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03 Forester XS and I my girl's 04 Outback H6
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi all, In January I bought a 2003 Forester XS. There was oil underneath it when I bought it. My gullible self believed the seller when he said it was just a loose oil filter. His dad was apparently a mechanic who had done the head gasket at 172k, the car was at 217k when I bought it. I'm convinced they sold it to me knowing the head gasket was leaking. Oh well, ya live and learn. I needed a cheap car asap.

Anyways I finally took it to the shop to get checked out cause I had been putting it off, and its been leaking the last 10 months I've owned it. I lose about 1 quart, maybe a little more in between oil changes and have to top it off. From what I can tell the engine seems to run decently. The only time it was over heating I was really low on coolant, I filled it up and it its been running fine at the middle of the temperature gauge with no problems, this was at least 4 months ago.

I noticed no blow by when I bought the car, but after a few months I added coolant cause it was low, and eventually did notice blow by. I even thought I noticed milky oil when I noticed the blow by for the first time, but I haven't seen any milky oil since and its been several oil changes. Perhaps it never was milky and I don't know what I'm talking about. I was looking at it with a black light in the dark. The blow by doesn't seem horrible like i see in some videos.

The verdict came in from a dedicated independent Subaru shop called "Super Rupair" LOL in Boulder. They said the head gasket was in fact leaking in addition to plenty of other problems I suspected. I'm trying to determine my best course of action moving forward. Between buying the car for $1800, I've put less than $500 into it. So no more than $2,300 invested so far. It's currently at 224k miles.

So I'm considering doing all 4 pads/rotors, the R/F ball joint and the L/R wheel bearing myself just to make it safer to drive. I'd maybe consider doing the struts too. I'm hesitant to do all this work if the car is just a ticking time bomb now with the leaking head gasket, at least it drives and drives well, except for when I brake right now lol. Honestly I love driving this thing.

It also has low brake fluid which needs to be flushed apparently, I'll probably just top it off. There is a crack on the windshield which I can just deal with. The timing belt apparently was replaced at 152k, so I have until 257k before that needs to be done.

But just how long do I have before the head gasket leak becomes a real problem? I honestly dont really understand how the this kind of leak works. Is this an oil problem or a coolant problem? or both? I'm aware trying to use a gasket sealer is a horrible idea despite people saying they have had luck with it. I just want to get as much out of this car as I can without spending big money. I bought the used high mileage car to save money.

I included 2 pictures of notes and diagnosis from the shop. Any insight from you Subagurus would be really appreciated. Thanks for reading. ~Matt
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2007 Forester XT Manual
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317 Posts
Depends how much time and energy you wanna invest.

if you want to learn the mechanics of Subaru, then Perhaps you could do the suspension, brakes yourself. For the engine bit, buy a used JDM/USDM ej253 and slap it in brother. Grab some buddies, a 30 pack, and rumble on.

2nd option is to part the car. You already know what your break even point = sale price + repair so far.

3rd option would be to just sell the car as is and take a chance of breaking even or taking a loss.

either way, themessage board is here to help!
 

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2004 Forester XS 5MT
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886 Posts
My god, deja-vu! Do you love the car and are prepared to dump 4-6k into it for a daily driver, and by the time thats done, oh sound systems, rims tires and exhaust (what's that Satan, a lift kit and skid plates? I really can get by with just one kidney, right?) ;) Primitive Racing, don't you walk away...SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
 

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1999 "L" - 231,000 mi. AT
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719 Posts
You say, "I just want to get as much out of this car as I can without spending big money. I bought the used high mileage car to save money." You've spent $700 and got 7000 miles of use so far. Your plan is OK, but it's a beater car. Mine is too at 235,000 - I drive it seldom now, saving it for winter use. And when I get a fix list from a mechanic I think about it over coffee next day and then file it in the glovebox (mostly).

