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

'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...

2003 Subaru Forester ~ NEED HELP

Took my 2003 Subaru Forester into the dealer for an oil change today & their complimentary Winter Safety Inspection. They said that I need to... - replace the head gaskets due to them leaking $2,999.95 + tax - replace right side axle due to torn boot leaking CV grease & possible overheating the bearings can cause axle failure $499.99 + tax - replace exhaust converter & exhaust due to rusted out at the flange & leaking fumes $2,597 + tax The car is not making any noise, doesn't overheat & has been a fantastic car for years. It's got 75,000 miles on it. Is it worth repairing, or should I put that money ($6,100) into a new car? Many thanks!

LIC Response

Hard to say if its worth it or not, as thats a financial decision you'd know best about. I can say this, older/aging cars only require more future work. New cars just require maintenance...but $6k for fixing your car vs. $30k for a new car is a big difference in pricing. If you dont drive a lot, which by the sounds of your year/make/mileage - perhaps its best to fix it and keep costs down. If you drive a lot, newer is always better for long term when it comes to costly repairs.

2005 Outback 2.5i hesitates

Hi Noah, Do you see misfire problems associated with the leaking HGs? I had a non-factory Subaru mech. replace timing components at about 105k. He quoted me for HG replacement as well but I opted out considering the extra cost. Promised myself to keep an eye on oil level/consumption. (It's less than 1/4 quart a month.) A few months after, it started hesitating at 1500-2000 rpm. Misfire on #2 was the only code. Since then, the mechanic or I have replaced plug wires, coil pack, injector for #2, 1st cat & O2. Missing & CEL always returns. Odometer is at 115k now & I just replaced plugs. It ran quite well for about a week but missing returned & is noticeable at other rpms if, I punch the gas enough. I compared the old plugs & the center electrode on #2 plug was noticeably smaller but plug wasn't oily. In addition to Misfire #2 code, is 0420 cat code. Does your experience & insight tell you that the leak & misfire are directly related? Is the cat code a separate issue? FWIW - I haven't seen milkshake, only dripping oil. No overheating, No white smoke. No noticeable coolant loss. I've continued using syn. oil since previous owner switched at about 15k. I've owned since 30k. Oil & filter get changed every 3-5k.

LIC Response

Hard to diagnose via the internet but Outbacks commonly have valve related issues that will/can cause symptoms like you're having. Would need to determine what is going on but being as your mechanic and yourself is tossing parts at it and its not fixing it, I'd suggest troubleshooting and diagnostics are done before one continues throwing more parts at the car. Ultimately it needs HG and cylinder machine work

2009 STi

Hi there, Are STi's prone to this head gasket issue? I'm looking to buy a 2009 STi. I've had multiple Outbacks with the dreaded head gasket but hoping to avoid it with the STi.. Thanks for any advice! Rob

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).

2011 Outback w/180K

This page is very helpful - thanks for providing this. We purchased a 2011 Outback 2.5 in October 2017, which currently has 180K miles. Used car dealer replaced head gaskets and power-washed engine so no issues detected when inspected before purchase. Last week car overheated (steam under hood) and coolant was very low (none in reservoir). Had car tested by local mechanic and they said head(s) leaking (estimated $2000 job) and recommended getting rid of car. We are just past 60-day lemon law so doubtful dealer will take back/repair. Thoughts? Thanks!

LIC Response

A 2011 Outback is not subject to the design flaw as listed in this article, as the 2010+ model gaskets were corrected. Likely the previous owner overheated the car, got rid of it, used dealer tried to do a quick inexpensive repair and didn't correct the issue that transpired in the first place....this you can count on. Lemon law wouldn't pertain to something like this, as that law is used against the manufacture for a defect - not a random car dealership and not on 7+ year old 180k mile car.

OK, thanks. Sounds like I got

OK, thanks. Sounds like I got taken on this one and it's not worth repairing.

