Putting a rebuilt (or salvage yard) engine in Subaru Forester 2003

Took our 2003 Subaru Forester in for it’s 120 mile check up. Diagnosis: “Piston ping & head gasket seeping antifreeze”. This is a “spare” family car that we use to haul dogs & to commute to work when it snows. Our mechanic said he called 2 of the guys he uses to check if he could get us a rebuilt (he did not mention salvage yard) engine. He told us that both places do “not deal” in subaru engines. Any ideas why they would not? Would a salvage yard engine be hard to find? Which is better–salvage yard or rebuilt? Why would this engine be difficult to find? Should we try another mechanic?

Subaru engines are easy to find, both rebuilt and used. As to which is better that all depends, and price is a factor also.
There are 2 things to keep in mind with a used/salvage yard engine.

  1. You have no idea (and the yard likely does not either) exactly what condition that engine is in.
  2. A used engine should have the timing belt/water pump/tensioners changed BEFORE the engine is installed. This also goes for the engine rear main seal and transmission front pump seal if the car has an automatic trans. Point being that it’s an add-on expense that should be factored in.

Exactly what is the car doing at this point? Any coolant loss, overheating, bad oil consumption, etc.?

Re-torque the head, dump in a can of Bar’s-Leaks and drive on…ALL Subaru’s have a little “seepage” here and there…The demand for Subaru engines is high, finding a decent used one is difficult. When you find one, the price is exorbitant…Now might be a good time to trade…

Thanks for the advice. Have ruled out a salvage yard engine & would definitely go for a rebuilt one. The only symptom before we took it in was that it was running rough when first started up. After about 5 mins of warming up, seems to run fine. Mechanic told us this was the “piston ping” issue. No coolant loss, overheating, bad oil consumption etc was noticed. We only put about 5000 miles/yr on this car…like I said, it’s our “back up” car. We do diligently change the oil every 5000 miles & have taken good care of the car.

Piston pinging or whatever is not behind the cold running problem. As to rough running when cold that could be due to a vacuum leak (10 seconds to determine that), fuel pressure problem due to a clogged filter, weak fuel pump, or possibly a pump check valve leaking off, etc.
These things are not difficult to determine and with no coolant/oil loss or overheating this guy should not be steering you into a new engine.

Some seepage of head gaskets (it’s visual) on Subarus is about normal. Have someone retorque the cylinder head bolts if that is an issue even worth worrying about.

In the event the rough running is caused by something in the EEC system you might have the car scanned for codes. Parts houses such as Checkers, AutoZone, Advance, etc. will do this for you free and it only takes a few minutes.
If not codes are present then a vacuum test and fuel pressure test may be in order.
At this point do not consider or even worry about whether this car needs a new motor.

If it’s a back up car and you don’t NEED it for your daily driver, then why not consider rebuilding the engine that’s already in the car? If it takes the shop a couple weeks to get all the parts and do the machine work, who cares?

At least with the existing engine, you know what ya got. You know it’s been maintained to your standards. You don’t necessarily have to do any more work than is necessary. I’d consider having it rebuilt on a budget.

Have the cylinders honed or bored just a few thousandths to assure straight cylinder walls. Replace the rings. Replace the rod bearings and crank bearings. Replace the cam bearings. Obviously, replace all seals and gaskets. Replace the oil pump and water pump. Have the cylinder heads rebuilt. The valves are probably fine, as are the springs. Clean them up and put new valve guides and seals in the heads. New spring retainers etc… There’s probably a few other things that should be done, but I’m not an expert with your Subaru engine (or any other engine, for that matter).

Just seams to me you’d incur less risk by rebuilding the engine you have - as opposed to buying a junk yard engine - used engine from craigslist - or any “remanufactured” engine you might buy from an online source. With any of those other engines, you really have no idea what you will end up getting. I’ve seen with my own eyes “remanufactured” engines fail after just 5k or 6k miles. Then you get to go to the hassle of doing it all over again and fighting with somebody 5 states away to honor the warranty.

