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What year Subarus had head gasket problems

I've read here that a few years worth of Subarus were plagued with head gasket problems. When was that, and when was the problem resolved?

A friend is seriously considering a 2007 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon. The one she's found is particularly clean and maintenance records are encouraging. Are there any particular problems, HG or anything else, to beware of for this model year? I don't know the mileage or other details other than it's an automatic transmission.



  • Consumer Reports shows engine major, engine minor and brakes as major issues for that year. I assume the poor engine repair ratings are related to head gasket and similar issues. Our 03 Legacy wagon was in the middle of the head gasket years, and we had no issues.

    Only the four cylinder 2.5L was affected. I did use the Subaru Coolant Conditioner as recommended for our car. No head gasket issues for 153K miles, when it was totaled.
  • Frankly, I'm not satisfied Subaru has ever resolved the head gasket issue completely on the 4 cylinder motors. They just don't seem to have problems with the 6 cylinders.

    We get questions about head gasket issues with late ('07 and up) Subaru 4 cylinders even though Subaru claims the problems were limited to early '00's models.

    Perhaps the 4 cylinders are just too stressed and prone to overheating and head gasket issues regardless of the year made. If I was to ever buy a Subaru I'd buy a 6 cylinder and enjoy the extra power and live with a bit less mpg.
  • edited April 2013

    "If I was to ever buy a Subaru I'd buy a 6 cylinder and enjoy the extra power and live with a bit less mpg."


    That was the philosophy that caused me to select the six-cylinder model when I bought my '02 Outback.
    The difference in gas mileage between that car and my '97 Outback (4 cylinder) was exactly 1 mpg.
    In exchange for the "penalty" of losing 1 mpg, I got an engine with a timing chain instead of a timing belt, no head gasket problems, much better acceleration, and lower noise levels in the passenger cabin.

    With my 2011 Outback, the six-cylinder engine's mpg "penalty" is a tad higher, as it is rated at 4 mpg less than the comparable 4-cylinder model in both city and highway driving. However, to be able to accelerate effortlessly onto a high-speed expressway while averaging 23-24 mpg in mixed suburban/highway driving is worth it to me.

    I have been able to eke out 29 mpg on the highway, although 27 mpg is more typical for highway drives with the six-cylinder engine. And, the noise level in the cabin is FAR lower with the six, due to both the larger engine size and the fact that the 4-cylinder engine relies on a CVT, while the six uses a "conventional" 5-speed automatic.
  • Subarus has had head gasket issues dating back to the early 70s although the early/mid 70s are another kettle of fish in regards to failure.
    Just my 2 cents, but the problem seemed to really surface in the mid 80s when the head bolt retorque was eliminated.
  • The second generation (94-99) and third generation (99-03) Outbacks seem to be the most notorious for head gasket failures, but there are a number of fourth generation (03-09) Outbacks with failing head gaskets. Over at the subaruoutback dot org site, there's a log of about 30 pages of HG failures from members and almost all are in the late 90's. The repairs can be anywhere from $800-$2000 and sometimes Subaru picks up some/all of the cost, sometimes not.

    I have an 08 with 78k miles and (knock on wood), it has worked perfectly with no major issues but I am constantly keeping an eye on everything particularly for leaking fluids and checking inside the radiator. A couple of weeks ago, Click and Clack had a caller on their show with an Outback describing the "spike in temp" followed by the other symptoms and before she even finished her description, I said to my wife "blown head gasket". Sure enough that was their guess too. It made me "appear" really smart to my wife!

    The 07 should be good, but it might be a good idea for her to start a "head gasket rainy day savings plan" and save up until it reaches $2000. That way if/when it happens, she can say to the mechanic "I was prepared for that, when will it be fixed" with a smile on her face :).
  • I bought a 2007 Forester used in 2009 (2.5l engine) with the hope that the problems had been solved by 2007, but the 'black dots' on CR for major engine problems keep showing up about 5 years after manufacture, now in 2007. So I don't think the problem was solved by 2007. We haven't had a problem yet. We'll see...
  • Thanks everyone for the feedback thus far.
  • We own a 2007 Forester and it's at 60k and today they told us the Head Gasket needs replacing at @2400. Other things will bring the bill to $3k!!!!

    We feel so let down by Subaru reading about the Head Gasket problems. We had a lemon before and bought this car thinking it would be smooth sailing. NOT!

    Since Subaru has a problem...why in the heck don't they help the owners by not charging so much?

    The next repair that comes up, we will dump the car and buy something else. The car is too young to have this kind of problem. This car gets high ratings and shouldn't when you take into consideration, owners have to pay for Subaru's incompetence in this design flaw.
  • Why wail for the next repair, you don't know when it will happen or how much it will be, you will have to pay for it to make the car selleable
  • Classic. Just got off the phone with my mechanic about my 2004 Subaru Outback. Approx. 80,000 miles on it, head gasket leaking. About $2,200 to repair, if I also go for replacing the timing belt and some other work, you know, since the engine will be removed anyway ($1,000 labor). Thanks Subaru! I thought I had a reliable, rugged car, and was planning to give it to my son who started college this year.

    Is Subaru doing anything to address this problem?

    Also, a few years back we had a real doozy of an electrical problem with the same vehicle. The car was stalling out unexpectedly in mid-ride; very unnerving when doing 40 or so on a city road. Two mechanics and A SUBARU DEALER couldn't figure it out or declined to dig into the problem. Finally, my very trusted but busy mechanic (Bruno's Garage, in Pittsburgh) spent a week on it and traced the problem, some kind of loose wire, I can't remember all the details. They were very proud of themselves (one of the mechanics has an electrical engineering degree) especially since the dealer was stumped.
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