LIC Response

Wouldn't necessarily say its not worth repairing but only way to justify repairs is liking doing a new motor at the same time as well...which would be at min the cost of what you paid for the car, making you have double the amount into it then what you likely paid for the car. At 180k, that's getting towards the end of the motors life on these cars. Yes many make it 200k , 225k, 250k but not trouble free and most all need motor replacements by this time frame.

07 Legacy 2.5 manual

I've been the single owner (bought new) of my 2007 legacy. I've performed all the recommended maintenance intervals (3,750, 7,500, 15,000, 30,000) with Subaru and now the car is about to reach 150,000 miles. I replaced the head gaskets at 90,000 miles by a authorized Subaru service provider. Recently, I found out my head gaskets are leaking ($2,300), axel seals are leaking ($650), repack exhaust ($450), CEL (likely EVAP? $$$?) and my clutch fluid at minimum ($$$?). My car tends to burn oil fast as well. Subaru has offered me a $500 credit for the head gaskets. I'm still pleading my case for more $$$. Do you believe this car is worth fixing? When I crunch the numbers it always seems better to fix than replace. What other things typically start needing work? Thanks!

LIC Response

Really hard to justify doing the above work when you have a motor that is consuming an abnormal amount of oil. This isn't fixed with doing just head gasket work or any of the other work mentioned.

Its been burning oil fast for

Its been burning oil fast for a number of years. I now just check it often and add oil when needed between regular oil changes. What are some of the reasons it could be burning oil fast? Any long term effects? Would I be better off getting the CEL light problem fixed and run the the car into the ground or trade it in when ready? Thanks.

LIC Response

A worn out motor is the number one concern or valve seals...not sure what CEL you're referring to but if it has a CEL, its best to correct that if you're keeping the car and fixing it up. I would seriously look into the consumption issue before you spend any other money on the car though.

2007 Forester X

Hunh... My 2007 Forester has just shy of 124k miles, and a couple of weeks ago started reporting a cylinder misfire that cleared up after about 5 minutes of warmup. Last week it started up with a putt-putt-putt, reporting cylinder 1 & 3 misfire, so I had it towed to get it checked out, and sure enough I am quoted almost $2900 for head gasket, resurfacing, timing belt, water pump, etc. I'm not sure whether the repair is worth it, so considering finding something new. I wasn't aware of this issue, and had been led to believe that Subarus were generally considered reliable, but searching "Subaru head gasket" resulted in this post as the top result...

LIC Response

Well I'm glad you found us to you're aware you're not alone. Its an issue Subaru should of corrected a long long time ago - still to this day, I dont understand how they got away with it. FYI- having a car misfire from HG issues is very bad and you need to be sure the motor is ok. Only time the HG effects misfiring on the vehicle is when oil and coolant begin to mix together, once they do that, there is no undoing that (as it destroys bearings, cylinder walls, etc.).

07 outback ll Bean

Hi there....wow for over a year or more I thought I wanted a Subaru until I started reading this ! Bottom line, I love them, never owned one. Have test driven a few. Found a one owner 07 outback ll Bean 163,000. No accidents but have no idea of history....small car dealer. But, have a great Friends brother in law who is a Subaru mechanic. $50 for a complete 30 minutes of Check. Ok, H6 no HG but VCG correct. What should be done with this mileage...and cost...roughly. I'm almost scared to ever get one....but I sure want one. Thank you very much...cindy

LIC Response

The H6 is a fantastic motor and one of the more robust motors in Subaru's line up. With that being said, at that mileage, 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. It's not uncommon, at this type of mileage to expect to spend in upwards of $4-6k+ over the course of the next 30k miles or so to fix those issues mentioned. In addition, you will still have your general maintenance items, which is your 30k interval tune-ups and the 210k which is the 2nd timing component job.