Your car - to go safely and cheaply for short trips (not cross-country travel):
get new brakes pads front and back, and do the wheel bearing. Then just drive it, checking/changing oil a bit sooner than normal, and save money for next car. My struts are original and rear ones leak - so what? Look to your next car!
 

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MY05 Forester 2.5 XT 5MT
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Reading the notes from the garage, they must have a sense of humour. They put the ball joints as a safety concern but no mention of the metal on metal rear brakes being a safety concern.

Do they let you provide parts yourself? You might be able to save a fair bit using the likes of RockAuto.

With the comment on Heavy Rust , that could be the killer and even with a fixed engine etc, could be a ticking timebomb in regards to cost. Are the parts where there is heavy rust replaceable ?

From your list, I would be looking to do the jobs in this order:
  1. Top up brake fluid – Walmart will sell something suitable (Dot 3 or Dot 4) https://www.walmart.com/c/kp/dot-4-brake-fluid
  2. Front Wipers https://www.rockauto.com/en/catalog...5l+h4,1411041,wiper+&+washer,wiper+blade,8852
  3. Rear Brake Pads + Rotors More Information for CENTRIC 91047505
  4. Front Ball joints 2003 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5L H4 Ball Joint | RockAuto
  5. Front brakes and rebuild the caliper with the seized slider. 2003 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5L H4 Caliper Guide Pin | RockAuto + 2003 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5L H4 Caliper Guide Pin Boot Kit | RockAuto + 2003 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5L H4 Brake Pad | RockAuto
  6. Wheel bearing 2003 SUBARU FORESTER 2.5L H4 Wheel Bearing | RockAuto
  7. If you do the head gasket job, do the timing belt and parts at the same time while you’re in there, so to speak – In the meantime, keep topping off the fluids you are losing
  8. Rear Struts
  9. Windshield
 

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2018 Forester Manual
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423 Posts
How's the rust? I wouldn't necessarily have a problem putting money / time into it if it wasn't rusty. But if it's rusty? I'd just take care of the safety items (ball joints, brakes) and run it until it doesn't run any more.

The head gaskets sometimes leak oil externally when they go bad. It will be a while (or it may never) mix oil and coolant to make the milkshake. My pickup truck has a bad headgasket. Leaks oil externally but does not mix coolant and oil. Until it starts doing so, I'm leaving the headgasket alone! Oil is cheap!
 

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03 Forester XS and I my girl's 04 Outback H6
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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you guys all for your feedback. I really appreciate it! I've been pondering your responses and I think I'm gonna do all the safety items and then just milk it as my daily driver while saving for a new car down the road.

That'll be the all the pads/rotors with the caliper slider/boot, the ball joints, the wheel bearing, the brake fluid and wipers.

The rust is real. So doing major work may not be optimal. I replaced the vent canister or whatever its called for the emissions system and I had to drill the damn thing out! I secured the new part with tie wire. So anything major has the potential to be a pain. If that caliper slider is seized will it be hard to remove? I wonder if that has something to do with rust.

All those safety concern marks on the notes were written by me after the fact so I'd remember what's important cause I forget a lot I learn about cars. I think the brakes were the most obvious concern and my main reason for bringing it into the shop as well as the oil leak.

When it comes to the head gasket leak at what point does coolant and oil mix? What exactly happens down there? All I think I understand is that there is a gasket between the header pipe and the engine that tends to fail. When it comes to engines, much goes over may head.

How about that RockAuto.com? How has any of yall's experience been with them?

I had never heard of RockAuto before but holy crap it seems parts are really inexpensive there. Naturally I wonder what the catch is. I may very well order my parts from there.

Thanks again!
 

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1999 "L" - 231,000 mi. AT
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@soobydoobydoo Sounds like a plan. Observations on safety items while minimizing costs, if my situation:
  • my brakes would work OK with just new pads ($22-50/axle and easy) using the existing rotors (even if scratched)
  • ball joints are really strong parts; they won't brake and let me weave across the road. only 'loose' = good to go
  • Many have ordered parts from RockAuto. My own experience, so far (had favored NAPA), has been good.
 

