Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Replacing a good subaru gasket while doing timing belt?

As I have sifted through the many gasket questions in here I have another to ask…I am purchasing a used 2001 Outback(yes I know it is old and it is a Subaru, but it is what we can afford for what we need!!). It has 143K on it and he (private sale) has claimed to have done regular maintenance. I will confirm that when I see the paperwork, however the timing belt has not been changed which I find strange at 143k. He is willing to lower the price in accordance to the repairs I need to make. So…if I am doing the timing belt I know I will replace other parts such as the water pump, but should I replace head gaskets if there have never been issues with them? I am wondering if it is worth it to just replace them anyway since they are taking the car apart to do the belts and pump etc. Is this a wise decision to just be proactive so that IF there is a gasket problem later I don’t have to take it all apart again? I am not sure how much extra work is involved if the belts and pumps are out to be replaced anyway. Is this a wise thing to do or should I just hope that this Subaru happens to not have gasket problems and to not waste my time replacing what is not bad.

Time Out ! Hold Everything !

"It has 143K on it and he (private sale) has claimed to have done regular maintenance. I will confirm that when I see the paperwork, however the timing belt has not been changed which I find strange at 143k. "

The most important maintenance item was not done. To tell you the truth, I’d be afraid to drive that car around the block once any money changed hands.

Sir, your space shuttle is all ready to go. Oh, I forgot to mention those pesky little o-rings on the solid boosters. It’s a little cold out, but I’m sure everything will be OK. We’ll change them as soon as you get back.


The seller is very lucky. 143K on a timing belt is flirting with disaster. I’d wonder about the claim of “regular maintenance.” I hope that means more than just oil changes. Subarus don’t take kindly to neglect.

If the head gaskets are not leaking you should leave them alone. Replacing head gaskets is MUCH more complicated, and expensive, than replacing the timing belt.

Not every Subaru has head gasket problems. Don’t assume the worst.

Look VERY closely at those maintenance records, however. Skipping the timing belt is not a good sign.

The disassembly needed for timing belt replacement and for replacement of head gaskets really involves two different areas of the engine. They are not very far from each other, but they are really unrelated. Thus, you would not be likely to save any money by combining the two tasks into one repair stop.

That being said, if the owner of this car claims to have done “regular” maintenance, but has failed to replace the timing belt, then I have to question how “regular” the maintenance really was. By any measure, that timing belt is overdue for replacement (by about 1 year on the basis of elapsed time, and by 38,000 miles on the basis of odometer mileage), and that is NOT an indication of a well-maintained car.

Since the timing belt is the one part of the engine where lack of maintenance can cause the engine to be trashed in–literally–a microsecond, I would be very wary about how well this car was maintained. Demand to see his maintenance records, and then compare them to the Subaru Maintenance Schedule that should be sitting in the glove box. If he was no maintenance records, RUN away from this deal as fast and as far as you can.

If he has maintenance records, and if they are not in at least minimal compliance with the mfr’s maintenance schedule, stay away from this deal. If there is no evidence of having changed the transmission fluid at least 4 times already, walk away from this deal.

At this point, you know that this car would require (depending upon locale and place of repair) somewhere around $400.–$800. to replace the timing belt, water pump, serpentine belt, and all belt tensioners.

If you need to replace the head gaskets (there are two on this car, and the likelihood is high that this will need to be done), then you can add another $800–$1,000 to your known repair bills.

If the transmission fluid has not been changed at least 4 times, then likely transmission failure in the near-term would add about $3,000 to your repair costs.

If the car has ever been run with mismatched tires, then replacement of the center viscous coupler/clutch pack will cost you another $600 or so.

This “regularly” maintained car is a potential time-bomb, waiting to explode in your wallet if my suspicions prove to be true. If I were you, I would be VERY cautious about buying this car. I am a long-time, very satisfied Subaru owner who maintains his cars very well and has had excellent reliability from both of his Subarus. However, a poorly maintained Subaru will prove to be a frustrating and very expensive experience for you.

Caveat Emptor!

If you have not bought the car,

verify the (automatic) transmission fluid has been changed at least once over that period. More is better. Also verify the coolant has been changed at least twice. Otherwise walk away.

If you bought the car don’t waste your money on head gaskets. My family has 5 Subaru’s with the 2.5L known to blow head gaskets and not a single one has had the issue except one at 250k miles and admitting two coolant changes.

If you can convince the owner to deduct the cost of replacing the head gaskets along with everything else, the car goes into negative value…He will have to pay you to take it off his hands…

This car would give me cold feet. If the seller has never changed the timing belt then he likely hasn’t maintained the rest of the car very well.

The head gaskets are a separate labor issue and if you’re going to have to foot the bill by having someone else do the work then the cost of all of this could exceed the value of the car.

Being curious, just how much is the seller asking for this thing?

Thanks,That was my thought too and I have since contacted him to question how an obvious maintenance wasn’t done? If he doesn’t have the records then he won’t get my money!!

I just keep hearing horror stories about gaskets so I wondered if there were any out there that didn’t leak during the problem years. I figured I could just get it over with and change them even if they weren’t leaking…yet!! I just thought I would save some money in the long run by just getting it over with while doing some other maintenance. But maybe not…thanks for your help

It would be foolish to replace the head gaskets until nessessary!

I think I am going to skip the car after reading all of these. I had a gut feeling about it and now your replies make me doubt the seller even more. I found another today with all the records and a lot of work has been done on it. They have babied it…so that is the one I will be buying. It has a bit more miles but at least I know the work that has been done on it…which is better then less miles and no knowledge of maintenance. THanks for everyone’s help. I love this site and Forum…it is so helpful!!