The Dreaded Subaru Head Gasket Issue

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 11:51am - 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 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).



I have a 2006 Outback 2.5

I have a 2006 Outback 2.5 that is seeping oil. Do any of the "stop oil leak" products work and is their any risk in trying one of them?

LIC Response

You don't want to use those products as they gum up the radiator and internals in the coolant passageways, which is bad for cooling.

Thanks but since it is a oil

Thanks but since it is a oil additive and there is currently no cooling contamination (ie: oil is not getting into the coolant) is that still a risk? Thanks again.

LIC Response

same thing, just in regards to oil related components...we don't recommend or use any of those "stop leak" anything products - either coolant or oil.

Subaru Outback

Bought 08 2.5 for 4k, shortly after the engine blow. Is it worth to put 3-4k for another engine and new gasket?

LIC Response

If you could actually get it done for the inexpensive, sure it makes sense...but not sure you can, I know out in our location it can't be done for that kind of money.

2009 Outback HG Done

Got 78k mileage on my outback and noticed a coolant leak earlier this week. The heater would go from hot to blowing cold air and after putting more coolant in it would be gone a day later. Fast forward to today the car is in the shop for repair of the HG, water pump and new timing belt. Decided to have the work done because of the lower mileage on the car. Did I make the right choice to repair it? My mechanic mentioned how bad the original gaskets are and the way they intstall the better gasket.

LIC Response

If fixed properly, no reason to think it won't last for a long time to come. Doing the timing component job at same time is the correct thing to do, 1- you're past due for it, as its 105k miles or 100 month, 2- it saves money doing it at the same time. I would also suggest you do a replacement radiator and hoses - as these commonly fail around 100k or 10-12 years and if you overheat the car, you'll end up doing this job all over again.

Should I do it or am I ok at this point ?

Hey Noah!!....I have a 1999 Subaru Outback Wagon 2.5 DOHC, right now it have 110K on the mileage, wanted to know if you think I should replace the head gaskets before any symtoms occurs, if not , what should I do in order to keep it running to avoid this problems ?

LIC Response

Never hurts to be proactive and besides you're at time of the 105k (timing service), its the ideal/right time to do it.

Forester 2010 or 2013

Hi, So glad to have found this page. I put a lot of money into replacing head gaskets and timing belts over the years. I'm replacing my 1999 Forester which had almost 240,000 miles on it. I overheated the engine and apparently melted the radiator on it when I drove it a little further than it was capable of; with a gently used Forester. Because I dealt with the head gasket issue in the past; I'm hoping to avoid it in the future. Which of these two cars would you recommend: A 2010 Forester with 70,000 miles on it. It is the Premium 2.5X model or a 2013 Forester with 82,000 miles on it? I appreciate your thoughts and comments on this decision! Thanks!

LIC Response

Honestly you would want to stay away from both...the 2010 will have head gasket issues as well, as mentioned in this article. The 2011-2013 Foresters were part of a class action lawsuit for oil consumption issues relating to internals in the engine. Even some of the 14's suffer from this. To ensure you don't have this issue, you need to go at min 15+ to avoid the issues.

2007 Subaru B9 Tribeca 85 k miles slow drip coolant leak

Any known problems - the head gasket?

LIC Response

Be aware of dripping coolant, I have seen other customers with issues like this and its often the head gasket leaking on driver side of motor at head gasket surface (means it was likely overheated at some point). But No, the 6 cylinders do not have the inherent issues as the 4 cylinder models as mentioned in this post. Do know that the 3.0L does require the highest grade octane available at the gas station. In 2008, they upped the Tribeca displacement to a 3.6L to combat the need to run higher grade octane fuels. I own a 08, great vehicle!

05 Legacy, EJ20

I've recently bought a 2005 Legacy (EU) with a 2.0L EJ20 engine, with 225 000km. What's the life expectancy of the head gaskets on EJ20 engines? The vehicle has been cared for well.

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).

Thanks for the quick

Thanks for the quick reply! This EUDM Legacy has a naturally aspirated EJ20 engine which produces 165HP. I believe this nonturbo 2.0 is available only in the EU market. The vehicle is completely stock and I believe the previous owner never abused it.