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MY05 Forester 2.5 XT 5MT
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RockAuto in the US are simply awesome and have great customer service. I'm in the UK and I order (some) parts from them. They even covered return shipping for a defective part at no cost to me, then refunded my full cost, including shipping. They respond within 20-30 minutes of emails to their customer service and if you do need to call them, they actually have a clue how to help - If only more parts places could be more like them to be honest which is why I'm happy to recommend them

Some of their remanufactured parts aren't the best (They are clearly labelled remanufactured on their site), so be careful with which brands you go with if you go down that avenue. If you go with brand new items from a reputable manufacturer, I would be surprised if you had problems but they'll look after you if you do have a problem. They also supply brands like Denso, Aisin, Mitsuboshi, who make sensors, timing belts, water pumps and other mechanical parts for Subaru and Toyota amongst others, that are fitted in the factory So there's a ton of potential cost-saving to be had there if you can get over not having the part arrive in a Subaru box.

There's a discount code for 5% off here as they are forum sponsors too: RockAuto.com Discount Code - Expires January 7, 2021

As for the rust, if you are taking on certain jobs yourself, I would highly recommend using 6 sided sockets. 12 sided sockets will just round off rusty bolts and make life a misery trying to remove them. You will want a decent penetrating oil to make your life a little easier on rusted bolts etc.(This guy reviewed what's available in the US
) Probably add some vice grips and a wire brush to the toolbox too. Copper grease, sometimes called Copper Anti Seize is your friend for when you fit new parts/bolts etc. It will prevent those bolts rusting again and causing misery later on

So the head gasket has a few jobs but I'll try to keep this super simple for you - Below is a pic of what the head gasket looks like.

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See the 2 big circles in the middle? Those are your combustion cylinders. There's only that thin layer, shown in thick grey to provide a barrier to prevent coolant leaking into those cylinders
See the thickish grey perimeter towards the outter part of the gasket? That is the barrier between coolant and oil channels mixing

If any of those thickish grey barriers breakdown/leak, then depending on where the failure is, can cause coolant and oil to combine, causing milkshake.....and at worst, can induce rusting in the bottom end of the engine where you don't want it (On the connecting rods for example) Another failure is where the grey rings around the combustion cylinders fail, letting coolant into the combustion cylinder and combustion gases into the coolant, which can then pressurise the cooling system, causing the weakest link (Usually the radiator) to crack and leak. Your cooling system requires pressure to prevent it boiling at high temperatures. If the pressure is lost, say from the leaking radiator, then your engine can quickly overheat.....And you have a bad day.

What you are hopefully experiencing is the third type of head gasket failure, which as long as you top off the oil, can be prolonged indefinitely (If you can live with oil stains on your driveway) That is where the oil channels in the headgasket, so the smaller sections towards the outter edges with their own perimeters contain oil. If those smaller perimeters fail in the "correct" spots, you will have an external oil leak from the head gasket, meaning it drips out of the engine but causes no harm and as long as you keep topping off the oil, the engine will continue to run for many miles - perhaps even years like this if you don't have yearly inspections in your state

There is a fourth type of head gasket failure, where the coolant channels contained within the head gasket between the oil and combustion cylinders breakdown on the edges, where there is no oil channel, you end up leaking coolant onto the driveway etc out of the engine. You will lose coolant pressure slightly but it shouldn't be tooooo bad and shouldn't cause an overheat (in theory) as long as you keep the coolant topped up and bleed the air out the system every so often, depending on how bad the leak is

The head gasket is the meat in a sandwich basically, where the bottom piece of bread is the block (Sometimes called the Shortblock or Bottom end where your engine bearings, connecting rods and pistons live) and the top piece of bread is the cylinder head (Where your valves and sparkplugs live) The cylinder head bolts provide clamping force, keeping thee head gasket sufficiently "squidged" in the sandwich so that the cylinder head can't move in relation to the head gasket or the block, providing a good uniform seal. It just so happens Subaru engines are on their side. So the block is in the middle and and cylinder head is on the outter edges (You have 2 cylinder heads) Hence the term Subaru call "Horizontally Opposed"
 

