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

slight leak of some fluid

morning from Cape Town I have a 2007 Forester XT will 225000 km (about 140000 miles) All services done on time and cambelt done at 100000 and 200000. Car is going great and seems not to be using oil - checking dipstick regularly. when driving in a refined fashion - low revs, pulling away slowly and not flooring it on the highway, everything is good. However, if I drive like a bit of a hooligan - no red lining or anything like that, but robust acceleration, maybe hitting 140 kph on the freeway,( as I should from time to time in an XT) i get smoke coming from the engine bay when I stop the car. This is accompanied by a burning smell and it takes about five minutes for whatever it is that is leaking out to burn off. The smoke seems to be coming from the bottom of the engine on the right hand side of the car quite far back towards the windscreen. there is no water in the oil and no oil in the water and otherwise the car pulls as strongly as the day I bought it. Can you perhaps give me a suggestion as to what this may be? Cheers Michael

LIC Response

Sounds like your valve cover gaskets are weeping (which would be expected and normal at your mileage and typically always presents itself on passenger side first, reason being is the up-pipe sits approx 1/2" away from the seals).

thanks Noah - here in SA we

thanks Noah - here in SA we drive on the left so steering wheel on the right - does that still make sense? Cheers thanks for the reply

LIC Response

You bet...still would be be on that right side, as the turbo is in same location as our cars. Only difference is that you would call it driver side ;-)

Subaru Forester

Hi, I'm looking to buy a 2006 Subaru Forester it's $3300 129k miles and I'm really nervous about the head gasket issues. I'm also looking at a 2010 Subaru Forester $9600 97k miles which would be a better option choice? If the head gaskets are a issue how often will they break down and is their a way to prevent it without having to replace them?

LIC Response

They are likely both experiencing HG failure and likely why they are for sale at that pricing and mileage. There is no way to prevent the HG issue with the factory gaskets unfortunately. As mentioned in the article, the HG issue happen between 80-120k miles and if repaired with the factory gaskets, will happen again.

07 Forester 2.5XT Limited

Hey There, I noticed your article is focused on the non-turbo version of the Enugu e- I'm looking st buying an '07 Forester 2.5XT with about 75k miles, should I still have concerns about the HG failing?

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).

Has the issue been fixed?

I have a 2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS wagon, went through the whole deal- replaced gaskets, etc etc. still burns off oil (need new mechanics). Getting rid of it, but my love for their design, drive, and price point makes me want another one. Has this issue finally been solved/fixed?!?

LIC Response

The "burning oil" vs head gasket issues is two separate things, the burning oil is internally in your engine (HG externally leak oil). Yes the HG issue has been resolved, meaning they have revised the gasket so they won't externally leak but the new cars have small radiators and hotter thermostats, which can result in cars overheating and end up with a HG job again but its not related to the actual gaskets but still lends the same work/result.

Burning Oil

Thank you for such a quick response! Hmm... So if I went to Subaru or a mechanic, I'd have to ask for a fix regarding an *external* oil leak? I thought that was what they were fixing the first time :/ The new models- the small radiators/hotter thermostats... Are these things that are part of all car things to be looking out for (or problems in general)? e.g. If I buy a Subaru, do I need to put on my calendar to have certain parts checked at certain miles vs. if I get a Toyota that can run on 3oz of gas and regular service will take care of it? I don't want to be the short blonde girl on the side of the road with an overheated radiator! I also don't want "I told you so" from my dad if I finally convince him Subaru's are awesome and it was just my year/make/model with the issue. (I hope you get paid a lot for your expertise!)

LIC Response

Ha ha, I would say Subaru's keep us busy but with that being said, they have a fairly simplistic maintenance schedule. The key is staying on top of it and doing regular/realistic drain intervals for the fluids.

Thanks

This is an incredibly helpful blog!

LIC Response

Glad to help!

03 Legacy

I have 235k on the engine and just discovered dirty oily coolant with bubbles leaking out of the radiator when topped off. No sign of contamination in the crankcase yet so I might be lucky. With this much mileage would just a top end overhaul be sufficient or should I do a complete rebuild?

