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'97 Outback Overheating!


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21 replies to this topic

#1 nathh

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 09:23 PM

subaru fans-

I have a '97 outback limited wagon. I completely love it and want to hang on to it as long as possible. the problem is this:

last week I noticed that the temperature gauge was noting SLIGHTLY higher than normal temperatures. you've probably noticed that the subaru temperature pins usually remain at just below half way up the gauge. well last week it was half way up, so I decided to take the car in for 'preventative maintenance.' the next day they said they'd fixed it, said they'd cleaned the radiator, new thermostat and gasket. great. two days later as I was driving around I happend to look down and found the needle completely off the temperature gauge, in the bad direction. I pulled over and turned the car off.

took it back to the dealership and they say it's the headgasket. to be honest though, it doesn't seem they've made much of an effort to verify this diagnosis. now I'm still relatively young and not exactly rolling in cash, $1500 is a lot of money!

I haven't noticed ANY loss of power which I've read usually accompanies a head gasket problem. can any of you think of other possible problems that woulde cause the engine to overheat? how much stock should I put in the dealership's diagnosis? is it pretty straightforward to determine it's a head gasket problem or are they sort of just making a best guess? should I get a second opinion??

thanks very much for all responses

#2 theotherskip

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 09:37 PM

it is pretty straight forward for the dealer to diagnose because they have seen many of them. you should ask if they checked for combustion gasses in the cooling system or did a compression test. assuming they purged the system properly, it most likely is a failed head gasket.

i wrote a site about changing the head gasket that has a lot of background info. you can view it here .

good luck

#3 4FOR4

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 09:30 AM

There was just a posting about Subaru sending out a letter stating some amount of responsibility for head gasket replacement if there is a need before 100,000. You didn't mention the mileage. I had my 98OBW done at 133,000.

The symptoms are not hard to see if you know what to watch for. Sometimes months go by with no troubles, it's all in the way the cars being driven.

Basically what's happening is there is a small failure in the head gasket that allows exhaust gases to get into the cooling water circuits, causing a void or bubble. Flow stops and hot spots develop. The radiator will be cool because the heated coolant isn't being pumped out of the engine.

I watched for about 20 minutes once and the temp needle would start to climb, I'd go look in the radiaitor reservoir and bubbling would start. Once the bubbling stoppped I'd look at the temp gauge again and it would be back to normal.

Many owners on this site have had the pains your feeling now.
Get the head gaskets replaced, make sure its someone who knows what their doing,

Depending on miles on the car also replace:
timing belt
water pump
oils seals

Good luck. You've come to the right place for info you'll be looking for, or a support group when the bill comes.

#4 outback_97

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 10:38 AM

Phase 1 engines (like your '97's DOHC 2.5l) are not included in the letter that 4FOR4 is referring to.

From WWP-99, shown here:
http://www.scoobymod...10791#post10791

"Phase I 2.5 liter engines (some 1999 model year and prior years) are not affected"

This is only for external leaks on Phase II engines. Subaru still hasn't acknowledged the existence of a problem on the Phase I's, which tend to have the internal leak that theotherskip has documented so well. In addition to the excellent advice you'll find here, you might want to go to the townhall in www.edmunds.com where they have a Subaru representative (Patti) and post there.

Steve

#5 viceversa

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 12:24 PM

Basically what's happening is there is a small failure in the head gasket that allows exhaust gases to get into the cooling water circuits, causing a void or bubble. Flow stops and hot spots develop. The radiator will be cool because the heated coolant isn't being pumped out of the engine.

That's probably so. I haven't had that issue with a Subaru, but with another vehicle. They do need to check for exhaust gases in the cooling system to confirm this theory. These gases create an airlock and the coolant does not circulate. Touch the uppper radiator hose and it is not hot, when you are overheating.

I had this on another vehicle and replaced 4 T-stats, and all other minor stuff, bled the system many times until I realized it is the headgasket. It is an engine problem.

You can probably fix it temporarily by installing a very cool T-stat, I don't know what temp. that might be, 160F maybe?
YOu will run richer however.

#6 pulloff

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 03:25 PM

If you take the thermostat out completely you will probably be able to drive the car until you get the money together to get the head gasket fixed right (I’ve heard various opinions but I would get the heads planed), and you won’t overheat on your way to the mechanic!

It’s only about a 5 min project to get the thermostat out. If your handy and you work fast you don’t even have to drain the coolant. Pull the hose off quick, pull out the thermostat, hold the hose back in place while you get the gasket of the thermostat, pull the hose off and put the gasket back in without the thermostat and tighten everything up. It’s messy and you loose a few pints of coolant but it’s pretty easy.

The cons to no thermostat:
-Engine runs cold
-Car runs rich
-Mileage drops
-No or little heat
-You may get a misfire reading and the Check Engine Light (anti freeze putting out your spark and/or plugs fouling because it is running rich and not up to optimum temperature)
-False sense that the car is ok

If you have to run with no thermostat make sure you check the coolant level on a very regular basis: the longer you wait the thirstier the car will get, and keep a couple of gallons of 50/50 premix with you all the time. Good luck.

