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2004 Forester X
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Discussion Starter #1
Hello, I've got a 2004 Forester X, bought new. It's been an amazing vehicle, virtually trouble free and very reliable. The only work I've had to do to it in 200k miles is just routine maintenance, timing belt, and brakes. Now however I am facing significant repairs, more than the blue book value of the car and wondering what to do. I'm at 206k miles and looking at the following:

1) second timing belt change
2) new starter
3) broken transmission mount
4) the big one, a leaky head gasket that is leaking increasing amounts of oil. This is a manufacturing defect, I've never come close to overheating but the gasket material did not hold up, at least that's what I've been told. Apparently it's a common issue in Subarus of that era and has since been fixed. Should have been a recall or warranty fix in my opinion but if it was I missed it.

So my local shop, who has been very honest over many years, says I'm looking at close to $3k for all this, and that if I'm going to go that far I may consider rebuilding the entire engine in order to get maximum life out of the vehicle, putting it up around $5k (they also said they personally would not recommend that, so it's not like they're trying to rip me off). I'm not inclined to do that, but I'm wondering if I should even invest $3k into a car that's in fair+ condition and according to Kelley Blue Book only worth about $2500 even with all that fixed. The obvious answer would be no, but I hate the thought of ditching such a great car, especially since I've put so little into it up to this point. I could trade it in, but I'd get less than a grand for it, if that.

Any advice? I thought about just doing the timing belt and starter for around $1000 and selling it with full disclosure about the head gasket, maybe clearing $1000. It leaks a bit and smokes sometimes but I've seen much worse. Apparently the transmission mount is not that big of a deal. On the other hand, I know that once they're in there for the timing belt would be the best time to do the head gasket if I'm going to do it. I feel like I could get a few more years out of it if I fixed everything, but then who knows what's around the corner. Just trying to make the best decision...

Thanks in advance!
 

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2012 Forester X Auto
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1,244 Posts
@Paul D -
Another option to consider is replacing your engine with a used one as most of the issues are your motor, if the mount isn't a structural issue.
The shop guys made a good point - I wouldn't put a couple of grand into a motor with 200K on the clock. It's just not worth it.
You can get warranties at some places on used engines.
A buddy of mine had his 2004 engine replaced with a low mileage used engine just north of 2 grand.
A lot depends on the overall condition of the car (interior / body rust, dents etc).
At the right time of year you can get pretty good money for a Subaru in snow country, and with a fresh motor, it wouldn't be hard to sell for a lot more than you'd get on a trade.
 

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2009 Legacy
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669 Posts
I'd imagine that, should you buy a new car, you'd be paying 3K in payments over 6-8 months. So if this car, after the repairs, last at least that long, you've broken even. If it lasts longer (which is likely), you're ahead of the game.

Edit:
Actually, I like @DragonSubie7 's suggestion even better. That sounds very practical.
 

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2004 Forester X
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11 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Thanks guys, that's great feedback. I hadn't actually considered replacing the entire engine. The rest of the car is in decent shape, one dent on the rear quarter panel and a rip in the driver's seat but I've taken good care of it and no rust (live in GA). Where would I look for something like that, would it be coming out of a wrecked car most likely? Would it need to be a 2004 engine or is there some flexibility there? Thanks...
 

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2004 FXT 4EAT
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462 Posts
Do you happen to know someone in your area that is capable enough to take the job on in their garage?

I've done the headgaskets and timing belt in our 2009 X. Took me less than 8 hours. Total cost was < $300

I'm too faraway from you to consider helping you with it...
 

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2004 Forester X
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11 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
I don't but I definitely need to get some other quotes and look around. I was hoping that since it's just the gasket failing and no overheating/warping that the head wouldn't have to be machined but I don't know if that's realistic. Thanks...
 

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1999 "L" - 231,000 mi. AT
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577 Posts
Different perspective. I've been guilty of being too attached to things and keepthem well after I should have moved on. Suggestion: just put in a new starter, if that's what prompting your post today, and sell it. Get a newer something 2014 or so - that's a single owner vehicle. You'll like the upgraded features.
 