LIC Response

Complete rebuild for sure (I'd recommend a Subaru genuine reman block personally). Yours made it a long time, longer than most. Would be a shame to spend time/money just doing gaskets when in all likelihood it would need a motor shortly (if it doesn't already).

Advice, please. 2010 vs 2011 Forester

Hi, thanks for your site! I've seen two single-owner Foresters recently here in Canada and am close to pulling the trigger on one but this HG issue really makes me hesitate. My options are a '10 Forester at 71,000km with CPO from a Subaru dealer, and a '11 Forester at 50,000km from a different dealer. Should there be a very significant difference between the two years in terms of HG issue? Is evidence of HG leaking something I'd be able to see with the hood open? I'm leaning toward the '10 Forester because the CPO checkup and warranty - but should i be certain the head gaskets were replaced if I want to avoid $2000+ in complicated repairs in the near future? Thanks in advance!

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

2000 Outback

I'm looking at a 2000 Outback with 129,000 miles on it for sale by a small local dealer. Of course, before I buy I am going to have it inspected by an auto shop, but I am wondering, if the inspection comes back good, is there something I can do to help prevent the HG problem or is it only a matter of time?

LIC Response

At that mileage, its likely already has the HG issue and if not, its only a matter of time.

06 Forester

Hi there, I've got an 06 Forester at 92k miles. Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a bind here. I had a shop take care of my timing belt, and at the time of service, they mentioned that I had a slight head gasket leak (probably the weeping stage you speak of). But the shop reassured me that it was minor, all Subarus had them, and that their "experienced" Subaru mechanic has several of his own Subaru's with gasket leaks and he said he didn't service them until they were greater than 150K miles. After reading this article, I'm a little panicked. First, I'm upset because as you've said here, the timing belt and HG problem should be fixed at the same time. This was not the case for me. Second, I've got some big trips coming up, and am looking at a 3000+ mile trip in the next few months (cross country move). I just don't know if I'm playing with fire here. The guys at the shop have told me my car is looking fine as recently as last week having checked the leak and all of my systems. The worst part is, I don't think I can afford to have this fixed at this time. I'm not sure what to do? Is it possible for me to wait until I'm closer to 120k miles, when I would be able to save up to afford this? What would you advise? Thanks in advance!

LIC Response

Unfortunately to do the timing service job and not the HG job is honestly a waste of money, especially since you have leaking head gaskets already (as most do at your mileage). Your timing service work (labor) is free when you do a HG job, as you have to remove the timing components to do this type of work...regardless if old or new components go back on (which you'd always do new of course), its part of the work. I'd be very skeptical driving that far with leaking HG's, as they're already breached and driving extended periods of time with sustained heat/stress, this is what makes them go out faster. If you were just cruising around town, few miles here/there...sure, you can delay it for a bit but not 30k miles delay, even with minimal driving.

2009 Forester gasket replace

My dad has a 2009 Forester (base 2.5L) he bought new, and we've enjoyed it for a long time. At about 150,000 the head gaskets gave and he took it into the dealership where they redid them. We have no idea what they replaced them with, this was six months ago. Should we replace the dealership instal now or can we go with confidence for a while at least? Also curious, I know a local pick and pull. I've thought of pulling a a turbo engine from an older XT for a swap out. Have you heard of guys doing that? Would an XT engine be compatible with a base model configuration? Thanks

LIC Response

The dealership can only use manufacture parts, so yes, they would have used the old faulty designed parts again, which will fail in time as a result. Depending on how the job was done, we see them make it anywhere from 10k-80k ish miles even, just as before with the factory gaskets installed. Really comes down to how they did the work (if they machined the heads, etc.). The redesigned gaskets, I've never had or seen another failure from them, as they honestly can't. Yes conversions are possible (non turbo to turbo swap) but its not plug and play like you've mentioned....you basically need x2 cars and then wiring integration.

