Subaru Head Gasket Problems Explained.

Some answers to the Subaru head gasket problem.

At our shop we see a fair amount of Subaru’s with failed head gaskets. There are two separate groups or years of production that the failures fall into. The following information is aimed at educating our customers about the problems, what to look for, tips on how to avoid future problems, and what to if your Subaru has developed problems with the head gaskets.

The first group is the 1st generation 2.5l engine found predominantly in the 1996 to 1999 Outback, Legacy G.T., Forrester (up to mid year 1998) and Subaru Impreza R.S. This group usually, will develop an internal head gasket leak ultimately resulting with an overheating engine.

Early signs of head gasket failure in the 1st generation Subaru 2.5l engine will include an oily residue found in the coolant overflow bottle also possible is an exhaust, fuel or sulfur smell in the coolant over flow bottle. From there what typically happens next is intermittent higher than normal coolant temperature gauge readings, followed with intermittent overheating especially during a long freeway trip or a drive up the mountain passes.

The second group is the 2nd generation Subaru 2.2l and 2.5l engines found in the Forrester from mid year 1998, Impreza from mid year 1998, the Outback and Legacy from 2000.The early symptoms that occur in the 2nd generation engines is usually an external oil leak at both head gaskets and an external coolant leak at the left side head gasket, we have seen coolant leaks at the right side head gasket as well but at a much lower failure rate than the left side. We have seen some of the same intermittent overheating symptoms, but the bulk of the issues seem to be external leaks.

Early detection of failing head gaskets is the key to keeping the repair costs down. Typically speaking when the problem is diagnosed and repaired at the earliest signs of failure the potential for additional damage can be held to a minimum.

The problems are fairly well known, and the internet is a great tool for information. Unfortunately a lot of automotive professionals do not truly understand the potential causes of the failure. If the problem isn’t properly understood then some of the advise as to how to avoid the potential failure or reasons as to why this happened may be incomplete. This is where All Wheel Drive Auto can serve you better.

The good news!

We have yet to see a repaired and properly maintained vehicle have the same problem twice. And we feel that when the repair is done completely, it is a bump on the road to 300,000 miles.

Here is some of the technical information related to the gaskets used.

In 1996 on the 2.5l engine Subaru used a composite type head gasket similar in construction to the head gaskets found in the Subaru Legacy & Impreza 2.2l engine. Starting in 1997 and used through 1999 Subaru began to use a multi layer steel shim head gasket with a graphite type outer film. And this is where the problem has started.

What we typically see with these gaskets is that the film between the combustion chamber and the cooling jacket or passageway is compromised allowing coolant into the combustion chamber and exhaust pressure and temperature into the cooling system. Subaru has come up with an updated head gasket design that seems to be holding up well.

In mid year 1998 Subaru redesigned the 2.2l and 2.5l, most of the changes were in the cylinder heads and camshaft configurations. This design has had mostly problems with external head gasket leaks. Both oil and coolant

Tips on how to avoid or decrease the chance of failure are as follows.

1. Change the engine oil on a regular basis. As part of the normal combustion process not all of the fuel that enters the combustion chamber (this is where the compressed air fuel mixture is met with spark from the spark plug causing an explosion and creating power) is burnt, unfortunately we don’t drive vehicles that achieve 100% combustion. The unburnt fuel is scraped past the rings into the crankcase where it is mixed with the engine oil. The longer the oil is in the engine the more diluted the oil becomes with fuel. Fuel is a solvent that can eat away at seals and gaskets.

What is supposed to happen is that as the engine oil gets up to temperature the fuel will evaporate through the crankcase ventilation system into the intake manifold where it will mix with the air coming into the combustion chamber and be burnt there. But in areas such as the Puget Sound we do a lot of idling in traffic, and short trips where the oil never gets the chance to get up to the temperature needed to achieve the designed process. This is where understanding the difference between normal and severe use is crucial in car maintenance.  Maintain your car based on how you use it, Consumer reports and JD Powers, put out ownership cost studies  and as a result car manufactures don’t want their car to seem like it costs more to own than the next one, Think of the maintenance outline as the minimum amount of maintenance you should do.

2. Don’t let your Subaru’s battery become a hazardous waste area. We see a lot of Subaru’s come into the shop with “chia pets of corrosion” on the top of the battery. To the point where the battery is no longer visible from the top and the cable set has been damaged. Batteries typically go three to five years before they will really start to vent out a significant amount of acid. Under normal circumstances the battery is used to start the vehicle and to power accessories when the engine is not running. Any time the battery is used it loses some of its charge.

Most Subaru owners drive their vehicles with all of the accessories on. Sometimes at idle the alternator can’t keep up with the entire electrical load put on it and some power is drained from the battery. The process of the battery being discharged and charged is ultimately what causes the acid to vent out of the battery. How does a battery effect head gaskets you ask? Without getting to far into the scientific end of it, the battery is located very close to the radiator.  The electrical system in the car is grounded to the engine block on the left side of the engine, as the ground circuit resistance increases (from corroded battery cables), the voltage found in the cooling system will also increase, this is what causes electrolysis.   Coolant can become very corrosive as a result.  This is nothing new to cars but it has gone overlooked by today’s era technicians, I know that checking voltage in the cooling system is nothing that is typically done at the dealer level during a service nor do most independent shops perform this either.  There is a good chance that most don’t even know how to check for it.

A voltage drop test at the battery cable can reveal if the resistance level is high in the battery cable, if the resitance is high you are asking for trouble, again this is nothing new but often never checked by most shops just like most drivers do not check there oil or tire pressure every week.   Corrosion travels up the battery cable from the terminals and attacks the copper battery cable.

A battery that is covered in battery acid and corrosion will add to the level of corrosion in the cooling system, by increasing the resistance in the vehicle ground circuit which can lead to higher levels of electrolysis. This corrosion can eat away at metal gaskets, seals and metal that it comes in contact with. On a 2nd generation 2.2 and 2.5l it is almost always the left side head gasket that leaks coolant externally and it is also the cylinder head gasket that is the closest to the battery. Odd, no? A properly serviced and healthy battery will decrease the possibility of the battery adding to the corrosion level of the cooling system.

As the battery vents out acid and the cooling fans come on some of the vented acid can make its way into the coolant overflow bottle, not a lot in most cases but how much is too much?  The overflow bottle catches coolant from the cooling system as heat and pressure cause expansion of the coolant from the radiator into the overflow bottle as the engine cools the coolant is then pulled back into the cooling system form the “expansion tank” or “overflow bottle”.  In some cases you can look at the inside of the hood of your Subaru and see white acid all over the hood liner, if that is your car you are pulling  a tiny amount of acid into the overflow bottle past the tube and from there into the radiator, remember as the engine cools, coolant is pulled back into the radiator via the vacuum that is created as pressure decreases, so there is a small vacuum pulling at particles surrounding the coolant overflow bottle.

The health of the electrical system is a contributing factor.  We know that corrosive coolant is part of the problem, we know that electrolysis is a result of increased voltage levels in the cooling system as a result of poor grounding , we know that a poor ground can be caused by resistance in the primary electrical circuit.  We know the coolant is the same in the entire engine, and the gaskets the same left to right the only difference is the fact that the ground is at the left side of the engine and that if there is voltage present  in the cooling system it will always travel the shortest path to ground and the ground is on the same side of the engine as the gasket that always fails the most via external coolant leaks.

I don’t suggest that this is the primary factor, but one of many and the single easiest to prevent

Here are some examples of what not to ever let happen.

Battery Acid At Work

Battery Acid On The Hood Liner of a Subaru

Battery acid all over the hood liner part II

Battery acid at work

3. Change your Subaru’s coolant on a regular basis. This is one of the most important things you can do to your Subaru. As discussed previously corrosive coolant can deteriorate seals and gaskets over time. The use of the proper anti-freeze is recommended by Subaru as well as is a coolant additive on vehicles with the 2nd generation engines for a period of time.

4. Know what is being used in your Subaru. Not all auto parts, services and repairs are created equal. For example using non O.E.(original equipment) type spark plugs can create hotter or cooler combustion temperatures. The combustion temperature has a lot to do with the amount of cylinder head, and gasket expansion. Generic coolant will save you about $5.00 over O.E. coolant but is it worth it in the long run?

5. This is a biggie, and the most overlooked. If you have a new car warranty or an aftermarket warranty policy that is about to expire, have the vehicle inspected by someone who specializes in Subaru’s like All Wheel Drive Auto. The dealer is not going to call you and schedule in your Subaru for an inspection prior to the warranty expiring.

This is where All Wheel Drive Auto can truly serve your interest’s well. Calling the dealer empowered with information and documentation about leaks is much better than hoping you won’t have any problems.

Subaru utilizes the horizontal engine design and is one of the reasons that the all wheel drive system found in the Subaru is superior to the other makes and models out there. The horizontal engine platform is also a large part of what makes a Subaru a great safe vehicle and the all wheel drive and safety of a Subaru is usually what influences the decision to own one.

On an in-line engine or v engine design, when the vehicle is turned off the fluids such as coolant and oil will drain down to below the head gasket line. On a Subaru with a horizontally opposed engine when you turn the vehicle off the fluids such as the oil and coolant will remain in contact with the head gaskets. If the fluids are not in very good condition, such as outlined above, they will eat away at the head gaskets.

A Subaru can give its owner many years of trouble free life. That added with the knowledge that it will get you to where you need to go regardless of road conditions. As such we feel that the repair done correctly and a good maintenance schedule following will yield years of trouble free driving.

Subaru head gasket

This is a failed 1st generation head gasket found in the Subaru 2.5l  starting in 1997.

Notice the silver area where the black film has washed away allowing coolant and cylinder pressure to exchange.

Failed Subaru Haed gasket

Failed DOHC 2.5l Subaru Head Gasket

In the above picture you can see that the upper portion of the gasket is fine.   This is an example of how gravity is part of the problem, when combined with the solvent that is fuel  and potentially corrosive coolant.

Updated Subaru 1st generation 2.5l Head Gasket

Here we see the updated  Subaru 2.5l gasket.

1st Generation 2.5l updated head gasket vs the original design

The Subaru Updated 2nd Generation Head Gasket

This is the updated gasket from Subaru for the 2nd generation 2.5l

A Failed 2.5l Head Gasket Next To A New One

This is a eaten away gasket vs the updated one installed at the Subaru Dealership service department

A Failed 2nd Gen. Subaru 2.5l Head Gasket

You can see how the gasket material has been eaten away, anywhere you see sliver is not good.

Failed left Side Subaru  Head Gasket

Another picture of the same issue, an eaten away gasket.

A Failed 2nd Gen. Subaru 2.5l Head Gasket


Subaru Updated vs The Failed Gasket

Updated vs failed gasket.


Subaru Replacement VS The old one coming out

Updated vs failed gasket.

MLS Gasket we use

The Old vs New.  You can see the significant changes that were made in the design in the first generation gasket but not so much in the 2nd Gen in regards to the gaskets offered by Subaru.  You can also see the significant difference in the gaskets we use here.

Thanks for reading.

Justin Stobb

All Wheel Drive Auto

Seattle Area Independent Subaru Expert

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2,578 Responses to Subaru Head Gasket Problems Explained.

  1. Brian Murphy November 27, 2007 at 4:27 pm #

    In all my research about these head gasket problems with the Subarus, everyone keeps talking about the model years 1998-2002. What about 2003’s. I have a 2003 Forester with the 2.5 liter engine with 88,000 miles and is currently in the shop getting the HG’s replaced. If they fixed the problem in the 2003 model year, than why is it still occuring? Do you have more info on the 2003’s and their HG problems?

    • andy February 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

      2003 outback, 99000 miles, they said the headgaskets were ‘very bad’, we’ll see what their estimate is. I loved this car up to this point.

      • Elisa June 28, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

        Just had to replace mine, 72,000 miles 2003 Forester.

        • Bob July 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

          They are replacing mine along with a new clutch. 2003 WRX, 134,100 miles.

          • PK September 22, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

            I have a 2003 Sub Legacy 2.5GT wagon with only 77,000 highway miles, that needs a head gasket repair.It started having coolant leaks at 55,000 which were minor and repaired as they occurred. I have maintained it religously, yet this still happenned. Why??

          • cmatuse January 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

            I have a 2003 subaru baja that had the head gaskets replaced at around 77,000 miles, thankfully just before the extended warranty was up. i fear buying another subaru because i know of 7 other people with various models and years who have had to replace head gaskets.

          • Justin Stobb January 17, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

            I understand your reservations but be sure to share your experience with any other car you own after 77k miles in terms of money spent on total service and repairs going forward. I work in the industry I have a lot of friends that do as well, all cars have their issues some come in $500.00 dollar chunks others in $2000.00


          • Tom M April 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

            My 2003 needs new headgaskets, it has 147,000 miles on it. The issue is engine oil leaking out onto other components. I’m fairly certain the extended warranty has expired (didn’t cover much). My estimate was $2,300 for replacement.

            I’m planning on just selling off my car and getting a new one; did any of the 2003 owners receive any help (financial or repair) from Subaru with replacing the head gaskets?

          • Justin Stobb April 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

            Hi Tom,

            Is the $2300.00 after 147k of use scaring you into buying a new car?

            Subaru has helped some with newer models than the 2000 to 20002 covered by the WWP -99 campaign, but not to many with 147,000 miles.


      • Christian March 10, 2012 at 1:04 am #

        How about my 2004 Forrester? I’d like to know Even more; why so few posts re: ’04. I’m concerned that I bought a Lemon partially because there are lots of posts for earlier years, but so far I can’t find a lot of discussions on 2004s. I’ve read many, not all posts so far…

        • shawn April 16, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

          Just took my ’04 Forester in for oil change and fluid check to Subaru of Georgetown (Tx), and got the news that the HG were starting leak. I have 120k miles on it. A co-worker with the same year Forester and maybe 80k mi got the news last month.

          I am not a happy “Subi” owner now.

          • Justin Stobb April 17, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

            It doesn’t matter what car you own anytime you are told you need to repair it you will always be unhappy, its the marketing message to sell new cars.


          • Kathy June 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

            My 06′ Outback just blew it’s 2nd. set of head gaskets (in less than three years) yesterday. 118,000 miles. Replaced every set of wheel bearings at least once, cracked front axle…I do not drive it that hard, unless you consider a gravel drivel extreme conditions. Subaru has major quality issues.

          • Jacob Israel February 19, 2014 at 10:42 am #

            A new purchase ’04 forester had the left side head gasket replaced at 44,000 miles in 03/2009 under warranty. The coolant reservoir started to foam at 70,294 miles 11/2010 Subaru dealer stated problem was a bad radiator cap. At 94,000 miles in 08/2013 with reservoir empty and cloudy the cooling system was pressure tested at a Firestone with no visible leaks the radiator cap was replaced again. Took the car back the Subaru dealer with this problem 2/2014 with 100251 miles with both head gaskets failed. Result $2,391.25 which included replaced water pump and timing belt assembly. I waiting for Subaru of America to respond to the complaint. I will update. I am considering walking away from the car.

      • Scott April 26, 2012 at 1:08 am #

        I took my 2004 Forester in for an oil change and the technician showed be oil that was apparent on the underside of the engine; price of repair is over $2,000. It’s not the cost of teh repair that is disappointing, but the fact that Subaru has not about this problem for a decade and seemingly done nothing about it. I was considering buying another Subaru this year, but after spending $2,000 on repair, I’ll be keeping this car for awhile.

        • Justin Stobb April 28, 2012 at 5:27 pm #


          Other makes and models suffer from the same issue, I promise you this. Because Subaru produces a limited number of Vehicles and most have the same engine it seems like it is a every Subaru thing but its truly not.

          You are wise to keep the vehicle and gain value out of the repairs you have made.


          • pete June 9, 2012 at 3:58 am #

            I have 05 forester with headgasket leaking at 80,000 mile also
            wheel berring problem, valve cover , tranmission cover leaking
            last time i buy a subaru.

          • Justin Stobb June 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

            The Valve cover would be replaced with the Head Gaskets, the transmission pan is most likely not leaking unless you let some one reseal the pan already and that would hardly be Subaru’s fault. Most likely the oil from the head gaskets is blowing back onto the Transmission pan?

            The Wheel bearing costs less than $400.00
            Head gaskets around $1500.00 to $2000.00

            If its at the high end Say $2400.00 and you drive it another 80,000 miles it will cost you .03 cents a mile for those repairs. Buying a $25,000.00 replacement vehicle will run .31 cents a mile for the next 80,000 miles.

            When you replace your Subaru with another Full time AWD vehicle in the same class please compare ownership costs at the 80,000 mile mark. Or maybe head over to the Audi and Volvo Forums and see how people feel about the costs they have had to shell out, I know that spending money on a car is unpopular just not sure what would be a beter option if costs are the concern or visits to a service center unpopular.

            Im sorry your Subaru hasn’t lived up to your expectations.


          • Gary June 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm #


            Your right, other cars have problems. GM had bad intakes gaskets for a decade or more.

            Anyhow I;m looking at a 08 outback with 88,000 miles. It has the 2.5L H4 SFI SOHC 16V, 5 speed. From what I have read here, (and thanks for the info) this does fall into the HG years.

            Clean car fax but only one maintance record done at 77.000. It was done by a dealer.

            Oil and filter changed
            Recommended maintenance performed
            Brakes checked
            Maintenance inspection completed

            I’m guessing that would be the coolant change ?

            What else could I be looking at for repairs and when, like the timing belt, etc.

            I like the opposed engine. I have a couple old Onan opposed small engines and they just keep going and going.


          • Justin Stobb June 15, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

            Yes, and may GMs have HG issues, mostly the aluminum head mated to cast iron blocks such Duramax Diesel engine which is a $7,000 upgrade has had some issues. Interestingly enough with 100,000 mile coolant.

            The 08 should be pretty solid, I would have an inspection done to see where its at in fluid seepage past the HG, the timing belt is done at 105k.

            There are no other every car needs this kind of a thing on a 2008 model.


          • Aimee Harmon September 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

            I also have an 03 Baja. I am quite attached to this car but about 50K miles ago my mechanic told me I needed a new head gasket 🙁 He put in some “stop leak” to hold it over until I saved up some money to fix it. It has held very well but have now finally decided to get it fixed. I went back and forth on whether to buy new or fix it but ultimately the car has been great to me. The car now has 137K on it and I plan on running it for the next 10 years!!!

          • Dan June 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

            I have Toyotas and Hondas that have gone over 250,000 and no major problems like a $2000 head gasket repair. Subaru = OK car, but not great. Get a Honda.

          • Justin Stobb July 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

            And people have had Subaru’s go 300k with no HG issue, and others have had to replace a Head gasket in a Honda or Toyota and tell you to go buy a Ford.

            Buy what you like to drive and what fits your lifestyle.

          • Christopher (jeep enthusiast) November 5, 2013 at 5:40 am #

            Justin, I am so appreciative for your briefing.
            After comparing fuel economy to AWD/4WD capable vehicles I’ve found Subaru’s to be both New England capable as well as better on fuel economy than my beloved Jeeps (esp. Wranglers). So I’ve been shopping for used AWD Legacy’s. The head gasket and timing belt issues had me intimidated but, I did settle on a 2002 Lagacy L wagon.
            Your article has put me to ease, now properly informed and knowing how to properly preserve my new used “Subie” (with already 198*** mi).

            Thank you Justin
            (FYI: The previous owner took great care of it. They already fitted with replacement head gasket/timing belt too.)Has a smooth idle in drive gears; now I know how to keep it that way.

          • Justin Stobb November 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

            Good to hear, and thanks for posting

            Hope the Legacy serves you well in those brutal winters!


          • Eric May 6, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

            I was just about to buy a 2004 Forester XS until I talked to a friend who told me about the HG problem. He also said that the Turbo XT models did not have the problem. I think i will keep looking.
            I’ve never had a problem with my 99 Jeep Cherokee, it has 148k on it and will go anywhere.

          • Justin Stobb May 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

            Hi Eric,

            The XT Turbo models use a MLS gasket from the factory and have much lower failure rates yes. Most 2004 N/A engines will develop an external oil leak over time from one or both HG. Thats great that the 1999 Jeep Cherokee has been good to you, but if we want to talk about that vehicle overall especially as it pertains to safety and cost of ownership VS the Forester the jeep will be at a huge disadvantage. The truth is that all vehicles have their own set of issues, I could list the fact that many Cherokee owners of that era deal with warped front rotors, and electrical problems, which may seem minor, but cost as much if not more than the HG repair on the Forester.


          • Jules Enatsky July 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm #

            My 2007 Legacy with 72,885 informed me via check engine light that something was amiss. I pulled off the highway 30 +/- miles from Charlottesville, VA having traveled from Philly. Had car towed to Cville Subaru dealer. This was Friday at 6:30PM & service didn’t open again until Monday. Not a great way to begin a short trip away from home. Turned out my radiator was leaking from a lower sea, the head gaskets were leaking & needed replacement and the OSV was bad. It cost me $700 for the radiator in Cville. I returned home 4 days later than expected & too my car to my local dealer whom I’ve bought 2 Subaru’s from. Replacing the head gaskets, the power steering pump, & the OCV plus a tune-up came to $2500 +/- & Subaru covered it all except for $200 for tune-up parts. I have no complaints ‘& the car has not cost me a cent since I’ve owned.

          • Joepro July 6, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

            I love my subaru i think I have a head gasket issue because my oil was milky and coolant dark but haven’t had any issues with overheating. Also my valve cover gasket may be bad because my right front sparkplug had oil on it

          • don huber December 13, 2015 at 10:05 am #

            justin, thank you for great info. most people dont realize how good and detailed your info. is.
            i found your posts when fixing my second subaru 2.5 wagon 1998.
            i used a great garage in pa i knew the mechanic and he had done 400-450 2.5 hgs.
            people subaru is a great car with a defined problem. buy a used 5-8 year old subaru in 3rd year production run with a blown hg. many people panic and are given 5000 dollar est. and sell thease subarus cheap.
            take to a garage that specalizes in subaru and pull entire engine.
            have all belts gaskets water pump real seal ect changed pay for the expensive composite head gasket. cost is 1500 to $2000 from a responsible garage.
            PULL THE ENGINE. no short cuts.
            a 2.5 boxer is almost guaranteed 150,000 after you do this
            all three of my subarus went 100-150k mile and they quite due to other reasons. not one did the motor die.
            my 3rd one is outside with 235,000 miles on it did the motor at 125k
            compresson check done 6 months ago not one cyclinder was off more that 5 pounds avg. 155.
            it uses or leaks about 1/2 quart of oil every 6 months, this is a 1998 with 235k miles.
            my red 1997 had 225k miles and when i did oil changes you couldnt even measure a vol. differnce. i sold it 2 years ago and the guy has over 270k and still driving. he told me brakes and tires since i sold it to him. claims he hasnt fixed anything or spent any $$ just drives it.
            this is a 1997 with 270k and hasnt even had a tuneup since 180k.
            mind you i took very good care of it.
            last note i change the fuel filters every 3 years . a doubt anyone else does. but they cost $15.00 and very easy to change and keep the injectors from having issues(imo)

          • Dan Davis February 18, 2016 at 8:29 pm #


            I just bought a 2016 Crosstrek 2.0 for a commuter vehicle. Will I have the same problems as these other guys? I drive 50K per year.

        • kate December 10, 2012 at 9:00 am #

          Subaru indeed has known about this issue for a very long time but, after a lot of exploring I found out Subaru will not issue a recall nor help with this major repair. I have a 02 Forester and am going to get rid of it. Too bad, I really liked the car, but, this is not a good way to do business when the manufacturer will not stand behind their product.

          • Justin Stobb December 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

            Hi Kate,

            Im sorry you feel that way, a couple of points and a question.

            So 11 years later, Subaru should perform warranty work on your Subaru?

            Id like to ask how long should the warranty be? If the car cost more money to buy because the warranty was longer wouldn’t that just be a wash anyways?

            Please let me know which AWD vehicle you intend to replace it with, I can then send you information about the problems you are going to have with that car so you can be prepared.

          • kate 2 December 15, 2012 at 3:37 am #

            I have an 03 legacy wagon – 160,000 miles and the hg problem. 2000 quote. i think i should sell it while the resale is still high enough and get a 2006 volvo xc70 at 89,000 miles for 12500. it also has a bent subframe. what do you think?

          • Justin Stobb December 18, 2012 at 6:10 am #

            If you buy a Volvo with 90k, All I can say is best of luck, hope you have a few credit cards.

            You can Fix the Subaru for $2000.00 or spend $12,500 on a new to you used Vehicle with very high ownership costs. $10,500.00 in the bank, or $10,500.00 less in Debt will always be my suggestion.

            Im not sure which car has a bent Subframe? The Subaru has a Cross member, is what what you mean?


          • Cece August 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

            Hi: Call Subaru of America they help pay the cost of HG. There are some requirements to qualify like you need to have a history with your local dealership for service maintenance. They helped me pay for mine I have a Forrester 2007 and has 105,000. They will pay $500.00 of the final cost of my bill which the dealership estimate around 1,200.00. Good luck! Subaru’s are great cars and the resale value stays best in the market. All cars will have issues in the long run. Don’t buy american, stay with foreign, they are the best.

    • Peter Baker July 18, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

      I have a 2007 outback 2.5 XT that I believe to be overheating. I have brought it to the service center three times now and they have replaced the coolant seals (two of them they told me because of being turbo) and cleaned the air filter and replaced the thermostat. They also told me the first time I brought it in that the battery was dead. Now they have told me that it is normal for a turbo engine to heat at high revs to about 225 degrees and that the gauge should read hot but not in the red. I have owned a WRX and an older non-turbo outback and non of those cars have ever read above half way on the gauge. I have been noticing that the center console flashes on and off and was wandering if this is a result of the corroded or contaminated coolant as a result of the bad battery

      • Chuck P August 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

        I have the exact same car, with the exact same problems! Did you ever find out the cause(s)??

      • Another Subaru Owner October 8, 2012 at 1:21 am #

        I think if it’s overheated then you may have a cracked head.

        Your Subaru dealership service dept. will diagnose your problem/s with a fee (which has gone up to over $100 in California). Keep in mind, you need to have them write down on the service receipt what needs to be fixed with the tech’s name so that you can have a record of that visit so that when you choose to pay for the repair/s you can show them the diagnosis receipt. Upon that visit ask the manager if your warranty will cover the needed repair/s and if so, do NOT leave the building to think about it but ask to schedule immediately for ALL the necessary repairs covered by the warranty. This is very important, otherwise they WILL wonder why you left the dealership without scheduling a service appointment and will ASSUME that you were waiving your warranty rights. That means, they will charge you when you go back to the service department because they will forget your name. (Remember, they are begging for dollars in the sales office, and the service department is next door-THEY WANT YOUR MONEY-and they know it will be a very costly repair so they have you by the neck in this situation).

        I had a head repair for my 2003 Outback, and my head repair totaled $3125. The dealership did a bad job of taking care of the recall issue which is related to emissions, and diagnosed the head problem 2,000 miles before my warranty expired. I did not schedule an immediate appointment and by the time I came back the warranty expired and I had to pay out of pocket for the necessary repair. The dealership had ASSUMED that I was WAIVING my warranty rights at that point. (Too bad for me-another expensive lesson). I had an independent shop fix the heads, since by that point I knew they treated me like a walking bank account, and now I still have the CV and Cad Converter to fix because I do not have enough money. That will be another one thousand dollars. By the way, the service center at Subaru offers more expensive parts and the manager doesn’t seem to care much about that either.

        That’s it for my simple minded opinion. And don’t forget to change the coolant professionally, make sure the battery isn’t corroding, and if you need a back wheel baring it will be another thousand for that crap they’ll charge you for too. And, if the tires and breaks wear out and the radiator develops a 1cm long seal break like mine because of “old age”, chances are you are into another three thousand more dollars like me. Ok, so the manager at Subaru doesn’t actually drive a Subaru, politically speaking we can’t fire him.

        Best of luck! (Clunk clunk)

        • Justin Stobb October 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

          A phone call To SOA and documentation of an Advised needed Warranty repair should get you some $ back.

          Its the Service Advisers job to schedule you in, not for you to call back to schedule. Typically they don’t let you leave without an appointment, and typically hold the car over.


          • Mario April 9, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

            you seem to be full of excuses… i want to know the major issues with the H6??????????

          • Justin Stobb April 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

            Make Excuses?

            So in your first sentence you insult and then in your second you make demands.

            Best of luck to you.

          • Martin Richins May 11, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

            We are looking at a Forester for our daughter. How can you tell if the HG has already been changed?

            What do you charge for a pre sale inspection?

            We had to have the head gasket replaced on a 2000 Outback. We got a notice shortly after we got the car to have an additive put in the coolant which we had done. As I understand it if you did this they extended the warranty for HG to 100,000 miles. The HG went out on a trip back from California on New Years day with 99,700 miles on the car. By the time we got back home the car had over 100,000 miles on it. Had the HG replaced but since the mileage was over 100,000 miles the dealer said they could not help. They told me to contact Subaru of America and they sent me a check for the whole amount including what I paid for a new timing belt.

          • Justin Stobb May 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

            Depending on what year Forester you are looking at the inspection to determine of the HG have been replaced will be different.

            Pre purchase inspection runs $116.00 but if during the course of the inspection we find something that may be a deal breaker we will stop early, bring it to your attention and proceed form there, if we don’t complete the inspection the charge would be less, we just try to be fair.


        • truthseeker June 11, 2013 at 4:32 am #

          Just purchased a 2013 Toyota Sienna. Currently have a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with 156,000 miles. The Vibe is a Toyota Matrix in disguise.

          I have never done anything to the Vibe, I don’t even recall changing any bulbs or lights or even wiper blades. It gets 32 mpg and handles and accelerates like a sports car.

          After buying the Sienna a friend told me “When you buy a Toyota you only cry once.”

          He may be right.

          By the way, the Sienna has extraordinary acceleration, handles like a sports car too, and gets 25 mpg fresh out of the box.

          I would recommend you get a Toyota.

          • Justin Stobb June 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

            And if you look for Toyota Sienna problems you will find people with complaints. Like the first gen engines that were notorious for developing sludge, or the very typical $1200 standard rack and pinion replacement that still seem to develop up until 2011 from what I have read on IATN (See TSB T-SB-0097-12) or the fact that many seem to go through brakes quite often.

            I could continue if you would like, but perhaps these issues will be okay with you if you should have to spend the money on the repairs?

            Its okay to be happy with your new car purchase and to be happy with your Pontiac Vibe performance over a period of time, but can yo understand that not everyone is going to have that experience, just like not everyone who buys a Subaru is going to have an issue?


          • DeeDee January 22, 2016 at 3:07 am #

            I have a 2003 silver Suburu Forrester and it is absolutely the BEST CAR I have ever had. Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much fun to drive and wonderful ride. My son is 10 and loves our car too! We named our car Julian. We had his timing belt and water pump changed before it was needed. He has 84,000 miles. When he needs new head gaskets, we will go to Firestone and have them changed just like the timing belt and water pump. We use original SUBURU coolant with the recommended SUBURU coolant additive, ordered off GREAT STUFF.

            Love our Suburu. Wish we could visit Justin, but we are in a different state. Thank you for the helpful article, I want to be prepared to fix Julian when he gets older. Thank you.

    • Justin August 8, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

      2003 Forester, leaking coolent driver side at 80,000 stopped it with AlumaSeal. Now at 116000 oil leaking passenger side. Having both headgaskets replaced! 🙁 WHY NO RECALL !

      • Justin Stobb August 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

        Recalls are generally safety related. There is nothing unsafe about developing an external engine oil and or coolant leak unless it goes ignored.

        You voided any possibility of a recall in the event there was one with the use of Stop leak BTW.


        • Rick November 21, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

          I have a 2000 outback diagnosed with a blown head gasket and mechanic is recommending engine replacement rather than repair. Stating replacing timing belt and other parts done at same time

      • Dave Wall December 5, 2011 at 2:57 am #

        Ford had a similar problem on 3.8L in the early 90s and being a responsible company they did recall the effected vehicles, safety or not, a good car company should accept responsibility and pay for their screw ups. I won’t buy another Subaru

        • Justin Stobb December 5, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

          Hi Dave,

          Actually Because my Wife worked for Ford during that Recall I am very Familiar with it, and you are comparing apples to apples without knowing it.. Subaru did recall the ones where it was apparent the gasket needed to be replaced do to a coolant leak. WWP 19

          The issue with the 3.8l included an improper RA plus an improved gasket and many of those cars also developed issues later in life as well. The 1995 was the year that was the worst, and Ford did NOT issue a Recall covering all 3.8l, it was just that the upped some affected Vin Numbers to a 100k warranty Just like Subaru did (where do you think Subaru got the Idea from?)

          Just like Subaru, many Fords never had the repairs covered under warranty only the affected Vin numbers.

          Many Ford 3.8l owners footed the bill them selves.


          • Jon January 13, 2012 at 4:33 am #

            2001 Outback 2.5L 73k miles (yes, low miles for the year) HG leaking externally on #4 cyl (driver side rear) What VIN numbers are covered by WWP 19?

          • Justin Stobb January 17, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

            WWP-99 is over.

            You would need to contact SOA and see if they will do anything for you.


        • Ray in PA January 9, 2012 at 12:47 am #

          Uh, only ’94 3.8. Only under 100k miles. We had a ’93 Sable, took a dump at 103k. Too bad. Never buy another Ford, either.

      • tom December 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

        not a safety issue

    • Rich August 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      2003 Foresters were probably fixed sometime during the model year. 03 Foresters were initially manufactured starting in spring 2002 for sale in late summer/fall 2002 and those early cars are probably more prone to problems. My 03 has a manufacture date of 10/2003 and has 187,000 miles with the original head gaskets, no problems.

      • Justin Stobb August 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

        That’s great! We have had many customers who take good care of their vehicles not experience any issue. But the 2003 Subaru Forester is not fixed, you just happen to drive and maintain the vehicle in a way that has prolonged the HG life over the Drivers that don’t.


        • Christian March 10, 2012 at 4:58 am #

          Hello Justin, I have a 2004 Forester, also lo miles of 52K; with diagnosis of leaking head gasket(s), coolant leak & temp gauge clining and Left Front Axle leak. Not many references to a 2004, though I’ve read as many posts & replies as I can. Any chance you or others I may have missed have seen it, or am I just very unlucky?

          • Justin Stobb March 11, 2012 at 5:28 am #

            Hello Christian,

            The 2004 Forester has the same head gasket as every other Subaru 2.5l NA SOHC form 2003 to 2009, so yes we make repairs to that model as well. You dont have a lemon as that would mean that under the warranty period there were multiple attempts at resolving issues that remained un resolved or the car was out of service repeatedly for many days at a time again under the initial warranty period only.

            The lower mileage older cars cars are always more subject to head gasket failures than a car of the same age that has been driven many more miles, meaning that someone else with a 2004 Forester that has driven 15k a year may still not have a HG leak, whereas your car is used in a way that by the very nature of it creates a situation where the oil is going to be diluted with fuel and coolant is most likely going to have a high PH level both of which contribute to the shortened life of the head gaskets.

            Hope that helps explain, I know it doesn’t ease the expense any.


          • Jonathan April 4, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

            Can you further explain why older cars with low mileage are more prone to head gasket problems? If I am correct driving less actually increasing the possiblity of HG problems. This is a bit counter-intuitive given that one would think less wear/tear would better preserve the car/parts.

          • Justin Stobb April 5, 2012 at 4:24 am #

            Hello Jonathan

            Head gaskets are not a wear item like a tire, brake pads or drive belts so it’s not counter-intuitive it’s just the way things work on the internal combustion engine.

            Here are two quick points.

            A car driven mostly for short trips never gets up to and maintains “normal” operational temperature, as such the fuel collected in the crank case does not separate from the oil and instead continues to dilute and contaminate it, oil mixed with gas is a solvent that will eat away at gaskets.

            Coolant will obtain high ph levels leading to contamination and electrolysis if not serviced regularly and the car sits a lot. This will cause corrosion of the gaskets.

            There is a long list of other things that happen on short trip cars and is why a short trip car is one of most Extreme ways to use a car and why the maintenance aspects are the opposite of what most do.

            If you spend some time on the site reading posts you will see I have addressed this plenty of times in the past.

            Hope that helps


          • Leslie April 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

            Hi Christian – I have the same model and 52K miles and was shocked to be told recently that the head gasket needed to be replaced. I’m glad you posted your questions because Justin’s comments helped. Leslie

          • Steve April 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

            I have a 2008 subaru legacy 2.5

            60,000 miles on it and the

            headgasket whent Subaru Dealer

            whants 1,600 dollers to fix it

            I ways babyed this car

            will never buy a Subaru again

        • Tim April 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

          I certainly hope you weren’t implying that only Subaru owners who properly maintain and reasonably operate their Subarus should expect a problem-free vehicle. Our (my wife and I) 2008 Subaru Legacy has lived a life of luxury. Regular maintenance by competent service mechanics, babied driving and “low mileage for its age” (quoted from a Subaru service mechanic). Despite all, and discovered today while at the Subaru dealership for yet another revision to the computer and replacement of the front CAT, our legacy is leaking oil out of the driver’s side cylinder head gasket. With 73,000 miles and change on this vehicle, I would suggest that bad driving habits and poor maintenance had nothing to do with this failure. I fully understand the causes of head gasket failure in the horizontally-aligned boxer, but is it impudent of me to expect more than 73K before spending $2K on the repair? Last month was $330 for replacement of the rear diff. gasket and rear axle seals. My 1995 GMC Sierra 4WD (first and only owner) broke 160K this year. HAd to replace the trans., but that’s been it. Pretty good for an eighteen year old pickup, and no head gasket leaks.

          I love the car, but every repair breaks the bank. However, your argument for vehicle repair over replacement holds water, especially considering the bankroll one must have to just drive in the lot.

          • Justin Stobb May 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

            Hi Tim,

            1995 was the year before OBDII, the 2008 Subaru has many more emissions systems that can and do fail, and that’s the case on every 2008 VS 1995, write your congressman if you don’t like all of the systems that are required for clean air on cars today.

            So one when complaining about a system that did not exist in 1995 that has to be serviced to day I am just not sure what to say there.

            The rear diff and axle seals is not typical and speaks to the fact that most likely the gear oil was contaminated with moisture and that’s what caused the failure which does not support good service. I wonder if the Diffs have in fact been serviced every 30,000 miles?

            What id like for you to do is go to the GMC Sierra Forums the “Diesel place” is a good one to start with, lets spend a couple of hours reading the rants about how big a piece of $%^#@ there 2008 GMC is, you will find plenty especially on the new Diesel emission components! This is after spending 60k on a new truck mind you, many who use the truck for work.

            If you are willing to do that and after reading post after post about this system or that costing big dollars to up keep and the down time and still think its just Subaru’s that need work than I just don’t know what to say.

            Readers come here looking for help and some to complain, all I can do is point out the truth or show you a path to look for it yourself.


    • MJ March 21, 2012 at 5:10 am #

      I haven’t seen much relating to head gaskets that need to be replaced on a 2006 Forrester. There is a leak that the mechanic is attributing to the head gaskets, but there is only 72,100 mi on the car which has impecable service records. I’ve noticed a few small drops on the driveway and I added 1 qt of oil in the 3,000 mi btwn oil changes. There’s no odd/blue smoke from the exhaust. Anyway, just wondering if the 2006 model has similar HG issues?

      • Justin Stobb March 22, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

        The 2006 Forester uses the same head gasket as any 2.5l SOHC form late 2002 to 2009 so yes its possible it can develop a oil leak at the head gasket just like any other car can.

        The oil used in between oil changes and the potential HG leak don’t have anything in common most likely.

        Hope that helps


        • MJ March 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

          I am trying to understand how I will know when the HG need to be replaced. My mechanic said that it will be when I will see the little oil drips turning into puddles, and see & smell smoke come off the engine. I just assumed (as a non-mechanic-type) that the oil I’ve added was due to those drips, and the faulty HG.
          Does this description of 2nd gen apply to my car (from your explanation above)”The early symptoms that occur in the 2nd generation engines is usually an external oil leak at both head gaskets and an external coolant leak at the left side head gasket, we have seen coolant leaks at the right side head gasket as well but at a much lower failure rate than the left side. We have seen some of the same intermittent overheating symptoms, but the bulk of the issues seem to be external leaks.”

          I have not noticed any change in the temperature gauge.

          Thanks so much for your excellent blog!!


          • Justin Stobb March 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm #


            A head gasket leak on a SOHC 2.5 typically wont get to the point where you have to add a lot of oil, you may also have an oil consumption issue as well, anything over 1 quart per 1000k is excessive typically.

            Because you didn’t give me any Vehicle information I don’t know if you have 2nd gen 2.5l if you do than the statement above is correct.

            External fluid leaks and the temperature gauge don’t coincide unless the coolant level is low, please give the article another read, figure out which era 2.5l you have and match up the Symptoms.

            I dont suggest waiting for puddles to form before you fix it, kind of like waiting to have a heart attack before you take your health seriously.


          • don huber December 13, 2015 at 10:29 am #

            my test is non-scientific.

            1st check fluids like justin explains.

            if no leaks and fluids are in “good order”

            then drive the subaru for hours or all day errand run. etc
            once it is hot as hell take a 3-5 miles incline or hill run and push it hard
            i will run 80-90mph up a 3-5% grade.
            if the temp gauge stays rock solid at 50% half way chances are hg is good.
            then go home let it cool b/c it will be to hot to get near the motor. net day check all the fluids again and go around evey inch of the motor with a strong flashlight.

            note i always buy my subarus with a blown head gasket.
            then pull motor and replace everything and then drive it for 100k miles.
            i just assume the hg will go on most 2.5 boxers 1997 to 2005.
            i am in process of buying a beautiful outback 2.5 2006 for $2500.
            $2000 to fix hg and for $4500 i will have a spotless subaru to drive for next 4 years 100k miles for less than $100 per month.

      • Mindy March 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

        My 2006 impreza just got the word that it needs new HG 67000 miles. not happy

        • Mike October 24, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

          My 2006 impreza had a head gasket replaced around 80k, and now another one is leaking at 125k. Ugghhhh.

    • Alex June 13, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Hello- Great site. Very informative. I just purchased a Subraru. I have a question on oil usage. What would be better for my 03 Forester 2.5 with 114k HG? Changing with reg dino oil every 3k or synthetic every 5k? Also, how can i tell if my timing belt was ever done? thx

      • Justin Stobb June 14, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

        Hello Alex,

        Without knowing how you use the car I cant answer the oil question.

        Timing belts require a visual inspection which requires removing the timing covers and sometimes the belt, if there is no record of the Timing belt having been replaced, I would do it yesterday.

        Hope that helps


        • Alex June 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

          Thx Justin- as for the way i use the vehicle it is a 3rd car, and my wife will use it to commute about 40 miles a day. What do u think? Am i better off keeping reg dino oil in it for now with the 115k on it? I dont know if they used synthetic in it prior to me acquiring it.

          Another question; As i stated I recently bought the vehicle and now im smelling coolant. It still runs cool but im wondering if i need head gaskets. Also, from what i read to do the job properly the engine should always be removed completely and all the dealers i called around here say they only pull it partially. I dont know if the gaskets were ever replaced but im assuming not. What do u think? I wish i was closer to you! I dont trust these dealers around me. Do you happen to know any good ones in the Northeast? I do have a receipt from timing belt replacment at around 103000 miles. The prior dealership says they recommended that the head gaskets be replaced in June 2010 because they were starting to leak to the previous customer. However i dont know if the previous owner went somewhere else and replaced them. Could they have lasted this long with a leak (2 years later)? Any advice would be appreciated!

          • Justin Stobb June 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

            Hello Alex,

            Really as long as you keep good oil in it and service it regularly the type of oil Synthetic, VS Blend VS Dino is really just up to you. We use blend at our shop for everything but the Modded engines, and the newer models that require synthetic.

            Your Subaru should be put up on a lift, the splash pan removed and then the engine inspected for leaks to know if there is a head gasket leak.

            Not sure how anyone could pull the engine partially out, and I think it would be wise to look for a Independent Shop and get away from the Dealership for more reasons than I could possibly list.


      • Jukes June 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

        I have a 2007 Legacy with 72,800 that lost all radiator fluid after a long trip. Subaru dealer found OSV was bad & also found HG leak that I will let my local dealer fix the HG. Considering my water pump needed replacement about 1.5 years ago & dealer covered that I’ve never had any other problem with car, and spending $1800 to replace HG is not bad. Reading this site has saved me from spending $27k on a new Forester three years before I planned to. My car has been maintained according to recommended schedule with city stop & go travel. I’m glad this site has been educational as well as informative regarding my Subaru. Keep up the good work.

    • Gloria August 3, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

      I have a 2006 Tribeca with 95,000 miles. It is in the shop now with head gasket problems. Also for the past year my car’s battery has been dead on occasion. The battery is only about a year and a half old. I’ve taken it back to Les Schwab and they swear it is not the battery. My husband has put stuff on the battery to keep it from corroding but it does not help. Could be the h.g. problem and the battery problems are connected???

      • Justin Stobb August 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

        Its tough to say, but the shop you mentioned is not truly capable of testing anything on your car, and the last time I checked used a low quality battery.

        A weak and or excessively corroded battery is one of many contributing factors to a possible HG issue, you should never point at one factor and say aha that’s it.


    • Jessica Rayl September 27, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Just found out my 2003 Baja has a leaking head gasket, and I just have 94,000 miles on it. $2,600 to do all of the work that needs to be done! I wouldn’t have purchased a Subaru if I had known about this problem. I have always owned Toyota’s and never had a problem. I have maintained my Subaru per manufacture suggestions. I AM PISSED! Is there a class action lawsuit??!! There should be!

      • Justin Stobb September 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

        I am sorry that you feel that way. I hope that you arre aware that Toyota owns 20% of Subaru? You are aware of the massive amount of Safety concerns with the Toyota currently?

        There are really 2 other vehicles in Subaru’s Class The Audi and The Volvo here is a statement form another reader, to a different post on this site “I bought my Subaru to replace my Audi A4 that had 70K miles on it when the cam shaft broke causing catastrophic engine failure (cause: CAM-follower problem). That was a $10K engine replacement bill”

        Im thinking that a $1500.00 to $1700.00 Head gasket replacement, coupled with some Scheduled Maintenance such as the timing belt and tensioner, (which is how your quote is up to $2600.00 which you have either left out, or are being taken for a ride at $2600 to replace just the head gaskets), would be a far better outcome than an engine replacement at 70k?

        If you dont need a AWD Vehicle, dont care about the safety features that the Boxer Engine allows, dont Buy a Subaru! Move to a different brand, your new car will be under warranty, that warranty will cost you $25 to 30k depending on what you opt to buy. But at some point that car will also need reapirs, it may come at you $500.00 at a time or all at once for $2000.00.

        Spend some time at a Toyota Dealer Service department, then ask your self why are they so busy?

        I am sorry that no one has ever taken the time to explain what the Subaru is all about.


        With an AWD vehicle you will always have more drivetrain wear than in a vehicle that does not have AWD. If you dont need the feature, you should not own it. An Awd vehicle costs more to buy, and more to own.

        Your Baja has 94k, and has an oil leak and needs some scheduled maintenance, you can repair & service it and move on, the car will run and run well to 300k and beyond with or without you, or move on to a different car. If you choose the later you will know when your new car has 94k if that was a wise move, and not one day before.


        • david vaughn January 30, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

          Justin, very impressed with the perspective and honesty on your site. I have a 2006 Tribeca and have just went through a few rounds of wear item replacements(tensioner, differential mount, lower arm bushings, radiator replacement) seems like 80k to 90k is where a lot of things need done to keep it on the road. we had an overheat 1 time. not sure how bad because when I came home from work my wife told me the car smelled burned when she had pulled into the garage. fluid levels are all good but there is a film of oil in the coolant reservoir. I expect to be changing the head gaskets. I did a lot of the other work myself but will have this done by experienced mechanic. (I have done gaskets on other motors) how safe is it to drive the car or does it need to be off the road right away? thanks for your time,. Dave.

