Subaru Forester Anitfreeze Leak

I just brought my 2002 Forester into my local dealer for service and he found a “substantial” antifreeze leak. He showed me the underside of the engine and there was indeed quite a bit of antifreeze dripping off the bottom of the engine block. There was also a strong antifreeze smell as a result of the leak.

The mechanic wants to replace the head gasket entirely, plus the water pump, which puts the bill “just under $1,000.” Yikes!

Is this necessary? Obviously the leak needs to be stopped, but I have read that head gasket leaks usually result from over-heating the engine, which I’ve never had trouble with. I’ve also never had problems with getting hot air from the heater or anything else that would indicate a low level of antifreeze.

Is it possible that a “substantial” leak could come from the weep hole of the water pump?

Any information would be most helpful.

“The mechanic wants to replace the head gasket entirely”

Well, you can’t replace just part of the head gasket, and in fact, a thorough head gasket job on a Subaru would actually involve replacing TWO head gaskets, since the H-configured engine has two cylinder heads. That being said, it is possible that this mechanic is being overly ambitious, and I would suggest that you get a second opinion.

While Subaru Outbacks have been subject to head gasket problems for the 1997-2001 model years, the engine in the 2002 Forester is not known to be one of the problematic engines. Of course, it is possible that you do have a head gasket problem, and if so, this can drastically shorten the life of the engine by contaminating the motor oil with antifreeze.

Get a second opinion!


Yes, what I meant by “replace the head gasket entirely” was replacing both gaskets. They said since they’ll be replacing one it would be difficult to determine which one is the problem, so might as well replace both.

Working on the second opinion part (I’m in a small town and everything is shut down until Monday).

In the meantime, is there any way it might just be leaking from the water pump? I’ve read that antifreeze can leak from the water pump weep hole, but I don’t know if it could be enough of a leak to make it such a severe problem.

BOGUS! The head gaskets are at opposite ends of the horizontally-opposed Subaru engine. It should be simple to determine which is leaking IF that’s where the leak is coming from.

Water pumps do, indeed, have weep holes, and if the pump is bad coolant can leak from the weep hole. Most head gasket leaks are internal, not external.

You need another opinion. Whoever is giving you this information is either trying to take advantage of you or has no idea what he or she is talking about. I’m voting for the former.

Thanks to both of you for your valuable insight!

I got a second opinion - he said he couldn’t beat that price so I went with the dealer’s price.

As it turns out Subaru issued an extended warranty for a run of VIN’s specifically to cover this head gasket issue, unfortunately my car wasn’t in that run. However, after speaking with the Subaru warranty people they agreed to reimburse me for half of the repair cost, and the dealer absorbed the other half as a warranty repair.

Bogus or not, it’s all taken care of and I certainly can’t complain about the deal!

Thanks again!