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First posts...weird idle and head gasket terror


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5 replies to this topic

#1 v8volvo

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 02:37 PM

OK, I'm a new member here. Looks like there's a huge amount of knowledge and experience available, which is great. Hopefully I'll be able to give back at some point.

We have had our 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon for a little over two years. It has the EJ25 motor and a 5-speed trans; we bought it with only 33k on it, and now it has 58k. It has been a terrific car so far, extremely fast and fun to drive, not too good on gas but OK, very reliable except for eating two alternators and a battery, and incredible in snow. We use it for 6-hour winter trips to the North Cascades, fully loaded with 5 people, two dogs, skis, and tons of food and luggage. Works great, though you need to rev the balls off it when climbing passes if you want to even maintain speed.

It's good I found this board now, because we're just starting to have some concerns about the car. First, for the past year or so there has been some noise from the throw-out bearing (or clutch release bearing). It sort of chirps with the clutch engaged. I guess the PO must have ridden the clutch when driving. It hasn't gotten audibly worse in the past year, and since this is the original clutch we've planned to just replace it when the clutch goes. But the clutch is lasting a long time (even at 58k it never slips and can hook up powerfully even at a full-throttle, heavily loaded 3-4 shift climbing Blewitt pass), and I'm worried about that bearing. We don't want it to fail on the road. Should I tear it apart and do the clutch now? Is there a way to tell it's really dying? I figured if it got a whole lot of friction in it it would bog the engine down or make a scraping noise when I depressed the clutch, which it does not do yet.

Second, I'm not sure the idle controller is so good. It has always idled at about 1500 rpm when cold, but lately it has acted strangely. When first started it idles at 1500, but when you drive away, dragging the engine down with the clutch, it changes. It's like it's trying to compensate, and kicks up the idle a bunch. I drive to a stoplight about 5 residential blocks from the house on the way to work, and when I put it in neutral at the light it is idling at about 2200 rpm, which I think is excessive. This is even more pronounced when I drive away without using the accelerator, which I sometimes do when it is unusually cold and I don't want to rev the engine much (the 1500 rpm idle is more than enough to accelerate to 20 mph if you're good with the clutch and shifter).

Third, I've just become aware of this horrendous head gasket issue with the 2.5L motors. Our engine has been teriffic, only just starting to burn some oil, perfect emissions, OK mileage, and still doesn't mind going over 6200 rpm. Sounds pretty too. However, ours still is at low miles, and I'd like to do whatever I can to prolong that inevitable 2.2 swap, which will lose us a lot of badly-needed power. I will check for HC at the coolant tank, but is there anything else that can be done other than not overheating it? We replaced the water pump recently with the timing belt as preventative maintenance, and it has fresh coolant in it. I know the intelligent thing to do would be to sell it now with low miles and no problems, but we have relatives with a '98 OBW they've taken cross-country three times, and have over 120k on it with no problems. Plus we like the car too much to get rid of it now. What can be done about this problem?

Thanks for reading all that and answering questions. I'll hopefully be able to eventually offer help with Subies, though if anyone wants help with old VW diesels or with installing Mustang V8s into Volvos I can do that now. ;)

#2 canajun2eh

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 03:14 PM

I'll answer the chirping question:

Our 92 Legacy wagon did that for over 100,000 km before we found it necessary to replace the clutch. The clutch lasted over 180,000 km. Therefore: don't worry about it too much. You might have to replace the clutch release fork and the pressure plate in addition to replacing the bearing "when the time comes".

Your idle speed does sound a little high. However, if the idle speed drops to normal (around 800 rpm) when the engine is warm, it's probably nothing to worry about either. If, on the other hand, the idle speed doesn't drop after the engine is warm, you probably have a bad coolant temperature sensor. A poor electrical contact can send incorrect "engine cold" information to the engine control computer.