LIC Response

Hard to say, as I have never seen that motor here and or ever heard of it to be honest. My guess is, if its a Dual Over Head Cam (DOHC) motor, its likely running updated MLS gaskets based off the turbo model 2.0L

Looking at buying a 2004 Forester

Hi, So there is a 04 Forester 2.5xs coming up for auction that I'm interested in however it does currently have 244k miles on it. I do know the current owner, have not yet asked about past maintenance, but she did state it had a slight oil leakbut that has apparently disappeared. What would you say is max value for this as well as what repairs would likely need to be made soon, or would you say there isn't much life left for the power train?

LIC Response

Really hard to justify buying a vehicle of that vintage with that kind of mileage...unless the motor has been replaced. The leak is likely head gaskets and unless that was fixed and car was virtually free, I think any amount of money for it would be hard to rationalize

Ascent question

Hi Noah, awesome discussion you have here; if I lived anywhere near SoCal, you'd have my business from this thread alone. I have a 2009 Legacy with HGs that are starting to weep, so I need to get this taken care of. My question though is about the new Ascent. I'm looking at buying one, and I realize it's still pre-release, but what, if any, issues do you foresee with the 2.4L turbo in it? Anything I should be wary of right off the bat? Thanks again.

LIC Response

We're actually located in NorCal, about 25 miles north of San Francisco. In regards to the new Ascent, no way of knowing any issues as of yet as its a totally new design BUT with that being said....I do know this, it will need to run the highest grade octane there is (at min 91 in California) even if they claim it doesn't need to. Like with all turbo models, this vehicle i'm sure will use more oil than the non turbo variants. Until its been out and has about 60-100k on it, we won't know any extra ordinary looming issues.

2001 forester

i am getting all the coolant pushed into overflow tank. The next day when I open radiator cap this is a his of pressure. there are no classic signs that the head gasket is gone, or heads warped. My question is if I have the heads done and gaskets replaced do I need to worry about the bottom half of the engine giving out due the the new found pressure from the fresh heads? thank you in advance for your advise Steve Louisville KY

LIC Response

Coolant pushed out of system is a result of warped heads/warped block surface, exhaust gases get between and push the coolant from the vehicle into the overflow. Do NOT continue to drive this vehicle, it will further damage items beyond repair. Pushing coolant is a classic sign of major head gasket issues (yours resulting from warped heads, warped block surface, and/or both). Might have to worry about bottom end, especially if you have misfire codes going along with the symptoms. Vehicle needs a through inspection.

07 outback LL Bean edition with 3.0

Looking to purchase an 07 outback LL Bean edition with a 3.0 engine and 107k. Can you tell me if this year and model have the engine problems as the 2.5 engine? Know someone asked about this before but just wanted to clarify. Thanks

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).

2004 wrx turbo (not sti)

hi guys how u do, im planning to buy a 2004 wrx turbo (not the sti) but im corcern about head gasket having problems in this yr also, car now has 152 miles on it, did u guys thisnk i will have the headgasket problem later on ? or not all car from this yr had this problem? thanks in adavance.

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).

2012 Subaru Impreza

A coworker is selling a 2012 Subaru Impreza with 104k on it. From your arcticlebi see that the HG should not be an issue. I do not however know anything about the CV tranny. Do they hold up? And what others issues should I watch out for?

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:

2011 Subaru Outback H6

I see that you say the Subaru H6 models do not have the head gasket issues. And yet newer subaru models may have oil consumption issues. Would this include H6 models? I have been thrilled with my 2003 H6 Subaru Outback. Can you tell me that I won't experience head gasket issues or oil consumption issues with the 2011 H6 Subaru Outback. I am thinking of buying the 2011 to replace my 2003. Do you have any concerns with the 2011 H6 Subaru Outback? Thanks!

LIC Response

The H6 is a fantastic motor and one of the more robust motors in Subaru's line up, although they tend to burn a decent amount of oil between oil change intervals. With that being said, often times folks whom own/sell H6's are often higher mileage vehicles. If it is at higher mileage car, you're going to run into the typical high mileage issues that Subaru's have. Which is not limited to oil leaks, transmission issues, catalytic converters that will soon fail, and the typical sensors that go out at high miles. Another common issue we see on the 2010-2012 models is transmission related issues.

