I'm about to start replacing the head gaskets on a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback according to the procedures described here:

and I'm wondering if I should buy some additional tools before I get started. My existing toolbox is pretty much just wrenches (including torque wrench), breaker bars, screwdrivers, a cheap jack, and various specialty tools not related to this job. I think at the very least I need one or more good jack stands, one to tilt the engine to get at the heads on each side, and possibly also a couple to raise the vehicle. Is there anything else I should think about getting for the job?

  • I'll assume the answer is yes to this question, but I must ask ... Is there an issue with your head gaskets? Why are you going to change your head gaskets? There is a an old mechanics saying which goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" The reason behind this may not be clear to all. It's basically saying, you stand a good chance of screwing up a perfectly good running vehicle by changing something which doesn't need changing or fixed. Just cautious words of advice, as you don't really make mention of the actual problem. Mar 9, 2014 at 17:45
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    Yes, the full system of coolant comes out the exhaust pipe within 30 minutes of driving. :-) When the leak was less serious I used a sealer product and it held for about 6 months, then progressively got worse to this stage. Mar 9, 2014 at 18:24
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    There's a well known HG issue with Subarus of those years. Many of the Boxers had HG leaks in motors getting around 100,000-150,000 Miles. Unfortunately, the manufacturer did not want to recognize that as a manufacturing/design defect and offer free service for affected vehicles. I was extremely fortunate when a HG leak was diagnosed in my 2002 Forester during a regular service. I got a $2400 quote for the fix. I then recalled that when buying the (used) car from the same dealer, I bought a 4-year 3rd party warranty, covering that issue! It was about to expire in 3 weeks!!
    – ysap
    Mar 9, 2014 at 22:48
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    @seth: I didn't have the flat ratcheting wrenches for the job, but I think the size that would have helped the most was around 10mm, for the valve covers. My basic toolkit was a full set of regular and deep metric sockets up to 17mm, open-end and 12-point plain wrenches in the same sizes, screwdrivers. Dec 7, 2015 at 22:52
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    @seth: As for the torque wrench requirements, I'd check the head bolt tightening instructions to be sure about what you need. It's been a while and I don't remember the details right off. I lacked the right torque wrench for the crank pulley nut, so I just took at as far as my torque wrench could then gave it a heavy yank with an ordinary wrench and my "breaker bar" that's just a long (about 4 feet?) pipe that fits around the wrench handle. Dec 7, 2015 at 22:55

2 Answers 2


Being that I'm mostly done with the job, here are some additional tools that have come in handy, beyond what I originally mentioned:

  • Adjustable (or large, maybe 1-inch) wrenches to grab the hex on the cams and lock in place to break the cam sprocket bolts.
  • 17mm open-end wrench (other people say screwdriver, but the wrench works much better!) to wedge in the flywheel while breaking the crankshaft pulley bolt.
  • 1/2-inch drive wrench (I broke my 3/8 trying to break the crankshaft pulley bolt loose) and 22mm sockets (had to buy new; much larger than anything I had in my existing set).
  • Locking pliers (aka vise grips) for removing a damaged dowel pin/straight pin (see What to do with damaged alignment dowels in block?)
  • Feeler gauges - breaking loose the head bolts made the exhaust valve lifters (I think that's what they're called) drop out of the heads, and I lost track of which one goes on which valve, so now I need to play with swapping them around until the clearances are right.
  • C clamp, needed for compressing the timing belt tensioner; without this it's impossible to get the timing belt back on (or, in my case, install a new one).

And would have been nice, but I didn't have:

  • Special cam sprocket tool (basically a huge near-flat hex wrench with a big opening in it, possibly Subaru-specific).
  • Flat ratcheting wrenches, mainly for the valve cover bolts (one is almost impossible to access).
  • Extended/angled hose clamp pliers, for some hard-to-reach hoses.
  • Multiple 17mm non-ratcheting wrenches, for holding cam sprockets while getting the timing belt in place.
  • Torque wrench that goes up to 130 ft-lbs (for the crankshaft pulley); I'll either just do it to 80 ft-lbs with my torque wrench then turn it another 30-45 degrees or so, or borrow one.
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    "Flat ratcheting wrenches" - oh yes, I have now decided that these were the smartest purchase that I've made in I don't know how many years. If nothing else, they reduce the frustrated screaming that the family hears coming from the garage....
    – Bob Cross
    May 2, 2014 at 11:54
  • Yeah, I really think I should get some of those. Do yours have the open end ratchet too or just the flat socket type? May 4, 2014 at 11:32
  • I have the cheapo ones they were selling that day at the Home Depot: closed ratchet on one end, static open-ended on the other.
    – Bob Cross
    May 4, 2014 at 21:26
  • Craftsman and Gearwrench now both have versions with an open-ended ratchet on one end. No idea if it really works. May 4, 2014 at 23:09

No, you've got everything you'll need. A head gasket replacement isn't a job that requires lots of specialist equipment. It's mainly a set of wrenches (including a torque wrench) and something to scrape the old gasket off. But it's a long and tedious job. And I can't stress that last bit enough, especially if it's the first time you do it.

If you want to make the job as smooth as possible, I would suggest taking the engine out of the car completely so that you have lots of elbow room. but that's a big job in itself. For that you'll need a winch and a crane (or whatever the thing is called in English). I remember getting extremely annoyed at the fact that I couldn't adjust the second waste-gate actuator nut on my turbo because there is no angle at which you could get at it even with the shortest #9 wrench on the market. Instead of it being a 2 minute job, I spent a good hour on it and had to cut a wrench in two in the process. The alternative was to remove the entire exhaust manifold heat shield (to get to one tiny little nut!). It's unexpected difficulties like that that trip you up. But if the guy in the video can do it, so can you. Just take whatever number of hours you think it'll take and multiply by 2.5.

And next time buy a car with all the cylinders in one straight line. It cuts the time in half;)

And take 2 minutes to block each and every hose you removed. If you drop something into e.g. the pipe going to the intercooler, you're going to spend hours trying to get it out again.

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    I've done it before on my Civic, but its head is actually on the top and easy to get to. :-) The only hard part of that job was rusted bolts holding the exhaust manifold in place and keeping me from getting it of the head. Mar 10, 2014 at 16:16
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    There's always something. Mar 11, 2014 at 7:22
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    Re: taking the engine out, all the hard work so far has been stuff I would have to do to take the engine out anyway. Once everything was removed, pulling the first head (passenger side) with the engine still in place (not even removing any engine mounts) was super-easy. I haven't gotten to the second one yet, but I don't see any reason it should be harder; if anything there seems to be more room to work on the driver side. Apr 25, 2014 at 2:07
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    The winch and crane is commonly referred to as an "engine hoist"
    – Zaid
    May 2, 2014 at 3:07

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