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How long can I drive my Forester with leaking (oil) head gasket?

My mechanic told me that the burning smell I’ve been getting in my '02 Forester when I’m idling is a leaking head gasket. It seems to be a slow oil leak. If I keep an eye on my oil level can I continue to drive the car without doing further damage or having to worry about breaking down? Thanks!

Is there a chance the mechanic said valve cover gasket?1

Yes, you can continue to drive it. That era Subaru is notorious for leaky head gaskets, both oil and coolant. But be advised that the leak will likely worsen, I’ve had those come in with a steady stream dripping out whenever the engine is running. You never know when or how fast that leak is going to worsen. Keep driving it, but regularly check both your oil and coolant levels.

If your mechanic is smart, he won’t try to fix this in the car. He’ll pull the engine out, reseal the entire engine, install a new timing belt and water pump, and you’ll have another 10 years of trouble free driving ahead. I’d expect the bill for this to be $1800-2000.

Some people day you can re-torque the head bolts and it may seal off the leak force while. Keep a close eye on the level.

If the oil is leaking externally it isn’t a big problem. If the oil starts leaking internally and contaminates the coolant, then you have a breached head gasket and that is a big problem. Keep checking the oil for signs of coolant contamination (white foamy residue on oil cap or dipstick) and oil contamination of the coolant.