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Surprise! Subaru overheating

I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback Limited, ~180,000 miles. It has been a good car but we’ve run into some problems the last few months and I’m looking for general advice on whether to sink more money into it.
About a month ago we were driving back from vacation and experienced a loud belt squeal from the engine. Had a nearby mechanic look at it – turned out it was a timing belt pulley which we had to have replaced.
Now, a couple weeks ago, the day after getting my fluids changed, I was driving over the mountain on another, shorter, trip and experienced sudden overheating - steam coming out from the radiator - lots of discouraging gurgling and clunking sounds as liquid moved around. Had to have it towed 40 miles back home.
First thought being a Subaru person – head gasket. A couple of mechanics nearby when I was broken down on the side of the road gave that as a preliminary diagnosis as well.

Unfortunately, we were leaving for a week on another trip, so I had to wait to have my car looked at until we got back – about 2 weeks. Now my regular mechanic takes a look – he says it isn’t the head gaskets, but a hold corroded in the bottom of the radiator that the coolant is just pouring out of. Also the fans aren’t working. Fix is about $350.

So. I am in a conundrum. I have heard that most people get their radiators replaced before it becomes clear that it is a head gasket issue. So I am very nervous that this issue is actually a head gasket and that for whatever reason my normal mechanic can’t find the signs for because it was sitting for two weeks, or for some other reason. He’s not a Subaru specialist. I asked specifically that he check the head gaskets and he says no oil in coolant, coolant in oil or sweet smell from tailpipe.

This car has been a good one, pretty reliable. But I’ve put alot of $$ into it this year in particular. For that reason I’m kind of loathe to sell it for probably less than $500 bucks when I’ve put at least a $1000 or more into it over the past year. Alot of those parts are new. But I can’t afford to spend another $1000 on a head gasket fix.

So… should I trade it in for a newer car that will let me go on long trips in peace, or fix it and pray? How likely is it after this diagnosis, that a head gasket issue will pop up?

“I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback Limited, ~180,000 miles…”

That says it all. I wouldn’t put any more money into it. Either sell it as is, or do the $350 fix and sell it while it still runs.

I’d fix it before selling it. It would probably make a good around-town buggy for someone.

Simple answer-no. If the car was driven for very long AT ALL with a “hole in the radiator tank” size leak the cylinder bores/pistons are compromised which means high $ repairs.

"a hold (hole??) corroded in the bottom of the radiator that the coolant is just pouring out of. Also the fans aren't working. Fix is about $350."

To me, that describes a situation where the engine has been fried from severe overheating.
I mean–really–with inadequate coolant for at least two weeks of long-distance driving, coupled with inoperative cooling fans, how could the engine NOT have been fried?

In view of the car’s age, its odometer mileage, and its current book value, I think it is time to move on to another car.

I think the car sat for two weeks while on vacation and not driven. Never the less, I think I’d fix the radiator, then see what happens. This isn’t much money.

Oh, I wasn’t clear on that point - we didn’t drive that car on the trip, it sat for 2 weeks - we rented a car since ours was out of commission.
But your collective advise is well taken-- we have more long trips on the docket and I have alot of doubts about my cars ability to handle it- we’ll probably end up trading it, plus my husband’s also decrepit Subaru, in for a newer used car - Honda CRV most likely.

Thanks everyone, for your advice!

Honda CRV is a good choice. Good luck with your new used car!

That $1000 you’ve spent is not an investment. It’s “sunk cost”. It in no way factors into your current decision.

It’s an old, worn out, beaten up, severely overheated Subie that’s begun sucking money out of your bank account. It may be that your guy is right and the headgasket isn’t blown, but let’s face it, the car has served you well and is in the last gasps of its life. Time to put the ol’ buggy out to pasture and move on.