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The History of Subaru Head Gasket Problem

The History of Subaru Head Gasket Problem
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Subaru is a Japanese automobile manufacturer and one of the largest producers of automobiles across the world. Most of their vehicles are more than 1,500 cc and their cars are known for the use of a boxer engine. There is another reason for which Subaru is known to the automobile enthusiasts though it is rather an infamous one. The Subaru head gasket problem is a stain on the company’s impressive record of manufacturing first-class vehicles.

Subaru Head Gasket Problem: When Did It Start?

The models that have this failed gasket problem are:

  • Impreza (from 1999 to 2011)
  • Forester (from 1999 to 2010)
  • Legacy (from 2000 to 2009)
  • Outback (from 2000 to 2009)
  • Baja (from 2003 to 2006)

If you consider the Subaru head gasket years, you can pinpoint the problem to distinct groups of production years.
The Group 1 or first generation models include Impreza, Forrester, Legacy G.T., and Outback between 1996 and 1999. These cars face the problem of an internal leak in the head gasket that causes the engine to overheat.

subaru head gasket years
A damaged head gasket of a Subaru model.

The Group 2 or second generation models are the Legacy and Outbreak from 2000, the Forrester from mid-1998, and the mid-1998 Impreza. These cars develop an external oil leak at the head gasket and coolant leak at the gasket’s left side. Both problems lead to engine overheating recurrently.

Subaru Head Gasket Problem: Why Did It Start?

The problem started when Subaru started using a composite head gasket in some of their car models from 1997 to 1999. The device features a multi-layer steel shim coated with a graphite layer. It was not up-to-the-mark and allowed coolant leak into the exhaust pressure and combustion chamber.

There was no Subaru head gasket recall but the company redesigned the cylinder heads and configurations of the camshaft. However, it only led to the coolant and oil leak at the external head gasket.

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The Symptoms of Subaru Head Gasket Problem

The signs of gasket failure will show in a systematic way, one by one:

  1. You will find oil trickling down between the head and block surfaces. The leak will get bigger with time and possibly lead to a coolant leaking.
  2. The smell of Sulphur or fuel from the coolant reservoir. At this stage, you will also notice higher readings in the coolant temperature gauge.
  3. Recurrent overheating of the engine during a long drive.
subaru head gasket recall
Subaru never recalled any production for this problem.

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Is There Any Solution?

Early detection of the Subaru head gasket problem and repair it will solve the issue altogether. In fact, a properly maintained vehicle after the repair will run for thousands of miles without any hitch.

The things you can do to keep your Subaru in a good health are:

  • Changing the oil on a regular basis.
  • Clean the battery surroundings and its terminals at regular intervals so that there is no accumulation of rust and corrosion.
  • Checking the coolant cylinder and changing the fluid when it’s dirty.
  • Take the maintenance service from a reputed shop or an experienced mechanic who is specialized in Subaru models.

Hopefully the information will be useful for you. If you have any question about this topic, leave a comment in the box below.

  1. Lauriston Boardman says

    You missed the early 70’s Subaru engine head gasket failures. The lower portion of the head gasket would split and extrude from the joint area, resulting in external oil leakage. Fortunately coolant loss did not occur, but many owners faced this engine repair about the same time they were learning about the cost of CV joints.

  2. Eugene wafula says

    Hi have a Subaru legacy year of manufacture is 2000 and its a 2000cc,what could be the cause of it losing power all of a sudden, what is the solution to it

    1. Billy says

      Hi Eugene, If your car continues losing power while driving, you can check out this article to understand the possible causes and solutions:

  3. William Bentley says

    Subaru has always had head gasket leaks. I owned a 1974 model and it leaked like a sieve until the engine slung a rod. I also owned a 1980 or 81 model and it leaked despite rigorously following a instructions in a technical service manual calling for tightening the head in a specific way every 6 months/6,000 miles. When the making surfaces become distorted a new gasket will only last a short time. There may not be enough metal in the engine to maintain structure (so I think I was told).

  4. Jeff L says

    Hey writer, this article is about the head gasket issue. Cleaning battery terminals has nothing to do with it. As for changing oil at regular intervals, in my 56 years of life, i have owned 30ish vehicles. I have never maintained regular oil changes. In fact I usually go close to 10,000 miles between changes. Using cheap walmart conventiinal oil and filter. I dont however let it get below 1/2 a quart low. With my current lineup, I have put 340,000 plus on my ram. 250,000 plus on my subaru and 260,000 plus on my tahoe. All still pass smog and all pur like kittens. Oil changes are a panic button they instill to keep you coming back. Drive easy, accelerate easy and brake mild and you too wont need to waist good money on way too recurrent oil changes.