          • Justin Stobb January 30, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

            Hey David,

            Sorry to hear that and that’s just not common on the H6 but anything is possible. I am also sorry to say it just shouldn’t be driven until repaired, if it continues to overheat the repair may increase in costs or the Engine could become damaged.


    • Larry G November 27, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      I have seen so many Subaru owners driving their cars like morons (85 mph w/AC going full blast in 100 F weather) and then complain because they blow HGs. Try a little common sense.
      1. If you develop a HG problem, get a radiator cap with a lever that lets off the pressure and use caution, watch the temp guage and take it easy.
      2. I have driven many engines with HG probs and they go forever if you don’t let the pressure build in the engine.
      3. The coolant will burn and seal the HG under lower pressure and temps. Common sense. Remove the coolant and use water and it rusts up and seals the HG
      4. For those who are a little squeamish about using distilled water, check out the cooling properties of clean water. Much more efficient than coolant.
      5. My engines with HG probs have gone well over 200K.
      6. You seriously want to run an engine over 200K getting low efficiency? Rebuild or replace the engine and dig a little deeper for worn gears, bearings, etc. Otherwise trade every 2 years and stop complaining.

      • Justin Stobb November 28, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

        The purpose of the cap is to increase boil temps by allowing pressure, the greater the pressure the higher the boiling temperature of a 50/50 mix of water to ethylene glycol, The lower rad cap also means lower boil temp so that’s a bad idea in hotter climates especially.

        When there is pressure in a Subaru cooling system from an internal HG leak above and beyond what the cap can hold it will push the coolant into the overflow bottle, leaving the cooling system low and will finally overheat. The cap allows pressure to the preset limit and then vents coolant and air into the over flow bottle, as the pressure lowers there is a vacuum created which pulls coolant back into the radiator from the overflow bottle.

        In the Subaru its expansion of the heads under temperature and pressure that exposes the void in the gasket.

        Allowing the coolant to be contaminated to seal a void is a short term solution with the ramifications of not being able to be repaired.

        I agree with the stop complaining piece.

    • John December 15, 2012 at 2:43 am #

      Hi I just came across this set in my search for head gasket problems with the Subaru Forester you have a great set with excellent information. I am thinking of buying a 2011 or 2112 forester but this head gasket problem is making me think twice .I have looked over this blog and if I understand correctly this problem has been fixed with the use of a new mls gasket in the 2011 model. I hope this right because I like the Forester .

      • Justin Stobb December 18, 2012 at 6:05 am #

        The 2011 Subaru Forester uses a new Engine Design. Ill tell you what the head gaskets are like in 6 years. By the way Hg leaks dont have to happen, and they dont on all Subaru’s.

        I truly believe you are being wise in your Research.

        Now Research the Volvo and Audi and pick the least of three evils. Or which ever one you like the best.

    • GS May 7, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

      2007 Outback Wagon with only 59,800 miles and a gasket leak. I’m hoping SOA will help with the $1,800 they dealership said it will cost.

    • Zavie June 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Thanks for the excellent site Justin. My daughter & I were out car shopping. She fell in love with a 2004 Forester. I prefer a 2004 Honda CR-V 4WD. The
      miles are about the same, however the Honda is
      $2000.00 more. Trim levels are about the same.
      With the valuable information gained here the $2000 savings by purchasing the Subaru would soon go towards new headgaskets. Not sure which one we will buy, but I will now consider both cars about the same price.

      • Steven M June 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

        Not all Subarus will have HG problems. The assumption you are making is that the Honda will have zero problems and the Forester will have a problem.

        My experience with Hondas/Acuras is that repair parts are expensive, the car is not very serviceable so repairs can be a major pain or more hours/money at an independent. Just changing shocks on them required new lower control arms because of their bushing design.

        Subaru on the other hand is the most serviceable car I have worked on — they go together almost like legos. My 94 Wagon went 300k before I sold it — the only issue was the flex plate. How did we know the flex plate was bad? We popped open the inspection panel.

        Honda’s reputation for reliability and build quality is largely built on the years they built cars with subsidies from the Japanese government — which is no longer the case. They are still fine cars — but they are not bulletproof by any means.

        If you are anywhere near awd auto, then the Subaru has a huge plus in a very competent mechanic nearby — I had trouble finding a good mechanic for my Hondas/Acuras when I was in the puget sound area.

        • Justin Stobb July 1, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

          Well said and thanks for the kind words


        • Chris September 9, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

          Did you seriously just say that hondas and acuras are harder to work on and more expensive then a subaru? To change a head gasket on a honda you only have to take 1 head off and things like changing spark plugs doesn’t take 3 hours. Yes hondas used to have head gasket problems back in the 90’s, and the problems only showed up after 200k. And the honda dealership where I live charges 76 dollars an hour while subaru charges over 100! After reading all of these peoples different problems i will never even think of buying a subaru id rather drive my 1993 honda civic that WORKS!

          • Justin Stobb September 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

            Hello Chris,

            Your right the 1993 Civic was a pretty good car, as was the 1993 Toyota Corolla, Camry, Subaru Legacy, Impreza and Loyale and the Honda Accord was great in that era, I often think back to my wive’s 1993 Nissan maxima and my 1990 Legacy as two great cars we owned, both which are still on the road with different owners, but lets try to live in the now if thats okay?

            The previous comment posted by another referred to modern day Honda and Acura vehicles post “Japanese Government Subsidy”, maybe you failed to read that part?

            If you however would like to compare a 1993 Honda Civic to a current era Subaru thats okay. It didn’t take 3 hours to replace the spark plugs on any 1993 Subaru except maybe the SVX and only if you were not experienced, if you would like to do a fair comparison lets time how long it takes to replace the spark plugs on a modern Honda or better yet Acura VS a current era Subaru that would be more realistic wouldn’t it? Still not sure what the point of the argument is however. As far as Labor rates thats up to the individual franchised dealer and has nothing to do with the Car maker, kind of like when a Subway or McDonalds doesn’t participate in a national promotion.

            This is a website aimed at trying to help SUBARU owners with SUBARU ownership.

            I am happy for you that your Civic has been a good car, not sure why you are here trying to bash Subaru, you surely have better things to do?


        • Lin June 8, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

          I had a 2003 awd crv 130k miles and the engine started acting weird at stop lights and would stutter on accelerating and would stall every five lights. I took it to my guy and he wouldnt even fix it saying it’d cost too much.

    • Jason Costello July 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      It is understanding that the car company has had to defend its continued defect of head gaskets and bearing problems. Now given that cars can not be warrantied forever that would be unreasonable. Since doing a lot of research on these problems the company in good faith and wanting to sell the quality of what they make should be willing to fix its known defects for free. I bet in a court of law with 12 jurors you could make a good argument that the car company sold cars knowing there was a defect and did not inform customers that in the years of the defect you are taking a chance on buying there product. So subaru is intentionally selling their cars knowing that headgaskets are going to be a constant problem. Kind of like buying a car with a ticking time bomb. The only way I would buy a subaru know after finding out the problems is that the dealer give me a indefinite repair statement on all known failures that come known to the manufacturer for the life of the car. Subaru in my book is bad business. Even at the top of the page they blame the owner for their own failures.

      • Justin Stobb July 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

        Hi Jason,

        This page is mine its not affiliated with Subaru, when I point out that in some cases the way the car is treated and used affects the longevity of many components that is 100% factual.

        All car companies are a business by the way, this site is about Subaru ownership and repair, you will find every car company with similar issues, you currently just happen to be researching Subaru at this point in time.

        But if you wanted to take a few hours of your life and spend time researching out common issues with every other car company please feel free to share the one that has no issues?

        Thanks for posting


    • Joanna July 8, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

      Hi, I am looking at buying a used Forester. I have read much about the Subaru head gasket problems and I am wondering what the best year/ engine size Subaru Forester is to buy to avoid paying to fix this problem. Any insight into the “best” year model of the Forester is greatly appreciated.

      • Justin Stobb July 9, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

        The gaskets are the same in the Forester from 2003 to 2010

    • frank eibler March 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      Subaru owners. 2006 Forester anti-freeze leak? So, I just got hit for $2500.00 replacing my head gasket. The dealer asked me if my car overheated. No, it did not. By the way, 68,000 miles. They asked about oil changes. I baby my cars, check the windshield for last oil change. 4,000 miles ago. I have never had a blown head gasket, even in my racing days. They told me that my head was warped after they already sent it out, if they really did. Warped head? To me a head will warp if the torque bolt pattern wasn’t followed in production. Historically, the head should be torqued from the middle of the head out to both ends if you don’t have the bolt pattern. If you torque the head on both ends and finish in the middle, you will almost surely suffer a warped head. I am pissed and thinking about selling. They allowed a loaner to me, 2014 Forester. Steering ratio is way too close. I think it is dangerous at freeway speeds. It als absorbs bumps pretty well but if you get to drive one, you’ll fine yourself bouncing up and down. I really loved my LL BEAN, not so much anymore…..$2500.00 is a lot of money to me…….

      • Justin Stobb March 12, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

        Hi Frank,

        So the head gasket didn’t blow, the car has developed a fluid leak, there is a difference. It doesn’t change the fact that a 8 year car needs a major repair, rather than try and explain that at 68k in 8 years the car is only been driven 8500 miles a year and that means the car is being used in the most extreme way possible and it sounds like it’s only receiving 2 oil changes a year, I will instead suggest you contact SOA at 1 800 Subaru 3 and seek some assistance.

        The heads tend to warp on the newer design as a result of there being less surface mass and fluid getting in between the gaskets and head as the gaskets fail and fluid not being able to be compressed.

        When Toyota bought a piece of Subaru they were involved in the redesign of the combustion chamber, this allowed for better efficiency but there has been a side effect.

        You can read about it here.


    • Grant kennedy December 9, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

      Hi Justin,
      Trying to figure out overheating on 1998 Impreza 2.2.11/97 build date.2 years ago replaced radiator the .The plastic at top was cracked.New radiator over heated and I got a new one on warranty because cap could be pulled off on closed position.(Spector is brand).A year later started to overheat again.My daughter said she saw steam and pulled over let it cool .She topped off radiator and drove it 6hrs across Co. no further problems.The day she was going back I decided I better test drive it.I went up 2 big Mtn. Hills and it overheated.I have tested for head gasket leak with squeeze bulb tester.Negative result.I looked under it for leak at head gasket appears fine.Thermostat opened when warm (lower hose warm).I don’t see antifreeze below timin belt cover So I think waterpump is ok.It was replaced 40k ago.147 k on car.RadiAtor will bubble out filler neck with cap off while reving.I live in remote area in Mtns. There is not any shop to bring to close.Do you have suggestions on what it could be?

      • Justin Stobb December 12, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

        Hi Grant,

        Sorry to hear about the trouble. I think by Squeeze tester you are referring to what is called the “block checker” with the blue dye? Those just do not really work all that well, an exhaust gas analyzer is really the only way to look for the presence of Exhaust in the cooling system.

        I hate to say it but it sounds like a HG is failing internally based on the Symptoms.

        Does the coolant and the coolant overflow bottle smell like exhaust or fuel, is there any residue in the overflow bottle?

        Hope that helps


  2. Justin Stobb November 28, 2007 at 12:22 am #

    Hello Brian,

    We have seen some problems with the 2003 Subaru 2.5l engine having some head gasket failure, but not at nearly the same scale of the 2000 to 2002 2nd generation 2.5l. It’s hard to say if the problem is fixed for the 2003 year or not. Most of the solution has been about maintenance and using the proper type of coolant and coolant conditioner.

    Justin Stobb
    All Wheel Drive Auto

    • Kyle Prevey July 22, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      Hi…I have a 2003 Subaru Forester and 2002 legacy. You guys fixed the Forester, but I had the legacy repaired somewhere else. I won’t mention because I don’t want to lambaste another business. The legacy was done 3 months ago with the same issues as the Forester – leaky gaskets. You guys were much more reasonable, let’s say almost half, than the mistake I made with paying out the rear – $4700 for the legacy. Having said that, my legacy quote said remove engine and repair as part of it. I still believe that the engine was not removed from the legacy because my wife handled the whole transaction and the shop did the typical – “take advantage of women”. This is just my opinion.

      1. Is there any way visually to see if a shop actually removed an engine?
      2. Are bolts wiped at all before reinstall?
      3. Is there any identifiable outline that could show where the engine was separated?
      4. How would I go about some forensics?

      I feel like a dumb consumer and I want to make sure that I get what I paid for and not some half baked deal. Any help to educate me would be appreciated.

      • Justin Stobb July 25, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

        Hi Kyle,

        We try our best to be reasonably priced for the service we offer. I just don’t feel that anyone else out there offers the same level of service. Many shops dont pull the engine to do the repair regardless of whats in print Our guys always do. As far as forensics its tough to teach you how to be an expert in a few paragraphs typed over the internet. We could identify what was done but we know what to look for.

        As far as bolts wiped and outlines its going to differ by shop and then again by the Technician who is making the repairs. Some will go the extra mile some will go as quick as possible.

        You can look at the lower motor mount nuts to see if they were disturbed as well as the bell housing nuts and bolts. But unless you know exactly what you are looking at it may be tough to know exactly what to look for.

        Sorry I cant offer more, its just difficult to try and teach you in a short period of time what its taken years to learn. All you can do is maybe compare the 2 cars you have?


      • bill berthold December 7, 2011 at 3:01 am #

        i had a 2002 outback 2.5 that both head gaskets failed under 36’000 miles. i lost confidence in the car, turned it in on a 2005 outback, same engine. i just had both head gaskets changed at 68’000 miles, and my son’s 2006 legacy just had both of his done at 71’000 miles. subaru has a very serious promlem that needs to be addressed. just like the toyota problem. it’ s a shame because i really like the outback, just cannot afford to maintain one.needless to say, i bought my last subaru, and will discourage anyone from buying one.

        • Justin Stobb December 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm #


          While I understand your Frustration I will also caution that the decision to get rid of a recently repaired car was based on emotion. Any car you buy will need repairs, if you are more comfortable with the $500.00 at a time type of repairs VS the one time larger sum. Spending say $2000.00 on a HG and timing belt repair is .03 cents a mile for the next 60,000 miles, buying another car is much more expensive but no one thinks about it on those lines, of the Subaru vehicles you mentioned had a HG problem that left you stranded nor would it in the future after the HG was repaired. Spend some time on some forums for other vehicles and you may realize the Grass is not greener over there.

          If you name the make and model I can tell you the list of things you can expect to do to it. The 2003 and newer develop mostly external oil leaks, its not a “blown head gasket” . A comparable Volvo may need a transmission to the tune of $4000.00 or an Audi may need even more. Those are the other 2 vehicles in the Class of your 2005 Outback in terms of crash ratings, AWD systems and agility.

          For the record the 2010 Outback and Legacy engine use a MLS gasket and semi closed deck block much like the Turbo engines and H6 use. The new Forester and Impreza use a DOHC chain driven engine. The gasket used in the 2003 to 2009 2.5l is officially no longer in Use by Subaru in production.

          There are many many 2010 Outbacks with high miles already that we have seen come through the shop and have not seen anything close to the problems that faced the 2000 to 2002 that were under the WWP-19 campaign.


          • David January 30, 2012 at 2:30 am #


            I am frustrated and I’m not sure what to do about my 1997 Outback wagon with 177,000 miles. I live on the east coast outside of Philadelphia and have my Subaru regularly serviced at my local Subaru dealer for almost 8 years since I purchased the Outback used at 91,000 miles in 2004.

            I was aware after I purchased the Outback that this car had problems with head gaskets. I was hoping my Subaru would excape this problem, but that was not to be. In the fall of 2008, with
            with 132,000 miles on my Outback, I experienced my temperature guage rising in the red zone. I wasn’t sure what it was, but of course the Subaru dealer told me my head gaskets had failed after some testing. Thank goodness I didn’t damage the engine. I belive I paid over $1,500 to service and replace both head gaskets.

            This past Friday I noticed some unusal movement on the temperature guage. It moved up very quickly into the nornal range and was starting to climb a little higher at idle. I decided to take my
            Subaru into the dealer right away without an appointment. After waiting about a hour the service manager told me the news – I need head gaskets! I’m sure the service manager didn’t remember I had the head gaskets replaced only 45,000 miles ago in his shop. He looked up the computer record to confirm the repair. He said the head gasket repair is only garanteed for a year and Subaru would not do anything because the repair was done some 4 years ago. I said this was a major repair and his answer didn’t seem satisfactory to me. The service manager then asked a mechanic which head was bad. After that I was sent back to the waiting room.

            After about 20 minutes I was called back to the service desk. Another service guy, not the manager I spoke with earlier, handed me an estimated head gasket repair of $1,750 plus tax and told me it’s a 2 day repair. He told me they put a conditioner in the coolent to try to stabilize the gaskets (no charge) and sent me on my way.

            Of course, I’m not happy with the treatment I received by my Subaru dealer, and feel I should not be paying for new head gaskets after only 45,000 miles since the previous repair. I have been spending many thousands of dollars at that dealer on all regular maintenace and all repairs.

            I still really like my 1997 Outback wagon, but I’m not sure what I should do. I don’t really want to spend almost 2 thousand on this second head gasket repair, but I’m not sure what I should do.


          • Justin Stobb January 31, 2012 at 12:43 am #

            Hi David,

            I am sorry to hear about the trouble you have had, I would as I am sure you would have as well that you only dealt with the HG thing once, unfortunately that’s just not the case here and is also not going to be the case for every one repaired either.

            Subaru of America sold you the car and had profit, and to help make the sale they offered a 5 year 60k powertrain warranty.

            Industry standard for most mechanical repairs is 1 year 12k because its a “repair” and warrantied by the franchised dealer and not Subaru. The only way to up the warranty would be to increase the level of repair above industry standard and then you would price your self out of the market as a business. Thats the reality of the industry, the service department is not going to pay to work on your car, the gasket manufacture wont do anything post warranty expiration to help the service department. The 1997 Outback while known for internal HG failure most dont occur until well over 100k, and many dont ever have a second failure.

            I understand that 45k isn’t as long as you would like but it cost you 3 cents a mile. I am afraid I don’t have any thing else to offer to help numb the pain of the expense.

            The conditioner for an internal issue is a terrible idea by the way.

            If your worried about the expense, it will cost less to repair this than move on. If you have lost confidence in the vehicle and move on only time will tell many years from now when you look back at the experience you have with a replacement vehicle if that was the correct one.

            My advice, based on what you have provided me would be to try and remove the emotion form the process and make the best decision based on your finances and weather or not the car still suits your needs.

            I hope that helps


          • Lizzie February 5, 2012 at 4:10 am #

            Hi, Justin! All of this information (in the post and comments) is incredibly helpful and also somewhat reassuring. A year ago I bought a 2002 Legacy Outback wagon, 89,000 miles, and this year when I had it inspected it had an oil leak. (It now has 93,000 miles.) I took it to my mechanic (it’s a family business, the guys I bought the car from, who all worked at the Subaru plant for years, then for a dealer, then opened their own shop. So they know Subies.) I brought it to them and it needs the driver-side head gasket replaced. They said that since it’s such a big job (2 days) to take the engine out, etc, that they recommend replacing both gaskets because the labor and parts to do that doesn’t add that much to the cost. They’re also going to change the oil, drain all the fluids and replace them, and, if needed, replace the timing belt, though they put a new one in before they sold me the car 15 months ago. They said that they will only have to do this if things don’t line up right when they get the new gaskets on (??). Total cost for this is $1200. Does this seem like a reasonable quote and reasonable way to proceed to you? They said that replacing the non-leaking (or not-yet-leaking,I guess) gasket was only $300 of that total of $1200, so it did seem like a good idea to me to just have them replace both now if they tend to fail. any thoughts you have would be very much appreciated. I am so in love with this car! And I want to take the best possible care of it so it will run happily for many years to come.

            Lizzie in Buffalo, NY

          • Justin Stobb February 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

            Both sides should be done, or it will just cost twice as much later to take care of the right side gasket.


          • David February 25, 2012 at 9:37 pm #


            I wanted to thank you for your generous time you spent in your reply to me about my 1997 Outback with 2nd time head gasket problems and update my initial post to you on Jan 30. By the way, as I am sure so many have posted on this board, you have a tremendous and valuable resource you offer to the public without cost – you deserve much public thanks! I only wish I live in the Seattle area to avail myself of your services.

            After your response I considered my options. I called the Subaru dealership where I’ve had my 1997 serviced for about 8 years and was able to speak directly to the dealership owner. He said he would look into my problem and get back to me which he did. He offered to discount the second head gasket repair by one third or help me in my purchase of a new Subaru. Although I liked the 1997 Outback, it had 177,000 miles on the odometer. I’m still working (thank goodness) but am probably only a few years away from retirement. My thinking, although I’d probably get a few good years running the 1997 after the repair ($1,300 +), when I would have to replace the 1997 Outback I’d be retired and on a limited income. I took a deep breath and purchased a new 2012 Outback Premium 2.5i with CVT transmission from the dealership lot on February 10. The dealership owner obtained a Subaru VIP letter for me which enabled me to purchase the Outback under dealer invoice price. It seemed like a pretty fair deal to me. In addition, a Subaru customer service representative I was dealing with on the head gasket problem told me Subaru would be sending me some sort of payment back (not sure how much) after receiving purchase confirmation.

            That’s the background story. But now that I have my new 2012 2.5i Outback, I’d thought I’d ask you for any recommendations you might have for keeping it running for many years to come. I thought I’d read in your blog you believed Subaru finally fixed the 2.5 engine head gasket problem with a newly designed head gasket? Is that true? And I see in my ownership manual you won’t have to change the new super coolant for over 100,000 miles or 10 years? Engine oil is a little confusing. Should you use the new Subaru synthetic oil for the 2.5i normally aspirated engine or conventional oil? The service manager was telling me the oil change intervals are every 7,500 miles. Is this correct if you are doing a lot of short trips with stop and go traffic? I’ve swapped cars with my wife and now the Subaru is her primary car and will probably not be getting a lot of miles on it unless we take it on some longer trips. Any recommendations in keeping a new 2012 Outback 2.5i CVT in tip top operating condition for many years to come would be truly appreciated!

            By the way, the new 2012 Outback runs really smooth, but it sure handles a lot differently than my 1997! Must be all the new electronic control systems running the car.

            Thanks again for all your Subaru insights.

            David from New Jersey

          • Justin Stobb February 27, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

            Hi David,

            We also own a 2012 Outback, I change the oil every 3000 miles and use Synthetic oil. I will change the coolant at 60k unless during a PH test the levels tell me I need to change it sooner.

            I am ok with the higher intervals but want to caution that the oil level, coolant level and tires still need to be checked, and those that wait every 7500 miles for this to be done during an oil change, may find out that at some point in time a low tire, low oil level or low coolant etc will cost you.

            In my opinion good maintenance is the best way to keep ownership costs down. I would at least change the oil every 5000 miles.


          • dave bellflower January 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

            Do you work for subaru?

          • Justin Stobb January 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

            Hi Dave

            Is that a serious Question? Please scroll to the bottom of any webpage.


    • Richard K December 31, 2013 at 12:23 am #

      Justin — just a quick question on HG. I have a 2003 Outback Wagon 2.5L H4. I lost the gaskets at 78000 and had the dealer do the full monte on it – gaskets, timing belt, water pump, belt tensioner, etc. It’s run really well since but just in the past week I developed an exhaust crack (planned to fix after holiday trip). Car ran great on the trip except for exhaust noise. Then a misfire on #3 and then some mild overheating. I had oil changed/fluids checked at 119K… it turns 120K and check engine light flashes, then solid…temp spiked as I drove out of Autozone thinking I was OK. Went back, got coolant — checked for leaks and other issues… drove for 9 miles and then parked it. Today I heard it has blown head gasket(s). So I got 42K out of the gaskets — I dropeed $1500 on the gaskets then (4 years ago) and did a full dealer service. I’ve kept up with oil changes. Do you think I should repair again? I had to leave the car and get a rental so it will be repair or scrap it (it’s out of state now). There’s the exhaust to fix, the misfire to figure (that could be due to gasket?) and I think it will need brakes soon. What do you think? Not sure if you are still checking this but I figured why not ask — you seem reasonable about the whole thing. Could I ask Subaru for some help with the cost of another set of gaskets or is it just “tough”? Thanks! Richard

      • Justin Stobb December 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

        Hello Richard,

        Sorry to hear about that. The set of circumstances is tough as well.

        With only 120k it still has a lot of useful life remaining, but its going to take some money spent to get there. If you still like the car despite the pending concerns id fix it, you will still be better off financially over buying something else.

        I would venture to guess the misfire is from the HG but that should be evaluated first so there are no surprises. I don’t think SOA will do much for you if they didn’t on the first set. Because the failure is internal I would strongly suggest the radiator, cap and thermostat are also evaluated. I just don’t many internal failures of the HG on second generation 2.5l that didn’t have some sort of other issue such as a faulty cap or restricted radiator.

        Hope that helps


        • Richard K January 1, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

          Thanks Justin,
          I decided to go ahead with it — it’s getting done on Friday/Saturday. The shop did an exhaust gas test on the coolant to confirm the gasket issue. I was down on coolant but just recently as I’d had it checked before the trip. The exhaust corrosion/pipe break, the guy said, could’ve been from coolant vapors condensing out the back. He also thought the misfire was from the HG when they pulled the plug out of #3. The shop is subbing the head gasket work out but I trust the place that did the diagnosis based on a referral from family. I got a good base price from the shop that’s going to do the HG work.

          Do you think I should replace timing belt, pulley, water pump at the same time? I’d imagine the tech will go in that direction anyway. I am hoping that there won’t be any other bad news — the gauge did get into the red for a few minutes but only as long as it took for me to pull over and get out of traffic. It’s probably standard practice to machine it, right?

          I admit I have done oil changes at longer intervals than you recommend and I did have the furry battery syndrome (it was the original so I just kept cleaning it off until it failed).

          I also need a rear brake job (which I knew about) — with the HG, exhaust work and brakes I am getting up to $2000 (and may go by if the HG guy has add-ons) My spouse wants to fix it and then trade it but I’d like to see if we can get some more miles out of it. It IS the most expensive on per mile maintenance of our cars (but that’s because of the first head gasket job which was done at a dealer and was pricey).

          I will share your ideas on the cap/radiator issue with the mechanic when I speak with him. We’ve incurred car rental costs, towing costs and on and on so the Subaru is a sore subject at the moment. On the other hand, it’s been GREAT in the snow and has been our go to long trip car for years.

          Thanks for taking the time to reply. I will be doing more frequent oil changes and keeping a very close eye on coolant level.

          You seem generous and fair in your replies. When the first HG failed, I wish I’d tried to get SOA to chip in a bit. On this second set, I know I am “on my own”.

          I might pop back and update you on the outcome of the work.

          Best for 2014.


          • Richard K January 10, 2014 at 1:56 am #

            My 2003 Outback is in pieces — the gasket had failed on cylinder #3 — coolant was getting into the cylinder — the tech said it was “washed.”
            The rest of the job isn’t done yet but at least I know the misfire was from a gasket failure. I am not sure why it failed, however. He’s doing it one step at a time.

  3. Jim Blizzard December 8, 2007 at 6:35 pm #

    We have a 2004 Subaru Baja with a 2.5L. I notices oil leaking into one of the spark plug sockets when I was changing plugs. A local independent mechanic charge me $48 then told me it was possibly a defective valve cover gasket, or head gasket, and/or oil filter seal. I was referred to the dealer for service. I live in interior Alaska where the extreme cold causes widespread failure of gaskets and seals. I’ve had no other problems with the vehicle and hope it will last after the repair.

  4. Justin Stobb December 9, 2007 at 12:06 am #

    What you are describing is spark plug extension tube seals that are failing. This is pretty common to the Subaru 2.5l and I can see how the colder weather would contribute. I would suggest that when the seals are replaced a light film of a graphite or copper type grease be applied to the seal, this should help the new seals last longer than the original seals did.

  5. Rick Zalewski December 16, 2007 at 3:43 am #

    I have a 2000 subaru legacy 2.5l. I had the head gasket replaced at 100,000km and 160,000 by subaru, under warranty. The car was always maintained at recommended schedule intervals using genuine parts, plus I use synthetic oil. Now again I have the odour of anti-freeze at 200,000km, assuming the gasket is leaking again. I replaced the battery and alternator 2 years ago. Regarding your comments about short trips, I do drive about 5 min. to work and we get some cold weather in Ontario, Canada. I was hoping to keep the car 2 more years and get the 2010 model year, am not sure if it will last that long. Further, should I avoid buying a Subaru if the short drives will kill the gaskets every time. I really like the car otherwise and would want to buy another one if I can avoid having this problem. Should I get rid of the car or fix it again?

  6. Justin Stobb December 16, 2007 at 8:31 pm #

    In my opinion, your Subaru is well worth having the repair done. But you may want to look into having an independent Subaru repair shop do the next set of head gaskets. I am very surprised to see that you haven’t received the kind of mileage out of the repairs we would expect. I would suspect the repairs done at the dealer were rushed and that’s the reason the gaskets haven’t lasted.

    • Jack Levandowski August 19, 2012 at 8:10 am #


      I am highly considering (going in for a pre-purchase inspection from my mechanic) a 2003 Outback Legacy (automatic with 4 cyl 2.5L). It has 139K miles and just had the timing belt replaced. I am so concerned with the HG issue. Is there an excellent coolant conditioner that you would recommend as a pro-active deterrant (eg, Subaru Eng. Cooling Conditioner, Blue Devil, etc)???

      thank you as my intention is to keep the car well into 300-400k miles.

  7. Suzanne Scourby December 24, 2007 at 3:45 am #

    I hava 1998 Subaru Outback with 135,000 and my mechanic recommends replacing the headgaskets even though there are no symptoms yet. Is that a ripoff? Or is it good preventive maintenance. I am very disappointed in my Subaru.

  8. Justin Stobb December 26, 2007 at 4:01 pm #

    Sometimes it can be better to make the repairs before all of the typical symptoms start to show up. It may save you money in the long run, especially if you don’t wait until the car starts to overheat. I do understand the frustration of having to spend money on repairs for a vehicle, but keep in mind that most cars will need some type of repair at some point in ownership. If overall you like the car, the safety and reliability of the Subaru, than it does make sense to make the repairs. You should expect to obtain many more years of life out of the vehicle.

    • Kurt April 12, 2013 at 12:57 am #

      Hey Justin, not sure if is is a good way to get my question answered. I’m up in Alberta, Canada and have recently purchased a 2000 Forester with 135,000 km on it (85k miles)

      I can smell coolant and it leaks a bit of oil. I’m blaming head gaskets. Plan to do them myself just for the experience (hobby mechanic. . .never played with a Subi before). If I’m that deep I’m doing the timing belt and clutch as well.

      What gaskets do you use? OEM or another brand?

      Also looking for opinions on clutch kits and timing belt options. OEM good enough or are there better upgrades out there?

      Thanks for any help.

      • Justin Stobb April 15, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

        Hi Kurt,

        Its the only way to get your Question answered from me so thanks for posting here.

        We use the Six star gasket for your application and if you look on our site under Head gasket kits you can source the kit you need form us.

        We also sell the Timing belt kit with OEM parts, there is an updated anti Judder Clutch kit as well, we buy this directly from Subaru and that’s where I would steer you as well, I dont know if I can save you money on the clutch kit when the shipping to Canada is factored in.

        If you wanted to fill out the parts price request form here we can send you some prices and take things from there.


  9. Ray January 2, 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    I have a 1999 Legacy 30th edition with the 2.2L 8/98 engine. What brand or model number of head gasket is the best replacement for this unit. I have the heads off and can’t seem to locate anything other than the OEM gasket??


  10. James Magar January 3, 2008 at 3:53 am #

    I’m confused. I’ve a 2002 Subaru Outback Sport with 71,000 miles on it that’s now at Walker’s Renton Subaru with a failed left side cylinder head gasket. Subaru has extended the warranty to cover this, and will be doing the repair at Subaru’s expense (they’ll replace the left side cylinder head gasket only). You said here that, “Starting in 1997 and used through 1999 Subaru began to use a multi layer steel shim head gasket with a graphite type outer film. And this is where the problem has started.” Also, that, “In mid-year 1998 Subaru redesigned the 2.2l and 2.5l, most of the changes were in the cylinder heads and camshaft configurations. This design has had mostly problems with external head gasket leaks.”

    So, okay – then my 2002 OBS has the new cylinder gasket design, yes? And still it failed. How can a cylinder head and camshaft configuration change lead to early cylinder head gasket failure? Towards preventing this from happening again, you’ve just described what I’ve been doing all along: regular oil changes, coolant flushes, and Subaru service with OEM parts. Can I expect blown head gaskets every 70,000 miles? (This car replaced a Toyota with over 250,000 miles on it.)

  11. Justin Stobb January 4, 2008 at 6:55 pm #


    The engine in the 2002 Outback sport is considered a second generation design. The multi layered gasket I referred to in my article is the gasket used in the first generation 2.5l typically found in the 1997 to 1999 Legacy Outback, The Forrester up until mid year 1998 and the RS and Legacy GT up until the second generation engine was used in those models as well up to 06 of 1999. These gaskets will usually fail internally and eventually cause overheating.

    Your Outback sport has the second generation engine which has been plagued with external leaks. The composition of the O.E and the replacement gasket is somewhat hard to explain on paper. It is a single layer steel gasket with a composite material on either side of it.

    Why I don’t think you should expect to have to replace the head gaskets every 70k, I also need you to understand that there is a significant difference in repair techniques that ultimately will determine how long the repair will last. As far as the Toyota with 250,000, two things to consider, Toyota had a lot of problems with there V6 head gaskets in the Late 80s to the mid 90s but the internet wasn’t as popular so the word didn’t get out as much. Toyota increased the warranty mileage and time limits just as Subaru has done. Also every few years there is a technology jump, usually as a result of our efforts or government regulations to get vehicles to run cleaner. It is my belief that in efforts to clean up tailpipe emissions in the internal combustion engine we are decreasing the life of certain aspects of the vehicle as a result in higher combustion chamber temperatures and increased emissions control devices. In being involved with a few different Technician groups such as IATN, I can share with you that a lot of newer cars seem to suffer from an increased amount of problems that it had seemed we had conquered previously in regards to some of the more basic components of the engine. Lastly the coolant in your Subaru should never be flushed especially at a franchised quick lube center, there are numerous bulletins’ that talk about the potential for a flush machine being contaminated with brass and copper which can create issues for the Subaru cooling system. I do truly understand the frustration of having to have a major repair done and questioning the quality of the vehicle. But I know of plenty of frustrated vehicle owners that don’t drive Subaru’s as well, if you do a Google search for “problems with Toyota” you may see that newer cars have more problems. Cars period, can be very frustrating and bottom line is if you own a car that has a problem that car will seem suspect. I would encourage you to get through the repair and I think that you will feel better after it is all over.


  12. Justin Stobb January 4, 2008 at 6:56 pm #


    You really want to stick with the O.E gasket.


  13. Tim January 10, 2008 at 7:00 am #

    I have a 1996 Outback. I bought it with 111,000 miles. I had another shop do the major service right after I bought it. They said the head gasket was fine at that time. Anyway, I notice it smells pretty bad when I’m at a stop light sometimes after running for awhile. It doesn’t smell like oil. The car doesn’t overheat but the smell is troublesome to me. Is this common or a sign of trouble to come with the head gasket?

  14. Justin Stobb January 10, 2008 at 11:05 pm #

    Hey Tim,

    What I would suspect is that the right side axle has a leak at the inner CV boot and the grease is leaking onto the exhaust causing the smell. CV joint grease has a very strong smell to it, even more so if it gets hot.

    If you are inclined, you can raise the hood and look down at the passenger side axle shaft and should be able to visibly see grease spraying onto the exhaust and firewall. If you don’t see any signs of a leaking CV boot than it may be a good idea to have us look at it.

    Thanks and have a great day


  15. Kent January 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm #

    1999 Forester 2.5L SOHC Sept/2004 111,000mi recall for “coolant conditioner”. Dec/2004 117,000mi left head gasket failed – external leak. Replaced by Authorized Subaru Dealer. Dec/2005 145,000mi Head gasket failed. Alignment pin crushed when gasket was installed. Engine taken apart serviced and put back together. Dec/2007 172,000mi head gasket failed – internal. I’ve had both failures from the Phase II engine. Should I try a Thermagasket product? I don’t have $3,000 for a used engine in car with 172,000mi. Where do I go from here?

  16. Justin Stobb January 12, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    One of the things I comment on a lot is the repair technique used at the dealer. The typical repair is to replace the left side head gasket in the vehicle. It is impossible to obtain the same quality seal you would if you were to remove the engine from the vehicle and make the repair. But under warranty the only thing Subaru is going to pay for is the repair in the car. Here is why the repairs under warranty don’t seem to last as long. On a horizontally opposed engine you are constantly fighting gravity and fluids trying to drip out of the engine block also there isn’t as much room to clean and prep the engine block and a lot of technicians result to using a “whiz wheel” to clean the gasket surface rather than a block sander not to mention visibility isn’t all that good in the car as well.

    The right way to repair Subaru head gaskets is to remove the engine from the vehicle and put it on a stand. This ensures a good clean repair, the number one rule when trying to replace any gasket on any engine, is to make sure the surface is clean. The “repair it in the car method” leaves a lot to be desired.

    As far as what to do from here, are you being advised that you need an engine?

    The best advice I have, is to not have the repair done in the car. And not done by the dealer. What I think is lost, is that a vehicle repaired under warranty is going to be fixed as quick as possible, worse is that once a dealer technician is used to doing the repair a certain way that’s how it is going to be done regardless of who pays the bill.

  17. James Magar January 14, 2008 at 3:02 am #


    Thanks again for this website. The information you stated below is great to know and, if I decide to keep the car and a head gasket blows when the car’s out of warranty, I’ll take it to you instead of to the dealer.


    “But under warranty the only thing Subaru is going to pay for is the repair in the car. Here is why the repairs under warranty don’t seem to last as long. On a horizontally opposed engine you are constantly fighting gravity and fluids trying to drip out of the engine block also there isn’t as much room to clean and prep the engine block and a lot of technicians result to using a “whiz wheel” to clean the gasket surface rather than a block sander not to mention visibility isn’t all that good in the car as well.

    The right way to repair Subaru head gaskets is to remove the engine from the vehicle and put it on a stand. This ensures a good clean repair, the number one rule when trying to replace any gasket on any engine, is to make sure the surface is clean. The “repair it in the car method” leaves a lot to be desired.”

  18. Doug January 16, 2008 at 2:57 am #

    I have a 1997 Legacy Outback. My overheating issue is sounding more and more like what your talking about. I replaced the thermastat first but to no avail. It has 168k on the clock and before this has had no problems. My main question is, why is it sometimes after it cools down it is fine and I have plenty of heat inside the car, but during another trip, I’m over heating again and have cool air blowing? If it was a blown gasket, wouldn’t I experience the problem everytime? Thanks in advance.. Doug

  19. Justin Stobb January 16, 2008 at 11:23 pm #


    The very thing you are describing is just exactly what frustrates most technicians and vehicle owners a like. How can overheating from a blown head gasket be intermittent?

    Well here is why.

    When the head gasket starts to fail, combustion chamber pressure (usually around 180lbs) escapes into the cooling system past the head gasket, also bringing with it combustion chamber temperatures as well (anywhere from 500 degrees Fahrenheit and on) the cooling system is not capable of dealing with the excess temperature. This also usually happens when the engine is being pushed hard or has been driven for a while as the cylinder heads, gaskets and engine block have all expanded with heat and not all at the same rate. As the cylinder head expands away from the block a deteriorated gasket simply cannot hold back the constant cylinder pressure any longer allowing pressure and temperature into the cooling system thus causing the vehicle to over heat. Once the vehicle has cooled down and the cylinder heads and gaskets have contracted we start the cycle back up the next time we drive it to the point of expansion that the head gasket can no longer deal with. Next is that as cylinder pressure comes into the cooling system it creates tiny air pockets that decrease the efficiency of the coolant temperature sensor and the thermostat, as both need to have liquid around them at all times to function properly. This is one of the key reasons that the problem can go on for so long with out proper diagnoses. The vehicle has both a temperature sensor that the computer uses to know when to turn on the cooling fans and how much fuel to give the car based on engine temperature and it also has a temperature sending unit for the gauge in the car. If there is an air pocket trapped in the cooling system near the sensor or sending unit the readings will be inaccurate. So as the amount of air being introduced into the cooling system increases with cylinder head expansion the less effective the cooling system is at a time when the overall coolant temperature is rising. Not a great scenario.

    I hope this helps explain it.

  20. Sean Meegan January 17, 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks for a great description. Clear, scientific, and consistent with my dealer and a couple other smart techs that have helped sort through my overheating that only happens on the way to the ski resorts (I live in SLC). Can you speak a little bit toward the mountain issue – is it the air pressure change from 4800 to 8000+ feet or the demand on the engine that accounts for the penetration of exhaust gases to the coolant? I ask because I can usually drive around town and on highways for extended periods with no problem.

  21. Sean Meegan January 17, 2008 at 8:20 pm #

    Oh – And interestingly, I just popped my hood a moment ago and saw oil on my engine block for the first time ever. Does this scream head gaskets to you? It appears to be coming from a seam in the block just behind and to passenger side of the pulleys/tensioners for my belts.
    Thanks for any insights.

  22. greg January 19, 2008 at 9:13 pm #

    well my problem sounds like a head gasket but it just doesnt make since. My 97 subaru outback keeps overheating.Ive changed the thermostat,water pump and the timing belt just because. The engine sometimes runs normal and other times runs hot. If I feel the inlet hose to the radiator its hot but the lower hose is cold,as if the radiator has no flow through it. Ive flushed the system twice and with the thermostat out of the loop the eng runs cold and there is flow through the system.Its acts, to me, like the thermostat is in backwards but the heating element/spring side is toward the engine. What gives? Head gasket issue makes some since but then why would the engine run cool without the thermostat? One other important tidbit…the coolant overflow does have oil residue in it.

  23. Justin Stobb January 19, 2008 at 11:49 pm #

    The Subaru Outback has a reverse flow type cooling system. Meaning the thermostat is at the bottom and the lower hose will not get warm until the thermostat opens. The lower radiator hose is the inlet hose to the radiator from the engine. The reason it runs cooler without the thermostat is the coolant is always flowing. The job of the thermostat is just like the thermostat in your house it is there to regulate/control temperature. In your Vehicle the thermostat does this by reducing coolant flow until the coolant gets to a specific temperature. The original thermostat in your Subaru had a small valve that would allow a small amount of coolant to flow through it, the thermostat will start to partially open prior to the preset temperature before finally opening all the way to allow full coolant flow. By removing the thermostat you have temporarily reduced the likelihood of over heating by never allowing the engine it self to get to normal operating temperature. This also results in a richer fuel mixture, which also lowers combustion chamber temperatures, which also lowers engine temperature, but at a cost.
    Maintaining a specific temperature is a key function in reducing green house gasses and increasing fuel economy. This can damage the engine as well over time.

    Taking the thermostat out wont last forever as the excess cylinder pressure and temperature from the failing head gaskets will eventually create more heat in the cooling system than the engine’s cooling system can deal with even with the thermostat out. The whole time the head gaskets are leaking internally, there is a chance that the cylinder heads and engine block can become pitted. The oily residue in the overflow bottle is a sign of failed head gaskets as well. Take a moment and smell the overflow bottle as well. Chances are it will smell like exhaust.

    I hope this helps answer some of your questions

    • Michael P Ackermann September 11, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

      I bought a 2017 outback .will I have the same hg problems as other models.please advise.thank you Michel Ackerman

      • Justin Stobb September 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

        Hello Michael,

        It doesn’t have to develop a HG issue, but it can slowly overtime develop an external oil leak that can again slowly overtime turn into a external coolant leak or internal failure as well.

        I would suggest you start with having a Subaru Shop let you know where the car stands now and game plan from there.

        Hope that helps


  24. Bob Soars January 22, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    Dear Justin, I have an ’02 Outback with 82K. Last year, I started smelling anti-freeze inside the car, and ‘assumed’ it was a leaking heater core. Some stop-leak seemed to halt the odor. Now, I’m having bad hesitation upon acceleration. I have to ‘pump’ the accelerator pedal, and really ‘kick-it’ to get up to speed. Once there, everything is fine. Am I having head gasket problems like everyone else? Thanks, Bob

  25. Justin Stobb January 22, 2008 at 9:21 pm #

    Hello Bob,

    Without checking/testing its really hard to say for sure. Start with an inspection of the engine for any external leaks. Pay close attention to the cross member for any signs of coolant residue. Next look in the overflow bottle for signs of an oily residue. As far as the hesitation, there are a couple of other possiblities such as plug wires, plugs and the coil. Is the check engine light on?

  26. Ako January 24, 2008 at 12:24 am #

    Hi. I have an ’03 Legacy Outback with 55K. The dealer shop informed me of the headgasket problem. The headgaskets are leaking and it will cost around $1700. According to the dealer, my warranty expired a month ago. What is my options?

  27. Justin Stobb January 24, 2008 at 6:56 pm #

    Hey Ako,

    I would call S.O.A.(Subaru of America) You can find their phone number in your owners manual. I hope you have service records, as long as you do I feel pretty confident that a phone call to Subaru will yield better results than the Dealer. When you call Subaru make sure you say the following. You have been told by the Service department at _______ dealership, that you have a head gasket leak that they have denied warranty coverage of the needed repairs. You bought the vehicle in good faith that Subaru would stand behind their product and that you had also been advised that the head gasket problems plaguing the older models had been resolved and that you shouldn’t expect any problems with your vehicle. Be nice, but be to the point, and be clear that you expect the repairs to be done under warranty. Don’t threaten or be rude. If you don’t have any service records, than you may have to accept some responsibility, and maybe you should ask for partial coverage of the repairs. Something is better than nothing.

    Hope this helps and good luck

  28. Ron Deller January 25, 2008 at 7:51 pm #

    I have a 1999 Forester with the 2.5L EJ25 SOHC. Your article describes the head gasket failure to a T. I have the engine apart right now. The vehicle has 115,000 miles on it and the engine is amazingly clean on the inside, like it had been rebuilt in the last few years (I am the second owner so I have no records to prove this). The local machine shop milled the heads and said there was no need to rebuild them as they were in great shape. My problem is that on the cylinder that seemed to be the most effected by the failing head gasket got a small piece of debris between the top ring and the cylinder wall leaving a visible but not vey deep scratch. It can barely be felt by a thumb nail. All of the other bores are so clean that you can still see the honing makes. My problem is finding a machine shop that will correct this short block. I e-mailed several of those large engine rebuild houses in the US asking to purchase a short block. But no one has responded. None of the local (zip code 95003 Santa Cruz, CA) machine shops will work on a Subaru short block. I would like to put this engine back together correctly as I agree that I will get many miles out of it. Any suggestions?

  29. Justin Stobb January 25, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    Hey Ron,

    It is very difficult to find a machine shop that is up to the task. We take the block apart here and deliver the bare case half’s to a local machine shop but it is not cheap, and in a lot of instances we will end up buying a new/reman. short block from Subaru. The problem is that it needs to be in the hands of a truly skilled machinist, and you really want to make sure that there isn’t a big overbore difference between one cylinder and the rest or it will vibrate. Also you will probably end up replacing all the rings and bearings and with the cost of machine shop labor there won’t be much difference in price from a short block from Subaru versus fixing what you have. If you are comfortable splitting the case half’s your self and putting them back together maybe you could ship them out? What I can also share with you is if the scratch doesn’t go all the way down the cylinder wall and it wasn’t consuming oil before or the cylinder leakage to the crankcase was ok you might let it fly. If it did consume oil or its worse than I am visualizing than machining the cylinder wall is probably the way to go. I will tell you that it is a lot of work and a lot to put back together when dealing with the case half’s. Be very careful with the wrist pins if you tackle it your self.


