Seals, gaskets, and c-notes, oh my!

i can’t stand paying somebody $500.00 to replace seals and gaskets, it just seems like something i should be able to do myself. can you point me to a good online tutorial on what tools/equipment i’ll need to replace the head gaskets on my 1998 subaru outback? thanks, eric from ohio

Get a Haynes manual for $15.00 at any auto parts store. They have diagrams and pictures, along with bolt patterns and torque specs, to help you get it done. However, before you jump into the job, I’d review the manual to determine the extent your willing to try by yourself. If it were valve cover gaskets and even a front crank seal, I’d say got for it. But a head gasket repair is an involved process, that REQUIRES tools like a torque wrench. Also, I’m from a school of thought that would say to get the valve re-seated, since you have to pull the heads off. If this Subbie has overhead cams, it would be a good idea to plan on replacing the timing belt, too.

I agree. A Haynes manual is what you need. Or, if you want to spend REAL money, buy a factory Subaru manual. I use a Haynes for my Subaru, because I can’t afford a factory manual. Haynes manuals are easy to find. If you want a factory manual, try

On the other hand, if someone is willing to replace the head gaskets (there are two) and cam shaft seals for only $500, I’d gladly pay it. This is a big job, and you will need some special tools and equipment. Do you have a harmonic balancer puller? How about a torque wrench? Jack stands? You’ll need a long breaker bar to loosen the crankshaft pulley bolt. By the time you purchase the stuff you need, you may have spent the price of the repair.

If you’re taking the heads off, replace the timing belt, water pump, thermostat, cam shaft seals, and the oil pump seal while you’re at it. Maybe an idler pulley or cam belt tensioner, too, depending on their condition. If you don’t replace them now, you’ll be going back in later when they go bad, and you don’t want to do this twice.

I also agree, you can do it yourself with the manual and the correct tools. There is a reason they charge $500, it’s a lot of work. Allow plenty of time for this job, like most of a weekend. Personally, I would pay to have it done.

You can find Subaru manuals all over ebay. The CD ones are cheap. That’s where I got manuals for my XT-4 and SVX. Take a look at

As far as this being a DIY item, it would be for me, but have you ever delved this deeply into an engine before?

Questions: Are you sure it needs HEAD gaskets and not the cam cover gaskets on top (sort of) the heads? Who diagnosed this for you? What symptoms is it exhibiting?

If you’re not that mechanically inclined you may turn this into a very expensive education since it’s a fairly complicated job. Timing belt and water pump should be changed at the same time if this has not been done previously.

If you do it yourself you’re going to need at a bare minimum a Haynes manual and a torque wrench along with the basic tools.
The cylinder heads will need to be inspected for warpage and surfaced if necessary. They’re often warped and often ignored, which can lead to a repeat of the original problem.

So what is the car doing or not doing that leads to the head gasket diagnosis?
If the car has been chronically overheating, losing coolant into the engine oil, etc. then you may need an entire new engine.