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Should I buy 2001 Subaru Outback with rebuilt engine? It overheated

I am in a band, we are going on tour this summer and have been looking around at Subarus and other wagons. The other day, we were avoiding some Philadelphia traffic and came upon a gas/service station with a 2001 Subaru Outback out front. It would be perfect. There is a picture of it below.

There’s one thing - the engine was rebuilt. The lady who owned it busted a water hose, kept going, and over heated the engine. She didn’t have money to fix it so the mechanic bought it from her, rebuilt the engine - replaced the heads, gaskets, thermostat - “completely” he said - and is just sort of trying to get his money back. He said the engine block was level when he checked and that it wasn’t a “bad” burn-up, if that even applies.

My dad knows plenty about cars but lives a ways away so can’t come see it. He is extra skeptical. He told me that once an engine overheats, it will never be the same. That you can never quit check everything that could be effected by a scorching. Like, even the metal of the engine will be susceptible to serious problems in the future, stuff will wear faster, and that it’s not worth the risk.

so basically, my question is - is this car a potential good deal or a ticking time bomb money hole??

It has 131,000 miles on it, new tires, and has been taken care of. We drove it twice and it seemed to run nice both times - responded well and sounded good. we cut what i think is a great deal with him for $3000 cash and the trade-in of our 1993 Nissan Sentra. I put down a deposit so that he would hold it for us into this week.

Would appreciate any advice! thank you much,

Ticking time bomb. Subarus do not take kindly to overheating, and it seems this one was pretty severely overheated.

Since you’ve already decided to buy it, however, cross your fingers and hope the mechanic knows what he’s talking about.

If you only need it to last for the summer you may be OK. Or your $3K could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Good luck!

Did he also replace the timing belts, timing belt tensioner, cam seals, and waterpump when he did the work (things normally done on this kind of job and with the mileage)? If those things were also replaced I think you may be in good shape. I would check the compression of each cylinder now and verify the numbers are good. Make sure there aren’t any small coolant leaks in the coolant system. If those things check out and the guy has a good reputation for his work I think you will have a car that will go a lot of extra miles without much trouble, at a reasonable price. Make sure the A/C works along with all the other accessories.

Your dad has a point about rebuilding an overheated engine but I feel that a properly repaired one will work just fine. Especially one with new heads. Soobs are tough but like most cars overheating them can easily kill the engine. If you have never driven a Soob in the winter snow you will be surprised on how well they work. It may not be the most comfortable car on a long trip but it can carry quite a lot of equipment and will get you there and back.

I had a Honda Civic that was badly overheated. My BIL tore it apart, put a new head gasket and some other things on it that needed replaced. I got it for free, and I wrung about 40,000 miles out of it, at which time the head gasket started giving me problems again. I agree with your dad. The overheated motor will probably never be right.

There are some quirks involved in rebuilding a Subaru engine. The only way I would even consider giving 3 grand (and even that’s a stretch) would be if this guy ponied up a stack of receipts for all parts and all auto machine shop work.

A set of bearings, set of rings, and a pair of head gaskets does not an overhaul make.

“Replaced the heads”, if taken literally, means this engine was being barbecued if the original heads were beyond redemption. This means the piston rings are history and from there you go to splitting the block…

Everone has a story when it comes to selling a car and some stories should be taken with a grain of salt.

OK guys, thanks so much for all the comments. really helpful. So I went back to the mechanic and asked for a list of all that he did when he “rebuilt” the engine. He gave me this list -

  • complete valve job
  • resurface heads
  • Head Gaskets set - complete
  • Head bolts
  • Waterpump
  • Timing Belt kit w/pullies
  • radiator

  • new tires
  • brakes
  • used P.S. pump
  • used AC compressor
  • all fluids changed

I think he did a pretty complete job. And I looked up some reviews of his shop online and he seems pretty reputable. I drove the car yesterday for about 20 minutes, got it up to speed and it drove so nice. Checked the oil myself to see if there was water getting into the oil - all good. Also looked around the engine for any leaks - nothing. What do you think?? Did he do what he said?? Is this car a good deal??


Long version:

Not just no, but hell no. Not only do you not know if the engine was properly repaired after being roasted (from both a “did he replace EVERYTHING that needed to be replaced” and a “did he replace all that stuff CORRECTLY” standpoint), but you also know that the previous driver was an idiot who beat the hell out of her car by driving it when blinky lights were telling her not to, which means you don’t know what else she broke or prematurely wore out through her “the check engine light doesn’t apply to me” philosophy.

K. How prone is an engine block to cracking after an overheat??

That’s like asking how prone your hair is to turning gray. I have no idea, because each engine will react differently. I don’t know how badly the engine was overheated (the mechanic is trying to sell it, so I don’t automatically trust what he says), I don’t know how long it was overheated, I don’t know its maintenance history before the owner let it overheat, and I don’t have access to any sort of current damage assessment on the engine itself. Plus, each engine is slightly different metallurgically, and so while a specific overheat event might not hurt one block, it might crack another.

onetakebake, you seem determined to buy this car, but just know you are taking a major risk. There is no way any of us can know how big a risk, but I absolutely know it’s a much bigger risk than a car that hasn’t seen the history this one has.

Good luck!

I like the list of items that were either replaced or worked on. Before I signed on the dotted line I would like to see what the compression is now of each cylinder after the repair. The tech should be able to do that for you pretty easily. If they are all within 10 pounds of each other and meet specs then it seems to me that it may be alright. If you do get the car it would be a good idea to have a repair fund saved in case you may need it later on.

If the mechanic is using the phrase “rebuilt engine” then he’s either dead wrong or dead lying. This engine has not even gotten a complete top end job much less an engine rebuild.

If you’re still interested in this car you should have a compression test, both dry and wet, performed. Ideally, you should see pressures of about 185 PSI on all cylinders.

If the pressures are lower and rise significantly during a wet test then the piston rings are fried.
If the pressures are lower and do not rise during the wet test then you have to question how well the valve job was performed or if the valve lash is not correct. The latter is going to lead very quickly to the need for tearing it all back apart and actually doing a valve job if this matter is not taken care of.