  30. Ron Deller January 26, 2008 at 5:53 am #

    I sincerely thank you for your response. The engine was consuming oil prior to tear down. Your advice is very good in getting a new short block from Subaru. I REALLY do not want to spend the time splitting the case and re assembling. Can you recommend a source of a quality head gasket so I do not go through this same problem again?

    • Gary Alford January 23, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

      Fel-Pro has never let me down.

      • Justin Stobb January 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

        We have taken many of those out of the 1st gen 2.5l they are unmistakable with the blue not sure what it is coating.

  31. Camille Hunter January 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm #

    I have a 2003 Forester with 93,000 miles. Recently it started to leak coolant. The dealer noted that the headgasket showed coolant leaking on one side. The recommendation was to rebuild the engine

    My second opinion contact checked the notices and recommendations on the car. He found that oversize Cylander Head Studs were recommend. Do you know if there were any defect notices of this problem? I am thinking that my Headgasket leak is a result of the smaller Cylander Head Studs streatching. Have you heard of this problem?

  32. Justin Stobb January 29, 2008 at 2:33 am #


    Really the only choice is the O.E. gasket. Use a copper gasket spray on both sides of the gaskets and you will be fine. I have yet to see an aftermarket gasket I would use.

  33. Justin Stobb January 29, 2008 at 2:46 am #


    Your Subaru Forester uses cylinder head bolts and not studs. They are called torque to yield type bolts and should be replaced if they have stretched beyond use.

    If your Subaru Forester has a leaking head gasket the repair procedure would be to replace the head gasket or gaskets along with the necessary parts to do the repair properly. There are a few service bulletins pertaining to cylinder head gasket issues on Subaru’s but none of them pertain to oversized head studs.

    I hope that helps. The repairs made properly will yield many more trouble free years of service from your Subaru.

  34. Ruth January 31, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    I had a collant leak also and both head gaskets were replaced under a recall. I just had them replaced again and it cost me $950- This should have been covered under warranty by subaru if I ‘m reading everything correctly- right
    Thank You,

  35. Justin Stobb January 31, 2008 at 4:53 pm #


    Subaru only covers the repair one time under warranty, unless the repair fails while still under the factory warranty. And even then it is usually on the repairing Dealership. If the repair didn’t last very long than yes I would probably call and talk to Subaru of America, not the dealer but the phone number in your owner’s manual.

  36. Ruth January 31, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    Thank You – was just make sure I thought I read somewhere that if you had the coolant additive added that head gaskets were covered for up to 8 years or 100,000 miles.

  37. David K. Henrickson February 8, 2008 at 4:05 am #

    I have a 1998 Subaru Outback LTD that was diagnosed by (2)repair shops in August 2007 as being in need of a head gasket repair, currently has 161,000miles (burns through coolant, heat in the car is sporadic, oil in pan looks like chocolate milk, blows white smoke out the exhaust, and has the occasional putrid-burning smell coming from the engine). I am bringing it in to be evaluated tomorrow by another shop to have an estimate written for me. With that said I have five questions: 1)how much damage have I done over the past (5) months driving it around unrepaired? It constantly overheats for long periods of time and yet I keep driving it. 2)Is the engine worth repairing? 3)Is there other work I should have my mechanic do while they are in there making this repair? 4)What questions should I ask about how they intend to make the repair to ensure it is lasting? 5)What is the typical cost of this repair, to include whether existing heads can be machined or if new heads are required?
    Thanks so much for this valuable site, wish I had come across you months ago!!!

  38. Justin Stobb February 9, 2008 at 5:58 am #

    Hey David,

    I will try and answer all of your questions.

    Typically when the head gaskets fail in the first generation 2.5l as found in your Outback you will end up with transfer of exhaust/combustion into the cooling system and some coolant into the cylinders but not coolant in the oil, the later is kind of a deal breaker as far as repairing this engine goes. If it is really that bad to the point that the oil has become contaminated with coolant, I would be hesitant to make repairs to that engine until it was torn down and properly inspected by someone who is really familiar with the motor. With the extensive overheating you may have warped the heads or block and even cracked a cylinder liner (worst case).

    You are not alone and we have dealt with this issue many times. If your car was here we would first do a thorough inspection of the whole car and all of its needs to make sure the car is worth repairing first of all, next we would do our best to try and figure out how severe the engine problems are with out tear down (this comes with experience with Subaru’s). If we had assessed the engine as “most likely not worth fixing”, here is what I usually suggest.

    Finding a good used 2.5l, plan on doing a complete engine reseal with the updated head gaskets. I would also suggest replacing the timing belt, water pump and coolant hoses. This repair done correctly will yield a long life provided proper maintenance is done after the fact.

    The cost is really going to depend on the cost of the used engine. Repair prices can vary substantially state to state as a shop’s overhead can be quite different depending on where you live. Our shop rate is $85.00 an hour and most of the Dealerships are over $100.00 an hour.

    I would estimate a used engine to be $1,000.00 to $1200.00
    A complete reseal of the used engine $1800.00 to $2000.00
    Hoses, belts, fluids and misc. $200.00 to $300.00

    I would stay away from the low mileage Japanese exchange engines unless the shop is planning on resealing it, as the head gaskets (which started the whole problem) will still be the old design and subject to future failure. We usually have found that a low mileage exchange engine imported from Japan and “dropped in” will usually go one to two years prior to needing the head gaskets done.

    Your best bet is finding an Independent Subaru repair shop in your area. I would be hesitant taking to a general repair shop and would not take it to a Subaru Dealer service department for this kind of repair. Lastly the quality of the parts used, combined with how skilled the technician is repairing the vehicle, will ultimately determine how long the repairs will last. Just make sure you get real value for your money and that may come with a slightly higher price.

    Hope that helps


    Your Independent Subaru Specialist.

  39. Dana February 19, 2008 at 3:31 am #

    Thanks for all this great info….I have a 1998 Forester with 190k Its in great shape, my mom bought it new and has had the oil changed every 3k. About a month ago I started smelling this burning oil smell after driving for a few minutes, the dealer told me it was the valve cover gasket leaking and replaced it, Well it solved the burning smell but I am a bit worried about the Phase 1 head gasket failure. Would you recommend replaces the head gaskets before 200k? I also recently started using a synthetic blend for high milage cars, Next week I am driving out to CA, (from MI) and trying to take as many precautions as I can. Thanks Again!

  40. Kyle W February 19, 2008 at 6:47 am #

    Hi I have a 1999 Outback and recently had the Head Gaskets done. After getting the car back from the shop I drove to Winter Park (a mountain resort in CO) ran fine, but when driving home i started to notice a knocking noise from the engine area. I drove the car back home and later the next day back to the shop. The guy there told me that sometimes it the car gets heated it can cause the bottom end to go out (short block. The car has 167,700 miles and still runs fine but have noticed a drop in fuel millage, and the knocking noise between 2,000 and 3,000 rmps. When i took it back to the shop they put it on the lift and checked all the heat shields and found nothing. I have never heard this noise before and did some searching on youtube and found some EJ25’s with similar noise’s. Some say piston slap and some say rod bearings. I payed $1900.00 to have the HG’s done and the shop offered to give me back the labor in credit. So they want to charge me 2980.00 for a shop rebuilt or 3500.00 for a Subaru Factory motor… what should i do?
    Thanks much

  41. Justin Stobb February 20, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    Hey Dana,

    If you like your Subaru then I would say you should at least have the vehicle checked for signs of exhaust gasses in the cooling system, I would also encourage a full vehicle inspection so you have the whole picture in front of you as far as current and future needs. I usually try to encourage having the repair done prior to the car overheating as it does save some money. If your Forester overheats, it may warp the cylinder heads and the added cost of pressure testing and resurfacing the heads can add up to $300.00. This can usually be avoided if the problem is caught early enough.

    Thank you for the feed back on our website and I hope I have helped


  42. Justin Stobb February 20, 2008 at 4:42 am #

    Hey Kyle,

    Was the timing belt tensioner replaced? A lot of times the tensioner can fail and cause the timing belt to “slap” which sometimes can sound like a knock. The 2.5 L found in your 1999 Outback is not prone for lower end bearing failure unless it is starved for oil. The amount of piston slap noise can sometimes increase after head gasket repairs, as the explosion in the cylinder can be more powerfull after leaking head gaskets are sealed. The bigger the explosion in the cylinder(especially when cold) the better the chance for the condition that causes piston slap to be present. But having said all that piston slap really shouldn’t result in needing a lower end redone. I would ask the shop who performed the repairs on your Subaru to re-check the tensioner and I would go from there. If you do in fact need a lower end I would only suggest the Subaru shortblock.

    I hope that helps

  43. Kyle W February 20, 2008 at 6:52 am #

    I had the timing belt replaced in the summer and when they did the HG’s they didn’t replace it. They said they would just put it back on the motor since it was so new and not in need to replacing. I Went to flat irons Subaru which is a dealer and they also told me the same thing about the bottom end…(they took it into the shop and looked at it) I change the oil every 3000 and the car is very well taken care of… I dropped the car back and the shop to have the motor replaced. I hope i didnt make a mistake.

  44. Chip C February 27, 2008 at 9:10 pm #

    Hi! I’ve got a 2000 Outback Wagon (automatic) and have a few issues with it. One is the gassy smell in the garage (and sometimes in the car) that appeared soon after the catalytic converter was replaced. Any ideas? the repair shop showed no leaks and couldn’t smell what I smelled. Recently car has had difficulty starting. Just a click, then next attempt or two and it will start strongly. Had the starter replaced, but no change. Could it be an aging parking brake sensor? Car has 152K miles on it…

  45. Justin Stobb February 27, 2008 at 11:34 pm #

    Hey Chip,

    There is a protective coating on the Catalytic converter that may need some time to burn off. Also is the possibility that the PCV hose has been bumped loose while disconnecting the front O2 sensor to replace the catalyst. Other than that is the possibility of the exhaust not being sealed up well (gasket leak) sometimes the dealer or other shops will re-use the exhaust flange gaskets and they don’t always seal up well the second time. As far as the no start usually a “click” for a couple of times prior to the starter engaging is worn starter contacts but since you have mentioned the starter is new I would look into the inhibitor switch or transmission range switch as being out of adjustment (it is not uncommon for this to need to be adjusted as the shift linkage ages). Also if the ignition switch is worn (which is a moving part) you can have this type of symptom even though it is rare. Lastly the battery state of charge and ability to handle a load should be tested as well.

    Hope that helps


    Your Independent Subaru Specialist.

  46. Jim H February 28, 2008 at 3:48 pm #


    First, thank you for such an informative article and such helpful responses to the questions posed by others.

    We are in the market for a used car, but due to our current economic standing we need a car to last at least 3 yrs with a relatively high degree of confidence that it won’t cost us a small fortune after the purchase. Although we like the style and space of the Outback, we are understandably a bit apprehensive about the given the head gasket problems – we’ve already passed on an otherwise good looking ’99 thanks in large part to your article.

    We are now looking at an ’03 Special Edition with a 2.5L H4 SFI SOHC 16V . If I understand you correctly, the ’03s still have some head gasket problems, but not as much. Given that I am looking for car with a high degree of reliability, how would you rate the ’03 model (say on a scale of 1-10)?

    Thank you for any help you can offer.


  47. Justin Stobb February 28, 2008 at 10:53 pm #

    Hey Jim,

    Thanks for the feedback on our website.

    The 03 on a scale of 1 to 10 would come in at an 8 or 9 at this point. They are proven to be reliable and very very safe if ever in an accident. I would still recommend that you have the vehicle inspected prior to buying it, but I can tell you the 2003 is a better vehicle than the 2000 to 2001 as far as the probability of needing to replace the head gaskets goes. I hope that helps and good luck in your vehicle search.


  48. Jim H February 29, 2008 at 4:31 pm #

    It helps a lot. Thank you again!


  49. Sean Meegan March 3, 2008 at 7:48 pm #

    Thanks again for an excellent and knowledgeable resource for Subaru owners. I had the head gaskets replaced with confidence on Bu (the Blue Subaru) 🙂 due in large part to your articles.

    Are you aware of or can your suggest ways to find expert independent Subaru shops in the Salt Lake City area?

    Best –

  50. Justin Stobb March 3, 2008 at 11:51 pm #

    Hey Sean,

    Thanks for the input. I don’t know any Subaru repair shops in your area. A lot of my customers find me on google and car talk so you might want to start there.


  51. Tim March 9, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Love the site! I’m a first time Subaru owner of a 96 Legacy Wagon. The car seems to run fine but the coolant temp needle only goes to the first 1/4 of the range and it takes forever when first started to get there. It’s 60-670 degrees here in California by the way. I replaced the tstat today but it did not help. Where is the sensor for the gauge on this vehicle? Thanks

  52. Tim March 9, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    Post should read that is it between 60 and 70 degrees here , and car acts more like it is 60 below freezing. Heat in the car does blow hot.

  53. Justin Stobb March 9, 2008 at 7:53 pm #

    Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the feedback on our site. The temperature sending unit for the gauge is located in the coolant cross over pipe below the intake manifold, on the passenger side of the engine. Follow the pipe that the upper radiator hose is connected to until you find two sensors. The single wire sensor is for the gauge and the double wire sensor is for the computer.

    What you are describing is totally normal though as far as the needle staying in the lower ¼ of the gauge.

    Hope that helps

  54. Steve March 11, 2008 at 5:41 pm #


    I bought my 96 Outback 2.5 DOHC new and it now has 116K miles. Frequent oil (every 3K miles) and coolant changes (every 2-3 years) by myself. Never had a head gasket issue but I am concerned. I was wondering if you’ve seen fewer internal HG leaks in 1996 2.5 models than 1997-1999 2.5 models? My reasons for asking are that (1) you mentioned a different head gasket design was used for 1997-99 than 96, and (2) on another site (called Skip’s Subaru Repair Page), a logbook listed much fewer 96 HG issues than 97-99. Appreciate your experience and reply.


  55. Justin Stobb March 12, 2008 at 2:48 am #

    Hey Steve,

    Yes the 1996 2.5l uses a different type of head gasket and the failure rate is much, much lower. My wife’s 1996 Outback still has the O.E. gaskets at 145,000. In 1996 Subaru used a composite type gasket that was very similar to the head gasket they used in the 2.2l from 1989 to 1998 (which did not fail very often) if at all.

    What I think Subaru was trying to do was increase power and economy. The 1996 2.5l also has hydraulic lash adjusters where in 1997 Subaru switched to Mechanical lash adjusters instead.

    The replacement gasket for the 1996 is the same as the 1997 to 1999. I have always felt that installing the older gasket would be great, but no deal as they were never available as a replacement gasket.

  56. Geoge Marcin March 13, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    Your site is excellent. Thanks for helping me understand my 2003 Subaru Legacy SE-L. Love the car, expect hundreds of thousands of miles out of it! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!

  57. Brian March 14, 2008 at 4:19 pm #


    Great site. I am currently looking for a good, used car for a “reasonable” (read cheap) price and am looking at some Subaru’s. Most of what is available is these ’97-’99 Outbacks. In researching this, I have obviously come across this HG issue and having that problem on another car, it is something I don’t want to risk.

    So, I’m looking for more info about the different types of Subaru’s in the late 90’s. Apparently, the 2.2L engines do not have nearly the same problems? The OB as well can come with a 3.0L engine, I believe? Were OB also made with 2.2L engines? Is this high HG failure rate inclusive to the 2.5L? Any info would be apprciated.


  58. Justin Stobb March 15, 2008 at 5:28 am #

    Hey Brian,

    Thanks for the Feed back on our site.

    The 1996 Subaru Outback with the Manual transmission came with the 2.2l engine. While the Auto transmission model came with the 2.5 and starting in 1997 all of the Legacy Outback’s came with the 2.5l. Maybe look for one that has been repaired or one that hasn’t and that is reflected in the price, they are still great cars.

  59. Kathy March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm #

    Hello – I have a 1998 Subaru Legacy AWD wagon with 2.2l engine. My mechanic says that my head gaskets have a slight drip that that they should be replaced. The car has about 130M. If I do this, do you think the car can run beyond 200M? I’ve maintained everything well throughout the life of the car and recently changed the timing belt.
    Thanks for your response.

  60. Justin Stobb March 29, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    Hey Kathy,

    As long as the repair is done well and complete, and you keep up on the maintenance after the repairs you should have no trouble achieving your mileage goal and then some.

    The 1998 2.2l is a great engine. The one suggestion I would have is make sure that they do a good job of inspecting the exhaust valve guides while the cylinder heads are off, and maybe have them replace the valve stem seals at the same time as a precaution.

    Hope that helps.

    • Bald Head March 12, 2012 at 6:12 am #

      Justin… why would you replace the valve stem seals? What would be the symptom that they are “bad”?

  61. Chris April 1, 2008 at 12:46 am #

    A family member is selling their ’99 Legacy Outback with 83,000 mi.

    I could get the vehicle for far below blue book, but I’m worried about the head gasket failing.

    Do you have a rough idea about the % of these phase 1 2.5L engines that have head gasket failure?

    Thank you very much!


  62. jonathan April 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm #

    i have a 2002 impreza 2.5RS i took it to the dealer and they recommended i reseal the entire engine for an estimated cost of 2600. does this sound right to you? also, i read on the internet about Genuine Subaru Cooling System Conditioner. is this to fix the coolant leak or is this in addition to the reseal? do you think it is worth it to have the repairs done with 88k on the car? thanks for your help.

  63. Justin Stobb April 2, 2008 at 1:54 am #

    Hey Chris,

    Pretty much if the head gaskets haven’t been done; I would encourage you to plan on having them done at some point if you buy the car. But here is the good news, if you take that 1999 Subaru Outback and have a good Subaru shop do the repair with the updated head gaskets and a few other things along the way such as the timing belt and water pump you will have a great safe and reliable vehicle that should run for the next 5 years or so relatively trouble free. That is our customers experience and my own as well as both my wife and I drive Outback’s with the first generation 2.5l.

    So to answer your Question the failure rate is 100% given time.

  64. Justin Stobb April 2, 2008 at 2:04 am #

    Hey Jonathon,

    The Coolant conditioner was introduced by Subaru to try and help out with some of the external head gasket leaks that were happening with the 2nd generation 2.5l. The price for the reseal is more than we would charge but it’s hard to say if it’s the right price for the area you live in. Overhead can change drastically from state to state and city to city. And overhead is really what affects the price of repairs. If you like the car I would encourage you to fix it but I don’t generally suggest the Dealer for repairs as it’s just not what they are good at.

  65. jonathan April 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    you wouldn’t happen to know a good place for repairs in the nj/ny area would you? thanks.

  66. Justin Stobb April 3, 2008 at 10:17 pm #

    Hey Jonathan,

    I am sorry but I don’t know of any good Subaru shops in that area. A lot of my customers “Google” Seattle Subaru Service and find us that way, maybe you can try the same or look at Car talks website as well. They have a section where you can put in a zip code and make of vehicle and look at rated shops in that area.

    Hope that helps, and good luck to you


  67. JR Vanderburg April 7, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    First off, as you have heard a number of times…you give great in-put and explanations, thank you!

    And of course this leads to my question.

    Have you seen any late model Subaru’s with the leaking head gasket issue? Reason I ask, is that I just took my 04 Outback Sedan in for its 90k inspection and was informed that it has a leak. The shop tells me they called Subaru to see if it might be covered by warranty but it is not. They are also recommending a raft of other work while they have the engine open to the tune of nearly $3200.

    I guess the reason I am asking is because I would like to know if talking to SOA would be worth while or is this just one of those things you except and pay?

    Thanks in advance,

  68. Justin Stobb April 8, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    Hello JR,

    Thanks for the feed back.

    As long as you can provide service records, regardless of who serviced it I would encourage you to call SOA. In 2002 when we were really starting to see the 2000 to 2001 models come in past 60k with head gasket leaks that Subaru wouldn’t cover under warranty I encouraged customers to call and a lot of them were able to recoup $700.00 to $1100.00 back when Subaru increased the warranty to 100k on the 2000 to 2001 models a little later. Establishing some communication and providing proof of repairs was how a lot of customer were able to recoup some money. While I can’t say for sure that Subaru will increase the warranty on the 2002 to 2004 models to 100k like the 2000 to 2001 It wouldn’t surprise me. If there was enough pressure, which comes from vehicle owners like your self. Not to question the shop that has your car now but $3200.00 seems kind of high but, as I don’t have the car in front of me it may only seem that way.


  69. JR Vanderburg April 10, 2008 at 2:51 am #

    Thanks for the input. I have started the process that you mention with the dealer and SOA and I will post the outcome if or when it resolves. As for the $3200, it is high, but that is because the mechanic is suggesting that we do a number of other things while the engine is open…like replacing the water pump, front seals, spark plugs & wires and a litany of other items. Needless to say, I have asked for and received a revised quote to just fix the problem and it is closer to $1500 which seems much more reasonable to me.

    Thanks again and I’ll be in touch.

  70. Paul April 13, 2008 at 5:38 pm #


    I bought a 1997 Outback Sport with the 2.2/5sp. It has 138K on it and runs great. It has a little noise in the AM that, to me, sounds like a rod knock. But since it’s only when it’s cold, I think it may be piston slap. I drive it easy most of the time, but especially when it’s cold. It’s really quiet, but noticable to me. I’ve taken to driving with the stereo off when the car is cold just to listen to it. If it’s piston slap, will the engine live a long time anyway if taken care of properly? I bought it to have the all wheel drive with a 5sp as my Jeep Auto Trans went out and the only thing I don’t work on is Auto Transmissions(internal). I love the car. I want it to last awhile. What do you think?


  71. Faith April 14, 2008 at 12:56 am #

    Hey there … I have a less usual question to ask you. I am currently the proud and happy owner of an old-school 1991 Loyale with about 170,000 miles on it. Although the car runs great, it is showing its age and I have been considering upgrading to a newer (used) Subaru. However, having done some research and asking around, I’ve gotten the impression that these newer Subarus may look cooler but they have some significant issues going on, such as this head gasket problem. My old car needed a timing belt once and has a few mild oil leaks, but it generally runs like a champ. Would you recommend the newer Subarus over the older one? And why? And if you do think an upgrade is a good idea, which model years are going to be better in terms of having gotten the bugs worked out of the design?

    Thanks a lot!

  72. Justin Stobb April 14, 2008 at 5:19 pm #

    Hey Paul,

    Most likely it is piston slap, very common. It really has no detrimental effect on the engine and as long as you keep up on the maintenance you should be fine. Subaru shortened the “skirt” area of the piston (this is the portion of the piston below the connecting rod pin) to help reduce drag and friction. Piston slap will typically be hollow in sound and the noise should get better as the engine reaches operating temperature and the cylinder and piston/rings have all expanded and are happy. This is pretty much what you have described. My own Subaru Outback wagon has “the slap” and it is at just under 200k and counting.

    Hope that helps

  73. Justin Stobb April 14, 2008 at 7:22 pm #

    Hey Faith,

    The Older Subaru Loyales were great; there is no doubt about that but they were also much simpler in design. This is really due to the amount of emissions control devices that are on the later models and is kind of the price we pay for trying to clean up the air. My old 88 took me every where. But they were oil leaking (which is no good for the environment) and if the cooling system was neglected they would blow head gaskets and crack cylinder heads. The Subaru Legacy, Outback, Forrester and Impreza are great cars as are the Tribeca, Baja etc. Certain models seem to have more issues than others.

    I’m not sure what year or era Subaru you are looking at but what I can tell you is they are great cars with some common issues but if you want to know what I think is the best way to go, I would suggest buying a 1997 to 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback Wagon as they are the current era Loyale in my opinion. Buy the Outback based on the knowledge that if the Head gaskets haven’t been done yet they will need to be, and let that affect how much you are willing to pay for it. The 1997 to 1999 have mechanical valve lash adjusters and rev up smoother than the 1996. I have a 1998 and my wife a 1996 we both have a pile of miles on them and they both have had the head gaskets replaced as well and have been great cars before and since.

    Here is a good scenario, you buy an Outback knowing it should have the updated head gaskets put in, you replace the water pump, timing belt and a few other things at the same time, you then have a car that will last a long time but even better yet if you have all that work done at a good shop a portion of “your new used car” will be under warranty. We give our customers a 1 year 15k warranty on the head gasket repairs we make. I would expect a good shop in your area to do the same.

    I hope that helps and happy hunting!

  74. Paul April 15, 2008 at 5:19 pm #

    Thanks Justin,

    Happy to hear that it’s a common noise with the Subarus. I know that the ford engines make the noise cold sometimes if the pistons are installed backwards for increased compression with no detrimental effects. Thanks for your advise. It’s nice to have some expert Subaru advice. I really enjoy the blog!


  75. Faith April 18, 2008 at 11:53 pm #

    Hi Justin —

    I appreciate the advice! The Outbacks of that date range are about the right ones for my budget anyway. If someone is selling an Outback that hasn’t had the head gaskets done, how much would you think that should affect the price?

    Thanks —

  76. Justin Stobb May 1, 2008 at 4:06 am #

    Hey Faith,

    I missed your followup question. I would try to doc about $1500.00 of the price or so.

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you.


  77. Taylor B May 6, 2008 at 10:18 pm #

    Hi Justin, thanks a TON for your well-developed stream of information! It’s helped me a LOT in dealing with the following issue…

    My 2001 RS Impreza has recently developed a rather serious external oil leak on the passenger side, just above the exhaust. It is burning oil pretty bad, has been for almost a year now although it does seem to slowly be getting worse. The car has been maintained well all its life, filters and tires getting regular attention. I change my oil regularly as well, and have never noticed the temp get above the same exact spot the engine always warms up to. My local Subaru dealer diagnosed the head gaskets (both) leaking and offered to replace the gaskets and my cat converter (throwing code 420) for $3200, which wasn’t and still isn’t possible. I am hesitant to commit the down-time of the vehicle to doing the head gasket swap myself, but I likely have the skills and a majority of the tools needed including the hoist and engine stand. This is my daily car, and I would like to keep her for another few years, as she only has 127k on her. Is this something you would advise someone who can rebuild a 1993 Mustang to take on? Is it likely that this external oil leak certainly is a head gasket issue, and I’m unlikely to encounter too many other sources? Will I ever find that lost love for my Subaru again? 😉

    Any advice for someone might be about to try this themselves would be very helpful, mostly instilling some confidence that this truly is the problem. I seem to see the leak, it’s at a seam on the block for sure.



  78. Justin Stobb May 7, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    Hey Taylor,

    First of all I am very confident you will find the lost love for your Subie. The RS is one of my personal favorites and definitely would encourage you to repair it.

    The external oil and or coolant leak from the left side head gasket is very common on your Subaru Impreza RS, and I am sure that is where the leak is from. But $3200.00 is a little steep even if it does include the cat.

    As far as doing it your self, it is possible but you will need to invest in some tools that you may not have. Also is the possibility of missing a step or problem from lack of experience (it can happen to anyone). I would guess the time to be a day to remove the engine and take it apart. Some down time to send the heads to a machine shop to be checked and surfaced. I must strongly suggest this step for a do it your self project unless you are very comfortable with a straight edge and a feeler gauge. Then I would suggest it will take the better part of a day to put the engine back together and another partial day to put the engine back in, burp the cooling system and give it a good once over. The head bolt torque can be difficult as well and is probably the most important part of the job. So the answer is yes you can do the repair provided you are prepared.

    I have been contemplating selling parts. If someone put together a kit of quality components needed to do the repair right would that be of interest to you? I am not looking to sell you anything, only looking for some feedback.

    Thanks for the positive input on our site, and if I can help you further let me know.


  79. Taylor B May 7, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    Thanks Justin! I think this summer I will be doing this job myself, as I love the body style and the car. It has served me well, and I feel safe in it.

    If there were a good kit for this chore, I’d be all over it like a wet blanket! I think there are enough shade-tree wrenches out there who could take this on with a well thought-out kit of parts. Even more helpful would be a trivial write-up on this procedure, something that detailed the procedure at high-level. Even better still would be a web-based article with photos and a much more granular procedure.

    You sir are in the industry to earn a living, and I believe you deserve every penny you make and more if you can put together a kit. The term here in Texas is “good egg”. 😉 I can likely speak for many when I say that I’d like you to stay in business and help you to keep helping people out, and buying parts or labor from you is the only way we can help. 🙂 Feel free to produce that kit, I’ll buy it.

    Thanks a ton! I will keep you posted when I take this on.


  80. Roland May 18, 2008 at 5:09 am #

    Hi Justin, I’ve been reading this post for a while, it looks like my 1999 outback is having the head gasket problem. I reside in Illinois, are there any Independent Subaru Specialist in the Illinois that you can recomend? I don’t think I will be able to bring the car to WA.


  81. Justin Stobb May 19, 2008 at 11:37 pm #

    Hey Roland,

    I don’t know any one to send you to, but I would try car talk’s website under mechanic files for reviewed shops that specialize in Subaru.


  82. CB May 23, 2008 at 1:32 pm #

    What can one expect to pay to have a head gasket replaced?
    What if the check engine light never comes on, and the engine gets blown? How much then? We bought a used 2000 Subaru Forester and 2 weeks later the car started over heating and we are being told the engine needs to be replaced. Why doesn’t the check engine light come on when the head gasket starts to leak? How is one to tell when to pull the car off the road and call a tow truck if the check engine light doesn’t come on? The car only has 70,000 miles on it. I’m pissed.

  83. Justin Stobb May 23, 2008 at 7:08 pm #

    Hey CB,

    First of all I am sorry you are having trouble and hind sight is always 20/20.

    But did you have the car inspected prior to buying it? Or at least have someone look at and service it after the fact? A neglected car will let you down every time.

    The check engine light on your Subaru is related the vehicle emissions systems more than it is to the engine itself. It does not come on to tell you to pull the car over in most cases.

    And is a federal emissions thing, not a Subaru one.

    I know that the owner’s manual is not very exciting reading by any stretch of the imagination but it will help you understand your Subaru better.

    The only way it could need an engine is if it was driven for a long time while overheating in which the temperature gauge would have been pegged to the red.

    As far as price, head gaskets range from $1200.00 to $1300.00 here, but if an engine is needed I would look for a used one to save money, reseal that engine and drive the car for the next 5 to 6 years with only minor maintenance needed to the engine it self.

    Hope that helps some

  84. JC. June 8, 2008 at 8:43 pm #

    Justin, I’m about to buy a 2002 Outback with 18,000 miles(I know the owner). I don’t know if this car is affected by the head gasket recall or if it ever had conditioner added to the coolant. Would it be recommended to add coolant conditioner as soon as I get this car? Would it be recommended to change the coolant if it hasn’t ever been done and add conditioner?
    I hope you can guide me as to what I should do. Thanks. JC.

  85. Justin Stobb June 9, 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    Hey John,

    We could break it down by the VIN # to see if it is under the campaign, but I suspect no on a 2002 if you send me the vin # I will look into it for you. If the Gaskets are not leaking right now I would only suggest replacing the coolant with Genuine Subaru coolant only for now and keep an eye on it.


  86. Jamie June 10, 2008 at 5:02 pm #

    Hello Justin,

    I am looking to buy a new (or slightly used) Impreza or Outback Sport. I have not seen as much historic information on head gasket issues with the Impreza. I know the Outback Sport is considered a type of ‘Impreza’- but it seems to have more documented head gasket issues (at least historically). So- which subaru model seems to experience the head gasket issue the least frequently?

    I was told the Impreza- do you agree?

    And when mechanics suggest the Impreza- does that include the Outback Sport (Impreza)?

  87. Scott June 24, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    Hi All

    I have an Outback My01, so seems a 2nd Gen 2,5 engine. Have had both head gaskets, water pump, thermostat and full 200000km service with parts just done. Car still overheats. Gets to operating temp after about 1.5kms of driving. I watch the needle move quickly.

    Only slightly overheating on a longer run, but more so at lower speeds in town like 50 to 60 km/hr. Top radiator hose hot, bottom cool to mild. No water loss at all. Burbling noises in dashboard under moderate to heavy acceleration. My mechanic and Subaru Australia are stumped.

    Any thoughts please.
    Thanks in advance, Scott.

  88. Scott June 24, 2008 at 11:18 am #

    Sorry forgot to add to my mssage 87 above that the radiator was flow tested and pased twice. Thermostat replaced twice with OE. Thanks, Scott

  89. Justin Stobb June 24, 2008 at 9:37 pm #

    Hey Scott,

    That really sucks. Through the years I have seen a small handful of Subaru’s with a cylinder liner issue which can cause what you are talking about but so can an air pocket caused by something else or a flow issue. The car is very fixable. An infrared thermometer looking for temperature variances in the cooling system will be the best place to start.

    Also has the accuracy of the coolant temperature sensor been checked?

  90. Mark June 25, 2008 at 3:10 pm #

    Hi Justin:

    Great site. I am trying to clarify the warranty extension on 2001 Outback Head Gaskets. My dealer says head gaskets are starting to leak, when I inquired further about is it a coolant (since under warranty extension), they said no, it was oil. Is an oil leak covered under this extension. I change oil regularly (short trip driver), and was wondering how an oil leak developed. Thanks!!

  91. Justin Stobb June 25, 2008 at 11:59 pm #

    Hey Mark,

    The extended Warranty coverage only applies to the head gaskets leaking coolant and then only applies to affected models within a specific VIN# range, followed up with you had to have the coolant conditioner installed by a Subaru Dealer as part of the campaign.

    As far as why it leaked oil, there are a few reasons this can happen. Gravity and the horizontal engine design are a big factor when combined with any fuel in the oil. Any excess fuel will slowly eat away at the head gaskets and cause them to fail as fuel is a solvent and very corrosive.

    Hear is the best way I can explain it.

    We don’t achieve 100% combustion in the internal combustion engine, meaning that not all of the fuel used in the combustion process is burned. A lot of fuel scrapes past the rings and into the crankcase where it mixes with the engine oil. The oil collects a lot of excess fuel over time that needs to separate from the oil back into a vapor and be re- introduced into the intake manifold through the PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system and the crankcase vents(at each valve cover). But in order to achieve this, the oil must come up to temperature. This just doesn’t happen in stop and go driving at all. There is a big difference in coolant temperature and whether or not the oil gets up to the specific temperature required for the fuel to start to separate from the oil and be released back into the intake system. A good long extended freeway trip is the best defense against head gasket leaks. Also helps with internal engine longevity and preventing catalyst failure.

    As we continue to add new emissions systems to the same old internal combustion engine to try and clean up the tail pipe gasses, the basic engine it self can suffer. If one of the emission systems fails, and creates uneven combustion temperatures, this can affect the longevity of many other basic components of the engine, including the head gaskets.

    This is the same for all engines, and I know of a lot of other makes and models with just as frequent gasket failure as the Subaru. There is something about high intelligence level of the average Subaru owner that draws them to seek out information on the web and post experiences good or bad.

    Having the Subaru repaired by someone who is willing to pull the engine out and do the repairs right is a good way to go and in a few months you will never look back.

    Hope this helps


  92. Scott June 26, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks for the reply Justin.

    After a series of compression checks, fluid level checks, gas checks all wre still stumped.

    Then the mechanic again did a full drain of the cooling system and then another gravity refill. The result eliminated the burbling in the dash. The theory was that the air caught in the dash on the engine side of the thermostat was cavitating in the new water pump so low flow on engine side which caused the very short drive time to get to operating temp. So when the thermostat opened and at cruising speeds temp was ok.

    So the problem still remained why car was running hot at slow driving speeds or idling. The mechanic ended up testing the spak plug leads and coil. One lead almost dead, the other 3 with high resistance, coil pumping out too much current and pretty much cactus. Aparently this causes all sorts of ignition issues. One side effect is excessive heat. New coil and 4 leads, car running at normal temp again.

    Sometimes I just wish for a simple Chevy, Windsor or Hemi motor with a few rubber pipes, a carby, simple cooling system and lots of room in the engine bay to fix the problems myself. Modern cars are great when they are running, but…..

    I hope this can help someone else in the future.

  93. Justin Stobb June 27, 2008 at 4:16 am #


    This is not aimed at you but,

    I am confused. If the Subaru had a bad spark plug, plug wire or coil problem it would have been running very poorly and NOT overheating, unless driven with a misfire to the point that the catalyst overheated or the engine was damaged.

    I am not saying that you have been had. But!!!

    You never mentioned any symptoms that would indicate that the car was running poorly such as a shake, poor performance or most importantly a flashing check engine light and I wouldn’t want any of my readers to think that a faulty coil or spark plug wire alone could cause the car to overheat without any other very significant symptoms because it just isn’t possible. Your Subaru has a misfire monitor as part of the engine control module that would have reported any misfire as a result of a bad secondary ignition component such as a plug wire, plug or coil in the form of a check engine light and a misfire code.

    I suspected that the air was not properly purged from the cooling system, as this is very common if the proper procedure is not followed and when the air pocket reaches the thermostat the thermostat will not open as it needs hot coolant not hot air to force it open.

    Lastly replacing the head gaskets without a good inspection of the rest of the vehicle will almost always come back to haunt the Technician and customer alike. This is why I always insist that a complete thorough inspection of the whole car must be performed prior to any repairs being attempted or the repair will be incomplete.

    You had Mentioned Subaru of Australia so I guess I assumed that it was at an Authorized Subaru service department.

    After your second post, I sure hope that wasn’t the case.

  94. Scott June 27, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    Hi Justin

    Yes ur right I did not mention misfire in my first enquiry. As it was only occuring intermittently, at between 1800 and 2300rpm in top gear and only when easing the throttle open from a coast or overun, I assumed an injector issue and was running an injector cleaner thru the fuel system.

    There were no lights, bells or buzzers on the dash. I did not even know about the alerts you mentioned above. I thank you for your insight into the systems in place in my Subaru.

    My intention was not to mislead so apologies for any inference on my behalf. I did not link the overheating to the intermittent misfire at all. It was the mechanic who did. His reasoning seemed plausable up until reading your comments above. Well at the least I now have replaced the 75,000km old leads and the 175,000 km old coil. No labor was charged for his follow up work, and half the cost of the above equipment was bourne by the mechanic. Whether his reasoning is right or only partly so, he believed it to be at least half right. So I wasnt totally had 🙂

    FYI the mechanic in question is the nearest Subaru and European car repairer for about 250km from where I reside. He has a busy little business and is highly regarded amongst other automotive industry professionals.

    Also for the information of your readers, the leaking head gasket in my case was not internal, but oil literally dripping from the back rear edge of the head to block join.

    The more I have researched into this over the past 48 hrs and also in light of your comments above, I believe the symptoms I first described on overheating were more likely attributeable to air locks not fully bled out after the major work was carried out, rather than any ignition or pre ignition issues.

    For the little inconvenience of getting the car to and from the mechanic, and half the cost of a new coil and 4 leads, my car has had extensive additional testing and has passed each one. So I am happy that after 175,000km the Outback is holding up extremely well. Oh and he cleaned it for me as well. Thanks again, Scott

  95. Chuck June 29, 2008 at 3:21 am #

    I have a 2001 Subaru Outback with 96K miles and the 2.5 SOHC engine. Have not had any problems until lately when the colant temp. gauge began to creep up to over 3/4. The A/C was turned off and the temp. seem to stabilize. I drained the coolant and changed the thermostat. It seemed okay for about 70 miles, then began to heat up. Flushed the cooling system and added new coolant and a high dollar sealant. It got hotter faster. Removed the thermostat and it stayed at 1/2 gauge for about an hour, then went up fast with the A/C on. Turning off A/C did not help. No external leakage is evident. Is it time to drop the engine and change the head gaskets? Any tests to do before pulling the heads? Runs fine otherwise.

  96. Ben July 1, 2008 at 7:51 am #


    I have two Questions looking at your very helpful web sites.

    1. Warranty Extension: You mentioned to Mark that “The extended Warranty coverage only applies to the head gaskets leaking coolant and then only applies to affected models within a specific VIN# range, followed up with you had to have the coolant conditioner installed by a Subaru Dealer as part of the campaign.” I am the second owner of a 1999 OB automatic with 75K miles and I have checked all the previous owner’s record,(she kept them all and did not find a recall to install the conditioner. Perhaps not in the Vin # range?) Now,the 1999 OB has blown headgasket. Since it is over 8 years and appears to have no coolant conditioner added, Would calling SOA help in this case?

    2. Is the “Burbling noises in dashboard” a sign that the cooling system was not purged correctly? What is the correct procedure? (to tell my mechanic)

    Thank You for your web site!

  97. Justin Stobb July 1, 2008 at 4:44 pm #

    Hey Ben,

    The gurgling is either air trapped in the cooling system or cylinder pressure entering the cooling system as a result of the blown head gaskets.

    The 1999 Outback used the first generation 2.5l, and wasn’t subject to the coolant conditioner.

    A call to SOA probably won’t do to much good at this point.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but once it’s repaired and a couple of weeks go buy you wont look back.


  98. Ben July 3, 2008 at 3:22 am #


    Thank you so much for you answers.

    Should the conditioner be added after the new gaskets are installed and there after when the cooling system is serviced?


  99. Justin Stobb July 3, 2008 at 3:38 am #


    I don’t really suggest putting the conditioner in after the repairs are made or after the warranty I over from Subaru.
    We have been dealing with an increasingly number of clogged radiators and we have been able to correlate every one of them to multiple installs of the conditioner.

    Subaru specified you needed to add the conditioner any time the cooling system was serviced to keep the warranty intact and the ones that have had the conditioner in for a while or more than once seem to be developing problems.


  100. Jeff July 6, 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    Thanks for all the info!!

    Do the 2.2L found in the ’99 Outbacks have the same gasket problem?

  101. jeff hall July 7, 2008 at 4:45 am #

    have a 2000 ob sport awd 2.2 just started having overheating problems at highway speeds,not at lower speeds. no external leaks,fans running fine,upper and lower rad. hoses hot. head gaskets??????
    great site thanks for any and all info


  102. Justin Stobb July 7, 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    Hey Jeff,

    It is much less common, but yes the 2000 2.2l found in your Subaru Impreza Outback sport can develop head gasket issues as well.

    Look for any or all of the signs listed in my article.

  103. Deb August 20, 2008 at 12:45 pm #


    I have a 2004 Subaru Outback Wagon with 59K. Check Engine light came on so took it into my shop and found I need a new head gasket and a catalytic converter on driver’s side(due to the oil leak). I have all of my paperwork, stating previous oil changes, state of NH inspections/emissions tests, etc. My shop does not do major work because of proprietary and has told me to go to the local Subaru dealership. I purchased this car from the dealer, second hand with around 18k at one year old. Should this repair be covered or due to the age will I have to go to SOA as mentioned in previous questions. If not, does around $3000. sound accurate for repairs? Thanks for your help.

  104. Helena August 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Hey Justin, Thanks for this great website. I have a Subaru Forester 2003 (75,000km) and noticed that the engine heated up especially when I drove up a hill on the highway. I first had the radiator checked and the thermostat renewed but the problem persisted. Last week the mechanic replaced the head gaskets and I was hoping that after spending around $ 2000 the problem would have been solved. However, when I drove the car a couple of days ago the engine started heating up again. I took the car back to the mechanic and he is having a look at it again. He seemed a little lost and did not really know why the car was still playing up. Would you have any idea? Do you think the engine is wrecked? I fixed the car as sson as I noticed the problem.
    Thank you, Helena

  105. Justin Stobb August 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm #

    Hey Deb,

    Sorry it took so long to get to your Question. I took the Family to Disney land and promised I wouldn’t do any work at all unless it was an emergency.

    Any ways the price to replace the head gaskets and catalyst is a little high, but I have no idea what the going labor rate is where you are.

    The Subaru should have come with a 5 year 60k power train warranty that covers the head gasket leak so that should be done at no cost to you at all. The Catalyst is covered by Federal emissions warranty for 8 years or 80k.

    So most if not all of this work should be under warranty.

    I hope that helps and you can find the warranty information in your owners manual as well.


  106. Justin Stobb August 25, 2008 at 5:48 pm #

    Hey Helena,

    Most likely the repair wasn’t done well, or it wasn’t diagnosed properly.

    I suspect the radiator is restricted. This should be very simple for a good Auto Technician to find.

    I am sure its very fixable, cracked heads or engine blocks are not that common at all.

    Maybe source out a good Independent Subaru Expert like All Wheel Drive Auto in your area and let them take a look at it.

    I hope this helps.


  107. AJ August 25, 2008 at 9:56 pm #


    Thanks for such an informative site. There are many websites talking about the overheating problem but none as clear and concise as yours.

    After reading through responses I’m coming to the conclusion that I have a leaking head gasket. It seems to occur after I’ve been driving for a while and come to an idle. Once I start moving at 20 mph or faster it goes back down. I looked in the overflow container and saw brown sludge. I took it in to the mechanic and had the coolant flushed and the thermometer replaced about three weeks ago. I guess that didn’t help. I have three questions.

    1.Is there any easy way a novice like me can get some more confirmation that it is the head gasket? $1500 is a lot and I’d like to be surer that this is the problem. Other then the two indicators above I don’t see anything else out of the ordinary.
    2.Can you suggest any other repairs that should be done at the same time since I’m assuming the engine will have to be pulled out? I think you mentioned replacing the water pump and timing belt.
    3.I live in the DC area and it’ll soon start getting colder. I’d like to get through to next summer if possible. I drive about 500 miles a month, mostly 5-10 mile trips. Is there anything I could do such as putting in a sealant which will hold off the inevitable for another year?

    Thanks in advance and great site.


  108. Justin Stobb August 26, 2008 at 6:49 pm #

    Hey AJ,

    Thanks for the feed back on our site; it keeps me fired up to help people.

    As far as confirmation, if the coolant overflow bottle had an oily residue, or an exhaust, fuel or sulfur smell. That is the best thing a novice or professional alike can always look for as the easiest way to spot signs of internal head gasket failure on your Subaru.

    I don’t really recommend any sealants as they tend to restrict the radiator and create more harm than good.

    The timing belt, water pump should be replaced, it is also a good idea to have the oil pump resealed and the rear separator plate or “inspection cover replaced”

    The good news is that the repairs if done properly by a good Technician familiar with Subaru should last a long time and keep costs over the next five years fairly low.

    Hope that helps.

  109. Iain August 26, 2008 at 7:22 pm #

    First a very interesting explanation and set of posts.

    A different question: I’m thinking of buying a new legacy ( European Diesel for grins or extra trouble). Any feeling for the post 2004 model year Subaru gasket reliability – have they resolved the earlier issues or will it be just a matter of time?


  110. Ian August 27, 2008 at 4:17 pm #

    I am looking at a 97 legacy outback with the EJ25 DOHC 2.5 engine as a car for my school age son to learn to drive in. The car is off the road at present with a diagnosis of having failed a leak down test on one cylinder. I jumped the car to get it started and in ran lumpy suggesting that one of the 4 cylinders was not firing correctly.
    Before I started the engine I noted that the coolant level was down and i filled this up. I was not able to run the car for long enough to determine if the coolant level dropped again. The check engine light was flashing whilst the car was running. Is this likely to be a head gasket problem or something more serious? I had hoped that i could use the HG repair as a way to introduce my son to the pleasures of car maintenance!

  111. Justin Stobb August 29, 2008 at 3:31 am #

    Hey Ian,

    Really the only way to know is to perform a leakdown test and see where the leakage is going. Such as to coolant or past a valve. Having leakage is only part of the diagnoses the other part is knowing where the leakage is too.

  112. KD September 4, 2008 at 8:53 pm #

    Thanks for the site. You have the best info on overheating and the head gasket problem.

    But I need to know what is recommended for the radiator when a leaking head gasket is replaced. We had a leaking head gasket replaced on our `01 Legacy Wagon, under the warranty, by our hometown Subaru dealership in December 2007. The repair order says ‘coolant check’, nothing about flushing or cleaning.

