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  1. #1
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    2003 Subaru Outback: How Screwed am I?

    Looking for some advice from the collective, I know I am still a JONG around here, but hoping for some advice..

    My GF has a 2003 Subaru Outback. About 15 months ago we put about $3000 into replacing the head gaskets, timing belt, water pump, etc. It had ~100,000 miles at the time and we thought we would be all set for another 100,000. It’s a Subaru, right? The car has been running fine until two weeks ago when it overheated over in Summit County on her way to Denver. I called a buddy who lives over there and we took it to his mechanic in Summit, to avoid getting it towed. He checked it out and told us that the radiator cap was faulty, replaced it, said the car was fine. We drove it back over here, it ran fine over the pass, and seemed fine for 4-5 days. Last Monday it overheated again, so I took it to my regular mechanic in Vail. The same guy who did the head gaskets 15 months ago. He is telling me that the radiator has gone bad, which then allowed coolant and exhaust to get into the engine, ruining the head gaskets. He also says the “low end” of the engine is going out as well. I asked if there was a warranty on the work done on the head gaskets, and he says it is not his fault. He says the radiator going bad caused the head gaskets to fail, and that it is not his fault that the radiator failed.

    I know a little bit about cars, but when it comes to big projects like this, I am a total JONG. The car runs great for 5-10 minutes, then it overheats, making it basically undrivable. I called a friend who is a mechanic in Denver and based on what the mechanic said, and the fact that the “full” line on the oil dipstick is about 2” from the bottom, and it is reading oil almost all the way to the top of the dipstick, and the oil is a chocolate milk brown color, I think that the engine is fucked. I have not gotten a second opinion, yet, we have another appointment with another mechanic shop tomorrow.

    So, assuming that the diagnosis is correct, the way I see it, we can spend another 3-4 grand on head gaskets, radiator, etc. Or we cut our losses and just get rid of it. I have been offered $1500 for the car, which includes picking it up with a tow truck. Blue Book on the car is between 5-6 thousand, if it had a running engine.
    The real bummer is that the body, interior, electrical, etc are all in great shape.

    So, two questions:
    1. Thoughts on the diagnosis?
    2. What do think is a fair price for a 2003 Outback, with an engine that either needs major work or an outright replacement?

    Thanks in advance for any replies,
    Burns

  2. #2
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    Hmmm I have never seen a radiator cause a HG to fail? I know if the HG fails it could overheat. Also I know that if a car over heats it could cause a head to warp, letting fluid in with the oil. You may want to ask over at http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/.
    People should learn endurance; they should learn to endure the discomforts of heat and cold, hunger and thirst; they should learn to be patient when receiving abuse and scorn; for it is the practice of endurance that quenches the fire of worldly passions which is burning up their bodies.
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  3. #3
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    IMO, It sounds like he failed to get the air out of the cooling system.

    The car might be worth $1,500....
    Johnny's only sin was dispair

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrburns View Post
    He is telling me that the radiator has gone bad, which then allowed coolant and exhaust to get into the engine, ruining the head gaskets.
    ^As written, this makes absolutely no sense. How would a radiator going bad allow exhaust into (the wrong part) of the engine? I guess if it caused the head gasket to fail first...but it shouldn't work the other way around (radiator failure -> exhaust into wrong part of engine -> head gasket failure).

    He also says the “low end” of the engine is going out as well. I asked if there was a warranty on the work done on the head gaskets, and he says it is not his fault. He says the radiator going bad caused the head gaskets to fail, and that it is not his fault that the radiator failed.
    This contradicts what you said above, so I'm not sure now. Anyway, it all sounds fishy based on what you wrote above.

    In my experience, when mechanics fuck up (they're human after all) they start giving weird explanations with lots of buzz words. They make no sense if you know anything about cars, but sound really techy if you don't know shit. I had it happen to me once with a mechanic that I really, really liked. I gave him one look and said "[Forgot his name], I'm not going to call you a liar because I like you and have dealt with you a lot; but both you and I know that doesn't make any sense. You messed up. I expect you to fix it on your dime." They did, and I never went back. Look, I don't care if you mess up. Just admit it and deal with it. If you try to weasel me, we're done.
    "I knew in an instant that the three dollars I had spent on wine would not go to waste."

  5. #5
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    I had my radiator go bad a month ago which caused the engine to overheat and warp the heads. 2003 subaru outback. It took Crested Butte Auto 28 days to fix the fucking thing. Never, ever, take a car there.

    But my point is, my radiator failed and caused the engine to over heat which caused the heads to warp. 115,000 miles.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrburns View Post
    My GF has... we put about $3000...
    \

    1. You're beyond screwed and it has nothing to do with the car
    2. Naked pics of GF or GTFO

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Edgnar View Post
    I had my radiator go bad a month ago which caused the engine to overheat and warp the heads. 2003 subaru outback. It took Crested Butte Auto 28 days to fix the fucking thing. Never, ever, take a car there.

