Used Subarus and the head gasket thing...

Discussion in 'Shiny Things' started by Mazaev, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. Mazaev

    Mazaev Been here awhile

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    The rotten apple.
    So I've been looking for a used cage and settled on an '02 Impreza Wagon that's a little expensive but drew me in with things like documented maintenance records and that it's owned by a family with a bunch of high-mileage Subarus. They want 7k for it, which as I just noticed is higher than kbb.

    In any case, I'm willing to spend money on a well documented and maintained vehicle if it serves me well for the next several years without expensive repairs. So, I've been searching around forums and such and came across what seems to be quite a common issue with the 2.5L SOHC engines: The head gaskets.

    The thing is, looking at the Subaru forums, it's almost as if EVERYONE has their head gaskets go at 60 - 130k. I'm wondering if it really is that prevalent, or if seems that way because people without the issues wouldn't go bitching on a forum about it. I'm sure you FFs have Subarus, so I'm wondering what the experience has been like here.

    Also, I'm in a verbal "committed to buy" sort of agreement with the current owner, but this is a new issue that crept up so I'm curious how to deal with it. They said they had spent $1500 on the 60k service recently as part of why their price is a bit high, but it's at 85k now, which, to me, makes it a bit irrelevant. They seem like nice, honest folks, but at the same time I'm wondering if their dealer told them to get rid of it before the gaskets struck.

    I'm thinking of arranging something with their mechanic to at least lift the car and check for any leaking at the head (SOHC engines seem to mostly have external leaks). I'm kinda thinking that if they spot anything, to either walk away, or split costs with them because if that's the major failure point, it would be good for years to come once the fix is in. If there's nothing, then it's probably good for at least 20k before it creeps up.

    While I'm tempted to just say "Screw it" and walk away, I do need a car, and with our current budget it's unrealistic not to expect issues to creep up with ~80k mile vehicles.

    Any suggestions?

    Anyone else have a similar scenario or could suggest something?
    #1
  2. Bueller

    Bueller Cashin?

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    My dad has 125k on a 2002 WRX without issue. I know that's a 2.0 and the head gasket problem is supposed to be mainly with the 2.5. I'm sure plenty of people get lots of miles out of them without issue, but in the grand scheme of things unless you need AWD there are better deals out there for 11 year old used vehicles that will be cheaper to live with.
    #2
  3. papalobster

    papalobster With Gusto!

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    I won't ever own another Subaru as long as I live. 98 Legacy GT Wagon 2.5l DOHC.

    5 sets of gaskets, 2 complete engines. Swapped the 2.5 for a 2.2l SOHC because that was a more reliable engine and it threw a rod.

    But I'm sure they all do that.
    #3
  4. Vbird

    Vbird In Room 237

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    90k on a 99 2.5 dohc

    No engine issues except for a leaking front seal. Yeah, it could blow a head gasket, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it. With that mileage you are looking at a timebelt change that really isn't as big a job as the shops like to make it out to be (did mine in the driveway).

    Price sounds high though. Wait till Spring if you can.
    #4
  5. SourKraut

    SourKraut Long timer

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    I couldn't have said it better.
    #5
  6. XT_Driftwood

    XT_Driftwood Been here awhile

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    I actually didn't know about the head gasket issue until I read about it on this forum a week or so ago. Ignorance is blissful, I guess.

    My wife is on her fifth Forester. She drives about a hundred miles a day and we swap for a new one at between 70k and 90k. I change the oil myself, always use synthetic. We've never had a head gasket issue with any of them. We had a problem with an oil leak on one of them, I think our 1997. The local garage changed the pan gasket and something else, I don't remember what, but I do know it was a kit he ordered from Subaru which told him it was probably a common problem with that year. Otherwise they've all been trouble free.

    She got in a horrible accident with her '02... horrible for the car, that is. She got in a collision with a garbage truck.The car was demolished. I'm a volly with the local FD and we had to cut my wife out of it with the jaws. She didn't have a scratch on her. I was amazed that such a small car protected her so well. Part of it was luck, if anyone had been in the passenger side they would certainly have been killed, but when I pulled up and saw the damage my heart almost stopped with dread. I couldn't believe it when I got to the window and she said she thought she was okay.

    She has 67k on her 2010 and we're going to hold off until the 2014's with the CVT are available before we swap again.
    #6
  7. Mazaev

    Mazaev Been here awhile

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    The rotten apple.
    Just spoke to their Subaru tech and they said that the left gasket was replaced, along with the timing belt at 62k, in 2010. Car recently had its 75k service. The replacement gasket was the OEM part and was only done one the left side.

    I'm conflicted here because normally, I wouldn't even have access to this info. According to the dealer, the car has been properly maintained its whole life and records are available. On the other hand, that OEM part, along with the right side are likely to go again. And, there's a cheaper Matrix being sold as well but without any such info... :baldy
    #7
  8. Dave

    Dave Huh?

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    Not necessarily. Subaru redesigned the gasket, and the the new one is supposedly a lot better. It's a shame that they only did one side. Because the engine has to be dropped to do the job, getting the other gasket would have been pretty easy. That's like doing the timing belt and not replacing the water pump. :huh

    That said, if the engine is not showing any signs of trouble, they sell what they call 'gasket conditioner'. ($5 per bottle) You need to pour it straight into the radiator, not the reservoir. If you start using it early enough, the gaskets will last quite a bit longer.