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2004 Forester X
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Discussion Starter #8
That's probably the smart thing to do lol. But I don't want to put somebody else in this position either. I suppose I could find a buyer who could fix it themselves....Actually the starter just started going out, it's the creeping up on the second timing belt change at 210k that's forcing my decision. The oil leakage/burning is minimal but slowly getting worse. I may just do the timing belt and starter for $1000. If it was just the starter I'd do it tomorrow and keep on truckin'! Thanks...
 

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2006 Forester XTE 5 speed manual
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284 Posts
I would spend the minimum, just replace the starter and keep on motoring. I have a 20 year old Toyota Rav4 that I kept as a “dog car” when I bought my Forester and the Rav is still on its original cam belt 😋

That way, you get to keep a nice old car for a while and when if the belt goes, your decision is made for you. Also saves passing the head gasket problem on to someone else.
 

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99 Forester 4eat
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32 Posts
Since when do head gaskets leak oil ?

I'm sure your seals all need changing and the valve cover gaskets.

At any rate, you have a great generation Suby. Yes it's worth doing the motor.
 

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2004 Forester X
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Discussion Starter #11
I would spend the minimum, just replace the starter and keep on motoring. I have a 20 year old Toyota Rav4 that I kept as a “dog car” when I bought my Forester and the Rav is still on its original cam belt 😋

That way, you get to keep a nice old car for a while and when if the belt goes, your decision is made for you. Also saves passing the head gasket problem on to someone else.

That's another option I hadn't thought of, but I need a reliable vehicle so I would have to keep it as a secondary vehicle, which is not a bad idea!
 

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2004 Forester X
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Discussion Starter #12
Since when do head gaskets leak oil ?

I'm sure your seals all need changing and the valve cover gaskets.

At any rate, you have a great generation Suby. Yes it's worth doing the motor.

Well to be honest I don't really know, but that's what they've been telling me for several years. I did find these links on the issue


 

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99 Forester 4eat
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32 Posts
Head gaskets leaking at 200k is a motor rebuild, it isn't worth doing anything short of that. Mostly because you will encounter all the other problems that need fixing along the way ie; injectors, TGVs, sensors, oil pump etc.

The best direction I saw posted was, get a used Japanese motor. They all have 40K, just have it tested & installed.
 

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2006 Forester 5-speed manual
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137 Posts
If you have Japanese import motors there, I'd agree wholeheartedly...

I was also thinking along the lines of buying a wreck to get all you need, a good low-mileage engine, change the belt before installing it (are they $150 or so?) then you get the new starter with it and likely as not the rear gearbox mount.

Sell other parts to recoup or strip it out and keep struts, brake discs etc as spares for when you need them.
 

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2005 Forester EJ251
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78 Posts
Head gaskets can leak both oil & coolant. It just depends on your luck. If you google HG oil leak you will find plenty of oil leakers. Stand in front of the engine and put your hand down the right side below the starter and you might find oil along the join between head & block. This where mine leaked.

I wrote elsewhere about the starter. There is not much that can go wrong with a starter. The brushes wear. You can buy an aftermarket brush set cassette assembly that fits in with two screws for $20Aus about $15US. It takes longer to clean the starter than replace the brushes.
 

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I'm in a similar boat. A couple years back, invested in doing head gaskets and some valve work on motor at 150k miles. Total cost was about 1500ish but I did it myself except for valves.

We got our money out of that investment. Now, the tranny is acting up, it needs new LCA bushings, steering rack boots (or new rack) and an alignment. Could use struts too. If I was going to pay someone no way. But doing it myself I can do all that for less than 1k in parts. If the transmission lasts a year, we've recouped the cost plus some.


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1998 Forester S Stock automatic
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9 Posts
Hello, I've got a 2004 Forester X, bought new. It's been an amazing vehicle, virtually trouble free and very reliable. The only work I've had to do to it in 200k miles is just routine maintenance, timing belt, and brakes. Now however I am facing significant repairs, more than the blue book value of the car and wondering what to do. I'm at 206k miles and looking at the following:

1) second timing belt change
2) new starter
3) broken transmission mount
4) the big one, a leaky head gasket that is leaking increasing amounts of oil. This is a manufacturing defect, I've never come close to overheating but the gasket material did not hold up, at least that's what I've been told. Apparently it's a common issue in Subarus of that era and has since been fixed. Should have been a recall or warranty fix in my opinion but if it was I missed it.

So my local shop, who has been very honest over many years, says I'm looking at close to $3k for all this, and that if I'm going to go that far I may consider rebuilding the entire engine in order to get maximum life out of the vehicle, putting it up around $5k (they also said they personally would not recommend that, so it's not like they're trying to rip me off). I'm not inclined to do that, but I'm wondering if I should even invest $3k into a car that's in fair+ condition and according to Kelley Blue Book only worth about $2500 even with all that fixed. The obvious answer would be no, but I hate the thought of ditching such a great car, especially since I've put so little into it up to this point. I could trade it in, but I'd get less than a grand for it, if that.

Any advice? I thought about just doing the timing belt and starter for around $1000 and selling it with full disclosure about the head gasket, maybe clearing $1000. It leaks a bit and smokes sometimes but I've seen much worse. Apparently the transmission mount is not that big of a deal. On the other hand, I know that once they're in there for the timing belt would be the best time to do the head gasket if I'm going to do it. I feel like I could get a few more years out of it if I fixed everything, but then who knows what's around the corner. Just trying to make the best decision...

Thanks in advance!
You can get a quality timing belt and water pump kit from Rockauto for $175.00 plus shipping. The labor to do it could easily be done in 3 hours. You can also buy an engine rebuild kit( complete with pistons rings and bearings and all engine gaskets for $400). Boring and surfacing the block is $500. Surfacing the mating surface of the heads $80. So for $1500 you could have a newly rebuilt engine. That is, if you do it yourself. If Subaru does it, then yes, $3000. But if you are not good with tools, then having a shop do it would be cheaper in the long run. I bought a 98 forester and rebuilt the engine, exhaust, and suspension using nothing but Youtube and a PDF. Even added a cheap camo paint job. Spent a little money on tools, but the specialty tools I made. Prices are crazy for a shaped chunk of metal to do one certain job. Especially if you are only going to use it once. Even made the engine hoist to pull the motor out and drop back in using 2x4's one 4x4, 4 wheels, and manual trailer wench. Hardest part, was doing EVERYTHING by myself. An extra set of hands would have made pulling and reinstalling motor 100 times easier. Sorry for ramble.
 

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2005 2.5XT 4EAT
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251 Posts
If you have the ability (financial means and time to be without a car) repairing the forester is my choice. I really like the idea of repairing a vehicle to keep it running. As long as it’s totally not financially stupid. I like the argument that a few months of car payments can pay for a repair. That’s good logic if you have the cash on hand and know the rest of the car is in good working order.

Also you seem to know a lot of the details already. Are you mechanically inclined to tackle this on your own? Here’s a thread of someone that may be similar to you? https://www.subaruforester.org/threads/overhauling-my-very-first-subarus-engine.793037/

Right now my wife and I have two cars and we use both full time. I would love to buy a third to have in situations like this. Where I can take my time on a repair over the course of a week or longer on larger projects. But that’s a luxury for me. One day it may be possible and then I can 6 speed swap my XT 😬
 

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2010 Forester Premium X AT
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992 Posts
OP, every vehicle gets to the point that it should only belong to someone who can do major repairs themselves. Your forester is at that point and unless you're only putting like 3000mi per year on the car, I would probably call it quits and trade it in. I would not do a HG job at 200k without a rebuild. You're dropping $4,000 now, but if you havent done suspension work, you probably will need that overhaul soon which can easily run another $3000. And dont necessarily think that your transmission will be good for much longer either.
 

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2015 Forester 2.5i Limited CVT
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511 Posts
If other major problems crop up after spending 5k on a rebuild, it will drive up the repair bill to new car cost territory. I would put the money towards a new car or a good CPO. If you go the used route, have the car checked out from top to bottom. 100%
There’s a good YT video on buying a used Subaru from Mr. Subaru.
Good luck.
 
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