The Dreaded Subaru Head Gasket Issue

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 10:51am - Noah Levy
The Dreaded Subaru Head Gasket Issue

Non turbo 4 cylinder applications all have head gasket issues, you've heard this before, most of you know this, and yes its a result of a bad/faulty design with the gasket.

The factory gaskets have a coating that deteriorates over time (typically between 80-120k miles. That range is dependent on if you've run the SOA mandatory coolant conditioner, which is designed to get you past that 100k mile hump).

The symptom of leaking "head gaskets" is oil weeping between the head/block surfaces. This weep over time turns into a significant leak, which then turns into coolant leaking as well, after that symptom you often times will go into overheating, from there its a few mile slippery slope...which then has coolant and oil intermingling together. 

If you haven't guessed it yet, this is where bearings get trashed, you develop a rod knock and hopefully at this point you've realized its about to be over but recognize before the next critical stage.

The sad thing is....it doesn't need to get to this point. If you work with a specialty shop its easy to point out early on when this is happening (at the weeping stage) and proactively fixing it. By doing so, you 1- secure your investment with your vehicle, 2- save yourself the headache of being broken down on the side of the road, and 3- you get to enjoy your car for another X amount of miles b/c you didn't let it catastrophically fail.

Did you know when we do head gasket jobs here at LIC Motorsports we don't install the same gaskets that do the same thing? Would you be shocked to know that the dealer and most other independents still install these bad/faulty gaskets to this day when they perform this job (reason being is Subaru hasn't revised the gasket on the older SOHC vehicles).

These vehicles all have cylinder head gasket related issues:

  • Impreza 1999 to 2011
  • Forester 1999 to 2010
  • Legacy 2000 to 2009
  • Outback 2000 to 2009
  • Baja 2003 to 2006

 

You can purchase revised/upgraded gaskets here: Non Turbo Upgraded MLS Head Gaskets


More info about our Head Gasket Service here: Maintenance Service Page

 

Here is images of when someone has let it go to far and more or less driven there car into the "ground" (that slurry leaking out is the "milkshake" of coolant/oil that has mixed).

 

Comments

2001 Subaru Legacy Wagon/Outback 2.5GX

I had to replace head gasket at around 228,000 km due to coolant leak. We did a full engine strip and change most parts including Gasket Kit w/Seals, Piston Rings, Conn-Rods, Radiator Hoses etc. Pistons & Crank shaft were reused after treatment. Within 6 months and only a few thousand kilometers, the vehicle overheated. We had used OEM gaskets as mechanics here in South Africa don't know much about this issue and didn't seem to take me seriously when I suggested this to them. What would you recommend. (Felpro, Cometics or Cosworth)

LIC Response

Even if OEM gaskets were used, an immediate (or within 6 months) overheat is not normal and wouldn't have anything to do with the gaskets used. There is a other underlining issue happening if this is what happened.

2011 Subaru Forester 2.5 4cyl.

I see you did not include the 2011 Subaru foresters in the known head gasket issue years. I am looking to purchase a 2011 forester with 80k miles. Have you heard if the 2011's still have this issue, or have they sort of been resolved. Any knowledge or advice is appreciated.

LIC Response

Although the 2011+ Foresters no longer have the head gasket issue as mentioned in this article, do know that a lot of the early model redesigned motors have/had oil consumption issues and it was part of a class action lawsuit. 11-13's are the most commonly affected but I've seen 14's with issues as well. We recommend 15+ models to avoid this issue. Here is a link to an article: http://jalopnik.com/subaru-settles-lawsuit-over-oil-burning-cars-1752805682

Thank you for the reply!

Thank you for the reply!

1997 Outback

Hi, I am looking at purchasing a 1997 Outback, which does not fall into the years you listed. Are '97 Outbacks known to have any issues that you are aware of? The seller is asking $2000 for it and it has 260k miles on it. That seems like a lot to me. I had no clue about the head gasket issue when my Impreza died from the head gasket issue, and I want to make sure I don't buy a car that is bound to fail yet again. I had always heard Subarus were amazing, and I was very disappointed with the Impreza dying from a faulty gasket. I'm no mechanic and don't pretend to be one on TV, so any advice you can give is helpful. I'm not sure if a 1997 Outback with so many miles is actually worth it. What sorts of things should I be aware of or look for? Thanks!

LIC Response

1997 Outback is a DOHC motor and has the same faulty gasket design as mentioned in this article. But if its at 260k, its likely already had the gaskets done and back in 2002 Subaru revised their gaskets to correct the issue on the DOHC motors. Thats a lot of money for a car with that kind of mileage.