    Mrs. Dave had the passenger side gasket start to weep at 125K mi. Car was worth $3k at the time, and the repair was $2k.

    So, we traded it in on a TDI. :lol3

    Edit: You might also want to check Subaru's recall on the gasket. They recalled certain years/models, and had then gaskets replaced on Subaru's dime, even though the car is out of warranty. Unfortunately, the '03 Forester didn't fall under that.
    #8
  9. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass The AntiHarley

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    If I commit to something I consider myself committed unless an issue has been intentionally hidden from me.
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  10. Mazaev

    Mazaev Been here awhile

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    The rotten apple.

    Well, the "big" maintenance was originally said to have been done a month and a half ago. instead of two years. Also, they said they know nothing of head gasket issues, despite the fact that they had one replaced. I think this makes it fair game, no?
    #10
  11. IDScarecrow

    IDScarecrow Long timer

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    Had a 98 Forester. Head gasket went at around 150k. Other than that only normal wear items.
    #11
  12. gatling

    gatling Long timer

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    [​IMG]

    My Subie is the best car I've ever owned.

    The Internet tends to bring out the worst criticism on anything.

    Subie sales have been growing every year since they've been introduced. They were up something like 35% last year. Their sales were the only ones that went up each year during the recession. More people are repeat Subie buyers (on a percentage basis) than any other car. We Subie buyers are either the dummest folks on the planet, or something else is going on (like Subaru is making some of the best cars in the world).

    If you like the car, buy it. What's the worst thing that could happen? You end up replacing a head gasket if you have the problem the other folks like to write about.

    By the way, I don't work for Subie, nor do I have any affiiliation with them (other than driving that '06 WRX shown above). When it's time for a new car, you can bet mine will be another Subie. My wife drives a BMW, and when it's time for her to buy a new car, she wants a Subie, too. About the only problem I have with mine is keeping it away from my wife and my daughters. On the weekends, they tend to grab it instead of their own cars. It is a lot of fun to drive.
    #12
  13. Da Bear

    Da Bear Twisted toy maker

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    Dads subie has gone through two sets of head gaskets, and a new engine. While I was getting a brake job done at my mechanics, there was a subie with the engine out for head gaskets, he told me they get 4 or 5 a year for that. Makes me leery of owning one.......:lol3
    #13
  14. Damp

    Damp n00b

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    I actually just sold my 2002 Subaru Impreza RS yesterday to a local mechanic, my wife and I bought it in 2005 with 50,000 miles and sold it with 127,000 on it. Unfortunately It was a terribly unreliable car. All in all we have sunk close to $7000 in repairs over the years, AC units, wheel bearings, amongst other things. The most recent issue to come about is both head gaskets were failing, and all the shocks went bad so it suddenly rode like a low rider. We love subaru's though, and I feel that we had just got a lemon. We just went out and bought a 2013 Forester and absolutely love it, though we bought an extended warranty so hopefully we will not have to worry about repairs for the first 100,000.
    #14
  15. madeouttaglass

    madeouttaglass The AntiHarley

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    I stand corrected.
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  16. Motornoggin

    Motornoggin Two-Bit Throttle Bum

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    It's very common. I even stock multiple head sets, bolts and timing component kits and sell them often.

    Getting very difficult (at least in my area) to find head cores and remaned heads as well (or even remaned engines for that matter).
    #16
  17. fullmonte

    fullmonte Reformed Kneedragger

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    I traded my 2001 Outback at 132,000 miles because of the ticking time bomb head gasket issue. The car ran great, but I just didn't want to get stuck with that kind of cash outlay for engine work on a car that was worth less than 5 grand. Plus, the slush box in those cars was a habitual premature up shifter.
    #17
  18. Mazaev

    Mazaev Been here awhile

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    The rotten apple.
    So they replied to my concerns and offered for me to back out of the sale. I did, because first of all, there is no point in buying something that will always feel like it's going to break any time now. Also, because they figured out after my dealer call that the $1500 they spent (and used to justify the price) was actually for one of their other cars. Basically, dodged a bullet.

    Guess I'm still on the prowl for a cage then... :ear
    #18
  19. ddavidv

    ddavidv Thrifty not cheap

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    If you get past 2002 the head gasket issue diminishes greatly. Have you read this? http://users.sisna.com/ignatius/subaru/headgasket.html
    We ran Subarus for many years and had great service from them. I bought a 2002 Forester knowing full well the HG's could go if not already done (auction car, no history) but bought it priced accordingly. The left side started weeping oil 6 months later. Had the engine yanked and resealed; problem solved for probably the rest of it's life. Got rid of it at 167,000 or so mostly because we were just tired of it. The previous Impreza I dumped at 220,000+ because the a/c finally quit.

    They are generally solid vehicles with few, easily researched issues. Unfortunately, the HG one is a expensive concern. The utility and fun-to-drive qualities made the negatives worth putting up with for us. There just weren't many other choices that met the criteria back then. I toyed with getting another Forester last year but the prices were quite high on the used ones and we wound up buying a Jeep Patriot (of all things), another vehicle on the surface people assume is a POS but actually has proven quite dependable aside from a few quirks (ball joints, mostly). I still like Subarus but the styling of the new ones is a complete turn-off.
    #19
  20. seuadr

    seuadr Wee-stromer

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    glad you got out of it.. sounds shady.

    also seemed kind of pricey for what it is.. i only paid a little more than that for a 2006 forester with similar miles :huh
    #20