Should this car be saved?

2001 Subaru Outback Wagon, 95675 mi. I took it in to the Subaru dealer for suspected suspension issues, oil change, and nose-to-tail inspection. Diagnosis 1: front and rear sway bars worn and cracking - repair cost $620; diagnosis 2: slight leak found in cylinder head gaskets - repair cost (with new timing belt and perhaps new H20 pump $2950; diagnosis 3: rear cat/con flange weak, may need replacing (part $975) at time on cat/con repair. Who knew? I anticipated only suspension and minor maintenance. Have topped off engine coolant twice in past 9 months. Car looks good, runs great. Shop thought suspension work most pressing but not unsafe at this time (unless hard cornering at high rates of speed). Would a rational person sink $3500 (for 1 and 2)plus into this car? Or is it time to bail? I (3rd owner) have owned the car for 4 years, with minimal repair work. Second opinion in the offing…

BTW, I just paid off the loan last month.

When you ask a dealer for a nose-to-tail inspection they see dollar signs.

Front and rear sway bars worn and cracking? I doubt it. Sway bar BUSHINGS maybe, but not the sway bars themselves.

Slight head gasket leak? How did they come to that conclusion? Is the car losing coolant?

Flange weak? As long as it’s still holding it’s fine.

Get away from the Subaru dealer and get another opinion.

Check your owner’s manual, too. It may be time for a timing belt, and this is something you shouldn’t ignore.

A 2001 car isn’t ready for the car graveyard yet. But it will cost more to maintain as more things wear out. Not having a monthly payment means you can put some of that money aside for these increased repair/maintenance costs. It is time to move away from dealer provided service. They are just too expensive.

Find a good independent mechanic who is very familiar with Subaru. Get that second opinion. Cracking sway bars? That seems very unusual, do you do a lot of aggressive off road racing?

It is time for the timing belt and water pump change, so be prepared to spend some money. If the sway bars do need replacing good used parts from salvage yard may keep the costs down.

Subaru seems to have head gasket issues by design. Let’s see what the 2nd opinion is on the head gaskets. How much coolant are you adding and how often? If they are leaking and you don’t want to spend the money to fix them you should get into another car. Not fixing a leaking head gasket just becomes a more expensive repair down the road.

To keep a 2001 car going for another 10 years and 100K miles is very possible. It will mean a few big repair bills along the way. If you budget about $2,000 a year for repairs you should be able to keep it for quite a while. When the body and frame are so rusty they aren’t safe then it is ready for the car crusher.

I agree with mcparadise. I have never heard of a “cracked sway bar” (actually, it is an ANTI-sway bar) on a Subaru, and the possibility that both the front and rear anti-sway bars are cracked is rather unlikely. As was said, it is possible that the bushings are bad, but that repair should not be anywhere in the area of $620.

Since you stated that you have added coolant twice, it is very possible that you have a bad head gasket, and this is not something that will get better. In fact, if ignored, it has the potential to wreak major damage to the engine.

The flange? As was said, at this point, just ignore that item.

As both UT and mcp suggested, this dealership does not sound like a good place for reasonably priced repairs. Ask around for recommendations on a competent independent mechanic, and you can likely get the head gaskets replaced for far less money, and IF those questionable anti-sway bars need attention, that repair would also likely be far less costly.

Nada retail is 8200; clean trade 6200; average trade 5700. Using an independent mechanic should bring down the repair costs, but I would not hesitate to spend the money. Everything listed (assuming validity of need to repair) are all one time repairs for most folks.

I would go ahead and do timing belt, tensioners and water pump since they are due at 105K anyway. You should be able to get another 100K of good miles from your engine by doing this work. The coolant use matches with head gasket diagnosis, so I would consider it more critical than the suspension issues. That is also when you need to do timing belt and water pump.

Have an independent mechanic replace the belt, re-torque the heads and inspect the sway-bar bushings. Replace the bushings if needed. Drive on.

" for suspected suspension issues," WHAT “issues”??

Rear right squeak at low speeds – rear left sounds like a worn out spring. No major clunking or thumping – just a little more noise on that side.

I have added coolant twice – but very little. I have seen the “minor seepage”. It all seemed very pricey but since I had been driving ancient Volvos and Jettas into the ground prior to this, I am not that savvy on “newer” car repairs. Thanks for the input, everyone.

I must correct my note – “Sway bar links” is what are “worn and cracking” on the diagnostic sheet. Again, I appreciate all the thoughtful responses. Anyone wish to recommend a Subaru Guru?

Is this a 2.5 l engine? It may be covered by a special Subaru warranty:

"For our purposes here we are focusing on 2nd generation 2.5L Subaru engines from 1996 to 2003. Here’s some real scoop from NASIOC:

Phase II EJ25 Head Gasket Leak / WWP-99 Service Campaign - Cooling System Conditioner - Subaru has determined that certain 1999 through 2002 model year 2.5L equipped Subaru vehicles may experience an external coolant leak from the cylinder head gaskets. This is the result of normal relative thermal expansion and contraction variations of engine parts. As a precautionary measure, SOA is recommending that a special conditioner be added to the engine cooling system to prevent leaks from occurring or to correct existing leaks.

