Repair or replace - 2002 Subaru Outback LL Bean edition

I chauffeur our mutts to and from the dog park in a 2002 Subaru Outback wagon with 185,000 miles on the big 6-cylinder engine. It’s also my daily driver, about 3 miles a day commute to work, after years of faithful service and multiple cross-country trips. The Outback is in good condition - no problems on the exterior, and just a few cosmetic blemishes on the interior. The driver’s seat is starting to get a little thin on padding, but my middle-aged butt is making up for that. Since replacing the differential about 7 years ago, we’ve had to make only typical investments in maintenance – oil changes, brakes, etc.

Now it’s time to replace the gaskets. Our mechanic says that will cost about $4,500 (the 6-cylinder engine makes it a premium job). Best-case scenario, that’s about what the car is worth (we live in Pacific Northwest, where the cars are popular). I’m conflicted about whether to repair or replace.

The car is in good enough condition that I’ve got no reason to expect I couldn’t get another 70,000 miles. On the other hand, aged 13 years and with high mileage, I can foresee this as the beginning of a litany of expensive repairs to the powertrain and other systems.

I’d be looking to replace the Outback with a newer model, or another Japanese or German wagon with all-wheel drive, in the $15,000 range. Any thoughts about whether to fix this car or get another one would be genuinely appreciated. I really like the car and want to make sure my affection for it isn’t clouding my judgment.

By ‘the gaskets’ you mean head gaskets? How do you know they’re bad? What are the symptoms? The 6 usually doesn’t have that problem.

"The 6 usually doesn’t have that problem."

While it certainly isn’t impossible for the six-cylinder Subaru engine to need head gasket replacement, I have never actually seen any instances of this repair on that engine–unlike the 4-cylinder engine.

Time to kick your mechanic to the curb. The cost to replace the head gaskets is no where near $4500. Besides…I agree with the others here…how do you know they are bad?

If the only problem is the head gasket, & probably requiring replacing the the intake and exhaust manifold gaskets too, maybe a little head re-surfacing and replacing the valve stem seals, still, $4500 seems a little steep. If you can get this done for around $3000 - $3500 since you like the car, it meets your needs, and you know exactly what problems it has, I think it would make sense to replace the gaskets and keep the car.

I’d have to agree with Missleman…What gaskets are we talking about here? In fact I dont see any actual PROBLEM being described here. So I am a little confused on the advice you are seeking. Does the engine LEAK? Does your anti freeze level keep dropping? What is the actual issue?

Let us know a little more specifics before I or we can advise in a better fashion.


I suspect there is something lost in translation between the mechanic and what has been presented here.

Spending 4500 to replace every gasket on the engine much less head gaskets only would be insanity so there needs to be some clarity on the problem and the 4500 dollar cure.

Get a 2nd opinion on problem and price.

The H6 is tougher to work on however it had to get removed to perform this job does not equate to 2.5-3 times the h4 price.

@dbschlosser, what symptoms does your car have? If you really do need $4500 of work on the car, I’d say ditch it. There could be other large expenses in the near future with a car that has 185,000 miles on it. As the miles add up, the likelihood of big repairs goes way up. I agree with others that suggest you get one or two more estimates. Just describe the symptoms and don’t tell them what the first mechanic said.

Thanks for comments and advice so far. 2nd opinion advice is received and will be taken.

No real symptoms at this point. Car runs fine. During last regular oil change and rotate/balance (about 4 months ago) and recent oil change and replacement of an oxygen ratio sensor (thanks, check engine light!), the shop told me that the next major repair is going to be replacements of the gaskets, which are currently leaking in a way the shop described as 7 or 8 on a scale of 10.

"the next major repair is going to be replacements of the gaskets"

There are a number of gaskets on that engine.
Specifically which gaskets did they say need replacement?

All, according to shop. None replaced in the many years we’ve owned the car. Head gasket is the primary expense.

Ask the garage if they did a compression test and if so, get the pressures for each cylinder. Let us know the results. If not, they need to do it and report the results to you. I wouldn’t believe their analysis without a compression test.

My son’s '03 OB H-6 engine needed this repair and it was about the same price that you stated to do the job. I suggest you do the repairs since the car is in good shape still and you like it so much. Doing the work should keep the car going for a long time. There will be other repairs needed down the road but you are doing one of the most expensive. If you average the repair costs with the extra years of service you expect to get out of the car by doing the repairs the costs don’t seem so high.

I assume the shop will replace the timing chain, water pump and other usual items like this if they do the job. I would also think about replacing the radiator also.