HG 2008 outback

bought a 2008 outback used from a major Ford dealership. had 82,000 miles on it was taken as trade in. They had in service record that they replaced the headgasket. Am retired so don't drive a lot, been 3 years and 16,000 miles and needs replacing again. Leak is dripping on exhaust and can smell hot oil. Should I pay to replace again or look for another used Outback. I love the car, fits my country needs perfectly. Thank you

LIC Response

Since you already own the car, hard to justify selling it to buy another one that would have the same issues. Best to fix what you have vs. buying an unknown vehicle that might have even more issues (potentially). I will say though, shouldn't have another head gasket issue at only 3 years and 16k miles....UNLESS, something has transpired to create the issue again

Subaru Impreza 2018

Hello, Thank you very much for this thread! This is very informative! I am planning to buy a new compact sedan car and considering between Subaru Impreza premium 2018 and Toyota Corolla LE 2018. I liked the Subaru more during the test drive but I am concerned with the reliability of Subaru in the long run. Also, Corolla is better with lower buying and running costs. I understand that you mentioned that the HG issue with Impreza was between 1999 to 2011 but is the issue seen at all the newer models? Also, how are the new (2018) Subaru's with reliability? Thank you!!

LIC Response

As far as the 2018's - them being so new, haven't had enough time on them to see any issues as of yet but so far so good. HG issues have been corrected for a long time now.

Great thread, very

Great thread, very informative. My daughters 2009 Legacy w/110K miles will need a HG job this spring. At $2,500.00 from the dealer, I'm planning on doing the job myself. What other parts do you recommend replacing while I'm in that deep?

LIC Response

You'll need to have the heads sent to machine shop for resurfacing, cleaning, new seals, valve job if needed, etc. At the same time you will want to do the timing components (complete- belt, tensioner, x3 idlers, water pump, new gaskets/seals, t-stat) and its best to replace the radiator (+ hoses and cap) as well, they like to break between 100-120k and/or 10 years. If you don't do the radiator and you wait until it breaks, it'll overheat and you end up doing a head gasket job again because the cylinder heads warp.

2004 Outback H6.30

Thinking of buying a 2004 Outback H6.30 285kms auto. Has a small oil leak. Drives good. No over heat. Do you think that it already had it head gasket issue?

LIC Response

That model year and H6 motor do not have cylinder head gasket issues as relating to this article.

2002 forester

If i have mine fixed is this an on going Issue that i have continue to worry about in the future?

LIC Response

Depends on how one fixes it.

1999 Legacy with 2.2

I’m considering purchasing a very low miles 1999 Leacy (60k). I pulled a carfax, and it’s clean. Also it shows the timing belt and water pump have already been replaced. The maintenance schedule states that the timing belt doesn’t need to be replaced until 105k so does that seem odd to you? This car apparently doesn’t have the head gasket issues as 1999 isn’t on your list of years for a Legacy. Thanks for posting this.

LIC Response

The vehicles are every 105k miles or 100 months (8.5 years). the 2.2L does not suffer the same fate as mentioned in this article, in fact, its one of the most robust motors Subaru has ever made.

The dreaded Subaru headgaskets

I have a 2008 Legacy with 64,000 miles . At the 60,000 dealer service they said the headgaskets needed to be replaced and that would cost around $ 3500 . I just contacted the national customer service for Subaru . They state only 2000 - 2002 had the headgasket problem and that they were recalled . They also say that my 2008 has updated headgaskets . So now the big question so why do my headgaskets need to be replaced ? They are supposed to be connecting with my dealer . My car has had zero symptoms , no overheating and no spots on the driveway indicating a leak . Will my car just break down one day ?

LIC Response

Those model years affected is absolutely incorrect and dishonest. 2008 Legacy has HG issues, just as mentioned in this article.

'09 subaru impreza 2.5i

Hi Noah, this thread has been incredibly useful in determining whether or not I want a subaru. I'm looking to buy a 2009 subaru impreza 2.5i sedan with 50,000 miles on it. I'm wondering if you think there's anything I should specifically look out for before purchasing it? Or if there's anything i should think of before going through with it? Any insight or advice would be truly appreciated.

LIC Response

Just as the article states, this HG issue will be on your year/make/model you're looking at purchasing. I would weigh the cost of that service that will be needed either now or in near future.

2009 forester premium

I'm looking at 2009 forester with 124 k miles. Owner took it in to the shop to have the head gaskets checked. The shop said that they looked good. No sign of leak. Is it a guarantee that the head gaskets will blow? soon??

LIC Response

Only a matter of time...