All Wheel Drive Auto: Independent Seattle Subaru Service

5/5

Subaru Head Gaskets Problems Explained Part II

Subaru 2.5l Phase Two Head Gasket

 
Subaru Head Gaskets Explained part II

In this article I am going to cover the current trends with the Subaru Head gasket problem focusing only on the phase 2 2.5l SOHC from 1999 to 2011 in the  Forester and 2000 to 2009 in the Legacy, Outback and Impreza with an emphasis on the 2005 and newer models.  This article is going to be fairly long as there really is a lot of information that I want to share.  I had thought about breaking it up into two smaller articles but realized that the one read without the other would leave to many questions unanswered so please take the time to read the article in its entirety and hopefully you will have learned a little more about your Subaru. If you have not yet had a chance to read the first article and the over 1000 posts for Subaru Owners around the Globe you can do so here

If you are taking the time to read this then you most likely are doing a little research before you buy a used Subaru or you already own a Subaru of this era and have either recently been told you have a head gasket leak or are just taking the time to learn a little about the car you own.

Head gaskets in a phase two 2.5l can leak in three very different ways.

The first is an external coolant leak typically from the driver’s or left side head gasket, this affected the pre 2003 models specifically and ultimately led to the WWP-99 campaign where Subaru added a “coolant conditioner” otherwise known as stop leak and extended the warranty period to 8 years or 100k for external coolant leaks only. This is found doing a visual inspection of the bottom side of the engine for fluid leaks, which should be done every oil change by a qualified Technician who does not work at a lube center.

The second type of leak is an external oil leak and while it’s true that any car can and will develop an external oil leak from the head gasket, the design of the horizontal engine platform lends itself to a situation where the smallest of oil leaks is immediately apparent  in the form of a drip. This is found while performing a visual inspection of the bottom side of the engine for fluid leaks, which should be done every oil change by a qualified Technician who still does not work at a lube center.

I want to stress that just because you have not yet seen fluid in your driveway does not mean you do not  have a fluid leak from a head gasket.  Subaru models have a splash pan with a fibrous pad (that I call a diaper), this must be removed to inspect for leaks.  The pad also does an incredible job of soaking up oil and coolant.

The third and final type of a head gasket leak on a phase two 2.5l is an internal failure of the gasket resulting in a breach between the combustion chamber and the cooling system which will ultimately cause the vehicle to overheat and is often misdiagnosed by many at the early stages which can increase the likelihood of future problems such as high oil consumption after repairs.

You may have already seen some pictures like the ones below highlighting where the gasket material has been eaten away.

Subaru Head Gasket Failure
Phase 2 Subaru 2.5l SOHC Head Gasket
Subaru 2.5l Phase Two Head Gasket
Subaru 2.5l Phase Two Head Gasket

Gaskets that have had this much head gasket material  deteriorate away most likely leaked  fluid for a while before finally being replaced which is fairly typical.  Generally speaking it is an acceptable practice of our shop to monitor minor oil leaks for our customers and advise them as they become worse or begin to leak coolant.  I will tell you that for some customers we have been monitoring oil leaks for 5 years or longer and others have had the repairs done a few oil changes after first being informed about the situation.  Why I really like this way of dealing with the external fluid leaks is it gives the driver a bit of time to either budget for the repairs, if the car still suits their needs,  or come up with a plan to move on if the Subaru no longer fits the family.  If you really think it through to conclusion its not too often that you actually are awarded the opportunity to make a big decision over time, many times an expensive repair like this happens as quickly;  such as a transmission failure or broken timing belt giving you no notice and even less time to budget for the repair.

When a head gasket fails like this one below the situation can be much more dire.

Internal Failure of Aftermarket Subaru Head Gasket
Internal Failure of Aftermarket Subaru Head Gasket

This head gasket has had a breach in between the cooling system and the combustion chamber allowing  both pressure and temperature from the combustion chamber into the cooling system.  There are two very distinctive issues that happen with this type of failure.  The cooling system can only handle so much pressure in fact in terms of cooling system pressure the radiator cap will allow coolant to flow into the cooling system overflow bottle at pressures around 15 psi. depending on which model of Subaru you have. Now imagine 175 lbs. of pressure coming into the cooling system from the combustion chamber.   Next the increased pressure thats coming into the cooling system is also very hot as combustion temperatures can vary but will typically be well over 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and there isn’t a coolant temperature gauge ever put into a production vehicle that will read that kind of temperature.  This further increases the pressure in the cooling system as the higher the temperature the higher the pressure.  This increase in temperature and pressure is something the cooling system just can’t contend with. What happens next is the coolant in the radiator is pushed into the overflow bottle to the point that the overflow tank is now full and begins to spill coolant out of the tank and onto the ground until finally the engines cooling system is low and the engine overheats.  As I have mentioned before in the first article and I am still amazed and even years and years later this very simple fact seems to escape so many technicians across our nation. I have had to often wonder if either they have had no real education, or just lack the ability to truly understand the internal combustion engine.  We have replaced Honda, Toyota and Nissan Head Gaskets at our shop as well and have looked for internal failures the same way as we do for the Subaru.

Testing for internal failures is not a difficult task but I have responded to well over a thousand replies in the first head gasket article, many start out with the same story, the Subaru began to run hot but didn’t overheat, then it overheated, then a shop replaced the thermostat, then the radiator, then the cooling fans, then the kitchen sink, then threw in the towel.

Below is another head gasket with a breach in the gasket area between the cooling system and the combustion chamber.

Please look at it closely, and picture what I am about to explain.

Internal Failure of Head Gasket on a Subaru 2.5l
Internal Failure of Head Gasket on a Subaru 2.5l

When the engine is cold the breach does not affect the seal of the gasket as much and may actually still seal when the cooling system is pressure checked at 15 to 20 lbs. of pressure when the engine is cool.  Doing a compression test on a relatively cool to warm engine may also not reveal any issue.  Performing a leak down test may show a percentage of leakage, but almost always 10 to 20% to the  crankcase as again until the engine is at normal operating temperature the piston rings are not fully expanded into the cylinder walls improving the “seal”.

The smaller the breach such as in this picture, the less likely you will find it with any of the above test procedures.

Internal Failure of Subaru Head Gaskets
Internal Failure of Subaru Head Gaskets

What must be done instead to find the smallest of internal leaks at an early and manageable stage is to look for the presence of combustion chamber gases also known as exhaust in the cooling system.  The single easiest exhaust gas to identify is HC or hydrocarbon emissions but this needs to be done one and one way only and thats with an exhaust gas analyzer in good working order!   You must run the Subaru hard and get it up to operating temperature before looking for this failure as it may not show up just idling along under no load and with less combustion events  happening.

Looking for Failed Subaru Head Gaskets
Looking for Failed Subaru Head Gaskets
Testing For Internal Failure of the Head Gaskets
Testing For Internal Failure of the Head Gaskets

You see as I mentioned at the beginning  that testing cold would yield different results than testing when hot. Temperature causes expansion, expansion of the cylinder head away from the engine block, expansion of the gasket away from the block, and now that breach in the gasket becomes a bigger issue.  Compound that with the combustion events happening in the combustion chamber at higher RPMS meaning there are more of them!  The relentless pressure put to the weakened head gasket is more than it can contend with.  Now that the engine is running at the extremes which is coincidentally almost always the same way it over heats for the driver but seldom the way that many attempt to test for failures.  If you have an overheating situation in your Subaru and it has not been tested, exactly as I have presented above; and the shop is still stumped; the reason for that is it has not been tested!  Its not feasible to do a compression or leak-down test on an engine that is hot, as you will burn your self or damage the spark plug threads removing the plug and inserting the tools.

I have now covered the three different ways a head gasket can fail.  Let’s now focus on prevention.  As you have seen in the pictures above the gasket material was eaten away, this happens in a few different ways and you really need to understand what you own and take care of it accordingly.  The horizontally opposed engine has many benefits which is why Subaru has stuck with it and Toyota has also looked to Subaru for an engine for a sports car.  I won’t list all of the marketing points behind the boxer here, but please do your own research and understand how it enables a capable, safe, AWD platform  unmatched at its price point.

The single biggest back to a boxer engine is that the critical engine fluids such as coolant and oil will remain in contact with the gaskets as opposed to an Inline or V engine the fluids drain down or only contact the side of a gasket rather than gravity forcing it to stay on top.  This is where Subaru has kind of gotten themselves in trouble in my opinion as the maintenance aspects of a Boxer need to be different than that of an inline 4 cylinder engine for example.  If the oil is contaminated with fuel, and the coolant ph levels increased the gaskets will be eaten away, they don’t have a choice.  The single most important thing you can do with your Subaru is change the oil and change the coolant the way YOUR driving style dictates, how you use the car is what matters not some hard to understand fiction put into a maintenance booklet so the ownership costs look lower than they actually are.

Other aspects of maintenance that are important are the types of components used such as the thermostat.  Pictured below is a O.E. Subaru thermostat VS an aftermarket thermostat made by a chinese parts company and sold to you at every local parts store under the claim “meets or exceeds” .

Subaru Thermostat VS Aftermarket
Subaru Thermostat VS Aftermarket

This is just one example of many but the one I point to most often since a picture is worth a thousand words, and just about anyone looking at the 2 different parts here would understand one is inferior. We have seen on many occasions the thermostat on the right cause damage to head gaskets. Make sure if you or a general repair shop is replacing the thermostat that a Subaru thermostat and only a Subaru thermostat is installed.

The next thing I want to bring up is the fuel octane requirements here in the U.S.,  which has nothing to do with Subaru, but Subaru must make vehicles that will run on lower fuel ratings here in the U.S. then anywhere else in the world.  Octane is about controlling knock from explosions, many think that explosions are desired and I find my self using that term as a good way of explaining why gaskets fail internally, but we are really after a “prolonged burn” and no explosion.  The higher the octane number the better chance you wont have an explosion in the combustion chamber. The less explosions the better the chance the head gaskets will survive what happens in the combustion chamber.  Subaru has built engines that require premium and some have been hard to sell for that reason. In our country you will find it hard to sell a 4 cylinder vehicle with the fuel economy drag of AWD and then require more expensive fuel unless it has the fun factor of a Turbo and thats a different demographic than just a 4 cylinder Outback driver.  Which is one of the reasons most of the head gasket issues are about the U.S. cars NA (naturally aspirated), not the European and JDM( Japanese Domestic Market) models.  If you want to try avoid the whole head gasket thing consider using premium fuel. Next if you ignore a check engine light with a P0325, 0r P0328 set pertaining to a knock sensor  or circuit you are also potentially inviting future head gasket failure as there is no longer any precision happening, instead the computer may be running on fixed programed values rather than real time changes based on live data from the knock sensor.

2005 and newer models?

I answer this question a lot.  Didn’t Subaru fix that head gasket issue?

The answer is yes and no!  The gasket used in the 2003 and newer models is more resistant to corrosion.  Subaru has insisted on the use of Genuine Subaru coolant and the use of the cooling system conditioner and has increased the number of ground straps on the later model cars, all of these factors have resulted in a huge decline in potential and actual failure of the head gasket resulting in an external coolant leak.  We rarely see elevated PH levels on the late model Subaru’s cooling systems when serviced regularly now.  Whether this was an intent of the increased number of ground straps or not it has been a positive result.

Subaru Coolant and Conditioner
Subaru Coolant and Conditioner

Ground Straps?

This next thing is always a challenge to explain, and is really nothing new to cars but has been lost by so many.

The cooling system acts as a ground as you can see in this picture below.  The positive probe is connected to the positive terminal, the negative terminal inserted into the radiator.  What I am showing you here is that the flow of electrons is also through the cooling system.  The test for Voltage  and PH levels in the cooling system is different than this one.  If you have ever owned a hot-tub or a swimming pool you know the importance of maintaining proper chemistry in the water, the same is true of your cooling system.  Over time the flow of electrons in the cooling system affects the chemistry in the cooling system and must be addressed as this occurs.

Voltage in the cooling system
Voltage in the cooling system
Subaru Ground Strap
Subaru Ground Strap
Subaru Ground Strap
Subaru Ground Strap

The increased number of ground straps is one contributing factor to how Subaru was able to decrease the likely hood of failure of one spot of the head gasket due to corrosion in the cooling system attacking one location adjacent to the main ground cable, which is why the left side cylinder head gasket is typically the one that leaks coolant externally in the early phase 2 2.5l.  By improving the entire primary circuit in the car all of the systems function better as a result.

Why is this important?

In the picture below is an extreme case of corrosion, but one we see all to often, its not what you can see here that causes concern its what you cant see until you cut into the battery cable and see how far up the cable this is, or test for the presence of voltage in the cooling system as well as elevated Ph levels. This increases the “on time” of the alternator which is ultimately the cause of the contamination in the cooling system.  Just like copper will patina over time in the elements, it takes time for corrosion to form, and time for the corrosion to do its damage.  Not letting the below happen will help ensure you are not stranded for a primary circuit related failure, such as a dead battery or corroded in half battery cable, but it will also prolong the overall longevity of all other related system in the car. Baking soda and water was something EVERYONE used to do to their battery and terminals, now not so much and this is something that anyone can do.

Corroded Battery Cables
Corroded Battery Cables

We really don’t see the same type of external coolant leaks from the phase two 2.5l anymore as a result of a combination of factors as I have tried to explain above.  However we still see oil leaks, and the oil leaks can eventually lead to coolant leaks but generally at much higher mileage.

One of the common trends  in the 2005 and newer models are warped heads, the majority of the head gasket repairs we make on the 2005 and newer models require that the cylinder heads in fact be resurfaced.  This is due to a couple of different factors, first and foremost Toyota worked with Subaru to increase the economy of the engine and in doing so the combustion chamber area of the cylinder head was enlarged resulting in less surface material making the cylinder head more prone to warping.  The second is that the primary catalytic converter was moved closer to the engine to increase efficiency, but this also brought the intense heat and weight of the Catalytic convertor closer to the cylinder heads allowing for the greater possibility of warp from heat and the weight of the exhaust system so close to the Cylinder heads. I do want to stress that many of the repairs on the 2005 and later models is due to external oil leaks with a small percentage of those repairs also leaking coolant, and a smaller number with internal failures as well.

Please note in the pictures below that the the Catalytic convertor now sits just below the cylinder heads

2005 & Newer Subaru Catalytic Convertor Location
2005 & Newer Subaru Catalytic Convertor Location
2005 & Newer Subaru Catalytic Convertor Location
2005 & Newer Subaru Catalytic Convertor Location

Please note the difference in the combustion chamber area of the cylinder heads side by side in the picture below. 2005 and newer Subaru 2.5l NA have a larger combustion chamber which results in less cylinder head surface area.

Subaru Cylinder Head Comparison
Subaru Cylinder Head Comparison

 

You can clearly see the difference in the two different era of cylinder heads; the one on the right for your reference is from a 2006 Outback, and the one on the left from a 2001 Outback, both with a 2.5l NA SOHC or phase 2 2.5l. It was fairly uncommon to need to resurface the heads prior to this change unless it over heated, leaked coolant excessively or the head surface couldn’t be cleaned by block sanding alone.   I am not sure how many independent Shops are actually aware of the current trend and I want to stress that “a repair” is not necessarily better than “no repair”.  I really don’t want to damage any relationship you may have formed with the current service provider  if you need to have this repair made, but I also want to stress that I don’t believe it’s possible to deliver the same value and service we do on Subaru vehicles on all  makes and models, and do not understand why or how any one else can claim to.   If you own a Subaru and need this repair which is probably why you are reading this I would suggest looking for an Independent Subaru shop.

The Head gasket we have had success with has been recently updated to help address the current trends and help make up for the loss in surface area. I want to stress that the best gasket in the world will only be as good as the repair method it self, and if not done correctly will not last.

Six Star Head Gaskets
Six Star Head Gaskets

In the video below I am demonstrating one very important reason to never let the Subaru Dealer or general repair shop make this repair on your Subaru unless you don’t have any other option.

 

At the Subaru dealer the Technicians are on a “Flat rate” pay plan, I will post a link here about how that process works (check back in the near future), but a quick explanation is the quicker you work the more money you make, but that’s only one aspect as a Subaru repaired under warranty when Subaru of America is footing the bill pays the Technician 40 to 50% of what they would make if you were the one paying the bill.   So if you’re a Tech working at a Subaru dealer and you had to make a head gasket repair under warranty is there any incentive to do a quality repair?  Any repair will last a year and that’s all it has to, but the difference between a quality head gasket repair and the quickest one possible could be the difference between one that lasts a year or two and one that never fails again.   So you’re the same technician and have now done 30 head gasket repairs under warranty and a “customer pay” repair finally comes in, do you slow it down, take the engine out and block sand it or do you make the repairs the same quick way you do for Subaru?

I point all of this out as the trend has changed a bit, we make less head gasket repairs now to the Subaru 2.5l, but each repair now demands greater attention to detail and almost every 2005 and newer is a customer pay situation as seldom do the head gaskets fail under warranty now.

I know Subaru and every other car maker likes to paint the picture that the Technicians at the Dealer are somehow better than the good independents, but that message is really just about marketing and is misunderstood by so many car owners.

Things that must be done to guarantee a long lasting repair are taking the engine out of the vehicle to make the repairs, there is no bending to this rule, it’s the single most important factor in the repair.  Subaru didn’t bolt the engine block into the car and then bolt the heads up to it, that would be silly, and it’s twice as silly to expect a good, clean, precise and long lasting repair if it’s done in the car.  The question is not can I, the question is should I?

Next the surfaces for both the Cylinder heads and engine block must be clean, smooth and free of any residue such as brake cleaner.  But most importantly need to be at a refinishing average of RA 50 or better.

FAQ.

Q: Does the engine need to come out.

A : Yes

Q: Only one side is leaking should I do them both?

A: Yes, do both the other will be the weak link if left alone.

Q: Do I need to resurface the heads

A: If they are warped, you are unable to check for warp or unable to refinish properly your self, YES

Q: Do I need to replace the Head Bolts?

A: If you are unable to check the bolts for stretch then yes, if you have a 2005 and newer, YES

Q: Which Head Gaskets Should I use?

A: If a good Independent Subaru  Shop is located around you, most likely the Six Star gasket will be your best bet, however if not the only other option is the OE Subaru Gasket, anything else will just not last.  I will add that it is always best to use which ever gasket the shop making the repairs has a good comfort level with.

Q: Is Subaru paying for this?

A: The WWP-99 campaign has ended, there are some cases where Subaru will participate after the 5 year 60,000 mile powertrain warranty has expired but its on a case by case basis. But understand any repair made at a Dealer will be done by someone in a hurry using the same gasket you already tried.

Q: How much does a Head Gasket Repair Cost if I have to foot the bill?

A: This is a very tricky thing to answer.   Labor can differ greatly across the nation just like home prices.  I have observed invoices from shops in Montana for $1000.00 and ones form New York for $3000.00.  You are much better off finding a good Subaru shop that charges a fair price and does a good job and obtaining a price from them.

Q: What can I do to prevent the head gasket problem form ever happening?

A: Maintain your Subaru based on how you use it! Cars that make frequent short trips will end up with a gasket failure much sooner than a commuter car with high miles.  This is almost always because of the lack of understanding of the definition of severe use and how short drives are your car’s worst enemy.  Don’t ignore check engine lights, stay on top of the cooling system service intervals, maintain proper oil change intervals (again based on how you use the car).  Never use any special oil or cooling system “fix in a bottle”, the symptom may be temporarily resolved but at a much higher price later. We have seen the wrong type of stop leak lead to replacement of everything in the cooling system such as the heater core, hoses and radiator on top of replacing the head gaskets, resulting in a very large repair bill.  Oil treatments that soften oil seals can accelerate the deterioration of the head gaskets very quickly.

The truth is that while you may do everything right and still end up with an issue, the  life of  the head gasket will be prolonged if you take the time to understand you own a piece of machinery that must be maintained based on real world use.  I say this all the time; we have several customers that have still never made a head gasket repair to their 2000 and later  Subaru with 200k and counting, and we have some customers that found us for the first time at 61,000 miles after being informed they had a head gasket leak.  The main variables are the driver and the use.  Proper maintenance costs more, and that’s just not popular, as a result the market place just doesn’t allow for it.

Here are a few more  pictures of some of the important points to a head gasket repair.

 

Taking the engine out allows for  better control when torquing the head bolts.

Torquing Head Bolts
Torquing Head Bolts

Adjusting the valves while its all apart contributes to a complete repair and will help maintain economy and power.

Adjusting Valves on a Subaru
Adjusting Valves on a Subaru

The head gasket repair will only be as good as the prep work, the left side of the cylinder head below is what many shops and dealer feel to be ok, when in reality the surface on the right side will yield much better results.

Subaru Cylinder Head Surface Prep
Subaru Cylinder Head Surface Prep

The Cylinder heads and engine block surfaces must be checked for warp and corrected as needed.

Checking Subaru Heads For Warp
Checking Subaru Heads For Warp

Thanks for taking the time to read about the current trends with the Subaru Head Gasket situation.

If you have questions please post them here. I will as always do what I can to help.

Justin Stobb

Helping You get more out of your Subaru!

Subaru Service Appointments

Schedule your next service here or call: 425-828-3600.

"*" indicates required fields

Contact Information

Name*
Have You Been In Before?*

Tell Us About Your Subaru

What model is your Subaru?
And what year?
Trim level? (WRX, GT, Outback...)

Appointment Details

What day would you like an appointment*
Please note, we are closed Sundays.
What Time Would You Like To Come In?*
Our hours: M-F, 7am to 6pm. Sat, 8-5
:
Let us know if you need a shuttle & your destination.
Loaners are free with 30/60/90k services & some repairs
If more than one, add additional services in the comments below
Please tell us here if you need somthing not listed or have specific instructions for us

Facebook
Twitter

576 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for the fast response! Do you ever sleep???? Just kidding.

    Now that I know what that thingy really is I can try to find one but if not I will rig something up. Thanks again! I would definitely bring you my business if I didn’t live on the east coast.

  2. Hi Justin, awesome write-up!!!!!!! Really first-rate. I recently acquired an ’09 Outback 2.5L H4 w/ 140k miles. Seems to be in OK shape mechanically but rusty underneath. Head gaskets done (around 100k maybe? can’t recall exactly without the history in front of me) by previous owner – looks good so far but really no way to tell if they did it all right. Head grounding straps are broken though. There’s a long stamped steel “grounding bar” running front-to-back on the passenger side head that attaches with two screws into the head, and the grounding strap runs from one of them to the frame, but on the driver’s side the bar is missing. How critical is it to have that bar in place? If it’s needed, could I instead just run strap between the mounting screws and then to the frame?

    1. Hello Dave,

      Its not going to Hurt to create a Ground strap. The Bar you speak of is actually the bracket for the plug wire looming, and it sounds like someone omitted it on one side.

      -Justin

  3. Hey Justin,

    Thanks for the information and as usual it certainly helps. I probably have a leftover PH3593
    oil filter in my garage. I should buy a Forester with an EJ25 so I can use it!

    I hope you enjoy(ed) the July 4th weekend!

    Steve

  4. Hello Justin,

    Has your shop seen many FB25 engines yet with over 200k miles? I haven’t owned a Subaru for a few years but would like to again. I’d consider a 2009-2013 Forester. I know the Forester from 2011-2013 have the FB25. Some forums discuss using 5w30 oil although 0w20 is specified in the U.S. Interesting that owners from other countries state their manual specifies 5w30, or a range of oils. Some owners report slight improvement in oil consumption by using 5w30. I wouldn’t mind adding oil once a month or so. I know it would be very important to check it frequently especially with the FB25.

    Also – how common is a thrown rod in either the EJ25 or FB25 engine from what you’ve experienced? I’m thinking (and hoping) not very – as I believe you’ve stated on this website, a lot of your mechanics own turbo Subarus, would they continue to if they’re all throwing rods? I know most of the time that’s due to a lack of oil.

    I respect the talent and expertise that you and your crew have with Subarus. Unfortunately I’m on the opposite coast! There is a Subaru dealership though about 3 miles from me. There’s another used car dealership in my state that replaces the head gaskets and timing belt (don’t know what they actually do with the FB25 chain) on every Subaru they sell along with a 6 month bumper to bumper warranty, and a 1 year warranty on the engine. With them I’m thinking a 2009-10 with the EJ25 may be a better bet.

    1. Hey Steve,

      We service a lot of high mileage FB’s.

      I do not suggest 5w30 in the FB however.

      As far as Rod bearing failure, that typically only ever happens in any Subaru due to oil starvation.

      A 2010 Forester would be a great way to go, the last of the Ej series. If you stepped up to a FB, I would wait until 2016 in the Forester.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  5. Hi Justin, I just today inherited a 2005 Forester with 48K miles from a relative. It seems in really good shape. I’ve never owned a Subaru but always heard the head gasket “horror stories.” Decided to do some googling about the subject so I can be more informed and came across your site.
    I’m gonna do my best to maintain it, but I do a lot of city driving, so I want to preemptively prepare myself in case the HG signs start to show. This may be an odd question, but do you know of or recommend any shops in New England that have the same HG replacement standards as yours? More specifically, MA. Not sure if there’s a network of Subaru specialists or anything like that. If not, no worries. I will keep referring back to this article and try my best to stay on top of maintenance.

    1. Hey Dave,

      Ive often wished I had more time in the day to try and connect with more shop owners for when these times of things come up I could suggest someone.

      A 2005 Forester should last you a very long time, its really shown to be one of the better years.

      Thanks

      -Justin

  6. Hi Justin. Thank you for your article. Must be interesting to have the same conversation for 8 years!
    We have a 2011 Forester X with about 83k miles. We are the 3rd owners and have put about 35k miles on the vehicle (since fall 2017, wife purchased vehicle before we were married for around $8,500). Recently had the head gasket failure diagnosis after replacing the radiator and thermostat ($830) and are debating whether or not to put the money into fixing it (about $3k estimate). Also had the recommendation to replace the front CV axels ($650 estimate). In the last year and a half we have put new tires, new brakes and rotors all around, tune up with valve cover replacement, and replaced the serpentine belt. All those added up to probably $3-4k.
    My question is about how many miles do you think the head gasket repair would get me? Reading through the comments above it seems like I might get another 80k miles out of it before it would need to be done again.
    Are there any other major repairs that you foresee needing to be done in the 80-150k mile range? I have heard rumors that the Catalytic Converters need replacing around 120k.

    Thank you for your help.

