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'97 Outback Wagon Overheating - Please Help! (Head Gaskets???)


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#1 kaltree

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 09:20 AM

Attention all Subaru engine gurus!

I have a '97 Outback with ~126k miles on the 2.5L engine. Back around Easter of this year the car overheated, but luckily was noticed quickly. The problem hasn't been too bad until recently when on a 4 hour trip, the car overheated 4-6 times.

What I've noticed to be a consistent way to cause the overheating is to drive the car at freeway speeds for a length of time, and then slow down to a stop or near stop for a while. Ambient air temperature doesn't seem to matter. It could be 50 or 100 degrees outside. It's about a 99% sure thing - the car will overheat. I've heard bubbles moving from the radiator into the coolant reservoir, and this makes me very suspicious of failing or dead head gaskets. I've taken the car into two separate Subaru dealers, and they claim that unless the car is overheated when I bring it in, that they can't do anything. Sounds like crap to me.

Also, the right side of the engine seems to have a louder tick than the left. Not sure what that's about either.

Back when the car overheated around Easter, I checked the coolant and it was a very ugly color. The coolant was changed out 6 months prior, along with a new thermostat. When the car overheated, I drained everything and put a new Subaru thermostat in - but that wasn't the issue.

It seems that somehow, air is entering the cooling system, and then the car slows down, the water pump is moving slower - allowing the air to create a blockage, causing the car to overheat.

Any other ideas on what this could be? Does this sound like the infamous head gasket issue? How can I be sure of it?

Also, if it's the head gaskets, then the engine will need to be dropped. Anything else I should consider fixing or adjusting while the engine is out?

Thanks guys - this board has been an awesome source of valuable information!!


Kevin Altree - Boise, Idaho

#2 pulloff

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:03 AM

Definitely sounds like the dreaded head gaskets are gone.

Sorry to hear that the Subaru shops are giving you the run around. I’m sure this isn’t the first time they’ve seen this problem.

I’d take the thermostat out completely (keeps the coolant flowing so the air can’t stop and collect in one spot) if you have to keep driving it for a few days. If you keep using the car for a few days or weeks I’d check the coolant level every day and top it off with water (no need to waste antifreeze). Don’t wait too long trying to avoid the inevitable.

When you pull the heads it would be a good time to put in new: timing belts, rad hoses, spark plugs at the minimum. Have a machince shop make sure the heads and/or block isn’t warped before reassembly.

Good luck, and sorry to hear about the failure, it seems like it is going to happen to all Phase I 2.5’s at some point. It amazes me the SOA isn’t “aware” of any HG issues with these motors!

SOA lack of accountability is making me rethink my future auto choices.

#3 kaltree

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:15 AM

Thanks for the info. Good tip about the thermostat.

No doubt about SOA. It's sad since the engine has 126k on it. I bought the outback knowing that typically Subarus run forever. I also had a choice between the 2.2 and 2.5. These days, I'm really wishing I had sacrificed that little extra power for reliability. So far I estimate I've been spending around $600 every summer on unexpected issues...

In talking with a mechanic, sounds like the Forester is really starting to show lots of issues as well.

Only problem, is the outback is perfect for what I do. I can't imagine being happy with anything else. Need to cram one of those Honda or Toyota engines in the outback... Posted Image


Thanks again!
Kevin

#4 kaltree

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:43 AM

Just called our local Subaru mechanic/guru. He hates these 2.5 engines. He's actually to the point to where he doesn't want to work on them anymore. He doesn't feel good about just doing the head gaskets, because he's seen a couple cases where after the head gaskets are replaced, the compression breaks out the bottom end of the engine.

He actually recommends just replacing the engine. I guess there's a company called "Colorado Engine Builders" that are supposed to be putting out pretty good 2.5L engines. My largest concern is will the rebuilt "new" engine suffer from the same issues my current engine has? How long before the head gaskets fail? I've heard there are several revisions of these gaskets, telling me SOA is guessing at trying to fix the problem.

Still amazed there hasn't been a recall, as it sounds as though all RJ25 engines will suffer from this.

