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Review of Subaru Head Gasket Problems

I have a 2003 Outback, 2.5L with 53,000 miles. Dealer just confirmed external coolant leak from both heads. I changed the anti-feeze and used Subaru's special conditioner at 25,000 and 50,000 miles. All maintenance exceeded Subaru specifications. Subaru corporate offered to pay for half of the repair. I was told by the dealer when I purchased my Outback that Subaru "fixed" the head gasket problem with the 2003 model year. Researching the issue on the net indicates that problems extends to the 2005 model year and possibly beyond. Where does it end? Similar to Toyota's recent recall for its accelerator and brakes, Subaru should take full responsibility for the failure of their head gaskets.


  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    I understand your disappointment. You did what the mfg demanded for trouble free gasket life, but it didn't work. What is the mfgrs responsibility beyond the term of the warranty (5 yrs / 60k miles)?

    The VIN of my '02 was outside of the covered range, and I too was told that there was no warranty extension. But mine first failed at 15k, and then again at 62k last year, so I had both a history of failure, and of regular preventive service. I had a Gold plan also, but was outside of the time by 4 months when they went again. In the end, they treated me very well, and I was quite happy. But, it did take some discussion to get there.

    Technically, they owe you (or me) nothing. It isn't a safety issue, and you are a year or more beyond the time limit. On the other hand, they know it is a weakness, and their chances of getting a repeat buyer is very much dependent on what they do now!

    The repair will run something around $1800, and they have offered half. When Toyota pulled something like this on me, they offered $0, which is why I don't drive a Toyota today! $900 isn't bad when you consider the alternative.... You could go back to SOA and ask for more - NICELY - given the extenuating circumstances. Remind them that this is a known issue, and that you are likely to be trading this car in on another Subi in the near future. I assume that you have otherwise liked it enough that this is in your long term plan? Even if they won't give more, it is still a decent offer. Unlikely you'd get any other car company today to meet you half way.

    While you are in there, offer to pay for a new timing belt, external drive belts, maybe a water pump, and have them check the oil pump seals. It is a great opportunity to take care of a bunch of stuff coming due on a 7 year old auto.
  • ths258ths258 Posts: 10
    To what model year does this head gasket problem extend? Is it still a potential problem even in the 2009/2010 models?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587

    Look at Consumer Reports.

    Some Subarus show dramatic improvements for 2003, others for 2004/5. By '05 all are rated highly.

    Our family has been lucky, I guess. Dad has an '01 Outback, sis has an '03 Forester, bro has an '04 Legacy. Cousin had a 99 Outback for a while. We had a 98 Forester for 9 years, and an 02 Legacy for 7 years, plus our new 09 Forester.

    None of us have had any gasket issues at all.
  • tdenotdeno Posts: 1
    edited February 2010
    My 2005 Subaru outback sedan 3.0R H6 is in the shop right now for this exact reason. I had a leak, so i took it to several places before i ever thought of taking it to the dealership. i took it to the dealership, they did not charge me to look at it. They told me i had a head gasket leak. I was told the dealership would pay for it, all but $200 of it. Which i was fine with, but now i am being told that my CV boot is bad, my serpentine belt is bad and my radiator cap is bad. Does anyone know if these are a problem as well on these cars? I only have 60k miles, Not sure i believe that. I feel like they are trying to rip me off.
  • Fibber2,

    Thank you for your insightful and sympathetic response. I did call corporate back and nicely asked for more consideration. However, they would not budge. They said my Outback was manufactured in March 2003 and it falls outside the extended warranty period for this problem. No further explanation. Some 2003 Outbacks are apparently covered.

    I love the car, but I feel mislead. I don't think I would buy another.

    I plan on following your advise for replacing the timing belts, water pump and oil seals. A friend of mine recommended the same to me.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    edited February 2010
    I appreciate your comments, and wish that you didn't have to face this dilemma. The only thing I can add is that I have yet to hear of a car line that didn't have some form of achilles heal. Given these rough economic times, any corporation that is willing to meet you half way on a 7 year old car that suffers a non-safety related failure is a standout. Not perfect, but well better than average.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Common items....

    You have to remove the accessory belts to do the HG repair, so putting on a new one just makes sense. It's cheap insurance. I believe that the H6 uses a timing chain rather than a belt, so at least you won't have to replace that as well.

    Radiator caps today are pretty bulletproof, but seals can get damaged. Again, maybe $15-20?

    A boot can get torn. Just drive over any loose debris on the road and it can happen. You'll likely see some ejected grease around it. Ask them to walk you into the shop for a look.
  • snowbeltersnowbelter Posts: 286
    edited February 2010
    Subaru has been better than most manufacturers with a warranty extension for some model years and partial reimbursement of the cost of HG repair for others. BUT, they don't appear to have yet found a fix for the problem.

    Since HG failure is not safety-related, they know they aren't going to have NHTSA on their backs. And since they are selling almost all the cars they can produce, they have less incentive to explicitly acknowledge a design/manufacturing defect and extend the warranty to all years.

