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2003 Forester Manual
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Alright.

We got a 2003 Subaru forester, manual transmission back in June. It had some routine maintenance done right before we got it and now has around 175,000 miles on it. We recently drove it across the country from California (where we bought it) to Washington state (where we are moving) and then to Chicago to visit family. Stick with me as this is all relevant. The winter temps here in Chicago are currently between -8F and 3F, so I feel this may be a contributing factor to our current issue, as the car has never experienced these types of conditions before to our knowledge.

A few weeks ago as we were driving, the heat never came on and the engine appeared to be overheating (according to the gauge inside the car). We pulled over and smelled hot coolant (sweet syrup smell) then continued on our way once the car cooled down. Over the past few weeks we have done EVERYTHING we can possibly think of after much research and communication with the previous owner. Things we've done this far:

1. Installed new water pump
2. New timing belt
3. New pulleys
4. New thermostat
5. Tensioner

Car seemed to be working fine again after that, then a day later it was leaking coolant so we:

1. Flushed the system.
2. Added coolant
3. Burped the system

Again, car seemed fine for a day, then back to no heat and overheating. So we bought a new radiator as it appeared to have coolant leaking from it and that was yesterday. We drove the car around and it was working perfect again. This morning we ran it for about 20 mins in the driveway before leaving to get new tires, and being that it is a whopping 2 degrees outside, we figured the heat would take a while to warm up. Well we started driving it and it was overheating and had no heat again. Tire appointment cancelled and us beyond pissed, turned back and are now waiting for the car to cool down again so we can take on this beast of a problem once more.

After searching this forum and others high and low, we are going to drain the system and check to see of the thermostat is working properly. Read somewhere that new thermostats sometimes don't work as they should so boil a pot of water and stick it in there to test it. That is our next step but if it isn't that, we are lost. Read several posts about head gasket issues and none of the symptoms mentioned thus far have me convinced. No oil in the coolant, no milkiness in the oil, no more leaking, no bubbles when the engine is running..

Today when we pulled over after the engine overheated we heard an unusual sloshing sound coming from the top hose, which was hot. The one underneath the car was cold.

Any ideas?? Could seriously use some at this point. We'd like to get home to WA but this car issue is very much preventing that from happening.

Thanks
 

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2003 Forester Manual
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The sloshing and temperature difference between the two hoses make us feel as though there is a clog somewhere and that the coolant is not reaching certain parts of the engine as a result.
 

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2010 Forester 2.5X
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Did you put in the coolant conditioner when you did routine maintenance?
 

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2003 Forester Manual
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
We did not put coolant conditioner in primarily because we have heard that its pretty much equivalent to a temporary bandaid that will only cover up issues that should just be addressed immediately, and aside from that, we aren't having any leaking anymore. I've had people tell me that you HAVE to put it in, and others saying that you absolutely SHOULD NOT put it in, and that coolant conditioner can and will eventually lead to clogging in the system.

No leaks, no anitifreeze underneath the heads. We're going to test the thermostat now, and then if it works, we're thinking it may be just not getting all of the air pockets out of the system. Was just told that that process could take up to a day and that it could be the reason we were hearing the slushing sound. I'll keep you posted on what we find out soon.

I wish some of the other threads I read would post what they found their problem to be instead of leave people like us with a similar problem hanging, so I will get back on here regardless of what we find the issue to be and what our resolution is.
 

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2007 Forester Sports XT 4EAT
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The coolant conditioner is recommended by Subaru & is put into the coolant by the dealership shop.

From what I've read, the coolant conditioner is a preventative measure & can prevent or slow down some head gasket leaks. We have it in both our Foresters. :wink:

Did you install a factory/OEM water pump & thermostat? :confused:

Bobby...

['07 FSXT MODding Journal] ['03 X MODding Journal]
 

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2003 Forester Manual
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I have read that too, however I've also read that you should avoid it if you can because although it is a preventative measure, it has been known to cause problems such as clogging your heater core by using it, amongst other things.

The thermostat is working by the way. Time to refill the coolant and burp the baby again..
 

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2019 Crosstrek 2018 Forester XT
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I would have lelft the T-Stat out. Allthe symptons say you are not getting flow.

Run it a few miles. Let it cool. Refill the radiator. Run it and repeat the process. There are 3 basic possibilities...Bad T-Stat(are you sure you didn't put it in backwards? ), Water Pump and either a plugged radiator or engine is somehow plugged.

The 2003 and earlier mlodel eats head gaskets. Are you getting white smoke out the tail pipe?

Note..I have never had to "Burp" any cooling system on any vehicle I have had. I just the run..cool...fill radiator. Might have to do it 3 times or so.
 

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Ya, terrible coolant band aid, came in my car. Owners manual says good for about 115K miles.