    1. Hello Landon,

      I saw you emailed us at the shop and Joe was able to help, our Website had an issue after an update that would not allow me to reply to posts, its resolved now.

      If the FB 2.5l found in your 2011 Forester doesn’t overheat, I do not think the HG will need to be done again at 80k post replacement (provided they were done well). As far as the Catalytic convertor if has an internal HG failure those could sneak up on you sooner. Id suggest using the best gas possible post HG replacement and maybe driving it a little harder than normal to create exhaust temperature to burn out any contaminates.

      My general advice is to budget $1500 a year for car maintenance after 60k. This is based on our own analytics. One year its $3000 the next $200, but on average its about $1500 a year. You wont generally speaking put $3000 a year into your Subaru every year you own it, there will however be periods where it seems like it never ends, it always does and its almost always a better decision to maintain what you already own rather than 40k on new.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. From what I have experienced, there has been overheating issues. At idle, after driving for about 15-20 min, the temperature light would start flashing and the AC wouldn’t be cold. Once I would get back up to speed and increase air flow, the AC would get cool again. So I thought it might be the radiator fan. I did notice a white puff of smoke during acceleration once, so I figured I am having a coolant issue. A few days later while at speed, the temp light started flashing red and blue, check engine light came on, as well as the cruise and traction control lights. After I got home I checked the coolant in the overflow and the radiator. The overflow was nearly full, and there wasn’t any visible coolant in the radiator. I took the vehicle to a local shop, not a subaru specialty shop or dealership, but a shop I have been to before and have had reasonable service. They said there was no coolant in the radiator and I had them replace the radiator and the thermostat. While driving the next day, the temp light started flashing, and I checked the coolant again and the overflow was full again and nothing visible in the radiator.

  7. Yes Justin it certainly helps. Thanks for the great information as usual. I hope you, your family and friends are well and safe.

  8. Hello Justin,

    Great website you have. I’ve owned 6 Subarus over the years, 8 counting those my sons owned with my name on the title. I don’t currently own a Subaru, but there’s an appeal to them that I just can’t ignore. Since I have a company van, a vehicle with high mileage (like my ’99 Honda Accord 5MT) would not typically be a concern. If I were to buy another Subaru, I’d look for an Outback with the 3.6 engine and 5EAT. The operation of a CVT is fine by me, just concerned about the reliability. Or, a 2011+ Forester with a 5MT, since both of those having timing chains. I do routinely see 2011 or newer Foresters with well over 100k miles for sale. Can I assume the trouble with oil consumption was resolved with those particular vehicles? I’ve read the FB25 in the Forester that year is supposedly less prone to head gasket failures. Reading reviews on a 2011 -12 Foresters, so many owners mention excessive oil consumption along with a few short block replacements. If I had to add a quart of oil ever 1k miles or so, that would be fine with me. I know there’s no sure prediction as to what could happen, but I’m thinking if an FB25 as 150k or so miles, either it’s been replaced or didn’t have the oil consumption issue? Some recent reviews of 2011-12 Foresters report great reliability – so maybe not every early FB25 was prone to excessive oil consumption? Thanks for your great information and previous replies to good questions. I wish your shop was near me, I’m clear across the country!

    1. Hello Steve,

      So yes not every 2.5l FB was prone to consumption, and after 9 years of it being out we just do not see HG failures in these engines to often, usually after an overheat situation is really the only ones we have done so far.

      Its always about the car however, so just be diligent. Oil consumption cant really be known during a n inspection and its pretty easy to hide. I would stick to private party sales where you can verify ownership and maintenance aspects.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  9. Justin,
    I am looking at purchasing a 2006 Outback XT with the 2.5 turbo motor from a private party, who claims that “these cars had the redesigned head gaskets and do not have the same head gasket issues as other 2.5 Subarus.” I found your post based on doing a Google search on the subject to try to confirm whether or not this is actually the case. Based on your experience, is this an accurate statement? I didn’t see a specific mention of the XT turbo motors in your post, so I’m not sure if the HG info pertains to these as well, or just to the normally aspirated models.

    Thanks,
    Ken

    1. Hi Ken,

      Turbo models use MLS gaskets form the Factory where as SOHC did not until the 201-2012 Outback and Legacy.

      Not updated in the Turbo cars just MLS from the Factory as they need to be as they are under boost.

      -Justin

  10. Justin

    Thank you very much for the most coherent, focused and knowledgeable posts I have

    ever seen (or heard) regarding Subaru head gasket realities and attending common

    sense cause and effect.

    I have a 27 year old Daughter with a 2003 Outback wagon 2.5 with 225,000 miles

    studying at Cornell doing grad studies. (66 year old Dad WILL continue to work)

    Oil leak from head gaskets is becoming a major concern, thinking full gasket failure is not far behind based on your info.

    Car still gets 27 MPG highway, has never been overheated, has had Mobil 1 5w 30 from 70,000 to 170,000, and Mobil 1 10w 30 thereafter.

    Am getting estimate from independent mechanic for OE head gasket, water pump, freeze out plug, timing belt (it’s due) and all seals encountered to be replaced.

    Any other suggestions?

    Best regards to a REAL automotive professional,

    Rich Trombitas

    1. Hey Richard

      Sorry for the very late reply, its been very hectic since the holidays.

      Anyways I would add in the Timing belt tensioner, and updated tensioner bracket (this is a must) as well as the idlers. Form there possibly look at the coolant cross over o-rings, rear main seal, seperator plate reseal and the left rear wrist pin access o-ring. These are pretty inexpensive and can really cut down on forward going ownership costs and that car is always in the shop feeling. Other than that the Radiator and hoses should be considered but at 225k I would imagine these might have been done

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  11. Hey Justin. My friend sent me this article and I was just wondering if the same problems occur in the 6cylinder model 2008 Tribeca? I absolutely love this car and after reading this article I wonder how To inspect properly what and where should I look? I wouldn’t dream of attempting something this involved but I definitely want to be able to know how to recognize if there is a problem. No oil leaks I have seen. But it smells like it maybe runs lean. Thank you!

    1. Hello Rory,

      The 3.6l found in the 2008 Tribeca does not have a history of head gasket issues like the EJ 2.5l SOHC does for Subaru. What we typically see is if the vehicle is poorly maintained and or has some sort of overheating event it can cause the head gaskets to fail internally which will create air pockets in the cooling system eventually leading to over heating.

      This is not all that common, generally at mileage in excess of 150k and again typically only on the poorly maintained cars or ones that suffered a overheating situation.

      How to avoid this

      Oil changes every 3000 miles or 3 months
      Coolant every couple of years
      Replace the Thermostat (only with a genuine Subaru one) around 90k
      Replace the Radiator as preventative maintenance prior to the 150k mark or after 9 years or so as they tend to crack as all plastic radiators do over time.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Thank you for the response. I was planning on the replacement of the radiator. So that’s good to hear. I have been regularly replacing the oil since I have owned the vehicle. Have a Merry Christmas

  12. Hello Justin:
    Saw a good deal on a 2010 Outback: marked down b/c of a couple of cosmetic body things. It has a 6 sp. manual transmission and it drives pretty nice. 84k miles on it.
    I’m curious: didn’t Subaru start using an improved Cylinder head design beginning in 2010? How much improvement have you seen regarding HG problems since this change?
    I’ve read a bunch on this site about Subaru HG problems, but most of the stories seem to refer to older models. Should I be less concerned with this 2010 model?
    Also, is it true that the 6 cylinder engines are less prone to HG problems than the 4 cylinder engines?
    Thanks, patrick

    1. Hello Patrick,

      The 2010-2012 H4 2.5l uses a MLS gasket that is less prone to failure than prior years, this is the Subaru Outback and Legacy only mind you. The 3.0 and 3.6R 6 cylinder is less prone than the early EJ 2.5l but is a lot more expensive to repair.

      6 speeds are rare and 84k is low mileage, that might be a great find if the car checks out.

      -Justin

  13. What do you recommend to resurface the block surface. I believe my sister’s 2.5 in her 2005 LGT has a blown head gasket. I have used carb cleaner and scotch brite pads by hand in the past with some success and usually take the heads to the local machine shop. Just wanting to get a suggestion. I’d like this car to last for a long time.

    1. Hi Joe , Justin , I’ve just gotten onto this forum , was amazed that Subaru had an ongoing issue like this !!! I’ve never liked to plane a cylinder head and put it back and cylinder block deck that may have pulled up at the head bolts , if you have the engine out and heads off you might as well split the crank case and get the decks planed , do a light rebuild on the bottom end and hone the bores, new rings and your engine will outlast the car , don’t know what this costs in your part of the world , I’m in OZ

      1. Hey Greg,

        Would be great if we could do all of that everything however, in many cases you cant take any material off the case 1/2’s and most customers would never go for the expense, and yes it’s significantly more.

        Thanks,

        -Justin

        1. Hey Justin , thanks for getting back to me , I’m should be doing a rebuild on a Forester 2.5 soon , will post anything interesting that I find in it

  14. I currently own a 2009 Subaru Outback Sport (standard) with approximately 135k miles on it. I recently found out the HG needs to be changed and the dealership is quoting me $2300 for the fix and they will also fix the ball and joint they said. In addition, if there is noted warping in my engine they said they would need to ship it out and that would cost me an additional $500.

    So, it’s going to cost $2300 to $2800. This car has had very few problems in the past 10 years I have had it, only the AC stopped working where coolant was added and it fixed the issue, and the clutch needed to be changed.

    Other than that it’s been fine, I’m not sure if I should invest in this fix or if I should just sell it for $3500…and use an old 2006 Honda Accord with 197k miles that has little to no problems that has been well taken care of.

    Any suggestions or recommendations? I’m just scared this Subaru Outback Sport down the road will have more problems after investing money to fix the HG.

    1. Hey Chris,

      In reality the HG thing is typically the big thing your Subaru will need. They are not prone to transmission or electrical problems.

      I don’t like the Dealer repairing the Subaru unless there are no other choices however and will strongly suggest you look for a good Independent Subaru shop using the Six Star Head Gasket if you can find one.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  15. Justin,

    I have read both your articles with great interest and I thank you for taking the time to write them in the first place and to respond to all the comments afterwards.
    I have a 2004 Subaru Legacy with a 2.5l engine (though we call them Liberty down here) which is starting to leak oil from both head gaskets. I have two questions:

    1) you mention that using a higher octane rating fuel is better. In Australia we have 92 octane fuel and my recollection was this was the recommended fuel for my car in the owner’s manual. We also have 95 octane and 98 octane fuel, so my question is which of those alternatives would you suggest should be used?

    2) you also suggest that the servicing should be designed around the use of the car. My car has done ~60,000 miles since I bought it as new, so about 4,000 miles per year mostly in 15-30 minute trips around the city (lots of stop/start driving) though I do take it up to the snow once a year which is about a 700 mile round trip. From new I have had it serviced at the Subaru dealer every 6 months or so, even though I never get near the mileage, but in the last couple of years this has stretched out to annually before I go to the snow. Do you think this is often enough for this use pattern? Should I change the oil and coolant in between services?

    1. Hey Vaughan,

      In Australia they calculate Octane different than in the US. The US uses an average of RON (Research Octane) and MON (Motor Octane), where you are its just the RON. A good rule of thumb is the U.S. reads about 5 Octane lower than Europe/Australia. Having said that, you guys still get better fuel, but I would still at least run the “mid grade”, especially how you are using it.

      I am not as familiar with your climate as I would like to be, but based on your use, I would still service it at least twice a year, that oil is just collecting fuel which slowly overtime is going to deteriorate the seals and gaskets on that Subaru which sounds like its already occurring. See if you can purchase PH strips for the coolant and check it every year, if the ph is high or low change it as that occurs and every two years regardless. Other than that just monitor the HG leaks and take care of it as it gets worse and or the moment it also starts to leak coolant past the head gaskets.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  16. Hello Justin,

    I have 2009 Forester w/ 132,000 miles. Bad HG oil leak on one side. Local Subaru dealer in El Paso, TX asked $3000 for seal job. It is worth it on a $4000 car? I love the car and originally planned to keep it to 200,000+ miles. Should I cut my losses and get the Ascent? Local reputable mom & pop shop that does not have extensive Subaru experience is asking $1300 for HG replacement. Any thoughts? I cannot find a 6-star kit for this car. Is OEM MLS acceptable? I am concerned mom & pop will use something from Pepboys. Is there a kit that I can get for the mom & pop to use?

  17. Great web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find quality writing like yours these days.

    I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  18. Justin, I just had the HG’s replaced in our 2007 Legacy. The RH cyl head was warped and needed to be resurfaced. What is the max that can be removed from
    the cyl head surface to correct this before needing to replace the cyl head?

    1. Hello Dan,

      The Heads would need to be CC’ed which would measure the combustion chamber area of the head, each head would be different, so this is the measurement that must be done to make the when removing material from the Cylinder head the combustion chamber size stays within the specified range. Any GOOD machine shop should be able to do this and to be able to look up the Specs.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  19. Justin, awesome articles. Thank you SO much!

    I’m desperately in need of a vehicle. Local Subaru dealer (central PA) has a very clean ’04 Outback with 101,000 mi for $5k as is. Serviced regularly but timing belt and head gaskets are original. I brought up the fact that both are due for replacement and they said they’d do both for a $6500 out the door price. I assume this means they’ll do a competent but quick-n-dirty in-car repair. (Large family-owned dealer has been around a long time, good, not stellar reputation. Sell Chevrolet and Subaru.)

    Question: is it reasonable to assume I’d get another 50k trouble-free miles out of the motor, assuming I change oil and coolant (including the conditioner) on a regular basis? Deal or no deal?

    Thanks!
    -Bill

    PS: Or I could go with an ’06 Prius for $6k. 🙂

    1. Hi Bill,

      Either way you go the car should be inspected prior to you buying it in order to answer the how much life does it have left Question. It’s kind of like wondering how healthy you are with out a physical and blood work.

      Assuming the Subaru is in good shape and the head gaskets are done properly another 50k should be no problem, in reality it should go another 200k.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  20. Justin Hey great article very informative thank you for taking the time to write it and answer all those post aswell kodos to you! The reason I read your Hg article is that I recently took on the job of replacing the Hgs on a friends 2007 B9 tribeca with the 3.0 liter EZ30 boxer engine. had the heads milled I beleive 12 or 13 thou.but did not have them magnafluxed to check for cracks replaced the head bolts and used fel-pro gaskets (after reading your article realize that was a mistake I’ve always used fel-pro gasket in the past but never on Imports chevys &fords)anyways after bolting it back together &trying to start it(to no avail) did a compresstion check that indicates very low compresstion 25 to 50 psi, in all cyl. added motor oil in each cyl. & rechecked it came up to around 90psi is it possible the head are cracked it was overheatedto the point it would not run! Is it possible for the block to warp? any ideas I am on whidbey Island. what is the price of your kits & whats included? I cound’nt find a printed repair man. what do you think of Alldata online man. and can you sugesst another? Thank you for your time & advice the wrench

    1. Hi Brett,

      I would get rid of the Felpro gaskets, and I also assume that maybe something wasn’t put back together correctly, like a timing chain is off a few teeth or somethings not quite right with the rockers?

      We do not offer a kit for the H6, not enough failures. We would have just used the OE Subaru gasket here.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  21. I am looking at a $3200 bill to replace the head gaskets, cam and crank shaft seals, thermometer, complete timing belt kit, water pump and also radiator. The cost of the HG repair alone was in line with what other area shops are charging. This car was sold to me by the father of the owner (who lives on the other side of the state) and I’m hoping this was a mistake that they are willing to rectify, returning some of the purchase price to me (I paid $2000 over book value, assuming value added from the suppose repairs) to go toward the HG repairs. Do you think an ’04 Outback with an actual “clean bill of health” would be worth the $4000 ($3200 +700 for new O2 sensor and brake/trans. fluid flush/fill)? This shop does use Six Star head gaskets and they have a great reputation in the area.

    I’m not sure how useful of a question this is but maybe my comment will just serve as a testimonial to always have used Subarus inspected prior to purchase.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Yes its always best to have a pre purchase inspection done. As far as the question of “is it worth it” what are your options?

      Fix this one and spend 4k
      Buy something else for _____$, then put money into it.

      There are two types of cars

      1. New cars that you pre pay to have free covered repairs and in some cases basic maintenance for a predetermined amount of time, also known as a warranty and maintenance contract. After the warranty and or contract expires its your car and you pay for repairs and all maintenance.

      2. Used cars that will all need some sort of repairs and maintenance at some point in time, sometimes this is a few dollars sometimes a few thousand.

      Its always affects your bank account less to roll with option 2, it may affect your love of the car or lack thereof, every time you have it serviced, vs consistent monthly payments.

      -Justin

  22. Hi Justin- this has been a really helpful article as I was just delivered the grim news my 09 Subaru Forester needs the head gaskets replaced as one is leaking oil. I also have a leaking strut and the grand total for both repairs was quoted at $4200 at the Subaru dealership. I only have 90k miles on it and I’m unsure if it’s worthwhile to pump that much money into this car vs say leasing a new one. Any advice to make this decision a little easier? Thanks again for your time!

    1. Hello Ruth,

      So if you like the car and if it didn’t need some work right now, could you see your self keeping it for another 3 to 5 years or longer?

      It is never cheaper to buy or lease a new car VS repairing an older one.

      Its really about your comfort level.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  23. Justin, in the video you did on prepping the heads for gasket replacement you used a sanding block but you did not say what grit paper you were using. could you let me know! Thanks Richard

    1. Hi Richard,

      We call out the grit and method in the guide we supply, but we will typically go from a scotch bright pad and brake clean to 400 dry,to 400 wet to 600 wet and finish with a white polish pad.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Do you sell these guides? I sadly already purchased my parts before stumbling upon your site.

        Thank you.

        1. Hello Alec,

          No not at all, and it’s not just the guide is our tech support you miss out on when you buy the parts else where.

          Sorry,

          -Justin

  24. Thanks for the explanation .I have a 2010 outback (subaru #5 for us, all other had HG problems) that has some suspicions looking white milky substance in the blue coolant…just did the 105k timing belt and no overheating as far as we can tell .. I have the extended warranty till 130k. have you seen any head gasket on 2010 to 2013? after reading your post i will check that the fans do turn on when idling. Thanks for all that super useful info.

  25. Hi Justin,

    Thanks again for your informative blog. I read it back in March when I was told my 06 Sub Imp OBS had a head gasket issue. The car had 170K miles but since I like the car so much, I decided to have the work done and went to the Sub. expert repair guy in town, for about $500 more than the regular joes were estimating. He said he wanted to have the head machined and do the timing belt and such since the eng. would be out.
    Got the work done, and 4 months later (10k miles), it became evident that the car is burning oil now quite significantly. I’m trying to figure out if this is ‘just bad luck’ or should he be warrantying this?
    He says that the head gasket repair deals with the ‘top half’ of the eng. and that the bottom half now needs to be done. I have no idea what this means, and certainly didn’t know there are top and bottom halves. I’m not so keen on putting another $2K into the car so soon.
    Any thoughts on why my car is now burning so much oil? (1-1.5 qts per 1000 miles, and it burns more on long trips).
    I’ve gotta figure out whether or not to trust this guy.

    Thanks for any input you can give me. I really can’t find any new car that fits me as well as my 06. I like the 2.5 L eng, and the looks better than the new ones. Also, the reviews of the new Subs are concerning….not as highly rated by owners as the ‘old’ ones were. and the new Mazda CX3 and the Honda HRV are NOT available with a manual transmission….a must for mountain living as far as I’m concerned!

    1. Hello Nancy,

      Sorry to hear about the trouble. We were crazy busy at the shop last week so I am just getting caught up with the Blog today. There is just not a simple answer here I am afraid. We also deal with this from time to time and I can attest it doesn’t have to be a workmanship issue. We have tried to understand the problem and identify all of the things we can do to attempt to avoid oil consumption, but even then one or two every few months still come up. But something has caused the oil control rings to contract, there may have been some carbon build up and a couple days of down time may have pushed them over the edge, debris could be an issue, not oiling the cylinders before re-installing the heads could be an issue.

      What to do now..

      If your guy is offering to take car of it for $2000 he is actually covering everything bu the short block, which is exactly what we try and offer as well if it happens to one of our customers.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Thanks Justin….I appreciate the feedback. I’m limping it along for now, checking the oil FREQUENTLY to be sure I don’t run it low. If I can limp along for 2 years this way, I’ll be happy. If it starts to fail, I don’t have much choice but to put the money into it.

        Guess I’ll see what happens!

        Thanks again.

  26. The 2.5L is the engine of choice in the USA. Do you have any experience with the 2.0 DOHC EJ204 or 2.0GT (EJ20X EJ20Y)engines?

    Obviously with the same design flat 4, the issues of fuel in the oil, corrosion etc will all be acting on the heads whether its the 2.0 or 2.5.

    Do you know if these EJ20 engines are just as prone to the same failure rates as the EJ25 ?

    1. Much less with the 2.0l

      I think they would have less issues early, with more surface mass around the cylinder liners, but would still suffer regardless due to the type of fuel and use they would be subject to here in the US.

      -Justin

  27. Hello Justin,
    Had two big head gasket failures on my 1999 Outback and hoping not to repeat with my just purchased 2003 Forester manual transmission. Will mostly use for city driving, few miles per week (about 30 miles). I’ve few questions where not seen clarity or I missed on your blog.

    1. In this Part II article, you’ve recommended putting premium gas over the car manual prescribed regular as factor to reduce HG damage. I read somewhere that 03 Forester got lower mpg with premium than regular gas. I can experiment—if I find lower mpg w premium, —perhaps due to lower efficiency burning of the high octane gas?—, do you still recommend premium for protection of the HG?

    2. Do you recommend radiator fluid change more frequent than the Subaru scheduled maintenance?

    3. I know Subaru advises their coolant conditioner but not sure if you also recommend using it?

    Thanks so much for your informative articles, blog and these Q&As!!
    best wishes,
    Mona

    1. Hello Mona,

      Premium fuel is not a bad option if you are of the frame of mind that you want to do everything you can to prolong your head gaskets and engine components.

      Every 2 years or 30,000 on the coolant unless the PH levels dictate sooner.

      I don’t advocate the use of the Subaru stop leak, can and will cause more damage in thew way of clogged heater cores and radiators.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Many thanks, Justin, for your knowledge and willingness to share w us. Yes, your answers will help me maintain and extend life of my car, which is my priority.

        Best regards,
        Mona

  28. Hi Justin,
    thx for all the info here, very informative. We have a 2006 Ouback 2.5i Limited with ~114k miles. Sometime last year I started noticing some antifreeze on the garage floor from the driver’s side. I have not noticed any symptoms other than having to refill the antifreeze overflow tank every couple weeks. The radiator itself normally seems full, and I have never noticed any overheating or smoke or anything unusual, although this is my wife’s car and I don’t often drive it. I also have not really noticed any oil leakage, but I will start keeping a close eye on that. I did remove the heat shield last year when I first noticed the issue (it is still off now), in an attempt to see where the fluid was coming from.

    Unfortunately, I cannot recall exactly when I first noticed this problem. However, I am certain that over the course of this summer, I have not had to add fluid nearly as often, or as much as I used to in order to top off the reservoir. Based on what I’m reading here, I’m guessing I may have a head gasket issue, though it’s not so clear to me the symptoms I have fit with the ones you described for the type 3 failure common with my model. Would it make sense for a head gasket problem to be weather dependent? My guess would be yes, due to different expansion/contraction with temperature (we live near Atlanta, in Peachtree City).

    If this is a head gasket issue, and based on my description here, how imminent would you say the repair should be? Is this something that we could monitor and let go for some time, or is this something we should plan on for the near-term future (perhaps at least by this winter)? I will say that the car is due for a timing belt change, so I know that is something we need to have done, and may impact your advice here.

    Lastly, do you know any shops in the area here that you would recommend? Thx a lot for all your advice and help!

    1. Hi Fred,

      I am sorry but I don’t really have anywhere to send you in the Atlanta area.

      As far as how imminent this is, generally speaking when it starts to leak coolant, from the head gasket its only a matter of time before it will overheat and that can damage the entire engine. It may seem like it leaks less if there is less expansion events occurring, but as soon as the weather changes as the temperatures become cooler it could become drastically worse.

      So in my opinion, it should be looked at by a professional who knows Subaru. If it is the HG, you really need to get it done before it costs more as its never going to cost less and I would hate to see you in a tough spot.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  29. okay, here’s a question, I have the coolant filling the res up entirely while driving my 99 forester. This of course eventually causes the temperature to spike due to lack of coolant in the system.

    Everything screams head gasket except: When running it with the radiator cap off I don’t see air bubbles after the coolant has a chance to fill the output hose on the block, and despite the fact that the system was obviously low on coolant (since I had to pump it from the res) I am not seeing a reduction in coolant level in the radiator that one would expect when the thermostat opens.
    This would leave one to believe the thermostat is not in fact opening. I am however not so savvy on the way the subaru system works i.e. the rather unusual placement of the thermostat.
    It seems to me since the thermostat is basically nothing more than a check valve, that if it does not open then naturally the coolant in the block is going to boil, now most engines the check valve is on the top of the block, with subarus being under the water pump it seems to me that the pressure produced would naturally push the coolant to the path of least resistance which in thi case would be the res.
    That would indicate that the problem may be the thermostat, except one last issue: The coolant never returns back into the radiator. As a matter of fact I can leave it sitting overnight and the radiator will still be under a slight amount of pressure in the morning, which would explain the coolant not feeding back because as the engine cools it should produce a vacuum but obviously the system is maintaining too much pressure for the vacuum to form.
    This again would have me looking at a head gasket issue i.e. combustion gasses creating more pressure than the system is made to handle, but………… at the same time a defective radiator cap can create a similar issue.
    Figured I would see what your take on it is since this is the first time I have had to deal with a boxer engine.
    I am seriously leaning towards head gasket but it is the mrs car, since I am back in school getting my degree as a diesel tech and both me n the mrs working part time we are struggling to survive for the next few months. Bottom line is I need to fix this baby without doing the eenie meenie miney moe parts replacement routine (I am not really that kind of mechanic anyway)
    Course radiator cap is cheap and I will replace that first thing can’t hurt, and I will tomorrow be draining the coolant and replacing with new so I can be absolutely sure that the thermostat is not opening (occams razor says the simplest explanation is most likely the true one so head gaskets vs thermostat and radiator cap both being faulty at the same time hmmmmm which is the simplest thus most likely explanation? lol)
    Course I can test for compression gasses once I have clean coolant in the vehicle for a minute. Just figured I would get the take on this before I start spending money. Pretty sure it’s the head gasket for the most part though I am wishing it is the thermostat for obvious reasons (not really stoked about pulling the engine to fix head gaskets though it is actually from what I have observed rather easy to do so. One would almost think subaru’s engineers built it knowing that it is a high maintenance engine that would need to be pulled periodically. I mean disconnect the hoses, straps, mounts and tranny and bam that baby out, it is of course putting it back in that I am concerned about…….
    Which leads to the final question, when one pulls the engine what is the best way? tranny on or off?

    1. You would need to install a coolant fill funnel to really see the bubbles.

      Trans needs to be disconnected to remove the engine.

      -Justin

  30. Wow- Great info here. Much appreciated. Some background info and then a question…

    Our first Subaru was a beautiful ’94 Legacy 25th Anniversary edition. Probably one of the last 2WD Subarus. It was high mileage (60K) for a 3 year old car, but it served us well for the next 6 years. We traded it in for what turned into a bit of a nightmare, a 2 year old ’01 Outback.

    I started smelling coolant about a month after we bought it, but the dealer never found anything wrong. Instead, they would try to sell me things like a battery hold-down clamp for $50 (they went out of business shortly after that). After a year or so of back and forth (and consulting different dealers) head gasket failure was diagnosed.

    I found info online that there was a silent recall going on so I contacted Subaru of America. I got them talking with the service department at the dealer and they took care of me. IIRC not only head gaskets, but a chunk of the engine as well (short block?). There was also a bad weld on the underside of the hood which was starting to rust and again, SOA took care of it. If I learned anything from this car, it’s always worth calling them if you have a major issue.

    When the car was 8 years old it I started smelling coolant again and just didn’t want to deal with it. Some suspension issues were going to need imminent attention as well. Traded it for an Accord; simple and not much fun.

    A couple of months ago it was my wife’s turn to upgrade her car and we were really missing the AWD so she ended up with a certified ’13 Impreza Sport Limited. She loves it so far- it’s a really great and comfortable car. For my next upgrade I’m really thinking about another Legacy- maybe the H6?

    So here’s the question: How are the newer 2.0i engines doing as far as head gasket issues? I haven’t seen anything related to this showing up- did they finally resolve the issue? What about the newer 6 cylinders?

    1. Hello CL,

      No major reported issues with HG with the 2.0l as of yet, it’s been out since 2012.
      The 3.6l has been out since 2008, we have seen a few HG here and there but nothing typical or everyone kind of a thing. We have a 2012 3.6 Outback, its a great car in my opinion.

      -Justin

  31. Hi, great site! I have a cursed Subaru. It is a 1997, with the 2.5 double overhead cam. This car has been a nightmare. We are on our third engine in just a years. Here is the report from a mechanic who looked at it yesterday. Thoughts? 😉

    “—Battery was discharged on arrival. Recharged battery for tests. Visually inspected engine and found no indications of coolant pump or external
    coolant leakage from the engine or radiator. Ran engine until normal operating temperature and found indications of bubbling in the coolant overflow
    bottle, raising the level of the coolant in the bottle until it would start to spill over. I also noted an abnormally high amount of water coming from the
    exhaust. In the time I ran the engine, long enough for several cooling fan activations, about 1 pt of water came out of the tailpipe. I could not get a
    positive CO2 reading from the bubbling reservoir, but it seems pretty clear that an internal combustion to cooling system crossover is happening.
    Further troubleshooting might pinpoint the precise location of the leak, but the end result would be the same in the engine needing to be removed for
    disassembly and inspection.”

    The only thing I notice from this inspection and after reading this page is the inability to get a CO2 reading. Not sure where to go from here. Thinking about scrapping and moving on. Thank yhou for your time and patience.

    1. Hi Les,

      Sorry to hear about the trouble.

      Here is the issue however

      The wrong repairs are being made by those not familiar with Subaru.

      Options are to find a shop that knows the car or buy a car your current shop can work on.

      A 1997 can and will develop an internal failure, it should be a one time occurrence. However if a junk yard engine is installed your just putting in another problem.

      -Justin

    1. Hello Landy,

      I would suggest no coolant conditioner and I would use the OEM Subaru Green Coolant if it still has OE Head gaskets or any aluminum safe Green coolant if it has had an upgrade to a Six Star head gasket. If you dont know the state of the head gaskets use the OE Subaru Coolant.

      -Justin

  32. Hello Justin,

    Thank you for the wonderful service you provide in writing this blog! I have learned more about maintaining my Subaru’s here than with any other resource.

    I have a regularly serviced ’07 Impreza with 93k miles in which the 2.5-L H4 head gaskets are just starting to leak oil onto the cross member. I am monitoring it & keeping an eye on my oil and coolant. I know that there will be a head gasket replacement in its future but I’m wondering if I can slow the deterioration and extend the gasket life through best practices.

    In this article you recommend the use of premium fuel to control knocking. I have not, to date, used anything other than “regular” 87-octane fuel in this engine. Is it possible that if I were to switch to 91 or 93-octane I may extend the life of these head gaskets? If so, is 91 (the middle grade) good enough or is it wiser to not take risks and use 93? Also, is it a good rule-of-thumb for all naturally aspirated, low compression engines, that using high-octane fuel will reduce knock & potentially extend engine life?

    Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you. -Chris

    1. Hello Chris,

      If they are already starting to leak oil I would budget for the repair but keep an eye on it and wait for it to become worse.

      I like the idea of using a better quality fuel such as mid grade but don’t want to suggest that if they are already leaking oil it’s going to help that much, it may but it also may not. Going forward what I suggest is post repairs use mid grade or premium at least one out of 4 tanks.

      -Justin

  33. On the hunt for a Forester or Outback for my daughter who will be living in the Mt. Baker area this winter. Have about $5k to spend.
    Anyway, your article says in 2003 the head gaskets were improved, ground straps were added and better coolant recommended. In 2005, the head got a bigger chamber and less surface area.
    From these 2 facts, are 2003 and 2004 the best years?
    At this price point, the vast majority of cars are on used dealer lots that came from auctions. Rare they know the history of the car, so all I can do is pick a good year and inspect for obvious leaks and smelly/oily coolant.
    Thanks for any help!

    1. Hello Rod,

      Yes any used Subaru you are considering needs to have an inspection done prior to buying it. The 2003, 2004 are pretty good years.

      5k might not buy a car that doesn’t have challenges.

      Justin

  34. Hi Justin,

    The dealer confirmed that they do remove the engine from the car, which – after reading your article – seems like it’s really the best way to do it. Thanks again.

    Andrew

  35. Hi Justin – great article; thank you for the valuable info. I have a 2008 Impreza wagon with about 110K miles – most of my driving is short commute in/around NJ and NY, with occasional long (4+ hour) trips. I’ve maintained the vehicle meticulously since I bought it new in late 2007. I had the timing belt replaced earlier this year, shortly after I hit 100K miles. My dealer just told me that the HGs are just starting to leak a bit of oil – they said it’s not a huge issue right now & can be monitored – but that they will likely need to be replaced sometime in the future.

    My question: do you think it’s okay to wait a bit & budget for the repair, especially with the winter approaching? (I’m not sure if outside temperature has any bearing on the HGs leaking, but it can’t hurt to ask) Or should I just nip this in the bud right now? And does $1900 seem like a reasonable price for the repair? I trust my dealer, but after reading this article I feel like your insight would be valuable.

    Thank you again,
    Andrew

    1. Hello Andrew,

      If its just a small oil leak it may in fact stay that way for a long time, I would budget for the service and replace the Head gaskets as there are signs of it also becoming a coolant leak, or a much more sever oil leak. We have monitor lots of Subaru’s here for the same thing, some need to be replaced 3 months later some 3 years later.

      The price sounds okay, I would however inquire about how the repair is made, such as do they do this in the car or do they remove the engine.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  36. Just wanted to give my personal experience to strengthen your claim about the inferiority of paying for an HG replacement at the Subaru dealer. At my work, I do a head gasket job on a SOHC EJ25 about once every two weeks. When the heads come off, I end up spending probably close to two hours just prepping surfaces to reinstall the new gasket and we’re lucky to be able to resurface heads in-house. Oh, and we use HGs for the EJ255 instead of the spec’d ones and have had good luck.

    Anyways, when I bought my wife’s 2004 Subaru Legacy, it was sold to us with the HGs replaced and I figured that I would be good to go for a while. While I knew they did the repair with the engine still in the car, I did not know that they didn’t resurface the heads. Well, 15k later, oil is starting to weep from the back of the driver’s side head to the point that it will need to be addressed in the bear future. They might as well have done none of the work and taken money off of the purchase price because I had to install a new timing belt kit and water pump bc their 105k service just includes the belt, and now this.

    Oh, and I won’t even get started about the hell I went through with having to have my turbocharger replaced on my 14 WRX under warranty. I am reluctant to ever buy a new Subaru again because you have no choice other than the dealer if something goes awry.

    Thanks for doing what you do Justin, all of your posts have been very beneficial to me and I always find myself re-referencing them!

    1. Hi Matt,

      Thanks for sharing your views. I think the needing it again after a year thing is awful, but a story I hear and see all to often. Whats worse is I even have local competitors that still either do the repair in the car or somehow feel that because Subaru under warranty allowed for a substandard surface area treatment with a “rolock disc” that it’s somehow okay to do that for a customer that’s paying for it. I wish that Subaru owners understood that shopping around for car service is just not the same as shopping around for a pair of shoes or a TV and that the experience they will have with their Subaru is only as good as who they elect to have service it.

      -Justin

  37. Hi Justin,
    I recently purchased a 05 Legacy w/ turbo w/ ~165k miles on it. I’m a little concerned the HG are going on judging from your mentioning in this article that they go at around ~150k on turbo charged versions of the 2.5 and some records I have.

    One mentions there being on the higher end of acceptable of hydrocarbons in the coolant, and that gaskets should be fine but to monitor it. How do I monitor it? Should I have a tech check the hydrocarbon levels again (it was done in May of this year (2014). I’m a little concerned I made a mistake in buying this car.

    What I really wanted to do was ask you about your motto of maintaining the car per its usage. The car in question will likely be driving around 10-15miles (round trip) a day through a smallish town to and from work. Obviously I’ll need to run premium fuel, but when you say to maintain as you use it what do you mean? In regards to oil we’ll likely be going over time than over mileage so should we judge by time first for when to change the oil? Are there any other maintenance issues I should look for to do? I saw your post about turbos. Should I make sure the Subaru tech is changing the filter for the turbo on every oil change, and checking the oil supply bolt?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Tommy,

      The hydrocarbons statement is a concern and I would not take it on a long trip prior to having that confirmed and if so having a HG repair made.

      The oil filter needs to be changed with the engine oil every 3,000 miles or 3 months, the filter in the banjo bolt should be checked on any used turbo model as soon as you take possession and every 60,000 miles after that assuming proper maintenance is performed and every 30,000 if is not.

      Because you are using it in a severe way (frequent short trips) the engine oil is never really going to get up to temperature and as such it will not burn away any of the contaminates. This is the reason you really need to consider the time element when maintaining your Subaru.

      Hope that helps and thanks for the post!

      -Justin

  38. I just want to say thanks for the article. I have a 2008 outback which is having it’s head gaskets replaced as I write this. I purchased the car new and now have 109,000 miles on it. As much as I like this car, it has needed constant repairs and I can’t stand it anymore. I’m also having the catalytic converter replaced (this is the second time, but it’s under warranty). Just venting, and wanted to let you know thanks for all the attention you’re bringing to this issue! What do you think of the Nissan Juke? I owned a Maxima prior to the Subaru purchase, and I should’ve stuck with that make!

    1. Hi Karen,

      I am sorry you feel that way about the Subaru, I worked at a Subaru Nissan Dealership in the past, the Subaru’s always had less issues in the past over the Nissan, I am glad to learn you liked your Maxima and fared well with it, if you owned the Altima or Pathfinder you would have had a different feeling, just like if you owned the Outback with the H6 engine, you wouldn’t be doing Head gaskets and would have an overall better experience with the exception of trips to the Gas station. If you read any of the newer Consumer Reports or Car and Driver articles you will see that new car reliability is at a multiple year low. I guess what I am saying is the cars made right now will need more service work than most will like.

      -Justin

  39. I don’t know if my problem is head gasket related or not. 2005 2.5i Outback with manual. If it is used daily there is no loss of crankcase oil level. Let is sit for 3-4 weeks and oil level will be at the tip of the dipstick. I use synthetic oil and have since 15,000 miles. Mileage is now 140,000. I put possibly 7,000 miles a year on the car and have been letting it sit for extended periods because of the high gas prices and use of another car. Funny thing is there is never any indication of a leak under the car. Any ideas?

    1. Hello Virgil,

      I am not sure if you are adding oil?

      Make sure you run the car for a bit before you check the oil to be accurate.

      Try that and see how it goes.

      Thanks

      -Justin

  40. Hi Justin,
    I am at a crossroad now with my 2005 Forester 2.5X non-turbo which has just over 171,000 miles. I bought the car new in 2004 and the cost of ownership has been very low, lower than any of my previous new cars, until now. IMO I have maintained my car very well over the years; following the advice given by you in your website, as well as the Subaru Foresters Owners Forum website. I’m on my fourth repair shop now, since there aren’t any independent Subaru repair facilities in South Florida. The newest shop replaced my front right axle since the inner boot was destroyed. They have suggested I replace my radiator (which I knew has a small crack on top), as well as a wheel bearing which I was not aware of a problem there. Anyway, I’m thinking maybe I should find someone who can check the condition of my original HG’s before “rebuilding” the entire car. Would a local dealer have the exhaust gas analyzer equipment ? Is my thinking correct that if I get a healthy report on the HG’s, it would be worthwhile to start replacing starters, alternators, a/c compressors etc. as needed, and not feel like I’m throwing good money out the window? Or is it time to shop for another new Subaru. I’ve been reading about some problems with the newer models. Maybe I just got lucky with my particular 05 MY Forester. Your input would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    1. Hello Jay,

      Your HG would most likely leak oil long before they failed internally unless it overheats. Any good shop should approach your car as “whole car” and advise you about all of it prior to suggesting three or four things that will add up.

      I don’t really agree with the any money spent on this car will not be money out the window, buying a new car is huge money out the window in a hurry to get you all the same places the last one did.

      -Justin

  41. Not sure if its been stated already. I tried to read through the list, but after an hr… At the start there was the list of “bad years” via models, but as I read, it seemed like any year was bad, esp. with all the comments of “all these yrs. and they still haven’t fixed it… So the question is still, are there any “good” years for any Subaru? Im particularly interested in the forester. Or should I just get the cheapest one I can find that is still physically ok, and plan on redoing the engine regardless…?

    1. Hi Kenneth,

      This is not an easy question to answer, yes we make a lot of head gasket repair but not every Subaru will need a HG repair. The best thing you can do is narrow down what you like first, have any car you are seriously considering inspected prior to purchase. There is no guarantee you will ever have to have a HG repair, but its likely to occur if the car want maintained well.

      -Justin

  42. Hello;first let me commend you on a fine job of posting this unbiased article. I am a “retired” mechanic with a combined experience totaling near 50 years in the field of automotive(all makes)and marine diesel(Detroit, Volvo Pinta,&Cummings)repair. I did a “patch” job on my daughter’s 2005 2.5l sohc Forester 2 years ago. When I first looked at the “blown” head gasket the first thing that came to mind was electrolysis. In the marine industry we deal with a lot of this,especially in heat exchanged applications. I wonder if anyone has ever looked at it in this way? I noticed in your article you talked a lot about ph,and corrosion, could this problem possibly be caused by electrolysis instead of corrosion. Back in the 80’s Caterpillar had a similar problem with their diesel engines that were eating up maim bearing inserts. I don’t really remember how they fixed the problem. In heat exchangers and keel cooled engines and transmissions they use replacable sacrificial zink anodes placed in the water jacket coolant flow areas. Just wondered if you have ever heard of anyone taking this approach to this problem in this light. Thanks,
    -Earl E.

  43. Justin,
    I installed new head gaskets on my 04 XT and immediately noticed some oil weeping, a very minor amount well the engine was in the stand. I did mess up the torque sequence at the end and loosened the head up and re did the sequence.The part I messed up was “(8) Further tighten all bolts (A) and (B) by 40 to
    45°.” I ended up doing all bolts not just A and B. Thats when I decided to back off the whole thing and start over and after that I noticed oil.

    Are the head gaskets crush ringed? Am i able to remove inspect and reinstall or should I get new gaskets? These are OEM subaru.

    I noticed a bit of oil underneath on the seam and when I put a piece of paper against it I see the paper get moist with oil. Am I just being overly cautious?
    Did subaru update the FSM procedure?

    thanks
    sean

    1. Hi Sean,

      The gaskets are crushed first than loosened and torqued. If you mess up with the torque procedure that can be problematic and buying new gaskets would be best. I am a little concerned about oil leaking out however? Was everything checked for warp?

      -Justin

  44. Hi, I owned a subru about the same time as this problem developed . The head gasket failed, and the local dealer
    [ this is where I purchased the car ] . Made no attempt
    to made any factory ,warrenty repair . He charged my a very
    large sum to make the repair . Made no mention that Subru
    knew of this problem . If I wanted my car repaired I was at his mercey .This goes back many years , in the mid 70’s
    Do I have any recourse to get some money back ? The car had more than 200,000 miles when I sold it . If YES , will look for bill .

    1. If you had a car under the WWP-99 campaign Subaru did offer to reimburse repairs made, I do not know if there was a time limit to that or not. 1800 Subaru 3 is where you need to call for that answer.

      -Justin

  45. Justin,

    Thanks! That helps a lot. We were looking at exactly the three brands you mentioned. Yes, the outback came with Continental from the factory & I’m not impressed with them so we are not planning on using that brand for replacement.

  46. Justin,

    Thank you for answering the questions I submitted last year regarding my 2012 Outback 3.6R Limited. We are faithfully changing the oil every 3,000 miles with full synthetic. I also opted to install a K&N air filter & noticed increased MPG, which was nice. Since you indicated you also have a 2012 Outback I was curious which type of fuel you use (reg, mid, or premium)? I know this is a HG discussion but I have a tire question. at 46,000 miles my OEM tires need to be replaced (the back two have significant tread wear). I’m faithful in rotating & balancing the tires every 3,000 miles when the oil is changed. My previous vehicle did well with Michelin tires but it wasn’t a Subaru:) we are thinking of getting H rated tires vs T simply because we travel interstate speeds very frequently & for long distances. Would you recommend H rating or is there significant draw back (road noise for example) and do you have a particular brand you recommend that works well with Subarus? Any brands to avoid?

    1. Hello Rhonda,

      I see no issue with using H rated tires, with the exception that they may not last as long it’s generally never an issue to go up in rating but never down. I would avoid the Continental brand tires as many have complained about poor handling with those tires on the 2010 to 2014 Outback, which oddly enough is what I have and most likely you have as well. We have installed the Bridgestone and Yokohama’s and customers have reported back to us they thought the car performed better.

      I like Bridegstone, Yokohama and Michelin.

      Hope that helps.

      -Justin

  47. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your incredibly informative articles on the Subie head gaskets. I love that you put so much effort into clarifying this issue for the rest of us. I have a quick question for you. I have a 2005 Forester, about 144K miles. I usually go to the Subaru dealer for my oil changes (religiously, every 3000 miles). At my last visit I told them I was moving to Arizona in August (from Illinois — it’s quite a drive). They’ve mentioned before that I should “keep an eye” on my head gaskets, but they’ve never mentioned any driving restrictions. Suddenly I tell them I’m moving and they tell me that I ABSOLUTELY MUST get my head gaskets replaced before I drive to Arizona and if I don’t I am facing certain breakdown. Based on my experiences with them (really just a general bad vibe and their lack of evidence for cited issues — they don’t even provide an inspection checklist like so many other Subaru dealers) I felt dubious about their claim. Unfortunately we don’t have an independent Subaru shop in Central Illinois, but I did find a shop that another Subaru owner recommended. I went to the shop for a second opinion, telling them only that I would be taking the car on a road trip to Arizona in August and needed to have it looked over for preventative maintenance issues. They sent me a very nice report compiled with pictures and explanations and while they did note an engine oil leak around valve cover/ head gasket area, they said it was just something to wash and recheck. I asked about replacing head gaskets and they said that wasn’t a repair that I need at this time. They did, however, note that I was overdue for a new battery and new front brakes (I was down to 10%), which the Subaru dealer never mentioned to me. As a customer I have gotten a really good impression of this shop and will have the battery and front brakes replaced, but a part of me is still worried that if I make the wrong decision right now regarding my headgaskets (i.e. not getting them replaced), that I will end up stranded somewhere in Texas in 100+ degree temperatures with two cats and a car full of my belongings.

    What do you think?

    Cheers, and thanks again —

    Erin

    1. Hello Erin,

      That’s tough to advise on, as I sure don’t wan’t to be the one to help make or break your trip and without seeing it myself I am at a huge disadvantage.

      My gut says to go with the non Stealer advice, the trick here is actually going to be finding a good shop to keep an eye on the leaks when you are in AZ. Based on it being a 2005 it should develop an external oil leak long before it ever fails internally or ever leaks coolant.

      Hope that helps and i wish you a trouble free drive!

      -Justin

      1. Thanks Justin! Here’s a link to the inspection report that I got from the independent shop. If you have a second to glance over it and make sure I’m not missing some glaring evidence of impending doom, I will sleep better tonight.

        Thanks again!

        Erin

        1. Hello Erin,

          I looked the report over, I also edited out the link.

          The pictures don’t really through out any red flags, that’s the type of stuff we see on a daily basis here as well and just advise our customers to monitor for now. The Independent shop was correct about the brakes also.

          Hope that helps and safe travels.

          -Justin

  48. Justin, I am amazed at all of the information you have given to so many people. Thank you.
    I only read it after doing a Google search for Subaru Warped Heads. Of course it is probably too late for me. My 2009 Legacy (72,000 miles and one month over 5 years)is at the dealer for repairs. It overheated and stopped running. My wife started it an drove it another couple of miles when it stopped again. It restarted one more time and went a mile or so before finally stopping for the last time. It had a temp gage that my wife saw but no other lights. Shouldn’t a check engine light come on at least? They are projecting the cost to be $7400 for engine parts and possibly a radiator. Until she left the garage that day I saw no signs of anything leaking.
    Second question. It was suggested that I might want to replace the timing chain/belt at this time. Do you think this prudent?
    Thanks again for all your help and advice.

    1. Hi Gary,

      Sorry to hear about all of that, it is hard to speculate as to what happened. The check engine light is there mainly for emission related issues, I know it says check engine but that’s a federal government regulated system called OBDII. While it’s true that a light can come on for engine performance related issues such as misfires or running poorly, its also because it would also greatly pollute. The gauges followed with bi weekly inspections of fluid levels is your best best. Most of the time nothing will need to be done, but that one time you check and see the coolant overflow bottle is empty would have been the clue something was wrong.

      I would also do the timing belt and components at the same time as it will lower forward going costs a bit.

      -Justin

  49. Hi Justin,

    I had a very similar situation to which you described with the coolant overflowing the overflow tank and spilling onto the engine and lead to the engine overheating numerous times. I just topped it up with some tap water to make it home.

    The next day I took it to the shop and was unable to recreate the situation.My mechanic suspected just a problem with the thermostat.

    My question is, if the head gasket is indeed had the internal failure as pictured. Should the overheating become a problem everytime it runs or is it intermittent?

    Thanks

    1. Hello Eric,

      I just can’t believe I still answer this question and that anyone working in the field is still stumped by how a head gasket works..

      Please read this again from the post.

      “You see as I mentioned at the beginning that testing cold would yield different results than testing when hot. Temperature causes expansion, expansion of the cylinder head away from the engine block, expansion of the gasket away from the block, and now that breach in the gasket becomes a bigger issue. Compound that with the combustion events happening in the combustion chamber at higher RPMS meaning there are more of them! The relentless pressure put to the weakened head gasket is more than it can contend with. Now that the engine is running at the extremes which is coincidentally almost always the same way it over heats for the driver but seldom the way that many attempt to test for failures. If you have an overheating situation in your Subaru and it has not been tested, exactly as I have presented above; and the shop is still stumped; the reason for that is it has not been tested! Its not feasible to do a compression or leak-down test on an engine that is hot, as you will burn your self or damage the spark plug threads removing the plug and inserting the tools.”

      Yes an internal breach in the head gasket can and will start out as an intermittent problem. Of course the shop didn’t reproduce it, they most likely didn’t test it how I have outlined above.

      Most mechanical devices fail when pushed to extremes, in the case of a head gasket almost never idling in a repair bay, testing it that way will never yield results.

      Now, I don’t know what year, or whats wrong with your car from here, only that a thermostat is easy to pick on, even easier to test if a “technician” not a mechanic would only take the time to do so. I hate picking on your guy but I hate that he let you go with no answers.

      Last week we had a 2010 Outback that had a failed secondary cooling fan motor that would cause the fuse to blow but only at the extremes, the fuse could be replaced and than not blow for a week, we were the third shop to look at it, including one Subaru Dealer but the only ones who could actually diagnose it. It took 5 guys getting their heads together and sorting out a test procedure that included pushing the system to extremes rather than let it idle in the bay and say “well its working now”, the other shops each tried parts or suspected a part. My point is if the car overheated on you there was something wrong, and I hate the idea of you driving it around until it overheats again as each time it does the possibility of ruining an otherwise great engine is a large reality.

      What we did is had a conversation with the customer and said we need a day to test, we are not sure how much that is going to cost, we will call you through out the day and give you updates. The market place does not allow for this typically and as a result I bet there was no more than 30 minutes of real time spent on your car, it would have been 10 minutes at a Dealer. We were in a position to do this and we promised and delivered results.

      I want that for you. Don’t let it continue to overheat, find answers.

      -Justin

  50. Hi Justin,

    Thank you for yet another very informative thread. My ’98’ Forester with the phase1 DOHC and almost 150k on the odom. is just starting to exhibit signs of the internal HG leak: just recently I was doing some front-end work on it (new halfshafts, struts and ball joints) and removed the rad. cap to have a look at the coolant while the hood was up – sure enough the rad. was about 1/2-quart low yet the level in the overflow reservoir was about normal. The rad. cap appeared to be in good condition.

