Seeping Head Gaskets

My 2002 Subaru Forester has 170,000 miles on it. I noticed a few months ago that I needed to add oil about 2 months after its oil change (about 1 1/2 qts). I had driven the car on a couple of long trips during very hot weather and we’ll just say that I did not adhere to the speed limit. The car ran and has been running fine, though,and I haven’t been having any issues, except for having to add oil. The oil light has never come on and no code has been showing up, except for a bad catalytic (which I am about to replace because it has been limping through inspections for a couple of years). I had the car in for service today and kind of a pre-op visit for the catalytic replacement and asked the guys to look to see if they could find a reason for the oil needing to be added. I wanted to be sure that when I put a new catalytic in, it is not going to be fouled up by another problem. They called and said my head gaskets are “seeping” oil, mostly on the right (the left as well, but not as badly…this side was previously replaced due to the dreaded coolant leak in Dec 2007 @ just under 100K miles). They said I can probably keep driving the car and adding oil, but I am wondering if I need to do anything else to help it keep going. I really like this car and it has always been great for me, runs smooth and quiet and gets me where I need to go. Should I change the oil more often now? I have never done the Subaru coolant additive since the HG repair, but if that is for coolant, I don’t think it would help here. Suggestions? Comments?

Two things it does not pay (at least I dont think so) to do the head gaskets on that motor with 170,000k on the clock. The motor must come out to do the job, and it is very $$$… I say keep adding oil, just make sure to keep up on your level and dont forget to check it all of the time.

With that said the car is kind of a time bomb at this point. It can keep going for a long time with just you adding oil, or the leak can get worse to the point you cant add oil quick enough.

So with that said I don’t know how much you are going to pay for the cat but I advise finding a good muffler shop with welding equipment and have them weld in a cheap universal cat rather the replace it with “the right part”… The universal one should cost around $150-$200 installed when a factory one can be close to $1000 for the parts alone. The universal one is not as good, but at this point who cares, your just trying to get a little more life out of an old car. Save the money to put towards a new car

You could try having someone retighten the cylinder head bolts. In theory this is not supposed to be needed but in practice it very well can be and may solve the problem.

It could also be that the original repair was not done correctly. (Checking cylinder head for flatness and surfacing if necessary, the method of head bolt tightening, and so on)
It is possible that retightening the head bolts could override any fault that may have happened from that repair and the oil leak could stop.

The job is not that hard to do but it’s also likely that someone may tell you that “it ain’t necessary”. I’d check them anyway.

Thanks, gsragtop, for your thoughts. I have gotten an aftermarket catalytic for around $300 (there are 2 parts to the system on this car and it has to meet CA emissions stds) and my mechanic is putting it in this next week for around $60. First quote I got was $750 with part supplied by mechanic.

OK4450, I will ask my mechanic about the bolt tightening. He is usually willing to try stuff to see if it helps as long as it’s not something we know will end in disaster! :slight_smile:

I also need tires and a front inner tie rod on this car so I am looking at $1,000 plus in expenses right now in any case.

Any other thoughts or comments still welcome. I would like to get another 2 yrs out of this car if possible (200K target) as my older son is in college and cash is pretty tight right now. Would it be worth considering putting another engine in this car at some point since fixing the head gaskets means pulling the engine anyway? My brother is a good mechanic but lives far away, but I could look at having him do this for me this next summer. How much should I expect to pay for a good used engine?

Are you sure it is coming from the heads? Or perhaps is it coming from where the transmission meets the engine?

I ask because, in the back of the engine, behind the driveplate, (besides a possible bad main seal) there’s something Subaru calls an ‘oil separator’. It basically is looks like a cover plate, held in with philips head screws.
Around 2000-ish* or so Subaru changed from using a plastic piece to aluminum because the plastic had a tendency to crack and weep oil.

It could be that piece as well. To fix it, the engine will need to come out or at least separate from the transmission, though.
If it is that piece, I’d just drive it and keep it topped off unless you have reason to separate the engine from tranny - like a clutch job or a blown main seal.

*(don’t know exactly when)

This brings up a question I have about my own car and Subarus in general. I have a 2010 Subaru turbo Forester. I have heard that leaking gaskets is the bane of all Subarus at around 100,000 miles. True? Also, what are your thoughts about the turbo version?

They had issues from 98 to 2002 in that their head gaskets were made differently. They recognized it as an issue and have since changed the design. The replacement gaskets are way beefier.
I’ve had Subarus since 84, having pushed them way over 200K without any real issues* like that - with the exception of my daughter’s Forester. It made it to 180K and blew a gasket so I swapped the engine and it is running well again.

They are pretty solid reliable cars, imo.

*One other unrelated big issue was having my daughter get an oil change on her impreza. Firestone didn’t tighten the oil plug, it fell out and it seized.
Come to think of it, my daughter may be the common denominator…

Subaru with 170,000 miles, needs head gaskets and catalytic converter. Asking $1,200. This doesn’t sound like a deal that is too good to pass up.

While the $2,500 to repair the car “wouldn’t really be wasted”; is it worth spending? If other drive train problems pop up soon, the total price can top $5,000 by the time the car is “roadworthy” again.

Car Talk could change to Subaru Nightmares and I suppose I could be called Chef PleasedodgeRamsay. My advice (as usual) would be to drop that boat anchor in the swamp and avoid the recycling fees for lead disposal.

There are just not enough swamps.

Ok, so looks like my plan at this point is to continue driving it, adding oil, try tightening the bolts to see if that helps. Cross my fingers and maybe drive it a little slower…:wink:

RemcoW, since you have done it, how much should I expect to pay for a good used engine for this car? I may look at going that route in future.

I got a perfectly solid JDM* engine for around $1600 delivered with maybe 40K on it. You’d have to swap the bolts-ons on and may have to punch a hole out for EGR as they don’t use that in Japan. It isn’t difficult but it can be a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before.
I did the work myself and also changed the timing belt, head gaskets, some seals and pump since it was easy with the engine out. Just follow the service manual, take your time and you’ll be good.
You can probably get a mechanic to drop it in for you for maybe another 800-1000.

*Scrap engine from Japan. They get rid of cars there the way we may change our sneakers so they have very low miles on them.
You can also get scrap engines from the US but they tend to have higher miles on them.

Thanks, I did see a site that talked about those Japanese scrap engines and didn’t know if they were a good bet since the warranties aren’t very long, but they sure do have a lot less miles on them.

AS a PS to Remco’s post from what I have been told, as far as pulling a motor goes, Subarus are fairly simple compaired to others out there.

With that being said, the rest of the car should be close to 100% to even think about this. If its got rust, or secondary systems failing (power windows, weak seats, AC does not work etc) I would not put this kind of money into it.

Car has no rust (some dings from the parking lot morons who don’t know how to open their doors), all other systems working perfectly. :slight_smile: Car is very solid and even my interior is pretty much perfect, including the leather seats. It has been garaged its whole life except for about 6 months when we moved to our current house and had stuff in the way while we remodeled.

Thanks for all the input! :wink: