Subaru motor of death?
June 22, 2008 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Girlfriend fell in love with a 1996 Legacy Outback. It has the 2.5 liter motor that everyone and their mother says died a horrible headgasket death..

The interwebs would have me believe that the 2.5 liter Subaru motor (generation 1, specifically) is prone to blowing headgaskets. My girlfriend needs an economic car (ie, <$3k.. more like $2500) and we found a really nice, well taken care of, private sale of a 1996 Outback, 145k for $2500. The stickler is it has never had headgasket work - but it has receipts for major service.

So hivemind -- is the 2.5 as bad as the reputation that precedes it?
posted by SirStan to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure the issue is just limited to the 2.5? My 2.0 blew a head gasket, and I know of two other people with blown head gaskets, one with a 2.0 and one with a 2.5. However, I don't know how important these statistics are compared to Subaru owners who haven't blown a head gasket.
posted by Jimbob at 4:10 PM on June 22, 2008

Can't give you firsthand info, but here are more interwebs:

NASIOC, despite its focus on Imprezas, is good for most things Subie. Here's a NASIOC thread about where to find Outback related forums.
posted by notyou at 4:12 PM on June 22, 2008

Response by poster: Jimbob: It seems like everyone I know with a WRX has done their headgasket -- are you refering to the turbo 2 liter? (I am not up on my Subaru's!). Basically it has been said that the 2.2 is rather bulletproof... and the 2.5 has issues.
posted by SirStan at 4:12 PM on June 22, 2008

Well, mine was a non-turbo 2 liter in a Legacy, I think the car was circa 1992. It died a horrible, painful death.
posted by Jimbob at 4:15 PM on June 22, 2008

Hang on, I lie, it was a 2.2 liter. Maybe I just got unlucky.
posted by Jimbob at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2008

It seems like everyone I know with a WRX has done their headgasket

The WRX 2.0 turbo (and 2.5 turbo in the newer ones and STIs) is a completely different animal than the 2.5 used on the 2nd generation Legacy and some Foresters. Turbocharged engines have much higher compression ratios, and are quite a bit harder on every aspect of the head assemblies, including gaskets. Drivers of WRXes tend to drive a little, uh, differently than Legacy owners, too :)

Subarus, because of the horizontally opposed engines... have two heads and two head gaskets. The 2.5 EJ25 engine used from '93-99 is the especially bad one. If yours is one of the 20-30% of these cars that have the gaskets fail at or around 130,000 miles, it's a $1000-$1500 repair (or $250 in parts and a lot of labor) -- assuming you don't let it overheat to the point where the head cracks . On a $2500 car, even a $1000 repair can be a killer, and a cracked head definitely would be.

If the one that you're looking at has 145k miles, seems like it was taken care of, does not threaten to overheat when run for a while in the summertime, and doesn't have any unusual smells or cloudiness in the oil or the coolant, then you're probably looking at a decent one. While this engine does have an abnormally high failure rate, specific to the head gaskets, it does not mean that all of these engines are bad (or that good maintenance might mitigate or delay the failure).

The 2.2 liter engines from the same timeframe (and in the first generation legacies) is bulletproof. Over the last 15 or 20 years, I've had two of them, both with well over 150k miles (one of which my parents purchased new in 1990), and both were running just fine when I sold them. I currently have a 2.0L turbo WRX, that's starting to show its age at a mere 65,000 miles.
posted by toxic at 4:47 PM on June 22, 2008

Here's the skinny from the Ultimate Subaru board. The years most afflicted are 1996-2000.

Caveat: the "Brighton" Legacy models in the USA all had 2.2 liter engines. Their acceleration is a little melancholy because they are heavier than the first generation models, which hardly deliver neck-snapping acceleration anyway. My 1993 2.2L Legacy has gone 250k miles without any engine work (and it still has its original clutch).

In contrast to toxic's situation my 2005 Legacy GT has a 2.5L turbo engine, 50k miles, and if anything it is still breaking in. When the coolant is changed there is some special sauce you put in. It is a weird way to tame the problem but the 2.5L Legacy/Outbacks from 2005 on, even the turbos, don't seem to be having many HG issues.
posted by jet_silver at 5:30 PM on June 22, 2008

I do believe there is a way to check if the special coolant has been used. I think they have a sticker somewhere on the engine wall that certifies the car has had it put in by a Subaru authorized place.
posted by fshgrl at 9:39 PM on June 22, 2008

I've got a 98 outback with that engine. It blows. We did the headgaskets and replaced many many seals to keep it from oozing oil. We've also been through multiple clutches. I've also replaced other stuff that you shouldn't have to do on a car with less than 100k on it. The only upside is that I think weve replaced most of the dicey stuff. I'm never buying another Subaru.
posted by Good Brain at 10:31 PM on June 22, 2008

I have a 99 Impreza with the 2.5 engine. I replaced the HGs in October (about 118k) and it cost roughly $1200. To be completely honest, if you can't afford the repair I'd stay away from that car unless you know it's had them done. I love my Subaru but that's probably not a risk I'd take if I were in your shoes.
posted by PFL at 7:22 AM on June 23, 2008

99 Subaru outback legacy, I've had the headgaskets replaced once (about $1200). I'm also going to need to have the engine resealed since it leaks oil. I've also completely replaced the transmission ($1800) as well.

It runs well though :)
posted by patrickje at 8:45 AM on June 24, 2008

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