99 Forester

Hello, last year I purchased a 99 Forester and it is a 5 speed manual. I am wondering if this vehicle is worth me replacing the head gaskets? This summer I put in a used transmission because mine was shot and I needed wheels to get to work. I got the transmission in myself and got it back on the road within a day of starting the project. The reason I am asking if it is worth it is because the vehicle has 238xxx miles on it and you can see the age of it quite well. I am sure it is already on its second or third head gaskets, just wondering if it is worth another. It did fully overheat. Oil drains from full in a day or two of normal use. Coolant drains from full in a matter of hours if the car is running and overnight if it is off. Is this something that I can do by myself (not a mechanic just a college student with a couple free weekends)?What would it cost me to replace it with the updated parts if I did the work by myself? Thanks for the help! Jeff

LIC Response

Really hard to answer these questions, as a shop trying to compare pricing for an individual to do the work - I just wouldn't have a great grasp on. I know based on parts and machine shop time, it'll still be expensive and at your mileage and issues of it having been overheated, its likely not a great idea to spend the money on that motor. Might be best to try and find a lower mileage one and just swap it in.

98 Impreza

Hello, I recently purchased a 98 Impreza non-turbo and I am curious if it has the headgasket issue since the list on your website starts at 1999. I do not see any signs of oil leakage, but after I drive it for about 30 minutes, there is an odd smell coming from under the hood—almost smells as if something is burning. Smell goes away after the car shuts off and cools down. The car has 160k and the head gasket was never replaced to my knowledge. Thank you.

LIC Response

The 98 would have HG issues as well, this article relates to the SOHC motors vs your DOHC motor but those as well have the same issues. Although in 2002, Subaru corrected the gaskets for the DOHC vehicles. Its more likely it has already been done and has the tri-metal gaskets in it.

My 2009 Impreza 1.5 non turbo

My 2009 Impreza 1.5 non turbo overheated the past weekend because a coolant hose failed. It has 135.000km. The mechanic said "he believes" it needs a head gasket repair but didn't want to confirm the issue and didn't offer some sort of test to confirm the issue. He just said, "we need to take the engine down and see how much work it needs" I figured out I better take this car for a second opinion. My question is, can a test really point out if the engine actually needs to be worked on, right now?

LIC Response

If it overheated (into the red), its guaranteed to have head gasket issues within days to a years worth of time. Unfortunately aluminum doesn't like heat like that and depending on how bad it was overheated will determine how and when it will re-show itself by overheating again and pushing coolant from the system. You can test the cooling system for C0 but again, it can take a bit of time for it to re-show itself.

2003 Outback 3.0 - Major oil leak

I bought my son a 2003 Outback with the 3.0 6 cylinder engine last year for $3700. It had 123K miles on it, and has 130K miles on it now. It developed a major oil leak that will basically drain 4 qts in day. My wife and son dropped it off at a Subaru dealer (after filling it with oil) while I was out of town and the dealer said the leak is from both valve covers and that cost of repair will exceed the value of the car. This thing runs great and is in pretty good shape. Is this car worth saving? Do you think it's possible to get this fixed for under $1000? Thanks for any advice you may have, Hutch

LIC Response

Common to have 6 cyl models leak from timing cover and valve cover area...unfortunately its a costly repair but couldn't speak to what you have going on as I dont know the specifics and what else is causing the leak. 4 qts dumped from valve covers is not likely, never seen that and couldn't even imagine that being a real scenario, has to have other stuff going on.

02 head gaskket

I'm honestly surprised to see all of this conversation about this. I have a 2002 (bought in July 01) with 215,000. Head gasket just let go for the first time. I'm mostly debating whether to fix it or not. There's a few other issues, and after 16.5 years, this car owes me nothing.

LIC Response

My guess is, you live in a high moisture content area and an area where they salt roadways. I say this because I have seen over and over again that mid-west/east-coast cars that will make it in that 150k/180k range before they see the external leaks...the rust seems to help seal things in for a bit of time. It can also work as a double edge sword though, where you don't get the early signs (leakage) and it then leaks and intermingles internally and causes catastrophic failure.

