A Question that I still seem to be asked quite often is did “Subaru ever fix the head gasket problem” or do Subaru’s still blow Head gaskets. Its September of 2023, I wrote my first post about this in 2007
If you want to read other posts about Subaru Headgasket leaks and comments from other Subaru owners before reading this here are the two more common reads.
It’s such a simple question it seems, but the answer can be so complex if it’s an honest one.
Typically speaking to most Subaru owners or to someone doing research about a Subaru they are thinking about buying, this is usually about the 1st-3rd generation Subaru Legacy, Legacy Outback, Subaru Forester and Impreza with even more complexities in certain years. These initial problems will fall under the EJ series engines with variants the EJ2.51, 2, 3, 4, 9. I am not going to call out the variants in this post for certain years and models as that would be very time consuming and this would become a book rather than a post. I will also add that for some EJ variants there are “versions” I mean why not have EJ2.55 versions 1-3, just for fun?
There’s really a lot to cover here so I don’t know if one post is going to be enough to provide enough detail, but I am going to start with a little history, and this is through the eyes of a Subaru Technician.
Subaru first introduced the 2.5l in 1995 in the Subaru Legacy Outback. This engine was available in 1996 in a more refined version of the Outback with increased ground clearance and more cargo space due to an elevated roof line. The 2.5l was only available with an automatic transmission for the 1996 Model year meaning if you wanted the manual you were stuck with the smaller EJ2.2l engine.
The first version of the 2.5l utilized a single layer composite type head gasket and was prone to the same external fluid leaks the 2.2ls were and in some cases would fail internally allowing combustion pressure and temperatures into the cooling system. If I was going to suggest an average life expectancy I would say 150k before they failed internally or were leaking so much oil onto the exhaust you were embarrassed to drive it aka the Subaru Smoke show at the traffic light.
In 1997 the Subaru Legacy GT, and Subaru Legacy Outback finally came with the EJ2.5l DOHC (Dual Overhead Cam) and a manual transmission; the power difference between the 2.2l and the EJ2.5l was very apparent especially in a manual in 1997-1999. The 1997 Model EJ2.5l utilized a MLS (multi layer steel) type gasket as the engine transitioned from hydraulic lash adjusted valve train to mechanical. The overall drivability of the EJ2.5l in 1997 was far improved over the 1995/1996 versions.
Subaru’s sales began to grow with the Paul Hogan marketing and appeal of the Outback utility and Subaru went from being the weird car with the spare tire under the hood to what it’s known for now, AWD, utility, reliability, safety.
In about mid 1998 we started to see the 1997’s with the MLS gaskets with internal failures. Subaru was quick to come up with an updated version of the head gaskets. Thicker and with more layers these updates MLS gaskets fixed the problems that plagued the DOHC 2.5l produced from 1995-1999 in the Subaru Legacy, Legacy Outback, Legacy GT, Impreza RS and the Subaru Forester in 1998. In my eyes Subaru’s updated head gaskets for this window of models resolved the problems that existed in these models in these years only. This of course assumes it was fixed properly which is quite an assumption given the complex problems that the flat rate pay system at a Dealership presents especially for any job done under warranty.
This is why Subarus repaired at my shop go years and years with no problems and why a Subaru owner having repairs done at s Subaru dealer regardless of being done under warranty or what’s called “customer pay” may only get a year or two out of the repairs.
Moving on to the EJ2.5l SOHC and the huge problems Subaru began to have. This is the EJ2.52, EJ2.53 (mostly)
In 1999 the 1 year old Subaru Forester was equipped with the SOHC (Single Overhead Cam) 2.5l still has 16 valves just uses different Valve train geometry to open and close them and is equipped with the single layer steel and composite material type head gasket. The Subaru Forester in 1999 looks unchanged to the untrained eye with the exception of the change from the DOHC 2.5l to the SOHC version.
In 2000 The Outback came out with its own name plate, no longer just a trim level of the Subaru Legacy the Subaru Outback was now its own model. This was also a complete refresh and brought with it the SOHC the Forester was equipped with in 1999.
By the time the 2001’s were coming out we were seeing a ton of the 1999 Forester and 2000 Outback with external coolant leaks. Leading to the WWP 99 campaign which was a total cop out by Subaru and I will add one that they also got away with. This basically allowed Subaru to kick the can down the road and add stop leak aka “cooling system conditioner” to the cooling system which stopped the coolant drips albeit it only for a while, but it sure didn’t keep these gaskets from leaking oil or failing internally over time.
Subaru also updated the head gasket to one that looked exactly like the failed one and failed pretty much just as quickly as the original. There are so many things I could go into here including years later Subaru’s with multiple doses of “cooling system conditioner” ending up with clogged radiators and worse heater cores as the kick the can down the road chemicals when exposed to air during the course of the cooling system being opened up for a lengthy period of time for the inevitable head gasket repair will solidify like concrete.