#7 theotherskip

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 05:40 PM

i drove for about a month with the head gasket blown. didn't push it hard, or drive very far. i checked the coolant level before each day, filled & burped the radiator to add coolant that had been forced out but not pulled back in (since the cooling system had lost pressure). i wasn't doing much highway driving at that point, though.

#8 The Dude

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 06:26 PM

.......because they can blow again! Quite a few posters on this board have reported having their Phase 1 engine head gaskets done two, and even three times.

I would not use the car until the headgaskets have been replaced. IT"S NOT WORTH THE RISK. At the very least severe overheating will warp your heads (more$$$). At the worst your block can crack and you will need a new engine (mucho $$$$$$$$$$$ ).

Many people purchased Subarus based on their legendary reliability. I am sorry that you, like many Phase 1 owners, got hosed. It's disgracefull how Subaru is ignoring what appears to be a rather widespread problem.

They are giving me a free bottle of stop leak for my Phase II engine. How very, very thoughtful.

#9 99obw

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 06:47 PM

I did not run our car for long with the blown gaskets. I took it to work once after the catastrophic failure (got very hot, lost most of the coolant) on the interstate and parked it after a very painful commute. I never allowed it to get hot that day, and I stopped 7 or 8 times in 100 miles to add coolant and burp the system. I never removed the thermostat. Removing the thermostat is a necessity if you are going to drive it much.

If you run without a thermostat for any length of time, the oil should be changed more often because it isn't reaching the temperature necessary to boil off fuel and water contaminants. Engine wear is going to be increased because oil is designed to run at operating temp.

On most of the Phase I's the gaskets failed because of the gasket, not because the head was warped. Some have said that some of the blocks are flawed but at that point one might as well buy a rebuilt engine. On some engine designs if the head gasket blows, it's almost guaranteed that the head is warped. I generally don't think the heads need to be milled if they measure as straight. The definition of straight depends on the engine. For the Phase I EJ25 straight enough is 0.002" (according to Haynes). If they are relatively straight the only benefit to milling the head is the uniform surface of fresh metal that is revealed.

Measuring the straightness of the head is not DIY for most people. When I did our head gaskets my father-in-law measured them for straightness for me at the machine shop he works at. He determined by using a granite block and pieces of shim stock that the head was straight to within 0.001". I don't remember exactly how it is done, something about setting the head on the shim stock and pulling out the shims one at a time. I did not have them milled. He did use some sort of perfectly straight abrasive surface to put some cool swirly marks on the face of the heads, so perhaps that could be done to straight heads instead of milling (saving $$$) to reveal some fresh metal.

Milling is relatively inexpensive, and it won't hurt anything if you have it done and it isn't needed, provided it is done right.

#10 theotherskip

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Posted 25 February 2004 - 09:07 PM

i guess i should clarify. mine only overheated once, about 5 minutes after starting the car, the day after a 200 mile drive home. i immediately turned off the car, let it cool, and headed back home. thinking the tstat stuck, i replace it. once i got it running, i took it for a 20 minute highway run then pulled over and checked the expansion tank - bubbles. if i drove locally, it wouldn't bubble. so i only drove locally, with very limited highway. i just checked mileage records, and i put about 800 miles on it before i changed the gasket. i'm pretty sure i caught the leak early and before it became a raging leak...

#11 4FOR4

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Posted 26 February 2004 - 10:35 AM

Not that I'm proud of the story I'm about to tell, but it may offer some encouragement to those of you who have to drive a car with the head gasket problem.

While diagnosing my '98 OBW the shop let it run hot, for what I thought to be about 1/2 an hour(I watched in horror). It also went through the ups and downs of bubble formation probably half a dozen times, the first time 2 years before it repeated the symptoms (I was not aware of what the problem was then, just thought I had a bad thermostat).

After all the episodes of high temps, the engine was repaired and 3,000 miles later, holding tough, no leaks and no overheating. During repair it was noted that the heads were not warped, and internals were in exceptional shape.

Again, I am not recommending you drive your engine hot, but a couple of times doesn't insure a death sentence.

How much does a life time Subaru enthusiast have to hate the head gasket problem and SOA for not accepting responsibility, before he leaves the fold and finds another vehicle to love? Can he ever purchase again once he has lost the trust he once knew?

#12 99obw

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Posted 26 February 2004 - 10:53 AM

Originally posted by 4FOR4
Can he ever purchase again once he has lost the trust he once knew?



Yes, but some engine other than the EJ25.

#13 joybell

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Posted 26 February 2004 - 09:12 PM

If you are in North America, the 2.5L engine is the one you will get in every Subaru. You could of course try to bypass SOA and import a Subaru from Europe or Japan. Those have the good engines.