It sucks as I did the timing belt last fall, fixed the oil pump gasket leak (also another issue with the engine). (~$300 dealer fix)

Any other advice? I'm game for replacing the engine, but will need to save pennies. Sounds like the engines from Colorado Engine Builders are around $2800, and comes with a 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty. Cost for my mechanic (not a dealer) is $800 to swap the engines (and is much more competant that any dealer I've delt with).


I'm a college student, so paying for this will be very difficult... Posted Image

Anyway, any other advice is greatly welcome!


Kevin

#5 rweddy

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 03:02 PM

If you plan on keeping the car for a long time, maybe swap in a 2.2??

I could not agree with you more about the need for a Subaru recall on the RJ25, Everyone I know that has a Subaru has had them fail.

I am just hoping that the new 05 model fixes the issue, they are great looking performing cars.

I have never heard of Colorado Engine builders but I live in Colorado, if you give me some information I can check them out for you.

#6 Commuter

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 04:02 PM

www.ccrengines.com


Rick and Emily. Several people have bought from them. They know their stuff. In fact, probably know more about how to eliminate (well, at least mitigate) the weaknesses of the 2.5L Phase I engine. The warranty should tell you something.

I was thinking of going that way with my 97 OB. The head gaskets failed at 160k miles. I decided to just fix the gaskets. Then the bottom end failed. Now that I'm told is quite unusual, and I don't think one had anything to do with the other in my case. I just had a weak bearing that was already nearing failure and I didn't know it. The latest gaskets seem to be working. Knock wood, but I've got over 2 years and 87k miles on my 'new' engine.

Commuter

#7 kaltree

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 04:49 PM

Thanks a ton guys.

rweddy -

You know, I thought about doing the swap, but there's so much involved financially and mechanically. I've heard you need to replace the computer, which I guess if your spending $3000 for an engine, another $500 for the computer isn't too bad... I sent SOA a nasty note from their website. Mostly pointing out the need for a recall. Don't worry, I was politically correct...

Unfortunately, I don't have any information at all about Colorado Engine Builders. Just a reference from the local subaru mechanic. I think commuter gave me the correct information. I think my mechanic got the name a little mixed up. He was pretty worked up about how disappointed he was about the EJ25...


Commuter -

Thanks for the link. I'm sure these are the guys my mechanic was referring me to. He's a great mechanic, but gets stuff like that mixed up sometimes. I'm sending them an email to get the quote... I know I'll be in shock, but I imagine after picking myself up from the floor it's probably the right thing to do.

I've never done an engine swap, but know people who have. If a person has the right tools, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is swapping out the EJ25?

Thanks a ton everyone - you all ahve been very helpfull!!


Kevin

#8 Ranger83

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 08:00 PM

I am having my head gaskets changed preemptively at 140K. I was surprised at what good shape the rest of the engine is on, so I think it's worthwhile.

#9 kaltree

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:10 PM

Ranger83 -

By chance, how much are you looking at spending to have the gaskets replaced?

Thanks!
Kevin

#10 theotherskip

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 11:49 PM

engine swap out is pretty easy. you could probably do it in about 10-15 hours (first time doing it). not too many specalized tools required. you can have a look around here:

http://mysite.verizo...eplacement.html

for a better idea of what is involved...

#11 kaltree

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 01:31 AM

Hey Skip. Just registered myself as yet another head gasket victim on your list...

Thanks for the pages and all the time you took in documenting the procedure.

Overall, how did your project go? Any unexpected side effects that weren't planned for?


Thanks!
Kevin

#12 theotherskip

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 08:15 PM

Overall, how did your project go? Any unexpected side effects that weren't planned for?

it went very well, actually. aside from having to part with a wad of cash i wasn't planning on spending, it was extremely interesting and fascinating to tear down that far into the engine. prior to this, the most i had done was timing belts and half shafts - this was the most advanced by far. i took my time, used the FSM, and worked methodically and clean. everything went back together smoothly and i didn't have anything left over. it started right up...