    We've hedged our exposure by purchasing 7/100 extended warranties on our two newest Subarus. And I hope Subaru isn't taking the position that it is less expensive for them to pay for some HG repairs than to fix the problem.

    This is the first H-6 I've heard of with HG failure. I had thought they were exempt from the problem.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I agree, H6 gasket problems are very rare, that stinks. :sick:
  • I was speaking with a friend today who had owned a 1998 Outback that required a HG. She traded it in for a 2008 outback. She also thought that the problem ended with the 2003 model. Her ex owns a 2005 that now requires a new HG. I told her my story of the 2003 needing a HG. She is now throwing in the towel on the 2008 and will be selling it. I did not encourage her decision, but the history is there. When will Subaru admit to this problem by providing 100% support.
  • I purchased my 2003 Baja new, with the 100K extended warranty. At 37K, the first Head Gasket repair too place, under warranty. I didn't realize that they only replace the bad side. At 102,000 miles, right outside of warranty or course, it needed head gaskets again. I called Subaru and they offered $500 on the $1700 repair. I wanted to drive the Baja until the wheels fall off, so I assume I will be down this road again. I was able to use a 15% Labor discount coupon, $200 in Subaru bucks, from the Subaru credit card rewards. While they were at it, I had them replace the timing belt, water pump (which was leaking anyway), and reseal the oil pump. Although it looked perfectly fine, I had them do it anyway. I suppose that I got off easy and tons of maintenance work done, but it is still disturbing. From my research, this is a common Subaru problem. I was wondering if other Subaru's on the road with a few hunderd thousand miles have been through this more that once. Thanks.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    I lucked out with my '96 and did not need to replace head gaskets until 192,000 miles. I put another 28,000 on it with no further problems, but fate had other plans for that old car and I was never able to see just how long the new gaskets were to hold out.
  • Subaru completed HG repair on my 2003 Outback with 53,000 miles today. The Invoice states the cause as: "Improper Seating".

    Split for 50/50 labor and parts for HG only. Timing belt, water pump, thermostat were not covered.

    Total cost to me for Subaru's improper seating was $976.06 and three days loss of vehicle.

    My advise is have your Outback checked before the warranty expires or consider this additional cost when you buy or consider another vehicle.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    edited February 2010
    Did the $976 out of pocket include the accessory & timing belt, pump and thermostat? If so, it reduces the sting a little bit. While your miles are low, at the 7 year mark there is good sense in considering this service anyhow. They also did an oil change and a coolant change as part of the procedure. I'd estimate all this to ring in at around $500 or so if you paid for it as a conventional service visit.

    I agree that none of this should have happened to you, but at least you got something tangible out of it. Hopefully, you will get many more years of good service from the car. I know how much I enjoyed driving mine in to work thru the snow this morning!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I had all that done on my Miata and it cost me a whopping $1100. That plus some cooling system work.

    No head gaskets, though.
  • jfljfl Posts: 1,346
    Timing belts are good for 105k miles, so you don't need to replace it until you hit 158k miles. If a dealer tells you to replace it at 105k, let him know it was already done at 53k.

    I'll hit 210k pretty soon and need my second timing belt replacement.
  • loosenutloosenut Posts: 165
    craigslist has one listed for a real reasonable price,and-i'm reasonably mecanically inclined..
    what is the real problem?is it the gasket,or is the head itself cracking??and what would parts average me?..
    -i'm on a limited income-not unlike lots of folks out there today,..haven't worked on one,but used to fix my old air cooled vw back in the day,and the subaru flat 4 seems to be real well as the durability factor-not unlike the old bugs..just ondering if that might be worth my time..thanks..
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    edited March 2010
    It is hard to say without more information on the car; it could be either problem! However, if the engine has not been severely overheated, the chances are that the gasket is the problem. I have replaced these on the 2.5L before and the job is fairly simple, if not labor-intensive. Including replacing several other parts (such as timing belts, pulleys, etc), I spent about $500 to do mine and had great results. You will probably need to replace the timing belt ($100), but the pulleys should be okay depending on mileage. My car was at 192,000 when I did the work.
  • loosenutloosenut Posts: 165
    many thanks..just havent done a subie --yet,and was curious.
    --sounds-and kinda reminds me of the old-air cooled vw's..did heads on those about every other year-till i learned to drive it..air cooled=high rpm's..specially when climbing hills !...all motors are really like that-happyist when oil pressure-air flo-coolant,etc-is flowing at max-without blowing up !
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,391
    I have a write-up on my head gasket replacement back in 2005. The site hosting it will not be up for much longer, but you are welcome to take a look for the sake of reference. This was on a 1996 Outback, but the 2005 is similar aside from the engine being SOHC rather than the DOHC on the '96. Scroll toward the bottom of the page:

    1996 Outback Head Gasket Project
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