    On Labor Day the lower radiator hose burst at a rest stop about 300 miles from home. The local Subaru dealership asked if we had a head gasket replaced recently because they couldn’t find a leak but found plenty of gunk in the radiator indicating a leak. They said that the gunk in the radiator is what caused our hose(s) to deteriorate & burst. The local dealership recommended we replace the radiator as well as the hoses. The local dealership mentioned they ALWAYS replace the radiator as part of a head gasket replacement.

    If it turns out that out the radiator was cleaned in 2007 and there isn’t a new leaking head gasket what could cause the gunk in the radiator?

    Thanks much.

  113. Gary September 5, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    I have a 2003 Forester 2.5X, have done all maintenance per schedule and have added the ‘coolant conditioner’ faithfully every time coolant is replaced.
    Now, at 119,000 miles, after smelling burning oil, was told I have the head gasket problem
    So obviously, it’s still a problem with 2003 and later model Foresters.
    Is it even worth me calling Subaru of America to try and get them to pay for part of the $1,400 repair cost?

  114. Justin Stobb September 9, 2008 at 2:39 am #

    Hey Kd,

    I don’t understand your entire question, are you saying the gunk was clogging the radiator or that there is oil in the cooling system thus the radiator as well?

    The gunk is most likely the coolant conditioner that would have been put in under warranty. We have seen a few clogged radiators and found where the coolant conditioner has solidified in the radiator.

    This can be caused by a number of reasons. The most common thing we have found is if too much of the Subaru coolant conditioner is put in it will clog up the works.

    The dealer ship stating they always replace the radiator just flat out drives me a little nuts.

    Under warranty Subaru does not pay for a Radiator at all ever. You would have had to pay for any hoses, belts, radiator etc done above and beyond what Subaru of America would have been willing to pay for under warranty.

    If we are talking about an oil residue in the cooling system it would have worked itself into the coolant overflow bottle by now if it was residue from a previously repaired internal head gasket leak.

    The procedure with radiators is to check to see if they are clogged AFTER the head gaskets have been replaced. This is done with an infrared type thermometer checking for temperature variances as a good flowing radiator should have relatively even temperature throughout.

    This should also be done periodically as part of a good yearly inspection to PREVENT a situation like you have had.

    KD, a lot of what you have said just doesn’t add up to me at all. The Subaru dealership that repaired the hose on the car had no reason to ask if the head gasket was done because all of that information is available to them through SOA the instant your name, license, or VIN # is plugged into the system. Which happens at the time the vehicle is written up by the service advisor for repairs.

    If gunk in the radiator causes the hose to blow, why no mention of replacing the thermostat that would be full of the same gunk? A 2001 Subaru legacy has two radiator hoses, two heater hoses, two bypass hoses and one water pump elbow hose. Were they all replaced?

    Subaru does not recommend coolant flushes of any kind. And I have no idea how an aluminum and plastic radiator was “cleaned”.

    It’s always a precarious situation when the head gaskets are done under warranty at n/c to a customer to try and ask for money to replace hoses, belts and maybe a water pump or radiator.

    Most customers don’t want to pay for anything that isn’t covered.

    We advise our customers that have head gaskets done under warranty to pay for a new timing belt, accessory belts, hoses and a water pump as it will greatly save money over the long run.

    It’s hard for me to comment on what could have happened or what should have happened. But the one thing that I can tell you is the lower radiator hose does not burst on these cars typically and it should have been caught during an inspection before any trip was taken in the Subaru.

    A hose ready to burst sticks out like a sore thumb.

  115. Justin Stobb September 9, 2008 at 2:45 am #

    Hey Gary,
    The recall in regards to head gaskets was related to a coolant leak mostly from the left side cylinder head.

    You might try calling, but at 119k it may be a hard sell.

    Be careful about adding too much coolant conditioner as it will clog the cooling system.

  116. KD September 10, 2008 at 5:17 pm #

    Thank you for the detailed response. From your description it sounds like we were suckered into a new radiator. We were told that it was the left over residue in the coolant from our (previously) blown head gasket that caused our radiator hose(s) to deteriorate and perforate. No mention of a clogged radiator. Thanks again, I will be sure to suggest your shop to our Seattle area friends & family.


  117. Kenneth September 19, 2008 at 3:44 am #

    OK guys, bought a 98 forrester w/ 255,000 that was suppose to have been “rebuilt” @ 200k, Coolant is going somewhere I suppose but a quick inspection under it from the oil change guy says no leaks, and I dont see blue smoke and there is no white film on the oil dip stick, but it has over heated a couple of times, I kept checking the resevoir which appears fine but would be frothy and bubbling up to the top in mid day heat, the same oil guy checked the actual radiator fill and it was empty, hence I was wrong to assume that the resevoir was the place to be looking, he said it should be fine as I worry I bought a lemon, but with everything said, I’ve put 1200 miles on it since purchase, short trips, and I think the actual problem is that the cooling fans are either frozen or its a fuse thing, fuse is fine and replaced anyways, but how about those two relays, if I change those, would it suggest that they’d work again, and therefore not have any overheating issues?? I would like to drive back home to colorado from Chitown next week. Suggestions?? Cheers

  118. RM September 19, 2008 at 3:49 am #

    What a great resource this site is. Thank you for all of your effort into this. I blew the upper radiator hose about a month ago, and I haven’t been able to get the coolant levels right since. What is the proper procedure to fill the coolant?

  119. Ann Sharlow September 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm #

    I have a 2000 Subaru outback wagon (83k) that was just diagnosed with a external oil leak on the left side head gasket. Back in April, 2008 (car was still under warranty) my local repair shop told me that I had a head gasket leak while replacing cv seals. I looked on the internet and founds lots of info including info on the extended warranty for external coolant leaks. I called SOA and got a case number, then took the car to a subaru dealer. The pressured tested the HG & said not leaking & added conditioner. They did not indicate that they added conditioner on my bill. So I asked them to put it in writing. During the summer, I had a drop of clear-like oily lubricant leaking on my driveway almost daily. I would also smell when the car is warmed up and idling, a stinky burnt oil smell. I took it back to my local service shop (3x), he said it was like a silicone product leaking. Next, I took it back to the Subaru dealer and they said it now is the head gaskets, but were leaking oil not coolant. He stated that the oil was clear due to it being changed recently (1000 miles. Here’s my question – is the conditioner an oily clear silicone lubricant? Doesn’t oil turn dark right away. Couldn’t the conditioner stop the coolant leaking, but not the oil leaking? And isn’t the HG a defective design so what’s the difference if it’s oil or coolant (semantics). I think is the HG repair should be honored under the warranty.

    PS. Your site is very helpful. Thank you!!!!

  120. Justin Stobb September 24, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    Hello Ann,

    So the conditioner was a reddish color and as it was added to the cooling system it would only try and fill the voids in the gasket area surrounding the coolant jackets.

    As far as the Subaru head gasket campaign it only pertained to the head gaskets leaking coolant.

    I do truly understand where you are coming from, but I don’t have an real good news other than if it is repaired with the engine out of the car by someone familiar with Subaru, a real Subaru expert and not the dealer it will last a long time and it is cheaper than payments on a new or new used car.

    I know that this doesn’t make the situation any less of a drag. The repair won’t be covered under warranty for an oil leak unless there was documentation of an oil leak prior to the warranty expiring.

    The clear fluid was maybe water from the ac?

    Oil will darken pretty quickly and is never really clear to start with.

    Sometimes the oil leaking out of the heads will look like a grey substance thicker than oil as it is the head gasket material mixing with the oil as it washes away off of the steel portion of the head gasket.

    I suppose someone who doesn’t see it all the time may mistake it for silicone.
    Hope that helps some.


  121. Nick September 26, 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    I am replacing the head gaskets on my 1999 subaru legacy outback. Do I need to replace the head bolts when I replace the head gasket? Also why is the tightening of the headbolts so complex. I have replaced heads before and I just had to torque it in the proper order, and torque it again. I have never had to torque twice, turn back twice, and then torque twice again, and turn 80 degrees twice. Is there a reason it is more complex with the h-4?

  122. Justin Stobb September 28, 2008 at 2:22 am #


    Most new vehicles have a similar head bolt torque procedure. The process is designed to establish an initial crush to the head gasket and then tighten the cylinder heads up to a “pre crushed” head gasket.

    Allowing for a better clamping process to help eliminate some of the failures related to excess cylinder head and gasket expansion.

    Your Subaru uses torque to yield head bolts and typically they are all right, but on an occasion we do have to replace a few.

    When applying torque to the head bolt you will be able to feel one that has stretched to far to be of any use.


  123. Matt October 8, 2008 at 4:08 am #

    I’m looking to get a Subaru Legacy, however have been very cautious after reading about so many head gasket issues. What years are to be avoided and which are ok?(from 1995-present) I was interested in the 5-speed 2004 35th Anniversary.
    thanks so much, this site is very helpful!

  124. Justin Stobb October 10, 2008 at 4:31 am #

    Hey Matt,

    Any car you buy should be inspected first.

    So far the 2004 models seem to be much better than the 2000 to 2002.

    The head gasket repair on a second generation 2.5l from 2000 to 2004 will run about $1300.

    I would buy that Subaru knowing that a $1300.00 dollar repair may be in it’s future.

    All cars have issues and you could buy a Honda or Toyota and put just as much money into it.


  125. Jessica October 11, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    We have a 1998 Legacy GT w/ approx 150K mi that overheated today for the first time. There is thick black muck in the overflow tank even though the oil was just changed 3 days ago. We cooled it down for a couple of hours, added more coolant and it seems to be holding a normal temp, but we have not driven it more than 10-15 minutes in city traffic– we live 35 minutes down a highway from where the car is right now. Since we can also hear valve noise when at hwy speed, we are thinking of just limping it along until the engine hard fails and then getting a Japanese replacement engine vs. paying for HG when the valves are bad. Anyone know what to expect for out the door/installed price on a 30k mile Japanese engine replacement?


  126. Justin Stobb October 15, 2008 at 3:28 am #

    Hey Jessica,

    Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you.

    I don’t recommend the low mileage Japanese exchange engines as they will be subject to the same head gasket failure you have already experienced as the revised head gaskets didn’t come out until after the 1st generation 2.5l was already out of production.

    You are much better off just repairing what you have and knowing that as long as it is repaired well it will truly last another 150k with low costs.

    The price to buy a low mileage exchange engine and put it in will vary buy hundreds of dollars so I can’t really advise you on costs in your area.


    Independent Subaru Expert

  127. Eddie October 16, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    I took my 2003 Outback Ltd so the Subaru dealership couple of weeks ago for the 72,000 km service. At that time I told the service advisor that the pistons were getting noisy when the engine is cold. A week later, I noticed a smell like burning paper on my way home from work. I popped the hood when I got home and saw thin smoke coming from the left side of the engine. I brought it in to the dealership again and they told me that I have to replace the head gaskets and perhaps also the pistons. However, I did not notice any coolant leak and is wondering whether the problem is really a leaking had gasket.

  128. Justin Stobb October 18, 2008 at 6:04 pm #

    Hey Eddie,

    The noise cold sounds like piston slap, and it poses no detrimental effect on the engine if in fact that is what the noise is. Subaru decreased the skirt area pf the piston to decrease drag and improve efficiency and the result of this is a hollow knocking type noise that will usually subside once the engine is warm.

    As far as what is causing the smell/ leak I cant really comment on what it is without viewing it but I would question why the leak wasn’t found during the service. As that just does not add up at all. Given the mileage I would call S.O.A.(Subaru Of America) and request participation in the costs of repairs

    When looking at the engine was the smoke from your left or the drivers side of the the vehicle?


  129. Eddie October 19, 2008 at 6:49 am #

    Thanks, Justin for your response. The smoke was coming from the driver’s side of the vehicle but now I can see coolant leaking from the passenger’s side.

    Unfortunately, I found out that Subaru of Canada does not seem to have the same policy of extending their warranty for the head gaskets beyond the standard five years.

  130. rowan October 30, 2008 at 5:50 am #

    Hey Justin,

    from reading this thread and other sources i think it’s fair to say that the subaru 2.5L engine is a lemon.

    my question is this- is the ej20 SOHC found in the gen 3 legacy more reliable?



  131. greg November 1, 2008 at 10:55 pm #

    I bought a 99 Legacy GT Limited. It takes ~15 minutes for the piston slap to subside. The engine has not had the head gaskets done, consumes no oil, and runs well. If the #2 & 4 pistons were replaced as part of the head gasket service would it improve the slap, or is this an unnecessary additional cost?

  132. greg November 1, 2008 at 10:58 pm #

    has 87000 miles

  133. Ron Mackenzie November 2, 2008 at 3:12 am #

    I have a 2000 subaru outback wagon. I had a head gasket failure in 2003 at 97,000kms and it was replaced for $570.00 and change. One side only. Now at 198,000 a second failure and this time they say both are gone. The cost is quoted at $1600.00. This is a hugh jump in cost. Is it unreasonable to expect a head gasket to last longer than five years. Is this cost over the wall or is this standard for this job in todays market? I really love this car but if I have to fork out $1600 every five years on top of all the other maintenance and service costs, it may not be worth keeping it.
    Also, I have heard a lot recently about a coolant additive that Subaru is recommending but I have not been notified by either Subaru or my local dealer. What’s the point of suggesting a resolution if you don’t tell everyone about it.

  134. Leah November 2, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    Hi, thanks for the great info. I really want to stay away from major problems (blown head gaskets). I’m willing to spend a little extra for a newer used model, how are the 2004 and newer models as far as HG problems?

  135. Justin Stobb November 2, 2008 at 4:20 pm #

    Hey Rowan,

    I actually do not agree that the whole engine is a lemon due to the head gaskets.

    First off it doesn’t happen to all of them and how the car is maintained after the sale has a lot to do with how long the gaskets last.

    All mechanical devices need some maintenance and repairs over time and Cars are the only type of internal combustion vehicles where the maintenance aspects are optional.

    Look up on the internet “Toyota V6′ head gasket issues, Toyota had a huge issue withe leaking head gaskets on the 3.0l V6 followed by issues with the 3.4l V6.

    The European cars are famous for oil leaking from the head gaskets.

    My point is that every car out there will have some sort of an issue in it’s life, it is not reasonable to expect a mechanical device to work free of failure of any or all of it’s components when we have tried to regulate the emissions of that device down to levels that are not obtainable with out said control devices.

    Another words we have taken an extremely dirty device and tried to clean it up with technology. Higher combustion chamber temperatures along with uneven temperatures on our modern engines allows for greater expansion of the cylinder head and gaskets increasing the failure rate, combine this with drivers who stretch out there oil and coolant change intervals out to far, allowing the fluids to become corrosive and attack or eat away at the gasket and here we are.

    I know that my customers who heed our advice to maintain there Subaru based on how they drive the car don’t spend as much in repairs.

    I don’t feel it is reasonable to condemn the Subaru 2.5l as a lemon as it actually doesn’t fit the description of a lemon as laid out by the industry and it is an industry issue not just a Subaru one.


  136. Justin Stobb November 2, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Hey Greg,

    There is an updated set of pistons for the “slap” but in my opinion if it is just piston slap I would live with it.

    We generally don’t think you should split the short block case and do anything unless you do everything.

    When we split the lower end we will replace the bearings, pistons and rings as at that point its just parts and relatively the same labor.

    The piston slap poses no longevity issues to the engine at all and is usually not our recommendation to try and address it.


  137. Justin Stobb November 2, 2008 at 4:41 pm #

    Hey Ron,

    The 1600.00 is on the high side unless there are other things being done as well, such as the timing belt and water pump etc.

    As far as the every five year thing, the original repair was most likely done at the dealer, was one side only and done in the car which will not last. The reason you are getting a higher price now is they are most likely going to do it right and pull the engine out of the car and make the repairs. Which is the only way to make the repairs in my opinion as the other way will not last.

    Also if you drive the Subaru around town mostly and don’t change the oil and coolant a lot any repair may be short lived. Another words if the vehicle isn’t maintained after the repairs based on how you use the Subaru then its possible you wont gain as much value out of the money spent on your repairs as someone who doesn’t allow the fluids to be contaminated.


  138. Justin Stobb November 2, 2008 at 4:45 pm #

    Hey Ron,

    In regards to the coolant conditioner, it was only for vehicles that fell into a range of affected VIN numbers. You can call me at the shop Monday with your VIN number and I will tell you if it falls into the group affected by the coolant conditioner campaign. If it does I would ask for a reimbursement of the first repair from SOA if I was you.

  139. Justin Stobb November 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm #

    Hey Leah,

    We haven’t seen a 2004 With leaking head gaskets.

    The 2004 Model Has the superseded part number for the head gaskets installed at the factory as far as we understand.

    Just make sure which ever year you buy that you maintain the car based on your driving habits as the schedule in the book is a guideline and the two different service breakdowns “normal” and “severe” can be confusing.


  140. Ian November 3, 2008 at 4:58 am #

    Hi, I’m researching 2004-2008 Subaru Outbacks. I’m aware the hp differs in each year and there is a turbo. Power is not as important to me as being mechinally sound. Have you heard of any problems with any engine in this range of years? Or are they too new to tell yet? Thanks a lot for your awesome site, Ian.

  141. Justin Stobb November 4, 2008 at 5:18 am #

    Hey Ian,

    Thanks for the feedback on our site.

    The engine is basically the same from 2000 to 2004 and from 2005 to 2008.

    The big difference is the variable valve train components in the 06 and newer models.

    I would probably steer towards the 05 to 08 platform, the 2.5l is basically the same with some revisions but I feel that overall the 05 and newer seem to be pretty solid at this point.

    We saw the 2000 models with gasket leaks by 2004 so to not really see any issues with the 05 models makes me feel pretty good about the mechanical aspects being improved.


  142. Chris L. November 5, 2008 at 6:06 pm #

    Hey Justin,

    Thank you for providing the site. It’s been a great resource.

    I have heard some great things about Subarus & would like to buy a used one soon. The ’98 – ’00 Outbacks are in my price range, but I’m hesitant to commit to one b/c of the head gasket problems. I will have any car I’m considering thoroughly inspected by a trusted independent mechanic nearby (unfortunately I’m nowhere near Seattle).

    I wanted to know if it would be possible for him to tell whether a HG repair would be needed down the road (and how he could do so), or if I should just assume it will be & factor that into the price (maybe $1500)? Specifically, I’m looking at a ’98 OB ltd w/ 45K mi & the 2.5l engine. Are there any years/models that I won’t have to worry about the HG with?

    Also, what should be more important when buying a used Subaru: lower mileage, or a newer car? For example, in general, would I be better off with an older car w/ fewer miles (ie: a ’98 w/ 45k) or a newer car w/ more miles (a ’00-’01 w/ 65k). I’d value reliability & saving $ over newer amenities, etc.

    Sorry to write so much, but a new (used) car is a big commitment, and I want to make a good decision.

    Thank you in advance for any info you can provide.


  143. Chris November 6, 2008 at 4:05 pm #

    Hey Justin,

    Thank you for providing the site. It’s been a great resource.

    I have heard some great things about Subarus & would like to buy a used one soon. The ’98 – ’00 Outbacks are in my price range, but I’m hesitant to commit to one b/c of the head gasket problems. I will have any car I’m considering thoroughly inspected by a trusted independent mechanic nearby (unfortunately I’m nowhere near Seattle).

    I wanted to know if it would be possible for him to tell whether a HG repair would be needed down the road (and how he could do so), or if I should just assume it will be & factor that into the price (maybe $1500)? Specifically, I’m looking at a ’98 OB ltd w/ 45K mi. Are there any years/models that I won’t have to worry about the HG with?

    Also, what should be more important when buying a used Subaru: lower mileage, or a newer car? For example, in general, would I be better off with an older car w/ fewer miles (ie: a ’98 w/ 45k) or a newer car w/ more miles (a ’00-’01 w/ 65k). I’d value reliability & saving $ over newer amenities, etc.

    Sorry to write so much, but a new (used) car is a big commitment, and I want to make sure I’m not purchasing an expensive headache.

    Thank you in advance for any info you can provide.


  144. Justin Stobb November 8, 2008 at 5:09 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the feedback on our site.

    As far as buying a “new to you used Subaru” I generally suggest buying the newest model with the fewest miles.

    But if there are certain things that you like with a particular year Subaru than that is a big consideration as well.

    Don’t worry to much about the miles if it has been maintained as the Subaru will go to 300k.

    But do plan on a head gasket repair at some point. Its just not as big of a deal as people make it out to be and a couple of months after it is done every single one of our customers is happy they did it instead of buying a new car.

    Its like buying a house and knowing in a few years it will need a roof.

    While a car is a depreciating asset, it offerers a different type of value when repaired. Its a whole value, the value of repairing what you have (provided you like the car) versus a pile of money spent on a new one plus interest or interest lost on money you take out of the bank to buy said car..

    Buy a vehicle you like, plan on keeping it ten years or longer and the Whole value will be there.

    As far as safety, reliability and utility, the Subaru will fill those needs. With the added benefit of All Wheel Drive.


  145. Mary Stevens November 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    I have a 2003 Outback with 51,200 miles on it that has an external coolant leak & needs a new head gasket. This car has been maintained since day one by Subaru mechanics. I will do everything I can to get Subaru to pay for the entire fix, its ridiculous to have this big a problem after 51,000 miles. Very disappointed in Subaru.

  146. Justin Stobb November 11, 2008 at 2:20 am #


    Your 2003 Outback has a 5 year 60k powertrain warranty that will cover the repairs. The warranty starts on the day you bought it and ends 5 years to the day you bought it as well.

    This assumes that the 30k service was done and that the oil has been changed on a regular basis.


  147. Doug November 11, 2008 at 11:44 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    I have an ’05 Subaru Outback (2.5 basic model) that just had both head
    gaskets replaced. Mileage is 45,323 and I bought the car from the
    dealer with about 7k miles on it in ’06. After
    reading up about Subaru head gasket problems, I haven’t seen a lot of
    press about the ’05’s having any issues. Is my experience just a
    fluke or is it a more wide-spread problem?

    Never having had this happened to me before with previous vehicles,
    I’m a bit concerned about the longevity of my car. The dealership had
    to send the heads out to get milled due to warpage. I believe the
    leak to be only external and leaking oil, not coolant. I only found
    out about the leak because I was having my oil replaced for free by a
    nearby shop pushing a “new neighbor” promotion. The head mechanic
    showed me the leaks and said they appeared to be external only and
    that I should have the head gaskets replaced when the timing belt was
    due to be replaced at 90-105k.

    Since I believed the power train was still under warranty, I took it
    immediately to the dealership to have them examine the issue. They
    obviously confirmed the leak because they did all of the repairs and
    SOA paid for it in full (except for new wiper blades I had done as
    well.) The only indication I had of any problem prior to being shown
    the leak was a smokey smell that I noticed only once or twice in the
    previous week when getting out of my car after driving it for about
    ten miles in the morning on my way to school.

    I guess my questions are these: should I assume that the leak was
    relatively recent based upon no other indications of poor
    performance? should I be concerned that the shop that showed me the
    leak issue didn’t think it was an immediate problem and that I could
    wait 45k before repairing it? how long can I expect this fix to last
    that Subaru performed? Is it true that you should replace an
    engine as opposed to fixing the head gaskets as I have read elsewhere
    on the net? Since I still owe money on this car, I’m wondering if I
    should just unload it now and move on to a new model or different car
    brand altogether? I do love my Subaru and it’s all-wheel performance
    and safety, but I’m not too eager to have to shell out 2k of my own
    money if this happens again within the next 45k and the warranty is no
    longer valid.

    Thanks for any feedback you can provide me

  148. Justin Stobb November 12, 2008 at 12:27 am #

    Hey Doug,

    Wow, you are the first 05 I have heard of, we service a couple of the 05 and newer every week and I have not seen one that has had anything more than just some minor fluid sweating. I have seen one or two 04 failures, but it is still the older part number head gasket so it stood to reason it would be subject to failure.

    It’s hard to tell you how to proceed from here. I don’t want to alarm you or make light of your concerns as I understand that it can be frustrating when you shell out money for something and the experience is something different from what you had anticipated.

    Here is one thought, The Auto dealers are going through a rough spell right now and are extra hungry as a result.

    While I am not suggesting any wrong doing it is possible that the service department was willing to do the repairs and bill Subaru for a minor leak that otherwise in a different economy would have gone undone.

    I only say this from experience at a dealership and the understandings of the inner workings. Or the other shop could have dismissed the severity of the leak altogether.

    Here is where I think I can help you the most. While its hard to say if it will happen again, and I am not trying to suggest that you haven’t maintained the car, I firmly believe that there are a number of factors that cause the head gaskets to fail and that trying to educate our customers about the H4 found in the Subaru and the unique maintenance aspects of it that have been lost by Subaru trying to show lower maintenance costs when compared to cars in the same class.

    I truly realize the unpleasant idea of the potential of facing a major repair. But would hate for you to get out of a safe and reliable vehicle which is really what a Subaru is.

    I have the added benefit of telling you that I really don’t think that switching brands will help that much. Regardless of positive press suggesting otherwise, newer cars cost more to maintain and repair than ever and the thought of owning anything newer than 07 isn’t all that appealing to most Auto techs out there. It has more to do with trying to clean up the internal combustion engine to near 0 levels when the internal engine doesn’t achieve 100% combustion and never will.

    You will pay either more for another car, more interest on money borrowed, and could end up with all the same problems anyways.

    Give it a couple of weeks and see how you feel, most of our customers feel ok as time passes and don’t regret keeping there Subaru, especially as ski season approaches.

    Someone has to try and tell you the truth and the truth is that cars never make financial sense ever at all and blue book value is only a mechanism meant to set a sales price.

    Cars are a necessary part of most of our lives and offer a different “total value” than what it’s worth to sell it. If you approach this, like what is the total value of keeping this car until it reaches 300k (it will make it) and not always having a car payment, full coverage insurance etc. I promise you that will spend less money maintaining this car over the next 10 years than you would have spent on car loans, insurance etc.

    In the next few years we will be looking at cars that will achieve better fuel economy and be gentler on the environment. That would be a good opportunity to replace the Suby, maybe with a Diesel Forester.

    But spending money to replace the Subaru with a different version of the same transportation isn’t all that good of an idea in my opinion.

    Now having said all that and in a couple of weeks you just don’t like the car any more by all means go buy yourself something you like I am sure you deserve it


  149. Kelley November 18, 2008 at 4:59 pm #

    I have a 2004 Legacy Wagon. At 52,000 miles the left head gasket was found to be leaking. The Subaru dealer fixed it under warranty. Now at 79,000 miles I find that the right head gasket is leaking and it also needs a new right catalytic converter which is still under warranty. Argh!

  150. Jeff November 26, 2008 at 3:55 pm #


    Thanks for all your useful information on this issue; my ’98 OB Legacy with a 2.5L engine just blew its head gasket at 206k. All your info was right on: sudden inconsistent overheating, bubbling sludgy coolant, soot in the exhaust, etc. Your previous advice to others was very helpful to understanding the situation, and it sounds like I made out pretty well. I’ve replaced the catalytic converters and the timing belt, but pretty much everything else (clutch, trans, water pump, fuel pump, etc.) went the distance.

    I may repair it and drive on, but given its age, I’m also considering replacing it with a late (2005 to 2008) or new Outback. So one question: do you have confidence that the newer Subarus have more reliable head gaskets? Thanks again!

  151. Brian December 1, 2008 at 5:18 am #


    Have you ever used or heard of anyone using Thermagasket as a stop gap for an internal leak of a head gasket on a 1997 Outback? Was it at all helpful? Is there a downside to trying something like this prior to taking the plunge for a head gasket repair?

  152. Justin Stobb December 2, 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    Hey Brian,

    Anything short of just biting the bullet, pulling the engine out and replacing the Head Gaskets is just a short term fix if a fix at all. Any additive can and will restrict coolant flow in the radiator or heater core if it happens to harden in the cores ( which does happen) we have seen this over and over.

    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but if the head gaskets are faulty it really just needs to be repaired.


  153. Justin Stobb December 2, 2008 at 6:33 pm #


    It’s too hard to say for sure how the 05 and newer will hold up. Two frames of thought here. The first is I truly believe if any car is maintained based on how you use the car and not on any preconceived schedule based on a theoretical set of driving conditions it won’t develop head gasket issues. To me having a 1996 and newer OBDII emissions equipped vehicle go 200k without needing head gaskets is very good use. And I would suggest you have taken good care of the Subaru.

    The second is if you owned your car from new you were in control of all of the maintenance, if you bought it used you were very lucky that the first owner took great care of it as well. Buying another used car may not have the same result.

    I think if you fix it you can expect another 100 to 150k with low ownership costs, or if you by another one you should expect close to the same results all dependent on how well it has been maintained.


  154. darrell December 3, 2008 at 8:30 pm #

    2004 Subaru Outback, 67K miles. Head gasket just went and after following the advice hear of calling SOA and being pretty persistent with the dealer, Subaru is covering everything.

  155. Chris December 4, 2008 at 9:53 pm #

    2002 Subaru Forester L model. Did the “conditioner” recall in 2004. Always did oil changes at required intervals. At just over 160,000km now (Subaru of Canada says no extended warranty on head gasket leaks in Canada). For last two years, CEL comes on intermittently for a few days at a time with P0328 (knock sensor high), and I have been told to ignore by various mechanics as there seems to be no performance or mileage issues – to be honest the car runs great. Recently now getting a second CEL code – catalytic converter. CEL still turns on and off on its own every few days (let’s say it’s on for four days straight, then off for a 1.5 days). Noticed coolant in reservoir to be a little more “blackish” than normal green. Took it to local mechanic who said everything was fine. Took it to dealership to have coolant changed (and get the “conditioner” added) and they claim there are multiple oil leaks in the engine on the whole, and the head gasket needs replacing due to external oil leaks on both sides. Took it back to local mechanic who looked again knowing Subaru diagnosis and claims everything is fine and no repair is required. Having changed the coolant now, I can see how dark the old coolant was compared to the new stuff – so I’m wondering who’s right here. I don’t see the oil that the Subaru techs are describing – having looked from above, and even having looked underneath on a hoist. Oil looks good on dipstick (changed it just three weeks ago), and coolant in rad looked fine even back when reservoir coolant looked dark. Thinking about taking the Forester to a third person for another opinion, but I’m feeling a little torn – especially knowing the history of this engine with head gasket leaks. Is there a definitive test a third mechanic could do for me? Should I wait and see if new coolant turns blackish? Thanks in advance….

  156. Peter Akraboff December 5, 2008 at 1:20 am #

    Hi Justin,
    Great site – I stumbled on it researching used Subarus. My daughter moved to Lake Tahoe, CA and needs an AWD car. This morning I looked at a very clean 2000 Impreza Outback Sport Wagon with 117k miles. It drives well, the coolant overflow is clean, no apparent leaks underneath the car. Original timing belt and water pump, original clutch, even the original battery, all of which leads me to believe that the car has had an easy life. I was looking for something a bit newer, but I think that the 2.2l engine in this car might be a better bet than a 2002 Impreza with the 2.5l engine. If I purchased this car I’d have a dealer do the 120k service and also the timing belt and water pump. I’d also get a new battery. Thoughts?
    Thanks, Peter
    San Francisco, CA

  157. Justin Stobb December 5, 2008 at 5:53 am #

    Right off the bat anyone telling you to ignore a knock sensor code is flat out a missing how the system works and giving you some of the worse advise I have ever heard this week, and proves my point that over half of the industry has no real idea what is what in regards to a 1996 and newer vehicle with OBDII emissions.

    PO 328 knock sensor circuit input problem should not be ignored. It is a crucial part of your Engine management system. The ECM (Engine Control Module) advances the timing until the engine starts to ping, as the engine begins to ping the Knock sensor will emit a frequency that the ECM will see, and retard the timing until the ping subsides. This is done in milliseconds.
    In the event of a failed sensor or circuit the ECM will go to a fixed set of values and no longer make precise engine management adjustments.

    This is why the car still seems to run fine but you are cheating yourself in longevity. The effects of a failed knock sensor can’t be measured in short term thinking but over time the engine will suffer from not being controlled in a precise manor.

    Another words instead of looking at load data, rpm, and gear input, and throttle position, air flow or map values and knock value. The ECM will revert to the PROM (Programmed read only memory) and at 10% load the timing will be this value, not the timing is advanced at this load value until ping observed. This is the reason your Subaru doesn’t have a distributer, rather than a mechanical device stuck to a fixed value your Forester needs to have much more precision.

    Next, has anyone ever told you about the effects on the rest of the emissions monitoring devices while the CEL is commanded on by the ECM?

    This can and will create uneven combustion temperatures, detract from the ability for the engine to burn all of the fuel entering the cylinders. Increase the tail pipe emissions, decrease fuel economy not in miles per gallon but by a few miles a tank. Increase the chance that the vehicle is impacting the environment more so than if it is repaired.

    The knock sensor is $90.00 U.S. and the labor is .5 of one hour say $50.00 at best.

    Ignoring a failed knock sensor can increase the chance of damaging the Catalyst, damaging the head gaskets, damaging the internal parts of the engine, polluting the environment.

    The only code I feel that may be of little concern is the catalyst code as most times it is set in reaction to the ECM not seeing an increase in oxygen readings from the second O2 sensor in relation to the readings from the 1st O2 sensor. We usually suggest a catalyst efficiency test, which 90% of the trade has no idea how to perform. We then look at the actual tail pipe readings and make suggestions based on tests rather than telling you without doing any tests its fine.

    Po420 Catalyst efficiency below threshold is a common code and the single most misdiagnosed code there is as it is a conditional code and not a component code. Meaning that guessing won’t do, only results from a real analysis.

    As far as the potential head gasket leak, it’s really hard to advise you there. A external oil leak is quite different from a internal combustion to coolant leak. I can’t say for sure why there is such a variance in opinion from shop to shop but I am already worried about the advice you have been given in regards to the check engine light and wonder if there is any real value to any of the advice that you have been given up until now.

    The number one cause of a failed catalyst or 02 sensor causing a catalyst code is coolant from a failed head gasket leaking internally to the combustion chamber and out of the exhaust valve into the exhaust, where it makes contact with the 02 sensors, and the three precious metals in the Catalyst none of which was ever factored into the design of those components.

    I have no idea what your long and short term goals are for the Subaru. If it is a car you can see yourself keeping for 300k or longer than I would try a different approach than the one being used now and yes maybe it is time for a different shop to be involved.


  158. Justin Stobb December 5, 2008 at 6:09 am #

    Hey Peter,

    The 2000 Impreza with the 2.2l is one of the best Subaru’s built.

    The 2.2l will get a little better economy than the newer 2.5l as well.

    I also really like the 2002 to 2004 Impreza Outback sport as well.

    Your plan sounds very solid to me. I would suspect spark plug tube extension seals to be starting to leak at that mileage, which is a very correctable situation.

    Also depending on which model Impreza, it may still have the cable operated clutch which is still the best design Subaru had in my opinion. A lot less to go wrong.

    Typically a 2000 with the 2.2l would be a cable operated clutch

    The mileage is about right and finding another car like that may be tough task.


  159. Alice December 6, 2008 at 6:04 am #

    I right now am looking at Outbacks between the years of 1998-2002. I’ll admit mostly cause these are the ones that fall in my price range (else I’d just buy a 2003 and avoid the gasket problem). Now, I kinda understand the repair that would happen for the 1999 and previous models. But as for the 2000-2002 models from what I understand Subaru wants people to just add some additive which seems kinda hackish to me? Is this really a fix for the problem or is there a real fix that you would recomend over Subaru’s fix?

  160. Justin Stobb December 7, 2008 at 7:03 pm #


    The additive is really a band aid. What we have seen now is on cars that have had it put in multiple times as specified by Subaru at each occurrence the cooling system is serviced the radiator can be come clogged.

    The only real fix is education about proper maintenance and replacing the head gaskets if they should fail

  161. Justin December 7, 2008 at 8:08 pm #

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks for helping out all of us Subaru owners out here. I have looked around alot on the internet and your site is by far the best and most informative I’ve come across. I’m looking for a little help. I have a 2000 Outback 2.5l with 105K on it. I bought it used with 92K. I took it to the local Subaru dealer here in southeastern Wisconsin to have the timing belt, water pump, crankshaft and camshaft seals replaced. I declined a recommended timing belt tensioner at the time due to monetary constrants. The dealership told me I needed the HG replaced (already knew that). I got a estimate for the HG, a/c belt, p/s-alt belt, timing belt tensioner, and thermostat. They quoted me over $2600. This seems a little outrageous to me! Everything I see on here is about $1300-$1500 for HG. Do they have to take off the timing belt to do a HG repair? They also said I need the lower ball joints replaced $456 , front catalytic converter pipe exhaust gaskets replace $558, power steering flush $90, new muffler for a whistle noise and a new battery. I have also replaced both front cv axles due to torn boots. The a/c belt and p/s-alt belt were replaced by me with some aftermarket belts and now at low speeds (5-10 mph) under no acceleration the steering wheel shutters pretty bad when you turn it. The flywheel for the p/s steering pump will wiggle when it is pulled by hand. Is the pump bad? Can just the flywheel be replaced? Will a power steering flush fix this? It never did this before. Do you have to have the coolant conditioner added after a HG is replaced? As you can see this is adding up to alot of money when times are very tight. I like the Subaru and I’m hoping to get 300K out of this car. I know that all cars will need some sort of maintanence and I keep good care of my cars. What are your suggestions? Any information would be helpful. Thanks for your time. I wished I lived by you guys right now!

  162. Kelley December 7, 2008 at 8:16 pm #

    The local dealer here in Northern NH fixed the right head gasket and the catalytic converter on my 2004 Legacy wagon and all I did was ask. There was no need to be persistent or raise my voice. Basically I was told that if the mileage was under 100,000 (it was 78,650) Subaru would fix it as part of a “Goodwill Program”. They did and there were no hassles.

  163. Justin Stobb December 8, 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    Hello Wisconsin Subaru Owner,

    That is a lot of questions; I will try and do my best to answer all of them.

    So the price does seem high unless it includes all of the other items you have mentioned.

    Right off the bat the muffler whistle should just be ignored, the pulley for the power steering pump should move in and out to an extent, I can’t tell you if your Subaru is within a normal range.

    The timing belt comes off when the head gaskets are done do not skip the tensioner.

    The ball joint price seems high, the catalyst price low.

    Here is the thing it is scheduled to have a timing belt done at 105k that is probably about$500.00 or so where you are?

    Subtract that amount form the head gasket price and that should help take a little bit of the sting away.

    I suspect the shutter when turning is related to the belt install.

  164. Justin Stobb December 8, 2008 at 5:39 pm #


    That’s great; the catalyst is actually covered by the 8 year 80k federal emissions warranty

    It is always good when someone stands behind their product.

  165. Jason December 8, 2008 at 9:45 pm #

    03 subaru outback, dealer replaced HGs at 48k, covered by Subaru. Now at 98k I am smelling antifreeze again. Should I call SOA to ask about them covering this? I hate to spend lots of $$ when the car requires hg replacement twice in under 100k miles.

  166. Justin Stobb December 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm #

    Hey Jason,

    Its always worth a try. But this just always proves my point that most likely the Dealer made the repairs in the car and they just don’t last.

    If it ends up being on you I strongly suggest trying a good independent Subaru repair shop.


  167. Justin December 8, 2008 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks for your response. I think I might have confused you with all of my questions, I apoligize. I all ready had the timing belt changed along with the water pump, crankshaft seal and camshaft seal all at once for $615. The price of $2600+ is for both HG, timing belt tensioner, the a/c belt, and alt-p/s belt only. As for the catalyist price that is just for some front pipe gaskets and not including a catalytic converter at all. I saw the other blog about the power steering noise and will try those suggestions and see if it helps. The dealer is also suggesting I replace the thermostat even though their is no problem with it. What do you think? Is it very invasive to replace this when it does fail? Thanks again for your time.

  168. Doug Wood December 9, 2008 at 5:42 am #


    I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy GT 2.5. I had been experiencing intermittent overheating and a loss of compression so I took the car to a local repair shop. Both head gaskets have been replaced and the heads machined. I know that the following items have been replaced:

    Water pump
    Timing belt
    Radiator cap
    Spark plugs
    All applicable seals

    Subaru parts have been used for most of these items. The mechanic is careful to try to avoid after market parts whenever possible.

    At this point, the compression issue has been resolved, but the over heating issue persists. The repair shop is being really good about standing behind their work, they have taken the whole thing back apart and are re-inspecting their repair job but so far haven’t identified the cause of the overheating. The overheating is still intermittent so its been hard to diagnose. They are looking at a rear sensor that they think may be causing the fans to not run sporadically, but I am not sure that they aren’t just guessing at this point.

    When the car is overheating it frequently blows cold air from the heater. The battery is old and corrodes quickly but I try to keep it clean and the repair shop cleaned it up again and replaced the terminal connectors as well. Do you have any suggestions that I could pass along to them?

  169. Doug Wood December 9, 2008 at 5:45 am #

    Oh, they did the timing belt tensioner as well. They have made every attempt to be thorough as near as I can tell with my limited experience.

  170. mark December 10, 2008 at 4:22 am #

    I have a 2000 outback with a left leaking HG and 154,000 miles. Its been leaking for the last 45,000 miles. Seems to be an external leak – the only symptom, other than my mechanic seeing it, is a sweet burning smell which is noticed only in the winter at idle. No smoke, no puddles on my garage floor, no oder in warm weather. My mechanic suggested I decide if I want to unload the car now or commit to it for the long haul, which is what I usually do. I’m tempted to get the HG replaced – I like the car and I like not having payments – but am also thinking it might be worth rolling the dice and see if I get 225 to 240 miles out of it, which is all I’ve ever gotten from a subaru. What are your thoughts if I just changed the coolant and put in the conditioner on some regular schedule?

    Thanks for the great site and info.

  171. Andrew December 10, 2008 at 12:51 pm #


    Excellent post! Have you guys replaced any headgaskets at a significant rate on the 2002-2005 2.0L WRX/Saab 92x engine?

  172. Matt December 10, 2008 at 4:24 pm #

    Hi Justin –

    Great site, and from what I can tell nice repair shop too. I know from experience how hard it is to guide people towards doing things the right way in auto repair. The best way to keep the trust of a good customer base is, IMHO, to be as open and educational as possible. It obviously takes a lot of time being so diligent and generous with your blog, so kudos to you.

    If you please, with the ’97 Legacy 2.5 A/T in mind could you explain the differences between engine-in-the-car and engine-out-of-the-car HG replacement that are significant to the life of the repair? Also, are there any bullet points or potential difficulties to this job that one should be aware of?

    Thanx much for your time,


  173. Doug Wood December 10, 2008 at 4:47 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT. It began overheating intermittently last December. When the car would overheat, the coolant would back up into the reservoir and out into the engine. The heater was also blowing cold air when this happened.

    The shop I took it to back then told me it was just an air pocket. The problem re-occurred a few times over the last year and I would always let the engine cool off, burp the radiator add coolant and be on my way.

    A few weeks ago the car began to lose compression as well. I took the car to a different import specialist in the area and he diagnosed the head gasket issue. He replaced the head gaskets, sent the heads out to be machined, and replaced the water pump, thermostat, timing belt, spark plugs, cam seals, and the radiator cap.

    I drove the car for less than a day before it over heated again. The good news is that the compression issues appear to have been resolved.

    Next, he replaced the radiator. I drove it for less than 5 minutes before it over heated again. He has now taken everything apart for a re-inspection but has found no signs of a leak. He is thinking that perhaps there is a bad sensor causing the problem. Do you think that is possible?

    The only other factors that I can think of is that the fans themselves have not been replaced but appear to be working. The battery is old and gets corrosion easily though I try to keep that clean. There may be some problems with the electrical system, but I am not sure. My head lights burn out every few months and my cigarette lighter doesn’t seem to give off adequate voltage (I can’t charge a cell phone from it). I don’t know if those would affect the overheating issue but I thought I would mention them.

    Any thoughts you might have at this point would be appreciated. My car has been in the shop for about 7 weeks now and this is getting very old and expensive.

  174. Justin Stobb December 11, 2008 at 12:46 am #

    Hey Doug,

    That sounds frustrating. It sounds to me like there is an air pocket that is not being bled out properly or an air pocket is forming due to a possible missed step in the head gasket repair. Or maybe they used an aftermarket thermostat?

    It is really hard to say for sure but the big clue is the cold out of the heater, this is usually a low coolant condition or an air pocket of some sort.


  175. Justin Stobb December 11, 2008 at 12:50 am #

    Hey Mark,

    A let go to long coolant leak at the head gasket can pit and corrode the aluminum surface of the cylinder head or worse the engine block from which they were sealed away from by the head gasket. This is not all that common but we have seen it and only on the ones that went to long before they were repaired.

    If you want to keep the car and keep the $25,000 a new one costs in the bank I would encourage you to repair it sooner rather than later.


  176. Justin Stobb December 11, 2008 at 12:54 am #


    The 2.0l is a brick, it uses a different style head gasket first off and typically most turbo owners dont stretch their oil changes out 7 and 8k.

    I can count on one hand as of now the number of 2002 to 2005 2.0l we have seen with a external head gasket leak and only one as of yet with internal head gasket failure that one had 120k and was driven with no coolant from a ignored radiator leak.


  177. Justin Stobb December 11, 2008 at 4:59 am #

    Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the feedback on our website.
    So to answer your question in regards to the difference in repair techniques and the difference in longevity I will try and explain the key differences in the two different techniques.

    Out of the car repair lends itself to better control over the cleaning of the block surface, the torque of the head bolts and allows you to tilt the engine away from the surface being cleaned or gasket installed to which prevents fluids from coming into contact with the mating surface and gasket. Add to that the advantage you have in viewing the gasket surface of the block and can use a longer sanding block as there is nothing in your way. In the car the size of the sanding block is limited due to the frame, core support and transmission being in the way which is why many will use a “Whiz Wheel” to clean the surface which is a huge mistake.

    On a H4 no matter how hard you try it is almost impossible to not have a drip of oil come out of the block before you can install the gasket, cylinder head, torque the bolts, back the bolts off, torque the bolts again, then do the two stages of 90 degree turns . You could wait a few days and maybe gravity will have finally allowed all of the oil that wants to drip out to drip out but that is pretty unreasonable.

    In the car the torque procedure is extremely clumsy and not as precise as measuring 90 degrees in the car is difficult and time consuming, which is huge, the difference in time of the torque procedure can crate uneven clamping force and not crush the gasket smoothly which is a contributing factor in gasket failure.

    By the time you have removed everything required to remove the heads from the engine I the car you are 4 bell housing bolts, 4 torque convertor bolts & two motor mount nuts away from pulling the engine out. Once out you will more than make up for the additional time spent in removing the engine in the speed of repairs and have the added benefit of a better repair.


  178. Dave December 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm #

    Hi Justin,
    My wife purchased a 2004 Subaru Outback wagon new from Five Star Subaru in Oneonta, NY in September of 2003. She lives in Virginia now, but was visiting in Oneonta in December of 2006 between Christmas and New Years when the head gasket blew. Fortunately she noticed the soaring engine temp gauge and stopped driving. She called Five Star Subaru and they told her it was out of warranty since the car had 67,000 miles and the warranty expired at 60,000 and that she would have to pay to replace the head gaskets. They also said that they couldn’t repair it that week, so my wife had it repaired at an independent shop, because she had to be back in Virgina right after New Years. The garage that did the repair said that it was a common problem and swore that the new gaskets would solve the problem for good.
    Now the car has a little over 100,000 miles and she was just informed by her mechanic here in Virginia that both head gaskets are leaking oil externally and need to be replaced. I suggested that she call SOA and explain the situation. They just said that there was no way to confirm her story and that she didn’t have the repair done at a dealer. Then I did some research and found your (great!) website. I read every question and response yesterday and feel much better informed about the problem now.
    My questions are 1) Is this worth pursuing further with SOA? My wife’s own dealer probably lied to her, for they probably knew that Subaru would have honored the warranty even though it was 7000 miles over the 60,000, though only 3 years old. They also probably knew that by saying they couldn’t do the repair that week anyway that she would be forced to take the car to an independent garage and that they would be off the hook for the repair forever, as would SOA.
    2) The timing belt and water pump were replaced at the first repair. Would you suggest replacing them again now, or should we just wait until the next leaky gasket two years and 35,000 miles from now?
    3) You emphasize the importance of removing the engine from the car to get a clean surface for the gaskets. I don’t know whether this was done at the first repair. Should we insist on it for this repair? How much more would this add to the repair cost versus leaving the engine in the car. The current estimate is $1850 including the gasket set.
    4) At the very least, shouldn’t Subaru provide the new gasket set and bolts for free? The repair shop says that is about $325 of the repair cost.
    Thank you for the extremely informative website.

