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Q: Coolant escaping and overheating issues!!! on 1998 Subaru Forester

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Hi! My parents have a 1998 Subaru Forester that they've had since 2003. Here's the current problem (and major mystery). They've been having a cooling problem. A few weeks ago they went to church and after leaving to come home, the temp gauge went way up and they had very little, if any, heat in car. I checked it out and assumed the thermostat was stuck. I added coolant to the radiator, started it and let it run for awhile. Gauge stayed down and had good heat again. After about a week of some very short trips, the car began overheating again. Checked coolant level and it again was low. We topped radiator up as well as overflow. Let idle for 30 minutes and everything was good. Parents went to drive it back home, went about 10 miles and overheated again. Checked radiator and overflow and both were low. Here's the question....what would cause this? There is no visible coolant leaking, no steam, no antifreeze smell. And regarding head gasket, oil and transmission fluid levels are at proper level and in good condition. Coolant is going somewhere.....this is a really weird situation. My parents would really like to get about another year or so out of this car (without spending a fortune) because they've put lots of money into it in the last year (new radiator, power steering lines, ignition coil, exhaust components, etc...over $1,000 worth of repairs). Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!! THANKS!!! Gary
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Hello Gary. Check to see that coolant is circulating when the engine warms up this would indicate the thermostat has opened.Make sure the electric fans operate when the gauge reads above the middle. I love Subaru but your engine is right in the year range where the 2.5L blow head gaskets. The most accurate way to test for a blown head gasket on a gasoline engine is to test for the presence of carbon monoxide in the cooling system. Snap-On, Matco (part # CO 2000), and Napa sell a tool to check to carry out this test. Another link to a supplier of this tool is Carbon Monoxide is only present if there is a blown head gasket or cracked cylinder head. I think the napa part number 700-1006. . Signs of a blown head gasket are coolant loss (frequently have to top up the coolant level of the engine without seeing an obvious leak), experiencing over heating or rough engine running or the presence of white sweet smelling steam from the exhaust. A badly blown head gasket may allow engine coolant and oil to mix.
Thanks a bunch! It's been so cold & snowy here in good ol' Buffalo that I really haven't checked these things out yet. But as soon as we get a little break in the weather, I will check these out....Thanks again!!! Gary P.S.---I forgot to mention, when engine is cool and radiator cap is off, if you squeeze the upper hose, the radiator itself has a pretty horrible smell, almost like the smell of burnt fuel is probably the best way to describe it. Would this make it more likely to be the head gasket. Also, any luck with the Bar's Leak Head Gasket sealer? Can they or do they work? Thanks! Gary
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