    I topped the rad. off after finishing the halfshafts and suspension work and took it for a 25-mile test drive. I left the car idling in the driveway when I got back home and observed 1-2 air bubbles pushing into the overflow reservoir every 5 seconds or so at idle (sigh… but I feel relatively lucky that this Subie went 150k and 15+ years on the original HG’s!!).

    So it looks like I will be pulling the engine soon to replace the HG’s, as I fully intend to drive this car another 150k.

    To finish relaying my observations and get to my questions: I removed the rad. cap after the car completely cooled down after the 25 mile drive, and interestingly enough the coolant level was still at the top of the rad. My logic (which may or may not be correct) is that this car is at the very early stages of the HG failure, and that the breach between the cylinder and coolant jacket must be relatively small at this time.

    My questions are:

    1) Is there a ballpark range on how many miles it typically takes for this situation to degrade into one where considerable coolant loss becomes more prevalent and overheating a concern? I know that is a hard question to answer and that it is highly-dependent on a number of variables – I’m wondering on a scale of hundreds of miles vs. thousands of miles.

    2) Is overheating the only major concern? In doing some research on this issue, I have not heard mention of any detrimental effects of coolant on the exhaust system. Can coolant going through the exhaust system (whether in vapor form or liquid form) damage the catalytic converter, O2 sensor and/or muffler?

    3) Are six-star head gaskets available for the phase 1 DOHC engine? I saw that you have the six-star available for the phase 2 SOHC on your website, but I didn’t see them available for the DOHC.

    I will be doing the HG’s ASAP, and checking the coolant level very frequently in the meantime.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for any additional information or insight you may be able to provide. Your knowledge-sharing and feedback have helped me multiple times within just the last few months!

    Matt B.

    1. Hi Matt,

      The bubbles indicate you need to stop driving it before it overheats. Yes coolant going though the system can damage the 02 sensors, as well as the convertor, the overheat can damage the heads, block and oil control rings creating a situation where you now have an engine that can not be reused.

      Love the Six star head gaskets for the SOHC. We use the Updated MLS gasket from Subaru for the DOHC. The updated HG for the DOHC from Subaru really addressed the issue with the original, because I have had such great success with the updated Subaru gasket for the DOHC for years before the Six Star was available, I feel it’s the best choice for your application. The kit you need is listed here https://allwheeldriveauto.com/subaru-parts/

      I wan’t to stress that you should park it until you can fix it to control your costs and not let it steam roll into something worse.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  51. Justin, any Independent Subaru shops near Billings Montana that you know of? Thanks for your time. Dennis

    1. Hi Dennis,

      Im sorry but even though I have made a concerted effort to attend more trade shows this year I still have not found a solid network of geed independent shops.

      If you find one you like feel free to post that here.

      -Justin

  52. Hey Justin,

    Thanks for all his info.

    Looking into getting a 2008 Subaru Forester 2.5x. I am aware of Subaru’s HG problems.

    It has 79K mi on it, has had one owner, clean carfax, and has been driven about 11K a year since 2008. Driven in upstate NY, bottom looks pretty good.

    I live in VT where Subaru is basically the state car. I own a Honda CRV which I am all about buying another one, but its limited in finding up here.

    Anywho, the TBelt has not been replaced on this Subaru and HG are apparently in good shape so says the dealer.

    Is it basically inevitable that they’re going to poop out on me? and If so, is there a ball park mileage you can give me that it will? I drive about 16 mi. round tip a day to work. And I am aware that shorter drives tend to make the HG’s go quicker.

    Any info you have would be awesome – thanks again for the article.
    -Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff,

      So we do in fact still see Subaru 2.5l go 300k without ever having the HG repaired, they are typically leaking oil at a pretty large rate by then however. Now having said that we also still make repairs as early as 60,000 miles. This is what makes answering the question so difficult.

      If they are not leaking now, and the car continues to be maintained as it should it may not be a problem for years. Average for a 2008 would be around 130k, but if they show signs by 105k they should be done with the timing belt service to cut down some of the costs.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. I just recently had you service my 2008 Forester and noticed you did not put any conditioner in the coolant. Super Coolant was put in it. Do I need conditioner? It has never had a head gasket replacement. Do I need conditioner? -Thanks, Chris

        1. Hi Chris,

          Thanks for the Question.

          As you had mentioned your Forester came with the Blue Subaru Super coolant, and that is what we put back in, as such there is no requirement for the conditioner. I also, have never liked putting the Stop leak in any Subaru vehicle especially those that were not part of the WWP-99 campaign. If your 2008 was to develop a leak it would be oil, and there is just no amount of conditioner/stop leak we could ever put in the cooling system that would ever decrease an oil leak.

          What we have observed since 2002 is that when the stop leak is put in there is great risk to clogging the radiator and or heater core. All the stuff actually ever really did was delay the head gasket leak, it never prevented one.

          Hope that helps and thanks for coming in!

          -Justin

  53. Thanks Justin for the information!

    I am not sure if my last post went through successfully, but I will write another reply just in case. So after some careful inspection of my Subaru Legacy 2006 I noticed some key indicators that several things maybe going on. First, there is oil staining and what looks like fresh oil around the top frontal area of the engine. Specifically around the crankshaft sprocket seal. Two, there is also corrosion around the battery terminals and creeping up on the hood of the car. And finally three, no coolant in the reservoir tank which looks pretty dry.

    So I am thinking, maybe the oil is leaking from the crankshaft sprocket seal and I am wondering what is the difficulty of that project?

    I can definitely replace the battery and terminals on my own. I also bought some Prestone 50/50 mix last year, but realize I need to add Subaru’s own coolant and conditioner.

    So thanks once again for any answers you can provide. I am really glad I found this website and know I am not alone with oil leaks from my Subaru. Minus the oil leaks, my Subaru has been a great car for year round up here, but it is definitely a sensitive car when not maintained properly.

    James

  54. Justin,

    Great and informative article. I’ve owned a 2006 Subaru Legacy 2.5i since the year 2008 and have had two major repairs done to it since then. First operation was an oil leak (can’t remember where at the moment?) and warranty helped pay for that along with timing belt change. Operation two replaced both head gaskets on the engine and a new radiator and warranty paid most of that cost. The mechanics did a very good job, but now, less then a year after the operation in July 2013, I am having to put up to 1/2 quart of oil in every month of driving it (depending on how much I use it and is my daily driver in the winter). From your article I noticed the issues with an internal gasket leak that could speed up consumption of oil in the engine. And also, the new radiator might not have even been needed if it had something to do with this coolant and combustion chamber blow-by.

    Anyway, your article raises some serious questions with my last repair job and I am going to do some investigating in the mean time. If you could help speculate on just one question I have: do you have somewhat of an answer to why the engine is rapidly consuming oil after such a major head gasket job was just finished less then a year ago?

    Note: No visible oil drips on my pavement at the moment, although you do mention a cushioned pan right underneath the engine that catches coolant or oil leaks. And I think sometimes, I can smell some distant burnt oil smells coming from my heater system in the car when driving and only after the car is really warmed up but nothing very noticeable like when the head gaskets were leaking.

    I also live in Fairbanks, AK and it is very cold in the winter so my car is plugged in outside for nights when it drops to -30 below or around there.

    Again, thank you so much for the article and any answers you can provide on my current ‘oil consumption’ issue.

    Best,
    James

    1. Hi James,

      Engines can use oil for a number of reasons, and it also doesn’t have to mean the HG repair wasn’t done properly. Most likely it is being consumed as part of the combustion process, you could try experimenting with a different brand oil at the next oil change, I would suggest Castrol 5w30 blend. Also the PCV could be sticky, has it been changed?

      -Justin

      1. Hi Justin,

        Thanks for the reply. I don’t think the PCV valve (correct?) has been changed since I have owned it. I also noticed quite a bit of oil staining on top of the engine around the crankshaft sprocket towards the front of the engine. It looks sort of fresh. Maybe this is part of the oil loss issue?

        I also noticed there was no coolant in the coolant reservoir and that my battery terminals were showing signs of corrosion. So it looks like my Subaru is going to need some love and attention.

        At this point, I am going to get a new battery and need terminals. Change the oil and maybe drain and refill the coolant after I do a ‘Acustrip’ test for corrosion. If the seal is out on the crankshaft area, whats the difficulty level on that project?

        Thanks Justin,
        James

        1. The oil staining where you are describing may just be the oil pressure sending unit, look at that first.

          To replace the crank shaft seal you must remove the timing belt and all associated components. Not impossible for a DIY, but given the ramifications if its not done properly its a repair you really need to be okay doing.

          -Justin

  55. Justin, I have a 05 Baja with 100K on it…no coolant issues but oil leaking is getting noticeable on garage floor…my question to you, should I get the HG and timing belt , water pump etc replaced or just buy a remanufactured motor….by the time I do those other repairs, I will probably be looking at a few thousand and I can get a reman motor for 3500 plus installation…..either way it will cost a lot but the body is mint on my vehicle and I cannot find any suitable replacement for my needs in a vehicle that the Baja provides…thanks, brian

    1. Hi Brian,

      I don’t think I would spend the extra money on a reman engine unless there is a compelling reason to need to do so. The short block should be fine to 300k if maintained.

      It’s funny how even though the Baja wasn’t all that well received a the time, we have seen that those that have them really enjoy them and they are becoming more sought after as of late.

      -Justin

    1. Hello Bud,

      The compression is lower and they use a semi closed deck block, as well as MLS gaskets from the factory. Make no mistake if you let a Turbo Subaru overheat it will damage the Head gaskets.

      -Justin

  56. Hi Justin,

    Thanks for your informative article. I have a 2011 Subaru Outback 2.5i (base model), bought used from dealer in 2012. I take it for oil changes/tire rotations every 3k miles. It now has about 61k-62k miles on it. (I drive mostly long distances, at least 30 min.+ each, I live in the mountains of central California but work far away in the bay area a few times a month.)

    A few weeks ago someone noticed that my car was leaking a large amount of fluid. We found it was green coolant fluid, and that the coolant container was nearly empty. I took it to my local shop (not a Subaru certified shop but honest people) who refilled the fluid and tried for a long time but couldn’t replicate the leak, and sent me on my way. A few days later I noticed in morning at low speeds or in park/stopped, I was hearing a sloshing sound like water in my dashboard. I took it back in, still nothing obvious to fix after testing it so they sent me on my way. I brought it in to a different recommended shop for a 60k service, they didn’t find anything wrong and sent me on my way. Then a day or two later, after driving for about 30 min. with a few stops, my car overheated (red temperature light flashed–I wish it had a temperature gauge like older Subarus, this is my 5th Subaru). I brought it to the first shop, they tested it and the radiator cap failed this time, so they replaced it. They test drove it several times at different times of day, over mountains, etc. and gave it back to me. I got it home and after turning it off in my garage, it made several very loud pinging clanking metal noises–it normally never makes so many noises or such loud noises after turned off as it cools down. I recorded them with my phone video camera, so I brought it back again and played the video for them, and it was still leaking fluid after they’d test drive it then park it in the bay and turn it off. So they replaced the thermostat w/ a Subaru thermostat. Same thing, leaks after multiple test drives, not after initial test drive. It’s still not fixed, I still don’t have my car back.

    Unfortunately I live in a small town, there is 1 Subaru certified shop but they are new and didn’t bother to return my call for an estimate for the 60k service so I am concerned they would be flaky with my car service. I have tried the Subaru dealer in the nearest large city but the office staff all seem incompetent or rude, and I read what you said about dealer mechanics not always having the best interest of the customer in mind. I have Subaru certified shops I love, but they are 3 hrs. away and I don’t think I could drive the car that far without it overheating.

    Do you think it’s the head gasket? Water pump? Radiator? Something else? Is this normal for a car of this age/mileage? Should I take it to the dealer or a radiator place or stick with the place I’m at? They haven’t charged me a diagnostic fee since the initial visit, but they are very thorough and don’t like to fix things without knows if they are truly broken or not, which is good, but I think they are almost being too cautious, I have been without my car for a long time and I can only borrow other people’s cars for so long, plus I have two little kids. And to make matters worse, while it was at the shop being test driven, it developed a flat tire that couldn’t be repaired so I had to buy 4 new tires since it’s AWD. 🙁 I’m like $800+ into this so far (including the tires) and still not done.

    Should I get a new (used) car? I’m considering a Toyota Highlander. Just nervous with this much trouble so early on with this car. Thanks so much for your time and any advice!

    Alison in CA

    1. Hi Alison,

      Im sorry to hear about the trouble you are having with your Outback, thats not a typical story on a 2011 model by any means. The big red flag to me so far in reading your post is you mentioned green coolant, when the coolant in the 2011 is blue in color. This makes me wonder if you bought a used car with a storied past?

      It always pains me to read about someone taking their car to a shop for an overheat and getting no solid diagnoses. Approaching an overheating situation in a Subaru is the same as it is in any car. Test for external leaks, if none are found test for internal leaks, test for cooling fan operation, test the thermostat, radiator etc. I applaud the shop you are at for not charging to diagnose something they haven’t but, I promise if it overheats it’s diagnosable. You wont find a “Subaru Certified Shop” Outside of a Subaru Dealer, what you need to look for is a Independent Subaru shop, that may help in your search.

      The sloshing was low coolant levels and or combustion chamber pressure being pushed into the cooling system from a breach in the head gasket.

      When you bought the car used did you have an independent Inspection performed? I worry this was missed and from the sounds of it if it was done it might have been done by someone not as familiar with Subaru as they should have been?

      We unfortunately see this type of thing all to often, a used car purchase goes good at first and then slowly over time unfolds into a headache for the owner. Last week we had to tell a buyer of a 2012 Impreza the car had been in a very bad accident and was not repaired well even though it never showed up on car fax.

      I believe this is where the underlying problem is, with your purchase, and if you decide to buy something else, and you buy used I urge you to have it inspected first and this is important; by someone who knows the brand, do not ever trust a dealer sales department to ever sell you a great used car and do not ever assume a friendly shop is capable of doing a pre purchase inspection on all makes and models.

      What to do from here?

      You have to get the car into the hands of a Subaru expert, thats key here. Maybe it’s not as bad as we are assuming at this point or maybe it’s worse, but the thing is you can’t have a car at a shop and have it leave overheating, and you can’t continue to drive a car that overheats. It’s going to be inconvenient for sure but I am not sure what else I can suggest.

      Sorry I cant offer more, and I hope there is some resolution soon.

      -Justin

  57. Justin:

    What a font of info..thanks! Youmention many times the pH of the cooling fluid, but I don’t recall ever seeing an actual value of pH that is optimum. What range is the target?

    Roger, Ohio

    1. Hello Roger,

      General consensus is that when the PH level in a modern car reaches below 9.0 its time to service it. I like to see it a little higher than that in an all aluminum engine such as the one found in your Subaru. We typically try to keep the PH somewhere in the 9.5 to 10.5 range.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  58. Justin,
    I have been around cars for many many years and I just want to start out with your article and responses are the most informative and truthful I have ever read.
    Here is my question. We had a 12′ Outback with the 2.5. I hated the design of the oil filter where it was and was worried about heat cooking the filter. We recently traded for a 14′ forester XT with the 2.0 turbo. After reading many of the links I do have concerns about HG problems. I drive 7 miles each way to work. I will only run premium and synthetic.(any brand you like over others) ? Should I be alright with 4K oil change intervals? Since the filter is in such a perfect spot on this one i would have no issue replacing it more often than the oil. We love the car but these issue concern me. I know Honda had their own issues on the 4cyl.( incorrect piston size from what I gather from the repair receipt), Oil consumption very high on some models. I have also had Accord V6’s since they came out and absolutely no issues with HG or anything. Are Subaru’s more prone to failures than others or is it they are owned longer?
    The last question is about the turbo. How long should it last and will this one have the “filter bolt” you have shown and when should I replace it.
    Thanks

    1. Hi Greg,

      So the new 2.0l Turbo is still really to new to be able to tell you factually about HG, but its much less likely in the Turbo models to need to replace Head Gaskets.

      If you are changing the oil every 4k and that fits in with your use, than Id suggest around the 60k mark for the filter bolts/ union screw.

      Make sure you break it in with a “varying engine speed” plan. Lots of mini expand and contract events.

      -Justin

  59. Hello Justin,

    I recently purchased a used 2001 Subaru Forester with 105k miles from a private owner. After the purchase, I went in to a Dealership for a mechanical inspection, as well as to diagnose a few of the problems the previous owner had brought up- only to find out the problems were much bigger than even he had originally stated. The inspection turned up:
    -A Head Gasket leak (from the bottom half of the engine), quoted 4000 to replace w/ a Timing belt.
    -Brake Pads and Rotors, quoted 550
    -Power Steering Rack, quoted 1900
    -Passenger side axle, quoted 250.

    These were only the significant repairs needed on the car, but having only just purchased the vehicle, would it be practical to pass it on, or actually go ahead with the maintenance? Living on Oahu, to my knowledge there are no independent Subaru shops here, meaning I would be stuck with going through a Dealership for the engine maintenance at the very least. Is there anyway to mitigate costs, or avoid the $4000 engine fee altogether?

    Thanks,

    Mike

    1. Aloha Mike,

      That’s always is tough news to hear, and of course having it looked at first would have been better, I realize however cars are tough to come buy over there.

      Yes the Dealers over there overcharge in my opinion, even for dealers. There is a shop past the stadium that has the swapmeeets that I have stopped in two years ago when sorting out an issue with our Friends Toyota, they worked on mostly Japanese imports, but I can’t think of the name of the shop. I can see it in my mind but just cant think of the name.

      So if it was here we would suggest the Hg repair and timing belt stuff and be closer to $2500 if we did everything, I would suggest locating a used rack and being a 1/4 of the Dealers estimate, the brakes and axle quotes are not as out of line.

      So you need to find an independent shop if you want to try and do this for a reasonable amount of money, or the other option is to fly me in with my tools, lol. I am always ready to go back to Hawaii!

      -Justin

  60. Hello Justin,

    I have a 2010 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 103k that started over heating about a month ago. When I checked the coolant level I noticed the coolant level was low. I topped up the coolant which seemed to address the issue. As it was at 103K miles I took the car to VIP and got the 105K maintenance schedule and asked them to flush coolant. Car ran for about 2 weeks and began to over heat again. Took it back to VIP and reckoned it was Thermostat as top radiator hose was hot and bottom radiator hose was cold. After replacing the radiator hose VIP tested to ensure that both radiator hoses were hot. However this did not fix the issue. VIP then changed the water pump which again did not fix the issue. VIP performed a head gasket test which was not conclusive. So it is now with Subaru. They are leaning towards a warped cylinder head.

    We have kept up with the required maintenance schedule since we bought the car. Could these a manufacturing defect or could we have caused the damage in anyway ? We would like to replace the car now and wanted to have a strong case so we can get a good trade value on the old car.

    Thank You

    Paul

    1. Hello Paul,

      So right off the bat, no one can tell you if a head is warped or not until it is removed and inspected/checked for warp. I don’t know who VIP is or how familiar they are with Subaru?

      What I can tell you is that the 2010 Outback has had an issue with a cooling fan relay failing, and if not caught in time can lead to overheating, the overheating can lead to head gasket failure and or warped heads also as a result. Hopefully someone has looked at the rest of the cooling system to determine if the rest of the system is functioning as it should?

      One of the things I do not like about the use of Subaru Super coolant is the cooling system is even more forgotten about than it already was. In my opinion at 103k the thermostat should have been replaced as well as the cooling system serviced.

      As far as having a strong case? I am not sure what you mean. This is the chicken and egg argument (did it overheat because the HG failed or did the HG fail as a result of it overheating? I don’t know and no body else does now that things were done prior to any real diagnoses, the last thing a car should ever have is a flush post overheat, the first thing is a diagnoses.

      If it is overheating as a result of a failed HG now, a Hydrocarbon test should not be inconclusive, I wonder instead if they are merely doing a block test which would be the equivalent of going to a hospital for diagnoses and instead of having an MRI they just took a picture with a Kodak camera.

      I hate that your in the position you are in, but at 103k its your car most likely, hard to state a component as defective without proof and based on 103k worth of use. You can always call SOA at 1800 Subaru 3 and be ready to provide records, they may help.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  61. I am shopping for my fifth wagon. Trying to decide between a 2010 or a 2011 Outback. Is there any difference? Thanks for all this info especially about head gaskets. I have had my experiences.

  62. Justin, Thank you for all your information. We are looking at a new Outback vs Honda CRV AWD. My concern with the Outback is the HG problem. You have helped answer most of my questions.

    I am a Subaru Fan. Currently Own 2 Foresters, a 98 with 160K and a 04 with 230K. The 98 had to have the HG replaced 2 years ago at about 140K. The 04 just keeps going. Both have had the timing belt replacement.

    When they replaced the Timing belt on the 98 they did not replace the idler pulley and it froze so we had to replace it again last year, plus it bent a value:(

    Overall they have been great cars.

    My question is. How often do you recommend replacing the coolant? The 2014 Outback schedule says 137K. Based on your discussion, that seems too long. Would annual flush and replacement be over kill? I do my own oil changes. I assume flushing the radiator is not too hard. Never tried it on the Forester, but I will be.

    I will be following all of your recommendations on the new Outback, hopefully I can get 200K without any HG problems.

    Thanks,
    Ron

    1. Hello Ron,

      I am in the check it every year max for proper PH and change it out as needed, but no later than 6 years or 90,000. We have began observing some the 2008 models with the Super Blue with elevated PH levels after 5 years.

      Every year wouldn’t be overkill, but I will add that the 2014 uses a MLS gasket and has greater surface mass, I don’t really see the HG continuing to be an issue if its maintained. I would actually stress frequent oil changes and coolant ever 3 to 4 years unless the PH is elevated.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Hi Justin,

        I’m really appreciating this forum.
        you recommended changing coolant every 6 years or 90,000. Was that miles or kilometres?

        Thanks!,

        Mike

        1. Hi Mike,

          That’s in miles but also checking the coolant ph levels and changing as it based on those findings is also okay actually it’s preferred.

          The part that I just cant stress enough is that Subaru just like every car maker wants to give the appearance of low ownership costs while also covering themselves in the way of the term Inspect. If the coolant is properly inspected, level and condition and changed as needed with the line in the sand being Subaru’s recommended interval you really should have no coolant related conditions, however if the cooling system is merely topped off periodically to over 100k and than finally changed that could be cause for concern.

          -Justin

  63. Just tack on 2500.00 to the overall price. These are safe cars but they are notorius for head gasket issues. So I think Suburu should adjust asking price or put addiotional warranty work own two and they both get servicing on time. Have spent over six grand maintaining the cars. When they are dead I will never own another one sorry.

  64. Sorry Justin. I wasn’t very specific. Your answer however was very informative. I was asking about the outback, and when and if they had corrected the head gasket issue. Your blog seems to be the only source that has consistent and helpful information on the issue.
    I’m looking to buy a 2010 outback 2.5 limited with 70000 miles and the only concern I have is if that year still had problems with the head gasket, had it been changed, when will it need to be changed again. From your answer it would indicate that they still have issues til ’13.
    I’ll be looking for signs described earlier in this thread but I doubt I’ll be able to remove that fabric thing under the engine before I bring it home.
    Thanks for your help
    Rusty

  65. Great job Justin
    Have you seen the same problems with head gaskets and frequency on 2010 and later models?
    Rusty

    1. Hi Rusty,

      Can you be more specific about the model? A 2010 Outback uses a different HG than a Forester or Impreza for example in 2010. The MLS gasket in the 2010 and later Outback and Legacy Only seems to be just fine, however the Gasket in the 2010 Impreza and Forester is the same gasket since 2003. Since 2010 the engine has been changed first in the Forester than in the Impreza and finally in the Outback in 2013.

      From there we could talk about Turbo models and the 6 cylinders?

      -Justin

  66. Thanks for this excellent write up, it has given me a heads up being a first time Subaru owner.

    I just purchased a 2005 Impreza Outback Sport SE with 39,000 miles from a Subaru dealer that has obviously been kept in a climate controlled garage for the past 9 years as it runs and rives like new with all rubber and plastic is still soft and new looking (even under the car).

    After reading this write up i decided to crawl under the car and inspect the heads and do notice what i would call a slight amount of oil seepage from the bottom of both heads.

    Due to the odd combination of age/millage is there anything you would recommend be changed on a car like this to insure i get the most out of it? For example, should i be concerned with the timing belt potentially being stretched? Any input from someone as knowledgeable about these car as you would be helpful. thanks.

    1. Hello Johnny,

      I would start with servicing the cooling system as well as all other fluids. If there is no record of spark plugs I would do that as well, lastly check the tires for cracking due to age, this sneaks up on people with low miles.

      You can’t really check the Timing belt for stretch without essentially removing the timing covers and once you are there you should plan on doing it. It is 9 years old now and the only way you will know is to check it.

      -Justin

      1. i talked the dealer into putting new tires on it when i bought it so no issue there. they also changed the oil and did a new state safety inspection (even tho it had 10 months left on the old stickers). btw im in PA.

        should i just chalk up the weeping from the heads as normal and not be concerned with it? they gave me a limited 2yr warranty that does NOT include gaskets, but offered 1 that does for $1400 more for 4yrs. sheesh, i dropped 9k cash on this car so im pretty broke atm and found out this morning i have a kid on the way so i really need this car now.

        should i use the coolant conditioner when changing it? should i stick with the green stuff or switch to the blue?

        as far as the other fluids,
        trans, bright red looks new.
        front and rear diff, clear looks new.
        brake, looks its age clear/brownish.
        steering, brown looks old.

        thanks for the reply justin, you are a stand up guy.

        1. Hey Johnny,

          I would just keep an eye on the heads, it really may take a long time to get worse especially if you drive it. I really don’t like the thought of adding the Subaru conditioner into the cooling system. Green coolant is just fine.

          -Justin

  67. Hey Justin,

    Once again, awesome article. I have a 2008 Legacy GT Spec B with 67k miles. I’ve replaced the stock turbo with a VF52 out of a 2010 WRX. It has an upgraded fuel system (850s and Walboro), turbo back exhaust, big top mount, etc. I’ve been running off a tune from a local dyno shop for the past year. Target boost is 19.5psi. It makes 320whp/320wtq. I boost through 2nd and 3rd gear daily, but wouldn’t say that I beat on the car.