Only early Phase II 2.5 liter engines are affected by this campaign. Phase I 2.5 liter engines (some 1999 model year and prior years) are not affected. Countermeasures applied to the manufacturing process for those 2002 and later VINS not affected by this campaign have eliminated the need for this campaign to be performed on those vehicles.

In the future, it will be necessary to add Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner to the SUBARU vehicle cooling system whenever the engine coolant is replaced. The updated recommended service procedure as well as intervals for coolant replacement will be added to all applicable service manuals. As a reminder, we will include an update page in the owner notification letters that should be added to the Owner?s Manual and Warranty and Maintenance Booklet. We ask you to keep in mind that replacement of fluids (including Subaru Cooling System Conditioner) during inspection and maintenance services are not covered under warranty.

If the vehicle owner has this Service Program repair performed promptly, Subaru will extend coverage under the Subaru Limited Warranty on the vehicle for cylinder head gasket external coolant leaks to a period of 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever occurs first. Warranty coverage begins on the date the vehicle was delivered to the first retail purchaser. If the vehicle was used as a demonstrator or company vehicle before being sold at retail, warranty coverage begins on the date the vehicle was first placed in such service. As a further condition for this extended warranty coverage to apply, the vehicle owner must have Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner added to the vehicle at any subsequent cooling system services at the interval specified in the Warranty and Maintenance Booklet under the heading ?Schedule of Inspection and Maintenance Services?.

Dealers will automatically be sent an initial quantity of Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner. Dealer bulletins and affected VIN lists will be mailed to dealers in early February 2004. Owner notification letters are scheduled for mailing in stages."


Recommending a Subaru Guru is dependent upon where you live, and you have not shared that information with us. I know of an excellent independent Subaru mechanic in Eastern PA, but I have no idea if that is within a reasonable distance of where you live.

What he’s offering you is a free wallet flushing. Run away, as fast as you can.

I too agree with McP. I’ll bet my morning muffins it’s the bushings that were dried and cracking. That’s your squeak. A squirt of silicone lubricant will confirm the theory and may even stop the squeak. The sway bar actually twists in the bushings that attach it to the chassis and a squeaky bushing on an eight year old vehicle is not abnormal. The rubber dries, shinks, and wears with age.

A “weak” cat converter flange? What is that? It’s either broken, rotted, or it’s not. Unless he did a radiographic or ultrasocic inspection (just kidding here, I guarantee he did not).

If the timing belt is due (check your owner’s manual…for time as well as mileage) then it with the water pump needs changing.

I’ll skip any comment on the headgasket. Others have gone into detail.

The only thing I’ll add is that you do not need a Subie specialist for these issues. Just a competant, honest garage. Although if you find a local Subie guy, that’s great too.

The way I see it is that the only thing you should do at this point is determine if your timing belt is due for replacement, if so, change that, and if the water pump is behind it, you might as well as change that as well, so as to not have to pay double labor when it starts leaking. Otherwise don’t spend any more money if you don’t need to. You might go several more years with your other issues before they turn into a major problem. If you are even considering any other work, I would go for not only a second opinion, but a third opinion as well. Stay away from the dealer because there are many just as many competent mechanics at private repair shops which will be easier on your wallet.

About the coolant: in my car it turned out to be a hose that wsn’t clamped tigthly.

I went to Napaonline and was expecting to find sway bar end links. INstead, I found sway bar rapair kits for 40 and 50 bucks. There was a picture of one piece for each. No listing for end links. I don’t understand how this works. If two are needed for each end that might be close to $200 in parts alone. A common end link replacement is usually pretty simple and inexpensive. Anyone know what is going on with Subies?

Your Subaru is barely broken in at that mileage. I agree with the boards so far in that you should find a reputable Subaru Mechanic in your area. Start asking around. Sway bars don’t crack unless there is a factory recall or something. Get the head gasket attended to. Put the amount that your car payment was away every month, or even half of it, to attend to maintenance problems in the future and keep driving it. You could get 300,000 miles or more out of this car!

Agree also; a 2001 Subaru with only 95,000 miles is not even at the midlife point. Dealers have a vested interest in loading up the repair estimate, and using fear mongering. You will either spend a bundle or you will want to trade the car, in which caes the service manager will like get a “referral fee” for his scare tactics.

As mentioned by others, find a Subaru-savvy mechanice and get a realistic estimate of what your car needs.

I have replaced many bushings on sway bars, but have NEVER SEEN A CRACKED SWAY BAR!

I keep cars generally till the estimated repairs for the next 2 years exceed the price of another one. You are nowhere near that point, unless the car has been neglected or abused.