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Q: When replacing the timing belt, usually is the head gasket replaced as well? on 2001 Subaru Outback

Forgive me for my ignorance, I'm just learning about mechanics and engines. Two weeks ago I purchased my Outback from the third owner (I am the fourth owner). I made a quick check under the hood before taking off with the car, but failed to check the anti-freeze level in the over-flow. The seller was very trustworthy, and to the best of his knowledge the fluids were all full; he had just had an oil change and inspection 2 weeks prior. It drove home fine, no temp. light came on, but I detected a slight burning smell after I got home (like oil) coming from under the hood which prompted me to check all fluids.

After the engine cooled I had to put about 1/3 or 1/2 a gallon of coolant/water mix in the radiator, and I filled the overflow tank from below the "add" mark to the "full" mark. After a week, I drove it about 90 miles, the radiator was full, but I had to re-fill the over-flow tank again; same as above. In the first 2 minutes of idling the vehicle upon start, there is that distinct sweet smell coming out of the exhaust, not super strong, but indicating there is a small amount of coolant coming out of the exhaust. The oil looks golden clear, not milky at all.

The man I purchased it from is very trustworthy. He had been driving the vehicle a few days a week up to the day he sold the vehicle, and he was not aware of any coolant leak. He purchased the vehicle at 105,000 miles, and although he knows the work history of the vehicle while in his care, he doesn't know the work history of the prior two owners. He had the timing belt and water pump replaced a little over a year ago (about 120,000 miles), along with some other routine service (brake pads, tune, etc.), He sold it to me with about 140,000 miles, and now I've put approximately 190 miles on it. To his knowledge neither the head gasket nor the valve cover gaskets were replaced when the timing belt was replaced.

My questions are as follows:

Since (I was under the impression) you have to get down to the head to change the timing belt after high mileage, usually doesn't the mechanic advise the customer that the head gasket should be changed with the block removed? (I understand you have to remove the engine to change the gasket).

Also, is it even possible for an Outback to get to over 140,000 miles without the head gasket seal deteriorating? I'm wondering if the head gasket was never changed on this vehicle.

IF I do leak checks and find it is the head gasket, will it be ok for me to use some kind of head leak sealer, like Bar's or Steel Seal, to hold the seal about 4 months until the weather warms up, and I either have the ability to attempt to replace the the head gasket myself (I only have an outdoor shed/shop to work in), and/or I have the money to pay a mechanic to replace the head gasket (I don't trust most of the mechanics in the small town I live in).

Thanks for your response. I will pay money for the above questions to be addressed. I have paypal.

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The cyl. head gasket replacement is not required or recommended at the timing belt service. Of course when there is a problem with the cyl. head and it has to be removed / repaired new timing belt and other timing components are suggested, but you need to remove the timing belt anyway.
Unfortunately these cars had lots of problem with cylinder head gasket leaks. There is even a service campaign (it's kind of a recall, but not mandatory) from Subaru (campaign code: WWP-99) to resolve these problems. Unfortunately - because of the high mileage- I don't think they will do anything with your car, however you can try to purchase a can of additive from Subaru and add it to the cooling system yourself. The part#: SOA635071
I have instructions how to do it, if you can obtain the Cooling System Conditioner, let me know and I can send it to you.

Anyway, this would be my first attempt to try. Unfortunately there is a possibility that the cyl. head gasket has to be replaced even after the additive. In this case I'd find Subaru specialty shop to have the repair done.

Here is the important part of the campaign:

Campaign - Engine Cylinder Head Coolant Leaks


DATE: 02/2004
2000-2002MY Subaru Legacy and Outback;
1999-2002MY Impreza; 1999-2002MY Forester

Engine Cooling System Conditioner


Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) has determined that over time, affected vehicles may develop small external coolant leaks at engine cylinder head gaskets. This is the result of normal expansion and contraction of engine components caused by the heating and cooling of these parts. To prevent cylinder head gasket leaks from developing or to correct existing leaks, a special Subaru Cooling System Conditioner should be added to affected vehicle cooling systems.

This Service Program will involve adding one bottle of Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner to the engine cooling system.


2000-2002 MY Subaru Legacy and Outback with 2.5L engine.

1999-2002 MY Impreza with 2.5L engine.

1999-2002 MY Forester with 2.5L engine.

Affected vehicles are identified in the VIN range chart below. Only vehicles with a 2.5L engine are affected.
NOTE :Prior to performing repairs, confirm coverage for potentially affected vehicles by using the Vehicle Coverage Inquiry in the Dealer Communication System (DCS).

If you post an e-mail, I can send you the rest of it.
An other important thing is, you don't need to pay for any help from RepairPal.
That's one of RP's best feature, it's free!

Thanks so much "Zee" for the very fast, free, and thorough response. All of your information was more than helpful; I just felt a bit sheepish for posting multiple questions when it is instructed to post only one. I offered to pay, since I had over-stepped that boudary. I did find a few other sites which mentioned the cooling system conditioner. I will definitely order some and request from you the instructions of how to add it. I had never heard of the Vehicle Coverage Inquiry in the DCS. Like you mentioned, I'm sure nothing on scuh a high mileage vehicle would be covered, but it's always awesome to have the resources to check ... again can't thank you enough! Keep up the hard work.

I love Outbacks in general, mine inparticular, and I'm just learning about all of this stuff on my own kind of late in life. The boxer engine still just fascinates me to no end! Anyways, thanks for not laughing at my questions and having such fast reply. Knowledge is power, and you have helped me build my knowledge base so much more!!!!
Who has more to gain. The guy who sold you the car as is or a mechanic that needs satisfied customers saying he does good work but might be a bit pricier than other shops? just saying.
Great information. I'm about to buy a2006 outback. At about 43000 miles, has it been driven enough to know if this car will experience same issues. They are replacing head gasket now and suggested I buy a warranty. They will also make the car certified used car. Will this save me From common problems? Or just don't by it?
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