Find a good local Subaru guy who knows his stuff about your particular car and rebuild it.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

The only symptom before we took it in was that it was running rough when first started up.

I had the same problem with a 1990 Ford Aerostar. It turned out that coolant was leaking into one cylinder and causing the spark plug not to fire. The van was under warranty and the dealer replaced both head gaskets. Unfortunately, the head gasket failed on one bank due to a hairline crack in one cylinder head. When the problem surfaced again, the engine was replaced under warranty.

Thanks all for the great input! Really appreciate the help! We have decided to take the car to a Subaru dealer & then to a 3rd opinion from a mechanic that knows Subarus. Putting a rebuilt engine into this car is a major expense & we want to make sure all of what you have stated is considered and/or done to the car. I’m not convinced that this car needs a new engine–we’ll have to wait & see.

I doubt very seriously that this car needs an engine and running rough for a few minutes when cold is certainly not a good reason to suspect an engine problem at all.

ALL Subaru’s have a little “seepage” here and there.

Actually there was only a 2-3 year period where Subaru’s were having this problem.

I side with those who think you do NOT need engine work. Good that you get another opinion from a mechanic that is familiar with Subaru’s. Don’t prejudice the mechanic with the belief that you might need a new engine. It would be best to just request another 120k mile service, or better yet, wait until the next service is due and have it done. See if the third mechanic gives you the same diagnosis.

The main reason I think the engine is OK is that you are not loosing a measurable amount of coolant. When coolant seepage past the head gasket becomes a problem, you will notice coolant loss first. Then comes fouling of the spark plugs in the cylinders affected and excessive white smoke from the exhaust.

DO NOT have the heads retorqued. This can crack the head. The heads are no longer torqued in new vehicles. The head bolts are put down with a small torque to insure that all have even contact, then are turned a specified number of degrees to insure an even clamping pressure. If the head gasket as had a little erosion or weakness in one spot, then applying an even torque will stress the head, causing it to warp or crack. Worse yet is that one bolt may have more drag on it than a neighboring bolt, then the bolt with less drag will be turned turned more, putting more clamping pressure on that part of the head than the neighboring bolt.

All engines ping a little. You don’t hear it because the knock sensor backs off the timing just enough to keep it inaudible. If you can hear the ping (sound like someone shaking pebbles in a tin can), then the problem is the knock sensor, not the engine.

Rough running after start up can be cause by a number of things. You might just need new plugs. By the way, if you had the plugs replaced at the 120k service, and you had significant coolant leakage, one or more of the plug tips would have appeared to be growing crystals on it. Did your mechanic show you this? Its probably too late to ask to see the plugs now.

Rough running could also be due to a dirty fuel injector, a vacuum leak or a marginal sensor. The sensor might not be bad enough to have thrown a code yet. Most likely it is due to you occasional use of the vehicle. You should take it out for a spin the next day after a use to see if it still runs rough for the first couple of minutes. If it doesn’t, then that is the reason. I have a small truck that I use occasionally that runs rough if it has sat for a week or so, but if driven on several days in succession, it does not do that.

I also agree with the others here that the engine most likely doesn’t need to be replaced or require major work. Also I believe Subaru has a recommended additive for the coolant to help stop headgasket leakage for the coolant. Do you know if that has been done already?

I have to respectfully disagree with the premise that head bolts on Subarus cannot or should not be retorqued for the following reasons.
Subaru actually used to recommend doing this at one time.

I’ve retorqued more Subaru head bolts than I can even start to remember and have never seen nor heard of a head cracking because of this. However, I have seen warpage in the the vast majority of Subaru cylinder heads and retorquing can straighten some of that out. Heads gaskets relax a bit over time and this often leads to bolt loosening.
(On a side note, I’d like to know where the heads crack because of retorquing because I’ve simply never seen or heard of it.) ???

Fel-Pro, one of the largest and best head gasket and head bolt manufacturers around, states that their head bolts should be retorqued.