I fixed it. I didn't want

I fixed it. I didn't want the car to out like that. Running like a top! Hoping to drive it until I hit 20 years. And Yes, I bought it in Northern Wisconsin, but it has lived most its life in Cincinnati. Moisture, salt, snow and ice. In other words, every reason people like Scoobys. :)

Crosstreck

Very helpful information. Thanks. Does the crosstreck engine have the same issue and if so, in what years?

LIC Response

No, the Crosstrek has a redesigned motor - which for those started in 2013.

Forester XT

Hi, do the 2nd gen forester XT's (2003-2008) have the head gasket issue? Or is the problem only found in the naturally aspirated motors?

LIC Response

This design fault issue is isolated to non turbo applications.

2004 subaru Outvack 4 cylinder engine

Hello. Once an engine head gasket is replaced on the above auto approx how long will this job last for? Thanks

LIC Response

Really hard to answer that as it depends on a multitude of things. A) how the car is serviced (complete, minimal - and what I mean by that is, if they do everything that is needed such as cylinder head resurface, timing components, new radiator, etc.). B) who does the HG repair, if they use factory gaskets (they will go out again) or the corrected aftermarket gaskets (which corrects the issue). C) How its maintained afterwards

leaky head gasket

Because Subaru provided a less than adequate radiator due to size concerns, the head gasket that would have been sufficient now over heats and leaks. Due the design flaw of a less that sufficient radiator, I feel Subaru is culpable for the repair. If you agree, lets suit as a group.

LIC Response

I'm always shocked more haven't. The affected cars is in the millions.

should i get it now?

Hello, and as the name suggests, I am being gifted an 03 forester. Currently it has 61,xxx miles on it and was rarely used by the owner. I am the type of person to want to nip things before they happen, so I was doing my research on the vehicle before I get it. Heard of many head gasket issues and came across you guys as being a company that seems to carry the same values. They just serviced the vehicle, installing a new alternator, cat, distributor and full fluid flush. Please understand this is what I was told, receipts are going to come with the car so I know what more precisely was done. But that wont be until mid January. I do not currently have a mechanic but i want to know if I should purchase the part beforehand or just wait and see. Also, I am hoping to squeeze just a little more power from the engine (somewhere in the 200hp range), any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you in advance

LIC Response

I believe we were able to chat via email on this.

Headgasket

I have been looking at Subaru's. This head gasket issue is really for the 2.5 liter 4 cyl. engines correct? This is what most Subaru cars have. The 6 cynlinder engines are not part of the issue are they?

LIC Response

That is correct.

Buying a 2011 2.5i

Looking at a 2011 Impreza with the 2.5i, clean car with 55k miles on it. Currently no visible oil in engine area or underneath. I understand the odds are high that I will need to do head gaskets at some point. Is there a way to know other than the tell tail oil leak how much long the head gaskets will last?

LIC Response

They typically start leaking in the 80-120k range....Once the leak is noticed, its time to do the corrective fix for it.

2000 Outback wagon

I’m considering buying a 2000 Outback wagon with the 4 cyl 2.5L engine. The vehicle currently has 160k roughly and is a 5 speed. The dealer said that it hasn’t had any head gasket issues yet. Is it possible that this vehicle might not be plagued since it hasn’t gone yet or do you think that the issue is still to come? I’m a girl with no mechanical insight. Please help!

That's a nice find and a good

That's a nice find and a good choice, a 5 speed 00 Outback. Watch the temp guage while you're driving it around, after its warmed up. If It moves around a bunch then thats a sign its not going to last as long as you hope. It already has 160k so I cant imagine your expecting to have it too long. Most of the junkyard models i see lasted anywhere between 150 and 200k, but I'm in the land of rust.

LIC Response

Its likely the HG's have been done at min 1x before and will occur again as most reuse the Subaru OEM gaskets (unless you can confirm in paperwork that someone used aftermarket revised gaskets like the ones we sell).