5th Aug 2009, 13:00

'98 Outback with 139,000 miles. Just started to randomly overheat on hot days and after hard driving. The coolant overflow is filled with dark stuff it did not have before. I'm checking the oil tonight. One question though, if the car is overheating, shouldn't the electric fans be buzzing the whole time?

10th Aug 2009, 08:37

It sounds like head gasket, the dark stuff is oil from your engine.

Good luck.

26th Aug 2009, 14:24

To naysayers: I am on my 2nd Subaru; 1st was an '86 that lasted to 165K miles. Current one is a '96 and has 204K miles and runs better than any I recently test drove at dealers up to the model year 2002.

Head gaskets go on all cars, period. One problem with Subarus is if your engine is a DOHC vs. SOHC. The '96-98, maybe '99 have DOHC. These are bigger/better engines except they are double the cost to repair than the SOHC. I highly recommend these cars, but if you're buying a used one, especially one with 100K miles or more, you need to know how the previous owner (s) took care of it. Religious oil changes are key and I use synthetic in mine and have it tuned up every 30K miles without fail. I bought it in 2001 with 83K.

I'm about to buy another, a 98 30th anniversary edition that already had the gaskets done. By the way the oil/coolant mixture is often referred to as a "milkshake". Watch out for scumbag mechanics who pour oil in your coolant overflow tank and try to convince you to spend money needlessly. Almost happened to me back at 130K miles. I told him to kiss off and haven't had a problem with it.

14th Sep 2009, 19:48

I am based in Australia and purchased a 1999 Subaru Outback 2.5L in 2003 with 63,000km. At about 175,000km started overheating. Noticed water was down and topped it up. From then on, needed topping up every few weeks. Thought we had a radiator issue. Had it serviced a few weeks ago and the mechanic advised we had an issue with our heads and that it was leaking out, not in, which wasn't too bad (not good either!). Suggested we monitor it, as it would need to be dealt with soon. Was hoping to get it through to the 200,000km service when the timing belt needed to be replaced.

After the service, radiator needed topping up every two days. Yesterday, it overheated and the radiator didn't need topping up. Mechanic has advised that the block is warped and there is nothing to do but replace the engine. AU$8,000. The car isn't worth that much, and worth less now as there isn't even a working engine.

14th Nov 2009, 20:26

I have a 98 outback with 166K miles on it. It just blew the head gasket. It starts as in intermittent overheating. At first on hot days with the AC climbing a hill.

About 15% or 1 in 7 Outback's will blow it. The problem is the there isn't much surface area for the head and the gasket to seat well.

Outbacks made after 2003 should not have this problem. The new head gaskets are redesigned and are supposed to solve the problem. A newly rebuilt engine will use the new gaskets.

I found a place in Spokane that sells a remanufactured Outback engine (new timing belts, gears, valves, pistons the works) for $3,000 with a 7 year 100K mile warranty.

I am the original owner and I have loved driving this car in snow and on the beach. It is as sure footed as you can get. I will either put in a fresh engine or look for a 2005 or newer used one. I think it will be the rebuilt engine and a new clutch.


10th Dec 2009, 10:22

I have been a mechanic for 29 years, working on Subarus since 1991. I have owned 6 Subarus, 2 of which were new Legacy Outbacks, a 1998 and a 2008.

I have changed head gaskets on a few of them, but only after accumulating over 100k miles. The fee for changing head gaskets and associated parts... timing belt, seals and gaskets... should run around 1200.00 to 1500.00 with no machining work involved. I actually have one torn apart right now doing head gaskets, and it's a 1998 Outback. I have had no return problems on the ones I have done with the new revised head gaskets. The tech data has to be followed very closely when doing this big of a job.

My 1998 Outback has 244,000 miles on it and the head gaskets were done at 200,000. The coolant conditioner is only a temporary fix (short term).

20th Dec 2009, 10:56

Thru unplanned necessity, I just wound up with a '97, 176k, auto, Outback. $1000. This got me a car with a good body, (some blemishes), good interior. New tires, new inspection sticker, good brakes.

Starter replaced at 142k. New battery & alternator, air filter, oil & filter, wires & plugs. The car runs well enough & the transmission operates normally. I plan to change all the fluids ASAP, then we'll see. I know nothing about the maintenance of the car, other than I appear to be the 3rd owner. Would like it to last 3 yrs. or so (215k).

30th Dec 2009, 16:06

I have a 98 Subaru Outback Legacy wagon that I got from my father at 47,000 miles. Newest lowest mileage car I ever had, and I loved it. Loved driving it in our winter weather and up to the ski slopes, where a large percentage of the cars are Subarus.

Very little problem or repairs. I changed the oil every 3-4,000 miles and did all the maintenance recommended by the oil change place. The back rotors just needed replacement recently, but I thought the car was certainly worth it.

Then, just as I hit 140,000 miles, I had the overheating. Replaced thermostat, water pump, it overheated again, and this time the radiator hose was collapsing. I suspect from reading these comments that the aftermarket thermostat caused the further problem, but I am not sure. Anyway, now I am told I have the head gasket problem. My husband wants me to dump the car, but I want to do the repair, making sure they use the new two layer gasket. I am also considering asking about putting in the 2.2 engine, although I am kind of shy to suggest this to the mechanic.

If I do buy a newer used car, is a newer than 04 Subaru safe against this problem?

I was used to diesel VW Rabbits, which went nearly 300,000 miles and kind of expected 200,000 before I considered a car old. I love Subaru handling, but do I dare get another one?

26th Jan 2010, 00:03

I was just looking at a 99 Forrester in need of head gaskets, and so did my due diligence and found this site. The owner was suggesting 1200 to repair, and wanted 1500 for the car. After reading this site, I think the car is worth about .35 a lb. Owners who have these problems should rent a vacant lot and fill it with these mistakes, and post a big warning sign about the manufacturer.

28th Jan 2010, 04:26

Here in Sydney Australia, and I have just had all of these "classic" symptoms happen to my 98 Outback Limited. I have owned this car for 10 years and loved it. The best car I have ever owned for road holding. After spending AUS$700 for misdiagnosed radiator and thermostat problems, it overheated about 350km away from home returning from a family holiday. AUS$1500 tow back to Sydney (covered by breakdown cover) and into a Subaru main service centre.

Initial diagnosis was air block in cooling system and poor fitting radiator cap. They then called to say head gasket blown AUS$2800 (with new timing belt and sundries). I okayed the repairs. I then got a call on Monday afternoon to say the lower block was slightly warped and had to be re-ground, AUS$4900 + 10% GST. I accept that if this has to be done then I have no choice, but I find it incredible that the service mechanic was not aware that this was the problem in the first place. Surely they have come across this problem over here. I think there policy is to act dumb about the problem. I have always recommended Subaru's to anyone that asked, and had been thinking of upgrading to a newer model, but I will now probably go with something else. Shame.