    1. Andy B. says

      You couldn’t be more wrong about this. Do some research, before you spread false information please. There are very good reasons why it’s important to clean the battery, and change the oil that are directly related to head gasket failures in these vehicles. It’s fairly complicated, so I’m not going to explain here. But this info is readily available on the web.

    2. Black Black says

      Cough cough idiot

    3. Bread says

      Maybe the reason you’ve gone through 30 vehicles is cause you didn’t maintain them properly….

  5. Greg says

    Should the head gasket problem keep me from purchasing a 2008 Subaru Legacy which falls in problem date range? I’m looking at a used one but now wondering if that would be unwise. What is the cost of repairing the head gasket problem? Thanks

    1. DAN says

      My 2008 legacy blew its head gasket last winter. It has been nothing but expensive, time guzzling problems that no subaru dealership has managed to permanently fix so far. The repair for the head gasket was about $5k. I wish I had just used that as a down payment on a new model instead. Since the “repair”, I can’t get heat in the car and a mess of other problems are coming down the pike.

      I love subarus, but the legacy lines tend to have a 7-year life span for being awesome. After that, unless you have a forester, it tends to be the end of the happy trail.

      1. Bread says

        I’ve got a highly modified 06 Legacy GT on stock headgaskets and engine internals pushing 320AWHP and 360AWTQ (dyno’d to prove it) on a VF52 with every bolt-on tuned to 21psi. Just beat a stage II 2018 STi today on the highway. Take care of your Subaru and will continue to serve you.

    2. Carlos says

      I would steer away from purchasing any Subaru my friend. At 50k miles both head-gaskets failed on my 09 WRX. Luckily it was under warranty, but now at 70 something, there are signs of it burning antifreeze. Labor is not cheap. All maintenance has been maintained according to Company recommendation.

      In all my years of owning vehicles, i have never ran into such an unreliable vehicle such as Subaru. Keep digging online about Subaru’s unreliability, you will find plenty of stories. Best of luck!

      1. Bread says

        In all my years of owning 3 Subaru’s, the first of which lasted 300k miles before it “died” (replaced the fuel filter again and it continued to run just fine), I’ve never had a problem as long as I looked after them like I gave a shit. Guess I did. Guess you didn’t.

        1. Tyler says

          You right, your three vehicles are proof that the millions of former Subaru owners whose head gaskets blew did, in fact, not give a shit about their cars.

      2. Egil says

        Millions? You have no idea what you are talking about.

  6. Pam Hanington says

    Are there still head gasket issues in newer Subarus such as the Crostrek?

    1. Tito says

      I have a 2016 crosstrek with 65,000 miles on it. I have not had any issues with oil leaks or head gasket issues. The crosstrek seems to be a pretty reliable car.

  7. Samantha says

    My 2011 Outback blew the head gasket yesterday. They have obviously not fixed the problem with the new engine. This is our third Outback with this issue. No more Subaru’s for us.

    1. Peter Petruzzi says

      I got two 2011’s. One 102000, one 53 thousand. I was worried about the Transmission. Wonder if i should dump the one with 102,000.

  8. bob mclaughlin says

    20 months ago, my 2011 Outback blew a head gasket at 112k miles.
    This vehicle just blew another head gasket at 150k miles. That’s 38k miles between head gasket jobs. Is my gripe with Subaru HQ? The dealer who fixed it? Or both?
    Any suggestions are welcome, folks.

    1. Melinad says

      My mechanic, who only works on Subarus said Subaru has been providing faulty head gaskets and they finally have resorted to using OEM parts instead. The head gaskets on my 2006 Outback are leaking after being replaced at 40,000 miles.

  9. Bob says

    Can anyone explain what it is specifically about the Boxer engine that makes it prone to head gasket failure?

    1. Adam D Wadley says

      It’s the poor design of the engine! They have high cylinder pressure and poor crank case vent system. They also have to run hotter to meet the ulev ratings. They are also underpowered tourque wise so you gotta Rev compared to competition.The head bolts are cheap as well. Hyundai and Kia make better vehicles then the Fuji industry junk.

      1. Larry Glock says

        Wow. Stupid much?

        Almost everything you said is BS.

        The ‘poor design” Subaru engines is very similar to that of the Porsche engines. But, I guess you think that Porsche is “junk” too.

        BTW – my sister-in-law just had her 2013 Sorento V6 engine grenade on her after 78k miles, and she practically lived at her Kia dealer’s service department. Found out that the Kia ’13-’14 V6 engines are splattering anywhere from the upper 60k – 90k mileage.