2009 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Special Edition

I am looking at buying this vehicle this weekend and know it has not had its head gaskets replaced. It has 84k miles and has had routine maintenance since it was new accordingly to CarFax but I am still weary due to the prospect of having to do the HG right away after buying it. Is there anything in particular I should be looking for on the vehicle? Do you think I may have a chance of being able to use the 09' Legacy at least for a few years before having to invest the $2000-$3000? I appreciate any and all feedback and advice. Thank you very much for your time and assistance!!

LIC Response

The likelihood that someone is selling this car because of the gaskets leaking already is more likely than not what is happening. I would highly recommend having the car professionally inspected to see the state of the current HG situation. Its unlikely it would be years and/or 20-30k miles postponing something like this, besides the car will be due for a slew of maintenance and it would include that HG repair job. You would be looking at a 90k, 105k, HG service, and 120k all within 30k miles...just as a heads up, that represents anywhere from $4k-$7k worth of work in only about 30k miles worth of time. Hope this helps you decide!

Considering used Subaru for teen first car

Considering several used Subarus from private parties for my teen drivers. Is the head gasket problem 100% certain to happen on all cars you list at the top of this page? Is it just a very high percentage? I haven't been able to find a reliable source online indicating how often this happens. In addition to having it checked out by a mechanic to see if the problem is imminent, even if there are no signs of trouble now, I want to consider the potential this could be a problem in the future when negotiating a price.

LIC Response

Its a guarantee to happen on all cars with the faulty designed gaskets, this includes the SOHC motors on this list as well as late 90's DOHC motors (varies on model years)

2010 Subaru Forester HG + timing belt

I have a 2010 Subaru Forester (145K miles) that needs new HGs, but my mechanic is telling me I need to replace the timing belt at the same time. I just replaced the timing belt a couple years ago, at around 110K miles. Is it okay to replace just the HGs without the timing belt (keep the 2-year old timing belt)?

LIC Response

If the parts are only a few years old and 30k ish miles, no reason not being able to reuse them (I would recommend OEM parts though).

2008 Impreza

I really wish I would've done my research before buying my 2008 Impreza a few months back. I got it for what seemed like a good deal @ $3500 with the dash reading 113k miles. Once I got it home I replaced all rotors and breaks, changed the oil, ect and didn't see any issues but I had to take it into the dealership for a few recalls two weeks ago and they tell me that I need to replace the Head Gasket because of a "small leak" and quoted me .... wait for it.. $3500! I about had a heart attack. There's no way I'm going to pay that when that's what I paid for the car! Anyway, so now I'm looking around to find a shop to do it for a decent price. yay. My question is: Is there anything that normally goes out around the 100k marker? Anything I should look into having the mechanic replace other than the Head Gasket? && thank you for your post!! :)

Subaru Headgaskets

Not sure where everyone lives. I have a 2007 Subaru Outback. super clean car. Anyways it has 83750 miles on it and the head gaskets are just starting to show a slight weeping.. Mechanics says should not be an issue for anywhere from 6 months on out and up to 2+ years but if it should fail then big $$$.. long story short. There is a local shop here in the Carlisle PENNA area that specializes in Subaru repairs . Just got a quote today of $1500.. for timing belt, water belt and head gasket replacement... So look around. Had another local garage quote $2200

LIC Response

Regardless of location, I can advise that you can't do this job properly for $1500. Its not possible to use OEM/Genuine parts, machine the heads, replace valve seals, do a valve job, and get the service done for that pricing. The job is bigger then just swapping out two head gaskets. Add in timing components, and the pricing drastically goes up (unless one uses inferior aftermarket components).

LIC Response

Doing the job complete and properly, that is appropriate pricing to be honest. In addition, at your mileage, be sure to replace timing components and radiator.

2008 Subaru Outback

We are considering buying a 2008 Subaru Outback (non-turbo). It has about 100,000 miles on it. It is a one owner car, so we have access to all the service and repair records for it. It hasn’t had any work done on the head gasket. But it has had the front axle replaced because of leaking. Are there any obvious things we should be looking for with this car?