only things that were a pia were the getting some of the last minute parts. i ordered from www.1stsubaruparts.com all of the things i could think of in advance (gasket set, waterpump, timing belt, etc). but i had a bad idler pulley, the clutch fork boot fell apart in my hand, and i needed to get shims for the valve. all of these i had to rely on the local dealer for, and they only had the idler pulley in stock, and i had to spend about an hour with a micrometer and a box of shims at the dealer to find what i wanted (they just had a bunch loose). but everything came apart fairly easily and went back together well.

overall it took about 40 hours. i wasn't working at the time, so i didn't mind, but now that i am working, i know i couldn't have my car out of service for that long. i got rid of the car about a month ago, under suspicion that the next gasket was on its way out (after about 30k miles). i liked the car, but didn't want to spend all of my free time keeping it running...

#13 richierich

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Posted 11 July 2004 - 01:20 AM

We have replace quite a few headgaskets on the 2.5 DOHC vehicle. Mostly over 100k miles. None of them have had any problems with bottom end.

I understand you irration, but many people don't remember back in the 80's, the 85-88 EA82T where blowing headgaskets, cracking heads and overheating blocks at 60k miles. There are plenty of 2.5 running around with 200k miles with no headgasket problem.

Since you have repeatedly overheated the vehicle I think a rebuilt motor would be best. CCR is a great company, and probably your best option. In addition Subaru has updated headgaskets, so with proper care, the next motor should outlast your vehicle. CCR also might have their own headgasket design.

Ranger83, I do like your idea of prematurely replacing the headgaskets. I have figured out that it is only a couple hundred more to do the headgaskets and replace all the replacable items (waterpump, clutch, t-belt, valve covers, etc), then to do those jobs seperately, at seperate times.

The Forester only has the 2.5 DOHC in one year. In 1999 and later they had the SOHC motor.

Richierich
Superior Import Repair, Inc
Portland OR 97218

#14 kahoona

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 03:17 AM

I recently bought a '97 2.5 leg. outback.I just had the gaskets done at 100,000k. I also have the rough idle and chronic stumble just off idle.The subaru dealer says there is nothing wrong with it and the gasket problem is rare bit I think they are under orders from SOA to keep quiet. This is the 4th Suby I have owned and I have always been a fanatic. The auto trans has the strangest shift points I have ever seen.The suspension clunks like an old ford. The 2.5 has none of the good qualities of all the older engines. I will miss having Subys but I think the sucess has ruined the company and the car. I just bought a Honda for my wife. My first non Suby in 25 years! I forgot how nice it is when all the parts. work right!

Kahoona

#15 kaltree

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 08:29 AM

I feel your pain!

For me, this is my first Subaru and I purchased the car knowing or at least thinking that by spending the extra cash for a Subaru that the car would last nearly forever. I certainly didn't expect happening to purchase probably the worst engine Subaru ever made. On the up side, once I can put away an extra $2500 or so, the car will be getting a new engine.

I too have highly considered selling my Outback and purchasing something small such as a Honda accord. I mostly commute between school, work and home. It's those weekends when I go camping and hiking that the Outback is perfect. This is the main reason I am thinking about replacing the engine.


- Kevin

#16 Ranger83

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 12:03 PM

For me, this is my first Subaru and I purchased the car knowing or at least thinking that by spending the extra cash for a Subaru that the car would last nearly forever. I certainly didn't expect happening to purchase probably the worst engine Subaru ever made. On the up side, once I can put away an extra $2500 or so, the car will be getting a new engine.

I look at it differently, having just changed the HG before they created a problem at 140,000 miles.

I've now spent a total of about $2,300 in non-consumable repairs on this car in 140,000 miles. That's 1.6 cents per mile, compared to 7-8 cents per mile for gas or 4.6 cents per mile for insurance. And it compares very favorably with the two other cars I drove that many miles - but runs much better than they did.

Among 8 friends, two have had head gasket problems. The Auto Safety sight someone registered yesterday has logged a total of 8 complaints against all Subarus in all years. Even the 95-99 OB's are still considered a Best Bet by Consumer Reports.

Lots and lots of people buy Hondas. And Chevrolets. And giant SUV's and pickups.

#17 rweddy

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 12:23 PM

I look at it differently, having just changed the HG before they created a problem at 140,000 miles.