        Must be because they’re “better vehicles”, right?

  10. Tito says

    I have a 2016 crosstrek with 65,000 miles on it. I have not had any issues with oil leaks or head gasket issues. The crosstrek seems to be a pretty reliable car.

  11. ExLoyalCustomer says

    I noticed an oil leak on my 2006 Legacy with only 84K on the clock about a week ago. The dealer said it’s the head gasket issue. I contacted Subaru to at least help with the cost of the repair, but no luck, even for a loyal customer (this is my second Legacy). They spend all that money on advertising but don’t care if a customer spreads the word the company doesn’t stand by their product.

  12. Andy LOFANO says

    Has the issue been solved ? If so, what did they do to remedy this ? Looking to buy crosstrek 2019 ! 😉

    1. Sam S says

      This issue has been resolved on late model Subarus, why this article does not go past those specific years. The third generation they changed the composition of the head gasket which solved this problem. Unfortunately, there is a new problem impacting about 10% of the cars sold. They are high on oil consumption now. If you monitor your engine like I do you are fine. Mine consumes 1 quart every 4000 miles, so I put 0.9 extra quarts in (6.9 as Subaru recommends) and I can go close to 5000 miles when I change the synthetic oil. I still check it in case it increases, but besides that, the car is fine with nearly 80,000 miles (2013 Legacy).

      1. Andy says


  13. ExLoyalCustomer says

    Update: I couldn’t see paying for a repair that was more than the cars value, so I traded in my 2006 Legacy for a Honda CRV. I would have considered a Forester if Subaru showed any support for loyal return customers. I have purchased two new Subaru’s in the past.

    1. Larry Glock says

      Good luck with your CRV….

      You may want to keep a very close eye on your Honda’s oil… as in “sniff, sniff”.

      If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you did an internet search on the newer CRV’s oil problems…

      1. j.walker says

        you must be a subaru mechanic.,,..thou protest too much
        “pal” if all these people would just stick to toyota and honda
        they would not need all these “handkerchiefs” ha ha

    2. Ali Shirazi says

      You have done the right thing mate. I have a 2012 Forester which I have treated like a precious and now having head gasket leaking issues after only 40000km!!! always serviced in the dealership and never been off road…they reported the leak first service after warranty was finished. Now call me cynical but I have a feeling that they kindda ignore it while it was under warranty…I’m gonna stay away for from Subarus for the rest of my life and advise everyone I love to do the same. So much for 6m expensive service…

  14. Andy says

    I am thinking of getting the Crosstrek 2019 but this is stopping me, Do you think the Crosstrek has or might have thus issue ? Thanks.

  15. curley day says

    Stupid Me.

    I had a 2009 with 110k and blew a head gasket . The vehicle broke down on the highway ‘
    with the engine full of anti-freeze in the crankcase. I blamed the folk’s that change my
    oil . I felt the filters were defective and oil was dripping the filter and hitting the exhaust.
    Now I have a 2009 with a blown head gasket with 104k . This car was driven 10k yearly .
    So now Subaru is giving the run around . I’ll never enter a Subaru dealership again.
    They lied when I complained about a oil smell and new darn well about the design problem. Just retired and very Pissed Off.

  16. Mary says

    I’m waiting to find out about my 2010 Forester. I am reading up about the Head Gasket issue. The heat light just blinked a couple of times and I took it to the dealer. I thought it might be a coolant issue or something “simple.” It’s a leaky head gasket on my well maintained under 70,000 miles Forester. I called Subaru who called my service people. It could be 2000-5000 dollars. I’ll wait and see what happens.

  17. Nick says

    My 2009 Subaru needs the head gaskets replaced AGAIN! I had them changed at 90,000, and now they leak again at 120,000. Ridiculous. The dealer sold us the car in 2013, KNOWING of course about this problem. We only had the car a few months when the first leak happened. At that time the dealer split the cost of the repair – we paid $1700. This time? Who knows. I am still in negotiations with them. My wife loves the car, but we will never get another Subaru. Back to Toyota Rav4 for us.

  18. Greg Trapp says

    Hi All, I have a 2014 Subaru Legacy 2.5. with 100,000 miles on it. So far this has been a very reliable car. the head gaskets are fine, no leaks. I will be doing ALL required maintenance that is required since the car turned 100,000 miles. The car does burn some oil, but not a big issue. Just change the oil every 5 k miles and you will be fine.

  19. Jill McTaggart says

    Ugh. Our 2011 just blew a gasket. I am not sure if we are under a warranty. Waiting for a call from the dealer. Is the gasket under the 100,000 warranty does anyone know?
    The fix is $3-$5000.