    But my point is, my radiator failed and caused the engine to over heat which caused the heads to warp. 115,000 miles.
    This. If the radiator is indeed bad and caused the engine to overheat, that can cause the headgaskets to fail. If that's what happened then it's not the mechanic that replaced the headgasket's fault.

    I've had this happen twice. Once on an old Corolla and once in a Nissan 4x4 truck. The 4x4 took a branch through the radiator while wheeling and I had no choice but to keep driving in order to get out.

    I don't think I'd bother putting a new engine in that car unless you can find a guaranteed used one for under $2K.
    ...Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain...

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chainsaw_Willie View Post
    I don't think I'd bother putting a new engine in that car unless you can find a guaranteed used one for under $2K.
    ^^ This.

    There are places that will sell a reconditioned imported motor for cheap (probably around $2k). Some people have great experiences doing that. I did that on a 92' subaru and it was a total disaster. The motor they put in had bad rings and terrible compression. It was under limited warranty so they put a 2nd motor in that never worked right and I sold the thing for $1000 a few months later. I probably wouldn't take that route again unless I had no other choice financially but to make the car work.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by powder11 View Post
    if you have to resort to taking advice from the nitwits on this forum, then you're doomed.

  10. #10
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    Moral of the story: Blind love for Subarus leads to failure.

    IME they are reliable, if completely soulless transport for about 100k, then are miserable little fuckers there after.

    The radiator failed, overheated, and you warped the heads. It doesnt take much time at all in the red before damage occurs.

    Either way, your car is toast, get another one. Well not well done toast, but theres no point in breaking out the knife and scrapping off the burnt out shit that it is currently. /metaphor.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdironRider View Post
    Either way, your car is toast, get another one. Well not well done toast, but theres no point in breaking out the knife and scrapping off the burnt out shit that it is currently. /metaphor.
    I guess this pretty much sums it up..

    Thanks for all of the responses, we had pretty much decided to go ahead and get rid of it, I guess I just needed someone to tell me that we are doing the right thing. Now I just wish we had gotten rid of it $3000 and 15 months ago.

    Why all the love on here for Subaru's? My mechanic says they are junk, but it seems like every other car I see on the road is a Suby. I was thinking about getting a Forester as my Jeep is getting old and beat up, but after this experience, it looks like it's back to saving for a Taco.

  12. #12
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    How screwed are you?

    It should hurt when you sit down. And leave a stain.
    No matter what you do never give (Your Mechanic in Vail) another dime of your money.

    I bet he does not even do those top dollar Rebuilds. He R&R's moters with shit he picked up from500$ from a junk yard.

    And just looked at your last post. How much you sent on that jeep? How many miles?

    Yopu could head East and get a Cherokee with 100,000 on it for 3,000 and it will last another 1000,000++ with not much investment
    Own your fail. ~Jer~

  13. #13
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    Sorry for your loss. It happens occasionally to all brands, this doesn't mean that all Subarus are shit or all Toyotas break. It's statistics. Everyone has certain brands that they love or hate, but most of the time this is largely due to personal anecdotes and the "never again" idea after the last car that burnt them. It's all statistics in the end, you might get lucky or you might not.

  14. #14
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by MTT View Post
    And just looked at your last post. How much you sent on that jeep? How many miles?

    Yopu could head East and get a Cherokee with 100,000 on it for 3,000 and it will last another 1000,000++ with not much investment

    We spent the money on the Subaru, not the Jeep. Knock on wood, the Jeep is running fine. I've had it for over ten years without too many problems.

  16. #16
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    Any vehicle will fail with neglect.

    Subaru service schedule says replace coolant and inspect cooling system every 30 months or 30,000 miles.

  17. #17
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    This one is for a Legacy, didn't see any Outback's on there. I actually looked at this website over the weekend, when you add shipping, plus labor for someone to make the swap, you are still looking at least $2000.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by karpiel View Post
    Any vehicle will fail with neglect.

    Subaru service schedule says replace coolant and inspect cooling system every 30 months or 30,000 miles.
    What neglect? The car has had regular oil changes and inspections, and correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't the coolant have had to be changed when they pulled the engine to work on the head gaskets and timing belt? Less than 10,000 miles ago?

  19. #19
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    Just thought I'd note, the "low-end" (he means bottom end, which is just the lower end of the engine -- crank, bearings, connecting rods, etc.) is a completely different issue. And if he's right, about it going out, that engine is truly fucked. The bottom end is the guts of the engine, by far the most expensive to replace partly because it's the hardest to get to.

    And just a thought, but have you thought about changing the thermostat? That could be your overheating problem, although I'd have a hard time believing any mechanic would overlook that... EXTREMELY easy and cheap fix, might be worth a shot to get that thing to survive another few thousand miles before you have to get a new car.