  179. Mark Maher December 11, 2008 at 10:13 pm #

    Hi Justin,
    Fantastic service maintaining this thread for so long. I have a 1999 Outback wagon that had a big time head gasket blowout and 20 minute overhead (I wasn’t there when it happened). Anyway, the car was torn down by a shop in Bakersfield (who incidentally threw all the cam bearings, bolts, lifters and everything in the same box, unlabelled). I figured that engine was a loss and installed a “low mileage” Japanese surplus one. It’s had the intermittent overheating and bubbling in the coolant reservoir symptoms right from startup, so I’m sort of back to square one now.

    I’m going to do the work myself, (I’ll label and methodically disassemble) but I’m wondering if you think I should get the heads pressure tested/resurfaced and the block resurfaced as a matter of course, too? (It has had 2 overheating episodes both for a few minutes, no noises were heard) Also, what’s your opinion on having having small webs welded across the open deck or o-ring grooves on head or block to increase sealing performance? The car is old enough to not care about voiding a warranty. Finally can you comment whether used headbolts are ok to reuse?

    Mark M.

  180. Cindy December 12, 2008 at 2:50 am #

    Thanks for all the great info. My 2001 Subaru Forester has 277,760 miles on it and from what I’ve read it sounds like I finally have a head gasket problem. In the past week my car intermittently overheats, I can turn it off, let it sit for about 5 minutes and do this 2-3 times, then it starts right up, the heater will finally blow warm air and the temp immediately cools off to its normal position. I had someone suggest it might be a sensor rather than the head gasket, or maybe loose, damaged, wet or dirty connectors or a shorted wire. I have an appointment with my mechanic on Monday. In order to rule out or confirm a gasket problem, do I have him run a compression test? It’s been a great car, and I’ve kept it well maintained. Is it worth replacing the engine rather than shelling out the money for new wheels?? What’s a new engine run?? Thanks for your help and advice in advance

  181. Cole December 12, 2008 at 3:30 am #

    I have a 2002 Subaru Impreza TS with a 2.5 liter engine. I understand this to be the second generation engine, which typically experiences an external head gasket leak. My problem is that all signs of my problem seem to be better described by an internal head gasket leak, typical of the first generation 2.5 (intermittent overheating on long trips/hard pulls, overheating including fluid pushed out of the overflow tank, no apparent external leak, ect). I had the radiator tested positive for exhaust gasses as well. From this description would you think this is an internal leak? Can you describe the difference between the two problems in terms of the repair required? Thanks.

  182. Justin Stobb December 12, 2008 at 4:36 am #

    Hey Dave,

    Sounds frustrating, I know hind sight is always 20/20 but I always try to stress that it’s so important when dealing with the service department at an auto Dealership to understand it is there job to say no to repairs that could still be good willed or there is a campaign to take care of customers who figure out ways to navigate through closed doors of “it’s out of warranty” to get a better result.

    I want to stress to all of our readers that it’s always worth a call either to someone like us that may have some advice or to someone higher up on the chain than the dealer service advisor.
    I might suggest calling and talking to SOA and ask for some participation in the first set of repairs. We have had customers get around $700.00 from SOA for repairs made at other shops for cars that should have been done under warranty. If you have documentation that a Subaru dealer told you a leaky head gasket wasn’t covered or wouldn’t be “good willed” I think that is worth an hour of your life, but due to the time that has elapsed it may be an hour you will never get back.

    There is no reason to settle for a repair that only lasts 35,000 miles and yes the timing belt and such should probably be done.

    As far as should the engine be pulled out to do the repairs the answer is always going to be yes, and the shop shouldn’t charge anything in addition to do the repairs properly or at least that is our philosophy and we have helped a few people find shops that were willing to do the repairs properly in their part of town.


  183. Justin Stobb December 12, 2008 at 4:51 am #

    Hey Mark,

    So right off the bat I don’t suggest any modification of the block or cylinder heads. There isn’t a lot of material to mess around with and the surface has to be smooth and even to allow the head gasket to “crush” evenly.

    The low mile Japanese engines are bad news as you have discovered.
    We have helped quite a few people do their own repairs; we do sell head gasket kits and offer tech support to help you along the way. We use a combination of O.E Subaru parts and Japanese parts from suppliers that do not sell parts in a retail establishment.

    We also have started using a different head gasket from the O.E. replacement. I will be showcasing this gasket design in a future article if I ever get the time.

    The head bolts should be fine, every once and awhile we may get a lone head bolt that is stretched but it is rare.
    If you have any interest in parts and help there is a parts price request form here.


  184. Justin Stobb December 12, 2008 at 5:07 am #

    Hey Cindy,

    Great mileage! You must have taken good care of your car, thanks for sharing your experience as I feel it’s really important to hear from other people besides myself that not everyone has a problem at 60,000 miles.

    There may be no reason to replace the engine; it may just need new gaskets.
    A compression test won’t tell you much other than the cylinder compression. There are lots of possibilities but a good Technician that knows Subaru should have no trouble coming to the proper conclusion.

    There isn’t a reman or rebuilt engine I would ever suggest other than a factory Subaru shortblock (which is just the lower end of the engine) A new shortblock would still require the cylinder head be rebuilt and installed on the new short block along with new gaskets, seals, water pump, and timing belt.

    Doing all of this would make the engine like new and should last the same 277k the first one did.

    I am of course of the opinion you should fix it but that really comes from the belief that the new technology vehicles are around the corner and waiting for one of those cars makes more sense than a newer $25,000 version of what you already have does.


  185. Justin Stobb December 12, 2008 at 5:18 am #

    Hey Cole,

    We see plenty of 2nd generation 2.5l with an overheating condition from failed head gaskets, the repairs are the same except that more attention needs to be placed on the possibility of head warpage but that’s not that big a deal.

    When the head gaskets fail internally and the car overheats, the water pump, thermostat, and coolant temperature sensor may have suffered some damage as a result of being subjected to temperatures they were never designed for. The cooling hoses should also be inspected but really even if it is just a external leak all these things should be inspected anyways, it’s just at our shop we would encourage you to replace then more so in a car that has overheated than one that is just leaking out externally.


  186. chris December 15, 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    hi justin…i own a 2003 subaru legacy l with 40,000.00 date on car is sept 25 2003…i’m just shy of warranty…well, now head gaskets are leaking / something with water pump / i’m soo upset rite now…i’ve taken care of my car..oil changes 3-4000 miles…the dealership is telling me 2,300. to fix….i just don’t understand…do u have any advise for me?

  187. Justin Stobb December 16, 2008 at 4:32 am #


    Call SOA the number is in the Warranty and Maintenance portion of your owners manual. I would be asking for complete coverage or at least some participation on their part. I wouldn’t pursue it at the dealership level.

    It is not yet three months out of the 5 yr 60k power train warranty and I would be pointing this out. If they are leaking bad enough to need replaced now, they had to be leaking out some fluid two months ago.

    When was the last time a Technician had viewed the car? Keep in mind hind sight is always 20/20 but this is exactly why I suggest an independent Subaru shop look at the car prior to the warranty expiring.

    I really think if you make a honest attempt at fighting for warranty assistance you will get it in this case.


  188. Clint December 16, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    I have a 2003 legacy L with 49,000 miles on it I bought it used and have no way of showing proper maintenance records so SOA said they could not do any warranty work on my leaking head gaskets. Anyway my question was should I have both sides done now or only the left side that is leaking I talked to a number of shops some say do both and others say just fix the one side. I don’t want to be back in the shop doing this again in 10,000 miles.

  189. David dee-dub December 17, 2008 at 5:49 am #

    Hey I am looking into a used 1999 Subaru Legacy GT 2.5 4dr sedan, Manufacture Date of June 1998.
    Only has 78,000 miles on it now !

    4 questions:

    How can I tell which Phase(generation) the engine is ?

    How can I tell if the engine did or didn’t receive the latest head gasket?

    If I do get it, should I go to an independent Subaru dealership and see how much it would be to preventively take care of that ?

    Has anyone heard of Steel Seal? Legit? Would it work in a Subaru? or don’t bother with that preventively?

    [Carfax is clean and didn’t report any recall or headgasket information :o( ]

    Thank you all !

  190. David December 17, 2008 at 11:34 pm #

    Excellent forum you have here, Justin. Keep up the good work!

    I have a 2006 Impreza RS with 36,000 kms (metric … I know …I live in Canada) and over the past few days noticed a burning oil smell after the drive home (up a mountain).

    Brought it to my Subaru dealer today and they reported back that they found a small external oil leak (didn’t say which side) and are replacing the head gasket on both sides (under warranty of course).

    Goes to show that even a relatively new Subaru can have a problem. Glad that I caught it early before it developed into a more serious problem and happy that my dealer is doing it right by pulling the engine and doing both sides.

  191. Dave in Canada December 18, 2008 at 5:07 am #

    (I think my first post here got lost. So here it goes again in a new and improved and longer version. Sorry if this is a double post.)

    Great forum here, Justin. Keep it up!

    I have a 2006 Impreza RS (with 36000 kilometers). I am a first time Subaru owner and really enjoying it until today. After noticing a burning smell I took my car to my Subaru dealer to be told that I have a head gasket leak but not to worry as it was covered by warranty and they reassured me that I had caught it early.

    I have since confirmed they are pulling the engine and replacing the gaskets on both sides (not sure if the leak {and its exact nature} was on one side or the other).

    I will ask more questions for the dealer tomorrow and have this forum to thank for the knowledge to ask good questions.

    For example; Is this a fluke and why did it happen? After all this is a car that is only 2 years old and dealer serviced all the way. It was in for a oil/filter change and service check with complimentary wash and vac about 6 weeks ago and everything was great then.

    I am already considering trading it in before the warranty is up or buying more extended warranty before the deadline to do that expires, provided it covers the head gaskets, and then eventually trading it before that runs out. I would hope to go with another Subaru but I really need convincing that this problem has been fixed.

    I will be happy to be back in my Subaru in a couple days and even happier if this never happens again.

  192. Justin Stobb December 18, 2008 at 5:30 am #


    did you call SOA or just talk to the dealer?

    Any ways both head gaskets should really be done, it is just silly to leave the right side head gasket to leak later.


  193. Justin Stobb December 18, 2008 at 5:42 am #

    Hey David,

    The first gen 2.5l will be DOHC (Dual over head cam) and was used in the Legacy Outback from 1996 to 1999. And is the engine in a 1999 Legacy GT as well.

    Someone that knows Subaru can look at the parts of the head gasket exposed and see if it is the replacement gasket, or at least its always obvious to us.

    If you can find a good Independent Subaru shop in your area that will be your best bet for service.

    I have been working on a article describing the gaskets we use that permanently fixes the problem. Stay tuned here and there, and if you have to have them done maybe request the gaskets be used. Please don’t try any Voodoo in a bottle it will only cost you more later.


  194. Justin Stobb December 18, 2008 at 5:49 am #


    We really have only heard of a small hand full of leaks on 2005 and newer cars.

    I can’t say if it is a fluke at this point but the km is very low to have this issue.

    What I can tell you is we see lots of 05 and newer with high miles already and no issues.

    Part of all of us learning about problems is by people such as your self sharing your experience, if in a few months or a year or so the number of people complaining of an issue goes up thats really part of how we will know, we will of course try to keep our readers informed about what we see at the shop as well.


  195. David December 19, 2008 at 1:14 am #

    Hey Justin

    Update on the 2006 Impreza head gasket leak; confirmed to be a small external oil leak on the left side.

    I talked to the mechanic and service manager and they blame it on a bad gasket. I hope they are right.

    Anyways, happy to have my car back. Git it late this afternoon and took it for a drive. Seems okay, but there might be a rattle type noise that wasn’t there before. I can make the noise happen driving or idling and will make notes on RPMs and so on so when I visit the dealer tomorrow I can pass that info on. Hope they can find it easy and tighten down whatever seems to be loose. Maybe exhaust or heat shield?

  196. Dave in Canada December 19, 2008 at 5:00 am #

    And after a longer drive home (and dinner) and running it in the relative warmth (-30 celcius up here right now) of the garage and then driving up and down the road again;

    I would describe it more as a ticking noise than a rattle. Mostly happening between 2000 and 3000 rpms while driving (couldn’t get up to 5th gear here … winter roads). Happens when speeding up and when slowing down with compression. Does not seem to happen when idling and revving (but I will see if neutral or clutch makes a difference for the idle/rev test.

    Tomorrow I will leave for work a bit early and take a detour on the highway and see about 5th gear and higher rpms. Will also see if it speeds up with higher rpms or not as thinking about it now I can’t be sure if the ticking speed corresponds with rpms, faster tick at high rpm and slower tick at low rpm. Right now, to the best of my recollection it does change in frequency along with the rpm.

    Hopefully the dealer can take a look at it first thing tomorrow because I plan to stop there on the way to work and convince them to drive with me to work to hear the noise and then take it back to the shop with them and fix it.

  197. Steven December 22, 2008 at 8:26 am #


    I have been looking at buying a used 1998 Subaru Impreza L, and a used Subaru Legacy GT, also 1998.

    What differences are there inherent in the two different motors, in terms of a near future head gasket (and other multiple part) repairs? Also, which of the two models would you personally recommend? The impreza has 130k and the legacy gt has 160k.

    I know that I will have to put a few grand into either one, but which is better for the money???

    Thanks ahead of time for any help you can provide with this matter.

    Steven H. in IL.

  198. jenelle December 22, 2008 at 7:20 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Don’t know where to turn…I bought a used 2004 Subaru Outback Legacy Sedan last year. I smelled anti-freeze and noticed it was totally empty. I added coolant and took it to the nearest garage. They checked and changed the oil and saw nothing. I called the dealer (not a subaru) where I bought it. They put a dye in it to see where the coolant was going and told me to drive it for a few days. They said it was either the waterpump or the head gasket. Now they say it’s the head gasket and it will cost around $2,000 to fix it. Is this normal for the 2004’s and does this diagnosis sound correct? Thanks.

  199. Justin Stobb December 23, 2008 at 2:08 am #

    Hi Jenelle,

    The diagnoses is probably accurate, but I really would be hesitant at the repairs being made at a Dealership especially a non Subaru One, that is a recipe for short lived repair life in my opinion.

    What part of the country are you in? Maybe there is a good independent shop that may be better suited to service and repair the Subaru and most likely for a little less money.


  200. Justin Stobb December 23, 2008 at 2:10 am #

    Hey Dave,

    Lost you in the mix how did the noise turn out?

  201. Justin Stobb December 23, 2008 at 2:18 am #

    Hey Steven,

    The Impreza L will have a 2.2l which doesn’t have the same type of gaskets that fail more often in the GT with the 2.5l as long as it has been maintained that is.

    The GT will have a DOHC 2.5l, which I actually really like the motor itself.

    The Impreza will have a SOHC 2.2l which is a good engine minus one thing, this could get a bit confusing but from 1995 to mid year 1998 the 2.2l in the Impreza was made two ways, dual port and single port exhaust. Meaning the exhaust ports out of the heads may be either design. I do not like the single port exhaust cylinder heads for a host of reasons.

    Other than that either one should serve you pretty well.

    The GT will be a little more fun to drive, the Impreza better on fuel


  202. Rich December 23, 2008 at 7:55 am #

    hi justin,
    been reading your blog about head gaskets and now it seems you are the only man i can trust!

    i will try to be brief:
    was on my way from los angeles to seattle and around myrtle creek oregon my 98 outback (i think it’s a 2.5l) started to over heat.
    pulled off as soon as possible. checked under the hood – it seemed like coolant had spurted out of the overflow bottle a little, but the fans were running and it didn’t feel that hot. it did have that burnt coolant smell.

    back on the road the temperature would spike on an incline and then come down to normal on the decline.

    got a tow to a little repair shop (the only one open on sunday 12/21)

    they said it was the thermostat. replaced that but that didn’t work. then they thought it was the water pump. as they removed the radiator they found that the radiator was clogged and that the coolant was not circulating around the engine. so they replaced the radiator. (took all day cause they were shipped the wrong one and they had to drive an hour to get the right one)

    now, having replaced the radiator the engine still overheats – not as fast but…

    so, the mechanics came and said they have bad news – i need a new head gasket and that i should probably buy a good used motor with paperwork.

    now, have i been hosed? (pun intended) i tend to think that these guys just don’t know subarus and went through a bunch of “normal” solutions. my question is: is it safe for me to drive the car to seattle to have your shop do the head gasket change or should i leave it with them and they can put in a new used motor? i’ve been sitting in limbo for two days – i’m supposed to have picked up my wife in seattle and gone to northern idaho for the holidays!

    thanks, rich

  203. Dave in Canada December 25, 2008 at 3:25 am #

    Hey Justin

    Noise diagnosis in just this morning, you will certainly understand it better than me (I just nodded and grunted);

    Sounds like, to the best of my recollection and understanding, variable valve timing and camshaft mumbo jumbo. They want it back for a day next year to tear it down and fix it and say it’s okay for me to drive it in the meantime.

    I also reported another burning fluid smell and it turned out to be a fine spray of power steering fluid, presumably from a loose connection.

    I am interested in your opinion on continuing to drive the vehicle if the vvt is out of whack. Thanks – D.

  204. Justin Stobb December 27, 2008 at 10:32 pm #

    Hey Rich,

    I didn’t post this for a while because we have been talking on the phone as well.

    Yes the shop in question doesn’t really know Subaru’s as well as we do and I think that this is now obvious. While I don’t really think they meant to do as many things as they did without getting results its a story we hear all to often.

    I do hope you finally get to your destination.


  205. Justin Stobb December 27, 2008 at 10:42 pm #

    Hey Dave,

    The VVT is a tricky thing sometimes as a small piece of crud can really affect the whole system. This is usually from a rushed repair.

    I don’t agree with the drive it for a while thing, we have seen this cause more problems but if it is on them and they actually fix it then I guess it should be alright. Its just from all your posts I feel bad for you because they may have rushed this repair and it could be a reoccurring pain in the tail pipe.


  206. Julian December 28, 2008 at 6:02 pm #

    Thanks for your very informative website on failing head gaskets. My 1997 Subaru Outback wagon has just over 136,000 miles. I discovered oil in the coolant reservoir yesterday. While my car has never over-heated, it recently did lose power. A local mechanic replaced the alternator and fan belt. He made no mention of possible other problems. From what I can tell I do need to replace the head gaskets. Do you think it is worth the cost for a car with 136,000 miles?

  207. Jeff December 29, 2008 at 3:19 am #

    well, just to add to the list of readers with head gaskets issues….I just had my ’03 Outback serviced at 72K miles and was told I had two leaky head gaskets. I hadn’t noticed any symptoms but was told the oil pan was catching the oil that made it that far…and thus no spots on my garage floor to date. I was quoted a repair of $1425 at the dealer. I checked with another independent shop (very reputable) and was quoted $2500! I haven’t called Subaru yet, but intend to on Monday. My question(s), any update on whether the 2003’s have a recall in the works and why would there be such a huge discrepancy in the prices for replacing the head gaskets? 72K seems stil a little early with a properly maintained car to be doing this kind of work on….any suggestions or comments would be greatly appreciated.

  208. Jeff December 29, 2008 at 3:22 am #

    I should add that for the price, the timing belt gets replaced at both shops as well since they’re opening things up already. Still not feeling like a bargain….

  209. Jeremy December 30, 2008 at 5:17 am #

    I was about to buy a used 1998 Subaru Outback from the local Subaru dealer and came across this link. It’s the best I’ve seen in explaining the problem with the head gaskets on these cars and putting my mind at ease that it’s fixable.

    Luckily, I tracked down the previous owner of the car. The car was serviced to the letter, it even has a brand new transmission. But, sure enough, the car overheated a few weeks ago and the coolant in the radiator was empty.

    The local mechanic couldn’t diagnose the problem after a pressure test. So, she traded the car on something else. I come along, I was just about to ink the deal and thought maybe I better Google this car and up came all these pages about the head gaskets.

    Evidently, the head gaskets on the 1998 Subaru are prone to failure but the new gaskets on the newer models are not because sometime a few years back Subaru redesigned the head gasket and they no longer fail according to several sources on the internet including this one:

    So, I took the car to a mechanic and had him test the coolant and sure enough there is exhaust in the coolant. He said the repair would be about $3,000. Ouch!!!

    I went back to the dealer and told them about the test. At first they wanted to show me some other Subaru Legacy cars of the same year. I said no-way, the engine will just fail.

    So, they asked what I wanted them to do. I asked, “why don’t you give me a deal on fixing the heads with the new type of gaskets since we caught the problem early.” I added, “you can sell the car this way, but that wouldn’t be very nice.” I also said, “I’m not going to be the buyer and you’ll get far less at auction than I will pay you for this car anyway.”

    They said OK it will be $1900.

    I said no deal.

    So, they finally agreed to do it for $1000.

    So, tomorrow, I’m getting a Subaru what will have an almost new transmission and a nearly rebuilt engine once it goes into the dealership’s shop probably next week sometime.

    They have to not only do the head gaskets, but replace the timing belt, install new seals and basically reseal the entire engine down to the oil pan.

    It’s obvious the original head gaskets on these cars will fail almost 100-percent of the time. If you’re going to buy one of these cars get the test done for hydrocarbons in the coolant before inking any deal.

    Then if the head is blown, make it the dealership’s problem. Make them fix it or don’t buy the car. I’m pretty confident with the head gaskets replaced with newly engineered ones from Subaru (not to mention a new transmission put in last year) that this car I’m getting is a pretty good deal for just over $5000.

  210. Jeremy December 30, 2008 at 5:20 am #

    I should add that $5000 plus is the price of the car and the repair combined.

  211. Justin Stobb December 30, 2008 at 5:45 am #


    I do think the Subaru is worth repairing. But don’t think of it in a cost of repair versus value of the car it will never make sense. Think of it instead as spending some money on this one versus dropping 25k on a replacement vehicle.


  212. Justin Stobb December 30, 2008 at 5:57 am #

    Hey Jeff,

    I cant comment on why the independent was so much higher but except to say that we do see this quite often and sometimes are shocked at what the competition gets away with charging.

    The 2003 don’t have an active campaign as of yet and at this point I am not sure they will.

    I think Subaru really believes its a lack of maintenance and lack of understanding of the right fluids to use causing a significant portion of the failure.

    What I can honestly say about the 2nd generation 2.5l is the ones we service as we suggest don’t seem to develop as many issues as the ones serviced at whoever has the cheapest oil change price and maybe not as often as needed as well.

    I am not suggesting you haven’t taken care of your car only sharing our experience with the cars that come into the shop.

    We charge about $1360.00 to remove the engine and replace all seals and gaskets required to do the head gaskets right including oil, oil filter, coolant and fasteners.

    Add $60.00 for the t-belt and $133.00 for the timing belt tensioner if needed.

    Hope that helps some


  213. jeff December 31, 2008 at 2:08 am #

    thanks for the reply….I spoke with SOA and they say they will consider an ‘out of warranty’ good will warranty. At least we’re talking which is always good. I can see the point that improper maintainence can cause issues, and I have documentation to show regular service (with some gaps in my receipts…but I can show all the major services at least). My point with SOA was/is that while maintainence clearly can contribute, the chatter on the web seems to at least anecdotally support continuing problems with the head gaskets in later models. Perhaps they’ve improved, but a poor design, for example, may make lapses in maintainence have greater consequences or a requirement for extra diligence to avoid issues to which the cars/engines are susceptible. That doesn’t mean that the design isn’t the problem, it just transfers more of the responsibility to the owner and one can buy an affordable car that has problems down the road or buy a car with a proven reliability record with fewer or less expensive problems as the car ages. So I wouldn’t think that special attention to fluids and maintainence should be any more of a factor than for other cars with better designed engines (seals in this case). Oil changes every 3000 miles seems to be overkill in my mind. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for poor maintainence other than the reasons one might buy an economically priced car might be the same reason someone doesn’t have $1000 to do the 60K service just when it’s required, so opts to get the oil changed instead until the next paycheck…..I blathering so thanks for the forum and the info! I love my Subaru, and hope this is not a trend…

  214. David January 2, 2009 at 3:32 am #

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for taking the time to look at yet another coolant issue! We have a 2003 Legacy Outback (88K miles) that has developed many of the common problems associated with head gasket failure: Leaking coolant onto engine, funky ‘sweet smoke’ smell, bubbling in the reserve tank, greasiness & exhaust smells from the reserve tank, continiously lowering coolant levels (no mystery there) and erratic behavior of the heat indicator on the dash.

    I’ve read much about the 2003 issues, and I have a few questions: Would our car be covered under any warranty? Is the ‘coolant conditioner’ a realistic possible fix? Or is a full gasket replacement (along with your recommended other repairs) the likely scenario? Thanks for your time & happy new year!


  215. rockcoc January 2, 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    Mine is the previous Outback on this thread. After talking to SOA and supplying them with maintainence records from both the dealer and the independent shop I use, they replaced my head gaskets (and other related gaskets) for all but $500 which I paid. The downside, besides shelling out $500 I hadn’t anticipated, was the dealer did NOT replace the T-belt as they indicated they would. I think we all agree that opening the engine back up to replace the T-belt would be overkill now, but I did have them acknowledge in writing this was meant to be part of the service if they were replacing the gaskets anyway, saving money and time in the future. Thus I at least got documentation they took a bit of a short cut. This may (?) help me in the future when I actually go in for the timing belt service. In your case, if you have maintainence records, etc., you should contact SOA regarding your head gaskets. Also since you are basically at the 90K mark, make it clear with whomever does the service that T-belt should be replaced at the same time. Else you’ll be paying for all the labor again in the future to pull the engine apart for the T-belt. Just FYI. This is true regardless of whether you get help from SOA or not…that’s my view in any case.

  216. Tracy January 3, 2009 at 6:06 am #

    I have been looking at a 2003 Subaru Outback with 52K miles on it and a 2.5L engine. After reading most of these posts I am now VERY hesitant about purchasing it. I will want to keep it for at least 4-5 years and can’t really afford any major repairs. Any advice?

  217. Keith Boyer January 4, 2009 at 7:10 pm #

    I have a 1996 Subary Legacy GT with a 2.5 engine. The heat has worked intermittently for the past 4 months. My mechanic diagnoed the problem as the head gasket. I decided not to repair the car since it has 120,000 miles on it. Two days ago the car overheated although the temperature gague did not indicate the car was hot. Apparently only the left side of the radiator got hot and the sensor is on the right. The radiator has cracked.

    Now the car it almost unsaleable.

    Question: Has any damage been done to the head. Is the car worth repairing and then reselling? What is the car worth in the condition it is in?


  218. Justin Stobb January 8, 2009 at 5:50 am #


    Ignoring a problem will always cost more later. The engine it self will go 300k but it is common to have to fix leaks either internal or external.

    If you want to keep the car, fix it, but don’t fix it to sell it, cars are not assets, they are tools to help you make money like getting you to work.

    The idea behind fixing your car instead of buying a new one is to keep your money in the bank or to keep you out of debit. But you cant look at what the car is worth to sell in making a decision to fix it, it will almost never work out.

    As far as damage, usually if it is caught early there is never damage, but if you drove it 4 months with failed internal head gaskets until it quit there is probably damage of some type.

    I think when you decided to not fix it 4 months ago that is the decision you made and I would stick with it in this case and consider selling it for salvage as there are still good parts on it that could help keep other Subies on the road for less money.


  219. Dave in Canada January 9, 2009 at 6:32 am #

    Hey Justin … Happy New Year!

    David from Canada with the 2006 Impreza here.

    So, just to refresh your memory … head gaskets replaced due to oil leak (covered under warranty of course) back just before Christmas which was immediately followed by an intermittent ticking noise that occured when accelerating hard (and slowing down using compression too) mostly between 2000 and 3000 rpm when I got the car back.

    I took your advice over my dealers advice and did not continue to drive it (except for a few kms back and forth to/from town). Borrowed my parents Ford Escape 4×4 (with brand new snow tires) for my road trip through the snowy snowy (and I do mean snowy) mountains down to the Vancouver (snow there too) for New Years. Got back home (just southwest of middle of nowhere in BC interior) early this week and dropped the Subaru off at the dealer this morning and here is how it went;

    The service guy said they had figured out what the problem was; cylinder #3 had a missing part from the valve assembly, pretty sure he called it a valve spring retainer(?) (described to me as a little metal cap on the valve spring when the look on my face gave away that I didn’t know what he was talking about). They fixed it, reassured me that no damage was done (and gave me the impression that no damage would have been likely either) and I had my car back a couple hours later.

    No more ticking! Very happy to have my Subaru back again but so I can better judge the honesty (and competence) of my dealership service department I have a couple more questions I would like your opinion on (please and thank you);

    Did the little bit of driving I did (driving like a little old lady and avoiding the hard acceleration and such that made the ticking noise occur) for maybe a hundred or so kms possibly cause any damage (and they just might be reluctant to tell me so as they seemed pretty embarrassed about leaving this thingy out during reassembly?)? And if I had continued to drive it for the big road trip (approx. thousand kms) would I have done any damage?

    Thanks again,

  220. Justin Stobb January 10, 2009 at 5:10 pm #


    Some of this doesn’t quite add up in regards to a missing valve spring retainer. I am not trying to stir up a hornets nest and maybe if its repaired now its better to just leave it alone.

    It is really hard for me to say if there was any damage done but what I will share with you is generally speaking a Broken or not installed retainer could be catastrophic.


  221. Nick L. January 10, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    Subaru Sensei Justin,
    Hello from Tucson, AZ. I recently purchased an 04 Ru Forester and its a jewel. A couple of questions if you don’t mind about cooling issues.
    I bought the Ru w/63K from Emrich Subaru in Tucson. Great folks. They informed me that the 60K service was completed before it was put on the lot. I did ask for proof of the service begin done before I purchased. They mentioned the coolant was replaced during this service. First question, are they required by SOA to add the additive to the changed out coolant? Second question, what is the normal delta change between the top and lower section of the radiator when the thermostat is fully open with fans running? I got about a ~25-35F change with a heat gun. Sounds good or not?

    Also, went for a road trip yesterday and the temp ran just above the lower operating line while traveling at 75MPH for 2+ hours. Once I stopped/exited, the gauge spiked to just above the top operating line and it never looked back. I got back on the freeway and the gauge showed a decrease in temp. I would only assume that the coolant would stay the same or even cooler since the engine is under less of a load once you slow down. Third question, any thoughts on why this might have occured?

    1/10 – I did run the engine this morning, monitored the temp with my heat gun and did see the fans came on @ 170F – lower speed and @ 202F – higher speed. The delta was at ~25F.

    Nick L.

  222. Dave in Canada January 11, 2009 at 2:32 am #


    When I got the car back they couldn’t print the workorder for it out for me due to a printer problem but they called me today and I picked up the paperwork today. Here’s what it said;


    Could be catastrophic, eh. So it seems that it’s a good thing I didn’t take the Subaru on the road trip then.

    I prefer not to stir up hornets nests either and will let it go for now and won’t worry about it too much until the warranty is up. I still have one year bumper to bumper and three years for drive train. If I haven’t bought more warranty by then I still might consider trading in for a new Subaru before the DT warranty is finished.

    Thanks again for your help with this and if you have any final comment on the workorder notes I would appreciate it.

  223. Eric January 16, 2009 at 4:20 pm #


    I just took my 2004 Legacy L35 Sedan in for 60K service. I was informed of a minor external head gasket leak on the left side. Do you think I should add the coolant conditioner to my vehicle. So far I havn’t seen any info on problems with the 2004’s


  224. Dave on Long Island January 16, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    Thanks for setting up this blog! It is full of great insight and expert Subaru advice that I have found very helpful!!!
    I’m a small used car dealer and have a 98 and 00 Outback Limited both stick shift and both with air bubbling in the overflow tank and the 00 also has some oil leaking at the back of the drivers side corner. I’m wondering if you’re familair with Eristic or Kabuki head gaskets. They are sold on Ebay for $82. and $74. a complete set. I’m also wonder if I should buy one set with the head bolts and are they the same bolts for both cars in case I happen to need them.
    I’m also wondering;
    1. what it is you look for to tell if a head gasket has been changed in the past?
    2. I know this might have been mentioned somewhere in the answers you have given but please repeat where are the usual locations of oil and antifreeze leaks are on 2nd. Generation engines?
    Thanks, Dave

  225. wayne January 17, 2009 at 9:54 am #

    First off, great response from this site. To bad all were not the same.
    OK, here is what happened. 2003 outback 98,000 miles. I notice an oil
    leak, and burning oil smell. Shop says it’s the head and valve gaskets.
    Shop replaces them, and it still leaks in the same place. My understanding it was a complete gasket kit. Other than a
    poor job, what else could it be? The leak is on the drivers side over or around the exhaust. Any
    insight would be great….


  226. Justin Stobb January 17, 2009 at 7:10 pm #


    Is it actually still leaking or could it just be residue from the prior leak that needs time to burn off?


  227. Justin Stobb January 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm #


    Do you know if the leak is oil, coolant or both?

    I will be adding another article soon about some of the problems in regards to the conditioner,at this time I dont suggest putting it in.


  228. Justin Stobb January 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    Dave from long Island,

    It’s hard to describe what to look for if you know what the replacement gaskets look like installed into the engine than it’s easy to tell, if you don’t its not a thing I can describe as it’s such a visual item not easily captured on film. Same thing on the location of oil and anti freeze, typically they collect on the cross member but can leak onto the rack, exhaust etc.

    As far as the gaskets you mention I would never install these, we use only the best parts available when making repairs and sell only the best parts as well. From experience we know what works and what doesn’t. Auto parts and repairs are not all created equal and while you will save some money initially with cheaper parts you will pay for it in the end or whoever ends up with the car will. It may not be a bad idea to have a head bolt around if one is found faulty; we have the advantage of being able to grab a used bolt out of a bolt bin if one is found to be stretched. Someone who does this repair a lot will immediately know what a stretched bolt feels like.


  229. wayne January 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm #


    Unfortunately it seems to be leaking more, but from the same area. This was done by a Jeep shop, as SOA would not help out.

  230. John Wilson January 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    I have a 2003 Legacy Outback, 58,000 miles. In September ’08 I had the radiator replaced by a local mechanic in response to overheating (he said he did a pressure test and coolant sprayed everywhere). Soon thereafter, I had a Subaru dealership perform the 60,000 mile recommended service. After the service, they said that the spark plug tubes looked like they’d need to be replaced soon. Yesterday (Jan. 17), at 5 degrees farenheit in Cleveland, Ohio, the car overheated after a getting off the freeway on our way home from the store.
    I stopped the car, opened the hood, the coolant reservoir was almost overflowing, and some had leaked out and was burning off. That was the only leak I could find. The car cooled down, and we drove home (10 miles) without further problems.
    This morning, after a night in sub-zero temperatures, the coolant level in the reservoir is still high at only an inch or two below the top. We 6 miles to church and back without overheating.
    Would you mind giving me your expert advice as to why the overflow is full, and the car overheated briefly and then drove just fine?

  231. wayne January 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm #


    I have aditional info in regard to question 226,227,230. In regard to motor oil and coolant, the issue seems to be fixed. The gasket kit is fine for now. However, now I seem to have a transmission fluid leak. I did not notice the fluid before having a reddish tint such as transmission fluid prior to the HG and other gaskets installed. Obviously a Chrysler shop was not the way to go even though I got a great deal. Any help would be appreciated….

  232. Eric January 22, 2009 at 3:58 am #

    Justin, the shop told me that the leak was just coolant and it was the drivers side rear bank.

    Apparently the shop automatically puts in Subaru coolant conditioner with the 60K coolant flush/fill, so it is in the car.

    They said it is just barely leaking, and not enough to worry about doing anything yet. One concern I have though is that lately I have noticed a strong smell from the car during my morning warm-up. I believe it’s oil, but not positive. I recall that when I changed the spark plugs, the passenger side front bank spark plug wire boot(the long rubber cylinder thing that goes into the block and connects to the plug) came out with some oil on it. Any ideas or suggestions?

  233. Justin Stobb January 22, 2009 at 5:33 am #


    Most likely one of the transmission cooler lines is leaking, they would of been removed to take out the radiator to do the Subaru Head gasket repairs.


  234. Justin Stobb January 22, 2009 at 6:00 am #


    As pressure and heat in the cooling system increases the coolant is pushed from the radiator to the coolant overflow bottle. As the pressure decreases, vacuum increases in the radiator and pulls the coolant back into the radiator from the overflow bottle.

    This is the basic design of every engine cooling system regardless of make or model.

    When ever there is excessive pressure and heat generated in the cooling system this can intensify and you can have a significant amount of coolant pushed into the overflow bottle.

    The engine finally cools and some of the coolant will pull back into the radiator. But if the coolant level in the radiator isn’t corrected the car will overheat again.

    An engine can overheat and push coolant into the overflow bottle or as a result of too much coolant being pushed into the bottle from pressure the engine can overheat from lack of coolant in the radiator. Take away some of the capacity of the cooling system and the engine will overheat.

    As to which caused what to happen here is what I suspect.

    On a very cold day the engine and more importantly the cylinder heads contract more so than on a moderate day, but the engine will warm up to normal operating temperature and the computer will maintain this temperature no matter what the outside conditions are.

    The increase in “range of expansion” can push a already suspect gasket over the edge.

    We always repair more head gaskets this time of the year than any other at the shop for this reason.

    There are other possibilities such as the coolant conditioner clogged your radiator, it over heated and pushed enough of the Subaru stop leak back out of the radiator to flow coolant again.

    I would caution you to not assume it is ok because it drove home after the one time event, as it always starts out like this.


  235. John Anderson January 24, 2009 at 4:14 am #

    We have a “new to us” 1993 Subaru Legacy L sedan, FWD, about 150k miles, 2.2L engine. Overall, the car is in pretty good shape and the previous owner had replaced the head gaskets and timing belt. This is a “Go to school car” for my 18yr old daughter.

    What the previous owner hadn’t done was replace the timing belt pulleys, and about 6 weeks ago one of the pulley bearings separated, and the timing belt fell off and she was left along side the road.

    SO: The engine has a new water pump, hoses, belts, new timing belt pulleys, oil pump, radiator (he old one was found to have a crack) and new plugs and wires. It now runs like a champ..

    BUT: About every week I have to add coolant. There is no visible coolant leak, no steam in the exhaust, the spark plug come out looking clean and dry. I don’t see any oil in the coolant bottle. The compression is good on all four cylinders, and the motor runs as smooth as silk.

    I’m suspecting the previous owner may have put in less than quality head gaskets, I’m not sure, and I’m not even sure we have a head gasket leak. Is there another place to look for a possible coolant leak? The left side valve cover has a minor oil leak, but the head gaskets have no visible external leak of any kind.

    Sometimes in the morning I’ll find the radiator under vacuum and the upper radiator hose collapsed in on itself. I know the system goes under vacuum when its cool, and I’ve replaced the radiator cap…but the system is still losing coolant, and I can’t find the leak. It does draw down the coolant bottle a little every day (the next morning).

    Any Thoughts?

    How reliable are the engines from 1993? If the coolant issue gets fixed are there other problems with the older FWD sedans? This car has no other issue we can find.


  236. Justin Stobb January 24, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    Hello John,

    You can’t really find a head gasket issue solely the way you have tried so far. Since expansion from heat and pressure is typically part of the problem it is sometimes hard to check for head gaskets on the older 2.2l in the way you outlined. A compression test really only shows the compression of the cylinder and not if there is a small gasket leak into another sealed system. You may have better luck performing a leakage test, but again this needs to be done hot and doing the test when the engine is hot is difficult for many reasons.

    Checking for hydro carbons in the cooling system with a coolant fill funnel and the engine at operating temperature using a gas analyzer is really a better method.

    If you have no external leaks at all there really are only the gaskets left. In modern engines with catalytic convertors, small head gasket leaks may not reveal themselves via increased steam levels out of the exhaust. The 2.2l is capable of having a head gasket leak but many go 300k without having a leak.

    The entire time the whole timing belt idler thing was going on the flow from the water pump may have been slowed which could have caused a head gasket problem by limiting coolant flow.
    If your head gaskets end up being the issue, just repair what you have and drive it for years to come provided the repairs are done correctly and the car maintained after the repairs.

    A over looked item could be the coolant cross over pipe o rings under the intake manifold for an external leak but it’s hard to imagine the o-rings leaking that much coolant and going unnoticed.


  237. Scott January 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm #

    Hey Great website!

    I’m thinking of buying an 2009 Impreza with the 2.5I. Have they fixed the head gasket problems on all the new cars now? Have you seen anymore coming in 2004 and newer? or are they still being fixed by Subaru. Or does it take about 5 years before we will really know?

    Thanks again.

  238. John Anderson January 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm #

    Thanks, Justin…Very good info. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and if no other leak is found we’ll probably just replace the gaskets. I suspect these gaskets that are on there now are probably sub-standard quality.

    Like I said, this little car has been perfect for school transportation otherwise.

    Thanks so much!

  239. Wendy January 25, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Justin – Thanks for the very informative site on Subie’s with headgasket issues! I bought my dad’s 96 Legacy Outback 3 months ago (he’s the only prior owner), and noticed the typical symptoms of a bad headgasket (though I didn’t know what was going on until it overheated and I took it in.) I had the head gaskets replaced 3 days ago, and now I have an issue with the temperature gauge. Driving away from the shop, the gauge rose from half-way up to about 7/8 up the dial. At that point I drove it back to the mechanic who had just completed the repair, thinking it was overheating again. He told me it actually had not overheated, and that it is normal for a gauge to read that high. We took a test-drive at highway speeds, while he read a scanner hooked up to the fuse that logged the coolant temperature. While the gauge rose, he read off the temps and said they were well within normal – 208 to 216 degrees. He also said it was normal for the gauge to go as high as 7/8 of the way to the H, and only to be concerned if I lose heat (I haven’t; in fact it’s very toasty) or if the gauge hits the double-dotted line at the H. He also warned me that the gauge will read even higher in the summer. (We’re in Minnesota and it’s been below zero for awhile). My question to you is, should I believe what he says or is there some other problem I should be having them look for? The manual says that anywhere between the C and the double-dotted line is normal operating range, and that the temp needle will change depending on outside and driving conditions. I’ve driven the last two days with one eye on the gauge, waiting to see if it is going to hit the H or stop in the “normal range”. I also notice that it gets “hotter” at faster speeds, then goes down to about 1/2-3/4 at lower speeds or idle (opposite to what I would expect with an overheat). The temp inside the car stays the same – nice & toasty. When I stop the vehicle & get out, I’ve noticed an odor of hot coolant at the front end, though I don’t hear any gurgles or hissing, nor is there any steam. I wonder if that could be residue from its one and only overheat? (We’re going to throw some cardboard down to see if we can spot a leak.) I’m used to driving a 93 Honda Accord whose temp gauge stays right about 1/3 above the C without budging, so all this jumping around has me spooked.
    Thanks for any help you can give!

  240. Alcoholiday January 27, 2009 at 8:29 am #

    About 3 days ago, a white smoke started appearing from my exhaust when I start my car and take off.
    I drive and early model ’03 Impreza WRX (original owner purchased in Nov of ’02, I subsequently purchased it in ’05)
    I have mods, lightweight flywheel and aftermarket clutch (installed by dealer) and a turbo back exhaust with a flashed ECU (upped from stage 1 to 2 one week ago).
    I am up to date on all oil changes (will actually have next one tomorrow), spark plugs were replaced about 15k ago.
    I am at 67k, but missed my 60k maintenance as I was traveling.
    Smoke is not consistent while driving and I hear no engine knock. Operating temp and gas consumption are all normal.
    Am I looking at the beginnings of a head gasket problem, or possibly something less?
    If gaskets, will I fall under the extended warranty?

  241. Justin Stobb January 29, 2009 at 5:21 am #


    Typically in that era Subaru the gauge will to the half way mark and then never move.

    So what you are describing has me a bit concerned.

    The Accord is going to be different.

    I am a little worried there is a restricted radiator. Or something else along those lines.

    The car isn’t in front of me so I may be at a bit of a disadvantage but based on the fluctuating temperature gauge readings there is something wrong, either with the cooling system or the gauge.


  242. Justin Stobb January 29, 2009 at 5:36 am #

    Did you buy an extended warranty on your WRX?

    Or if its the extended head gasket warranty in regards to WWP-99 campaign, that never applied to the WRX.

    Don’t push the coolant changes(every 30k) out to far with the Turbo especially.

    As far as your smoke, its possible the stage two map is contributing but its hard really to say without viewing it.

    Raw fuel in the exhaust may be white in color, but so will coolant.

    With the stage 2 are you with out kitties?

    The WRX doesn’t have a track record of issues, but that doesn’t mean yours isn’t having a head gasket issue, just that its very rare.


  243. tony January 31, 2009 at 3:34 am #

    hi my name is tony, and i want to say thanx for all the info,
    i really need alot of room and i need all wheel drive or 4×4, i love the toyota 4-runner
    but the fuel is too much
    i have came to the conclusion the subaru all wheel drive wagon is a great comprimise
    so i bought a 1996 legacey with 2.2 all rusty 193,000 miles etc i loved the car had to do some work wheel bearings struts brakes cv shaft, i love the car , the front wheel drive of the car isnt working the rear wheels are working i drive it a little and it makes a clicking noise and the front wheels dont pull they are just along for the ride,
    if it wasnt rusty i would just rplace the trans the engine runs fantastic
    i do all the work my self i can fix i have my own shop etc all the tools
    i am gonna buy another on just like it
    i want to know if that model 1996 2.2l engine is effected by the head gasket issue , also have you ever heard of the front wheels not working , its not the hubs
    also do you knw of any other issues with this model i should be aware of i dont really care too much about the head gaskets i can change them my self but im a little worried about the trsmission , i was at high rpms in 2 ft of snow with the wheels turned almost fully to the left and a huge bang and then just rear wheel drive from there
    thanx tony

  244. tony January 31, 2009 at 3:44 am #

    ps. i live in michigan and i will be in the 2ft of snow situation alot
    the one i have seemed to do it fairly easy pretty amazing actually
    i have to drive back in the field alot where i work and its not plowed
    i tow things out of the dith with it too at work when the vehicles or any snowmobiles or what ever i have to tow them up this year the subaru is the best thing for that is that asking too much out of the car, i does the work i need to really easy , i want to tow about 1,000 too a small small trailer and a little bit of music gear any thoughts on that as far as the strength of the drive terrain of this particular subaru,
    thanx again tony

  245. Gary Lee January 31, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    Great site! So, I have a 03 outback w 2.5 engine with 61k miles. I have cleaned the battery crust twice and have noticed coolant smell for the last few months. I am looking to replace the head gaskets, timing belt, w pump, oil seals etc myself. I have another car so no major rush. The plan is to take the motor out o the car so as to do it right as you have recommended. I have a fair aount of tools from work I’ve done on motorcycles but would like to know if there is a list of tools you could point me to and other must have bits and must do extras steps. I like my RU and not ready to get rid of it. Although I don’t need such a diversion in my life at this time, I reckon I could learn alot if I just take my time. Thanks! Gary

  246. Justin Stobb February 1, 2009 at 2:16 am #


    A lot of your questions are hard to answer, but I will give it a shot.

    You may have broken an axle. The 1996 2.2l isn’t really subject to head gasket issues but the condition of your gaskets may vary.