  20. Quinn C says

    hey I have just brought a 2000 Subaru impreza wrx 2.0L Non turbo with 121 000 ks i had a vehicle inspection done on the car before i brought it off the previous owner and was told the car was good and everything was fine but i have noticed that when i drive up a hill on the motorway the heat gauge begins to climb at one point almost at the red line not sure whether this is something to do with this head gasket issue or whether it may have been maybe something the inspector did when he was testing the radiators could he have broken the heat gauge or done something to the radiators or does it sound like something else? if anyone can help please reply to this thanks

    go easy if this sounds like I dont know what im talking about because I dont really im 16 and this is my first car and i just want to know what the problem is.

    I’ve also noticed after a drive when i open the bonnet the hose connected to the radiator has sort of suctioned together and there is a lot of water in the overflow tank and it doesn’t seem like its being sucked back in could it just be an airlock? we have tried getting some air out and got a bit more out the other day and the heat gauge didn’t seem to climb as much as it did other times but i dont think it should be climbing anyway

    please if anyone can help please reply thanks

    1. Justin says

      Sounds like a bad thermostat which is a very cheap and easy fix that you can do yourself but I’m by no means an expert.

      1. Andrew says

        our 2011 is having the same issue. replaced the thermo stat ($250 with labor) but it still over heated. We’re getting the head gasket replaced now… our mechanic has quoted us ($1800) is that a fair price?

  21. Alisun says

    Will it be solve by replace a new OEM gasket ?

  22. Sattar says

    For any Subaru engine transmission please call us
    Global JDM auto parts 111 Orenda Road Brampton Ontario L6W1V7 9054609797

  23. Roger Sisson says

    My story is so much bigger than head gaskets but it is a BIG part of why I now am so incredibly ill at ease with all things Subaru.

    My husband (2008 Forester) decided early last year that we needed to get divorced. This has been devastating, gut wrenching, heart breaking. In June my 2003 Forester blew the head gasket and the engine was ruined. Six weeks later my husband’s car experienced EXACT SAME FATE! His car need problems were solved more quickly and more easily than mine. It would be 6 months before I would get wheels again. The purchase of my next can had to come out of an advance on the eventual divorce settlement which really should have been used to pay housing expenses for the coming year once the divorce is settled.

    $19,000 that I can no longer use for rent, utilities, unpaid bills.

    Subaru isn’t, of course, responsible for our divorce but with the brand so heavily marketed to lgbtq families and the slogan, “Love: it’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.” The brand had become a fixture in my identity as an out gay man.

    I now drive a Buick Encore. I like it a lot but I don’t have any particular thought of it being an important fixture of my identity as a 53 year old out gay owner.

  24. Pat L says

    In Sept. 2018, I had an oil change, they found my head gasket was “seeping”. However, just a couple of weeks ago, I found my coolant extremely low. don’t know if mechanic did not fill, on previous service. But I brought it in for a check today. (1/10/19) and all fluids are ok now. But they checked the head gasket and it now shows it is “leaking”. They have told me it is not too bad and that I can wait until 6-8 months to fix it. Is this a correct answer? Or do I have to fix it right away? Thanks for you help.

    1. Justin says

      I have a 2004 OB that has been “seeping” for going on 6 months now and is still running fine so your mechanic isn’t necessarily wrong by any means but I would recommend that you watch your oil, coolant and temp gauges very religiously as I have. Mine is starting to show signs of a more serious leak so it is likely time to pay the piper. You can certainly stretch it but it if you ignore the obvious you might end up needing a whole new engine so walk that line very carefully.

  25. Jack says

    My 2013 WRX with 60K miles on it engine seized on sat (due to the gasket leaking). I’m now out $5,800. This is my second WRX, sold my old one (still working) that had over 200,000 miles on it.

    I won’t buy another Subaru after this.

  26. Tony B says

    Subarus are so over rated. I had a 1998 Legacy GT Limited I bought new which at the time was their premier top of the line car and a 2012 Outback. Both were leakers. These boxer engines run way hotter than other car engines. And Subaru knows it. This is why they don’t put engine temp guages in any of their cars. They don’t want you to know it. t is also why gaskets go bad fast and they leak. I’ll never buy another Subaru.

  27. Leslie T. says

    I have a _2011 Forester. 150k miles.. went in for oil change, they said they found cam leak, valve cover leak & timing cover leak… they also know said when they pulled the engine they also see a head gasket leak!
    Im planning on having Subaru dealer fix everything they say is wrong, but wonder now… how long those gaskets on everything there changing going to last??? Can Any onePlease advise! Feel like a woman getting raked over the coals here!!