LIC Response

It will need a HG service for sure, its right at the right mileage and time frame. In addition it would need its 105k servicing as well.

again with the head gasket

Hi, I was told that my 2002 Subaru Legacy will need the head gaskets repaired/replaced. It has 165k, so I guess from what I'm reading it's past due...a friend is suggesting that I do a head gasket sealant, or whatever that pour in kind of fix is - is this a viable solution? or is it even a temporary fix that can get me around to just trading in the vehicle? I have my doubts, so I'm anticipating that I should do the job if I want to go ahead and keep the car for another 100k or so before plunging into the debt of a newer car...? If I go ahead with this head gasket repair, I'm reading your suggestions to look at timing belt, water pump, and radiator while the work is being done - is that correct / will that save me labor cost later if I do extra stuff at the same time as HG? I am not sure that you have the time and inclination to answer my questions, but I'm trying to educate myself on what is best with this rather costly job, so that I can talk to my mechanic and do what's best and most economical ... thank you for your consideration!

LIC Response

You don't want to stick any "sealant" like stop-leak or anything like that, its not a fix but merely a bandaid to get you to a shop for corrective repair(s). Yes, you would want to do the timing components (do this complete with pump, idlers, tensioner, belts, etc), ideally a radiator/hoses, and other associated gaskets/seals. It will not be extra labor cost at time of HG service work - those components need to come off anyways.

2003 Forester HG leak

My '03 Forester has 147k miles. It has been well used (fair amount of offroad), but regularly serviced. The dealer said the head gaskets are starting to leak oil (rated it a 3/10) and recommends replacing them along with the timing components for $3000. The car is barely worth that much, so I am trying to decide if it is worth the investment. I LOVE this car and cannot afford a new vehicle. If I get the head gaskets replaced, is it likely I can get another 75-100k miles out of it? Also, if the leak is rated at a 3/10, how long before it progresses to a critical level (7 or 8/10)? Thanks.

LIC Response

Unfamiliar with the 1-10 rating you speak of but if its already leaking as you've stated, its time to fix it. These cars well taken care of, typically last 200-250k (not trouble free but thats about what the motors are good to).

Subaru 2003 Forrester Defective Head Gasket - 2nd Fail!!

The head gasket on my 2003 Subaru Forrester had to be replaced at 55,000 miles. Now less than 45,000 miles later the head gasket is leaking again. I have loved my Forrester and hoped to keep it at least another 5 years after which I had planned to buy a new Forrester. Now, I am rethinking ever buying another Subaru. The fact that they replaced my defective head gasket with yet the same defective head gasket is unbelievable and irresponsible. Subaru will need to change those ads that show a parent that had a Subaru since their child was a toddler and then leaves it to them when they leave for college. That's called false advertising, Subaru. Unless the parent has several thousand dollars for a new head gasket every 50,000 miles or less, they won't be passing it down to the next generation. Get real, Subaru and fix your defective head gaskets. You just lost what would have been a lifetime customer.

LIC Response

I hear your frustration(s) and we unfortunately see it all the time as well. When the dealer as well as most independent shops perform the Head Gasket repair, they often use the factory gaskets...which have never been corrected. Only way Subarus get passed down over generations is about every 200-250k miles, a complete overhaul would need to be done on it (motor, etc.). Now the older Subarus (early to mid 80-90's), they are smaller displacement motors and do last longer then the late 90's+ models...just how it is. Downside is, trying to get parts for those 30+ year old cars are becoming more scare from the salvage yards and Subaru stops producing new components typically after 20-25 ish years.

Looking at a Subaru now...

I see a Impreza WRX that's listed as "Turbocharged" with an H4 engine. Does it being turbocharged mean it doesn't suffer from the same head gasket issue? Even though it's an Impreza? Thanks for the Article, the information has been helpful, just trying to clarify this one thing.

LIC Response

As mentioned in a previous post: Although the faulty design is isolated to the non turbo vehicles, you can have a head gasket related issue on any car...turbo included. But this article and what happens is not the same as associated with the turbo vehicles that are a result of other reasons. Typically the turbo models have head gasket issues for a few reasons, which isn't really a head gasket problem, its warped heads from: 1- abuse, 2- a failure (like radiator break, car overheats), 3- tuning (not properly tuned).

Hello, My husband and

Hello, My husband and I are thinking of buying an 2002 Subaru Impreza. When we went to look at the car we were told that the car has a rear seal leak that is pretty deep to get to (fix). The owner recently purchased a wrx and said "I don't need to put all that work in to this (Impreza)." Is there any way of telling if this leak is problematic? I will appreciate any advice given to me on this! Thanks in advance, Vivian

LIC Response

I would say any leak is problematic and shouldn't be ignored...especially hearing its potentially hard to get to. Just means its expensive to fix and most likely why someone opted not to do it and got rid of the car.