  247. Justin Stobb February 1, 2009 at 2:20 am #


    We do provide Tech support with parts purchase; this includes a tool and chemical list along with a step by step set of instructions to guide you through the process.

    We have helped many people like yourself complete this task.


  248. Caroline Brinkley February 1, 2009 at 6:04 am #

    I have a 99 subaru legacy outback that I bought new. It has about 70,000 miles. In the past month it has needed a new starter, a new clutch something or other, and now needs a new head gasket. Are these all connected? Is it worth paying for the repairs, we’ve already spent many hundreds for the first 2 repairs. The car has been trustworthy up until now, except for a new battery a couple of years ago.

  249. Justin February 2, 2009 at 5:16 am #

    Hi Justin,

    I just had the headgaskets (along with a ton of other work)done on my 2000 Subaru Outback with 105K miles. I was wondering what you recommend as far as break-in time on the new headgaskets. I am staying under 55mph and not going over 3K rpm. Should I retorque the head bolts after so many miles? Thanks for your time and help.

  250. Will Menaker February 2, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    Justin – Thanks for the wonderful website you have put together. I appreciate the careful and detailed information you provide. I have two questions: 1) did Subaru change the head gasket design on the 2.5L Outback following the change in 2003? and if so, when? 2) do you have any sense of whether there are fewer head gasket problems in the 2.5L 05 Outback than the 04? Thanks for your time and help!

  251. Justin Stobb February 3, 2009 at 3:16 am #


    Some shops repair cars differently then the next, there are replaceable contacts in the starter that wear out and would have caused a “click” when trying to start.

    There is no connection between a clutch, starter and head gaskets except that they have all aged together.

    As far as worth, I promise you that you will spend less money repairing the 1999 Subaru Outback right now than the first day depreciation of any new car you buy.

    There is a disconnect between worth and value I am afraid. I dont know what your financial situation is but if you take $25,000 out of savings to buy a car you will loose any interest or investment money you may have made, if you finance the car you will pay interest on $25,000 for the next 6 years or so, plus full coverage insurance and at the end of the loan you will have a car in the same shape the Outback is in now most likely.

    My advice is always the same, if you like Your Subaru repair it and in a few months you wont regret it, if you WANT a new car use this as the excuse to go get it I am sure you deserve it.


  252. Justin Stobb February 3, 2009 at 3:28 am #


    Great name I hope you are under 40 so I can say you were named “after” me.

    Any ways, there isn’t any real break in period needed. And the head bolts don’t or shouldn’t need to be re torqued, they are “torque to yield” type bolts.


  253. Justin Stobb February 3, 2009 at 4:06 am #


    I have not seen a 05 with failed gaskets, now I have heard of one or two failures but there is no way it is anything like the 2000 to 2001 models were.

    Here is the deal on the second generation gasket, there are superseded part numbers and technically the 04 should have a different gasket in it than the 02.

    The replacement gasket is part #11044 AA633 and this is the part number that is supposed to be in the 03 and 04, while the earlier mode used #11044 AA632.

    So 03 is year of the change in gasket but the 05s are different yet


  254. Justin February 5, 2009 at 4:17 am #

    Hey Justin,

    This is Justin again. Yes, I’m under 40 so you could say that I was named “after” you! I have another question for you. This one might be a little harder since you were not the one who fixed (sort of) my car. After getting the car back from having the headgaskets, valve job, timing belt tensioner, new radiator hoses, alternator, and front end lower ball joints replaced, the car is now hesitating and losing power intermittently in short bursts and the check engine light came on. It is more noticable at highway speeds. I should note that he had my car for over 3 weeks and the car had about a quarter tank of gas in it at the time. It was also very cold here in Wisconsin these past few weeks. I filled up the tank and added some HEET and fuel injector cleaner to the tank. It almost feels like the car is misfiring to me. I got to run about a quarter tank through it before the guy took the car back yesterday. He checked the code, said it was a bad crankshaft sensor and replaced it. Took it for another drive and the problem was still there. He scanned it again, this time the code says it is a bad camshaft sensor. He said he was going to replace that. I should find out tomorrow what results that will have. Do you have any suggestions? Here I sit with no Subaru to show for all of my money to get it fixed. Thanks for your informative site and your time in answering these questions.

  255. Mike February 5, 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    I’ve just got a ’99 Legacy with a 2.2L engine. Is this engine more prone to developing head gasket problems than the earlier ones? Thanks.

  256. Mike February 7, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    I have a 2005 Outback, bought new in Oct 2004, its got 71,411 miles now. I just had the read wheel bearings replaced under warrentee. I also have had all the maintance intervals done. While it was at the Dealer they noticed an external head gasket leak and quoted $2k to repair. The oil looks fine, no smell from the heater, and the coolant looks full. I’m trying to figure out if I should have a different dealer look at it, and have the cheaper shop do the repair, or trade in. It seems like the mileage is low for a newer to need a repair like this. Any thoughs? With exception of the read wheel bearings and this gasket, it has been a fine car so far.

  257. Gary Lee February 8, 2009 at 4:45 am #

    And further….I must admit that the overheating started after I put “steel seal” additive in the radiator thinking I might put off the headgasket repair a few thousand miles. Now I likely have obstructed radiator, heater core and/or water pump as a result. I feel like such an Oaf for beliving their gaurantee. As for replacing the plugs, it took me just over a half hour.

  258. Justin Stobb February 10, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    Mike # 257

    The 1999 Legacy 2.2l isn’t as prone to head gasket failure as the 2.5l. The gasket found in the 1999 legacy from the factory will look like Subaru’replacement gasket for the 1st generation 2.5l. The 2nd gen 2.2l is more prone then the 1st gen but we rarely see either for repairs.

    The first gen 2.2l is a great engine but would have never been able to meet some of the requirements for modern emissions levels.


  259. Justin Stobb February 10, 2009 at 5:11 am #


    Its hard to advise you here. I understand the expectation that gaskets should last longer and when they don’t its frustrating.

    I don’t really like the idea of trading in what you already have unless you hate your car or you like giving someone else your money as buying something else will cost more than what it will take to repair your Subaru Outback.

    We all go through the “should I get rid of it” phase but it will pass after it is fixed just the same as it will if you buy another car.

    Its really up to your comfort level with how much money you want to spend.

    Some times we will make irrational decisions to buy something else when a car fails to please and spend 25k to get over that feeling instead of a couple thousand to fix.

    If you want a new car though you can use this as the excuse to buy one I am sure you deserve it.


  260. Tom February 10, 2009 at 6:59 am #


    Thanks for the valuable info. Sorry if this was already mentioned (there are so many comments that I may have missed it), but do you or anyone else reading this know what the part number is for the new, redesigned head gasket for the 1996 2.5L Legacy? Or how to track it down/ order it online?

    Thanks in advance!

  261. Lindsy February 11, 2009 at 11:41 pm #


    In September 2008 we took our 2003 Impreza Outback Sport in for leaky head gaskets on both sides. We went to an Authorized Subaru dealer, since most of the repairs were going to be covered under warranty (but it was a fight the whole way). In the process of changing the head bolts the busted them, couldn’t get them drilled out and eventually they had to replace the whole engine block. We have put a little over 3000 miles on and now the gaskets are leaking again! I am just wondering if the car was actually repaired properly is this even possible? The dealer we went to has (of course) went out of business and the new Subaru dealer has the same lead service tech on site.

    Thanks for the great site and gasket information! I am seriously considering driving the 9 hours to WA to get this car fixed properly.

  262. Marj February 13, 2009 at 1:37 pm #

    I have a 2002 Subaru Outback and was informed yesterday that both head gaskets are bad and leaking oil. I have the 2.51 engine. In reading other information on the net, others refer to Subaru extending the warranty on these engines for this problem. Is this true or fiction? My dealer didn’t mention anything about this. There quote was for $1700 including 2 days in shop.

  263. Jason February 14, 2009 at 12:20 am #


    Your sight has been very helpful. I just wish I had found it before I bought my 98 Legacy GT. Would have bought the 97 legacy with the smaller engine instead.
    Anyway, I bought the 98 Legacy GT with about 140k on it. Ran great for about 2 months. Got some pretty cold temps one night and when I came outside in the morning I noticed some coolant on the ground. Radiator was leaking. Took it to the shop they replaced it and the thermostat as well. Got it back and drove it and it started to run hot. About 3/4 of the way up on the gauge. Took it back to the mechanic and he said it was the head gaskets. So I said do the repair thinking that would be the end of the problems and I would be back to happily driving my subaru.

    Just got it back the other day from the HG repair and now the temp gauge is jumping up to 3/4 of the way up, but goes back down to the half way point almost immediately, and stays there when while the car is in motion. I’ll come to a stop and it’ll stay at the halfway point and jump again when I start moving again and then drop back down. The temp will also slowly rise when idling for about 15 minutes and will go back down when you rev up the engine for a moment.

    I should note that it takes about a 1/2 hour of driving or idling for this to start to occur.

    Some other things I’ve noticed is that once the fans go on they don’t seem to shut off until I turn off the car. The radiator cap never seems to get warm or hot, and the lower hose on the radiator is cold to the touch. I wouldn’t expect that the fans would be that efficient at cooling. I’ve never had a car that both radiator hoses weren’t at the least warm to the touch.

    Could this be a faulty or improperly installed thermostat, or possibly a bad water pump. I was thinking that with the temp going up when I accelerate and than dropping back down that maybe the waterpump isn’t circulating the coolant as well at the slower engine speeds.

    I haven’t taken it back to the mechanic yet as I wanted to get some more insight into what may possibly be going on. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    I should also note that my mechanic said that changing the engine might be a better idea that the head gaskets as the engine does have a tapping sound. But it seems to me that it is the piston slap. It quiets down when the engine gets warm. It’s very agricultural sounding as I have heard some people put it.

    Thank You,


  264. Eric Cowan February 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    While driving in the mountains yesterday I blew my head gasket in my 1998 Subaru Outback (104k) and now with it in the shop two hours away I’m in a dilema on what to do… Do I simply fix the gasket problem or replace with a used engine? Also my fear is that this will happen again fixing it with the two scenarios above. Do I simply get the gasket fixed and then look to dump my subaru or take my chances with it? What are the chances of this happening again? Also typically how much would I spend on these two options? The shop I had my car towed to seems like a good shop but with it being in a remote shop in the mountains I want to make sure I’m not getting a much higher price than if I had the work done in Denver.

  265. Chris Yorke February 18, 2009 at 2:37 am #

    Hi Justin,

    I appreciate all you’ve done with this site. I have learned a lot just by reading your answers to everyone’s questions so thanks for all your insight.

    I have a question for you though. I have a 1998 Forester manual transmission with 180,000 miles on it. I do most of the maintenance myself as far as fluids and tire rotations go. The bigger stuff goes down the street to my mechanic. Except for the timing belt, which was thrown off by a leaking front crank seal at 70,000 miles and replaced, everything has gone by the book.

    I’ve had an oil burning smell for the past 3 weeks. I took it in to my mechanic (I live in New Hampshire….sorry I can’t bring it to you :)), and he diagnosed a leaking rear crankshaft seal. He says it doesn’t need to be done now, but it should be done within a year. I’m due for a new clutch soon too as I’m starting to get a loud pinging sound unless I’m pressing down the clutch.

    Basically, I thought I could take care of a couple of items at a time: rear crankshaft seal, clutch & flywheel, head gaskets machined and resealed, 180K service- since I plan on owning this car for at least five more years and the head gaskets have never been done. Is there anything else I should have him replace while the engine is out. I just had the timing belt, cam seals, water pump, & thermostat done 10,000 miles ago.

    Thanks again,

  266. Justin Stobb February 18, 2009 at 4:10 am #


    The updated gaskets are available from Subaru for the 1st Generation 2.5l.

    The part number is 11044 AA610.

  267. Justin Stobb February 18, 2009 at 4:18 am #


    I am sorry for the delayed response. Our move into a bigger space next door is occupying the time I usually make for this. Any ways

    That is very frustrating, my guess is the second portion of the torque sequence wasn’t done properly. That is usually the case when the head gaskets start to leak externally in such a such a short time. Really the only way to know is to have it checked. No you shouldn’t have to go through this.

    You may want to call Subaru of America and see if they can offer any help with the repair costs due to poor work done by an authorized Subaru repair center. I would take it do a different dealer though if that is an option.

    Or better yet, if you can get some money back from Subaru let a good independent Subaru shop take over and you wont look back.


  268. Justin Stobb February 18, 2009 at 4:25 am #


    The warranty is related to WWP-99 which is a campaign that states if the Subaru coolant conditioner is put in the engine promptly at a Subaru Dealership, coverage for external coolant leaks from the Head gaskets will be extended to 8 years or 100k, it does not cover oil leaks. Sorry


  269. Justin Stobb February 18, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    Hey Jason,

    I hate saying this but the repairs you have paid for are incomplete.

    Either something was missed, the heads not torqued properly, a defective or aftermarket thermostat was used or an air pocket is in the cooling system.

    The car should have performed flawlessly after the repairs.

    How familiar with Subaru is the shop that fixed the Subie


  270. Justin Stobb February 18, 2009 at 5:00 am #


    My advice is never plan on dropping in a used engine it will not last, the head gaskets in the wrecking yard engine are the same as the ones that failed in your car most likely.

    Fix what you have is almost always my advice, as far as repair life. There are a lot of variables but the cars we repair last a long time after repairs. IF the car is repaired properly your experience will hopefully be the same.


  271. Luke February 18, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    I am planning on buying a 2000-2004 Subaru. Now after researching and reading about the troubles people have with head gaskets, I am not sure if I should get one of these vehicles. Are these head gasket problems only with 2.5L engine, or are they problems with a 3.0 6 cylinder boxer as well? I had driven 2 Subarus, one to arond 270,000 and the other to 230,000, but both were a 2.2l engine. Never any major repairs (over $200);
    So, is a 6cylinder affected with this same problem? How widespread is the 2.5l problem, say per 100 cars? There are about 180 questions on this board. Subaru sold around 200k cars per year.
    I am worried about getting a 4 cylinder from Subaru. What do you think?

  272. Justin Stobb February 21, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    It may make more sense to budget for all the work at the same time as it will save money over the long run. For example when we do Head gaskets there is no clutch labor only the cost of the parts. If you pay to have a clutch replaced and then later to have the head gaskets done it will cost you around $500.00 more that way.

    It’s still a good car and should continue serve you well.


  273. Justin Stobb February 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm #


    I wouldn’t be afraid of the 4 cylinder Subaru at all. The H6 models are nice cars but keep in mind you need to run premium fuel, the maintenance costs are higher minus the timing belt (as it has a chain) and the fuel economy is less.

    I sound like a broken record sometimes but the head gasket issue is a combination of not enough maintenance causing the fluids to eat away at the gaskets, higher combustion temperatures causing a greater range of expansion of the cylinder heads.

    We see just as many with without leaks as we do with. Buying a used vehicle that shows no signs of head gasket leaks now and a good maintenance schedule afterwards should help minimize the chance you may have to have it done.


  274. Davida February 22, 2009 at 6:14 am #

    I have a 2001 Forester and am experiencing the HG problem with R and L leaks. Much to my surprise, the extended 8 year/100,000 mile warranty expired in early Janury ’09 and I discovered the problem in early February ’09. Anyway, I called Subaru America and they told me before they could offer me a “deal” on the repairs I had to get an estimate from my local Subaru dealer. I did this and the dealer’s estimate came back at $2100, $1100 more than the AAA garage that first diagnosed the problem a week earlier. When I commented on the difference, the dealer said they would be able to go 50/50 with me using dealer pricing on parts (no deal on labor) which would reduce the estimate slightly but put my cost at approx. $1,000. Since AAA and the dealer would be about the same cost to me, should I stick with the dealer and let them do the work thinking they would be more knowledgeable and do the repair correctly? There is also a garage in town that works on foreign cars and has a good reputation. Should I get a quote from them and consider having the work done there? The dealer also said I should change the timing belt (another $700) at the same time the HG is repaired. Is this true? Lastly, is pulling the engine the very best way to do the repairs and, if so, how will I know the work is truly being done that way?

    I stumbled onto your website and have found it very informative – been reading it for the last 1.5 hours. Thanks very much.

  275. Justin Stobb February 22, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    Hey Davida,

    The $700.00 for a timing belt while the head gaskets are done is kinda out of line if thats all the are doing.

    List for the belt is $87.00, tensioner $143.90 there is no labor to do the belt while the head gaskets are being done.

    I don’t like the idea of the Dealer doing the repairs but I am not sure if the other shop is right for you either.

    What I always advise is an Independent Subaru Shop, pulling the motor out and doing the repairs. The repairs made in the car just do not last, and this is how they are typically done this way at the dealer. If an Independent Subaru shop isn’t available where you are then I would probably stick with the dealership, but I say this kicking and screaming.

    As to the question of is pulling the engine out the best way to go the answer is always going to be yes.. I could go on for days about why.

    If you read some of the other posts, what I try to point out is that a car repaired under warranty will be done in the quickest way possible, once the short cuts are learned thats how they are all repaired regardless of warranty or “customer pay”. I could also go on for months about why this is this way.


  276. Gary February 22, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    Hi, Justin:
    Thank you for this amazingly helpful resource. Your knowledge is extraordinary, and your ability to express that knowledge in writing is equally remarkable! I sure would appreciate your opinion:
    I have a 2003 Subaru Outback manual trans with 89,000 miles, and thus out of warranty. I have recently occasionally smelled a faint coolant odor, and yesterday, for the first time, I noticed the temperature gauge sometimes fluctuating wildly: shooting up from normal to almost to the “H” within a few seconds, seemingly faster than the actual coolant temp could be changing, then quickly dropping back to normal after about 15 seconds (sometimes longer), again seemingly faster than any feasible true change in coolant temp. When I pull over and lift the hood, however, there is no evidence of actual overheating or leaks and, in fact, the radiator and coolant are no hotter than usual. Does this sound to you like the earliest stage of the dreaded head gasket problem, or could there perhaps be other causes of these symptoms?
    If it is the head gasket, do you know whether Subaru of America is still showing sympathy to owners with this problem? I’ve read, on another site, that in the past, Subaru extended coverage for cylinder head gasket external coolant leaks. I will certainly call them about this, but do you have any independent info and advice about an extended warranty?

  277. Marj February 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm #

    Hi Justin, I emailed Subaru of NA a similar question as what I posted here, thinking it couldn’t hurt. They responded and requested additional information. One week later, the service manager from the local Subaru dealership called and said if I would pay $500, Subaru would cover the rest of the repair. I happily agreed and will take my car in for repairs in a few days as there isn’t an independent Subaru shop in the area. The engine will be removed for the repair and I’ve learned from this site, that I should get the timing belt replaced at the same time. Thanks for your site!

  278. Sarah February 23, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    Hi Justin –
    I’ve been reading your posts because I’ve been trying to decide if it was worth fixing my Subaru or replacing it. I have a ’99 Forester with about 140K. The coolant additive was performed in 2005. Last year I had to replace the right CV boot (under the hood) @111K. At that time my Subaru dealer tech told me there was an oil leak on one side of my head gasket and it would cost between $1500-1700 to fix. Then a few months ago my CEL came on and I was told it was my rear O2 sensor which would be about $320 (I had my Knock sensor replaced and timing belt changed @101K).
    I like my Subi (it’s paid off and gives me the room and AWD I need) but I’ve been wondering if fixing it was the right way to go, not knowing what kind of longevity Subarus are good for.

    From what I’m reading, you would recommend the head gasket repair and that should give my Subi a new life, right?

    What can you tell me about the rear O2 sensor? Is this a necessity to fix?

    And what is the life expectancy of Subaru timing belts? If I’m going to have them remove my engine to fix the head gasket anyway, should I consider replacing the timing belt, even though it’s only been 40K miles since the last replacement?

    Thank you very much for your help. I absolutely hate dealing with car problems and I never quite believe dealer mechanics are telling me the absolute truth.

  279. Justin Stobb February 25, 2009 at 4:44 am #

    Hey Gary,

    Based on the symptoms it’s possible that the head gaskets are starting to fail internally (coolant to combustion) but it could also be a restricted Radiator.

    If you could take a minute and smell the coolant overflow bottle for an exhaust, sulfur or fuel smell it is a quick check you can perform your self. If it smells like any of the above the head gaskets are failing.

    As far as help from Subaru it is possible but it can also vary, I have had just as many drivers report they obtained some help when it was requested as those that were denied any assistance or participation.

    All you can do is try.


  280. Justin Stobb February 25, 2009 at 4:58 am #

    Hey Sarah,

    I am a firm believer in the Subaru and it lasting 300k and beyond. Yes the gaskets do tend to leak but there is a good chance it wont happen a second time if it is done properly now.

    The timing belt even though it is only 40k old should be done as it wont be due for another 105k and will keep the total cost going forward down some. The price should be less than $90.00 and well worth it in my opinion. The rear o2 sensor is a crucial part of the emissions system and is one of the key components in keeping the Subaru from polluting the environment excessively, but the price quoted is too high and if done with the head gaskets it should be done for much less the Subaru list price should be $169.00 or so and we wouldn’t charge any labor at our shop if we were replacing the head gaskets and I would try to negotiate the same at the dealership.

    I have also been saying this a lot, but the next generation of cars are worth waiting for and keeping what you already have if you still like the car is really the best way to go until some better, more fuel efficient choices are available.


  281. Sarah February 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

    Justin –
    Thanks so much for your response. I’ll call my Subaru tech and see if we can work out any deals on labor if I have all the work done at the same time. Sure wish Missoula was closer to Seattle – I’d be coming to you to have the work done 🙂

  282. Jamie Weiss February 25, 2009 at 7:50 pm #


    I am currently repairing a head gasket leak on a 1998 Legacy outback with 130,000 mi. Should I use a copper spray sealant on the new head gaskets?

  283. Gary (comments 277 & 280) February 26, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

    Hi again, Justin. Thanks for your response. You were right, in a sense, that it was a radiator problem, but fortunately not at all a serious one. It turns out that the clamp for the lower radiator hose had corroded, so that the hose was not being held on tightly enough, causing a very slow coolant leak. New clamp, replenished coolant … and no more craziness with the temperature gauge! I got away VERY cheap. Perhaps this can be considered evidence that the 2003 engines ARE less prone to the head gasket problem. Time will tell.

    Thanks again. It is so impressive to me that you are so willing to help people who, due to location, will never become your customers.

  284. Jessie March 3, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Well, I believe I am having this problem as well. I have to have it diagnosed by a dealership then Subaru will tell me if they’ll provide financial assistance. But I’ll be angry if I have to pay for that just for Subaru to tell me they won’t give me any money, anyways, when my mechanic will just fix it all at once. I have a 2003 Legacy, with no extended warranty applicable. Anyway, what is the proper fix? Do they replace the seal? I believe my mechanic mentioned something about machining it, not replacing it. Should I use that coolant conditioner? My manual makes absolutely no mention of that. This is so frustrating. Thanks for this article, very much.

  285. S H March 4, 2009 at 6:01 am #

    Justin, I am amazed that you have taken so much time and effort to address the issues as well as questions in posts. I am not even a Subaru owner, yet I really enjoyed reading the post. I came across the article via google as I was looking into buying a new car. It is an eye opener. People sometimes fail to understand that an engine system is a fairly complex technical achievement!

    The world is a better place due to selfless service like yours. Thank you very much.

  286. Justin Stobb March 5, 2009 at 4:09 am #


    Sorry for the delayed response, our move has taken up a lot of time.

    Yes you do want to use a copper spray on the gaskets.


  287. Justin Stobb March 5, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    Hey Gary,

    I am glad I could help some and thanks for the feedback.


  288. Justin Stobb March 5, 2009 at 4:21 am #


    If the vehicle is repaired by a Subaru dealer and the Subaru replacement gaskets are used then yes the conditioner should be used.

    Yes you are correct that the owners manual states nothing about the conditioner and actually on the 03 and 04 models it is a Grey area as the WWP 99 campaign only pointed to the conditioner being used in the 2000 to 2002 models to prolong the head gasket warranty. Since then it has been common practice at most Subaru dealer service departments to put this in along with the O.E Subaru coolant.

    If you own a 03 or 04 model and this has been done you may have a good chance of gaining some ground in Subaru participating in the repair costs.


  289. Mark E. March 5, 2009 at 7:22 am #


    I have a 96 Legacy GT with a 2.5 DOHC. I have been having trouble with over heating also. I have seen dark oily foam, and bubbling in my radiator leading me to believe it’s my head gaskets. I’ve been told to make sure i don’t use graphite gaskets but to use MLS gaskets instead. Can you help with the best choice so its maybe a onetime deal. I’m doing the work myself and having the heads cut alsogetting new head bolts. And what would be a good source for the gaskets? Thank You for the help.

  290. Mark E. March 5, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Also the engine has 200,000 miles on it and i’m not sure if the gaskets have been done before.

  291. Jay O March 10, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks for the very useful website. I just bought a 98 Outback with 107,000 miles on it. The temperature gauge runs at about 1/2 and is there with a couple of miles. However, I drove it to Mt. Hood and the temp gauge went through the roof. I towed it to my mechanic, and they could not detect head gasket failure. They said there were no external leaks though there was a small chance there was an internal one. We replaced the thermostat and the temp gauge it at 1/2 again. Sooner or later I will have to replace the HG; however, will it be a one time thing or will it happen over and over again? Should I do it now? Thanks for your help.

  292. Knute Hammer March 10, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    Hi Justin. Enjoy the information on your site. Our 2003 Forrester with 90K was leaking coolant. Had both head gaskets, timing belt, crank and cam seals replaced. Three questions.
    1. Any advantage of using Suburu coolant instead of standard green Prestone?
    2. Should I use Subaru Coolant Conditioner in this year car?
    3. Immediately after the repair, the car “vibrates” a lot more at idle. The dealer said since the battery was disconnected during the service, the computer needs to reset itself and to just drive the car for a fews days. Well, a few days later and it still idles rough. Any reasons/thoughts? Thanks much. Knute H. La Crosse, WI

  293. Keith Jones March 10, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    I have a 2004 Legacy 2.5i with 67,000 miles. Thought I had a steering rack feed line failure and went to replace. My mechanic called with the bad news and said that wasn’t the problem, it was a blown head gasket…ugh! Too big of a job for him, called another mechanic I trusted and estimate started at $1,400…double ugh! Although, he said call Subaru and ask if still covered, warranty expired in October 2008. But, the service department said upon their recommendation, Subaru of America will cover the cost less a $200 deducable…yeeha! I haven’t set up the appointment yet, but will keep the board posted. This is something, if they fix, will make me buy another Subaru inthe future.
    Maybe our Countries domestic companies can take note.

  294. Phil Parda March 11, 2009 at 2:32 am #

    I’m looking at purchasing a 2000 Subaru RS. Are the head gaskets something that I should worry about for that model year? I couldn’t find which particular Phase type the model year had, so I wanted to ask, rather than assume. The car has 132,XXX miles on it.

    The article stated that once they were replaced, they typically were good for the life of the car thereafter.

  295. Justin Stobb March 13, 2009 at 4:31 am #

    Mark E,

    Its better to check the heads for warp, and if they are warped to machine the heads, don’t arbitrarily machine them.

    This is especially true if you don’t know the whole service history. The heads are allowed .002 of warp and the total area that can be machined off is .012 the heads can be checked for warp with a strait edge and a feeler gauge.

    You can either use the Subaru replacement gaskets or the ones we sell and your results will be good as long as you take the time to follow the steps needed to do the repair properly.


  296. Justin Stobb March 13, 2009 at 4:36 am #


    I’m not sure what method the shop used to check for head gaskets, but really the only way is to look for signs of exhaust gas present in the cooling system.

    If there is exhaust present I would suggest taking care of it before it has a chance to overheat multiple times as that can add to the expense of the repairs.


  297. Justin Stobb March 13, 2009 at 4:45 am #

    Hey Knute,

    As per Subaru if the Subaru head gaskets are used it is required or at least suggested to maintain any type of warranty that the O.E Subaru coolant is used along with the conditioner.

    I have mixed feelings about this as we see cars that have had multiple doses of the conditioner end up with clogged radiators.

    As far as coolant with the O.E Subaru gaskets its better to use the Subaru coolant.

    The idle thing doesn’t make much sense to me, I would keep the lines of communication open with the Dealership service department. The number one cause of a vibration at idle after a major repair on a Subaru is a bolt or spark plug dropped down by one of the motor mounts causing a vibration as the rubber isolation of the motor mount is being bypassed. Just one of many possibilities.


  298. Justin Stobb March 13, 2009 at 4:49 am #


    The RS in 2000 is a phase II 2.5l which are subject to an external leak.

    I want to caution that if it is repaired correctly it should be just fine. But there is a big difference in repaired and repaired correctly.


  299. Keith Jones March 13, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    I spoke with the service at Subaru on the head gasket problem. They will replace both head gaskets. All I have to pay is a $200 deductible and the cost of an oil change(Subaru won’t cover the oil)$230 total. I will say this…I am a Subaru customer for life if they are willing to stand behind their products like this.

  300. Jim March 16, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Justin, maybe you can help me diagnose a single occurrence issue with my 2007 Subaru Forester X Premium. This past September I drove the car from northern California to a remote archaeological site in northwest New Mexico. On the way there, coming down the mountains out into the Mojave Desert through Tehachipi, California, I noticed the temperature gauge creeping up. I’m paranoid about the Subaru head gasket issue and have had other non-Subarus with head gasket problems, so I check my coolant levels every other fill-up, change my oil and filter every 3750 miles, and watch the temperature gauge religiously. At the time my car had 42,000 miles on the clock. Ambient temperature was about 99 degrees and I was traveling downhill. I never allowed the gauge to get into the red zone, but this was clearly an anomaly as the gauge had never budged past a little over half way the entire preceding 40k+ miles. I had driven the car in much hotter environments as well – it had previously seen temperatures as high as 109 degrees.

    When I noticed the gauge creeping up, I cut the air conditioning, turned on the heat and opened the windows and sunroof. The temperature fell pretty quickly, but with another 12 hours of driving to go this was not a “solution” long term. I stopped at the next rest stop approximately 40 miles out into the Mojave. When I popped the hood I noticed that the radiator overflow bottle was quite low. I had no spare coolant at the time, but I did have distilled water. I added about 16 ounces of water to the overflow reservoir and ate lunch, allowing the engine to cool down. Symptom addressed. I finished the trip, both there and back again, in hilly conditions with temperatures up to 107 degrees and the temperature gauge never budged from its “normal” position.

    I did stop at Planet Subaru in Flagstaff, Arizona, and picked up a bottle of Subaru coolant. I added 16 ounces to the reservoir to equal the 16 ounces of water I had added earlier that day. The symptom has never returned, but I’m not entirely comfortable with the car. I now have a Death Valley trip planned for mid-April and will be even further off the beaten path than I was in New Mexico.

    I should add that the car has occasionally required a top-up of coolant/water since new – no more than say 8 ounces every 7-8k miles. I have no spotting on the driveway, though I do smell a little coolant at times. The smell seems to come from the top of the reservoir bottle where the hose enters. The coolant level was correct when I left for the trip.

    Any suggestions as to what might have caused the temperature spike I observed? Anything I should have checked prior to my next difficult trip? Of course the dealer service techs have looked into my minor coolant use/coolant smell issue more than once and found no problem; they have tested the cooling system and found no leaks and did replace the radiator cap at 12k miles stating that the original unit was sub-spec. My confidence level is fairly low with respect to their diagnoses.


    – Jim

  301. Sue K March 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm #

    This has all been interesting reading. I own a 2003 Forester currently with 143,000 miles on it – have had it to the dealer for every service and have had the oil changed every 3K miles. In March, 2008 the CEL came on right around the 120,000 mile service and I took it to the dealer, along with noting a very small oil leak. They did a complete service and said the code the catalytic converter — said I could replace it but suggested they reset it and see if it comes back on. They said the oil leak was from the drain plug. The CEL would turn on and off intermittently & dealer said as long as it shuts off not to worry.

    In December, 2008 the CEL came on and stayed on again and I noticed a very small oil leak again and a mild fuel smell when the engine shut off. This time I did not take it to the dealer but to a mechanic I trust — bad head gasket and catalytic converter. When all done, he commented that the Subaru dealer said the head gasket was on a nation-wide shortage – didn’t take the time to look into this until now and cannot believe what I am reading.

    So looking for your opinion – 1) should the dealer have insisted the catalytic converter be changed March, 2008 with the first CEL on?
    2) In your opinion, what are the chances of SOA stepping up and covering a portion of the cost? While the engine was out they also changed the timing belt (although it was changed at 90K) & the water pump to avoid having to do this again if those failed or at the next recommended timing belt change.

    And I read elsewhere that special Subaru leak sealing coolant has to be used? True or not? I know the mechanic used all Subaru parts but I didn’t ask about this specifically.

    I think I’ve read most of the questions and answers and this site is very informative – wish I’d found it a year ago.

  302. Larry March 19, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    I am considering purchasing a used 1999 Forrester at a very, very good price. How can I tell if the head gaskets are leaking, and determine whether or not to purchase the vehicle. Is there a “checklist” for potential buyer hoping to avoid murderous costs shortly after purchase?

    I have read and understood much of what you said, but would still prefer to purchase a vehicle without such a costly known repair need. I am tall, seeking a hybrid “crossover” half station wagon, half suv vehicle. Head and legroom are key, I have a bad neck and long torso. My question is this:

    I understand you love Subarus, but if someone put a gun to your head and forced you to purchase something besides Subaru, what would you reccomend? A Honda CR-V? Anything less pricey? Thanks, big time, looks like this site takes time, be happy to paypal you a few bucks for your effort.

  303. Justin Stobb March 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm #


    It is normal to use some coolant as it will evaporate, what we see alot around here is that the coolant isn’t topped off at the oil change intervals and becomes low.

    Now in reading your post I see that the bottle level was ok before you took off for the trip and that it consumed some coolant during the trip, about how many miles was it between departure and the high temperature levels?

    If it was many, I dont think there are any concerns but if it was few I suggest that a leakage test should be done and I would request it to be done before the 60k warranty is up if I was you. Also a gas analyzer over the cooling system could help as well

    A cylinder leakage test should help answer if there is any combustion leaking into the cooling system and Visa Versa.


  304. Justin Stobb March 21, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    Hi Sue,

    The catalyst is a tricky thing as it is a significant expense that really poses no detriment to the engine other than if the light is on as a result of a failed catalyst you wont ever know if anything new happens as there is only one light.

    Now the Catalyst is a very important part of the emissions control system and it is possible that the Subaru may be polluting the environment more so than if the catalyst was functioning as it should.

    As far as the Head gasket thing its hard to unravel the set of circumstances at this point.

    Oil leaks were only covered for 60k the head gasket warranty was covered until 100k on some Subaru’s but only for external coolant leaks.

    One point though, when you take your car to a dealer for an oil change it may be done by a lube tech no more qualified then any other lube center.


  305. Justin Stobb March 21, 2009 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi Larry,

    Toyota, Honda, Subaru all make good cars.

    I understand the concern with the head gasket issue, but every make and model has some challenges. Every line of car has a service department that does have to make repairs.

    The CRV is a good vehicle as is the RAV4 or Highlander but each will have there list of issues and there are things those vehicles do not do as well as the Subaru.

    Buy what you are the most comfortable with, will suit your current and future needs and you will want to keep for years. Thats the best advise I have, we used to keep the family vehicle for years and upgrade when the family grew, but then it became normal to but a car every few years and the money spent in interest was just a waste.

    There is so much more value in owning a car you really like for 10 to 15 years and not always paying the bank regardless of a potential head gasket issue the rest of the car is great.


  306. Marc March 22, 2009 at 3:48 am #

    This great site is what the internet is all about!
    I have an 06 Outback Ragon and from day one had occasional whiffs of antifreeze, but never found any buildup.
    The car runs fine except in the summer with A/C it sometimes runs hot.

  307. brian colombo March 23, 2009 at 5:59 am #

    ok, i just bought my gf a 1998 legacey 2.5. I believe i also have a head gasket issue but none of the above things are happening…. It does not overheat(in the 2k miles we put on it) does not smell like it is burning coolant, no exhaust smell in coolant tank, runs and drives perfect.. issue is when she goes out to start it in the morning after sitting all night is spits and sputters, a few times it even started knocking and the check engine light was flashing when she first drives it, i did a scan on it and it says cyl 1 and cyl 2 misfires. i assume it has a internal coolant leak and is jetting some coolant into the cyl after sitting overnignt. most times spits and sputters on start up runs rough for 15 sec then clears right up… any thoughts?

  308. Garth March 23, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for all the excellent information on this website. As a new (2003) Forester owner I can tell that I will be back. My Rue has 95k miles and I was wondering if it would be worth getting an aftermarket extended warranty at this point and if you have seen “better-than-others” warranty issuers? BTW the head gaskets, water pump, coolant has been replaced on this vehicle…

  309. Daniel Ligman March 23, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Great site and thank you for the information. My wife has a 2001 Legacy GT Limited with 107,000 miles and the engine just seized this past Friday. She was driving down the highway, and she said the engine made a terrible noise, there was a terrible smell and then the car just became undrivable. We had it towed to a local shop and they tried to start the car. They immediately recognized that the engine had seized and was going to need to be replaced or remanned. My wife said she noticed that the oil light had been on for about 2 days, but didn’t think much of it. I change the oil regularly and there was no oil leakage on the engine and no oil burning from the exhaust, yet when I pulled the dipstick there was only a small bit of oil on the tip. It was due for a change and I was going to do it that day before a weekend trip to Connecticut.

    As background, the car had the head gaskets done under warranty when it overheated on the highway in October 2006 at 75,000 miles. I had the timing belt and water pump done at the same time per the dealer’s recommendation. This work was done at a Subaru dealer about 150 miles away from my home near where it broke down. They seemed to be straight with us and the car came back working well.

    More recently, I’ve been dealing with a local Subaru dealer for inspections and various repairs that they inevitably say need to be done every time they look at it. Every time I go there, I feel like I’m being sold something, not being dealt with honestly. The A/C system was not working and I knew it needed a recharge, so I took it there to get that taken care of last week. Of course, they recommended a slew of things as they always do, which I turned down, but they did recharge the A/C and said the they found a leak and needed to replace a gasket and the A/C relay at a total cost of $250.

    Is there any reason to think that anything they did (or forgot to do) could have caused the engine to seize a few days later? What about the HG warranty work that was done in ’06? Should I be calling SOA about this issue only 32K miles after the HG and timing belt were replaced? At this point, I bought a used engine out of an ’02 Legacy GT with 68,000 miles on it from Ebay for $1,125.00 and plan on replacing the seized engine with that. My uncle is a mechanic with all the facilities to do this sans labor costs to me (I am a student, I’ve got to cut corners where I can), but I was considering tearing down this used engine to replace the head gaskets and water pump while it’s out so that I just don’t have to think about it.

    After reading your wonderful site it sounds like I should just do a complete engine reseal. I planned on driving this to 200K miles, but I don’t have the time and money to keep dropping on excessively expensive repairs going forward.
    How much should it cost for the complete set of parts to do what I need to do to have a worry free used engine? What course of action would you recommend? Thanks so much. I wish you were near Pittsburgh, I’d bring the car to you!


  310. S.N March 24, 2009 at 5:22 pm #

    Hello Justin,

    I have Subaru Legacy 2.0cc from 2000, european one, I’m second owner.

    I was just reading forums (educating my self because this is my first Subaru :)) and found out a lot of topics about head gasket problems.
    I decided to check out mine, because some times there is strange water circulation sound in saloon, when the engine is runing cold.
    So I started engine, than opened a coolant overflow bottle cap, and pushed rpm’s up, so I saw the bubbles in the overflow bottle. There was no oil, no smell of exhaust. Are those bobbles a normal made by water pump or I have a HG problem too?
    I checked out the same thing on one of my friends Impreza 2.0cc from 2000, and the result of the bubbles was the same, the guy doesn’t have any problems whit overheating.


  311. Mark March 25, 2009 at 12:31 am #

    I am in the process of replacing the head gaskets on a 1997 Legacy GT with the 2.5L motor. When I first removed the heads it took a 1/2″ breaker bar with a pipe extension and a gorilla to help me break the head bolts loose. This car has 152,000 miles on it so this may be the second time the head gaskets have been done and who-ever did them previously over torqued them or is that normal from the factory ? The reason I ask is because I have already re-assembled the driver side going through the 8 step process and noticed that it diden’t take anywhere near as much effort to complete the final 2 90° rotations as it did to break the bolts loose. So it has me spooked that it is going to be adequate. The other question I have is that I noticed you recommend using copper coat spray lightly on both sides of the gasket. I have had some people tell me not to use any kind of sealer on those kind of head gaskets. I diden’t find this web site until after I had bolted on the one side and now I wish I had used the copper coat. Would it be possible to remove that head and re-assemble it so I can coat the gasket with copper coat since the engine is still out and hasen’t been ran yet ? Or would I have to replace that new head gasket and the new head bolts in order to do this. I am determined to do this one time and simply want it work. The new head gaskets I bought look like the new one pictured on this page, I see that now there is yet another improvement out from Subaru, would it be worth it to use them instead since I have the engine right at the re-assembly stage ? It would mean more money but like I said I only want to do this once.



  312. Justin Stobb March 25, 2009 at 3:29 am #


    The misfires could be a coil or wire that is burnt or corroded at the coil towers, very common. Also if it has non O.E. type spark plugs a symptom like yours could occur. Since it’s new to you I would start with checking the obvious first.

    A flashing check engine light does indicate the vehicle should not be operated until its repaired, or more damage could occur.


  313. Justin Stobb March 25, 2009 at 3:51 am #


    You have to be really careful with the aftermarket warranties, as most expensive repairs are actually not covered and it’s really all hidden in the fine print.

    The most common thing we see in the contracts is exclusions for vehicles at a certain mileage when the contract is sold. Another words they cover seals and gaskets but not if the vehicle has over a certain mileage when the contract is sold. There are so many different companies and contracts it’s hard to suggest any one as they all have a different issues. You can Email me aside from the blog and I will tell you If I have any specific good or bad experiences with the policy you are looking at.

    If the head gaskets have already been done recently, and the rest of the Forester has been fairly well kept up, I would probably suggest putting the same money in a CD unless you have any reasons to suspect any other possible potential issues.

    After market warranties are really a bet with the policy maker, you are betting the car will break down and be covered they are betting it won’t break down and or be covered.


  314. Justin Stobb March 25, 2009 at 4:33 am #


    There is a lot to go over here and you will not like all I have to say but I am trying to help, the first thing is you should never ever ignore an oil light the vehicle should never be operated with an oil light on at all it means there is no oil pressure and the light is red in color which means stop!!! This info is all in the Owners manual and I know it’s not fun reading but a car is a complicated device and there are lots of opinions about when to do what to your car and lessons come hard and sometimes with a lofty price tag.

    There are other light on the dash as well that you and your wife both should be accustomed to same thing with maintenance intervals and so on. Be coming informed will help avoid the uneasy feeling you may be getting at the Dealership, and you have the right to take your car anywhere that makes you comfortable it’s always better to try and take your car somewhere you can establish a relationship with, it will always be better for you and your car in the long run

    If the oil level is ever found to be low it needs to be corrected before it is driven, if the vehicle was at the Dealer three days earlier for AC work it would have been helpful if they had checked and topped of the oil but that would be rare, it also would have been better to change the oil when it needs to be done which is every 3k or 3 months for most drivers. The higher the mileage the more important it is to check and correct the oil level every 500 miles as engines do use oil as part of the normal combustion process and some oils will burn away faster than others and really it’s the only way to avoid what just happened which was totally avoidable and while I understand this is all very frustrating and you don’t want to face repairs in the future but you may want to consider a different approach to the care of your Subaru after the used engine is put in.

    Yes any used engine should really be resealed before it goes in or you will be fixing head gasket leaks after its installed.


  315. Justin Stobb March 25, 2009 at 4:44 am #


    The 2.0l Euro spec should be a totally different head gasket and I don’t think they have some of the same issues as the 2.5l over in the states,

    I think you have a small air pocket in the cooling system or a small radiator hose leak that is pulling in a bit of air as the pressure in the cooling system releases? Sometimes air trapped in the cooling system will make a gurgling noise in the heater core which is in the cabin or (saloon):)


    Some bubbles are normal

  316. Justin Stobb March 25, 2009 at 4:48 am #


    The gaskets you have should be ok, Yes copper is really important to use it helps with expansion and contraction as well as making up for the tiny imperfections in the head and block surfaces.

    What you experienced with the head bolts sound about right.


  317. Marc March 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    I have an 06 Outback Wagon and from day one had occasional whiffs of antifreeze, but never found any buildup.
    The car runs fine except in the summer with A/C it sometimes runs hot. Could this be a head gasket problem or an a/c sensor or should I be looking for something else?

  318. brian colombo March 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    thanks justin, i will get some pugs and wires, what plugs should be used it it.. the only reason i though head gasket is because i had a civic with a bad head gasket, same thing would happen, started hard sometimes and stip and sputtered till it cleanout out the cyl’s coolant was in. i will try the wires and plugs first, it only happens every few days and the flashing check engine light and knocking/mis fire in cyl 1/2 has only happen twice but cleared up 20-30 sec later..

  319. Joel March 27, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    My wife’s 97 Subaru Outback Legacy recently began overheating. After checking or replacing every part of the cooling system I finally brought it in to a mechanic who told me it is likely a bad head gasket. He told me that the car will often over heat when you have been driving for a while and then begin to decelerate. He also mentioned that revving the engine should get the coolant to begin pumping again and temporarily lower the engine temperature. I tried this while driving home from the shop and it seemed to work but it still seems counter intuitive. If the cylinder pressure is escaping into the coolant system wouldn’t accelerating pump even more pressure and gasses into the system? Why would the pressure the water pump generates grow at a faster rate than the cylinder pressure during acceleration? If you could explain what is happening I would feel better about paying the $2500 he wants for the repair. I appreciate your help.


  320. Joel March 27, 2009 at 5:20 am #

    I forgot to ask if it is generally necessary to machine the heads when replacing the gasket? And can they be tested to find out?

    Thank you again,


  321. Justin Stobb March 28, 2009 at 8:38 pm #


    What you are describing will only work until a point at which the excessive heat and pressure created in the cooling system by the failed head gaskets allowing combustion chamber pressure and temperature into the cooling system can no longer be compensated by increased cooling system flow.

    Don’t put it off if the gaskets are failed, more damage can occur. As to should the heads be machined, yes if they are warped, no if they are not.


  322. James March 30, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    Hi there. I’ve got a 2000 Outback 4cyl. I bought it in early 2008 with 115K miles from a guy with extensive records. I now have 132K miles. I had a SOA pre-purchase inspection and they told me the head gaskets were “seeping” (as opposed to leaking) when I got it. I didn’t do anything about getting them replaced at the time because they quoted me ~$1800 and didn’t suggest it was urgent. I’ve never had trouble with oil on the driveway.

    Last time I got the oil changed, they told me I was a quart low. I’m about due for a change now and went on a 350-mile (round) trip this weekend. I swear it was a quart low before I left, so I added filled it up, but I look at it now and it looks like it might be almost 1/2 quart overfilled. I could have sworn it needed the whole quart!

    Anyway, when we got home, I smelled what I thought was burning oil, but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you the difference between anti-freeze and oil with my nose–only eyes.

    I got the 120K mile service on time, which included a coolant flush. Coolant looks bright green and opaque in the overflow container.

    Would a 1/2 quart oil overfill be the cause of my smell? Or are my head gaskets getting worse? Either way, am I SOL with SOA with respect to the cost of the head gasket repair?

    Thanks for the informative site.

  323. Bryan Pedersen April 2, 2009 at 5:10 am #

    I own a 87 VW Vanagon that Small Car in Tacoma WA installed 2001 2.5 Subaru engine for me a year ago. There has been a oil leak behind the oil filter along the seam of the head and the block. The oil leak has been there for over 30,000 Km (20,000 miles).
    The only problem I see is that I have a drop or two on the garage floor after I drive the Van.
    There is no oil in the coolent and I am not losing any coolant.
    Can I have an oil leak from the headgasket without having the danger of blowning the head gasket.