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For "some" reason the site doen't like it; this is what I get when I try and insert the gif. The link is OK though.
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2009 Forester Auto
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I'll add my two cents. I would be very hesitant about putting any real money into this car, save for the brake pads and maybe the things you mentioned originally. That's more of a driver/user perspective rather than any kind of mechanical expertise. It's hard to tell how bad the leak is from the description. A quart between oil changes does not sound all that bad, but the mechanic said "massive," lol.

Rockauto is great. You pay for shipping no matter how big the order, and I think they charge for every item. I did a return that went smooth though I didn't get a refund on the shipping and I think there was some kind of restocking fee.
 

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03 Forester XS and I my girl's 04 Outback H6
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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks again for all your feedback. Those explanations really help @TMX!

I took some pictures this morning to give a better idea of what I'm looking at. Sunday, about 4 days ago I went to the carwash and briefly, not thoroughly pressure washed under the car to remove most of the oil so the leak could be further pin pointed.

I put stop leak additive twice during an oil change since owning the car. I used blue devil once and just STP another time. Could that help slow down the leak if its just the oil getting out?

It is funny the shop says "Massive Leak!" on there paper notes. I'm sure the head gasket repair is one of their big money makers. I was in sales for years, little tweaks like using the word massive in regards to a leak I'm sure will certainly create urgency in some folks. Thankfully we have a forum full of second opinions without financial motivation! :)

What are the chances the shop is wrong and it could be something like the oil cooler gasket? For the longest time I notice oil accumulating at the bottom of the filter. Here is a picture of that:
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The skid plate after being sprayed still accumulating little droplets.
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Also are there 2 head gaskets? one for each side? are the head gaskets sandwiched in between the seem you see near what I believe are the valve covers? Or is it on the other side of the pipes closer to the engine?

Here are pictures of the passenger side near the oil filter .
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Here is the drivers side:
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Thanks again!
 

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2003 XS 4EAT - maybe someday I'll hit 60K
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I would just like to mention that I believe there was/is? a factory recall on the lower control arms for a rusting issue for this vehicle. I got a letter from Subaru a few years ago telling me to go to my dealer for an inspection. I was ok as my control arm did not need replacing, but they generously lathered my lower control arms with grease anyway.
 

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MY05 Forester 2.5 XT 5MT
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That's quite a mess under there. You might be best picking up a sprayer and a gallon of brake cleaner and some rags/paper towel type stuff and going to town cleaning the under neath first, then see where any fresh oil leaks are. There's no way anyone could determine where the oil leaks were from seeing those photos. I would guess Walmart or Harbour Freight does some kind of cheaper sprayer type thing? As an idea on pricing I paid £20 for my sprayer and about £12 for 5 Litres/Quarts of brake cleaner, so I would expect your pricing to be similar in $

There's some what looks to be thicker globs of grease under there too in 1 of the pics - Next time you're under the forester, check the rubber boots on the axle between the wheel and gearbox are all in tact- Splits in those boots could be the source of any grease getting thrown around. Your valve covers could also be leaking, which throws oil all underneath like in the pics. You have 2. 1 on each side, like the head gaskets. (Compared to say an inline 4 or 6 cylinder Toyota/BMW engine which just has 1 head gasket and 1 valve cover gasket)

On the plus side, other than the exhaust, I see very little rust ! Especially in the first 2 pics, showing the chassis legs. Looks like the oil leak is doing you some good by keeping the chassis well protected ;) Those oil pan bolts look like they've seen some salt, but decent 6 sided sockets should remove those if you need to go down that route - Which is also another spot oil can leak from....

Fram oil filters aren't unheard of to leak, so that could be a contributing leak. For reference only the turbo engines have oil coolers from memory..... But if you had a turbo engine, I would be suggesting the oil cooler gasket as possibly one of the leaks......You must have some kind of O-ring for the oil filter housing that the filter screws into, but I can't seem to find a decent diagram online.........