I can't answer your question about potential head gasket problems. We never encountered that problem with the 2.2 litre engines in our 92 (480,000 km before it was retired) or the other Legacies we've had. I'd be inclined to keep the car.

#3 shimonmor

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 03:44 PM

I'd like to do whatever I can to prolong that inevitable 2.2 swap, which will lose us a lot of badly-needed power.


Why is the swap inevitable? If you do a proper repair of the HG with the updated gaskets you should be fine. It's not really an engine design flaw but a head gasket design flaw, and from what I understand the updated gaskets correct that problem.

Do the job yourself or find someone (or a dealer) who is familiar with the problem and with appropriate methods for proper repair and you will be anble to enjoy your EJ25.

#4 v8volvo

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 04:14 PM

The engine idles very smoothly at about 750 rpm when warm, so I guess I won't worry about it as long as it still starts quickly, which it does.

It sounds like I can wait on the bearing, but are you saying that it will wear into the release fork too? I am expecting to replace the pressure plate, as I'm sure the diaphragm fingers will be heavily worn by that bad bearing. It does shudder a bit when cold at times too, so a machined flywheel and a new pressure plate are likely anyway.

It seems there's about a 20% failure rate on those gaskets, which is ludicrous, and to me it looks like recurrence is more common than not. When the time comes I will do the job myself with the highest-quality components, but I see a whole lot of discussion of this problem here on this board, and it looks like people have not had the best luck just replacing gaskets. They blow again and the engine is never the same afterwards. This is in contrast to VW diesels, on which head gasket failure is a fact of life, but replacing the gasket takes only a couple hours and few special tools and the engine is not terminally harmed. I read Subaru has designed 6 editions of that headgasket; maybe if the latest one really does work I'll go that road.

It seems the only thing we can do is make sure we don't cook it too hard when the gaskets go so that the heads don't get cracked or warped. It doesn't look like it makes a difference if you drive easy or beat the crap out of it like we do, as they seem to blow even on cars with only easy highway miles driven conservatively. Man, I am not happy about this. If the engine does not look nice when I tear it down I'm gonna install a 2.2, especially if they can go 480,000 km. :cool:

#5 canajun2eh

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 06:59 PM

Those 2.2 litre engines can go a lot farther than 480,000 km. The only reason we retired that car was that it needed another clutch, and the steering rack as well as the exhaust system needed replacing too, not to mention tires and battery. That would have been replacement clutch #3; steering rack and exhaust were original, as were the alternator, water pump, rad, and tranny.

The engine had never been completely torn down. The last time we did the timing belt (work done by yours truly and Junior), we fixed the usual oil leaks and replaced 2 lash adjusters -- one had collapsed and the other had some pitting where it met the rocker arm. Lash adjuster problems were due to abnormally infrequent oil changes. I think that engine would have been good for another 500,000 km -- it passed all emission tests just before we retired it. It used 1 litre of oil every 4,000 km.

We expect our 2004 Legacy to give us similar return-on-investment, even though it DOES have that 2.5 litre engine.

#6 cookie

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 07:47 PM

the fingers touching the bearing. One guy claimed he cured that by putting grease (it would need to be something like brake grease that stays put) on the fingers by reaching in past the boot on the hole for the fork with a stick.
You know the right thing to do is pull the tranny and do it right.
I just went through this with a pilot bearing that my dealer did not change when he changed the clutch.
I think if you can put a Ford in a Volvo you would not have much trouble doing a good head gasket job on your car if it does need to be done.
I believe you have a phase 1 engine which has had two head gasket upgrades and the last one is pretty good.
I put a 289 in a Datsun Z years ago and and the electrics were duck soup. I imagine getting the electrical system right on your car really took some work.
A couple of us SF area guys have been looking for an phase 1 Outback or Legacy with a blown head gasket to experiment with.
I'm sure the usual hot rod tricks can make a good seal on one of those.If you can seal up diesels and fuel dragsters you ought to be able to get a head seal on one of these.




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