Subaru used in production the updated version of the head gasket which again solved nothing up until 2009 in the Legacy and Outback. 2011 in the Impreza and 2010 in the Forester.
Here is where the next few years get very complicated.
2010-2012 Outback and legacy uses a MLS version of the head gasket found in the 2.5l, while this resolves any external oil and coolant leaks we have found they can and will fail internally around 120-150k and almost a guaranteed failure if the Subaru is ever ran low on coolant. These gaskets are also not backwards compatible due to design changes within the cylinder heads and cooling system. But also if well maintained may possibly never fail as in we have seen lots with up to 300k now. So to review Subaru stuck with the composite gaskets from 1999 to 2009 as in a decade only to change to MLS but only for the Legacy and Outback and only for 3 model years.
In 2011 Subaru introduced the new kid, the FB2.5l engine and did what Subaru does best, put the new kid in the Forester. Let the Forester drivers work out the bugs before they put it into the flagship Subaru Outback.
The Impreza gets the FB2.0l in 2012, same thing with the new Crosstrek aka lifted Impreza in 2013. I Will sprinkle in the FA2.0 that starts out in the BRZ as well in 2012.
So by 2013 the EJ series is all but gone with the exception of the WRX and STI and we are now talking about the FB engines with a few mentions of the FA’s. Confused yet? Perfect… Let’s talk FB’s
I kind of stopped taking questions on the Blog in regards to the FB’s because there are so many complexities, so many changes, updates etc. it’s really hard to cover all of it, so I am also not going to try and cover all of it here either as this would also be another book rather than now a really long post.
I want to pause a moment and go back in time to the EJ2.2l which many Subaru Fans and Owners alike believe was the best engine they ever made. While I will agree with some of it I want to point out the 2.2l leaked oil (albeit later in life), it could also never exist with the current government mandated emissions and efficiency standards and that’s why it doesn’t exist and it’s also why the EJ continued to evolve until it couldn’t exist any longer and why we now have the FB’s.
So here I am now talking about the 2011 Subaru Forester with the 2.5l FB with 61,600 in front of me in the year 2014 and while there are zero signs of external or internal head gaskets failures it uses so much oil in between “stepped up” 3000 mile interval oil changes. How do I even begin to comment to a reader of my blog about if Subaru fixed the head gasket problem? I guess the answer is yes we hardly observed external oil leaks on FB equipped Subarus.
Because I am trying to keep this post about head gaskets to answer that question I am not going to get into oil consumption or timing chain related issues only mention them.
The FB series engines don’t have the type of head gasket related issues the EJ series engines did, I can say that with sincerity if someone asks me that question and I only answer that question I can say with absolute certainty the answer to the question “did Subaru ever fix that head gasket issue” is well kind of. I can’t say yes and I can’t say no and here is why.
The FB’s while not really known for head gasket leaks can and will leak oil from the Cam Cases and the Timing Cover and very much in the way the head gasket issues in the EJ’s affected different drivers at different intervals it’s the same with the FB’s the better maintained higher mileage vehicles are less affected then the lower mileage and or minimum amount of maintenance cars the later having issues as early as 30k.
Here’s the elephant in the room, no, here’s the herd or parade of elephants in the room.
- The FB engine utilizes timing chains and is a much more complicated or time consuming power plant to work on. To repair the Cam Case leak the engine needs to come out and be torn down to the point where it’s not that much more work to do the head gaskets…. Should we not just do them now and know we won’t have to worry about this later or do we do a huge repair only to have a huge one we could have avoided be presented a couple of years later? What if it’s just a year later? We also know that Timing chain stretch is a real problem that some Subarus can have, what about the timing chains? While still a significant expense done now while apart saves thousands of dollars vs having to replace them later. Timing chains to resolve a check engine light is a common repair due to stretch beyond initial learned value tolerance concerns present in the ECM
- Because of what I just presented above the cost to reseal Cam Cases on a FB is a lot more expensive than a Head gasket repair on an EJ.
- If we don’t present the complete repair, are we providing the best service, if over the internet I don’t try to explain to readers all the whys and why nots am I really helping?
- The FB Short Block and potential oil consumption issues pre and post repairs
So if you’re concerned about buying a FB equipped Subaru and wondering about Head Gasket leaks that’s probably not really going to be a concern. While a Cam Case leak can be an expensive repair. When its done right will last and there is no reason to shoot the horse because it’s hungry. The modern day version of this is to trade in a car that needs work for a new one. New cars come with big payments just waiting for service and repairs needed in time.
Have any questions about your Subaru ask away on this or any of the other posts here on this website in the comments section. Starting in November 2023 I will start answering your questions on my new Podcast. I’ve found that its a lot easier and better for you to hear me speak rather than read my typos
If your local to us and want a second opinion about your Subaru e are here to help