I'm a bit envious how much room you have on each side of the engine between the chassis... Compared to the turbo engine with AVCS, you have room to play football in there. I don't know much, or have any experience using stop leaks to comment on those

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Item 1 is your valve cover (Called Rocker cover in the Subaru manual)
Item 9 is your cylinder head
Item 10 is your cylinder head gasket, which goes between the head and the block.

So the block is in the centre of the engine bay. The Valve Covers are on the most outter part of the engine bay, nearest the wheels
 

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2015 Forester 2.5i Limited CVT
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If the previous owner/mechanic didn’t use oem Subaru head gaskets, then it was wasted time.
 

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'08 Forester 2.5X Sports 5MT
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Word of caution on doing your own ball joint - probably gonna shear some bolts, especially the tensioner bolt. After getting it out, some replace it with grade 8 nut and bolt. Check eBay for Subaru ball joints, the part number. used on a whole bunch of different models
 

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2020 Forester Sport
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Thanks again for all your feedback. Those explanations really help @TMX!

I took some pictures this morning to give a better idea of what I'm looking at. Sunday, about 4 days ago I went to the carwash and briefly, not thoroughly pressure washed under the car to remove most of the oil so the leak could be further pin pointed.

I put stop leak additive twice during an oil change since owning the car. I used blue devil once and just STP another time. Could that help slow down the leak if its just the oil getting out?

It is funny the shop says "Massive Leak!" on there paper notes. I'm sure the head gasket repair is one of their big money makers. I was in sales for years, little tweaks like using the word massive in regards to a leak I'm sure will certainly create urgency in some folks. Thankfully we have a forum full of second opinions without financial motivation! :)

What are the chances the shop is wrong and it could be something like the oil cooler gasket? For the longest time I notice oil accumulating at the bottom of the filter. Here is a picture of that: View attachment 542914

The skid plate after being sprayed still accumulating little droplets. View attachment 542923

Also are there 2 head gaskets? one for each side? are the head gaskets sandwiched in between the seem you see near what I believe are the valve covers? Or is it on the other side of the pipes closer to the engine?

Here are pictures of the passenger side near the oil filter . View attachment 542915 View attachment 542916 View attachment 542917 View attachment 542918

Here is the drivers side: View attachment 542919 View attachment 542920 View attachment 542922

Thanks again!
It's looks like the oil cooler o-ring is leaking. There could be other issues, but replacing that o-ring is inexpensive and not too hard to do. You seem to have more access to it than I did on my 2006 Forester, so it should be easy to do. There may be other sources of your oil leak, but eliminating that oil cooler gasket would help to narrow it down.
 

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It never ceases to amaze me when I read similar posts from people that purchase 15 to 20 yr old Subarus with close to 200k or past 200k mileage and they have the very well known head gasket failure problem. They've already been burned by an unscrupulous seller (as in this story here) and now have an estimate to fix the engine alone oftentimes more than what they paid for the car. This does not address the fact this 200k mileage car has lots and lots of other things that are on their way to major failure and in the end it simply is something that a bit of wisdom would make the person decide sell the car, recoup what money is possible before pouring more into this money pit, learn from our poor choices and take someone along and look at the next car so you don't fall into the same dilemma again! And add to it this one has rust! Subarus are noted for rust. Rust is like cancer. What you physically see is like an iceberg. The hidden amount below the surface and hidden is phenomenal. You get what you pay for. If it's cheap, mostly expect issues to bring the price to repair up to equal a car without issues. I have nothing but Subarus, some with under, some with over 200k mileage. But - I know what to look for as I've been flipping them for years. I can tell if head gaskets were done and I was burned on that one time when I suspect they reused head bolts which are 1 time use only, they stretch. If I look at one that has not had them done, I move on to the next, there are hundreds listed on Craigslist every day. So good luck.
 
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