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Old 03-27-2006, 12:36 AM   #1
Scooby Newbie
Member#: 110962
Join Date: Mar 2006
Default '97 2.5 GT with overheating issues

I really need some ideas of what to do next. I want to include as much detail as possible because this is bizarre, sorry for the length.

About a month ago I purchased a '97 Legacy GT because I needed a reliable car to get me through grad school. The test drive went fine, as did driving it home 150 miles. Then I was out messing around a few nights later and the car overheated. We pulled over and let it cool down and gimped it back home, pulling over whenever the temperature would start to rise. Changed the thermostat and everything was fine for the first 30-40 miles of the drive.

Unlike the first thermostat, where you would look up at the road, back down, and the temp gauge would be spiked instantly, with the new thermostat, the temperature would raise slowly, giving you enough warning to find a good place to pull over.

I took it to the local Subaru dealership. They did the antifreeze / bubble check and told me I had a cracked block (#4 cylinder). I've heard that a lot of dealerships will say it's a cracked block when it is something much less, and I would not put it past these guys. I called another Subaru dealership to get a parts / price quote on an engine, and they told me that there was absolutely no way the 1st dealership could know it was a cracked block without tearing the engine down--which they didn't.

A few days ago I took my car to an engine shop in town for their diagnosis, they said all signs pointed to the thermostat and replaced it, again. I didn't have much faith that this would solve my problem, until I drove it 60 miles to see some friends. No overheating, the needle didn't move from the normal operating temperature. Several hours later I drove the car another 50 miles with no incident, no climbing.

Today while I was in town #2, my WRX driving SO wanted to drive my car. We took it around town, and he horsed on it harder than I had previously (for fear of overheating it). There weren't any signs of trouble and I felt my problem was solved. Before I left he checked to make sure there wasn't air in the radiator and topped it off with coolant.

From his place to mine is roughly 100 miles. The car was driving great and I was on top of the world until 5-10 miles from home. I started to get cold and when I reached over to turn the heat on, I noticed the temp gauge was at its peak. I pulled into a parking lot and popped the hood to let the car cool. The radiator reservoir was completely full. A guy stopped by to see if I needed help, we filled the radiator back up (he started to remove the cap and coolant sprayed out) and he claimed my problem was the thermostat. The hose was hot, the cap was cold.

I hit the road again when the car was cooled, and it made it about 2 miles down the road before it quickly climbed again. I pulled over as soon as I could and let it cool down. Once I got back on the road, the car was hot in the time it took the gauge to rise. I turned on the heater, it was hot. I couldn't pull over because I was driving by the college campus. Anywhere to pull off would have been more in the way, so I drove about 3 blocks, and when I came to the first available side street, the gauge was dropping to normal temps on its own, and remained there until it made it home.

I have no idea what to think. Everything that could have pointed to something seems to be contradicted by something else. I thought I got cold because the car overheated but the heat was hot the next time it peaked. I have NO idea why the car would overheat and cool down on its own. I don't understand why my car would drive 100 miles well with no issues but finally give me trouble on my next 100 mile run. Both shops did a compression test and did not believe it was head gaskets. The radiator cap is always cold, could it be something as easy as replacing that?

Any ideas or previous similar experiences / outcomes would really help me. Thank you.
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Old 03-27-2006, 12:44 AM   #2
Scooby Specialist
Member#: 38629
Join Date: Jun 2003
Chapter/Region: NWIC
Location: Northwest
1999 Legacy GT (STI)


I missed the compression tests. It sure sounds like a head gasket failure.

I would maybe take it to another subie dealership for a third opinion. Maybe look into one of the local Nasioc chapters and ask some members for recommended shops to take your ride.
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:28 AM   #3
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Chapter/Region: SWIC
Location: Tucson, AZ / Port Angeles, WA


Sounds like headgaskets to me too...

