Reviving a 1990 Subaru Legacy



I’ve got a 1990 Subaru Legacy on my hands that I’d like to revive. Someone gave it to my grandad and he never really did anything. It’s actually been sitting around for about 9 or 10 years.

When it was last running, it had a cooling/ overheating problem. When it was winter, it wouldn’t put out any heat for the interior – just cold air. When it was warmer, the temperature gauge would just go up into the red zone.

The thermostat was replaced and the cooling fans worked, but still no luck.

I’ve read a bunch about “burping” or bleeding the cooling system, but this car doesn’t have a valve to bleed the system like some other cars I’ve seen.

Any ideas how to bleed it if that’s the problem? Do I just drain the coolant and refill? Do I put compressed air into it?

Someone suggested hoisting the car up with a front-end loader, or something, to a 90-degree angle and let the air find its way out. Alas, I don’t have a loader to do that with.


Sitting for about 9 or 10 years? Don’t worry about the overheating problem. You’re not going to get this engine running until all the bad gas has been removed from the gas tank and the rest of the fuel system.



This engine sits so low in the compartment that bleeding air out of the engine cooling system is not going to be the problem. Having an air locked heater core could be a problem but bleeding that just involves cracking the uppermost line from the heater core.

From you description of the initial presenting problem, I would be suspicious of a leaking head gasket or gaskets. Do a leakdown test and see if air bubbles are showing up in the cooling system. If so you will have to look at doing the head gaskets.

Hope this helps. Respond with the progress of your project.


You might take a look at the front of the radiator to see if it is blocked. Put a light between the engine and radiator and look through the front to see how much of the light you can see. I agree with Tester you need to get engine running properly then see if you still have a problem. With a car that has sat for ten years your troubles with this car will have just started. You may start having problems with alot of diffrent seals start leaking after you start driveing this car. You will need to keep a close eye on all fluid levels I would say for at least a couple months. Next thing after the engine I would have inspected is all the brakes and lines to make sure it is safe to drive.


Based on the prior overheating, temp gauge going into the red, the time it’s been sitting, and Subaru’s history of head gasket problems I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have a major issue with the head gaskets; or soon will.


"It’s actually been sitting around for about 9 or 10 years."
I’m completely with Tester. The overheating problem pales in significance to a car that will been neglected (if I read you correctly) for this long. By all means, get a front end loader, hoist it up, drop it on a flat bed and take it to the junk yard. I doubt the antique value is worth one more cent of money or time. It’s a useless pile of…whatever you wish to fill in.


To get an air pocket out of a system you don’t use compressed air. Actually what is used is just the opposite of that. It is a vacuum system that is used to remove the air so it doesn’t get trapped inside a possible air pocket in the engine.

It sounds like there is a problem with the headgaskets already going from what you say about the heating. You are going to have to spend a fair amount of time and money to get this project going as the others stated so think about it before you start on it. It’s always nice to have another Soob on the road though.


The junkyard will come get it for you and you won’t have to keep thinking you should do something about it.A 1990 Subaru that had cooling system problems and sat for ten years is truly a white elephant.


Reviving this car would truly be a LABOR OF LOVE, with no practical value. If that is the way you want to spend your time, go for it.

The car has no technical, styling or historical value, so it won’t appreciate in value…


Haha. I can certainly understand the thoughts on taking the car to the junkyard. That’s where it was headed when I thought I’d poke around a bit.

Any work I do on the car would be purely for the sake of tinkering with it. I don’t need it for transportation purposes and I’ve got no money in it either.

If I do take go after the head gasket or try to clear out the air pocket, I’ll let you know.

Thanks for all the advice – even for the take it away advice!


IF you get this thing running (objective #1), look to your heater core for the problem of lack of heat in the cabin. These are never fun to replace, and it would probably cost you about $500 to have a shop do it. As for the overheating problem, don’t just assume it’s a head gasket and dive in. Depending on what caused the heater core to clog up, the radiator may have suffered from the same problem, which was probably not having had the coolant changed frequently enough. A clogged radiator is a breeze to replace, or it can be cleaned out. Have it checked at a radiator shop to make sure water is circulating properly. If poor circulation is your problem, clean the entire cooling system at the same time; no point in doing the radiator and heater core and then re-clogging them because you didn’t get the gunk cleaned out of the cooling system arteries.


Nothing wrong with tinkering and learning from the experience. I’d suggest you set a budget for how much you are willing to spend on this car over and above simple stuff like spark plugs, filters, and brakes. Are you willing to redo the exhaust system for instance? Replace an alternator? Have fun.


You know that cooling system pressure tester you wanted to get and to use? Yep, now is the time.