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 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

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!

LIC Response

Unfortunately this is an all too common issue. As you stated, its not leaking, which means its consuming it.

Should I even buy a new Forrester?

I've had a 2006 Forrester that I have meticulously maintained & I love the handling, safety, etc. But still, around the 70k mark, it started to leak oil. I have had it examined four times over four years for slow oil leaks. My mechanics have said it has been a torn oil cap, leaking valve cover gaskets, oil filter leaking, now possibly head gaskets. In addition I feel like the car has had a million other small issues: replaced starter, spark plugs & wires, seat heater replaced, sway bar links replaced, battery replaced twice, heat shields rotted, brake pads and rotors often, replaced faulty evap vent light, replaced shifter cable, leaking upper radiator hose, replaced faulty AC compressor & orings, lock actuator malfunction, cracked engine belts... it feels like it never ends, and I don't even drive it that much. I know some of this is necessary for any car but I feel like I am always going to the mechanic while my husband and family with their Toyotas never have to go. I really love Subaru Forresters and I would like to get a new one, but my mechanic says 'Don't do it!' They say that even the brand new Subarus (2017) burn oil badly and have other issues (torque converter) that they are not dealing with. They say get a Toyota Rav or a Honda CRV. I have had a Rav before and didn't like the cushy ride, general bulkiness, visibility etc. I love the Subaru for its stern handling and excellent design as a compact SUV. And it is the safest car on the road. Consumer Reports ranks it the best SUV in its class. But I can't be going to the mechanic with oil leaks or something else every few months! Do you think the 2017 Forresters have improved on any of these flaws, or is it always going to be something with the Subarus in general?

2006 Forester

My 2006 Forester has only needed maintenance items and it has 89,000 miles. Runs like new. There is some oil seepage on the passenger side of the engine but no leaking oil. Looks like I will have LIC do the head gaskets, etc at 100k. I check oil and coolant almost daily. The dealer told me that I have head gasket seepage and needed to get it fix ASAP. That was 10,000 miles ago.

2006 Forester

How long does it usually take LIC to do a head gasket job on a 2006 Forester?

LIC Response

Usually a work week, typically comes in on a Monday, its ready for pick up on Friday.

LIC Response

Although still running good, you don't want to keep putting this issue off. As mentioned in the article, you will only create a more expensive corrective fix - a leak can go to catastrophic in time.

LIC Response

All 15+ models I've seen thus far seem to be fairly decent for the most part. I have on occasion seen brand new models burn abnormal amounts of oil but for the most part, they seem to be fine. If you like the cars, no reason to not get another one....BUT as you mentioned, they are not a Honda or Toyota, these cars don't make it on minimal maintenance and 300k+ miles.

Engine coolant

I just bought a 2006 Forester xt with a bad engine. I am having.it replaced with an engine from a 2008 xt. I had the timing belt and head gaskets done with all oem parts. My question is what color coolant should I be using with this engine?

LIC Response

Up to 08 Foresters take green, 09+ is blue.

Head Gasket leakage and cracked engine blocks

Back in 2007,I had a 1996 Outback with 110k that overheated and when I took it in the Subaru service rep said it was a leaky head gasket. Paid $3500 for them to pull the engine and replace the gasket. A few weeks later it overheated again. This time they said it was a cracked engine block and that they could put a new or used motor in for $3000 to $4000. After a few challenging moments, they agreed not to charge me for the labor since they should have spotted the crack block when they had the motor pulled earlier. Total cost plus the previous gasket change, $7 or $8000. Decided to trade it in for a new Outback. (At this time I had not heard of a chronic HG problem with Subaru's). The 07' Outback was a lemon with rust issues, shock problems, rear ball barring problems, so before the warranty was up, I traded it in for a 2010 Outback. (I just loved the way they handled in snow and the amount of cargo room.) Anyway, just 2 weeks ago with 106k miles, my Suby over heated while on a road trip and about 3000 miles from home. Luckily, we were in a town with a Subaru dealership and you guest it, probably the head gasket or an engine block issue. Not sure until they pull the engine,but it would cost $$3500 to $4000 and then the fix or an engine replacement for another $4 to $6000, not to mention possibly 7 to 10 days to fix it. We were in a pickle. Had no time to fix it and was the cost really worth it. They offered a trade in for a new or used car. When I mentioned this was a problem I had encountered earlier, the sales guy tells us Subaru fixed the problem with the HG sealant and that I shouldn't have that problem again. We ended up buying a new Outback partly because we live in snow country, but mostly because we were stuck and a long ways from home. Now, after learning about all the problems other Subaru owners are having, I am really bummed and wondering why there wasn't a class action lawsuit on this HG problem years ago!! I expected to have my Subaru's last me at least 200000 miles and now I'll be lucky if they last 100k.