    Last week the car began overheating and I was able to limp it to my local independent Subaru shop. They promptly diagnosed head gasket failure. This is my 4th modified Legacy and I have never experienced this issue before. I have driven all of them the same way (if anything I have been more gentle with this one). How common is this type of head gasket failure in the 2007+ 2.5 turbos with moderately low miles? What would you expect to pay a shop in the north east for the repair? And After the head gasket is repaired along with the installation of stronger head studs, a new timing belt and water pump, and a Killer B oil pickup, can I have piece of mind?

    Any info or personal experience regarding later model turbo cars with head gasket failure would be awesome.

    Thank you so much!

    Eric

    1. Hey Eric,

      First of all, I am jealous. I had the 2006 with the brick red interior sold it so we could buy an XT wagon for my bride, and have wanted an 2007,2008 ever since,it’s my all time favorite Subaru.

      We do replace Hg on modified 2.5’s much more so than stock.

      The Killer b is the way to go for the oil pick up, head studs are not a bad idea with your boost targets. Not going to lie and tell you that the installation of performance parts won’t affect the longevity of the rest of the stock components, or that performance mods themselves last all that long. Once you have gone past stage 2 on a Subaru Turbo you are going to be in the realm of “pay to play”.

      I know that 320 wheel horse sounds like it should be reliable but this we do see a lot of this and I hate to say it but 50k is the average a performance build lasts for your numbers, when you get into the 400 hp and 500 hp levels were talking less miles, most don’t keep their cars long enough to know this and the next guy learns.

      I don’t want to talk you into a list of things that cost money that are supposed to prolong the life of other components, or even a different set of HG and I dont want to discourage you from keeping it and enjoying it, just want you to have realistic expectations.

      -Justin

  68. found this website after coolant leak on my 2006 Legacy 2.5i. Went to dealer. The cost for HG replacement is $3000. Called Subaru USA. They offer help to cover 50% cost only even it has low mileage. Hard to negotiate with them. The car is 2006 model and has 65000 miles on it. My question is: what’s the chance of catastrophic engine failure if leaving HG unreplaced? Can I just top off the coolant once a while. It’s now losing coolant from “High” level to “Low” level every 3 months.

    1. Hello Jeff,

      Once they are leaking coolant its time to replace them.

      You should start by calling other area Subaru dealers and getting a price for just the HG replacement as 3k is to high for just HG.

      -Justin

  69. Justin,

    I am the proud owner of 3 1998 Subaru Outbacks, 2 with the 2.5 DOHC and one with the 2.2 SOHC (130k, 170k and 350k miles). The 130k had the HG failure, so I tried the DIY route but ended up breaking a head bolt about 1.5″ inside the engine block.

    I tried to extract it but only succeeded in breaking the extractor as well. So I took it to a machine shop and they refused to try to extract the bolt. Said a hardened steel bolt fragment in an aluminum block engine was impossible to remove. Is that true?

    Also — is there a trick to removing the 12-point head bolts without stripping the tops or breaking the shanks?

    Thanks!

    -Rob

    1. Hello Robert,

      We have extracted broken head bolts and than installed a new time cert, it could involve some drilling and sometimes we split the case half and use a drill press.

      The bolts should’t really be breaking, that’s just not common thing, however if the leak was allowed to go on to long it can corrode the head bolts.

      -Justin

  70. hi Justin,

    planning of buying a 2007 Subaru Impreza SE 2.5i sedan with 124K odometer on it.. I just want to know if these models do have a number of units that have HG issues too? I prefer it than a Mazda 3 coz of its AWD capabilities but I’m just worried on the said problems specially repair cost are OUTRAGEOUS here in Vancouver.. o_o .. thanks..

    jhmybough

    1. Hello Jhymbough,

      The 2007 can leak oil externally over time.

      The Mazda 3 however really has it’s own set of challenges. Id head over to some of the forums and learn a little abut those cars, one thing that really stands out is the number of Mazda 3 owners having to replace clutches after just a couple of years.

      -Justin

      1. thanks bro.. yeah, seriously considering the Subaru.. my wife likes it too because its automatic and has sunroof and because its SUBARU.. while me its because of its known safety since I have a 4yr old daughter and its AWD capabilities at a price of $7,500.. just hope the previous owner took care of it..

  71. I have had my eye on the 2011-2013 subaru wrx for quite some time. Hoping to purchase one when I graduate. Have they addressed this issue or is it something I need to be looking out for when testing the used market.

    1. Haven’t seen any wide spread issue, the engine changed twice since 2010 keep in mind. Have seen or heard about a couple of 2010 with internal issues but nothing wide spread.

      -Justin

  72. Hi Justin

    I am considering the purchase of a used Outback and have a choice between two that seem to be in good condition.
    Option 1 is the H6 engine with auto trans and 73,830 miles
    Option 2 is 2.5l B4 engine with manual trans and 105,000 miles.

    I’m not sure of the driving habits or maintenance records of either previous owner. From what I’ve read the H6 is unlikely to have HG issues until approx 150k miles – correct? I’m a little confused regarding the B4 engine – how does it differ from the H4 if at all regarding HG issues? I plan on a pre-purchase inspection regardless but would like to be more educated before I narrow it down. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks!

      1. Sorry I neglected the year – both are 2003. Not sure where B4 came from either as on further research I found only H4 as you stated. I understand the 4 cylinder vs 6 cylinder and manual vs auto trans but my question is more related to reliability and/or probability of a problem between the two.

  73. Hello,

    I have a 2002 Forester, 250,000 miles. Head gaskets replaced at 190,000. Pushing coolant into the overflow bottle. Leak down test was good at garage so they sent me home. 200 miles later the overflow bottle is full again. Now they are saying an air bubble in the engine. I assume I have to ask for a Hydrocarbon test because I think it’s a leak between a cylinder and the cooling jacket. Your thoughts?

    thanks,

    Eddie

    1. Hello Eddie,

      That’s kind of what it sounds like from here.

      Id look for a reason they have failed internally however such as a Thermostat, Rad cap, restricted radiator etc.

      The SOHC engines don’t fail that often internally unless there is something else that may have affected the cooling system.

      -Justin

  74. Justin –

    I recently brought my 2009 Legacy (51,000) into the dealer for a grind noise that was happening at startup (very brief grind on first cold start that does not seem to inhibit the start at all). The tech advised HG’s were shot and would be replaced under warranty. Also I needed a new starter that would not be warrantied. My concern is that the compression issues related to the failed HG’s in all likelihood have been slowly killing my starter. Valid concern or leave it alone and be thankful the HG replacements will be covered? Thanks.

    1. No Sherri,

      Oil leaking from the head gaskets externally didn’t cause the starter to fail.

      I have also never seen a Subaru starter fail that quickly, but it is possible.

      Justin

  75. Hi Justin-

    Thanks for the terrific information and continued follow up. I’m down in Portland with an 06 Outback that’s in need of a HG replacement at 75K . I have found a family-owned, independent Subaru repair shop I’m leaning towards. Their quote is reasonable and will include timing belt/tensioner/water pump/etc. as well.

    They use the six star gasket, and will be pulling the engine, both of which are definitely swaying me in their direction. They give a warranty of 1 year/18K miles.

    What is reasonable to expect from an independent shop in terms of warranty on a repair like this?

    Do you have any experience with/recommendations when it comes to shops in Portland?

    Thanks again.

    1. Hello Eric,

      Sounds like they have a good plan in place for the repairs.

      I am not sure what you are asking about the warranty? Do you mean will they stand behind it for the term or are you wondering about the repair once the warranty has expired?

      -Justin

  76. I’m having the worst luck lately. Spent about $6,000 on repairs for 4 vehicles since sept 2013, and one blown engine later decided to buy a used 2002 Subaru WRX with 100.000 mi (big mistake)for my son 2 weeks ago from a dealer with no extended warranty ($1000) and showing signs of coolant leaking. We thought because it had one owner from florida it would be a safer bet but the brutal chicago winter we’re having might have already taken a toll on it. After reading this article it sounds like I’ll be forking over some more serious money for this repair. UGHH!!

    1. I have an 02 WRX also, original owner with 190,000 miles on it. The 2.0L turbo engine is not known to have head gasket leaks like these 2.5L engines. If you have a coolant leak I would check the hoses and radiator first. My head gaskets are doing great, but the radiator went out around 150k. A WRX with 100k mi is young.

  77. Thanks so much Justin for these articles. While trying to decide between different used vehicles to purchase for mainly freeway driving in the Puget Sound area, we stopped at a Subaru dealer in Puyallup for an advertized Subaru Outback. Upon being told that the vehicle in question had already been sold we went to see one that had just come in, a 2008 Subaru Outback with 65,000 miles, sold and serviced at the same facility. We looked it over. It was perfectly clean and seemed well cared for with all the service records. The salesman then told us that we were lucky that the head gaskets had already been replaced. I decided at that point that this was the end of our relationship with Subarus after owning them for 20 years. I just cannot believe that the company hasn’t owned up to this problem. I am trying to get the last miles out of our 2000 Outback with a leaky head gasket before we junk the car. It is really sad, kind of like a divorce. Again, thanks for the comprehensive articles.

  78. Hi Justin,
    Firstly, as someone looking to buy a used Subaru, this is a fantastic article. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    I’m looking at 2006 and 2007 Foresters in Australia and am wondering in regards to your comment: “Cars that make frequent short trips will end up with a gasket failure much sooner than a commuter car with high miles.”

    Is it better then to buy a car that does 50 miles a day than one that only does a few, or is it more important to know what that car has been treated in regards to maintenance?

    Thanks,
    Tristan

    1. Hello Tristan,

      Using a vehicle in a way where its driven for short trips is not a reason to stay away from it as long as it was maintained accordingly.

      If a car is driven say 5000 miles a year and that driver only gets the oil changed once a year, that’s the one to run from, that same car with two or three oil changes would be much better off.

      Having said all that Australia is on my bucket list, but as of now I am not 100% on what the climate is like there and that makes a difference.

      I am happy to read you are ding good research, it should help you buy the right car.

      A frustrating situation for a buyer is to spend more money on a car because it has low miles only to find out its ready for a major repair, it doesn’t sound like you will have that issue.

      -Justin

  79. Justin

    I wrote to you back on Sept 25, 2013 about my 2001 Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon that I bought new. I thought you might be interested in knowing the final outcome since it might help some of your Internet readers who might be sitting on the fence about whether I should/whether I should not fix a head gasket problem. My Subaru Legacy Brighton cost me $28780 new in $2001. I drove it for 293,346km before my head gasket problem needed fixing. At this point (Jan 2011) the question was: “Do I still love this car so much , trust it, that I will throw money into buying it again, by fixing the head gaskets. The answer for me at that time was yes. For $4318, I bought my remanufactured engine with a 3 yr, 60,000 warranty, new oil pan, new water pump, timing belt,spark plugs, ignition wire set. When you are this far into it, parts are cheap, labour is not. replace everything you can afford to replace.

    The car finally came off the road on Jan 15,2014 at 382,180km due to broken front struts. While pulling the car out of a snowbank the previous week, the bottom of the left front spring came loose and fell down and shredded a snow tire. (at this point the car also needed new rear left wheel bearing, faulty gas tank venting that flooded the engine at fuel stops, rear wiper motor gone, overhead head light gone, cracked front windshield, the usual old car stuff)

    My parents gave me their 2003 Toyota Matrix (165000 km) at Christmas 2013 so the decision for me was do I keep the Subaru and fix for a reasonable price or send it to the metal shredder. Answer too many things to do, too expensive to fix for a car pushing 400,000Km, the cost per km for the next 25000km was going to be too high.

    My analysis: The cost to own my 2001 Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon was 382180km/$32788 = 8.6 cents/km

    (cost to buy $27780 new +$4318 rebuild – $310 salvage) not including any cost of maintenance – oil change,brakes, things to fix along the way etc)

    Pre head gasket leak (Jan 2011 at 293346 km) the cost to own was 293346km /$27780 = 9.8 cents / km

    (again no cost of maintenance included or gas used, just the new cost and driven until head gaskets needed fixing)

    After Head Gasket repair: (Jan 2011 to Jan 2014, the cost to own was 88834 km / ($4318 ) = 4.9 cents /km
    (the cost to put a remanufactured engine in)

    But wait a minute you say, a ten year car with 300,000 km on it costs more to fix and repair than a new car with no km on it. So adjust the numbers.

    After head gasket repair: 88834km / $7918 = 8.9 cents / km (I took $1200 per year (x 3 years) that the car was costing extra to fix in the final three years and put that against the “purchase price” (head gasket $4318 ) so final cost of the “new” 2001 Subaru in its second lifetime (post head gasket repair) was $7918. So looking back, it was still marginally about the same price to fix the head gasket problem in year ten than it would have been to buy a new or new to me car. And I saved the extra $20000 to $25000 that the new car would have cost me, the money is in my pocket for another few years rather than in the car manufacturers bank account)

    I already miss the All Wheel Drive of the Subaru. I cannot drive some local roads in the winter anymore in the Toyota. I can’t wait for the chance to buy my next Subaru. I like the look of the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Good luck people. fix it (the head gaskets). You are making the wise,smart choice. Subaru, the car for people.

  80. Hello,
    I’m new to the Subaru brand and am currently looking at purchasing a new 2014 Forester 2.5i. Was there any redesign to the 2014 engine to address the head gasket issues common to Subaru?

  81. I have a 2007 Subaru Impreza. Replaced head gaskets less than a year ago (and less than 20,000 miles) only to have to do it again. That was after impeccable maintainance and much other work on the entire cooling system before the complete head gasket replacement a year ago. Makes me really sad as I love my subaru. But thousands of dollars in repairs, every year, is not reasonable. This is the fourth time similar issues have been addressed in this car- second of complete replacement. Time for a new one. Unfortunately probably won’t be a Subaru.

  82. Hello Justin. Thanks for all of your time, expertise and effort in helping so many. I was very close to buying a 2011 Subaru Forester with about 40,000 miles when I came across your articles tonight. A few questions stand out for me: I know there have been some changes in the more recent 2.5 engine but one of your comments is that “Cars that make frequent short trips will end up with a gasket failure much sooner than a commuter car with high miles.” This would be our situation, we live in an urban setting and most of our trips are 1-2 miles. We only drive about 7,000 miles per year. Would this be a ticking time bomb for us?

    Also, our Subaru dealers are not that conveniently located for us, so I was planning on having a local auto shop with a lot of general expertise, but very little Subaru expertise do our maintenance. Would this be a bad idea? Please let me know your thoughts.

    1. Hello Jerry,

      It wont be a ticking time bomb if you understand what you own and how you use it and take car of it accordingly, this doesn’t begin or end with a Subaru and the advice is true for many other makes and models and this is also predicated based on the type of Summers and Winters you have. The point of my comment has more to do with the surprise to some that a low mileage car can actually have had a tougher life.

      Here in the NW where I live it gets just cold or hot enough to break down the oil, I would hate to have the same oil in my car during winter that was in there during Summer. Take that to an area where the Winters are extreme and the summers hot that can be a bigger issue.

      Using a good independent is okay, I prefer a good independent that knows Subaru. You will never find me suggesting the Dealer.

      The problem is there is so much “Gray Area”.

      I would encourage you to from the day you buy any used or new car to start checking the oil for signs of when it should be changed, this can be based on color, smell, feel. Also oil analysis can be done but in my opinion that’s a little excessive.

      -Justin

  83. Wow. Great article (haven’t yet read the comments). Seems I finally know what’s making my engine run hot.

  84. How often does the block have warpage or need to be re-machined due to head gasket failure. I have a 1999 Outback 2.5l DOHC with 200k and am wondering if I should rebuild the whole motor at this point. My reasoning is that if I rebuild the heads, add a new head gasket, the bottom end might go soon. Thanks…

    1. Hello Eddie,

      Most of the time the only time the block surface is warped it’s because it’s overheated multiple times. At 200k the lower end should still have some life left to it, but going through it now can avoid future headaches.

      -Justin

  85. Hey Justin,

    I have a 2010 Outback, 64,000 miles. Yesterday my car suddenly stopped pumping any heat into the cab while going down the highway. Within a few mins. the overheating light came on.(Why don’t they have a gauge?) I quickly decelerated and the light shut off. I pulled off the highway almost immediately. After popping the hood found that coolant was splashed everywhere. I let it sit for a while to cool down and then refilled the radiator to try and see if I had any leaks. After seeing nothing and letting the car cool. I turned the car back on. There were still no signs of leaking. However the radiator did not seem to have any pressure coming back into the bottom of the radiator or through the hoses in the fire wall. (By the way it was about 5 degrees F. outside if that makes a difference at all.

    At the garage they said that they found emissions in the coolant. Saying that the head gasket had gone and that I was looking at a min $2,500. fix.

    After reading your article it sounds as if they are probably correct and that it was a probably an internal failure.(Correct?)

    Anyway I was curious if you thought that contacting the SOA would make a difference since I have noticed you telling others to do so. and if so how should I contacted them. Thanks for your help and thanks for posting the article it was very informative.

    Liam

    1. Hello Liam,

      Yes you need to Call SOA at 64,000 miles the car is just barely out of the 5 year 60,000 mile power train warranty provided by Subaru.

      We have still only heard of a few 2010 and newer models with an issue, and those have also had a secondary issue such as a failed cooling fan relay or ECM that prevented proper cooling fan function that ultimately led to an overheat and thus a failed HG.

      I would plan on calling 1 800 Subaru 3. They are going to Tell you you must take it to a Subaru Dealer to have it checked out before they make any decisions which is reasonable. From there if they are unwilling to cover it, I wouldn’t allow them to service it.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  86. Hi Justin,

    I found this article while searching for info about why my girlfriend’s 2006 Legacy is constantly leaking fluids. This sounds exactly like what’s going on with her car. Her Legacy has about 95k on it and unfortunately she doesn’t have any money for such a costly repair at the moment. If we continue to add oil and coolant regularly as needed can she expect to keep driving the car indefinitely?

    Thank you again for the very informative article and any advice you can provide!

    Best,
    John

  87. Thanks for this story, I took my 2005 Legacy 2.5i with 105K in for the full timing belt/water pump thing, and the dealer called back reporting a head gasket leak and suggested I have the work done. Cost went from $800 to $2400 which is hard to swallow on a phone call, but I decided to take their advice. After reading this I feel better about deciding to do the work, and that I paid a fair price. For those in the San Jose area, I had it done at Stevens Creek Subaru. The $2400 included the water pump, thermostat, tensioner, timing belt, head gaskets, drive belts and spark plugs – and a free 2014 Forester loaner for several days while the work was being done. The car drives great now, perhaps better than it ever did before. Probably should have had them do the radiator and clutch while the engine was out, LOL.

  88. So I plan on taking my ’06 Baja with 88000 miles to Monona Motors in Monona Wisconsin which is a suburb of Madison Wisconsin. They do a lot of Subaru work and I trust them implicitly based on actual experience and reviews of them on Car Talk and on Google.

    I know I need head gaskets, I also am planning on having the radiator hoses changed the thermostat changed as well as the timing belt, the water pump and cerp belt, the spark plugs and Ive heard there is a gear on the back side of the engine that should be changed. I will make sure they check the head studs for stretch and replace them as necessary. also a new battery. To do the job I will get new antifreeze which should be changed anyway.

    Ive looked at other pickups for the three to four thousand range and if I want a truck with lots of new parts and 250,000 miles where the owner threw up the white flag I can do that, but I feel that with a vehicle that I know how its been driven and only has about 90,000 miles on it I might as well spend the cash. Especially since I like the vehicle.

    So my question is this What all should I address to keep my baby on the road to 250,000 miles?

    By the way, I pull a trailer with it and when I bought it I had the hitch installed by Subaru and had a transmission cooler installed and the OEM transmission fluid drained and full synthetic put in.

    My price range is $4000.00

    What else do I tell them to address? Should I ask them to install several ground straps from the frame to the radiator and based on your input should I drill a hole in the radiator over flow cap and run a vent tube to the opposite side of the engine so acidic vapors dont get sucked into the antifreeze?

    Thank you for your input!!

    Lynn

    1. Hello Lynn,

      Just simply maintaining the car properly post repairs is all you have to do. not allowing the battery to corrode, not allowing the coolant PH levels to become excessive. changing the oil lots and often as its 1/3 of the engine’s cooling system is really key.

      Thanks for posting, let us know how they did for you.

      -Justin

  89. Hi,
    This is a great article, I found it extremely helpful! I’m very interested in buying a Subaru I had great luck with my 1996 outback which is still going at 230K and would like another. I’m going to look at this car linked below (2007 Subaru Impreza 2.5i). It looks like they’ve done some service to it, timing belt and water pump but I’d like to really investigate whether there’s a developing head gasket issue or not. I’d also like to know what else I should look for when I go to check it out. The owner informed me that they pressure tested the engine after finding an oil leak which they found to be from a separate seal and not the head gasket but I’m wondering if it could be a developing symptom. Any advice is appreciated!
    https://boston.craigslist.org/gbs/cto/4229817605.html

    Thank you!

    1. Hello Christy,

      Not sure how the oil system was pressurized to evaluate an oil leak, that’s a new one to me. I would also that anytime an ad or a seller states whats the matter with the car I am always leary and you should be as well , my stance is why not fix it if that’s all it is before you sell it?

      The car will need to have a professional pre-purchase inspection if you really want to know all of the in and outs of the Subaru. This inspection should be done by someone who is familiar with Subaru I will add. A car fax or Auto check report may be of some use as well.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      1. Thank you Justin!
        Sounds like this person is a dealer trying to sell the car privately. He said they ran a compression test on the cylinders and found the leak was else where. He has promised a 30 day warranty on the car if I should find anything wrong with something major such as the transmission, engine etc. Do you think I’d be able to diagnose an issue by bringing it to a Subaru dealer within that 30 day time period?
        I’m also looking at a 2005 outback XT 140K on it. I read your article on turbo maintenance but like you said I have no way of really knowing how often the oil was replaced unless they can provide me with records. Do you think it would be too risky of a buy?
        Thank you for your help, I really appreciate your expert advice!

        1. Hello Christy,

          I hate to tell you to buy an Outback XT without service records, they are truly wonderful cars in my opinion and we greatly miss the one we recently sold but you get get one that wasn’t taken care of and really not like the experience. The same is true of any car, just that the turbo models can be really expensive to take care of if a problem arises due to lack of previous care.

          As far as the warranty he is offering, it makes me a little leery as there could be things not covered or not known until expiration. Again my advice is to have an inspection performed and if the car checks out consider it, but do not buy anything with out a pre purchase inspection.

          Buying a used car can be a gamble, you want to try and put the odds in your favor as much as possible.

          -Justin

  90. Hi Justin, thanks for all the useful info you continue ti supply.

    Our 2005 H6 engined Outback (approx. 150 000 kms) has had a very slight external coolant crust on one side for over 18 months now, no over-heating, performance issues whatsoever, though we’ve decided to budget for a HG repair. We’ve owned the car for over five years and always follow the recommended fluid changes and change oil and filter every six months (approx. 5000 kms). Bit surprised to see HG issues with this engine as I thought it wasn’t that common. What HG would you recommend to use (? OEM).

    We will also overhaul the timing gear while the engine is out of the car. Any other recommended repairs while the engine is out??

    Our other issue is intermittent stalling of the car (auto transmission) when driving, stopped, rolling, idling etc. No set pattern to it and no error codes recorded. It does seem more likely to occur when the fuel is below 1/3 of a tank so ??? failing fuel pump. Does this seem likely as we don’t really want to throw parts and dollars at the car unless the issue is resolved.

    Our usual mechanic (trusted) hasn’t done a lot of repairs on this engine and I don’t trust the local Subaru dealer at all. Fortunately there is a highly recommended independent Subaru mechanic 1/2 hour from where we live.

    Thank you again from the other side of the globe, Queensland, Australia

    1. Hello Wayne,

      We do see some H6 models develop some slight coolant crust from seeping HG. We usually try and monitor this situation for a while as well until it begins to become wet and I think budgeting for repairs is the right way to go abut it. We have mostly seen this in cars with elevated Ph levels noted in the cooling systems but have also seen it in cars with good coolant readings as well.

      When we make the repairs we try to replace the timing chains, guides and tensioners as well as the water pump.

      The H6 models can go through fuel pumps as well as regulators, having someone measure fuel pressure and volume would verify this. The fuel level may not have anything to do with your symptoms sine you did not mention it never does it with 3/4 of a tank?

      It’s also possible the sensor in the pedal assembly for the drive by wire might be out of range at times but someone would need to look at live data from the Engine control module to confirm this.But I am not 100% sure what the specifics of the systems in Australia are which put me at a little bit of a disadvantage as you guys get things we don’t do to different emissions requirements that’s just something I have seen on the US spec models cause intermittent stalling.

      -Justin

      1. Thanks for your reply Justin,

        We’ll continue to monitor the HG crusting until there is definite “fluid” apparent and then we’ll face the repair or replace scenario. Don’t really want to replace with a newer car as who knows what repairs will be needed on the “new” car and our current Outback drives, handles well and is so much nicer to sit in then the new models.

        We would get the timing gear and water pump done while the engine is out as that makes sense to do all at once. Do you recommend using the OEM parts for the repair or are there better/cheaper alternatives?

        In regards to fuel tank level it has never stalled when the fuel is above 1/2 tank hence I was thinking it was related to fuel pump. Thing is it is such an intermittent thing that it’s hard to diagnose. When it does stall we usually wait approx. 10 seconds with the ignition off, restart the car and it starts and drives fine. ??? what is going on.

        I’ll mention the pedal sensor issue to our mechanic and see if they can check this.

        Thanks again.

  91. Justin,

    Great skills, experience and well written posting…priceless!

    2004 2.5 Outback Wagon weather package, located in Michigan. Dry HG at 116K, now one drip a night of oil. No coolant issues, meaning no backwash of oil in reserve tank, no dripping coolant, no need to fill or replenish the system. I cover 700 miles a week, 1hr and 15 min. one way. Good everything else engine, brakes, suspension, body, etc. The dip stick does not call for oil between 5K synthetic oil changes, 25 to 27 mph at 75 mph. When I stop for gas or at the end of a trip, I smell burning oil.

    A good local shop for Subaru has a $95 steam clean and dye service to help determine valve cover oil leak and or valve cover and HD leaks. I can see oil on the bottom of the HG’s left and right, its small and gooey. Does the $95 charge sound like a smart move? Is there a good way to determine if its the VC’s? The kit is about $40 and I think I can do this repair.

