Head gasket failures a chronic problem for Subarus?

Q. We own three Subarus (2000 Outback, given to my son a few years ago as his first car, a 2006 Outback that my wife and I drive, and a 2012 Impreza Sport we recently bought as a first car for my daughter). In addition I have influenced the purchase decisions for six other Subarus in our extended family.  These cars are great, with one glaring exception at just over 100,000 miles, with high frequency, Subarus require head gasket replacement. I am not aware of another manufacturer that has such a high rate of head gasket failures.  It really seems to me that Subaru needs more of a nudge to address a chronic problem than I can accomplish.  Can you help?

A. You are certainly correct that the engine in these Subaru models have a history of head-gasket failure. Some will leak externally both coolant and oil; some engines will leak internally and burn coolant during the combustion process. I agree that with such a high percentage of model failure Subaru should at least offer some repair assistance. That said it is my understanding that later model Subaru have seemingly cured this problem. Subaru owners, what has been your experience with your car’s engines? Send your comments to jpaul@aaasne.com.  

Q. Any tips on how to prevent doors from freezing shut? I have a 2001 GMC that I use for a ski vehicle in Maine and have had problems already.

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A. I would start thoroughly drying the door gaskets and corresponding surfaces. In addition make sure the drain holes in the door are clear of any debris. Once clear and dry liberally spray silicone lubricant on the door gaskets. The silicone will displace any water and prevent the door from freezing.

Q. I had the oil changed at Jeep dealer on my 2007 Grand Cherokee. It has 45,745 miles on it and was told I need to have transfer case and rear/front differential changed fluids changed to the tune of $580. With the mileage on it, is this advisable now? Not sure if the dealer is trying to make some money on unneeded service, since I can't find this information in my vehicle owner’s manual.

 A. Changing the fluid really depends how you drive this vehicle. If you routinely drive off-road, tow a trailer or work the vehicle hard the differential and transfer case fluid should be changed. If you Jeep is driven “normally” then only the transfer case fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles. Chrysler also warns against “flushing” of the fluid and only recommends a drain and refill type of service. 

Q. I recently read about a product (Cataclean) that cleans out the catalytic convertor and sensors to help a car pass the annual Massachusetts sticker test. My mechanic tells me I need a catalytic convertor. Do you this product works?

A. I don’t have any experience with this product, but if the check engine light is on the car will fail the inspection test. It has always been my experience with any additive that the fine print usually states some like, “if the product doesn’t cure the problem then mechanical repairs will be necessary.

Q. I just recently purchased a Hyundai Elantra and love the car but noticed there is no spare tire. I think this is a safety issue. What is your opinion of cars with no spare tires?

A. Currently there are about 12 percent of the new cars are without spare tires. Spare tires are being eliminated to save weight and improve fuel economy. I believe that a spare tire is a critical piece of safety equipment and shouldn’t be eliminated. Vehicle manufacturers should always try to improve fuel economy but not at the expense of safety.

Q. I haven’t heard much about the Boston Auto Show this year. Will there be any interesting cars on display?

A. The Boston Auto show will be taking place January 17th-21st at Boston Convention Center. All of the latest models will be on display this year, with a few surprises. I will be chatting “live” at noon January 17th on www.boston.com about the show and 2013 cars and trucks.