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Old 03-27-2006, 02:08 AM   #4
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Chapter/Region: NESIC

sounds exactly like what happened to me when my headgaskets failed. fix it (have them tear apart the block) before your engine decides to take that task on itself AND destroy the valvetrain or pistons. It will be much cheaper before you crack your block or damage it. But because the temp has already peaked and chilled and peaked and chilled there is no gaurentee that you havenent already done permenent damage. This is a common problem with that particular engine unfortunatly........
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Old 03-27-2006, 09:12 AM   #5
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I'm a former Subaru master technician in Canada and the only thing that causes that problem is faulty head gaskets.... BUT if any coolant mixed with the oil they have a tendancy to toss #1 rod through the top of the block about 2 weeks after the repair.
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Old 03-27-2006, 09:58 AM   #6
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Chapter/Region: South East
Location: Raleigh, NC
95 YJ Flat black


are there bubbles in the reserve tank?
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:15 PM   #7
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Member#: 110962
Join Date: Mar 2006

I called the engine shop today. They believe it is a pinhole in the head gasket and said they would try Bars Leak if it were their vehicle first. According to them, that should solve the problem because it must be incredibly minor to take that long to show up and would most likely seal.

They believe that it heated and cooled down last night because when the parking lot guy opened my radiator and put water in, it created an air bubble, which caused the car to overheat again when it made it to the engine. Once it cycled to the radiator and made it to the top, the temperature cooled back down again.

Any validity or motions seconded?
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:24 PM   #8
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Also, I would love to take it to the other Subaru dealership, but it is too far to drive the car under questionable conditions. Unfortunately, I am taking a big risk no matter which path I follow.

And compression was reported as 220 on all 4 pistons.
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Old 03-27-2006, 01:38 PM   #9
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Member#: 95645
Join Date: Sep 2005
Chapter/Region: South East
Location: South FL
2006 LGT Stg2 5MT
97 LegacyGT Wagon 4EAT


Yeah get that HG fixed and she should be golden. At the same time it might be wise to have them machine the block/heads, replace all the gaskets of course, timing belt, and maybe even the water pump. All relatively cheap add-ons since they're already doing the hard stuff!

The previous owner of my Subbie's headgaskets went at like 173K, she had them do all listed above at the dealership and she's running strong at 206K miles!
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Old 04-01-2006, 01:53 PM   #10
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Member#: 110962
Join Date: Mar 2006

Last night was an attempt to temporarily seal the potential head gasket leak with the Bar's Leak head gasket repair. Flushed the coolant. Put in the HG formula. Ran the engine for a few minutes like we were supposed to. Let it cool, ran it for another 15 minutes. Then ran errands and let it cool again. Came back, ran it about 10 minutes at idle, the recommended 20 minutes at a high idle, and then another 30 minutes on idle. I was in the car reading a book, everything was running fine, heater worked, etc.

Then last night we opened and drained the system as you are supposed to leave it open for 12-24 hours. Today during the attempt to flush and refill the system with coolant I ran into new problems. The thermostat wouldn't open. The car was running for at least 45 minutes and never moved off the bottom resting peg. Heater on, heater off, 800rpm, 2200 rpm. Nothing seemed to matter. Could it just be a clogged thermostat?

The game plan is to pull the thermostat, boil it to see if it is still functioning properly and reinstall. The car has only traveled 250 miles or so with this thermostat, and everything was operating perfectly last night. I don't understand what may have happened beyond a blockage on one side of the thermo that prevented it openning, thus preventing flow.

Please offer any additional guidance or insight if available. Thanks.
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Old 04-01-2006, 09:07 PM   #11
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Member#: 5039
Join Date: Mar 2001
Chapter/Region: South East
Location: Ocean Springs, MS
2007 Outback XT
Grey 5-speed


Everything you have said coincides with a HG problem which sucks because wherever you bought it, they were probably aware of the problem(because it will run normally until the pressure in the system drives the fluid out of the cooling system enough for it to overheat, so they can refill the radiator and it will function fine for a short period of time.) I went the route of replacing them and you can find that info in my thread in this forum on the issue.

If your car is not showing any signs of heating up at all even running at 2200 rpms that sounds like a gauge problem(maybe the stop leak affected the gauge function in some way.) The engine will heat up even with no thermostat present, so it sticking open shouldnt prevent it from heating up. Was the engine hot to the touch?


Here's my thread on the HG problem: http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=965579
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