I had a 4.6 SOHC Ford V8 and it blew out the heater core (Like all Ford's do)at about 75k miles, also steam coming out of the exhaust when fully warmed up. I bypassed the heater core and put BarsLeak in the radiator. Fixed it, drove another 60K miles, and then somebody told me it's not good to put that in there, so I flushed radiator and did a "proper" fill. Head gasket leak came back. I put the BarsLeak back in. I drove it another 100K miles until the rest of the car fell apart. Always passed Smog Inspection.
 

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2003 Forester Manual
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I've searched this forum as well as many others that are specifically for Subaru owners and am still left uncertain as to which is better, putting it in or leaving it out. We literally just replaced the water pump and timing belt a couple weeks ago thinking that that was the issue, which is wasn't. It needed to be done anyway though so no big deal.

Tested the new thermostat and it does work, and no I did not put it in backwards.

No white smoke out the tail pipe.

I will try the run, cool, fill method instead this time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Our owners manual also says absolutely nothing about using the conditioner. Not saying one way or the other because I am not a mechanic, but I have read and have been told countless opposing views about the conditioner and have no idea if its good or not.

Just filled it up, ran it for a while, and let it cool down again. The heat is back on and the temperature gauge is reading that its no longer overheating. Going to fill, run, and let it cool down again shortly. Will keep posting as this progresses..
 

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2012 Forester 4 speed auto
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Blown head gasket

A blown head gasket can be a very difficult thing to diagnose. The reason your engine is overheating is because the coolant isn't circulation through the system. Hot gases from the cylinders are displacing the coolant. Since hot air does a lousy job at cooling your car overheats.

If your engine has been badly overheated I wouldn't fix the head gaskets. Good chance the heads are warped. An engine rebuilt is a safe bet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Bobby - The new t-stat/water pump is aftermarket, not OEM. Can't really afford anything else at the present moment.

The engine hasn't drastically overheated noticeably and the heads aren't leaking. When the temp gauge first said that it was overheating, we pulled over immediately and were within a few miles of home so we just kept letting it cool completely until getting there. It never overheated to the point of smoking terribly or destroying anything under the hood. As I mentioned before, it has been severely cold here, under 30 degrees since this first happened so any time it was overheating, there had been freezing cold air blowing in through the intake.

Just added more coolant to the radiator for the second time, and going to run it again shortly.
 

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water freezes.

There is a good possibility that before this all started the coolant in the engine had never been changed. Coolant, if too old, actually separates from the water. The water then freeze. Since water expands when frozen it cracks engine blocks and cylinder heads. This problem did start after the temperature dropped to below freezing? You seem to have eliminated all other causes.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thank you everyone for all of your input. There seems to have been an air pocket blocking the flow in the system.

Easy Fixer - The issue you mentioned about the coolant never being changed before may very well have been true, given we only got the car in June and when we initially dumped the coolant out, it was dirty and had a lot of particles in it. However, I don't believe that the block is cracked/warped or the head gasket is blown because there is no leaking or significant exhaust.

adc - What we ended up doing was elevating the front of the car so it was on an incline, refilled the radiator very slowly with coolant, then let it run for a while as suggested. We did this a few times, filling with more coolant as needed. (It needed about a pint or two each time).

Took it for a test drive into town and back (about 15 minute drive) and everything seems to be working fine again. There is a small amount of white exhaust, but its come to be expected for almost everyone's cars around here given the current temperature. (borderline 0 degrees F with negative 10-15 windchill)

There appears to be a very minute oil leak perhaps coming from the back portion of one of the head gaskets and dripping onto the top of the exhaust. It is very small and we have not had to add any oil yet since our last oil change which was less than 500 miles ago. It's not something we haven't dealt with to some degree in the past with other vehicles so its not a concern at this point.

Again, thanks for all the advice. If anything else happens I will be sure to post on here.
 

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A temporary cure...

Take the thermostat out. Fill the radiator(but not the overflow). Drive it that way for two days.

If the coolant drops...bad head gasket.

It also won't overheat cause without the thermostat, coolant bubbles will just go straight to the radiator and exit the overflow.

Be prepared for "crappy heat"...but at least you'll have some heat along the way...

If it does end up having a bad head gasket, it can continue to be driven this way...although expect lower than normal fuel mileage and possible CEL from running rich(cause it won't reach running temperature and the "on board diagnostic" will get confused).
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
So all was going well for a few days. Drove it around and it was working perfectly. Then the weather turned and we had 3-4 days straight or -40 to -50 degree (F) windchill and we decided better not even try to go anywhere let alone make the car work in those temps.

So it sat through the chill, then today (its around 10 to 15 degrees outside) put some 100% coolant in the system, started the car, ran it for about 20 mins, NO HEAT. Drove it around the block, still no heat and its overheating again.. So I drive back home, turn it off, let it cool down, add a little more coolant (not losing any - just using the last method I tried that worked).

Went to start it again after everything was cooled off, and now it won't even start??

It's trying to, but it won't start. The battery isn't dead, its charged. Not sure what to make of this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
 
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