  28. Terrry says

    2015 Legacy with 107K miles, carefully maintained, mostly highway travel, never roughed up. Blown head gasket. Very disappointed. Will probably go back to Honda.

  29. Leigh Ann says

    I unfortunately purchased my first Subaru Outback, in July of this past year. It’s a 2018 , and replaces a very reliable Toyota 4 runner, that still ran hard and strong at 282,000 miles. It was a 2005, and never gave me any issue, but for the normal maintenance of brakes, tires and tune ups. At the time I traded it, little did I know the nightmare I was saddling myself with. Since the purchase of the Subaru in July, I’ve had 3 episodes of the car letting me know I have low engine oil, so I drive to the dealer and in fact, its low each time, usually between 2000 and 3000 miles, well before the reccomended oil change at 5000 miles, which I’ve kept up with diligently. I’ve had oil consumption tests, which show no problem according to the dealer. I’ve visited the dealer 6 times for a problem with my liftgate, opening randomly, sometimes while I’m in a store, sometimes while I’m driving. Thankfully I didnt lose my dog forever as a result of it opening in a parking lot. She was still sitting in the front seat when I walked out and discovered the liftgate open yet again.
    On another occasion, my liftgate completely broke, and it wouldnt close at all. Subaru, fixed it, but they seem unable to fix the random opening issue. I also smell radiator coolant in the car and outside of it about 80% of the time. I’ve been told by Subaru that it’s an open system and it’s normal to smell it. Funny, I never ever smelled coolant in my Toyota, nor did I EVER run low on oil. Even with 282,000 miles, it never burned oil, and here I am with a 2018 Outback that’s been burning oil since 3100.00 miles, has left me stranded 3 times because the car wouldnt start. That was a problem with the battery. They replaced that, after my head unit went completely black and left me without music, messaging and a back up camera. I’ve also had 3 separate issues with my high beams not working, and many other issues that come and go every time I push the button to start the car. Sometimes my lights wont go out out, so I have to re start the car until they do, oh and yeah I still smell coolant all the time. So I drive, and wait for the next problem, and for the reliable ” low engine oil ” alert to come on again, so I can go back to the dealer for them to tell me that its indeed low, and I pay my bill each month for privilege of driving this frustrating, time consuming peice of garbage. I now dream of the days, just 6 months ago, when I owned a low maintenance, extremely reliable, hard working Toyota, that NEVER left me stranded in 13 years.
    I dont feel the love, I feel the HATE, and if you research, and I wish I did……you’ll find Subaru’s long history of head gasket failures, the class action lawsuit they settled in 2016 for head gasket failure, and also a long history of people just like me who’ve posted their complete dissatisfaction with Subaru’s, not just the Outback. We’re a growing populace of people who dont feel the love, but rather feel betrayed by a company who preys on people who love their pets, adventure and the outdoors. They market their unreliable cars to us, and we buy them, hook, line, and sinker. I’ve requested a buyback on my car. I’m sick and tired of of being told, they dont know why my liftgate keeps opening, and have no fix for it, I’m tired of all the other issues that come up from day to day, tired of the stench of coolant, and low oil in an almost brand new car, and tired of wasting my time at the dealer, so i hired a Lemon law attorney. According to NJ Lemon law, if you hire an attorney, and win your case, the manufacturer has to pay the legal fees. If you lose, this attorney charges nothing. So….for all the disgruntled Subaru drivers out there, here you go
    LEMON law attorney Timothy Abeel is in Philadelphia Pa. You can contact him at Hes taken on my case, and I’ve been very impressed with his constant updates, and attention to detail. For those of us who’ve purchased Subarus that are a nightmare, there is help !!!

    1. Marie Potter says

      Thanks for the info. My story is below. I will have to see about the class action lawsuit for my 2010 Forester leaking cylinder head gasket, which is now leaking oil and coolant.

  30. Marie Potter says

    I have a 2010 Subaru Forester. During an oil change, the mechanic told me to contact Subaru to see if there is a recall because my Cylinder Head Gasket was leaking oil. My Forester has 83K miles at that point. I called the Subaru dealer and they told me there was no recall. I had been on LTD at the time and money was tight so I kept an eye on my oil and all my fluids and it seemed OK. I took my Forester to a different dealer for an airbag recall this week and mentioned it to them and told them I just recently started to smell coolant. They checked it out and confirmed my Cylinder Head is leaking both oil and coolant. I called Subaru home office and was told to go back and have it checked and they most likely will NOT cover a repair, but offered me a $500 discount on a new Subaru.

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