  324. Justin Stobb April 3, 2009 at 3:16 am #

    Hey James,

    It’s really hard to say, the H4 can be challenging to check the oil on sometimes and you really need to be patient why waiting for all of the oil to drain back down into the pan.

    Sometimes an over filled engine can push oil past seals.

    But most likely the gaskets are getting worse.


  325. Justin Stobb April 3, 2009 at 3:21 am #


    The right side gasket will typically leak oil. Watch out for the left side gasket leaking. (Well left side in a Subaru)

    The right side will seep and leak out oil for a while before the coolant fed portion of the gasket will fail.

  326. Stu April 4, 2009 at 6:25 am #

    I own a 03 Outback w the H6 3.0 in it. I have replaced the radiator and thermostat and heater core over the last 3 months. I am still overheating. My mechanic says it could be head gasket. I have 130k on it and i would like to know what you have scene happen with the v6. I read through all of these and see no mention of the v6. I loved this car before all of these problems. I still owe money on this vehicle and would love a new one but i know i’ll get raped trying to trade it in. what should i do? what would be a good rate on the head gasket? Very few people seem to hadve a lot of knowledge of the H6. Im scared to have the work done improperly.

  327. Justin Stobb April 4, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    Hey Stu,

    So far on the H6 we have seen oil leaks on neglected cars and replaced some timing chain guides.

    The H6 is a much more complicated engine
    and I do not suggest someone who isn’t very very familiar with Subaru make any repairs, the timing cover alone is a extremely complicated task.

    It’s possible to have a head gasket issue, but not common.


  328. Jason Burke April 7, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    I have a 99 Subaru Forester (2.5L H4, non-turbo) that needs the head gasket replaced. I’m getting quotes for $1600-2500 in Charlottesville, VA. I like the car a lot but I’m worried that after paying for that repair something else might go (transmission?) or that the overheating that happened before we realized the head gasket was leaking might have caused unfixable damage.

    So … question: Is replacing the head gasket always worth it? Can I probably expect no other major repairs?

    BTW, fantastic website!

  329. Matt April 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm #


    I have a 2002 Legacy L sedan with 73k miles on it. I was informed yesterday that there is a very small oil leak coming from the left head gasket. The mechanic told me that I should just keep an eye on it for now. He said that as long as I don’t start losing obscene amounts of oil or coolant, it is possible to keep driving it until around 100k when the timing belt and everything need replaced anyway. I generally trust the opinion of this mechanic, but I am not so sure about waiting on the repair. I don’t want to make an easy fix a hard fix by screwing things up worse. (even though I would rather wait to shell out $1500) Any thoughts?

  330. Jarrad April 9, 2009 at 1:12 am #

    Hi, I have a 1994 Subaru TSR non turbo. Recently it has over heated a few times. When idleing it would make a loud rattle and shake then stop, when checking the overflow it was full, but the radiator would be empty, or full of hot air. It would need a few litres of water to refill. This has happened a few times, but other times it would last for days with no water loss?

    Another symptom is loss of RPM when taking my foot off the accellerator, it simply drops right down then bounces up slightly and only occasionally holds rpm with out the pedal down. The check engine light is on.

    I took it to a mechanic who replaced the thermostat, and fixed a crack in the radiator side tank (probably caused by the overheating I suspect)as well as cleaned the radiator as it was half blocked. I now have it back but it still seems to lose rpm like before? I havn’t run it long enough to know if it will overheat again but I don’t feel confident…

    Water does’nt seem oily.

    Thoughts…? Jarrad.

  331. David April 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    I’m thinking about purchasing a 1996 Subaru Outback. with 220k miles on it(says mainly highway miles). asking price is 1250. anyone think this is a good deal? what shoud i be looking for? i need the car to last 2-3yrs. looks like its been well kept, from pictures. but, haven’t been out to drive it yet. is it a waste of time? thanks

  332. Dianne April 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm #

    Hi Justin –

    Thank you for an extremely informative site. Your comment “We have yet to see a repaired and properly maintained vehicle have the same problem twice. And we feel that when the repair is done completely, it is a bump in the road to 300K miles” caught my attention, as unfortunately I have that problem.

    I have a 2.5 liter 2001 Subaru Outback that had the headgasket replaced, by Subaru Service, at about 54K miles. For the 8 years I have owned this vehicle I have brought it into Subaru Service for ALL maintenance and repair according to the Subaru schedule, including regular oil changes at about every 3K-3.5K miles. Even though the guys at Subaru Service know me during my 8 years of maintenance & repair, SOA can also check my VIN number in their files for verification. I am now at 158K miles, and during my last trip there, they are telling me I need to have the head gasket replaced – again!! I have never had any major engine problems, as some of the people have been writing to you about(no overheating, doesn’t burn oil, etc)have had. I had the 150K maintenance done by Subaru Service back in Jan 09 and nothing was said. I feel that I have done everything a consumer can do to maintain a car to last well into the 300K mile range. I believe that there must either have been a problem in the work that Subaru did in the first headgasket repair, or that there must be a severe defect in my engine to have to replace this a second time, and that this is more than a maintenance issue that I could have prevented. And as such, I feel that SOA should be picking up the tab for this repair, not me. Do you think I have a leg to stand on or am I going to be out of luck and have to cough up the 2K to have it replaced? Thanks for your advise. Dianne

  333. Justin Stobb April 9, 2009 at 7:13 pm #


    I am at a disadvantage as far as other possible needs, but I will try and explain my stance on worth and value in repairs. If the vehicle meets your needs now and for the foreseeable future I would encourage you to fix and maintain what you currently have. Any money spent on the Forester will be less money than any new or newer used car will depreciate in the same 3 to 5 year time horizon.

    If there are no transmission symptoms now and the transmission has been maintained it should be ok.


  334. Justin Stobb April 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm #


    I generally suggest repairing it as soon as you can budget for it.

    It starts out like you have mentioned and usually will get worse and sometimes with out much warning. Waiting can cost more if it overheats and the head become warped. You are most likely a long way from this but that is the argument for being preventative with the repairs done early.


  335. Sebastian April 10, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    I am interested in buying a 1996 Subaru its got a blown head gasket on the passenger side! and some body damage on the drivers side. But its only 600 and I am pretty good with cars replaced a few engines mostly in muscle cars though. I suppose my question is how hard is it to replace the head gasket! I have all the tools I need. does the engine need to be taken out or can the head gasket be replaced while its still in the car? the car has 160k on it and I dont think it was ran very long after it over heated!
    Thanks for all the advice on the web sight!

  336. Justin Stobb April 10, 2009 at 4:21 am #


    For 1250 its not that big a gamble.

    Our 1998 is at 260,000 and still going


  337. Justin Stobb April 10, 2009 at 4:32 am #

    Hi Dianne,

    Sounds frustrating!

    By Subaru Service do you mean the Subaru Dealer service department?

    It’s hard to say but I am a bit confused how you went from no leaks in January to needing repairs in April?

    I don’t really think there is much SOA is going to offer you at this point as it is well out of warranty.

    I hope at least the repairs at 54k were done at n/c


    Part of the reason we sourced out something other then the gaskets made by Subaru is we were a little worried about the longevity of the Subaru updated gasket.

  338. Justin Stobb April 10, 2009 at 4:38 am #


    The DOHC head gasket repair is a big job, we have helped a lot of people who have purchased our head gasket kits do it themselves.

  339. Dianne April 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    Thank you, Justin.

    Yes, it is extremely frustrating. And yes, all maintenance & repairs were thru the Subaru Dealer service, and they did cover the first headgasket replacement at 54K under warranty. They also covered the WWP-99 recall work that was supposed to prevent and/or fix the problem at 24K, which it obviously did not since I still had the coolant leak at 54K.

    Very shortly after I brought my car in for the 150K service, I noticed (mostly when really cold) that if I let the car warm up, when I got into it I smelled gas or engine in the car. As soon as I drove, it went away. I don’t have any signs of leakage, and they gave me all green circles on the nice little inspection checklist. My car has never overheated, I’ve never had any signs of engine or electrical problems, and I replaced the battery at 4 & 8 years (no corrosion).

    So when I brought it in for its last oil change I asked them to check on the smell, thinking I had a line with a leak or something was messed up from the 150K work. Needing ANOTHER head gasket replacement was the last thing I thought the problem was. After all, it’s not like replacing the head gasket is a regular maintenance item – if so, it would be listed in their maintenance manual along with other long distance, high cost items like the timing belt. No one in their right mind would buy a car with “replace head gasket at 100K” (the extended warranty from SOA for this problem) listed in its service maintenance guide!

    When I bought my Outback, I sold my Mazda with almost 160K miles – I never needed to replace a headgasket. My brother inherited my Honda when I bought my Mazda and he put almost 300K miles on the Honda – never replaced a headgasket. Another brother had a Mazda pickup with well over 300K miles and never replaced a headgasket. My dad even had older American vehicles (believe it or not!) that lasted over 200K with never needing a headgasket replacement. So there is history with taking care of cars so they last…..

    My point: In my opinion cars are built (especially with today’s technology) to last over 300K if properly taken care of and not abused. And one would think spending the extra money for dealer service to ensure that proper maintenance and repair would provide extra protection for the vehicle to last as long as you want. However, nothing can protect against a lemon.

    Or the fact that Subaru has a major problem/flaw with its engine design or its physical functionality or both. I wouldn’t consider a headgasket a maintenance item if the engine/block is of solid, functional design and physically intact. Seems like their “horizontally opposed engine” doesn’t meet that criteria and there-in really lies the problem. As such, the potential car buyer should be told if you don’t keep your coolant & oil in excellent condition, be prepared to have to replace your headgasket at 100K. What, I did that, and I still am looking at TWO head gasket replacements in under 160K miles! So seems like they SHOULD have a maintenance line item to replace the head gasket at 100K due to their engine design.

    I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet and cannot believe all the problems with Subaru engines & head gaskets. I WAS going to get another Outback to replace this one, but after having a better understanding of what the problem is from an engine design perspective, I will go with another AWD vehicle.

    Thanks. Dianne

  340. Dan Navarro April 10, 2009 at 8:02 pm #


    First, thanks so much for this website. The information presented here is excellent.

    This morning, I took my 2002 Subaru Outback with 76,000 miles for a simple $30 oil change. 45 minutes later, the service advisor came back and said there is internal leakage through the tube seals. To fix the problem, he recommended new valve cover gaskets, tube seals, spark plugs, and spark plug wires for $1,000. Needless to say, I was floored, both at the price and the fact that there is nothing visibly wrong with the car (we just took it on a trip…no problems at all).

    Am I being scammed, or should I move forward with this repair?



  341. Dianne April 11, 2009 at 1:18 am #

    Hi Justin –

    I had a visit at my Subaru dealer service center this afternoon to schedule the headgasket work, but to also talk with the service manager & fill him in on that I planned to contact SOA about my situation. I figured there wouldn’t be anything he/service could do as my Outback is out of warranty, that only SOA could do something, but because I do have a good relationship with them, I wanted to give them a heads up out of courtesy.

    As we spoke he went on line and clicked through my records. He knew I was/am a regular customer, but I don’t think he really knew the extent until he flipped through my 8 yrs of maintenance & service. He said “you have an impeccable service record, starting from your 1500 mi oil change.” He also agreed that I had done everything possible to prevent this from happening, and you could see his suprise at my situation.

    He asked me how much I was quoted & I said $2200. He said that was correct and offered, “what if you don’t make any calls & I take off half the cost right up front. I have a good relationship with the SOA regional rep & I will work on your behalf to get SOA to cover half of the expense”.

    I accepted his offer, as I believe it is a fair one, considering the miles I have on the car. It was also nice to be heard and to be acknowledged. And the time & effort he will save me by doing the legwork with SOA is worth the half I will have to pay.

    I know my frustration came out in my last posting, so I feel it is only fair that I post the other, more positive, side of the story as well.

    Thank you for an excellent website, which has not only enabled me to expand my working knowledge about my Outback, but about cars in general.

  342. Justin Stobb April 15, 2009 at 2:54 am #


    That’s all great! Thanks for sharing your experience.


  343. Justin Stobb April 15, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    Hi Dan,

    Here are some realistic prices to pay:

    Valve cover gaskets including plug well seals, valve cover gaskets, bolt seals and an oil filler tube o-ring = $289.00 (our shop) dealer will be higher figure 15% to 20% higher.

    Wires $67.99

    Plugs $16.98

    They could add an hour’s labor to do the plugs and wires if they wanted but still it would be under $1000.00

    I hope this helps


  344. Joe Bonhoff April 15, 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    I have a ’97 Subaru and was having overheating problems. The explanation in this site was exactly the same problems I had. Intermitent overheating, bubbles in the coolant reservoir, no white smoke in exhaust. Hard to diagnose. Looked for air gap bleeder valve but there are none. Started with thermostat, then radiator, then another after the mechanic put the wrong one on (early vs late 97), then water pump. What a crock!!! I drove it every day for three weeks without it overheating and them BAM it overheated again. Had lots of opinions up to replaceing the engine to the tune of $5200! Fthat! Found this explanation and had the head gaskets replaced. One month now and no further problems! The head gasket failed allowing hot gasses to escape into coolant chamber but no coolant back into combustion chamber.

  345. Becky April 19, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    I have a 2005 Outback with 78K miles. It died two days ago and had to be towed. The Wilde dealership in Waukesha WI said there is a blown cyldiner head and it’s going to cost $3000. This should not happen at this mileage. Any suggestions how to approach this situation?

  346. GM April 20, 2009 at 2:04 am #

    My 2004 Impreza TS needed Gasket and Pistons replaced at under 45K Miles. It was just above 5 Years, but Subaru graciously agreed to do the work for a 100$ deductible.

    This is my first car where the Pistons wore out before the brake pads (.. and brake pads are designed to wear out!)

    Considering the number of cars at the dealership having similar issues, this almost seems like a regular maintenance item for Subaru’s.

  347. Greg April 25, 2009 at 4:54 am #

    I have a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback 2.5L that needs a head gasket. I was wondering if you knew anything about the Felpro Permatorque MLS head gasket? Would this be a good gasket to use, or is there a better one?

  348. Justin Stobb April 25, 2009 at 7:00 pm #


    $3000.00 for a blown head gasket is too high, I would question this price and find out what else is being done.


  349. Justin Stobb April 25, 2009 at 7:02 pm #


    The piston thing is a bit of a puzzle , that isn’t all that common on a 2005, but there are always exceptions, did you have a knocking or slapping type of a noise?


  350. Justin Stobb April 25, 2009 at 7:05 pm #


    There are better choices for a head gasket either the Subaru replacement gaskets or the ones we sell are a better choice than what you have mentioned in my opinion. You can request a price on a head gasket kit here;


  351. Greg April 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm #

    Thanks Justin! I’ve requested a quote. I don’t want to have to do this again any time soon, thus the question.

  352. GM April 27, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    Its a 2004 Impreza TS.

    The car making a strange pinging/knocking noise when cold. Dealer replaced piston set (Part# 12006AC920) on left side – excessively worn skirt, believe it was related to the gasket leaking oil on the same side (left). The cylinder bore etc seemed fine.

  353. Looking for Sub, 2006 May 2, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    Wow, great site. I had a outback a while back (2000) but had to sell it after the dot com bust. I always like the subie and am thinking of getting a used one. I’m thinking of a 2005+ since you mentioned they seem better then the 2000-2004. I know you mentioned you’ve seen less gasket problems in the late model engines, but do you know if they actually changed anything that would have made the engines more reliable? Thanks and too bad I’m down in california or I’d go to your shop for all my repairs.

  354. Justin Stobb May 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    Looking for a Sub,

    The gasket for the 05i is the part number 633 which here and there does seem to fail, its same gasket that is in the 04i.

    So no major changes in gasket design, but better knowledge of maintenance requirements has at this point seemed to have made a difference as well as a little more precision in the combustion process keeping temperatures more consistent.

    Here is what I can say for sure, I can count on one hand the number of 60k plus 05’s we have seen with external coolant leaks at this time, where by the time the 00 to 02 had 60k we were seeing multiple issues every week it seemed.

    There has been an improvement in longevity for sure but I cant say it will never happen.


  355. Margaret Wellons May 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    What an incredibly helpful service you provide! Just spent over an hour reading it from start to finish and you are an angel!

    So here’s the story. I have a 2002 Subaru Outback with 54+ thousand miles and just found that I need head gasket job for $2100 at Subaru Service Center in Albany, CA. It is not on the list of VINs for 8 yr. warranty coverage but I am waiting on SOA to call me back as I am definitely going to push for free labor with only 54,000 miles on the car. Do you think I should ask for the money to spend at Art’s Automotive which is a great shop nearby (though more expensive because they do all the things you mention at the same time) or just let the mechanic at the Dealer do it? He seemed very good, mature and articulate and encouraged me to see if SOA would help given the mileage. And I am willing to pay extra and ask him to add on the timing belt, water pump and coolant hoses you suggest.

    Thanks so muchfor any help you can offer. Keep up the great service.

  356. Justin Stobb May 6, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    H, Margaret

    If SOA participates you will most likely have to have the repairs done at the Dealer. But inquire about the engine coming out for the repairs. Which ever way it works out, while it is apart have the timing belt, tensioner, idlers and water pump done if they are needed or as preventative maintenance to keep forward going ownership costs down.

    Thanks for the kind words about our Website


  357. Mike M - Connecticut May 8, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    Dead-on great site! I have a question unrelated to head gaskets, but first my HG experience: blown gaskets (both) at 93k, on a 2002 2.5i. Resulted in a cracked block one weak after HG replacement. Dealer dropped a new short block in after getting Subaru USA to cover it under warranty. I was impressed by them – I’m impressed by your site as well.

    45,000 miles later I have a compeltely different problem. I have had some leakage from the front transfer case. Noise from the case, no squeals or bangs, just steady scraping. Metal has been found in the transfer case oil. Only symptom so far is car gently slips out of 4th gear if I come off the gas, especially coming off the gas while going uphill. I can easily keep 4th gear fully engaged by keeping my hand on the (standard) shifter. What will happen if, rather than replacing the transfer case (I assume the problem IS there), I simply keep regularly changing out the oil in the transfer case. I’m thinking that if I change the oil often enough, I’ll get the remaining metal bits out, compensate for the seal leak, and can happily drive along with my hand on the stick to compensate for fourth gear potential disengagement (really no pressure to keep the gear engaged, and it is fully engaged). Or, am I just dreaming and setting myself up for more trouble with the transmission box?

  358. Justin Stobb May 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm #

    Hey Mike,

    On a Subaru, the Standard transmission employs what is called a viscous coupler that engages the AWD system, the transmission fluid flows through the entire transmission assembly so if there is a gear or syncro problem any debris being generated could travel throughout the entire gear box and could take a repair and turn it into a full rebuild.

    You are probably already at risk for debris being in some of the bearings. There are some in there that can really start to add up.

    Hope this helps


  359. Jen Satt May 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks so much for your site! I really appreciate the empowering knowledge!

    I have an 04 Legacy Outback wagon with 67k that I just took to my local dealer for an annual inspection. Even though I haven’t noticed any engine problems or excess oil usage, I was informed the head gaskets are leaking oil and the oil pump needs to be resealed (estimated cost $1800-2000).

    Is this looking to be a common problem for the 04’s now, or am I just unlucky? I looked at the warranty and it’s like a cruel joke (60k/5yr) since I just missed both mileage and year cutoffs by a painfully small amount. Do you think it’s worthwhile to contact SOA?

    I can’t afford these repairs right now. In your opinion, what are the risks for having to “let this issue go” for a few months?

    Thanks so much for your help,


  360. Justin Stobb May 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    Hello Jen,

    As long as it’s just an oil leak you should have some time. It’s always worth a call since the mileage is so low. If it is leaking coolant have it done soon.

    We have seen more and more issues with the 03 and 04 but still mostly oil and not coolant.


  361. Jo May 13, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    I have a 2001 Forester S with 95,000 miles. I was recently told that the head gasket was leaking and had to be replaced. The total bill, including some additional items (i.e., timing belt, water pump) I was told should be replaced at the same time, is $2,200! I was told a few months ago that there was a leak, but a second mechanic said it was not a problem, just typical of a vehicle this age/mileage.

    I started doing research on the web and found a LOT of info on Subarus and head gasket problems. First of all, I never received the notice from SOA telling about this problem and the extended 8 year/100,000 mile warranty. I took delivery of the car in Sept. 2000 so it is now past the 8 year mark.

    The other odd thing is that I have not had any of the problems mentioned here or on other sites; no overheating, loss of fluids, etc. The only thing I have noticed is a burning smell when I turn the car off. The car has been very well maintained and runs fine as it always has!

    My question is, where do I go from here? Should I approach the dealer or SOA about warranty coverage,even though the car is 8 months past the 8 years? If they will not cover it, is it worth it to spend this much money on the car? I am concerned that if I do, this could be the beginning of a number of major repairs (such as transmission), and maybe I would be bette off getting a new car.
    Thank you so much for this website and your help!

  362. BB May 14, 2009 at 4:59 am #

    I have a chance to buy a 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon with 185k for $2500. The interior is almost perfect and aside from a good sized dent in the passenger door the body is in fantastic shape for a 10 year old car.

    Now the trouble list.
    1. On the test drive the speedometer is working only occasionally. On a 10 mile test drive it only registered 2 miles.
    2.There is oil visible on top of the engine on the passenger side.
    3.The overflow bottle has a pretty good build up of dark oily looking and feeling sludge built up in it right to the top.
    4. Parking brake doesn’t work
    5. Clutch pedal sticks so you have to occasionally pop it back up with your foot.
    6. Right channels in the stereo don’t work
    7. Needs tires

    My local shop can replace the: head gasket, valve cover gaskets, timing belt, water pump, change the transmission fluid, change the coolant, oil change, lube clutch pedal, and fix parking brake for about $2100. Replacing the speedometer will run about $300. $2400 (not including tires and fixing the stereo) seems like a lot to put into a vehicle with mileage this high. Especially when the next major failure e.g. clutch might be right around the corner. I’m also concerned that with the speedo on the fritz the actual miles could be much higher and if the head gasket is bad (which the sludge points to) there is no telling how long it has been or if the engine has been overheated.

    I like the car but it seems more like a project, and potentially a very expensive one, than a reliable vehicle.

    Any thoughts?

  363. Justin Stobb May 15, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    Hello Jo,
    The worth it thing is always hard to try and explain, but $2,200 is far less than you will spend buying another car. If you like the car I would suggest fixing it, but only if you like the car and it suits your needs. Here is the situation we are in right now, new types of cars will be rolling out in the next couple of years, wait for someone else to work out the bugs with the first models and buy one of these cars in a few years. I am not a big fan of most cars that are being produced right now it’s just the newer version of what you already own. Cars are a tool not an asset there is truly no way to look at repair value versus vehicle value; I would encourage you to think about which impacts your bank account more.

    The 01 will typically leak out fluid externally from the head gaskets rather than fail internally and cause an overheating situation, we have seen plenty of 2nd generation fail internally as well but the typical thing is an external leak of oil and coolant from the left side gasket especially.

    It’s always worth a call to SOA, but your VIN # will dictate coverage under the WWP-99 campaign.

    It’s common to question the whole car when one system has failed, but all cars need work at some point, every line has their issues. There is no guarantee your car won’t need something else in the future and I have no idea the condition of the Transmission fluid or how often the fluid was changed (due of every 30k).

  364. Justin Stobb May 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm #


    It’s a great way to go in my opinion, buying a car that needs work, having that work done and having a portion of your used car under warranty!

    A good shop will warranty the repairs they make for at least one year, granted the whole car won’t be under warranty but it will be better than buying a car with no warranty at all.


  365. Clay May 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm #


    I took my 03 Baja in to a dealer service for a oil change and they took me under the car and showed me what they at first said was an oil leak on one side and coolant on the other, both they attributed to head-gasket leaks.

    It had been about a quart low on oil before I brought it in and only JUST passed 100k miles a couple weeks ago, with regular changes aside from one or two 5k lapses. Never overheated and I never detected any strange smell, so I’m hoping I caught it in time. I left it there as the leaks were covered under my Carmax warranty, and they mentioned they would use overlapping labor to change the timing belt/drive belt (drive belt had some chunks out of it and it seemed a bad idea to risk it to drive).

    I thought I’d caught it just in time and got a good deal (since it saved me on timing belt replacement cost) but the next day they called back to say it was only the left head gasket that leaked and the coolant had been splatter from the water pump (which they are now replacing). Would this splatter compromise the right head gasket seal?

    They are saying it is cheaper now to replace the right head-gasket ($600 now opposed to $1400 later). Since they say it hadn’t obviously failed, I don’t suppose I can get SOA to participate in its replacement? Is it fine to replace the gasket on just one side or can expect it to fail soon down the line?

    Can opening it compromise the factory seal if it isn’t leaking (so they say now). Maybe I can wrangle the water pump hose into it since it pump was bad.

    Also I am requesting they do this work with the engine removed, but not sure if they will play nice about that.

    Your site provides a valuable service in a sometimes confusing industry. Thank you for any insight you can provide!

  366. Lori May 20, 2009 at 6:04 am #

    I’m looking for a good used Forester. I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and I’ve had Subarus since 1987 and love them. I’ve had 3 different manual transmission Foresters checked by independent mechanics, two 1998s, one of which needed a rack-in-pinyon (quoted approx. $900), and the other the infamous head gasket (quoted $2500). The third was a 2001 (through an auto broker), and when the mechanic checked it, there was NO OIL IN THE ENGINE! I declined to purchase all 3 vehicles. What is your feeling on years 2003 – 2006? What do you see as the pros and cons of each? I really appreciate your help. Thank you!

  367. Claudia Coleman May 23, 2009 at 12:16 am #

    I have a 2003 Subaru Forester and I was advised today that I have a head gasket problem and that it would take approximately $1300 to fix. Is this a recall issue that should be fixed by the mfg?

  368. Justin Stobb May 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm #


    It’s always my advice to replace both sides.

    I am a bit confused by the water pump splatter thing. The left side head gasket will typically leak out coolant and oil externally, and the right side oil.


  369. Justin Stobb May 26, 2009 at 5:06 pm #


    My advice is to buy the car that needs the work done especially blown head gaskets, as long as the repairs that are needed are reflected as a discount in the price to purchase, establish a good relationship with a good Independent Subaru shop, then have the repairs done. You will then have a used car with a partial warranty. Meaning that any good Subaru shop will honor repair warranties for a minimum of 1 year or 12k, this doesn’t mean the whole car is under warranty but you will have addressed the typical Subaru issue and should have relatively trouble free ownership going forward. A lot of times drivers will dump their good car based on the emotion of it needing repairs rather than think the actual cost of repair versus replacement costs, and this can be an excellent time to take advantage of a good deal on a used car that needs work. Now if you don’t have or can’t really find a good Subaru shop in your area then my advice above won’t really work out.

    Pretty much if you are looking at the era Subaru you have mentioned it will probably need some repairs even if it isn’t right after purchase.


  370. Justin Stobb May 26, 2009 at 5:16 pm #


    As too the 03 to 06 models. We see 03, and 04 for external head gasket leaks but not at the same rate the 1999 to 2002 came in.

    2005 and 2006 seem to be ok at this point.

    The biggest con is the money spent in purchase price in my opinion and keep in mind the newer the car the more there is to go wrong especially with the emissions control systems. Biggest pro is ownership costs should be low for the next couple of years but you are just really paying for it in a higher purchase price.


  371. Justin Stobb May 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm #


    Recalls are more about safety, then fluid leaks, and there isn’t a recall for the head gaskets only a campaign pertaining to certain Subaru years and models.

    You can always call SOA (the number in your owner’s manual) if you have service records you get some participation.


  372. Greta May 28, 2009 at 7:38 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    I came across your website last night and I was impressed by your knowledge of Subarus. What a great resource…thank you!

    Now, on to my dilema. I have a 2002 Outback Limited wagon with 129,000 miles (I have owned the car for 60,000 miles). I have owned the car for four years. During that time I have paid for two sets of tires, replaced the breaks three times and rotors twice, fixed a large rust spot and just spent $500 on a tune up. I still owe $3000 on the car and my mechanic just gave me a grocery list of repairs including:
    1. Replace Catalytic Converter $740. 2. Timing belt, Water pump, drive belts $534. 3. Engine oil pump re-seal $155. 4. Front end stabalizer bar end leaks $199 5. Brake system fluid flush $58. 6. Transmission service $78. 7. Engine frost plug heater starting to leak $146. 8. Front wheel bearing $420.00.

    I have spent about $1500 in the last few months and now they are saying I need to spend another $2300 with all of the work listed above. Is it time to sell? If I keep it does all of this work really need to be done to keep the thing running? I have not done the timing belt so I know I would need to replace that for sure if we decide to keep it. My mechanic is interested in buying my car so I’m not sure if he is just giving me this grocery list to knock the price down. I have always trusted him so I don’t think that is the case but this just seems excessive. This is our third Subaru and we have never had issues like this before (my husband has 230,000 miles on his 96 Outback wagon). I’m wondering if I should just take advandtage of the deals they are having on the 09 Subarus due to the new style coming out in a month. Help!! I would love to hear your advice!
    Thanks, Greta

  373. Harry May 29, 2009 at 12:49 am #


    Thanks for the web site, very informative and useful. I both respect and appreciate what you do.

    I’ve driven many Subaru’s and they have been solid. I recently bought a 2002 Forester at 102k, knowing it may have head gasket problems. I am not one hundred percent sure if it’s the head gasket and so I must request your expertise.

    She stated the head gaskets “may” have been done or the conditioner added, she is not really sure. The car has a new radiator, and I suspect a new thermostat. The first time I started it up, I ran it for a half hour and it ran with the temp gage at about a steady half. I must note the coolant reservoir was on the low side and the radiator was a little low as well.

    The second time I drove it about 10 miles and when I stopped at idle it creped up to 3/4. However when I reved the engine at around 4k, it dropped back to half. So I grabbed a couple gallons of water for the road (just in case) and gave her a quick once over and left for home, about 220 miles. It ran a little cooler on the way home, about 1/3.

    I stopped about half way home to give it a once over and found the over flow to be full and foamy. The temp started to creep up again to about 5/8. I continued to drive and it came back down. About 10 miles from my house, it spiked and got hot, but not in the red. I pulled over and the overflow was full. I waited a few minutes and opened the radiator. It was low. I poured in about 3 quarts of water and the temp came down quick, so I drove it home. I drove it all weekend and it seemed ok, but I didn’t go any further than 3 miles from my house.

    Do you think this could be the head gasket? It runs slightly rough, sometimes. I haven’t noticed any white exhaust, yet. I also haven’t done a compression test yet. The oil is clear. The coolant is new and so it’s hard to tell if it is contaminated, yet. It looks rather clean, but I’m sure it was just replaced. Would the exhaust smell be obvious in the coolant? There appears to be some slight brown staining on the walls of the overflow.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I wouldn’t want to attempt doing these head gaskets, only to find out I was wrong.


  374. Doug Basler May 30, 2009 at 1:09 am #


    I have a 99 Legacy Outback, I bought used with 109,000 miles. We moved across country and it overheated along the way, a dealer did the HG’s, water pump, timing belt, etc. and most of it was covered by Subaru since I purchased it from a dealer and it was just a week later we had the problems. But, two years later we had more work on the HG’s and now, two years later, it is back in the shop with two blown head gaskets. We are in Aberdeen, WA and the local shop, who seem to know about Subarus, have found a used ’98 engine they can replace ours with for minimum $4500. Otherwise they said they could do the HG work again, but they don’t recommend it give the fact that this is the third time we have had it in for this same problem since we bought it. Do you think putting in a ’98 engine for that much would make sense, doing the HG’s again and hoping for the best or should we count our losses and buy a whole new vehicle? The body and such is in perfect condition.

    Thanks for all you input on the website.


  375. Doug Basler May 30, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    By the way – in that 4 year time period we have kept up-to-date on all the normal services, oil changes, tune-ups, etc.


  376. steve williams May 31, 2009 at 7:03 am #

    Can’t thank you guys enough. Great site, awesome info. I been pullin my hair out trying to figure out what was wrong with my 99 ob.Pretty sure now so maybe ill sleep tonight without playing the “what the heck can it be….” game. Keep up the good work fellas.

  377. Justin Stobb June 1, 2009 at 4:25 pm #


    Most of the things you have mentioned are pretty typical and the prices seem about right.

    To the new car thing, if you want a new car as a result of your current car no longer meeting your needs or even just because you want a new car I am sure you deserve one. But in the coming years there will be better choices out there in regards to fuel economy and possible alternate fuel types. You may want to wait for those to come out but you are in a better position than I am in regards to your ability to buy a new car now and look at the alternatives in a few years as well, that is if that is anything that interests you.


  378. Justin Stobb June 1, 2009 at 6:41 pm #


    With the staining in the overflow there is a good chance you are at the beginning of a head gasket issue. Sometimes the smell of exhaust can take awhile to show up. A compression test won’t really reveal an issue especially since expansion from temperature is part of the problem and a cylinder leaking test would be the test to perform anyways but again it really needs to be done as the head is expanding to be accurate.


  379. Justin Stobb June 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    Hello Doug,

    This is a tough call as I suspect the quality of work that was done wasn’t all that great if it is a problem already two years later, I will also say that junking the whole engine due to gasket failure is probably not the best idea either. If a Cylinder head is warped it can be corrected, if the block is faulty then no it can’t and maybe look for an engine then. Any used engine you buy is going to need all the same things done to it that your current engine does anyways. I would suggest having yours repaired properly unless a problem is found during the teardown process.


  380. Clare June 9, 2009 at 12:36 am #


    I have a 2005 Forrester, and as of yet have had little problems with it. A friend of mine said that I could send you my vehichles vin # and you could discern whether or not my car was liable to develop the head gasket problem later in life…
    I would like to know if it was in that percentile, if it could be figured out that way.
    Any insight you might have would be helpful.
    Thank you.

  381. Amy June 12, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    I’m looking for a used car for our teenage children who like to ski. I think a used Subaru would be great for them. There are a couple of Outbacks on Craigslist which I’m looking at. One is a 1999 with 103,000 miles and the other a 2000 with 90,000 miles. If I bought a used Subaru of this vintage, would it be a good idea to just go ahead and have the HG changed as preventative maintenance or wait until something goes wrong. I’m worried that the teenage drivers might not recognize the early signs of this HG problem. About how much does the HG job cost and how does one go about finding a qualified mechanic to do the job?

  382. Kristin June 13, 2009 at 3:38 am #

    Hi Justin

    Thanks so much for this site. Wish I lived in Seattle!

    I took my 1999 Subaru Outback to a dealer on Saturday for the 90,000 service. (My car has probably over 100000 miles on it. I am not sure exactly because the odometer has been broken for about three years) They said that I need to replace the head gaskets and that they measured the hydrocarbons at around 250 parts per million. I also have a loose wheel bearing and was quoted 3100-3500, depending on whether the wheel bearing hub needed replaced. The service would include replacing the timing belt and some coolant hoses which they said had some internal cracking.

    I was unsure about whether to do all this or consider a new car (which I can’t afford without wiping out my savings) and so I started looking on-line and found you site. After thinking about it and looking at yours and other sites on the web, I decided that the repairs were worth it, but decided to get a second opinion/estimate.

    I took it to an independent shop today and they could not find a problem with the head gaskets. They didn’t find any hydrocarbons in the cooling system and said they did a pressure test on the coolent system which came out fine. They recommend replacing the wheel bearing and hub and replacing the valve cover gaskets which are leaking. They also recommended changing the timing belt, including the water pump and thermostat, which makes sense to me. They didn’t mention any problems with the coolent hoses.

    Now, I am very confused and don’t know who to believe. I know that someone could have made a mistake or was not honest, but I am also wondering if the 2nd shop may not have found the head gasket problem because part of the 90,000 mile service included flushing the coolent system. They don’t seem to think so because of the pressure test.

    What is the best way to determine whether there is a head gasket problem? Is it the hydrocarbons or a pressure test? Should I wait until I have driven it longer since the coolent system flush and take it back again?

    This car has not overheated and the shop today did not find any loss of coolent (it has been a week in between visits)

    Do I need to get a third opinion? These cost money that I could be spending towards repairs.

    Any thoughts or insight would be greatly appreciated. I don’t know much about cars.

  383. Justin Stobb June 13, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    Hello Clare,

    The Forester is covered by Subaru’s 5 year 60k warranty unless you purchased an extended warranty.

    I can’t tell if your vehicle will develop a head gasket issue or not by running the VIN # but I would encourage you to keep up on your foresters maintenance and you should be ok.


  384. Justin Stobb June 13, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Hello Amy,

    It’s hard to say without knowing what condition the cars are in but we do suggest repairing the head gaskets as soon as possible on the first Gen 2.5l(the 1999 Outback) as these can go from a minor problem to overeating very quickly in some cases. It’s generally ok on the 2nd Gen 2.5l to monitor it for external leaks and repair as needed.

    This is what I would say is typical but in some cases the 2nd Gen 2.5l can have internal head gaskets issues as well that can lead to overheating.

    I would seek out a good Independent Subaru Shop in your part of town and ask there opinion about what stage of failure they may be in if at all.


  385. Justin Stobb June 13, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    Hi Kristen,

    The Independent shop doing a cooling system pressure test as a means to diagnose an internal combustion to coolant leak during cylinder head expansion doesn’t understand the Subaru engine well enough to diagnose and most likely repair it.

    We deal with this a lot which is very unfortunate, I suspect the Independent Shop doesn’t specialize in Subaru repair, a lot of otherwise good independent shops get this wrong all of the time.

    It would be really unwise to spend money to repair the leaking valve covers, and timing belt (all which have to come off to replace the head gaskets) only to have to repair the head gaskets in the near future.

    The 250ppm of Hydrocarbons is truly a high reading actually to high as the 2.5l doesn’t typically run at those levels out of the tailpipe and if it is accurate I don’t think it will take too long before it starts to show more signs of failure.

    I hate saying this but I think a third opinion is in order but I would encourage you seek out an Independent Subaru Expert in you area, have a lengthy talk about your concerns prior to scheduling an appointment.

    The hoses are a grey area and not a huge expense my biggest concern is that if you spend all of this money around the head gasket repair only to have the head gaskets fail even a year later it will have been like lighting a match to the money you spent on the timing belt and valve cover gaskets.

    The wheel bearing is a safety issue and you may want to take care of this while you are deciding on the rest. also the longer you drive on a failed wheel bearing the better chance you will have of needing to replace the hub.

    I hope this helps!


  386. julia June 13, 2009 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi, thank you for all of this helpful information!

    I am looking to buy a 1998 outback wagon (2.5 engine) from a private seller. The head gaskets are blown, and the seller is offering to do the work, as well as replace the water pump, before selling it. The car has 149,000 miles and is a 5-speed.

    Can you offer any opinion on this? What other things should I look for? Is the head gasket repair an ok DIY project?

    Any thoughts would be welcome.

  387. Ed June 16, 2009 at 8:57 pm #

    Thanks for the great work on this website.
    Just a quick question:
    I am looking to buy a 96 Impreza wagon 2.2L, this is a model without the HG issue correct?

    I will check the VIN with a dealer to see if it the more desirable 2 port exhaust design but if it turns out to be the one port should I pass on it? What years(tow port) would you recommend to be best for the little 2.2L?
    Lastly are the auto trans reliable or should I aim for the manual?

  388. c.quinn June 17, 2009 at 2:58 am #

    my 2001 subuaru legacy outback has 121,000 miles and is leaking oil and has overheated 1 time and lost coolant….we faced the almost same problem with my husbands 1999 subaru outback 2 yrs ago and opted to buy a new vehicle rather than go for a repair….after reading all this info, i am leaning to repair this time……my question is, where to find a place to repair it in my vicinty….venango county PA…..the local subaru dealer, or the local mechanic here….who has just done 2 subaru head gaskets repairs in last couple of months for same problem.
    how do i find a 4WD specialist mechanic in my neighbourhood?

  389. Justin Stobb June 23, 2009 at 4:11 pm #


    There are plenty of things that can be done to make the repairs complete such as the timing belt, water pump and timing belt idlers. This along with inspecting the cooling hoses and replacing as needed.

    It’s hard to say how DIY friendly it is without knowing the contents of the toolbox and the individual’s mechanical ability. What may be really tough for one person may be easy for the next.
    There is a risk to buying a car repaired by a non professional. Just try and be sure they are using good parts at a minimum.


  390. Justin Stobb June 23, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    C Quinn,

    If you need to look for a Subaru specialist, there are a few ways to do this, look into Car talks website under mechanic’s files, look into shops that have solid and many reviews on other online forums. Ask other Subaru owners where they have there car serviced.


  391. Corey Foster June 23, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    First off – what an amazing website – Being a Subaru fan, I can’t believe I’m only finding this today.

    Recently, my wife’s 2000 Outback 2.5l has me stumped. In Feb of this year we had the radiator and head-gaskets replaced by a Subaru tech (working at a Mazda dealership). A couple months have gone by and the car overheated one day while idling (highway speeds dropped the temp rapidly to normal) and it was determined to be the radiator not holding pressure.

    Now I have the car back with a new radiator and while it’s not overheating, I notice that the overflow tank is very full, I smell coolant, and both rad hoses are very hot.

    Perhaps unrelated, but the A/C is only truly cool when the car is moving. I have replaced both RC-5008 fan relays and it has not improved either situation. Both fans are on when the A/C is on, but not when it is off – even after 5 minutes in blistering heat. Temp gauge is normal, tank still over-full. Any clues? Thanks so much.

  392. Justin Stobb June 23, 2009 at 10:13 pm #

    Hey Corey

    Thanks for the feedback on the website. The AC system is probably low, the 2000 to 2004 Subaru Outback has a tendency to leak at the high side hose from the compressor to the condenser.

    On the Running hot issue, this needs to be closely monitored, once the thermostat has opened the upper and lower radiator hoses will be hot. The level in the overflow bottle should be put to the correct level (in-between the 2 lines) and then monitored. We do see some shops put in cheap Chinese made radiators that have smaller cores and the wrong size automatic transmission coolers that can cause some issues. Having it overheat after the head gaskets were done wasn’t good but not the end of the world. I also would be curious if the thermostat is a Subaru part or cheaper imitation, we also see use of non O.E Subaru thermostats cause problems. Well a few things to look into anyways.

    Hope this helps


  393. Corey Foster June 24, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    Justin – thanks so much for the (crazy fast) response and suggestions. I’ll be checking into and following them over the next couple days and this weekend. Thanks again.


  394. Nick M. June 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Justin,
    I agree with everyone else, this is obviously a great website and you have a wealth of Subaru knowledge. I too have encountered a driver-side head gasket problem on my 2003 outback sport at just under 78K nearing 6yrs and the end of its extended warranty. I brought the car in several months ago for its 60K maintenance and to make sure there were no pressing problems as it came off of warranty. On a more recent trip back to the dealership for my brakes, with my warranty just expired (< 1 month), the dealer informed me that the L. head gasket was leaking. Apparently it was not leaking at its 60K check-up, but rather “seeping”, but they never informed me. Needless to say I got them to cover the full price of the repair. Anyway, my question is what good is it to replace only the left side gasket and wait until the R. side to fail at a later date? The dealership refuses to replace both. As well, will two different types of gasket cause any other problems.

  395. Denise Hicks June 27, 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Hi Justin

    My trusty ’96 Subaru Legacy Outback seems to have a bad head gasket. The mechanic who changed out the thermostat in hopes it was just that said he wouldn’t replace a head gasket on a vehicle with over 190,000 miles on it.
    I love my all wheel drive baby too much to give it up. What do you think?


  396. Mike June 27, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    Hey Justin,
    I have a 1998 Legacy GT 5SPD 126,000 miles and I used a “head gasket fix mixture” once yesterday (type which can be added without removing the antifreeze)(my antifreeze is likely “contaminated” from exhaust interaction)(car has overheated multiple times before – driven short distances after overheating, no water in oil so far, no leaking coolant). I drove the car about 40 miles after adding the “head gasket fix mixture” and then the car overheated again (same problems as others have seen with the exhaust/coolant interaction, usually happens after/during hard acceleration). The radiator hoses were collapsed both into and out of the radiator and relaxed after I opened the radiator cap (negative pressure)(coolant reservoir is full of coolant/ “head gasket repair mixture” (copper particles from mixture seen in coolant). I used just over half the bottle of the “Head Gasket Repair Mixture” as the directions indicated (actually indicated 1/2 bottle). If I have the head gasket work done should I also have the heater core and radiator replaced (potential plugging from the “head gasket repair mixture”) and all associated hoses (plus an extensive flush)? I was also advised by a friend that I should have the clutch replaced since the engine would be out. I know based on the posts that the head gasket job would be around $1600, not including new radiator, heater core, water pump and new clutch (What total cost should I expect from an independent Subaru service provider?). Thanks in advance.

  397. Justin Stobb June 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Hey Nick,

    Thanks for the feedback on the site. Really both gaskets should have been done, but under warranty only the left side will be addressed. If a dealer replaces both sides, Subaru may do a warranty audit and the dealership may end up writing Subaru a check. What is pretty silly is that if it is a customer pay situation at most dealerships they will sell both, if it’s on Subaru it’s just the left side. This poses no detriment to the engine, but there is a possibility that A the repairs in the car won’t last, or B the right side could give out in the near term. As far as the 60k no leak and now it leaks thing, I am glad they took care of it but this is exactly why I suggest someone independent of the Dealer service department service the vehicle. A good independent Subaru repair shop would have helped you get the most value out of your warranty as possible.


  398. Justin Stobb June 29, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    Hi Denise,

    If the car has had good maintenance which if you went 190k on your head gaskets it sounds to me like it has there really should be no issue replacing the head gaskets at that mileage. Is your Mechanic a Subaru guy?


  399. Justin Stobb June 29, 2009 at 4:16 pm #


    That’s tough to nail a number on, and yes there is no fix in a bottle as you have learned. I would suggest trying to flush out the heater core before I replaced it here as it’s a huge job. Clutch parts can vary by quality but figure $250 to $400. Radiator for an O.E. about $300.00, aftermarket (Chinese made) $200.00 or so. Figure about $178.00 or so for the waterpump, thermostat, gaskets and a bit of time.

    There is also a clutch hydraulic update for that car and other timing components to be inspected as well.


  400. John McC. June 30, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

    Just to add to the evidence, my 2003 Forester is in the shop today at 92,000 miles getting externally leaking HG’s replaced. They’re doing the timing chain while the engine is out so I feel (slightly) less bad. I had had the 30K and 60K services done at the dealer so if they added the secret formula conditioner it did no good for my rig.

  401. Greta July 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    I’m just following up on a question I posted on May 28. After doing a little car shopping I quickly realized I can’t afford a new car! SO…of all the repairs listed below (suggested by my mechanic), I’m wondering how many of these are really necessary vs. how many of these are just “good to have done.” Particularly re-sealing the engine oil pump, front stabilizer bar end links (I don’t even know what this is) and the engine frost plug heater (I never plug my car in). Here is the list of repairs I was given:

    1. Replace Catalytic Converter $740. 2. Timing belt, Water pump, drive belts $534. 3. Engine oil pump re-seal $155. 4. Front end stabalizer bar end leaks $199 5. Brake system fluid flush $58. 6. Transmission service $78. 7. Engine frost plug heater starting to leak $146. 8. Front wheel bearing $420.00.

    Thank you again for your advice…it is much appreciated!!

  402. Justin Stobb July 1, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    The prices seem ok, the frost plug heater or block heater leaking does need to be addressed, and you can either replace it or remove it and install a coolant plug. The block heater is installed after removing a plug from the engine block at the coolant passages on the driver’s side of the engine. This should save some money if you don’t use the feature.