2010 3.6L Ouback Leaking head gasket and front differental

Greetings Am I the first? Around 180k Km I was informed that the left head gasket is leaking oil externally and rated it a 4 out of 10. The car now has 226.5k Km and I use about 3 liters of oil between oil change intervals. 85% of the mileage is highway driven and engine performance is undiminished. To Heap on more trouble on the previous oil change a leak was spotted at the rear of the front differential where it mates with the transmission but no measurable oil loss, now today .2 liters of gear oil was needed to top up the level (ATF level was good). My Legacy of leakers 1998 head gasket internal coolant leaker, 2006 external coolant leaker and now 2010 3.6 oil leaker = a wallet bleeder. for now I will keep a eye and top up engine & diff. oils and drive my backup a rusty $500.00 dodge caravan. Please advise ! Mike

LIC Response

Although head gaskets can happen to any make/model Subaru, its pretty uncommon on the 6 cylinder models (unless the radiator broke and it overheated). You sure its not a valve cover gasket leak? Thats common and happens to all Subarus at your mileage. The 6 cylinders are also massive oil burners, this is also common...we recommend high quality synthetic oil and lower your drain intervals down to 3-4k miles. If it consumes as much as yours is, thats an issue but only an issue if your doing the 3-4k miles drain interval, if you're doing 5-7k miles...it would be expected to burn that much in that time frame. Switch the viscosity to a 5w40 and lower the drain interval, it'll help (likely cut the consumption in half).

Accept or Refuse? 2002 Forester Sport

Hi, I'm in NJ and have my kind in-law offering to give my wife and I his 2002 Forester with 118k miles as a gift. He said that during his last service his mechanic told him that his catalytic converter needs to be changed. He did not mention the dreaded HG. After reading many issues pertaining to the HG I've developed some doubt. Should we take the car? What should I do first? He's only done some routine maintenance service on it. Thanks for your advice.

LIC Response

Hard to deny FREE, at the cost of $0 and if you have to put $5-$7k into it, its a good deal because you didn't pay for the car and for under $10k what can you buy that is decent and will run another 100k? The cat being bad at only 118k is concerning, its likely the car was not maintained very well and/or was not running properly for a long period of time...that's concerning. The last thing you want to do is sink that $5-$7k in and then the tranny lets go because nobody ever did proper maintenance intervals on it. It'd be cautious, unless you can get records showing it had all major servicing (i.e. 30/60/90k and 105k service).

2000 impreza L

I just bought a 2000 impreza L. 130,000mi I was told they hit a pot hole and the radiator started to leak. When i got it home i started it and let it idle and with a flash light i could see it dripping behind the water pump. So i removed it and could see where the gasket failed. Icleaned rtv and reasemble only to see the same drip. I redid everything again but used a felpro gasket. Now i have bubbles in the overflow so i hacked up passenger front and filled and reved, still had bubbles in overflow so i left it overnight and it was still full to the cap. It was hard to start this morning and had a small puff of white smoke and the spark plug is wet. Under the car now Ida leaking a bit faster and its dripping from water pump. Could this be from has gasket instead of the water pump?

LIC Response

If its filling up the expansion tank (overflow), you have a head gaskets issue.

Ok i changed head gaskets out

Ok i changed head gaskets out every seal, machined heads, plus i redid the water pump gasket and it has the exact same drip did not even change anything. I have look everywhere. What am i missing?

LIC Response

You mentioned before the car was pushing coolant into overflow (head gasket issue), and you had a leak from your water pump but it sounds like you reused the same water pump that was bad and leaking before? It should of been replaced, sounds to me (which I can't say for certain as its not here) leaking out the relief valve of the pump, if so, resealing it wouldn't change that (its an internal seal that would be bad).

02-08 Forester Turbos - same HG issues as non Turbo?

Thanks for this informative post. I'm looking into buying a used Forester 02-08, 2nd Gen. My main question is if the XT motors (DOHC vs. SOHC with non-Turbo) are susceptible to the same HG issues. If not, are there other issues unique to the XTs such as cooling? Thanks, R

LIC Response

As mentioned in a previous post: Although the faulty design is isolated to the non turbo vehicles, you can have a head gasket related issue on any car...turbo included. But this article and what happens is not the same as associated with the turbo vehicles that are a result of other reasons. Typically the turbo models have head gasket issues for a few reasons, which isn't really a head gasket problem, its warped heads from: 1- abuse, 2- a failure (like radiator break, car overheats), 3- tuning (not properly tuned).