2006 forester vs 2001 outback

I'm looking at buying either a 2006 forester with 165000 miles or a 2001 outback with 109000 miles. Both are nearly spotless. The outback had the timing chain and gaskets replaced at 90k miles. The forester has only ever had oil changes and the owner says the engine is dry as a bone with no leaks and hasn't had any problems. Any suggestions? The forester is asking $4500 and the outback is asking $4800 but would probably come down. Both were meticulously maintained.

LIC Response

I'd be concerned that the 2006 has never had anything but oil changes, sounds like it missed all its maintenance interval servicing (which is critical for long term). You mentioned chain on the 2001, so it must be a 6 cyl, which is a fantastic motor. I'd lean towards the older one if its a 6 cyl personally.

cracked cylinder heads

Hi guys Hoping to you can help. I'm looking at purchasing an '08 Impreza that was bought by a Subaru mechanic to fix and sell. It's got 100,000 miles and he's asking $7500 It had cracked cylinder heads which he replaced as well as the timing belt, head gaskets, water pump, clutch and all belts. He used the turbo HG apparently which aren't prone to leaking. My question is this: 1. What potential issues do I face buying an '08 Impreza with 100,000 miles that's obviously been overheated or something for the cylinder heads to crack? 2. Is this a vehicle I should stay away from like the plague or is it worth considering all the work that's been done on it? 3. Is there any way to check how the engine block itself is, like a compression test? Many thanks

LIC Response

I have never personally seen a cylinder head(s) crack from extreme heat and not destroy the block (at min the deck surfaces). I'd be cautious but not really anything you can check once its back together to ensure it was taken care of properly at time of rebuild. It would be worth double checking the cooling system for C0 (which it should have 0 PPM)

I am looking at buying an 08

I am looking at buying an 08 Subaru Legacy that has this problem. The guy is only selling it for $3k, but it has had this problem for a few months now. Any thoughts on if it would be salvageable at this point? It hasn't gotten to the over heating stage yet. It hasn't been driven a whole lot since the problem started.

LIC Response

Really hard to give good advice on something like this from afar but based on what you're saying, I don't see why it wouldn't be repairable as such.

hG

I recently took my 07 Subaru Forster to the local Subaru dealership and found out that the HG is leaking. It also seems to have developed a slight knock when I first start the vehicle. I recently put a new clutch in the car and would like to keep it running, seeing I've already invested that. Does the knocking mean there is more significant, costly damages that will need repaired also? If so what would we be looking at?

LIC Response

Really hard to gauge if your "knock" is cold start piston slap or truly "rod knock"...most when explaining, as you have, and choose the word "knock", its typically rod knock (which is not good and will lead to a costly motor replacement).

Head gasket replacement that's not OEM

Hello, I am looking to change the head gasket, timing belt and water pump. If you say the faith of the car depends on the gasket used and that is used, what specific brand name or names do you suggest I use instead of the original Subaru OEM product? Thank you, Rudy

LIC Response

You can find those upgraded gaskets here: http://www.licmotorsports.com/products/cylinder-head-gaskets-revised-non-turbo-sohc-mls_11044aa633-mls

head gasket 3.0 h-6

2001 outback h-6 compression bubbles in radiator .idle in driveway doesn't get hot ,will start getting hot if i hold brake in drive and raise rpm s,out on road will start getting hot about 5 mi. are there improved head gaskets for the 6cyl. just bought car ,knew it had bad gaskets ,140,000 mi , done head gaskets on plenty of other cars, but not with aluminum blocks ,any tips so i don't have to do the same thing in a couple more years. some one already replaced gaskets . i know its a 4 cyl but any advice would be helpfull

LIC Response

Those gaskets don't have issues, so there is no other alternative that I'm aware of as an upgrade...using factory is what I would do for replacement. A bad HG on that particular vehicle would come from it overheating...You'd defiantly need to ensure the heads went to machine shop, get resurfaced, as well as inspection of the block to ensure its not warped too.

found your answer after 2nd

found your answer after 2nd post, not to good with computers, sorry ,thanks again

LIC Response

Not a problem!