    The weird thing is how he says the radiator going bad caused a HG failure. They are barely even connected. The only reason that would make sense is if the radiator failed, caused the engine to overheat, the overheating went unnoticed, and then was driven on for some time until it totally just overheated to the point of head warping.

    Did you guys buy this subi new and do regular oil changes? Hard to believe it's having this many issues. Mine is an '01 with 150k miles, albeit a legacy GT. Fingers are now crossed. Flat 4?

    edit- didn't realize your current HG is probably toasted already. Might want to take the $1500. Only other option is a Pick-n-pull (or other scrapyard) engine and do the swap yourself/pay a buddy. Can't be THAT hard to do. All you need is an engine hoist and mostly regular tools. probably only a couple tools you'd need to rent at a kragen/napa/etc.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrburns View Post
    Thanks for all of the responses, we had pretty much decided to go ahead and get rid of it, I guess I just needed someone to tell me that we are doing the right thing. Now I just wish we had gotten rid of it $3000 and 15 months ago.
    Just a voice of "glass half full" - you paid $1500 for 15 months of car. That's $100 a month. That's 1/3 of our car payment.

    Not a bad deal.

  21. #21
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    I think he was referring to the radiator cap. They have to hold a certain amount of pressure, usually around 12-14 PSI. Something tells me your original cap failed and there were still air bubbles in it from denver back to your place.

    Most people don't notice their car is overheating until it's too late and steam is shooting out through the expansion tank.

  22. #22
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    Part of that cooling system inspection should involve assessing the condition of the radiator. If the radiator is so plugged up that it's causing overheating that should've been caught. Hell, it shouldn't even have happened if the coolant was changed every 30K (once a year's even better). The reason radiators clog up is because coolant doesn't get changed often enough.

    Subarus are, in general, reliable cars but certain years and certain models have gotchas. The 2.5L naturally aspirated engine is known for blowing headgaskets. That problem seems to have been prevalent in 2.5s from the time they were introduced up to about 2006 or so. The Turbo 2.5s are different and didn't have that problem. The 2.2L is a very reliable workhorse of an engine that should easily run over 200K with no problems.

    My '06 has 130K on it and is throwing a code for the first time. I either have a bad O2 sensor or a bad catylitic converter. Only things that have gone wrong with this car other than that were the fan motor for the HVAC and it burns out headlights really quickly for some reason. Doesn't burn a drop of oil which isn't bad for a turbo motor.

    One of my oldest friends owns an auto repair shop and has been wrenching on cars since he was in high school. He likes Subarus and his wife drives an '02 Outback. The under dash wiring harness melted due to a short but other than that no issues and it has almost 200K on it.
    ...Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain...

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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdironRider View Post
    Moral of the story: Blind love for Subarus leads to failure.

    IME they are reliable, if completely soulless transport for about 100k, then are miserable little fuckers there after.
    Different strokes I guess, my current 95 Subie is at 215K and gasp!!!! everything still works well.

    Last one (94) died at 213K and I sold it with a fucked motor for 450.00. I had put 55K on it and it cost me 1500.00 to buy originally. Decent investment. The 93 before that cost me 900.00 to buy, drove it for 6 months, 12K and sold it for 600.00.

    That said, don't think I would buy any Subies past the 95 models.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrburns View Post
    What neglect? The car has had regular oil changes and inspections, and correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn't the coolant have had to be changed when they pulled the engine to work on the head gaskets and timing belt? Less than 10,000 miles ago?
    Yes, coolant would have been drained then.

    Changing the coolant once at ~100,000 doesn't cut it. Most mechanics will take shortcuts wherever possible, mostly because the majority of their customers don't like forking out the money to do things right. Draining the coolant isn't the same as an inspection.

    Was the cooling system flushed and inspected at 30k?
    Has the fuel filter been changed every 30k?
    Brake system been flushed every 30k?

    If not, that's neglected maintenance.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bunion View Post
    Different strokes I guess, my current 95 Subie is at 215K and gasp!!!! everything still works well.

    Last one (94) died at 213K and I sold it with a fucked motor for 450.00. I had put 55K on it and it cost me 1500.00 to buy originally. Decent investment. The 93 before that cost me 900.00 to buy, drove it for 6 months, 12K and sold it for 600.00.

    That said, don't think I would buy any Subies past the 95 models.
    Any vehicle has stories of going 200k+, I know a guy who still drives a Chevette with 300k plus.

    The question is, how much money did it cost to get there? I notice you tend to buy beaters, beat them, then sell for peanuts. Thats cool and all, but I grew up with that guy as my Dad, and spent more than a few hours sitting by the side of the road, because, even as you admit, they eventually go boom and you sell them for scrap ($500).

    Also, not many people really want to drive 1500 dollar beaters if they have the choice. But I agree different strokes for different folks. I tend to fall more into the mindset of enjoying my time behind the wheel. Others just want something for A - B.
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