2009 For Sale: HG already replaced twice?

Looking to trade my 2003 Tacoma for a 2009 Forrester (non turbo) and the Carfax shows that the HG has been replaced twice in the last 110k miles. I have no way to determine if they were replaced with non-factory HG, so it could potentially be a repair for ME to consider in the future, though they did do the timing belt with the last HG.... I'm not sure if this is a vehicle I should consider, or hold out for something else based on everything I've read here?!?

LIC Response

That model year will suffer the same issues as mentioned in this post.

2011 Outback

I had the same issue with my 2011 4 cyl. Outback at about 120K. Wish I would have known to find out the issue a couple of years ago.

LIC Response

As mentioned in another post: Although the 10+ Outback gaskets have been upgraded to the MLS style (which are corrected), they tend to have cooling related issues, although its not a HG issue itself, it becomes a HG job. The main culprit we see is the lack of cooling in the radiator, they are tiny. Cars nowadays, in my opinion, are really being designed like your cell phone, to only make it so long...there is reasons behind this, cost is cheaper, cost of ownership (when comparing brand x to brand z, that they're comparable), and truthfully most dont keep their cars for longer than 5 years at this point, which is about 100k miles. I don't agree with it but being in this industry a long time and working on Subarus for darn near 15 years now, I have seen the deviation in quality and longevity.

My son's 2006 Subaru non

My son's 2006 Subaru non turbo Forster is at the dealership for 3 recalls (we've hd the car for a year). The timing belt has not been changed but they're recommending it because of the car's age. We're at 66k miles. Also, the head gasket is weeping. At least $3k to do both. What do you recommend? Can it weep for awhile before it needs to be repaired? Are the dealerships still using gaskets that will cause the issue again ? He's about to take the car 10 hours away to college.

LIC Response

Yes, he is not only do for his 105k (timing component job, for his based on age) but is also due for his 60k (which is a full tune up). No the dealer has not corrected the head gaskets that they use and you would, if you have them do the work, have this issue again. You wouldn't want to do head gaskets without doing the maintenance items needed. You shouldn't ignore the weeping gaskets, as they will only get worse and can/will damage the motor.

Fix or sell?

I have a 2003 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport nearing 140k miles. The last few times I took it for an oil change the mechanics told me about oil leaking near the HG. I took it for an oil change to a new shop yesterday and the mechanic there explained this common HG issue and said I need to start thinking about fixing it before it dies on me. The car is only worth around $3-4k and it will likely cost about the same to fix it. I have had this car for a long time and I love it. Now the question is: fix or sell?

LIC Response

If the car has been well maintained and running good, no reason not to fix it...what do you replace it with for similar money? It would be someone else's used/abused vehicle that you'd have no history of knowing. If you're in the market for a new car, well there is not substitute to that, as it will be trouble free. Older cars, even with HG's corrected, will still suffer from the older wear/tear of that kind of mileage, so it won't be trouble free for the next 60-100k miles like a new car would be

2009 Forester Gaskets

My 2009 Forester still runs great, has $144k miles - however my mechanic told me I should get my head gaskets sent out to a mill shop to be straightened out which costs around $3000. A different mechanic told me not to worry about it until the car starts overheating. It has been leaking oil (not enough to leave a puddle under the car, but enough for mechanics to mention it to me during oil changes for the past few years. Any thoughts on how soon I need to address this? I hate to spend that kind of money and am tempted to sell the car and buy something I can afford which will be a cheaper car like a Kia Soul or a Ford focus and I hate to downgrade like that. My mechanic said if I fix the gaskets, I could probably get another $100k miles out of the car.

LIC Response

On the SOHC motors like you have, you'd never want to wait until it overheats...as it would seize the motor shortly after if not caught. The DOHC motors caused overheating but on the SOHC they leak oil and have a progression as mentioned in this article. If its leaking, its time to fix it (or move on) but if you wait, it will only end in catastrophic failure.

2014 forester leaking oil

At about 50,000 miles my low oil light came on. Replaced it with a quart of oil and got an oil change shortly after. Prior to this, my forester had been towed, backwards out of the parking spot, while my car was in park. Looking underneath at my oil change showed no damage. Now at 52,000 miles, low oil light came on and my dipstick was practically dry. I'm a good 2,000 miles from needing an oil change. I replaced with 2 quarts of oil. There's no evidence of a leak in my parking spot at home or when I check my spot after work. I do a moderate amount of highway driving and had just been driving for 3.5h all highway when the low oil light came on this time. What should I ask the dealer to check/do? I'd like to get it serviced soon because this is a recurring issue. Thanks!