    Since I’ve got a good solid car I can have the repair done at anytime. A Subbie dealer told me this VIN has two pistons that are recommended to be replaced due to slap if I do the HG repair. Any opinion on this finding – fact or fiction.

    Last, you talk about oil and coolant changes to usage, what do you think about a 700 mile a week highway car?

    Best,

    Securit

    1. Hello Securit,

      Thanks for your feedback on the website.

      Typically one really shouldn’t really need a dye test to determine the cause of a leak on your era Subaru, but because its not in front of me I am not really speaking from a position of strength. Its possible the Valve covers are leaking so bad its hard to tell if its the Valve covers or the HG.

      One thought is you could do the VC yourself for less than the test and drive it for a while and see if it subsides.

      There are in fact updated pistons for the SOHC 2.5l to help eliminate piston slap. We have installed them and witnessed the same amount of noise we were trying to resolve on some cars and in others really made it much quieter.

      Replacing pistons does start to open up a entire new can of worms if you will. If the piston slap is not all that bad the cost may not justify the trouble and really all 4 should be done.

      There is some gamble with any repair but at 116k and the fact that its not currently using oil it sounds like the bottom end is still in great shape.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  92. Justin
    Thanks for running this website I have a 2005 Outback with 203,000 miles on it. My usual dealer told me that the oil leaks around the valve covers were due to the Head Gaskets. I thought it was just the valve cover gaskets, so I looked it up on Coogle and found your wonderful website. There is no overheating yet. I have had two estimates, the original dealer quoted about $3000 (and maybe more if the heads are warped), and another Subaru dealer that is a longer drive to get to quoted $1800. The second dealer did some work on my 274,000 mile 1995 Legacy some years ago, I was impressed by the service, and I felt that they tried to not recommend work that they felt was not yet needed at the time (but I would have agreed to have done if they said it was needed). Is this large a difference in price a concern? I am inclined to go with the less expensive dealer. When I talked to them they said since there was no overheating, they would probably not have to machine the heads, and that they would use Subaru replacement HGs. I have not located an independent Subaru repair shop near me yet.
    I also wonder if you had ever had someone with a 2005 that makes a tapping or rapping noise when making left turns. It doesn’t small metallic, more tapping on a block of wood. I can’t tell if it is in front or back, but seems to be on the left side of the car. Nothing seems obviously amiss when looking under the car.

    1. Hello Matthew,

      The sound on turns is most likely a CV joint that is making some noise.

      Its tough to know what each place is quoting you I would ask for a break down form each and see whats the difference.

      One could be including timing components, water pump hoses etc, the other just bare bones?

      -Justin

      1. Justin
        The less expensive place may have assumed no warped head. They also said that it would not include the water pump and timing belt ,but that it would be about $95 for the belt with no additional labor charge for either the belt or water pump. I will ask for a breakdown. Is the CV joint a candidate for replacement if it is making the noise? I have replaced both front wheel bearings twice on this car (4 wheel bearings). Did Subaru have a bad run of bearings for their 2005 Outbacks? Thanks for your reply!

        1. Hello Matthew,

          Yes Subaru had problems with mostly the rear wheel bearings on the 2005/2006 models and there was a campaign that extended the warranty of those components for affected vehicles.

          If the Cv axle is making noise it will need to be replaced.

          -Justin

  93. Hi Justin,
    I have a 05 Outback 2.5i . The head gaskets were just done after noticing some minor seepage from the heads.

    My Subaru car is mostly a weekend car for when I visit my mountain cabin in California, so it isn’t driven much. I had a local mechanic that was recommended by my uncle do the job.

    Ever since I have gotten the car back, the car has been leaking a tremendous amount of oil. I probably have to add a quart or two per week, and there’s a burning smell after driving it.

    I have taken it back to the mechanic and he claims that there is a part where the engine is “fused” together and that is where the oil is leaking from. My guess is a shitty head gasket job?

    The car also will not go above 4,000 rpm, and sometimes I have to manually shift the car to get up to speed.

    I know its probably extremely hard to diagnose or pin point without looking at the car, but have you ever seen a situation like this before?

    Obviously, it is a problem that has arisen from the mechanic doing the head gasket, but I’m not sure where to go from here or if it is worth fixing.

    Thanks in advance for your help, Happy Thanksgiving and hopefully I’ll be able to fix her up.

    Manuel

    1. Hello Manuel,

      This is a tough situation, ideally it needs to go back to the shop that worked on it but it sounds like that already happened.

      I need some more specific information as there is nothing where the engine is “fused” as its actually bolted to the transmission and not fused? There is a separator plate and it would generally not ever leak out a quart a week.

      What was the Shops diagnoses of the 4000 rpm thing?

      Its worth fixing, I would suggest you have another conversation with the shop and if you cant get anywhere with them go somewhere else and at least have a diagnoses done and take things from there. If shop B tells you its most likely related to the shops work you will have that in writing and can present it to them.

      Thats the next step from the sounds of it.

      -Justin

  94. I wish I had found this article sooner. I love my 2010 Subaru outback and hope to keep it around for many years to come. My temperature light came on last week so I took it straight into the dealership and was told that my cooling fans and head gaskets are both needing to be replaced. They can’t tell me which broke first to cause the other, but the total cost to fix it will be about $2200. I’ve been trying to read all the threads/posts to see if anyone else had a similar issue with this year car, but haven’t found any yet. I change the oil regularly at the dealership, but did a short cut on my last oil change and went to a lube center 2 months ago, but all my other oil changes were at the dealership. My car is barely 4 years old. How long does it take for an internal leak to cause failure in the fan or gasket? Can a leak be detected 6 months in advance? If the lube center added the wrong coolant could that be the cause of this?

    1. Hello Lisa,

      Sorry to hear about the trouble with your 2010, this is most likely not the result of the wrong coolant, but rather if the fans were not working correctly and not noticed, than yes the car will overheat and than damage the HG. No one skipped oil change didn’t cause this either.

      Puzzled that they are not telling you the fans caused the HG failure as we have also seen this.

      I would call SOA and tell them your story. If its been maintained primarily at the Dealer perhaps they could have caught it?

      -Justin

  95. Hi, was reading your articles about head gasket leaks, I own a 2009 Subaru Forester with 84,000 miles, and I was told yesterday at a routine maintainence that I have a left side headgasket leak, and that if I replaced one side it would be $1100, both sides (they recommended), $1600. They told me I could not get my state inspection sticker without this repair, and it is due this month. I, being a single woman, knowing nothing about car and engine repair, wasn’t sure what to do and I felt I was being “high pressured” to make an expensive repair quickly, knowing nothing about it. So I told them I would get a second opinion, then they told me 10 minutes later they would give me the sticker after all, and just clean up the oil for now. They did show me oil under the car, but knowing nothing of what a car is supposed to look like underneath, not sure if this was very helpful.
    Anyways, what is your take on this? Can I ask them to monitor it as I read in one of your articles? Is it urgent? This is a Subaru dealership, and I have had multiple friends tell me that “dealerships will try to screw you over”. I am so unsure and I left there feeling like they were slimy and untrustworthy. I have been going there for almost 10 years so now it left a bad taste in my mouth.
    Any advice??
    Thanks so much!
    Tresa

    1. Hello Tresa,

      I don’t know all of the laws in certain states, but would find it odd that a minor oil leak would prevent a car from being issued a inspection stamp or sticker. Our state isn’t one that requires inspections so I’m not as familiar as I should be to answer this however.

      Having said that, yes many dealers will use whatever tactic available to sell work, they have to, it’s their job. I don’t agree with it which is why I left the Subaru dealer yeas ago, but it’s the same structure at any make service department.

      What to do from here? If at all possible I would really try to find a family owned Independent shop and hopefully one that’s familiar with Subaru. Let them have a look and give you an opinion about how bad things are. I would think about it like this, you go to the same family doctor for years, but one visit things just don’t go so well and you are not comfortable with the doctors analysis or your doctor suggest a specialist for this situation. It’s possible for the last ten years the dealer has always been good to you, or always gotten a little more than really needed. We all hate to think the latter but it happens.

      I pay all of my employes a salary so there is never a need to ever sell anyone anything so they can make their paycheck and I firmly believe this is the right way to operate. Look for a shop like mine near you and I’m sure you will get honest advice.

      Hope that helped hope it’s not that bad yet.

      -Justin

  96. Lots of great info. My story is I got a 2004 Subaru Forester in good condition for $400. They told me it needed an engine. So I got a quote of $2300 for used engine installed – but this is my problem. I towed the Forester 70 miles with my pickup using a tow bar. I am finding out that since I didn’t disconnect the shaft and something else — the trans or drive may not be good. So before I spend money on an engine due you think I will have some extra problem? Is there a way I can check if something went bad before I put in an engine? Thanks

  97. Justin,
    I am in shock as my much loved 2006 Impreza with just 70K miles was also just diagnosed with leaking head gaskets! I can’t believe it. I purchased this car after my 99 A-4 turbo blew up at @ 100K miles, having had it with $$$ repair bills.

    Now this!

    Need your help.
    Thanks

    1. Hello Barbara,

      Not all leaking head gaskets are the same, if its just oil you can monitor it for a period of time, no I don’t know how long someone local you can trust needs to evaluate it.

      If its coolant or internal it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

      -Justin

  98. I just wanted to say thanks. I haven’t read the previous comments but i did check your article. I looked at a phase 1 Outback engine today for potential purchase and the owner described everything you mentioned in the first few paragraphs. You are saving me apprx. $1500 and head and heartache as I am about to drive across country to say goodbye to a parent.

    Thanks

  99. Justin- about two years ago my 2001 Forester was diagnosed with leaking head gaskets. I haven’t had them replaced, but have been monitoring the fluid levels closely. There is no coolant loss, but there is significant oil loss- a 1/2 quart every month. Yesterday there was a small pool of oil under the car. When I look under the car, I see the gasket failure driver’s side rear of engine, but the oil is dripping from the middle part (where the bolts hold on the large drip pan), and not from the side. Do you think there may be something else that is causing this oil loss, or is it just running along the tire support arms to the middle of the car?

    1. Hello Larry,

      Typically speaking a Head gasket wont leak oil to the point where its leaving a puddle of oil under the car like you are describing. I am guessing here but I suspect there is a leak from somewhere else at fault here. Better to get it looked at locally.

      -Justin

      1. Thanks, I will try to find a good shop around here. In the meantime, if I keep a close eye on oil level, is there any risk other than an ugly driveway?

  100. I just want to run this idea by you, a general thought on the Subaru HG failure to see what you think.I had a GM vehicle with HG problems.Could the Subaru gasket be made of organic material and the coolant(like Dexcool)be made of an organic component,therfore “organic” coolant eats “organic” HG. Using the Six Star(maybe synthetic material}with synthetic coolant solves problem ? Is the Subaru (green] fluid organic and the new (blue) fluid Synthetic ? MAYBE THE CAUSE OF ALL HG PROBLEMS ????

    1. The OE Subaru gasket for SOHC is not made of organic material, its a composite gasket. The single biggest reason the Six star holds up better is that its a MLS gasket.

      -Justin

  101. My 1997 subaru outback impreza sport is missing and won’t start properly anymore. It also smokes alot when i barely run it. What’s the problem?

        1. Chris

          Please read what I posted after your first post again

          Hello Chris,

          There is no way I can know whats wrong with your Subaru without seeing it.

          You might start with checking the plugs and wires?

          -Justin

  102. I just had my 2002 Impreza TS 2.5 in for an oil change and was informed that both my head gaskets are leaking externally, one worse than the other. The repair was estimated at $1900-$2500 depending on how many timing components were deemed necessary for replacement and they cost about $100 each. Ironically, I purchased a Gates timing belt kit with belt and components, a Bosch water pump and gasket, a Stant Thermostat, and both Gates serpentine belts. I planned to do the replacement/preventative maintenance myself along with replacing the coolant with Subaru Long Life and additive. Putting the cost a little under $300.

    Were my purchases uninformed?

    The gates timing belt kit was recommended by several Subaru owners who also recommended i get the kit w/o the water pump and instead purchase one of my own choice. The Stant thermostat looks nothing like the cheap Chinese one pictured and very much like the Subaru OE one pictured. I went with the OE coolant and additive because several Subaru owners explicitly stated I was looking for trouble using any other coolant. After doing a little more research it seems this is the case with using non-OE thermostats. As for the preventative maintenance, i felt pretty confident doing the timing belt and accompanying procedures on a Saturday afternoon and having it finished well before the weekend was over. Knowing the head gaskets are leaking I’m not sure I would have the tools or time to do this all myself. I don’t want to take my car to the stealership to have this done either. Which brings me to my next question as i am having a hard time finding a reputable independent shop specializes in servicing Subaru in my area.

    Do you participate in or are there any organizations/networks i can turn to that would help me find one maybe a little further out but still in my state?

    My car has 104k and i know that this service would be a small bump in the road to at least three times that mileage given that it is done right way. I have worked in two different stealerships and now work in an independent body shop as a body tech, so i am well aware of the differences in quality when you are getting paid flat rate and when you are getting paid to do a job right. I do not mean to discredit the quality of work from techs working in stealerships as there are still great techs that take pride in their work working there but generally speaking they are there to make money and that means doing as many jobs a week as possible.

    Thanks for all your help and knowledge,

    Tony

    1. Hello Tony,

      There really isn’t much of a network for Independent Shops, I see shop owners here and there any time I attend a trade show which is really not all that often.

      “I purchased a Gates timing belt kit with belt and components, a Bosch water pump and gasket, a Stant Thermostat, and both Gates serpentine belts. I planned to do the replacement/preventative maintenance myself along with replacing the coolant with Subaru Long Life and additive. Putting the cost a little under $300.”

      All of that stuff really needs to go back. You want to use nothing but the Subaru OE Thermostat. Here is a picture of a Subaru Thermostat VS a Stant https://allwheeldriveauto.com/seattle-subaru-service-parts/

      As for the timing belt kit the idlers in the kit are made in China, we have seen the idlers fail well before the 105k mark and when that happens and you bend valves you saved nothing. The Bosch pump is a re-box and the manufacture I believe is still China. You could roll with the timing belt and acc belts if you wanted to, but you will find that all three will stretch much more so than the OE you will be hard pressed to get the 60k out of the ACC belts before the Alternator power steering belt is stretched beyond tightening as the adjustment usually maxes out after a year or two. Aftermarket parts come with the same one year warranty the OE does, but only the OE can really claim to make it the 105k it needs to, if a Timing belt or idler fail 4 years and 75k later you will have no recourse. It doesn’t happen all the time but we have seen enough of it to never use that kit and its a set of parts we wont install when a customer tries to brings them in.

      I know in the body world you can get by with some aftermarket body parts, and once you get past fitment issues they work just fine, but in the mechanical side of things fitment is actually the least of your worries its the longevity that needs to be considered as the surprises are never welcome.

      You might want give the head gasket repair thing a try, if your are comfortable doing the timing belt, its not going to be all that much more difficult, just time consuming and greater attention to detail.

      -Justin

  103. I have a 2009 Forester with just over 52k miles. My local NorCal dealer just told me the HG are leaking (oil i think). $3400 to repair with front engine reseal. This seems crazy to me, the car is so new. My 2001 Forester, which worked hard in Hawaii, was over 120k when i sold it and never had any kind of problem. Do i have a lemon or should i get a second opinion? Yikes!

    1. Hello Lori,

      The Climate in Hawaii was much easier on your Subaru than the climate in Nor Cal. You don’t have a Lemon, most likely you have a small oil leak, but now here is the disturbing part your 2009 Forester has a 5 year 60k power train warranty so the cost to repair any leaking head gasket is Zero.

      So yes get a second opinion at a Reputable Subaru Dealer and get this handled under warranty, a call to SOA is appropriate as well 1800 Subaru 3 if a Subaru dealer did in fact try to charge you for a repair under Subaru’s Warranty.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  104. The dealership just called and told me that my head gaskets are leaking on my 2006 2.5L Baja! (They didn’t say whether it was oil or coolant) They also said that the timing belt and another belt are looking bad as well and that it would be a good time to replace them. (115K miles)I asked what the total price would be and they said that it would be just under $3000! I asked them not to do anything and that I would have my nephew (who is a Mazda dealership mechanic)look at it. Do you have any other suggestions or advice…? Thanks in advance!

    1. You should first ask the dealer if it was oil and or coolant and how severe the leaks are. If the vehicle has 115k and the timing belt has never been done then yes I am sure its due and should be done regardless of if you have time on the HG.

      If you have someone that can look at it that’s always good.

      Justin

  105. Yesterday (Sept 22.2113) I found this thread on the internet, and read it top to bottom and also read the original Subaru Head Gasket Problems explained thread (by Justin) from Nov 2007. I own a 2001 Subaru Legacy wagon (Brighton)bought in Canada.I am not an employee of Subaru , nor have I ever been. I am also not a mechanic. In the early 2000’s SOA (America) made a special Legacy for the Canadian market, which was a stripped down Legacy L. it was sold as the Legacy Brighton. There were no options on the base model, you could get metallic paint,add an upgraded stereo or roof rack.I bought this Legacy Brighton wagon new, put no options on it, except metallic paint. Subaru Canada gave me the metal paint at no charge because they had no cars in stock in white, the colour I wanted. I said I was cheap, (born in Scotland) but not stupid. The car came with two stereo speakers in the front doors. I bought and put in the extra set of speakers in the rear doors (for $50 on ebay) (rear speakers standard in the Legacy “L”)
    I am writing this keeping in mind the issues that affect Subaru cars and their lifetime head gasket durability (as I understand them): Batteries,regular coolant changes, very regular oil changes, use of Genuine Subaru parts (by Subie shop and by my mechanics (thanks John and Rudy), and just plain luck on my part to be running the car to high mileage highway miles which delayed the onset of head gasket problems to late middle age (for the car).
    My lifetime experience on the Subaru Legacy wagon: No more expensive to fix than other cars. I had great mechanics. The Subaru dealers were always way more expensive than the independents I used, when I used them.
    My Legacy wagon spent its first 3.5 years living in an underground parking garage in Toronto Ontario. (Salt, rust and corrosion very bad in underground parking garages) . Years 4 to 7 were outdoor storage. Years 7 to 12 were back in a parking garage, but with weekly car washes. Years 12 to 13 were back outside.
    From day one, I kept an Excel spreadsheet to track my expenses. What is written here is not from memory. In its first four years the car did between 25000 to 35000 kms a year (16000 to 22000 miles) . I changed the oil every 6000 kms. When Subaru issued the WWP-99 recall in February 2004, to add a special conditioner to the engine cooling system, I did that, And I made sure it was added each time the coolant was changed. The 100000 km. warranty was used up in 34 months from new. No major issues during warranty period (always fixed at a Subaru store during the warranty period). After warranty was over I went outside to independents.
    Timing Belt,Water Pump/thermostat done at 68 months (182000 kms), by an independent shop. Thermastat done again at 219000 kms and at 293,000 (head gasket repair) .
    Head Gasket oil leak first noticed at 285,000 kms (car 10 years old and rusty, almost taken off the road). Leak started very small. We got 4 months and 8000 kms out of the car before I had to get it done. Time enough to search the Internet for an engine rebuilder. I selected Crosstown Engine Rebuilders in Toronto Ont. There are a number good rebuilders in and around the city, this one was convenient by public transit to my home . Crosstown remanufactured the engine block. Stripped the long block down to nothing and rebored it in a CNC machine. No hand reboring here. All new pistons and heads etc. They also replaced the oil pan (rusty),water pump, ignition wire set, spark plugs. Basic rebuild was $2350 with $850 engine remove/reinstall, plus $600 in parts. Expensive, would have pulled the car from road but I had no money for a newer one and I knew this car. I needed one quick visit back to Crosstown after the rebuild for a retightening due to a minor oil leak, but they fixed that and there have been no major issues since rebuild. Gas mileage is still 30 kms/Litre.
    The car has had four accidents. The first one in a parking lot when it was six months old. Hit on the front right corner when parked, left front tire was bumped over top of a concrete parking spot marker. I mention this because the left front corner of the car has always been high maintenance: CV joints and stuff. Interesting that was the side that was not hit, the right side (the hit side) was CHEAPER to fix over the car’s lifetime because stuff that got damaged in the accident, got replaced. On the left side, things that were “still in spec” at time of accident , did not get replaced. Damaged maybe, but hidden damage and this resulted in shorter lifetime.
    My Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon was hit twice more from the rear. The installed trailer hitch saved my car for $4000 repairs each time ($2000 mech, $2000 labour). In the first accident, the $19000 winter stored BMW that was at the rear of the three car pileup was a write off. The Mini van in the middle of the three car crash was written off too. I was in front and I got off the lightest. The second crash was just the same, $4000 total damage to me, $8000 damage to the car that hit me. Nice strong frame. Trailer hitches save Subies ? Subarus are safe cars to own and drive. Drive one.
    Major service checks were always done on time. Fluids changed on the major mileage markers like clockwork. ”Check Engine” light first came on at 86,000km (54000 miles), constantly on after 200000 km (100,000 miles) . My independent mechanics said don’t bother chasing the source, it could be a bunch of things. Maybe he is right, maybe wrong. Don’t know.
    The front left wheel bearing failed at 316,000 kms (Nov 2011) and again at 368.000kms (august 2013). Subaru wheel bearings are grease packed, not sealed. The Alliston Ont mechanic replaced it with an OEM spec bearing. As explained by my Toronto mechanic , Subaru wheel bearings are held in place by steel plates that sit on the outside that hold and press rubber seals in position, that are meant to keep dirt and water out. In later car life the plates rust, water and salt get in and wash the grease out and the bearings fail. The Alliston mechanic used Subaru spec bearings, but the plates still leaked. The Alliston bearing cost $57 in parts and $200 in labour to put in. With the faulty seal in place, the bearing lasted 3 weeks and 3000 kms before catastrophic failure. Should have heard the noise at point of failure! The bearing balls went to dust! My Toronto mechanic did the repair again and used a sealed bearing that cost $82. The extra $25 for sealed parts is worth it when the original specification are a bad design. In hindsight Subaru should have also used sealed bearings on original equipment.
    Now Sept 2013, 373,000 kms the Chk engine light is still on.
    The car still has the original stainless steel muffler pipes (the full set) on the car, first re welded in a custom shop by my Toronto mechanic after 245000 kms, welded again 4.5 years later at 350000 kms. This time the mechanic said no more, cannot do it one more time after this,ok I will do it now, but no more. Fine. I smiled.) The regular steel joint that is on the ends of the stainless steel pipes, rusts off. Simply re weld on a short joining piece to fix the problem. If you own a Subaru and it stil has original stainless steel muffler pipes on it, find an independent muffler shop to do a reweld. The pipes fail at the joints. Simply weld in a short six inch steel splice to link the orginal stainless steel pipes. Save $$$.

    September 2013. My subie is now 13 years old, has 373000 kms. (233000 miles), and is badly rusted. I should have rust proofed the car from day one. I have a crack in the windshield that runs along the bottom edge, 2 inches up from the lower edge. My Toronto mechanic says that the front struts have small breaks on the bottom of the springs, which means the car will not pass a provincial safety inspection required at time of selling. At some point in the car’s late mid life, the rear wiper motor failed. A quick trip to ebay for an Outback rear wiper motor from a wrecker in northern USA, saved the day.
    My parents are giving me their 2003 Toyota Matrix as they move to a condo in 30 days time and they only need one car. So I get the Matrix and I have a decision to make. My Subie stays alive until something major breaks (more than $400). Or am I inheriting a pile of future problems in the Toyota Matrix? I do not know its service history well. My very first car was an 85 Toyota Tercel wagon. I bought it at four years old, 105,000 kms. After purchase I received the service history from the dealer and the last owner had run the car for a full year without oil changes (35,000 kms), The rocker arm shaft snapped at 180000km, while doing 70mph on a major highway, 250 miles from home. My next car was a 1987 Honda Civic, bought in 1991 with 23,000 km on her. Nice low mileage, problem free because the owner changed the oil regularly. Until I found a bad mechanic who screwed up while running an engine cleaner through the motor, and caused the timing belt to snap. Pieced that motor back together and sold it to buy the Subaru Legacy new.
    Subaru cars are great cars. Look after it, it will look after you. Head gaskets, just a blimp on the road to 300,000 miles. My (now ex girlfriend)has a 2002 Honda Civic that has barely done 16000 kms a year and 60% of that is 8 trips a year Toronto to Manitoulin Island (8 hour drive) . Hard service sitting in an underground parking garage? Yes, brake rotors rust out way too fast)
    I am going to miss my Subaru. I remember rally driving a road in northern Ontario a few weeks after the car was brand new. What a feeling. A few weeks ago (Sept 2013) I drove the car with an empty trailer down to my parents who live two hours south of me.With the trailer on the back, the car drove just as smoothly as that weekend of rally driving back in 2000. My I love the feeling. Subaru has me sold for life
    I may just pull the collision damage coverage on the insurance and keep the Subaru on the road for one more winter. When this Subaru dies I will evaluate the existing head gasket knowledge on the Internet to see if 2010 and later Subaru models have the problem or not , and then buy another Subaru based on that information (with the head gasket slush fund tucked away just in case).
    Enjoy your Subaru. You are going to love it.

      1. I am still reading the original Subaru Head Gaskets Explained Comments page, but I just wanted to comment on Cost of Repair for head gasket failure. I paid the $2350 rebuild fee + $850 for engine removal and reinstall for my repair, which is higher than some folks have paid, but I also got a 3 year,60,000K (37,500 miles ) warranty on the head gasket repair. I got piece of mind for three years. Now the warranty on my repair is over.Some people on this site complain about head gasket repairs not lasting more than a few months. Good warranties cost money.If you have time, do the research, don’t just select the first repair option presented.

      2. Justin:

        I do have a couple quick questions on moving forward with my Subaru. The reason I have to consider taking my 2001 Subaru Legacy Brighton wagon (375000kms) off the road is that I live in Ontario Canada where all cars are subjected to environmental emissions testing (called Drive Clean) every two years once they reach the age of seven years. Previously it was an emissions test where they measured the Carbon Dioxide output off the tailpipe and compared it to accepted standards and the standard for your car’s make amd model. Anyway the CO test is now gone, but Drive Clean require a reading of the Check Engine code on the car. Any car with the Check Engine light on, fails the test and must be taken off the road and cannot be sold.
        Questions: how to solve the Check Engine light riddle. I would like to solve it so that the car has some salvage value. I know I need a mechanic to read the scan code. I believe the catalytic converter is still good because the emissions test last year passed with flying colours. A friend of mine with the same Subaru year and model knows a mechanic who has been able to solve the Check Engine light problem by fixing bad wirig connections. Have you ever seen Check Engine light on problems that were traced to simply wiring connections that went bad? Obviously I need to start by having my mechanic do the scan code readout and work from there. I have now read both of your Head Gasket blogs top to bottom including every customer’s question and comment so I consider myself well educated on Subaru issues.

