip came up fast, but I should have taken the time to have the car checked out first. Yes they did get this car from a customer who did not want to fix it. Last car I got from them, same thing. Again, lots of food for thought, thanks!

From what you described, the coolant is definitely contaminated

...(this is my 5th one). I have never experienced such a traumatic and sudden breakdown with any of my other cars. My mechanics only do Subaru's and this is the second car I bought from them. My last car from them had a brand new engine & I virtually had no major issues with it for 10 years.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe you were due for a dud. (And I think they make more than a little profit on these deals.) See what they offer you.

So the car is with my subaru guys. They essentially told me I should have noticed the problem sooner (the overheating) & pulled over before the whole thing blew up. I concede to that, but only to a point…climbing to the summit of Vail Pass with a bunch of semi trucks chugging along and the rest of the drivers trying to maneuver around them and each other at various speeds can be a bit of a challenge in itself. By the time I did get the car over to the right shoulder (just barely!!), it was too late. My question to them was WHY did a car I just bought from them (i have put less than 3,000 miles on it) which they worked on to get into tip top shape overheat in the mountains? As of now, they don’t know, but I of course need a new engine regardless. The tricky part is where the “blame” lies. I expect nothing for free, I had to eat a huge part of the towing cost, and now I have a rental car. This is a major mess! We will see what they come up with.

Have you looked at your paperwork to see if this was an " as is " sale which is most likely on a 2005. Not meaning to be rude but one persons understanding of reconditioned and a dealers bolt it together and get it sold might not match.

I have no idea what went wrong here but I will say that the shop has a point about the overheating.

When the temperature gauge starts rising and heading towards the H on the dial this means stop ASAP. This does not mean in the next 5 miles, at the top of the mountain, etc; it means NOW or as close to that as possible.

One can take a brand new car off the showroom floor and if there’s a glitch causing overheating that new car can be roasted like a Thanksgiving turkey in no time.

At a dealer where I worked a new VW was fried to oblivion one time and the car had less than 500 total miles on it. In that particular case I give the older lady whom this happened to a lot of slack as not being her fault. There’s a story behind that one…

As an Okie Flatlander I’ve been to CO many times and every car that I’ve owned and driven up there has overheated to some extent while mountain climbing. I monitor the temp gauge constantly and if I felt the needle was uncomfortably high (and it doesn’t take much for me…) I pull over and stop for a few minutes.