    From there the end links can be done later as there is no savings in doing those items at the same time as the head gaskets. The water pump & timing belt stuff should all be done. The wheel bearing is a safety item so it does really need to be done. The catalyst benefits the environment more than your cars function so I will leave that entirely up to you.

    Hope that helps some


  403. Cheri July 11, 2009 at 4:35 am #

    Hi Justin
    I am considering buying a 1998 Outback with 136K on it, the owner is the original owner and claims to have never had any issues with the HG. I’m concerned… should I be? Does EVERY Subaru in those years have this problem, or are some people lucky? If I buy this car at the asking price, it won’t leave me a lot of extra for repairs.. any adive is greatly appreciated.
    I love Subbee’s, have had 3 but all older models, 92 most recently and they’ve been awesome..

  404. Cheri July 11, 2009 at 4:42 am #

    And.. how would I know if there are problems with the HG before buying? He’s done all the scheduled maintenance and seems to have taken great car of the car.. and what does that repair generally run?
    This is a great site, I’ll recommend it often! 🙂 Thanks so much for your help

  405. Stephanie July 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Hello Justin,
    Thank you for your dedication to subarus! I must admit, however, that I am so ready to junk my subbie because it is had been one problem after another since I bought i used with 107K miles on it. Anyway, the problem at hand: I have 2000 outback with 145K miles. Had the HGs replaced about 10K ago in the winter. Throughout the winter, the car ran fine, but now that summer temps are climbing, my temp gauge is also climbing again. I live in AZ and the temp gauge seems to be directly related to outside temp, esp. 105+ degrees outside, and driving uphill. The temp gauge is predictable based upon the hill and the outside temp. On the way to work when the air & road are still cool, temp gauge does NOT climb, but on the way home when the road & air are hot, the temp gauge climbs, even slightly above 3/4 mark. A/C run on to & from drive (yes, in AZ in the summer, we have to use the A/C even in the morning).
    Is this a continued HG issue still? Or some other kind of issue? Thanks so much!!!

  406. Justin Stobb July 13, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    Hi Cheri,

    Typical prices for head gaskets on a first generation 2.5 l would be $1600.00 to $1800.00. Things to look for are signs of oil and residue in the coolant overflow bottle. You can also smell the coolant overflow bottle and see if it smells like exhaust or fuel. We have ssn the first generation 2.5l go 200k with no failure and replaced gaskets on ones only 60k as well so it’s all over the place as far as longevity goes but what I do alway suggest is to know that it will probably come up at some point in ownership even if its a year or two from now.


  407. Justin Stobb July 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm #


    Sounds like a possible restricted radiator more than a headgasket or just low coolant level. Unless the headgasket repair was done very poorly you shouldn’t be anywhere close to a second repair of the same thing. I would suggest getting it looked at asap to avoid head gasket damage from the overheating.

    Don’t give up on the Subie, but you may want to make sure you have the right shop doing service. The right or wrong shop can totally change your car owning experience for better or worse.


  408. Dave July 13, 2009 at 6:44 pm #


    I just wanted to take a minute and say thank you for all of your help both in selling me the right parts to fix my Outback but for all the assistance you gave me over the phone and through many (probably too many) emails. Your willingness to help answer all of my questions before during and after I made my head gaskets repair was a great help. What was the most surprising was that the parts you shipped were all top notch stuff and the repair guide was a super nice to have. Now the repairs still took me a little over two weeks

    When I first started having this problem I almost traded the Subaru in but it has been such a good car it was hard to justify getting rid of it and going deep into debt to go work and the grocery store in a newer version of the same thing I already have. Thanks again for the sound advice and the confidence to fix the thing myself.

    Dave Dubois

  409. Rosanne July 17, 2009 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Your site has been most helpful, thanks!

    I have a 2004 Forester that the dealership says the head gaskets are leaking and I’ve decided to repair them. Two questions come to mind, is this an immediate repair that I must do now, or will a month make a big difference, and when I do repair it, I’ve read that the timing belt and water pump should also be replaced. Is it that much cheaper to do those now, or wait until it’s recommended at the next 15K interval.

    I’ve never kept a car past 100K but with the economy as it is, I’m not ready to buy a new car right now.



  410. moss wilson July 19, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    hi, i have a 1996 subaru legacy ts-r. Recently it overheated and turned out the radiator hose had a small hole in it. This was replaced. However i have noticed once i turn the car off and leave it overnight, when i return the upper radiator hose, which was replaced has collapsed and become hard – almost as if there is some serious suction going on. Also, when i open the radiator cap there is a suction sound and the coolant disappears into the radiator. When i fill up the radiator is seems to flow straight into the overflow bottle.
    So far the car temperature gauge hasn’t gone above the normal temperature line.
    Could it be thermostat or head gasket?

  411. Ron July 19, 2009 at 3:39 am #

    Hi I’m considering buying a 1999 Subaru Outback Limited. The sellers claim the car runs but after about 15-20 minutes the car overheats. They say it has a small internal coolant leak, which does not drip outside. I understand this can be the head gasket, but what I’m afraid of is a warped head, resulting in needing a new engine. Is there anything I can look for or something that would indicate that the head is warped other then taking the engine apart? I don’t mind doing a little work but would like to know this before purchasing. I’m not into replacing the engine. The car has 180000… I don’t know if that matters. The only reason I’m considering this car is that its only $1,200 and looks brand new. Thanks, Ron

  412. moss wilson July 19, 2009 at 8:14 am #

    hi thanks for feedback. In addition the upper radiator hose collapses when the car cools and any water / cooland i put into the radiator appears in the overflow bottle. I also hear gurgling coming through the aircon inside the car
    Do these things further indicate head gasket, thermostat or blocked hose / radiator?

  413. Stephanie July 19, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks for the response on the radiator above, Justin. And you are right that the shop where I’m taking it may not be the right one! Unfortunately, I live in a place where Subarus are very rare and I don’t have much faith in the shop that fixes it. Can you recommend any good independent shops anywhere in AZ, Las Vegas or the LA area? All are in reasonable driving distance for me if it means I can get someone under the hood who knows what they are doing. Thanks!!!

  414. Justin Stobb July 20, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    Hello Rosanne,

    Yes the Timing belt and water pump should be done as it will drastically lower forward going ownership costs.

    The bulk of the cost to replace the timing belt is the labor and the timing belt is generally done for no labor while the head gaskets are done.

  415. Justin Stobb July 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    Hello Moss,

    Could be a faulty radiator cap or you have an air pocket in the cooling system. Was the air bled out properly when the cooling system was service to replace the upper radiator hose? Its not just a matter of filling it back up it must be bled, and if not done correctly it will end up with failed head gaskets


  416. Justin Stobb July 20, 2009 at 3:57 pm #


    I really don’t have a shop to send you to, sorry. It does come up a lot but I just don’t know where to send you, you can try Car talk’s website under Mechanic files, or just ask some other local Subaru Owners where they have their Subie serviced.


  417. Justin Stobb July 20, 2009 at 4:02 pm #


    There is no way to know if the head is warped without taking it apart, it’s not typical that the head would warp first off and second it is not expensive to have a head machined.
    A warped head would not require replacing the engine at all by any shape of the imagination.
    If you are going to buy it and make the repairs yourself you may want to consider buying our gasket set as we do provide tech support and a repair guide as well as the best parts possible to use when making the repairs.
    I wouldn’t be afraid of buying a 1999 for $1200.00 id buy it in a second.


  418. Bill Smalley July 20, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    Hi Justin. Unbelievable site, you are incredibly generous with your knowledge. My son has a 2nd hand 2002 2.0 liter impreza wrx with 102,000 miles. For awhile he noticed higher than usual temp readings, so he checked the coolant level (which was low) and just poured more coolant in. This happened several times. As far as he knows, the car never actually overheated (temp in the red zone). However, last week he blew a head gasket, the car is inoperable. He bought an extended warranty with the car, but it specifically does NOT cover damage due to overheating. The dealer is assuming that the damage was caused by overheating. From your answers to questions here it sounds like there are many other possible causes of a blown head gasket. Do you think that a reasonable argument can be made that any overheating was the result, not the cause, of the blown head gasket, and that the other damage to the engine likewise resulted from the head gasket failure, and thus should be covered under the warranty?

  419. Justin Stobb July 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    Hi Bill,

    This does come up often and it is really hard to prove cause and affect sometimes.

    If the warranty is A Subaru branded warranty then you are stuck having repairs done at the dealership, if the warranty is an aftermarket warranty you can have a good Independent Subaru shop give a second opinion and make the repairs under the same warranty.

    On the WRX we see a lot of radiator leaks from the upper tank seam, and if not caught it can cause head gasket failure due to low coolant levels in the cooling system. Now at the same time a head gasket can fail without the cooling system ever becoming low.

    Regardless of what the dealer is stating there really is now way to determine which happened first, (the chicken or the egg) in most cases. Unless they have determined the cause of overheating to be something other than the head gaskets than the head gaskets should be covered.

    This is can be a difficult thing to deal with and the Dealer would really just like to have you pay for it as would whoever has to pay for the repairs under warranty, think of it like insurance, the first offer is not always the final offer. So to answer your question yes the vehicle can and will overheat as a result of a failed head gasket without any other cooling system deficiencies found.

    So if the head gaskets are failed and no other problems have been found than it should be a done deal its covered, but if the dealer has found a leaking radiator than you are probably on the hook for the cost of the repairs. I know hind sight is 20/20 but as soon as your son saw the temperature gauge move from its normal position he probably should have taken it in for a check out of the cooling system.

    There is really no easy answer without viewing the car.

    I hope this helps some


  420. steve July 21, 2009 at 6:20 am #


    I’m thinking of buying a used 2006 Subaru Legacy wagon with 40,000 miles on it here in Portland, OR from Carr’s Subaru. What’s the chance of head gasket issues in models that late? Any substantial improvement since 2002, 2003, 2004, or did Subaru not materially change this part of the engine design from 2003 on? Thanks for your help. I’d drive to Seattle to buy from you, but it’s a bit far! Thanks.


  421. Debra July 23, 2009 at 3:09 am #

    Hi Justin:

    Can you tell me if it is dangerous to not do a replacement of the head gaskets when a mechanic finds a slight leak? I have a 2003 Subaru Forester, and my mechanic noted this as a future service, but didn’t seem to feel that it need be done immediately. I’m worried because my teenage daughter drives my car a lot. Are head gaskets something that will give out gradually or can they just go suddenly and cause an accident? How will I know when it is serious enough to get fixed? My mechanic wasn’t very clear about this.

    As you can tell, I know nothing about this. Thanks for all your information!!!

  422. Justin Stobb July 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    There is less chance of failure in a 2005 and newer model. Not so much as a result of a better gasket but better understanding of how to avoid issues.


  423. Justin Stobb July 23, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    Hi Debra,

    If its coolant leaking they need to be doen sooner rather than later, if its oil that is leaking it is something that can be monitored but it will eventually need to be done.

    I usually suggest budgeting for it as soon as you can, you need to balance when you can afford it versus taking care of it before it gets worse because it will. If it overheats it can add to the repair costs as well.


  424. Blair July 24, 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    Hi Justin. Let me first say, what a great site. I’m considering buying a 98 legacy 2.2l H4…vin#4S3BK4351W7311602 Can you tell me if this is 1st or 2nd gen 2.2..also can I get your opinion on this vehicle as a whole compared to other subarus..thank you so much

  425. Justin Stobb July 24, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    Hey Blair,

    Either 2.2l is a good engine, The 2.2l legacy is a great way to go, very, very reliable. The only draw back is ride height if that matters to you.

    As to the version of 2.2l I actually need the date of production as well.

    I am 90% its the first generation 2.2l.

  426. Matt July 26, 2009 at 1:30 am #

    Hey, Justin
    i feel like an idiot. i am pretty sure i have a bizzare case, and know it is going to shock you. So i am 16, and have done all the maintanence on our family’s 2006 Subaru Outback 2.5i. It is a wonderful car, gets driven a lot. and the AWD gets used basically everyday. (i have great AWD stories) so at around 62,000 miles, i noticed that the area around the passenger side head gasket was slightly dark. i immediately thought” great, the powertrain warrenty ended at 60,000.” I was well aware of the head gasket issue in the older EJ25’s, but never knew it was covered until 100,000 miles. the car currently has about 124,700 miles. (yeah, it gets driven a lot.) Since 62k miles, the head gasket has gotten worse, but rly rly slowly. Now it has gotten to the point where the whole underside of the passenger side of the engine is black, and goey. The leak is not bad, it just leaks very slowly and has made a mess of things. The car smells a little, but not bad at all, i can sometimes smell it being a little like coolant. (barely noticeable) i am not sure if the leak is coolant or oil. (like i said, its a very slow leak) and i basically have noticed that every time i change the oil, the leak is worse, but not by much. as of right now, the whole passenger side of the underside of the engine is a mess, its all goey and dirty and slimey. As i changed the oil the other day, i noticed that the area surrounding the drivers side head gasket was slightly dark, and its all starting again on the drivers side.
    This subaru has been basically perfectly maintained. I have changed the oil EVERY 3,000 miles with synthetic oil. (usually with pennzoil platinum 5w-30 (or 10w-30,10w40 in summer) and a phram toughguard filter) it has had the coolant changed every 30-35k(with the subaru coolant conditioner) and the spark plugs were changed every 50k. (with subaru plugs) i keep the battery somewhat clean, and the engine runs and sounds like the day it came out of the dealer. It even uses the same amount of oil every 3k as it did when it was new. It doesnt smoke any oil. it also gets a bottle of fuel cleaner every 3k. (i think the regane cleaner) oh yeah, and i change the air filter as needed. (never getting too dirty) When the car had 80k the crankcase seal went, and was dripping oil out of the timing belt cover, and onto the exhaust manifold. it was replaced by subaru. That is the only problem the car has had so far in 124k. also, when the car had 120k i checked the automatic tranny fluid correctly for the first time, and there was about 1 quart too much in it. (guess i should have checked it sooner) Our family has had a 98,00,02,and now an 06’outback with the EJ25 engine. The 06 is the only one that has had problem so far. my dad is incredibly pathetic when it comes to car maintenace, which is why i do it all, and he would rather get a new car, than deal with the head gaskets when the time comes. i know that the car is easily capable of 300k. We are throughly satisfied with the car and will absolutely buy another subaru. However, what should we do about the head gaskets right now, and by any chance, what could happen to the tranny after being a quart too high for 120k on the original factory fill. How bad should the head gasket be leaking before it is replaced? This car has only had one problem so far,(not including the head gasket) and has proved itself the most reliable vehicle we have ever owned. Im getting ready to buy my first car, which will be a 2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. and from what I’ve noticed from consumer reports reliability survey, the head gasket issue isn’t really a problem with 05 and later EJ25’s
    p.s. the majority of its daily driving is on the highway.

    Thanks, and im sorry this is sooo long.


  427. Justin Stobb July 27, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Hello Matt,

    Typically if the transmission is overfilled fluid will be pushed out of the vent under pressure.

    If the transmission is working ok now and the fluid level has been corrected than realistically damage may not have occurred. When an automatic transmission is overfilled typically pressure will increase, if there is a seal or component can’t handle the pressure increase something will have to give. Typically a seal leak, either internal or external.

    Once a gasket leak is observed it really should be done sooner rather than later for a whole lot of reasons. It will never leak less one, and sometimes waiting to repair can increase the price if other items need to be done as a result of allowing the leak to go on too long. A good example of this is a head gasket that eventually causes an overheating situation which can greatly affect the repair costs.


  428. Leggywagon July 27, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    Awesome site! My battery is starting to cake with corrosion, what do you suggest the best way to clean the battery? Scraper?? I want to avoid the HG failure by electrolysis even though I have a EJ22E and they are not as susceptible to HG failure

  429. Brian Lake July 28, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

    I have a 200o outback with about 190K miles that I had the heads done over on. No when I start it, it sounds like the valves are contacting the pistons. I had a mechanic friend tell me that sometimes the heads are planed alitte too much and you need to use oversized gaskets to fix. Have you seen or heard of this? Where would I get an oversized gasket? Subbie doesn’t carry them.

  430. Justin Stobb July 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm #


    Cleaning the battery can be a dirty job.

    There are some chemicals that can be purchased at auto parts stores but baking soda and water will also do the trick. Now to the important part be mindfull of where the mess is going and really rinse off everything well.


  431. Justin Stobb July 30, 2009 at 7:40 pm #


    I the valves are hitting the pistons than I suspect the timing belt may not be installed correctly. There is a limit that can be machined off of the head and a good machine shop would
    never exceed that.

    We offer a head gasket that has a crushed thickness greater than the O.E. gasket.


  432. warugongo July 31, 2009 at 12:07 am #

    I live in Charlotte nc and im struggling to get a good shop which can fix my 98 outback 2.5l head gasket. do you have any shop in mind?
    if i decide to buy an older engine for instance 96 and beyond can it work?

  433. Les August 5, 2009 at 4:50 am #

    I have a 2000 Outback, the mechanic stated after my last oil changesays the left side the head is showing that start of seepage of oil on the left head. There are never drips on the garage floor. The car never uses any oil between oil changes and the coolant level is always good. I live in Canada where the winters do get cold and apparently that is when leaking gets worse. Should I be alarmed and tend to this now, or can it wait until the next oil change. The car is in excellent shape and has only ever had a wheel alignment when I did a tire change. I believe there are still many troublefree years with this car so I do plan to fix it in a month or two.

  434. Tyler Rau August 6, 2009 at 3:10 am #

    I changed the head gaskets on my 2000 Legacy GT wagon. had 227,xxx miles on it when I did. now has another thousand and I have broke the clutch in with no coolant loss. I’m very happy with the car, just that I would rather find a turbo one after this.

  435. Justin Stobb August 6, 2009 at 2:57 pm #


    I am sorry, but I don’t really have a shop to refer you too. There is no reason to buy an engine to fix a gasket leak as you will still need to replace the gaskets.


  436. Justin Stobb August 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm #


    As long as we are talking about a small oil leak then it is ok to delay the repair, I just wouldn’t drive it accross country until it is repaired.


  437. Catherine August 8, 2009 at 5:00 am #

    Hi Justin,

    I have a 2000 Outback I bought used – I love the car and at the last inspection the check engine light was on and it didn’t pass- I was told that the sensor needed to be replaced to the tune of $650. I also requested that they check the car completely and tell me what needed to be done to keep it in good running order. When I picked up the car the dealership had a list of things that needed to be done, the belts, boot was ripped, new tires and the ball joint and I was told a small leak on the head gasket. I asked if I should address these things right away because I wasn’t working and I may need the car if I was offered a position I would need to drive to. The service mechanic said no I had nothing to worry about but should replace the belts when I get my next oil change. I also asked them to check all of the fluids and do an oil change.

    Yesterday I was driving in Boston across a bridge (Tobin Bridge) in rush hour and my radiator exploded. I thought the car was on fire. I had it towed to the dealership and they told me the radiator would be $700 and after that I may need a whole new engine but they couldn’t tell me anything until they replace the radiator and then they could go from there with any damage to the engine. Then he said I was looking at the very minimum a $3400 repair bill. He said the leak on the gasket may have caused this and I asked why didn’t they tell me that 3 weeks ago and he said they noted it on my file. I can’t afford this and maybe I’m just looking to lay blame but I feel the dealership shoud of informed of the possiblility of what could of happened and given me the option to repair the leak when I asked. I found someone that would buy the car for $500 but he also suggested I investigate and he is a mechanic. He said he felt when he spoke to the service tech he acted very strange and he told him he had told me about the gasket and that I should of replaced it – but he is not the person I spoke to when I had the sensor repaired – I don’t think I have any options since the car is used and I don’t have a warranty – but the guy that would buy the car for $500 said he would strongly suggest I push the dealership because it sounds fishy.

    Your thoughts would be appreciated.


  438. Catherine August 10, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    Hi Justin,

    I thought I had posted on Friday but I guess it didn’t go through.

    I have a 2000 Outback that I bought used 2 years ago. It has 121,000 miles on it. On Thursday the radiator exploded in the middle of rush hour traffic on a bridge in Boston. The guage never changed – in the car – I had noticed that the AC was not working well and when I turned the engine off It felt hot when I stepped out of the car.

    The car had just been to the dealership at the end of June to replace the sensor to pass emmissions inspection and when I was ther I asked them to check everything and do the oil change and fluids. I am very diligent about the oil changes. The sensor cost me almost $700. and 2 months prior I had a starter and new battery put in by a local gas station because the car wouldn’t start and I needed it quickly and the dealership couldn’t do it.

    So on thursday I had the car towed to the dealership when the radiator blew and on Friday they told me that they would need to put a new radiator in before they could find out what happened and most likely I would need a new engine and just to get the car running I was looking at $4000. I paid 5k for it and I was laid off from my job recently so no way can I afford it. I found someone to buy the car for $500 dollars but he suggested I push the dealership since they had just done work and they told him that they had told me on my last visit I had a leak on the HG. They did not tell me that – At my last visit I asked if there was anything that I needed to address immediately because I needed the car to be in good running order – They provided me with a hand written list but no where on it does it say the HG was leaking. They also said everything could wait and nothing to worry about. Sorry for the long post – I am just not sure if I should sell it for the $500 and cut my losses and if what their saying is correct. It seems they would of noticed something in June and they would of advised me to take care of the HG-

    Thanks and again sorry for the long post

  439. Justin Stobb August 10, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    Hello Catherine,

    I had received the post on Friday I am sorry for the delay, it’s hard to get to all of the questions sometimes especially on the weekends

    I hope any advice doesn’t come too late to be of any good.

    There are a couple of pieces of information I was missing as well, how much time in between the visit to the Dealer and the radiator failing. Typically the radiator can leak out all of its fluid and not damage the engine if the car is shut down in time. Just curious to know if the temperature gauge had pegged, or if there were any smells prior to the big event that led it to being towed. What sensor was repaired? If it was an air fuel or o2 sensor did the dealership make mention of signs of coolant contamination?

    It’s really hard to say if anyone made a mistake, I know from being a sympathetic business owner I always find myself in a difficult position when asked if the repairs can wait. I suspect the severity of the repairs may have been ignored in part by the dealership or it really could be that the Radiator leak took suspect head gaskets and pushed them into total failure (head gaskets are the weak link on a Subaru). Now if the opposite is being assumed (the head gasket caused the Radiator to fail) then they did let this go without knowing the severity of the issue.

    The radiator could have failed from the head gasket leak putting pressure into the cooling system or it could have failed due to age. I would have hoped that a minor radiator leak would have been caught by the Service department.

    So on to what to do now, if you like the car and the mileage is under 250k I would suggest you consider repairing it. It doesn’t qualify for the “cash for clunker” trade on a new car and it will cost considerably less to repair this one than buy another one. You could feasibly get another 5 years out of the car or at least to a point where financially a new car was a better option for you. I do want to caution that there may be some grey area in the repairs and I am concerned that the Dealership may not be the best place to have the repairs made.

    This sounds like a bummer, but one that can be overcome


  440. Catherine August 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks – I wasn’t sure if I posted it right so apologies for the duplicate.

    I had failed emmissions for the codes PO463 and PO440.

    I had gotten a few estimates that were lower from a local mechanic. But before I started reading your webpage – I has always thought it best to go to the dealership – particulary since the first owner of the car bought the car ther and they has always serviced it.

    The dealership replaced 2 sensors June 23 so about 6 weeks ago for $678 or the repair order it states replaced both fuel level sensors mounted in fuel tank.

    When the incident happened – I was driving in rush hour traffic of course over the biggest bridge in Boston 🙂 and the car started to smoke – I looked at the guage and it was dead center, never changed – I ha also noticed a few weeeks before that the car felt warm when I stepped out but the gauge looked find so I dismissed it. I quickly turned the engine off and put the flashers on and when I got out could see all the green like fluid running from under the car. Then it was pushed off the bridge by a state trooper and towed. I’m not sure if the dealership tried to start it. I’m also not sure if I should push them – I just feel they should of advised me about the HG and the potential problems –

    Any thoughts are appreciated.


  441. Catherine August 12, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    Just another thing is – I have going over my paper work and they hand wrote a list of things that needed to be done but no where does it say anything about the HG – and the list is work they had done on the car 2 years ago. The person I bought the car gave me the previous work done records – Is this common that in 2 years the same work would have to be done – the items are Inner tie rod boots torn – boots washers tie rods $528 Left front ball joint boot torn $211 – they just did these things right before I bought the car –

    Thanks again and sorry my posts are long.

  442. Jade August 12, 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    Hi! I have a 2003 Forrester with 114K mi. I took it to a tire shop about 6 weeks ago for a $20 oil change (I’m not great at getting the oil changed right on time-just to be honest). So, $660 later I leave the tire shop with an oil change, new belts, coolant system hoses, two new tires for the front due to nail damages AND..(drum roll)…the coolant flushed. I pick my car up thinking I just took my car to a much needed spa appointment and she should be as good as new. 10 miles into my drive to work the next day it over heats and the overflow tank overflows. When I popped the hood the overflow tank had black specks floating in the liquid. I filled overflow with water to get it back to the tire shop Tire. After three more visits to the tire shop I have had an aftermarket thermostat, a subaru thermostat and a subaru temp sensor for the fan placed. Today, my car sits at another the tire shop where the “master technician and state inspector” works. They completed a “pressure test” and found no leaks. They saw the fluid was low in radiator and thought maybe that was causing the fan to not come on and therefore over heating (Even though I told him it overheating and overflowed prior to me dropping it off—that would have made the fluid low). I went to pick the car up this morning after being told they were sorry, but they field tested it and it didn’t over heat for them after they filled the fluid and they have no answer for me. I got there and saw that my car was back in the garage area with the hood up. AppaRently they checked the fluid level this AM and it was low again. They cant see that is it leaking externally anywhere and there is no oil in the fluid and the oil is not murky from anti-freeze. Again they say they are stumped and if they can’t figure it out today they feel I should go to an independent subaru or foreign car specialist……..any thoughts on where I should go from here? Could it be the HG? Sorry for the lengthy story.

  443. Justin Stobb August 12, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    Hey Catherine,

    Yes they should have been more proactive about letting you know the condition of the car and making the decisions from there.

    I still have trouble with the engine damage part in light of it really not over heating? If the head gaskets were the cause of the radiator leak they really should have been caught three weeks earlier.


  444. Justin Stobb August 12, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    Hello Jade,

    I had to moderate the shop name out of the post.

    One point I didn’t understand was the condition of the cooling system prior to the car going in for service, towards the end of the post you wrote “Even though I told him it overheating and overflowed prior to me dropping it off—that would have made the fluid low”

    Here is the deal and I really hate saying it and please don’t think I am picking on you, but this is what typically happens when cars are serviced at tire stores, and franchised auto repair centers.

    I realize this is frustrating, but it can be avoided in the future as well with better practices.

    This is also what can happen when car repair is treated like a retail transaction rather than a valuable service where you want to get as much for your money and not the lowest price. I point this out so others can read and maybe avoid the same pitfalls. I am also concerned about the parts that were used at the tire shop in regards to the belts and hoses.

    Now not servicing the car as laid out in the owner’s manual is not such a great idea either.

    Vehicle service can vary so much from repair center to repair center and it is always best to establish a relationship with a shop familiar with your make and take your car to them for all of its service. Let that shop help you maintain your car as it should be maintained and repaired as things come up, you can and will get to 300k this way.

    There is pretty much no chance of the tire store really fixing the car. Yes it sounds like head gaskets, especially with the black particles floating around in the coolant overflow bottle. The fact that they think a blown head gasket would cause the oil to be murky in Subaru, and are doing a pressure test as a means of diagnoses is all the proof we need to know they just don’t know the car very well.

    Subaru has numerous bulletins about the use of coolant flushing machines, they are plain and simple not supposed to be flushed. Actually if the coolant is serviced every 30k at a minimum there is no reason to flush it.

    Yes you really want a good Subaru Shop involved from here not for just this occasion but from here on out.


  445. Jade August 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    Justin, Thanks for the feedback. I am VERY grateful for the time you put into your blog and the honest feedback and info you give to concerned subaru owners. I don’t feel you were picking on me at all. Believe me, I will never go back to a franchise again for auto service, especially with a foreign made car. It’s difficult to find a mechanic you can trust when you are new to a city, my lesson has been well learned.
    To clarify were I confused you in my story; when I first took it in for service I had absolutely never had ANY problem whatsoever with my car. NEVER. I had bought the car used in 2005 with approx 70-80K mi. Just the regular oil changes, tires, brakes, etc had been the only work the car ever needed. Other than that, it ran like an angel.
    …..Then, I made the terrible decision to go to a franchise tire store to have a simple oil change done and then allowed myself to be talked into a coolant flush even though I had an “icky” feeling about that decision. Since this, the car has overheated everytime I have driven it more than 10 miles in stop and go traffic. When the initial work was done and the belts were replaced the store called and told me the “tension bolt” broke during the process and they epoxied it back together. I was upset about this, but was promised it was a good repair. When I had to take it back in d/t the over heating they ended up having to replace the “tension bolt and bar” (with subaru parts) because it broke again on them when they were replacing the thermostat (with an aftermarket part). They were very quick to tell me Subaru kept this particular part in stock b/c they “break all the time”. Then, my car over heated AGAIN, I took it back and that’s when they replaced the thermostat and fan heat sensor with subaru parts. When it over heated again after this I was sent to the local franchise site where the “master technician and state inspector” works. He was the that did the pressure test, found nothing and then looked at the level after it sat all night and saw that the level was low. He was stumped so I got my car back with no repairs and no direction of where to go from there (that was yesterday). This morning I decided to put some water directly into the radiator before driving it the 11 mi to work (just a little, like maybe a third cup to half cup). No overheating this morning! I know I need to search the local area for a mechanic who specializes in subaru. I dont even know where to start looking. Is there a list somewhere for certified subaru tech’s/mech’s? Is putting water or coolant (which would be better?) directly into the radiator OK until I can find someone who specializes in subaru (I only drive my car one day a week and that is the 22 mi round trip to/from work)?

  446. Justin Stobb August 13, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    Hello Jade,

    That’s kind of what I thought; it was fine prior to the flush. So here is the best way to proceed, most likely the head gaskets have suffered some damage. But I also suspect there is a large air pocket that has not been properly bled out of the cooling system as well.

    You can try “Car Talks” website under Mechanic files and look for well reviewed Subaru shops there as a starting point, but maybe ask some Subaru owners with similar year vehicles where they have the Subaru serviced, a lot of our customers come to us by word of mouth, we treat all of our customers as good as we can every visit and most of our customers are usually happy to be our cheer leaders as well. Satisfied customers of a shop are always good people to ask.

    As a shop owner I can also tell you that when a new customer comes in as a referral from an existing customer I want to always make sure we earn that referral. I hope that shop owners everywhere feel the same way and I think that most small independent shops operate pretty similarly.

    Once you find the right shop start a long relationship and you will be much happier with your Subaru experience.

    Good luck Jade , I am sure it will turn out ok once your Subie is in capable hands.


  447. Trish August 14, 2009 at 5:59 am #

    Hi Justin,
    Great, informative site. I have a 2001 Outback and just found out that the head gaskets are gone. The Subaru dealership is estimating $2000 + repair. They said the + is due to a lot of rust underneath the car that they are unsure of what will happen once they start the repair. The car is originally from Ontario where they use salt on the streets in winter. Other than these two issues, the car is in great condition. It only has 100k. I’m debating now whether to repair it or to buy new. I’ve only had it for 6 years and have only put 60,000k in 6 yrs, so I’m hesistant to spend a lot of $ on a newer Subaru (2006-2008) and then only get a few years out of it. In your opinion, is it worth my while to fix my current Outback? Also, do you know of any independent Subaru shops in Vancouver, BC?

  448. Jade August 14, 2009 at 5:22 pm #

    Wow, I love Car Talk! The best NPR show ever! I should have thought to call in to those two. Thanks for the idea to check out their website for ideas for shops in my area. Again, I REALLY appreciate your time and thoughts!

  449. Bart August 14, 2009 at 7:11 pm #


    I have a 2000 Outback. It has 135k and needs the head gaskets replaced. Shop is saying it is a 15.5 hour labor time. Does this sound right? It is a relatively experienced shop with regards to Subaru’s. What is the expected number or repair hours?



  450. Peggy August 17, 2009 at 12:59 am #

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the time and effort you’ve put into this site. I have a much better understanding of what’s happening to my car, how it will be repaired, and how to better care for it in the future.

    I have a 99 Forester with 188,000 miles. This is my first head gasket experience (which happened exactly as described by so many others). My regular mechanic tried to talk me out of the repairs because of the high mileage. But I bought this car expecting it to last 250k. So I am very glad to read your comments about repairing it versus buying a new car.

    I wish I could ship you my car from San Francisco so I’ll know the repairs are done right! But I’ve researched shops and called around. I think I’ve found a couple shops who will do a good job. I have appointments with them next week – they both suggested test driving it first to make sure the automatic transmission is ok before they agree it should be repaired. I’d like to meet with both of them for sort of an “interview” to see which one I’d like to do the repairs.

    One of the shops said they do:
    machine the heads
    valve job
    timing belt
    water pump
    30,000 service

    One thing I don’t see mentioned much in your comments is the valve job. Do you typically do this? Any other thoughts about this procedure?

    I will be sure to ask each shop if they remove the motor to do the repairs.

    Also, do you think the tensioner should be replaced (or just inspected and replace as necessary)?

    One last item: reseal the oil pump. Is that a good thing to do at the same time (or only if needed)?

    Again, thank you very much for all the work you put into this site. I will take your advice and make sure I properly maintain my repaired car so I can (hopefully) get another 188k out of it!

  451. Bubba Hernandez August 19, 2009 at 1:57 am #

    Great site. Generous accurate information.

    I have a 97 Outback 2.5L sfi engine with 120k miles. I had the head gasket done at 99,000 miles by the Subaru Dealer in San Luis Obispo, CA. Happened on a family surf trip along the CA coast. (This was the fourth time the car had a major repair on a family vacation, bad luck all around it seems.) A month ago, I had the 120K service done at a Salt Lake Subaru dealer before beginning our annual pilgrimage to CA. With a few extras, cost about 650$. The check engine light was on before and came back on the next day, again on a road trip to CA from UT.
    Now the Subaru dealer thinks it needs a valve job. I mentioned that the head gasket had been done two summers ago, and the service manager casually mentioned that his shops includes a valve job in the overall head gasket repair. On the headgasket repair invoice, it lists “two shim valves”. I also requested that the service department check everything while the engine was out to see what else needed repair, so the timing belt and oil seal was also done. The invoice stated that everything else was in good shape.
    So, my question is, am I just out of luck or should I contact the national Subaru Customer service and try to get some type of deal on this new repair?
    I’m not necessarily being cheap since I’ve paid over 4,000$ in repairs over the last two years. Now it will be over 6K$. Any suggestions in how to approach the dealer with this request?

    I have a 94 impreza with 195,000 miles. This is what I had hoped for when purchasing the Outback. Am I being delusional about this car lasting that long? Well, lasting that long without putting 20,000$ into repairs.

    If the dealer doesn’t deal, then I’m going to the independent shop that works on our old volvo and impreza. But before I do that, at what time do I just throw in the towel?

    Thanks for any advice.

  452. Hugh Keller August 21, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    I have a 2001 Subaru Impreza L with a 2.2 Ltr. I bought it used, leaking oil from every seal or gasket. I pulled the engine and replaced every gasket and seal with out pulling the heads. Replaced the waterpump, and timing belt. The guy said it overheats when you turn the a/c on, turn the heat on and it will return to normal. All fans worked fine. I eventually had a radiator crack. Replaced the radiator(new), hoses, and thermostat. 30 days later it started to overheat agin. I have pulled the engine, sent the heads to the machine shop, shaved, and ready. At 319,000 miles, would it be necessary to replace the rings? Should I worry about the surface of the block being warped before putting the heads back on?

  453. Justin Stobb August 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    Hello Trish,

    I don’t know any Subaru shops in your part of town, Sorry, it comes up a lot but I have really no good knowledge of any shops up that way. I would suggest repairing what you have as you don’t put enough miles on a car to be buying a new one in my opinion.

    • Jose December 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

      Need information on a 2002 Subaru Forester L. Cam seals are leaking and need to be replaced. About how much would the repairs be? Thank you.

  454. Justin Stobb August 24, 2009 at 9:50 pm #


    On the valve job, it really depends on the situation, and the expense. A 1999 Forester with the single overhead cam engine is pretty inexpensive to add a valve job to but a 1998 DOHC would be much more expensive. There are many times that the valve train is still ok at the mileage you have laid out and just installing valve seals is enough. There is also the real possibility of putting a little too much pressure on the lower end and creating a bit of an oil consumption issue.


  455. Justin Stobb August 24, 2009 at 10:06 pm #


    Tough situation and I don’t think the second dealer is really being upfront. The cost to do a valve job on a 1st generation Subaru with the shim to adjust valves can cost as much as $500.00 in some places, and while I know this is frustrating but doing a valve job with an already expensive head gasket repair isn’t standard operating procedure, its sometimes tough just getting a timing belt and hoses on top of the repair so many shops, independent and Dealership alike can become gun-shy and not always suggest this. The fact that it went a couple of years with no issue, and I am still not sure we really know it needs a valve job. I know the check engine light is on but you didn’t really mention that the car is running poorly, or the check engine light is flashing, or the car has low compression or leaking past a valve. Sometimes when a shop doest know what’s wrong they blame something expensive they think you may not fix rather than look like they are not the experts, I am only pointing out a possibility here, sometimes more information is needed and the ability to see the car to be accurate, which isn’t practical here.

    What are the codes pertaining to the check engine light and how does the Subaru run?


  456. Justin Stobb August 24, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    The block should be checked as should the heads for warp. As far as the rings yes 319k is getting up there to not do any lower end work and expect it to last if there is more pressure put on it by machining down the heads, which should have only been done if they were warped and not just arbitrarily machined.

    All you need is a set of feeler gauges $5.00 to $10.00 and a straight edge $12.00 to $20.00 and you will know if the block and heads are warped.


  457. JMB August 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    This website is so helpful. Thank you for helping all of us with these issues and your advice!

    I have a 2000 Subaru Outback Limited Wagon which I have owned since 2005 and loved. It has had no major problems until the past three weeks. I just returned home from a 2500mile road trip and it handled great the entire trip. As I pulled into my home city (10miles out) the check engine light came on. This has been the only on going problem I have had with it. Each summer, when I head out on my long road trips this comes on and it has always been due to the gas cap getting loose. Last year I had to get the sensor replaced and they gave me a new gas cap to stop the problem. No issues until the final 10 miles of this year’s road trip when it came on. I took it to Subaru service and they ran the code and said it was the O2 sensor and reset it. They told me to come back if it came back on. A day later it wouldn’t turn on and all the lights flashed and there was a clicking in the engine. I had it towed in and found it that it needed a new alternator and battery. I also had the timing belt done as it was due. About a week later the light came on again and when I took it to Subaru and again they reset it again saying it was the 02 sensor. It did come on again about 5 days later and I was also noticing that when I turned the car on it seemed hesitant in its start (although it never stalled), sometimes when I was idling at a light (etc.) it would feel like it was a bit lungy, and it sounded sometimes like there was a strange water sound (kind of like water running gently over rocks). They checked it out and said that there was a problem with the spark plug auto lights and that there was a misfire on #3 and it needed a new fuel injector. They also said that the front brake rotors needed to be machined. They didn’t have time to do the fuel injector that day but did the front brake rotors and then the mechanic took it out to test drive it. When he was out he said the AC quit and the engine started overheating. He brought it right back to the shop and they asked me if I had ever had problems with it overheating. I have taken it on 3 summer road trips of over 2000 miles in the past 3 years and it has NEVER overheated. They went in to explore and came back saying they did a pressure test and that it was leaking through the head gaskets and they would need to be replaced for about $1800. I am overwhelmed and confused. Now it seems that the fuel injector is no longer on the table as an issue and I have been given advice by the three mechanics at Subaru and my regular non Subaru mechanic that they don’t think it is worth it for me to spend that kind of money on it given its age (2000) and miles (107k). They say it is throwing money at a sinking ship and they don’t know that they won’t find MORE problems when they go in to fix the head gaskets. I guess I am looking for advice and I have a few questions:
    1. I can’t help but think it seems strange that I never noticed any issues with overheating before (and never sensed any of the issues people write about regarding symptoms. It had the oil changed the week before and they said nothing about the oil being weird or milky etc.) Is there any chance that in the process of these other recent repairs (alternator, battery, timing belt, break rotors, etc.) that something got messed up and that is why there is now this problem? or do you think it sounds feasible that all this stuff is just happening coincidentally now?
    2. I bought the car 4 years ago for $9800 (a good deal at the time) and have already put $1300 in the past few weeks and now am looking at another $1800. Do you think it is worth it?

    Any other advice would be greatly appreciated! I love the car and hoped to get at least another 50k miles out of it but don’t want to waste money. If it is time to cut my losses I will do that. Everyone seems to think this is the smart decision. You?

    Jess 🙂

  458. renee ashton August 31, 2009 at 4:05 am #

    I just had the head gaskets and knock sensor (check engine light) repaired at the dealer on my 2000 subaru outback. It seems like anytime someone repairs this vehicle, something goes wrong. Approximately one week after the repair, we had to take it on a 400 mile trip (son to college) where it stayed. During the trip, after a couple hundred miles including mountain climbing, it started acting funky when we were stopping for gas. At low speeds, it lurches and acts like it’s really missing and takes awhile to accelerate when pushing on the gas. After it’s up to speed (45ish or so), it seems okay. We had to leave it at school with my son and thought maybe it was bad gas. Another week later and my son says it shakes and the check engine light is back on and may have flashed. I had him check the oil and he said it’s ‘over full’ and it’s greenish brown with a watery consistency. I don’t know if the dealer there can/will fix what the dealer here did. Could this odd behavior be related to the head gasket repair or failure of said repair. Help! I’m so frustrated with this subaru. BTW it’s in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Thanks.

  459. Justin Stobb August 31, 2009 at 7:33 pm #


    You won’t have milky oil with a head gasket issue on a Subaru, Head gaskets are very common.

    Clearing a check engine light for a 02 sensor code and making no repairs will most likely not yield good results.

    As far as worth, it’s always going to cost less to fix what you have the value of the car in no way should determine whether or not you should repair it.

    The factors should be does it suit your needs, do you like the car aside from the current issue, will taking 25k out of your savings affect you more than $1800.00 will or is 5 to 6 years of new payments appealing more appealing than a few instances or repair.

    I would suggest sourcing out a new Subaru shop though.


  460. Justin Stobb August 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm #

    Hello Renee,

    Sounds frustrating and like maybe the repairs were incomplete or it’s just that something new has come up.

    Really at this stage its best to have someone who is a Subaru expert take a look locally and go from there. If it’s related maybe you can obtain some help from the first repairing dealership.

    As for the oil level and color is it possible that oil dye was put in? I suspect it could be as minor as a bad plug wire causing a misfire, but the oil thing is bit of a puzzle.


  461. Ravi September 1, 2009 at 9:53 pm #

    Great site. The best blog on Subaru autos, with very clear explanations. Thanks for posting all this info. I have a 1998 Subaru Outback (bought it in Nov 1997) with 113000 miles. When I drive for over 50 miles and stop the car and step out, I can smell burnt smell coming from under the engine hood. I had it checked by the local mechanic and he thought it was the oxygen sensor. I did not bother to replace the sensor. However,recently when I start the car, there is smell of gasoline in the car for a few minutes and then it clears up. I took to another mechanic and he feels the head gasket is the problem. Otherwise, the car runs very well for my mostly stop and go type of short distance runs.

    Please advise if I should replace both the Oxygen sensor and the head gasket?

  462. Ram September 2, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    Hi Justin,

    I have a 2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon with 57800 mi, that has motor oil dripping on the floor. After reading your informative post, I had it checked and yes it needs the left head gasket fixed. Both the dealer and SOA say my VIN does not qualify for the extended warranty and it has only 5y/60k warranty. I have not been able to convince them of the “Goodwill program”. Is there any other recourse to convince SOA? The dealer quotes $1300 for the left gasket and timing belts and water pump. He does not think there is labor saving in changing the right side now. Does that make sense? Thanks for all your advise and you have a wonderful forum.


  463. Scott September 3, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    Justin, I am starting my search for a used Outback. What year did Subaru correct the HG problem? Do you see the HG problem with 04 and later? Are there other problems though that need to be watched for?
    thanks for the website!

  464. Tom September 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm #

    Re. Subaru engine problems:
    We have a 2006 Legacy 2.5i Limited wagon. The car had been great. Just prior to leaving on a vacation, we had a full 60,000 mile service on the car.

    On the last day of our vacation, 0ver 250 miles from home, the car overheated. It was towed to the local Subaru dealer, far from our home. The engine failed and the various *experts* agree that it needs to be replaced. Both Subaru mechanics and Subaru’s extended warranty inspector (who examined the car) said there were calcium deposits on the radiator and that the radiator was the cause. The Subaru extended warranty (Universal Underwriters Group, part of Zurich North America) people say that the radiator is an after-market part – and its use voided the extended warranty.

    So… we went to our collision insurer – the company who specified this after-market radiator for use in a collision repair we had several months ago. That insurer has now sent out their adjuster to inspect the car, the idea being that if the radiator was the cause of the engine failure, they are responsible for covering the repair (very expensive – over $10,000 if new parts are used). The adjuster removed the radiator and brought it to another shop for closer inspection. His assessment: The radiator used in the collision repair was just fine, BUT it was blocked with what he called *leak stopper* (radiator sealant), and that too much of this product was in the radiator.

    Meanwhile, we have never, ever used any such an additive. Coolant was added when the new after-market radiator was installed, and additional coolant was added when the car overheated the day of the breakdown – but no additives. Would such an additive be added to a new radiator by the manufacturer? Or by the collision shop which installed it. My guess is “No way,” that this is a red herring, and that that the insurance companies are just trying to avoid responsibility.

    I am bracing for a battle with the collision insurance company — the company that hand-picked the part which voided our extended warranty. I am interested if there is anything relevant that I should be aware of — for example: Subaru’s being prone to such problems, whether there have been any recalls that relate to this issue, etc. Thanks for any advice and info.

  465. Matthew Reetz September 7, 2009 at 7:08 pm #

    So, I’m looking at purchasing an all wheel drive wagon and have $8000ish to spend. Is there a model you’d recommend? I want a forester/outback but am really afraid of this head gasket issue.

  466. Pablo P. September 8, 2009 at 6:34 am #

    Hi Justin,

    i have a 96 outback that has recently developed a radiator/overheating problem. A few weeks ago I was informed that I needed to change the timing belt, water pump, thermometer, tensioners, etc. I went ahead and paid $1400 for this issue to be fixed. On my travel to LA from Oakland my radiator reservoir started overflowing when I parked to fill the gas tank. Prior to this my mechanic told me to monitor the coolant level in the radiator itself. Once the car cooled down I took off the cap and noticed that the level seemed empty. I pour nearly half of the coolant until the radiator. Eventually the car cooled off and I continued to LA. By the second day my radiator level again was low even though the reservoir was full. On the return trip again the reservoir started boiling and leaking; the radiator itself empty 2/3 of the way home. I’m second owner and unaware if the head gaskets have ever been replaced. Do you think this my clear indications of HG problems or some other possible problem? Thanks for this great website and please reply at your earliest convenience.

  467. Justin Stobb September 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm #


    I really can’t answer that question, I just have no way of knowing what the cars needs are with out viewing it for my self.


  468. Justin Stobb September 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm #


    I don’t like the idea of repairing the left side only to have the right side leak in 6 months or so. This is just a bad idea and it just goes to show how backwards thinking the dealer still is.

    As far as good will it’s really just hard to say. All you can do is contact SOA (Subaru Of America) and plead out your case, but I will as I always do suggest you find a good independent Subaru Shop in your part of town and not have the repairs done at the dealership.


  469. Justin Stobb September 8, 2009 at 4:17 pm