Head gaskets on 2005 Forester

Bought a 2005 Suby Forester with 130,000 three years ago for my daughter. Everything was great til she got to 170,000. First it was a new coil, the a new alternator, then a new catalytic converttor, followed by a sticky shift repair, and now I've been told the head gaskets are leaking on to the timing belt and it will be another $1,600 to do this job. The Subaru dealership said on a scale of 1 to 10 the car is sound and after the repair she should get another 2 years out of her. What do you think. I'm not mechanically inclined, but I'm leaning toward the repair.

LIC Response

I think something sounds off, never heard of a HG on a Subaru being done for $1600. I talk to folks from all around the country and this is by far way off base as far as pricing goes. Something must be amiss with that quote. In addition, at that mileage, you would want to do your timing service job, as it will be due shortly and you would never not want to do it while they have these components off already.

What is the range of getting

What is the range of getting Head Gaskets done? Ive had 2 quotes ranging from $2000-2200. That seems like a lot.

LIC Response

It varies on your location and extent of work covered with the repair. I can honestly say, I have never heard of anyone getting there HG's fixed properly for that low amount of money and I talk to folks from all over the country. The averages ranges from $2800-$3500 and even higher if you're at the time of your timing service interval, as you will have the cost of those parts as well.

I live in Idaho and have had

I live in Idaho and have had two quotes for around 1500,00 and that's with the heads going to the machine shop for my 2008 forester

LIC Response

Although that is extremely inexpensive for that type of work, something must not be right for that pricing level. The labor alone, is basically the figure you're quoting...and that's not just us or a California things, that labor is set by a national average/Subaru on what it takes to perform just the labor on the job. Add in other parts, such as gaskets, seals, fluids, etc. Never personally seen a HG job under $2200 under any scenario (from an automotive repair business). With that being said, if you can get it done that cheaply and all parts replaced that are necessary, you should sign on the line!

Headgasket advice

I have a 2007 Impreza 2.5i Sedan at 125000 miles. I really love this car and I want to keep it for at least 3-5 more years. I was referred to a Independent Subaru place to get my HG work done, and he also is including Timing Belt, water pump and some other things for 1250. Unfortunately I didn't know how common this HG problem was when I bought it only 8 months ago and I haven't been able to find a straight answer online so far. I am planning on asking him to replace the other HG while he works on my car. What else would you recommend I ask him to do while he works on my car to prevent anything else like this in the future?

LIC Response

I would recommend that when doing a head gasket service that you service both of them... I would never only do one side of the motor, that would be bad business and a recipe for disaster. I would also do the timing service job (if it has not been done yet and yes this includes the water pump as well) and in addition to take a look at the remainder of the cooling system, if radiator is original, its a good time to replace it (these like to break between 120-140k miles and if you dont catch it right way and overheat the vehicle, you end up doing a head gasket job again).

2005 Subaru Impreza

I am looking to buy a used 2005 Subaru Impreza with 130K miles on it. I will be looking at it in two days, but I am not very savvy when it comes to cars. The seller says that the head gaskets were replaced less than 20K miles ago and the car has been running well. What can I look for/ ask to make sure I am not stuck with a potentially reoccurring problem? Thanks for the advice!

LIC Response

You'll want to ensure they didn't use the OEM gaskets, if they did, you will end up with a car that will suffer the same fate again...head gasket related issues. I'd request what the part number to the gaskets are and if they were done at a dealer or independent shop. If the part number is 11044AA633, they are the same OEM flawed gaskets, which Subaru has never corrected.

2009 Subaru Legacy oil and coolant leaks

I have a 2009 Subaru Legacy 2.5i. I had the timing belt, water pump and whatever else is replaced with the timing belt. After this was done I noticed and oil leak and just over the last few months a coolant leak. One mechanic says the oil and coolant leak are from the head gasket. two other mechanics, one who works on Subarus, says the oil leak is from the plug in the block near the oil filter and the coolant leak is from the water pump. Another mechanic said the oil leak is a Subaru thing and that its possible the water pump is leaking but that it could be the gasket but isn't sure. What would you suggest? Thank you

LIC Response

I'd recommend a mechanic that can give you the correct answers as to whats going on. In addition, if you have not done head gaskets, you can guarantee yourself that they are leaking and likely part of what you're seeing.