The dreaded leaking head gasket

What should I do? I have a 2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon with 118,000 miles on it. It smelled like it was burning antifreeze so I brought it into the dealer. They said that the head gasket is leaking, and it would cost $1,000 or so to fix it. So far, the rate of antifreeze loss is minimal.

I have talked to a couple of different friends who are mechanics. Some say I should trade it in tomorrow because I will keep having problems with this car (due to the aluminum head?). Others say that as long as the person fixing it does a good job, I could get another 118,000 miles out of it.

What should I do? Thanks in advance for the advice.

The head gaskets are known problems on these and your year model is in the set of models plagued by this. However, it’s a well known problem and should be fixable especially since you caught it early. Don’t give up on it. Have it fixed by someone that knows what to do and you should be all set. You can prepare for the conversation by reading the oodles of info over on the USMB forum (new generation) about it. I think it comes up about once a week or so… :slight_smile:

I can’t tell you if you will have any new problems, but I can tell you that you need to have this one fixed like yesterday. It will only cause more damage.

Now assuming it is not under warranty and the dealer does not want to give you a free or really really discounted head gasket job, Why would you bring it to a dealer for any kind of work? Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car. They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies. They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent.

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

There is no need to bring your car to the dealer for any service other than service that is going to be paid for by a recall or original warrantee.  During the warranty period be sure to document all maintenance work.

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic.

The head gasket problem is predominantly confined to external leaks unless the engine has been overheating. An external leak will not harm anything unless the coolant level drops too low. The internal leaks in which coolant mixes with engine oil is another thing altogether.
As long as the oil is clean, coolant is not mixing etc. then the car should go another 118 if the engine is solid now.

Properly done, the aluminum heads are not an issue. However, the cylinder heads should be checked for warpage and machined as necessary while they’re off. Cylinder head surfacing at the auto machine shop is relatively inexpensive and it’s not worth taking a chance with a warped, or borderline warped, cylinder head. Subaru only allows a few thousandths warpage and most of the time the removed heads meet or exceed that couple of thousandths of an inch.

JMHO, but whenever replacing head gaskets on a Subaru I always coat them with spray CopperCoat. This can really help with with heat transfer, filling in tiny pits, etc. New head bolts should also be used.

Some people have their own ideas about how to do things, but that’s mine. Hope it helps.

I’ve had a couple of Subarus and this is a common problem. There is a tendancy to leak to the outside. The Subaru engine design is unique, so you can’t take experience from another conventional engines. I added a can of stop leak in the radiator and drove it for another 30,000 miles, and the leak was a major one. You can try tighening the head but it may not stop the leak. $1000 is a lot of money to spend when the engine is running OK otherwise. I don’t necessairly recommend the stop leak, its just that I was going to ditch the car if I couldn’t stop the leak.