LIC Response

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. In regards to class action lawsuit, I honestly don't understand how they haven't been held accountable for millions upon millions of flawed cars...they must of paid someone in the right place ;-)

Headgasket or PCV blocakge....

Car: 2007 Impreza 2.5i Millage: 106k Around the 104k mile marker, noted a 'burning' smell coming from the engine compartment and would be in the passenger compartment with the fan on high. Took it to a quick lube place, said they didn't see anything. At 105k, took it to a reputable local independent shop to look into + needed timing belt. Said head gaskets were leaking and dripping onto exhaust causing the smell. They referred me to the dealership. Dealer did the timing belt, tune up, and replaced the head gaskets. I previously owned a mazda and did one tune-up myself and did PCV valves with the tuneup. Dealership didn't replace them. Overall, was satified with work, the price, and warranty. Couple days later however, I throw a p0420 code (Catalyst System Efficiency Below Threshold; Had this same code at 70k and was a bad O2 sensor - was replaced and never saw it again). I'm not going to pretend to be a car guy, but I'm a doctor and am a good diagnostician. The timing on the p0420 code seems too coincidental to just be a Catalytic converter dying 3 days after the major service I had done. My hypothesis: the PCV valve is clogged. This caused increased pressure and caused the engine oil to seep out gasket seals. Now with new seals, the pressure and uncombusted carbon cant go anywhere, instead heads to catalytic converters and is causing my p0420 code. From a mechanics perspective, does this make sense? is it even possible? They're shipping in a new Cat to be installed next week, I just want to scratch my curiosity on this and ask them to check the PCV before just solving the new symptom in case there is a unifying reason why all this is happening a the same time (Occam's Razor), but want an outside opinion on whether this is even possible before asking. Thanks!

Does it effect a wrx Impreza 2004?

I recently purchased a wrx Impreza 2004 wagon and wondered if this would be something that would affect my car. I would like it if someone could inform me about this or if any other issues I should be aware of.

LIC Response

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).

LIC Response

The issue is not the PCV causing this. You touched on it earlier, you had the P0420 code before, installed a new 02 which got it by for a bit. The P0420 code is not a 02 code, its a cat code and although you can get it by for a touch longer by just adding a 02, the issue is the cat. Anytime we do new cats, we always do new 02's. Also, when we do HG jobs, we always replace the PCV, its like a $10 part and no reason not to while there and with the mileage the OEM has on it.

Head gasket question...

I have a 2005 Outback 3.0 that is over heating occasionally and leaking antifreeze. I've been able to drive it, making sure coolant is always topped off. I was suspecting HG failure. But are you saying that a HG would cause catastrophic failure fairly fast? I have been able to drive a lot of miles since first signs of overheating.

LIC Response

You can get away with minor overheating incident for a little bit of time but do know its NOT ideal to keep driving it like that. As it heats and cools, the heads will warp more and more, which is just a recipe to introduce oil and coolant together. Although you're still getting by for now, it will have a catastrophic incident if not corrected. Your car doesnt have HG issues, your issue would be warped heads, the more they warp the more you risk destroying the motor. HG leaks can go on for a very long time before they are catastrophic.

2008 Outback dead.

So we just had the engine seize up on our 08 Outback. There was no warning oil light. The cruise control light came on. Then the engine made horrible knocking sounds and died. No warning. No visible leaking or dripping. Anyone else have this problem? Not​ my first Subaru but my first car ever to burn oil without me knowing it.

LIC Response

Your model doesn't have an oil warning light, those weren't installed on Outbacks until 2010. Sounds like your car was low on oil, developed rod knock, and then broke.

Purchased a 2006 Forester

Purchased a 2006 Forester 2.5x. The timing belt, head gasketsand water pump were changed by the shop I purchased it from. Been 3 days and having issues with idling to the point of almost dying and the oil pressure light flickering after exiting the freeway and stopping at lights and stop signs . Noticed today that the oil level was low after it was full 2 days ago. The mechanic said to bring it back for him to look at. I don't know anything about Subarus but thinking there might be a bigger problem here. Any advice?

LIC Response

Something major is wrong, if that oil pressure light is on and flickering, it means oil pressure is dipping below 3 psi.