        1. Hello Andy,

          Very familiar with the Drive clean program as its modeled after OBD II here in the States, and IM 240 here in the Washington State

          However I don’t know if there is a Waiver program in Canada?

          What I can tell you is a Car can have a Converter code and still pass an emissions tailpipe test when checking for exhaust gas emissions.

          I have seen check engine lights come on for something as simple as a bad tail light bulb in a 2000 to 2004 Outback and I have seen them come on for many, many other reasons, the code is whats needed and then a diagnoses based on that code. Anything else is just guessing and speculation.

          -Justin

  106. Hi,
    I have a 2005 Impreza 2.5RS with leaking head gaskets (160,000 miles). I called the dealership and they said they don’t replace the water pump or pulleys/tensioners unless there is a reason to. They quoted me $1800 for both head gaskets and a timing belt. I called another place that specializes in Subarus and they do everything, gaskets, timing belt, water pump, pulleys/tensioners, plugs, etc. They also tried to sell me on replacing the clutch; something about it “shattering” when they put it back together. This sounds extremely suspect to me. Is this normal? The total quoted for this was $2300. It sounds like a better deal to go with the second option, as for only $500 more I get a lot more stuff done, but is it necessary? Am I being had? Great article by the way!

    Thanks for your time,
    Matt

    1. Hello Matt,

      The Dealer will leave those other items to chance and when they become an issue charge you full labor to go in and replace them.

      If you are making the repairs you plan on keeping the car, the more you do when its apart the lower the forward going ownership costs will be. But its also important to know the plan, if the plan is to keep the car until 300k do it all , if its to get another couple of years maybe out the clutch off or at least until its out and inspected?

      Anything Timing belt driven is a must in my opinion, if you leave the clutch to chance you get to replace the clutch, if you leave an idler to chance and it does not go your way you will spend huge money on something you did not need to when the valves bend as a result of a failed idler.

      In all honesty we still get about one tow in a month where an idler, tensioner or a water pump failed on the freeway, its always a bad day for the driver.

      Justin

  107. Justin,
    Very informative site….thank you! I’ve got a 2000 Legacy Sedan, manual trans, 205k miles. My daily round-trip commute is 75 miles, all highway.

    Currently leaking coolant; I’ve not confirmed leaking from head gasket(s), but based on description, I’m betting it is. Also have frequent P0325; I run 87 octane.

    Based on reading your initial article, sounds like I should try the coolant conditioner first and switch to 89 octane. Since only an external leak (leaving about a 4″ diameter pool after each drive) , wondering if this is a situation that I can continue to top-off coolant for several months, or is this likely to quickly progress to an internal gasket failure?

    Regards,
    Keith

    1. Hello Keith,

      No you should Evaluate the knock sensor as most likely its failed, and no you need to fix your coolant leak, once the HG is leaking coolant it must be replaced.

      At this point we don’t even know if that’s whats wrong. I do not suggest the conditioner under any circumstance.

      -Justin

  108. Hi,

    I have a 2008 Impreza. the other day on the way to work I had the oil light flash on along with the check engine light. I though it was weird considering I did an oil change about 3 months ago and never saw any oil leakage on any components or in my drive way. All of a sudden a knocking sound starts. I pull over and lift the hood and the heat coming form the engine is much more than normal. But I didn’t get an overheating warning? And I am out of oil. I add oil and bring it to a local mechanic and he said my engine is pretty much dead? Why would a car with 93k miles eat up oil at that rate? I was told it was an internal engine leak and Subarus are know for this? Am I stuck with this bill?

    1. Hi Dan,

      Yes I am afraid its your car.

      Any car can and will use oil in between oil changes, the only way to know if yours does and to prevent engine failure as a result of low oil levels is to check your oil. This is nothing new but most truly learn the hard way.

      Engines use oil in much the same way they use fuel, some drives use more fluids than others. Weather, temperature, load, use and mechanical inefficiencies all affect oil consumption.

      I am a broken record here stating oil needs to be changed every 3000 miles or three months for most vehicle owners and checked every couple of weeks (your owners manual states the oil must be checked every tank of fuel), and people argue with me all the time on this forum, so I have pretty much given up. Its never a problem until it is.. Guys come here and argue that its not normal for a car to use oil and I just cant listen to it anymore, I instead listen to stories like this and truly feel awful for you. But darn it man it only takes 30 seconds to check your oil.

      All I can really say is this to anyone that wants to read.

      Not every car uses a measurable amount of oil in between oil changes but many, many do regardless of make you are here reading right now because you own or are thinking about a Subaru. It doesn’t make your car a POS if it uses oil it makes it a car that uses some oil and this if not kept up on will be catastrophic as you now know.

      Sorry about the situation. But please use this as a moment where you learn about the internal combustion engine, as any car you own unless you buy a Tesla may use oil.

      Justin

  109. A huge thank you for this article, it is by far the most informative regarding Subaru’s dreadful head gasket issue.
    I have a 99 Forester with 94k miles that was diagnosed with oil seapage from head gaskets in October 2010. I’ve been taking it to my Subaru dealer in San Francisco ever since. They’ve been monitoring it and on my last oil change, which was a couple months ago it’s still just seaping oil. They tell me it’s going to cost at most $2,600, which from what I read is pretty common. It’s a big chunk of change for a car that I already replaced the transmission and both axels. I now need 4 new tires and I’m not sure if I should do that with this huge repair looming. I see in your article you monitored an oil leak for 5 years. What is the longest oil leak you witnessed before the coolant leaks or the head gasket needed to be replaced? Do you know of electrical issues in Subaru’s that are 14 years or older? My dealer suggests I buy a new car since my car is old and I may encounter costly electrical issues if I do in fact replace the head gaskets. Is he trying to up sell me to a new car? I don’t want to take out a loan and I’m leaning towards fixing it but unsure if that’s the logical choice. I use the car for light leisurely driving. How much do you charge for a head gasket replacement? I would consider driving to Kirkland. Thanks again for you honest advice.

    1. Hi Judy,

      We sometimes monitor oil leaks for 100,000 miles and other times 1 month. What you need is someone you trust to let you know when its time, while you budget for the repair.

      I can tell you we have cars we have merely monitored for years but I cant remember who is the current record holder.

      $2600 for a HG repair, plus tires is still barely 10% the cost of another car, not to mention any new car will lose that amount of money in depreciation the first turn out of the Dealership.

      AS far as electrical issues, could you expand that a bit? Are you having issues now, or are you living in fear that an issue could happen,and more importantly what kind of electrical issues are you worried about? There are really no widespread common electrical type issues with any Subaru model other than the Alternator recall in some 1998 models.

      Your dealer wants to sell you a new car at a profit, take yours in on trade while beating you up on price because of its needs, than fix your car and sell it to some one else at a huge profit thus making two deals rather than one repair.

      We charge less than you are being quoted and I image they are quoting out for more than just HG at a $2600 number, we are closer to $1700.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

      1. Thanks again, Justin, that is very helpful! I figured they were trying to upsell me, they were also talking about getting the best trade in deal if I get a new Subaru. I don’t have any electrical issues at all so I was surprised to hear that and after searching the web I didn’t see any Suby’s with electrical issues either. I’ll just keep holding out the oil seapage remains just oil and take it from there. Do you recommend I use Premium gas, will that prolong just oil seapage? I’ve been using regular unleaded. If you ever hear of a trustworthy and excellent Independent Subaru mechanic in the Bay Area please let me know.
        All the best to you,
        Judy

  110. I have a 2004 Forester with turbo and have increasing problems with it stalling when idling = or when not giving it gas. I appreciate any ideas you may have.

    I brought to the dealer 3X and they called Subaru but all they could think to do was to clean the wires and connections. The problem is not constant so the mechanic didn’t have it happen in the shop – and the computer had no codes on this. I drive about 10-20 miles per day and it happens nearly every day now. The good thing is that it always starts right up again. Usually I have gone 5+ miles and then it stalls at a stop light or when idling into a turn. It is very frustrating and doesn’t feel safe to be stopped in an intersection.

    I did have the head gasket replaced by the dealer about 6 months ago – the check engine light was on and the car stalled then too. Also (the first mechanic and not the dealer) replaced the spark plugs but I kept having trouble so went to the dealer.

    Any ideas?

    Thanks so much!

  111. Guys, here in sunny Japan we`d never dream of spending $2,000 on a head gasket change for an Outback/Grand Wagon/Lancaster with 100,000km on the clock. Especially as the timing belt needs changing, And then there`s the rear wheel bearings. No, you`d scrap and replace. especially as scrapping`s FoC. A ten-year-old clean Outback at auction would be well under $2,000, with about 60,000km distance on it.
    Bottom line; you`re paying too much and expecting too much.
    Jack, Japan Alps

    1. Hello Jack,

      Thanks for posting but here are some contrarian views.

      So in Japan the Japanese government makes it prohibitively expensive to own a car much older than 5 years in the way of vehicle licensing fees.

      This is how the Japanese Government helps support the JDM’s or call it subsidizing if you will. Subsequently some of those engines are actually sold to consumers in the US who install them in Subaru’s here, when they will comply to US emissions systems. So just to be clear, your scrap in Japan is put to good use here when it will work in something here in the US.

      $2000 to repair Vs $30,000 to buy

      Justin

  112. My daughter in Ohio has an ’05 Outback Limited we bought used. Would you recommend using the SOA coolant conditioner in this vintage of Subaru. It has 105K miles and light seepage around the head gaskets. Dealership does not use it fearing clogged radiators. Thanks!

  113. Dear Justin,

    Excellent work on your article and grateful for all the information I have learned from the postings and responses. My question is for a 2005 Outback LL Bean, I am considering. I bought on ebay auction from 99.7 feedback seller. He bought car at auction. He acknowledges a discrepancy between his description and the information I found through CARFAX report at the dealership who offered it for sale. Report was read to me by the service manager at dealership, it said, vibration in steering wheel at speeds over 50mph. This came as a surprise after I won the auction both to me and to the seller. A dealership told me it could be as simple as a wheel out of round or needing replacement of both front axels. If least or worst case scenario can either of these cause harm to the transmission? Or other related problems I am not even aware of? I can afford to put some money into the car as I expected that. But if damage has been ongoing while problem wasn’t fixed I will pass and ask for my deposit back. Sorry for the length and thanks if you have time to give a reply. I don’t want to end up like poor Mona. Thanks for all you do for people.

    1. Hello Sharon,

      a Out of Balance tire or wheel over time can damage the front wheel bearings. An out of balance Axle causing a vibration over time can cause damage to the front differential which is part of the Transmission on your Subaru and a very expensive repair.

      So it would be better to have it addressed ASAP, and hopefully its just an out of balance tire which is common.

      Justin

  114. I have a 2000 Legacy GL wagon with 351,000 kms – replaced the HG’s one year ago at $2,000 Canadian – very happy with the results; car completely painted 3 years ago…background info. I am looking to trade for a 2008 Outback with 100,000 kms…..my “second look mechanic” tells me there is a small HG leak in the driver’s side gasket, one forming in the passenger side – should I be concerned. This would be my 6th used Subaru and the info in your blog (and subsequent similar explanation by the dealer) is a surprise to me …. advice?

    1. Hi Diana,

      The small leaks never leak less and eventually will need to be done. As long as its just minor oil leaks it generally can be monitored until it leaks coolant.

      Buy the car knowing the repairs are one of those down the road items that will need to be done.

      Justin

  115. We are looking at two Subarus for our son. Our choices are a 2004 Forester and a 2007 Forester. Both have the
    2.5L SOHC SMPI 16-valve 4-cyl “Phase II” boxer engine. The ad for the 2004 says Phase II and the ad for the 2007 does not say Phase II. We are worried about problems with the head gasket. The salesman for the 2007 proudly stated that the head gasket had been replaced. Both vehicles have about 118,000 miles.

    Your thoughts on which direction we should go with this purchase?

    1. Hello Karen,

      Phase one was from 1995 to 1999 in the Legacy and Outback and 1998 in the Forester, everything else is Phase 2. The newer engines (2011 up) are an FB series and not a phase anything in the EJ series.

      As far as which car to buy it would be the one that checks out the best after you have had a pre-purchase inspection performed by an Independent Shop. This way you have an idea of the whole car and what you actually buying, rather than sales jargon form your new best friend.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  116. Justin I have a question about my 1999 Outback sohc 2.5i EJ251 head gasket; I have started to get a small amount of oil leaking into the coolant. All the web postings I can find only seem to mention internal or external coolant leaks or external oil leaks but nothing about internal oil to coolant leaks.
    Is the problem caused by the head gasket or could there be anywhere else oil could get into the coolant?
    Thanks
    Richard Steele

    1. The oil residue in the overflow is from the combustion chamber, not the crankcase. When the gasket breaches between combustion and coolant the combustion chamber gases and the oil used to lubricate the components in the combustion chamber.

      Hope that helps explain it.

      Justin

  117. My 2012 3.6R (12K still under warranty) has developed a head gasket leak. What should I do to protect myself in the future. Request a warranty for 100K+? Check how they clean and prepare the heads?

    When I took the car in for an oil change I told the service ‘manager’ that I had to add oil. One service manager said that I should expect to lose a quart of an oil every 2K miles and it’s perfectly normal. I asked for something in writing to that affect. He said it’s on the Subaru website. At an earlier attempt for the same oil change, another service manager told me it was because of the thin oil (5/30) they used which is like gasoline. I didn’t believe either one of them, and that’s why I asked for their explanation in writing. But after reading your post, I think I have a bigger problem that’s guaranteed to re-occur. Fortunately, the guy that did the oil change found that there was a leak. They added a dye to the oil in order to locate where the leak was.

    1. Hi George,

      Your 2012 3.6l has a Head gasket leak?

      There is one service manager at the Stealership and they don’t often talk to customers, there are several Service advsiors who may or may not know much about cars. 5w30 has been around for a very long time and is nothing like gasoline.

      Some oil consumption based on many factors including use is normal in some vehicles however, a HG leak at 12k is not, nor would it account for the oil consumption issue.

      I would let SOA you would like the 5 year 60k power-train warranty extended they may or may not accommodate you.

      Justin

  118. Justin,

    I’m in the middle of a HG job on a ’98 Forester with ~150k miles. I’ve been following your recommendation of sanding the heads to get a nice smooth finish and that has been working well. My question is what to do with the block surface. Do you also recommend sanding this surface? It seems to be a little more difficult to sand since there is not as much surface area as on the heads.

    Thanks for your help.
    Scott

  119. Hey I have a question. First Id like to say thanks for the article. I dont know anything about mechanics but Im trying to learn because Im considering buying a Used 09, possibly 2010 subaru forester.

    My question is what are some of the questions I should ask when choosing my forester? such as if its had its cylinder heads repaired or if it has had an issue with over heating? Ive never bought a car before so Im very new at this and want to make good informed decisions. Thanks for your time

    1. Hello Becca,

      All good questions to ask, service records are also good to request.

      But most importantly have a pre purchase inspection performed by someone who knows the cars.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  120. Hi Justin,

    I read this article because I am considering the purchase of a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback. It had a single owner with only approximately 49,000 miles. This car was obviously not driven hard or long. There is an obvious leak on both head gaskets. My mechanic thought it would cost a few hundred dollars to replace the seals. Is this accurate? Also, what kind of problems can we expect from an old car but with so little miles? The car is priced at $4,390.00 which seems like a good deal. What is the likelihood that we’ll have major problems due to the fact that it has not been driven much. I am an at home mom who runs around quite a bit with the kids. Any input or suggestions you have about the purchase of this vehicle would be very helpful.

    1. Please ignore my second email. I thought my previous message was lost. Thank you very much for your help.

  121. I just read your this article because I am considering the purchase of a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback. It has very low mileage, 49,000 miles. It had own owner. I’ve had my mechanic look it over and as you describe of cars with low mileage that were not driven much, both head gaskets are leaking. After a short drive you can smell the oil burning. The only other issue was the rear differential needs to be drained and new fluid added. Is there a chance that this 1998 with low mileage going to give us problems down the road. Any input you have would be very helpful.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I wouldn’t think once it was taken care of it would be a problem car, other than the HG the rest of the car is pretty solid. This all depends on the car however and is just general advice.

      Justin

  122. Hello Justin,

    A quick question that may be difficult to answer online without seeing the cars, but would I be better off paying more for a used 2004 Forester automatic (160,000km), or risk a cheaper 2.5X 2002 Forester (227,000km)? The 2002 has not had any HG issues, but I think I saw oil seepage from gasket on passenger side. Both will be mechanically checked. The 2002 is AU$5,700 and the 2004 AU$11,500. Just your thoughts please.

    1. Hello Jo,

      Really if you can Id have both inspected and buy which ever represents the best value based on any findings during the inspection.

      An example would be if the 2002 costs less and needs less regardless of the miles that would be the way I would go as at the end of the day the more money you can keep the better off you are and the 2002 and 2004 are so similar there is no real compelling reason to buy the 2004 unless it turns out to be the better value based on cost, and future immediate expense.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

    1. Doug,

      The FB series engines found in the 2013 models is a new design coming out first in the 2012 Impreza, as such its not responsible to tell you if there will be an issue without proof one way or another which will in fact only come with time.

      Justin

  123. Wow, i do this work all the time- who the hell would use discs to clean the surface, i use razor blades, new and a bunch of them on each job. And really, these head gaskets leak because it just isn’t made right- think of all the kinds of cars which never blow the head gasket. Think of Hondas where the oil drain plug usually is some variation of thread damage, and Toyotas which never are.

    1. Thanks for the comments, I will add.

      Most modern Subaru’s don’t “blow” the head gaskets they slowly over time develop external oil leaks, some will develop an external coolant leak and lastly if the first two symptoms go on for to long it can finally fail internally.

      Justin

  124. Hi Justin,

    Just had HG done one my 07 NA Legacy. 130,000 miles. Independent service center put the six point HG in, timing belt, water pump and Terra Cleaned as there was major carbon build up. Car is running fine except for a very noticeable ticking sound that developed when I lift off the accelerator. On full acceleration it sounds fine. Changed to Rotella T6 oil and the sound has been reduced but it is still there.
    The service guys say this is the sound of a normal 2.5 engine but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there previously. Would this be my imagination or my paranoia?
    Thanks. You have a wonderful web site.

    1. Hi Kevin,

      It could be normal and your just hyper sensitive after having a major repair or maybe there is a valve out of adjustment, it happens.

      I am thinking if the shop has had a chance to listen to it and thinks its ok, that maybe it might be ok?

      Justin

  125. Justin,

    New to this thread/website today, but let me tell you, you da man!

    ok, thank you

    so the wifes 2006 impreza check engine light went off, and i thought it was the 02 sensor at first, and in attempt to self diagnos, pulled the negative cable off to reset the light, 98 miles later it came on. after watching it solid, it flashed a couple of times, then went solid again.

    she also noted of some sluggishness and the next time i was in the car, i felt it too from start and also noticed it going into 3rd often. again, i thought it was now plugs and cables, she hasnt serviced the car well and never had a tune up.

    i sucked it up and took it to pep boys for a diagnosis and they found, guess what? a whole bunch of stuff. a slow leak from the HG, need for a timing belt (100k miles, so obvious) plus the kicker, the light was from the CAT.

    I was reading elsewhere, you are ok with a CAT, but absolutly not a leaking HG, i understand, btu how much time do you think one would have with a “slow leak”? i also figured, they could have made it sound like dire straights if i didnt do it right then, so maybe i have some time? i know you are a fan of saying, you never know when its going to go. any advice? ive already started to car shop, another suby though!

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      The leak at the head gasket and the check engine light are not related most likely. Whenever a check engine light is flashing, it indicates a cylinder misfire so if the plugs and wires were replaced and the flashing check engine light subsided that would make sense.

      If its a slow oil leak it can wait, if its leaking coolant from the HG it cant.

      Cant put a time metric on it.

      No reason to buy another car, it will cost you much less to repair the 2006 you already own vs buying another car.

      The timing belt is due at 105k and if you do it in conjunction with a HG repair it will save you hundreds in labor.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  126. Hi Justin, love your blog.
    I have a 2000 outback auto. trans w/60k which had a burning oil smell. The 1st shop changed the right driveshaft b/c they said the C/V boot split and was throwing grease on the exhaust. After the drive shaft and seal were replaced, the problem still existed. I brought it to a somewhat less expensive shop and they suggested I replace the left side drive shaft. I’ve done that and the trans seal there as well. Problem still exists. We steam cleaned the top and bottom of the motor and after that they pointed out a small transmission leak near where the exhaust comes together under the motor. They replaced some seals there, but unfortunately it seems to be still making the odor. I dropped it off again today and the mechanic mentioned that he thought maybe the seal would “pop out” of place or something due to some wear in the transmission. The car only has 60k on it. I bought it at 54k and already put over 5k$ into it (heads, oil pump leaks, trans pan leak, leaking idler pully, timing belt, etc), so it’s making me cry now. Recommendations?
    THanks!
    -pat

    1. Hi Pat,

      Thanks for the feedback. Its hard to say from here if you still have a leak causing a smell or if there is still some stubborn residue that needs to burn off. We encounter plenty of vehicles that stink for quite some time (months) after repairs, the exhaust is going to act like a self cleaning oven and need to burn off any fluid that was trapped in between the exhaust and the heat shield.

      I will add that CV grease from a CV boot leak is a very heavy grease that can really be stubborn to burn off. Steam cleaning just cant reach the cracks and crevices.

      I guess if the car came here we would do the best job we could of evaluating if it has a leak that needs to be repaired or if there is some residue that still needs to burn off this usually involves more than one visit, I will add that the more shops that become involved the harder the process becomes.

      Sorry I cant offer more, but its just not feasible without seeing whats actually going on.

      Justin

  127. Hi Justin,

    I probably sound like a broken record in saying that I really appreciate this website and all the work you have done! Yesterday I checked the oil in my 2004 Forester XT 5-sp with 97k miles and discovered that not only was the level low it had a milky color to it. I’m no expert but I know thats not good and probably indicative of coolant getting into the crank case. Am I right in this assessment? And is there another way for coolant to contaminate oil than through the head gaskets (ie crossover o-rings?)

    Really wish I didn’t live in Rhode Island so I could take it to you. Don’t trust the local Subaru dealer :/ I’m prepared to pay $2200 for the repair (both heads, timing belt, water pump) but would love a sanity check!

    Andrew

    1. It could just be and most likely is just some condensation in the crankcase brought on by the low oil level, increased heat and moisture as a result of.

      Start with a oil change with good oil, good filter and monitor it.

      If its truly got coolant in the oil, its probably beyond a HG issue.

      Justin

      1. Poked my head underneath last night and did not notice any oil coming from the HG area. Did notice a few drops from the plug so tightened it up. Will take your advice. Thanks again!

  128. Justin,
    Thanks for this informative article.
    I am on my 2nd Outback. Our 2002 model had the HG issue at 110,000. Cost about $1600 in Chicago area about 3 or 4 years ago. (Wish I read it back then… I hope my shop used the block sanding method.)

    We just purchased a 2013. I saw earlier in this thread some discussion about a separate cooling system (or some other modicfication) in the 2013 models, but at the time they had not come out yet, and you did not know about it.
    Have you been able to find out if this is true? (I hope so) Did they change the path of the coolant?
    Do you “think” it will help?

    1. Thats someone being confused, the block and head configuration is still the same with some improvements to the surface mass in the FB series engines.

      Justin

  129. A couple of weeks ago I noticed accumulating on the top of the engine under the intake. So I pulled the intake fuel lines, and everything else on top of the engine to get a closer look. I didn’t discover anything abnormal that would cause the leak. Can HG failures cause oil accumulation on top of the engine? What are some other possible causes for this???

    Thanks
    Derek

    1. Depends on which engine you have, but one of the breather hoses is most likely at fault or the power steering pump?

      An idea for you is to take a picture, and get that to us some how if you cant see to localize it your self, but typically speaking the HG dont leak up.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  130. 2006 Baja – (not turbo) 215,000 miles- regular servicing including belt change t 100 and 200 thousand miles, tune up, etc.

    Check engine light came on; at same time overheating unless running heater full blast. runs rough when cold, runs smooth when warms up.

    2 different shops looked it. One said headgasket – other said not headgasket- clogged radiator

    Replaced radiator, air filter and o2 sensor. light off, no longer overheats – but still idles and runs rough (hesitates) when cold.

    Any suggestions before we have more work done?

    1. Hi Lizzy,

      All I can suggest is a diagnoses for the rough running my gut tells me some one neeeds to drop the exhaust and inspect the valve guides for shift, I would also be concerned that the overheat issue is only temporally resolved.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  131. Justin
    Great article. Good points all around. As owner of an 09 Outback I am going to watch for this of course. Do you have any experience or opinions on synthetic oil vs. conventional oil and if so how often or how many miles does your shop recommend changing synthetic.
    Thanks so much.

    1. Hello Bob,

      What I always suggest is to be honest with your self about how you use the Subaru and maintain it based on that use.

      For example, if you drive the Subaru in stop and go traffic for your Commute and use it for frequent short trips I suggest every 3000 miles regardless of what you use. However if your commute is more like a 30 minute trip at freeway speeds both directions and the Subaru is seldom used for short rips, I would suggest 5000 miles is possible.

      The problem is that Subaru just like every other car company tells you that normal use =7000 miles (non Turbo) without clearly defining normal in the owners manual.

      We use blend and for most of the cars we service unless it requires Synthetic. The mileage is again up to how its used, its a touchy subject that in all honesty I wish was clearer from the Car makers, so there was less arguments.

      Thanks

      Justin

  132. Great post Justin. I work at an independant shop owned by my father. That block sanding tip is awesome! A very good alternative to using a whiz wheel. Thanks for this post, i will be using a sanding block on all future head gasket jobs i do.

  133. Hi Justin:

    I own a 2004 (H4- Auto) Outback closing in on 90K miles. I’ll need Head Gaskets soon, and have questions regarding the HG repair and piston slap.