Check out carsurvey.org and you will find that every single Subaru owner outside of North America gives Subaru an excellent review. From North American owners there more than a few reliability complaints. So don't blame Subaru, blame SOA.

#14 99obw

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Posted 26 February 2004 - 09:28 PM

Originally posted by joybell
If you are in North America, the 2.5L engine is the one you will get in every Subaru.



Well, they also still sell the EJ20 and the EZ30. Perhaps one of my biggest dissapointments with SOA is that they stopped selling the EJ22, must be it was too reliable. Listing all of the engines available in used Subarus is beyond the scope of this post.

I will not buy another EJ25 powered vehicle unless I buy it for what I believe it to be worth, which is unlikely to happen. For example, recently there was a '98 OBS for sale locally with 154k on it. The book value was just shy of $7k, but I wouldn't give a penny over $3k for it. A friend of mine is an auctioneer and sees outbacks with Phase I's in them for less than $1k all the time. Many of these cars are selling with the head gaskets blown. I may pick up one of these at some point, but really I have more interest in driving cars with other engines at this point.

#15 joybell

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Posted 27 February 2004 - 09:48 AM

Originally posted by 99obw
Well, they also still sell the EJ20 and the EZ30. Perhaps one of my biggest dissapointments with SOA is that they stopped selling the EJ22, must be it was too reliable.



A new North American Subaru with the EJ20? Which model? As for the demise of the EJ22 I think it was more expensive to build than the 2.5L. SOA wants visibile luxuries.

#16 calebz

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Posted 27 February 2004 - 10:25 AM

The WRX sedan and wagon come with an EJ20

#17 vixen220

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Posted 26 March 2004 - 02:14 PM

Please respond to my thread on overheating research.

I'm trying to compile a list to document the problem.

Thanks

Vicki

#18 joybell

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Posted 26 March 2004 - 03:41 PM

On a very very cold day this past winter my 2003 Forester with less than 2500km on the odometer overheated and smelled while being warmed up. The temperature guage was past the halfway mark but went back down after driving for 5 minutes. There was the smell of antifreeze and the coolant level was low. I took it to the dealer and they diagnosed lose coolant hose clamps, which were replaced and more coolant was added. About a week later we had another record cold day. The engine did not overheat but I smelled antifreeze. Although I was told the 2003 engines did not have the external leak problem, I am not convinced. :confused:

#19 Sconnyite

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Posted 27 March 2004 - 12:34 AM

I just bought an o4 Outback after my 97 OB LTD overheated once, and the dealer diagnosis was a blown head gasket/warped head combo meal. The only reason I bought another subaru was the dealer gave me $5000 for my trade in. I doubt the next one will be a subaru. I plan to sell this one in three years, and cut subaru loose from my life for a decade or two.

I'm still very pissed. Stand up and take responsibility for your design flaws SOA.

#20 PAezb

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Posted 27 March 2004 - 09:40 AM

In addition to the excellent advice you'll find here, you might want to go to the townhall in www.edmunds.com where they have a Subaru representative (Patti) and post there.

Steve


Steve,

I have monitored the Edmunds Subaru Townhall forums for the last couple of years - specifically the Subaru Problems and Solutions and related. While there is often good discussion concerning Subaru issues, I'm suspicious that the forum's tone is often controlled by some of the regulars there who might have a vested interested in keeping the tone "positive" and the major problems "low keyed". Starting a couple of years ago, there would be posters that would "vent" their frustrations on these issues like the head gaskets, oil leaks, etc. only to be poo-pooe'd as a whiner or another car maker loyalist attempting to bad mouth Subaru reliability - which in some, cases, may be true. I've also seen such posts removed from the discussion threads - which Edmund's reserves the right to do as stated in their rules and regulations. But I think they over-attempt to protect the image of the products and car makers. Until a few months ago when the increasing number of complaints about head gaskets started to appear, these problems are now being fully acknowledged.

Think about the whole main purpose of the Edmund's website, a marketing tool for auto makers to sell new cars. Car manufacturer's support staff such as Subaru's SOA are/should be actively involved in the discussions to promote the products, and provide damage control. Just be aware that I believe there is some bias in the discussions there at Edmunds...

I do applaud SOA's staff like "Patti" for getting involved and providing the resources to help Subaru owner's with these issues.

My opinions.

Paul

#21 friendly_jacek

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Posted 29 March 2004 - 01:38 PM

PAezb,
Funny thing, I had similar impressions...

#22 outback_97

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Posted 31 March 2004 - 06:58 PM

Paul:

I agree 100% with you on your three stated opinions. Many regulars on Edmunds subie boards downplay problems. There is bias. And SOA's Patti is a great contact.

The last part of your first paragraph is exactly why I suggested posting there. When people post there (in a calm, clear manner rather than lots of CAPS and exclamation! points!!! as I've seen some people do out of the blue) it's harder for them to continue to bury their head in the sand.

FWIW, for technical questions, USMB > Nasioc > Edmunds IMO. But, Edmunds has a SOA rep.

Steve




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