Piston Slap: Patience, Head Gaskets, Subaru Labor Rates
Please be patient. I know nothing about the internal workings of cars. Is there a difference between a head gasket and valve cover gasket or valve gasket cover? My mechanic tells me my head gasket is leaking slightly and needs to be watched: I was down 1/2 gallon of coolant since August. Back in 2008 a different mechanic replaced the valve cover gasket (or valve gasket cover?) because the car was hesitating and running rough: I had tried Dry Gas thinking it was a bad tank of gas but that did not alleviate the problem.
Are we talking about 2 different parts? Would you please explain the function(s)? Is it/are they visible when I open the hood of my car? Thank you.
Yes, they are two different gaskets: the head gasket is between the engine block and the cylinder head. That is a VERY important gasket because oil, coolant and engine compression (one of the cycles in a four stroke motor) are dependent on this gasket making a perfect seal.
The Valve cover gasket is just a gasket for the valve cover, which “covers” the top of the cylinder head. This rarely (never?) fixes problems pertaining to hesitations or rough running, it only keeps oil in the motor. So the mechanic is probably right, sounds like you have a bad head gasket. Now please tell me the make/model of the car, that determines it’s long-term value. If this is a Ford Taurus with the head gasket munching 3.8L V6, kiss it goodbye. A similar vintage Toyota Camry? Fix and love for years to come. Odds are you either need a new motor, new head gasket (a lot of labor, depending on vehicle) or its time to sell and buy something else.
Thank you so much for responding to me personally. I never expected such service. My car is a 2000 Subaru Outback Wagon with about 150,000 miles on it. I just put $1200 into it replacing power steering rack, tie rods, CV boot. What will happen if the car develops a blown head gasket? I drive 2 hours to Pennsylvania once a month. Am I in danger? It doesn’t sound like the car is safe.
When it comes to good service, remember you get what you pay for: I cannot fix a toasted head gasket from my laptop! Now that Piston Slap is occupying more of my spare time, I’ve seen a disturbing (non-scientific) number of engine failures in Subarus. Some are because of owner stupidity, others are a bad design.
Who knows (or cares) how your problem came to fruition. Because the fix is labor intensive, painful on your wallet considering a mechanic’s hourly shop rate. My advice is to dump it soon; most Subarus from the past 10 years are challenging, complicated money pits relative to a Honda/Toyota counterpart. Fine if you know how to fix it, rather expensive if you do not. Though this Subaru already blew the gasket (because it burns coolant) it isn’t bad enough to leave you stranded…yet. Read this older Piston Slap because the question posed is relevant to your situation.
I appreciate your honest, albeit painfully, blunt opinion. My car must be the exception. It hasn’t caused me problems over these past 10 years – except for routine maintenance. I will go talk to the mechanic about the car’s future. Buying another car right now doesn’t fit too well financially. Thank you for your help.
Head gasket repairs on boxer motors are tough on your wallet. And while I expect you’ll be happy with a fresh set of gaskets, a 10-year-old car is a money pit, no matter who makes it. I am more than okay with this, but only for mainstream cars, or for people who don’t shy away from turning a wrench. I am not sure this is a wise choice for you, Janet.
But I get it: you are vested in this machine. Plus, Subarus are fun and quirky. If the finances aren’t there right now, I’d fix it, enjoy, and sell when things look better. And maybe buy a car that’s more cost effective to service next time, even if it is a boring Camry.
Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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I've owned three Subarus and had extremely good luck with them, especially as compared to my prior two decades with Audis. The only relevant technical information in either the article or the comments is by "horseflesh" citing: http://allwheeldriveauto.com/subaru-head-gasket-problems-explained/ That's the real scoop. My Subie mechanic for ten years, before he ran off to tend to a herd of Panthers for the local city police force at a damn good salary, was also my Audi mechanic. Same store. He pointed out time and again how much better Subies were designed compared to VW/Audi in myriads of little ways. He also won the Canadian Subaru mechanic of the year competition three separate times and was sent to Japan for the finals where he came third or fourth. The head gasket problem is just as detailed in the link above. Since most people wander about lost and in a reverie, even original owners contacted by Subaru about the head gasket problems, particularly of the Phase 2 SOHC engine (the subject here) forgot about it and went on as if nothing had happened. Then got all excited when their engines failed. I was shown literally piles of engines where people overheated them, took no notice and hoped it would all go away. Stuck rings in pistons where not even a chisel would free them up. Scuffed cylinder walls from said pistons, etc. Now, obviously Subaru designed a bad head gasket, twice (DOHC first, then SOHC). 1999 to 2003 were the real problem. For some reason the 2.2 Phase 2 engine didn't ever seem to exhibit the problem, but it is identical in layout to the 2.5. Had one of those, only thing that went wrong with the car was a knock sensor and the fuel filler pipe in ten years. The exhaust recirc comes in on the driver's side bank where the leak usually starts, probably because it made the area hotter. Getting the head gaskets fixed, if the engine hasn't been overtaxed, is a good repair to do, if you trust the mechanic. If, like me, you no longer see any half decent mechanics at your Subaru store, prayer for a long and trouble-free life is all you have. The current mechanics cannot even adjust the parking brake properly, and lubing the door hinges must be an arcane art, as mine haven't been lubed in three years despite me mentioning it to the sevice writer, whereupon he pointed out the door stay as the hinge. He refused to lubricate the actual hinges, because "we don't have any problems with them." Where do they find these people? (Steele Subaru Halifax NS) So, my recommendation for such an old vehicle is to repair or sell strictly on whether you have a decent mechanic locally, and I would say the same for any make.