    My car was diagnosed with piston slap at 2k miles. This isn’t something that developed over time. I would hate to spend a large amount of money on a repair and
    discover 2 years later that the piston slap that has taken place over the past 9 years has now “seized” the compression and oil control rings (or will not allow them to expand). I’m now stuck with a motor with reduced horsepower and poor gas mileage that consumes a great amount of oil.

    Questions:
    Will you be able to assess the condition of the piston rings and cylinder bores after taking the heads off?
    What would be the game plan if the rings/bores are showing damage beyond normal for a vehicle with 90K?
    Lastly, Are your head gasket repairs performed by Master Technicians?

    Thank you.

    1. Hello Ted,

      Will you be able to assess the condition of the piston rings and cylinder bores after taking the heads off? No only the cylinder walls
      What would be the game plan if the rings/bores are showing damage beyond normal for a vehicle with 90K? Our Rebuild, or Subaru Shortblock
      Lastly, Are your head gasket repairs performed by Master Technicians?

      We employ 4 of the hardest working consciousnesses Subaru Technicians you will come across, they are also enthusiasts, once you leave a Subaru Dealership you are no longer allowed to claim that you are a “Master Subaru Technician”.

      I assure you that our shop cares much more about doing a quality job than anyone at a Subaru Dealership.

      Thanks

      Justin

  134. Hi Justin,
    Fantastic article. Really appreciate it. I love my 2004 Baja Turbo(manual). Lately, I’m experiencing intermitten stalling. Sometimes it will take a lot of cranking before starting. When running, the engine runs as smooth as silk.
    I took it to Subaru today to be repaired. They said said they found a crimped hose and it should be fine. Five minutes after picking the car up I was pulling away from a traffic light and it stalled. I nearly got rear ended. It took two minutes of cranking and then it ran fine. I drove back to the Subaru dealer. The mechancic said it probably needs plugs. I highly doubt plugs are needed when the engine runs so strong and smooth when running. I’m thinking fuel pump, but I really don’t know. Any suggestions?
    Jim in NH

  135. I am looking at purchasing a Car Fax 1-owner certified/service records/no accidents etc etc 2006 SUBARU OUTBACK 2.5 I LIMITED with 73,000 miles for 14K from a dealer…would you buy it if it were you? It was such a nice car and nice drive…advice?
    Thx.

      1. Oh yes, I meant assuming it passes of course. It’s going to my mechanic’s shop today. I just meant, the year and model given the hit or miss aspect of the repairs they seem to need?

  136. Justin,

    The service that you provide here is priceless – well done! The points you make about warranty vs. customer pay are spot on. You preach maintenance and that is what I am all about. I am an ex-Ford mechanic (16 years) that is meticulous about my cars. I know what vehicles Ford produces that are plagued with issues and what they make that can last easily 250k + with just routine maintenance.

    My wife would like to get an Outback or Legacy so I started doing some research about them. Immediately the head gasket issue is discovered. A company like Subaru, with a very limited engine selection, must be able to solve a chronic issue such as this. From what I see, this has been going on for over a decade. The engineers only need to focus on a couple of engine designs – FIX IT! All of their eggs are in one or two baskets. Is it an engineering design flaw, a production issue, a component issue – FIX IT!
    People get what they deserve if they refuse to perform routine maintenance, but those that do maintain a rigid maintenance schedule should not see this issue if it is an electrolysis or PH coolant issue.

    I didn’t want to buy a new one to find they are crap, so I was looking at vintage 2007-2010. I found a Legacy with 52K and was going to look at it, but I’m having my doubts.

    How is this DOHC engine that looks to have started with the Forester a couple of years ago and has migrated to the Outback? I would hope that they attempted to fix this HG problem.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. You are educating many and that is always a good thing.

  137. Ugh.. I’ve been thinking of picking up a 2012 Legacy with the 2.5 but after reading about the hg problems I am now very leery about doing it.. I am anal about oil and coolant changes with all of my cars and always service @ the dealership but it almost seems this doesn’t matter.. Also it seems after 2010 there have been some improvements made for this problem if I am not mistaken?

      1. So Honda and Toyota as well as VW Dealers dont have a service department?

        What I sugest is heading over to the Toyota, Honda and VW forums and tell everyone there that complains about the issues with their perfect car to lay off the crack.

        Best of luck..

  138. Great article. Many thanks. We have a 2007 Outback which so far is not leaking although our old ’98 2.5 litre did have the head gaskets changed. I am thinking of buying a 2013 Crosstrek with the 2.0 litre engine. Any idea how the head gaskets in these are likely to hold up?

  139. Thank you, Justin. Two shops told me the oil leak was from the head, probably a head gasket needed to be replaced. I am shocked because , as I mentioned my 2001 Subaru has been well cared for and only has 52k on it. I think they were stumped as to what is causing the one drop of oil a day for years now. I can smell a slight burning oil smell when I drive my car, but goes away as the car cools (for years now)

    The coolant was filled 2-3 months ago and I was surprised to see it drop as I haven’t driven the car much. It has been very cold here lately. My handicapped son has a few nearby doctor appointments and seizures so I really need the car for emergencies and to go to the pharmacy or store. I”m retired with very little money, but will put the $2000 on my card if my car needs a new head gasket, sadly.

    Does the coolant need a ‘conditioner’? They looked for a leak last time and found nothing. There isn’t any coolant spraying over the engine from what i can see, but maybe underneath?

    1. Hi Molly,

      If its just an oil leak, the repair can be put off and budgeted for, its when its a coolant leak, or internal that it absolutely must be done or in the rare circumstance that the oil leak from the Head gasket becomes very severe..

      Justin

  140. I have a 2001 Subaru Outback with only 52,000 miles on it. I have never had any problems except a small oil leak. which developed around 5 years ago. I monitored it, oil changed regularly along with coolant and all recommended fluids. I did the warranty replacements and recommendations at 30,000 miles. Just replaced my valve cover gasket, spark plugs ( which had some oil around the spark plugs), A/C belt, P/S be;t, radiator cap, transmission fluid drained and filled, timing belt, radiator flushed. Another shop had just replaced my whole steering rack thinking it was the cause of the leak. It wasn’t, they gave me my money back.

    I lived, until a year ago, in the mountains where it went short drives and a monthly or two, 30 miles up and down the mountain. A yearly drive of 400 miles on the freeway.

    A year ago, I retired down the mountain and now I only make short drives. It still leaks oil one drop a day. It has never overheated, no warning lights ever came on, no white smoke out the back. Oil levels are good. But, now my overflow coolant container had gone down, from almost full to almost to the low point. My radiator level looks fine.

    Does this mean I need either HG replacement or my block is cracked? I’m out of money, but the car has such low mileage, I need it to last. Thank you.

    1. Hi Molly,

      The water does evaporate in the overflow bottle, its normal to use a cup in between oil changes depending on the way its used, or it could have a small coolant leak, but no its not a cracked block.

      Justin

      1. Whew, no cracked block, but could it be I need Head gaskets? I’ve had a couple of shops tell me that is probably why I leak a drop of oil each day from the left (driver’s) side. Thank you for answering me.

  141. Scott,

    Thank you for all of your information. I undoubtedly have a cracked/leaking head gasket internally on my 2005 Subaru Forester (not turbo). Overheating, and visible signs of leakage now.
    Is it possible for you to have both an internal and external leak?
    I am at 169+K miles…so am not as upset as those who may have hit the 102K mile mark.
    I rolled out of the dealership with 5 miles that I put on test driving the car, and really love my Subie Roo as it is affectionately called.
    Having heard and read that they can run 300K miles (with maintenance that is bound to occur) of course.
    My feeling is I would rather invest the money in completing quality repairs and keep on rolling, than buy another vehicle (Used) and start repairing all of its problems.
    I wish that I could bring my vehicle to you for repairs. She is sitting in the drive until I can find the right person to do the job…wouldn’t happen to know anyone in Indiana that thinks like you would you?
    Is there anything else you would recommend be addressed when they have the engine pulled, besides the timing belt?
    I don’t have an endless budget sadly, so that will factor, but wanted to ask while I was doing my research.
    Oh BTW…I did have my thermostat changed a few years ago as the Catalytic Converter and O2 Sensors x 2…I will have to check if Subaru changed the thermostat or it was the other shop.
    IF it was not Subaru, should I have the thermostat changed as well to have an OEM put in lest I will have new guts on the other areas and a lousy thermostat (possibly if not done by Subaru)

    Thank you for your very informative and clearly presented information. I am a 48 year old woman who does not work on cars (people…I am a nurse) and I clearly understood everything you conveyed in these posts on the HG’s.
    I am proud to say that I have been good about checking and having oil/fluids changed, although I am sure no one has been checking for leaks as you described. My battery and cables also looks great so that is a plus!

    Again, many thanks~
    Tammy

  142. Hi mrs Stobb,

    First, thanks for these great tips. It will really help me to do this job in order to do it right and also avoid future problems.

    I still have some questions concerning the replacement of the gaskets. My first concern is about the resurfacing of the block. If my heads needs to be resurface, do the block have to done too ? If yes, I do I do it.
    My second concerns is about the head bolts. As an aircraft maintenace technician, I know that these kind of bolts may have a special sequence to tork it, and that when they are torqued, they will end up to be elongated in a certain way. Do you recommand to replace all of them.
    My last request is about the shopping list. Do you have a basic standart parts list to purchase when you have to do this job (exhaust gasket, spark plug gasket, etc….). It’s for a 2.2L engine installed on a Legacy Brighthon 1999.

    Again thank you for your future help !!!

    Vincent

    1. I’ll see if I can get a hold of Mrs Stobb for you.

      But in the meantime, the head bolts are up to you, Subaru has never stated they need to be replaced, we sell them to the DIY crowd, and replace them on an as needed basis at the shop only.

      The block surface can be block sanded.

      Yes we can put together a Custom package for you. Here is a from to fill out.

      https://awdautoparts.com/contact-us

      Justin

      1. Thank Justin !!!

        I have some other questions since I continu to read about this repair. I just did my timing belt 3 months ago, and I take the time to replace the water pump, the seals, and the termostat.

        Like the engine runs hot for a short period of time, do I have to replace the water pump again ?

        And what about the tensionner. When I inspect it, it was looking pretty good, per the Haynes manual inspection guidelines. Is it mandatory to replace it ?

        Thanks and have a great day !

        Vincent

        1. Did you replace the tensioner, if not than yes or your gambling.

          If the car overheated anything in the cooling system was subjected to temperatures they were not designed to work within. Another words the thermostat can become damaged, as can the Water pump seal the effects of the overheat may not be immediately apparent to you and rather can show up 6 months later. So its really up to you what you want to do. On the one hand its more expensive now but there is less risk, on the other hand if you can do the work later and your ok with the risk of being stranded than maybe you leave it as is.

          Justin

          1. Justin, I want to thank you for all the advises ! I just finish the job (head gasket replacement), and the car started on the first crank !!

            Only one small problem, it looks like the engine is not well timed. It may be the my timing belt reinstallation that is the problem, but the Check Engine light came on, and the code that I read is about the Cam Shaft Position Sensor.

            Do a bad timing will cause this warning, or it’s simply a failure of the sensor, that may have been damage during the different manipulations: removal, re-facing, re-installation…..

            I will wait for your assumption, before re-opening the timing-belt cover.

            Vincent

  143. Hi Justin,
    This is my final post. First off, I would like to thank you for taking the time to reply to my posts. It’s unusual for someone to give of their time like you do.
    We finally got rid of the 2007. There had just been too many problems and I really had gotten to the point that I just couldn’t trust it. We bought a new Subaru, we took a big loss but I have a car I’m not afraid to drive.
    This will probably be the last new car we ever buy, and believe me when I say we will pay for it, I wish things had worked out differently It’s a silver 2013, so this one we will keep for a long, long, time.
    What an expensive lesson to learn at this point in life. I guess I’ll never really know what happened to the 2007 to cause it to have so many problems. It sure fooled us when we bought it.
    I looked in to Virginia’s Lemon Law, but I don’t think that would work,
    What a hard lesson to learn!

    Mona,
    If I ever buy another used car, I’ll find you! Lol

  144. Hello, Justin.
    I have a 2001 Legacy L wagon (200k miles) with a leaking head gasket (oil). Do you think the Bar’s head gasket sealer will get me a little farther down the road, or is it likely a waste of time?

    Thanks for your time.

    Stevie

    1. Hi Stevie,

      So the oil flows though the oil galleys, and the coolant through the coolant passages, they never cross or mix.

      Bars Head gasket sealer is poured into the cooling system where it will slowly destroy the entire cooling system is hopes of staving off a repair. There is nothing you can put into the cooling system to cure a Head gasket leaking oil.

      Plase use the search feature of this website and use the search term “stop leak” to understand my opinion of snake oil.

      Thanks

      Justin

  145. Justin,

    Many thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my dilemma. I’m going to bite the bullet and have the repairs done. I believe that your advice to develop a relationship with a reliable, independent service provider is right on. Lets hope the team I’ve been dealing with is the long term answer. Otherwise I’m driving across the country to give you my business, which I would do, except for a blown head gasket.

    You’re a legend!
    Cheers
    Matt

  146. First, thanks much for all the great info on your site. I have a 2008 outback that I love, it is my second, after a 1998 that I drove for over 200k and had HG problem. Thought it had been fixed in newer models, but after reading your blog and getting estimate from our mechanic I am learning differently. This one has 78k miles. Mechanic is long-serving independent, with more than 20 years of reliable service to us. He has told me for the past two oil changes (every 5000 miles, synthetic oil) that there was a small leak in water pump which we have been watching, he originally suggested doing timing belt a bit earlier than normal at which time he would replace water pump.This time tells me that water pump seems the same but that HG’s are leaking and need replacement. He gives an estimate of $3500 with timing belt and water pump. This seems high looking at other estimates on your and other sites. Do you agree? He also mentioned that Subaru seems to have corrected the problem with the turbo gaskets and that because of that they replace failing ones with turbo gaskets to prevent future problems. Reasonable?

    I really love my outback ( though I have noticed that the AWD does not seem quite as stable as in my old one) and don’t want to replace it. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

    Ann
    P.s. BTW he also said I need both front lower ball joints at $585 w/ alignment. Are these problems related? Thanks.

    1. Hi Ann,

      First off the AWD in the 2008 has a different torque split front to rear than the 1998 and some find it to provide less traction.

      We don’t use the turbo gaskets as we have found them to fail internally. The turbo gaskets were designed for a lower compression turbo engine and just don’t hold up internally. Before using the six star gasket this is one of many things I tried. I know this has been a trend and some have had success, I can only comment on my experiences.

      You would be better off with the updated Six star which addresses this issue with a fire ring on the center shim, or the genuine in my opinion.

      The 2008 with a coolant leak will have a warped head. The price seems high but I done know the market in your area to really be able to comment on that.

      Justin

  147. Hey Justin, epic info at hand. Thanks in advance.

    Here’s my dilemma: I own an 01 Outback. Purchased privately in 05 for $13,500 with 60K on the clock. Had some trouble over the years,

    At 70K: after a $400 service to prepare for a road trip, 2 days later, 100 miles from home, the computer shuts down on the highway at 70mph resulting in a towing to the nearest town and a $500 alternator; never returned to that service center.

    At 90K: a rev/acceleration issue that made crossing traffic a regular game of dare-Took a service centre 3 attempts and a cool $1,000 bucks to “tune it up” and finally fix a sensor which by then, I made them pay for. Never returned to that service centre.

    A seemingly undiagnosible check engine light that has been on for most of my ownership. Going away for short periods of time after services only.

    At 130K – NOW: Head gasket, timing belt, water pump, seals, thermostat, plugs, left axle, rack and pinion, $3,200. Independent service shop. Been honest thus far.

    If I fix it, what else can go wrong? Transmission? Right axle? Rods? Is this thing a lemon or has it been poor workmanship? I’m doing about 10K/yr and I’d like another 70K if it’ll last.

    I’m looking at several 06 Outbacks with 50/60K on them for $13,000. Am I walking into another repeat performance? Should I move up to more reliable model years like 2010 outbacks or foresters? I’m all about the cheaper options and keeping my savings in the bank, but surely at some point there is a line in the sand?

    Can you please help me?

    Cheers
    Matt

    1. Hi Matt,

      Sounds like a lot of the issues you have had have been non vehicle related and rather a lot to do with where it was serviced.

      Trans and rod issues are not the norm. But neither is a non repairable check engine light.

      With out first hand knowledge of your car, it’s tough to advise you. This is the issue with not having a good relationship with a service provider from day one with a new to you used car.

      What to do from here, buying another car is expensive, fixing what you have is painful but less expensive. If you have changed the trans fluids and engine oil as they should have been then there is no reason to expect failure.

      Doesn’t mean it can’t happen just that it wouldn’t be typical.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  148. I have a 2004 Legacy Outback wagon with 226k miles on it. Have had a slight oil leak for years and my mechanic is watching it and said for now I could hold off on repairs. My question is with this many miles would you repair the head gasket or anything over $1,000 on it, or purchase a another car? I would be happy to get to 250k on it before buying a new/used car.

    1. Thats really up to you the car will continue to be of good use to you as long as you are willing to put money into it.

      A new car is the same story except you pre pay to not have to pay for repairs.

      Rather than draw a line in the sand at 250k, its better to do what feels the best to you and your bank account.

  149. Thermostat is with spring up into water pump. fan relay is ok I removed it and used another that is good. where is fan switch. or is it a sending unit, with three wires into water jacket, under intake?

  150. Had coolant blowing out of radiator into over flow jug. So I had HG replaced. Also new thermostat, timing belt, pulleys, and water pump. now it shows a sharp temperature rise almost 3/4 gauge. I have run at low speeds and it still happens. I put Subaru conditioner in as soon as I picked up vehicle from shop. what is the problem? I cant get any air bubbles out. So I guess that it is not a bubble in system. top and bottom hoses are warm but bottom is cooler than top. any suggestions?

    1. Why not take it back to the shop and ask them to give you the car back when they have fixed the right way? Sounds like an air pocket, or something went wrong with the repair?

  151. Justin,
    Just writing to thank you. Talked to service. They called Subaru. They say damage probably happened while head gaskets were bad and not during the repair but because we followed maintance recommendations and car had such low milage, they made us a Good Will offer. They will split the diffence on the repair and do for $2500 instead of $5000. Replacement engine from Subaru with 3 year 36000 mile warranty.
    Sandra

  152. Hi Justin,

    I have a 2006 Baja (not turbo) and I took it to a repair shop just today because I’ve noticed that the temp gauge has been hanging around somewhere in the middle range. This seemed a bit higher than normal, so I got suspicious. Also, in the past couple of weeks I thought I could smell a faint odor like coolant. Not all the time, but once in a while.

    The guy at the shop called me and told me that he found a coolant leak in a cylinder head and an oil leak in a cylinder head. He hasn’t started any repairs yet and was waiting to hear back from his parts guy on some parts costs. He will call me tomorrow with a repair estimate.

    Now, since I read your post above, I feel that I should go get my car tomorrow and bring it to the independent Subaru/Volvo repair shop down the street. I just know that those guys are expensive.

    I don’t really know how severe the leaks are and I don’t know that it’s the head gasket. But reading your information, it seems pretty clear.

    Here is some other information that factors into this whole mess. I bought this car a year ago and I still owe about $12,000. Now I’m probably going to have to fork out $1,000-$2,000 for a repair. This is money that I don’t readily have. Also, I need this car to get to and from work, so I can’t afford for the shop to keep my car for an extended period. It’s possible they have a loaner-car program while my car is being worked on.

    I’m totally stressed out because I don’t have a lot of cash for a costly repair, and I need my car to get to work.

    With the coolant leak and oil leak in cylinders, is there anything else it could be besides a head gasket?

    Thanks for the info.

    1. Hi Travis,

      Im sorry to hear of the situation but it doesn’t sound like you have a whole lot of choice here.

      If a shop cant give you an estimate fairly quickly for a repair thats a warning sign that they may not have done very many of these. there may be some other circumstances, all i can give you is my impressions.

      Couple out of the box thoughts would be to ask the bank to refinance the car loan with some cash out for the repairs if money is an issue, this was something that could be done in the past, I dont know if banks will still do it but I believe credit unions will.

      I hate to see you head down a repair you cant pay for, but as you stated its a long way from paid for so I dont know what else you can do other than repair it and drive it for may years to come, but in order for all of that to happen it has to be the right repair or this will be worse for you later.

      Hope that helps

      Best of luck

      Justin

      1. I appreciate the quick response, Justin. I got an estimate this morning for $1,800 from the regular shop. I made an appointment at an independent Subaru shop for Monday, so I’ll take it there and see what they have to say. There are only two independent Subaru shops in St. Louis and they are both within a mile of my house. Unfortunately, one is only open M-F, the other one is only open from 10-2 on Saturday. I will have to suck-it-up and pay for the repair. I love my Baja and can’t let it go just yet. I drove all the way to Indiana to get it, as they can be hard to find. Wish me luck!

  153. Justin,
    Glad I found this. We have an 06 Forester that we took in for an oil chage at 3000 mi. Maintained well 56000mi. Tech said found bad piston slap and blue smoke from pipe when started. No oil on dip stick. Only thing we noticed is smell like vinegar on occasion and one time started a little hard. We let them pull the engine. They said piston rings seized due to oil burning and cross hatching on cylinder #4 almost completely gone. Say we need a new engine and they don’t know why. My research and even their mechanic say most probable is head gasket failure. Head gaskets were machined and replaced in May 2012. Still under warranty. Do you think this problem could be caused by head gaskets? Thank you.

    1. Piston oil control rings can fail for other reasons other than Head gaskets. Its hard to correlate an external fluid leak to worn piston rings. Now if there was some debris that occurred during the repair that partially blocked lubrication to cylinder # 4 than it wouldn’t have been the failed HG but the repair, which you said was under warranty, so it was done at the dealer and in the car and thats most likely what happened it will be hard to prove at this point but im 90% sure thats what happened as the symtoms are not typical all by themselves on that era Subaru.

      It would be my suggestion to have a conversation with the Service manager and if you dont get anywhere 1 800 Subaru 3.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  154. Hey Justin

    I just started smelling oil burning when the car was first started.(07 outback)
    I started to change my oil this weekend and I found oil dripping of the filter and the engine above the filter onto the pipe. I can see a small shiny spot at the gasket where I guessing the leak is.

    It is just starting to get the front of the motor mount wet. So for right now I wiped the oil of the engine installed the new filter and new oil.

    So far nothing has leaked on the floor and my car does not have splash pan. I know it needs to be fixed. Question is with 73,000 miles would you leave the timing belt or change it. I only drive about 6000 miles a year so it would take some time to reach 105,000.

    I live in Northeast Pa, boarder of NY and so far all I can fine is a dealer witch I dont really care for.

    I have change GM intake gaskets, pulled engines and a bunch of other repairs over the years. I was wondering how detailed is you info that comes with the gaskets you sell. I know with a good guide I could do this job the right way.

    If you know a good suburu shop in this area that would be great also.

    Thanks Gary

    ps This car has been a little needy but I plan to make it all right. I’m into it now, no turning back.

    1. The repair guide is a guide aimed at helping a DIY or shop through the repair, you can also email me with questions directly and I will help you as you need it.

      I would do the timing belt and all of the other associated components as the items left to chance can sneak up on you a few years later and bite back hard.

      Justin

      1. Thanks for the reply Justin

        I think with the guide and maybe a question or 2 if needed I will be ok.

        How do I go about getting a price for all the parts that you would install ? Shipped to 18812.

        I would like to put the repair off a little if you think I can. Even if I bought the parts now.

        At this point I’m not loosing any real noticeable fluids but I don’t want to make matters worse either.

        I have a great speed shop here to check the heads and work them if needed.

        Thanks for your help
        Gary

  155. Hi Justin!
    Great page very helpful! Ok so i have a 98 forester s w/168k miles, had both hg changed a few thousand miles ago alog w machining the heads at a shop. The past 3 days i have had to add coolant everyday because the level keeps going lower. The car isn’t overheating , no overflow or bubbling in coolant, and no appearant leaks underneath. Everything seems to be running normal for time being but i was just wondering if the new hg could be going bad already. Also have put new exhaust, cats, pipes, muffler etc. Along with a new battery, and many many other new parts. A friend and local mechanic charged 500.00 to machine heads and with labor and parts charged me 1000.00 to do the hg.

    1. The coolant loss could be a cracked head, if you are not seeing coolant leaking externally. Has anyone done a cooling system pressure test?

      The best way to look for this is to drop the exhaust header pipe and have a look for the signs of coolant @ the exhaust ports as this is where they typically crack.

      Justin

  156. Justin,
    My daughter is in Kalamazoo, MI and in need of a head gasket repair on her 2003 Legacy. Can you recommend a shop in that area?

    Thanks,
    Mark

  157. Thank you Justin for your insight on this issue.I have a 2006 Impreza 2.5i with 118K miles. I recently started smelling oil(about a month ago) and asked my dealer to check it out when I did my oil change a few weeks ago. He commented that it was the head gaskets, just a little leak at this point. He said we can probably watch it and wait to fix it. On my last tank of gas I noticed the gas mileage was dropping what I think is a considerable amount (40-50 miles less per tank) Now I am re-considering and not sure if I should baby it until summer. I drive mostly highway miles for work, so that is a big factor in my mind for consideration. What would your thought on the repair at this point.

    Thanks

    1. The Fuel economy drop is normal this time of the year, its not related to a minor oil leak. Id monitor it for a bit and see if it gets worse for the sounds of it.

      You can read here for why Economy drops in the winter.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

  158. Hello.

    I bought a 2006 2.5i 5spd with 90K. I havent even pout 4K miles on it, woke up to what looks like a medium ice coffee xx spilled under my car. I have a warranty for one year or 15k, which i have not gone either, but am sure this will not be covered. I am assuming the fluid is coolant mixed with oil?

  159. Hi Justin, great article.

    I recently bought a 2004 Liberty 2.5i that has done 160,000km. It passed all pre-purchase inspections but a service at a Subaru dealership revealed a “small oil leak in the LH head gasket”. They said would give it a clean (I’m not quite sure what that entails) and didn’t seem overly concerned by it, stating they can keep them going for a very long time as is and they will continue to monitor it each I time I service it there.

    I’m tempted to get a second opinion from an independent mechanic I trust, however just on your statement from the article above – “If you want to try to avoid the whole head gasket thing consider using premium fuel”, would using premium fuel from now on be likely to prevent the problem advancing beyond just a “sm