I've now spent a total of about $2,300 in non-consumable repairs on this car in 140,000 miles. That's 1.6 cents per mile, compared to 7-8 cents per mile for gas or 4.6 cents per mile for insurance. And it compares very favorably with the two other cars I drove that many miles - but runs much better than they did.

$2300! :-\

I guess I am too old school Subaru because that sounds unbelievably high to me.

I believe many people on this list like myself are upset because of what Subaru's used to be. This is my 9th Subaru and have put on average of 180,000 to 220,000 miles on each one I have owned.
I have never had to repair replace any thing on these 8 vehicles during my ownership, other than the typical wear items, tires, brakes, belts, etc.

To go from this level of utter durability to a vehicle that has head gasket issues, clutch chatter, bearing issues, etc. is very disheartening.

Subaru's never have been main stream, they have always been a little quirky. But after what I have read on this list, and my friends & family with 95-99 2.5 ( 6 with 6 head gasket failures)

I am not sure what I will do when my 91 wears out. If there are not any available lower mileage 90-94 Subaru's I too may look elsewhere...

#18 Ranger83

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 04:45 PM

$2300! :-\

I guess I am too old school Subaru because that sounds unbelievably high to me.

And to me it is incredibly cheap. Old Subarus didn't at all meet my needs (too small, too slow, too odd looking, not enough load capacity, not enough cornering power, too noisy) so to each their own. If your criterion for a new car purchase is that it has to last 220,000 miles without any non-consumable maintenance or repiar, good on ya.

This board is becoming more and more and more and more negative. Doesn't ANYONE ever say ANYTHING good about Subarus anymore? I like mine - enough to put in new speakers, stereo, tires, brakes - and head gaskets.

#19 rweddy

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 05:05 PM

And to me it is incredibly cheap. Old Subarus didn't at all meet my needs (too small, too slow, too odd looking, not enough load capacity, not enough cornering power, too noisy) so to each their own. If your criterion for a new car purchase is that it has to last 220,000 miles without any non-consumable maintenance or repiar, good on ya.

This board is becoming more and more and more and more negative. Doesn't ANYONE ever say ANYTHING good about Subarus anymore? I like mine - enough to put in new speakers, stereo, tires, brakes - and head gaskets.



Well 91-94 Subaru are holding up quite well. BTW there is not difference in size, speed, look, etc ..... from 90-99. (Actually 90-94 Turbos are faster)

And my criterion for a new car purchase is that it will last 200k without major design issues and breakdowns is not outlandish.
Honda and Toyota have been doing this for a long just like Subaru did until 96 and up models with the 2.5. All Car manufactures have had issues with designs but Subaru ignoring the fact that they have a fatal flaw on their motors for 5 years and maybe even into 00-04 models is detestable.

I am not here to burn Subaru's or to be super negative towards them, I am just honest. I think from my signature you can see how many I have owned. When I went to replace my trusty wrecked GL I wanted a newer outback and then after doing the research I found out they had lots of troubles. I would love to drive a new Subaru. I am hoping that 05 models fix the issue but only time will tell. And if the last eight years are any signs of things to come, I am very afraid.

#20 kaltree

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Posted 20 July 2004 - 05:36 PM

This board is becoming more and more and more and more negative. Doesn't ANYONE ever say ANYTHING good about Subarus anymore? I like mine - enough to put in new speakers, stereo, tires, brakes - and head gaskets.


I too have put more than what a person ought to into their car (outside of repairs). Upgraded brake system, stereo/speaker system, street tires and winter tires. Overall I've had the car for 3 years and have put roughly $1000 into the car each year. Most of that was to get the next best part - but a majority was from unexpected part failures.

Not sure where your going about this board being super negative. I guess each person has their own idea of what a good car is.

I personally love the car I have - and it actually troubles me and keeps me up at night thinking about replacing her. Hence the reason I can't bring myself to do it and will be giving her a new engine - one that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Overall, I find the people and their information here on USMB to be extremely helpful. I used to own a Mitsubishi Galant. Just try to find a board like this for that car...

Kevin




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