'03 Subaru needs head gasket

Per the dealership my '03 legacy outback 92403 miles 4 cylinder needs a head gasket and other things replaced due to this. Other things to replace oil pump,water pump. My mechanic couldn’t find the problem seems to be no other mechanics in the immediate area to fix it besides the dealer.

Oops, my question is should I get it fixed or get a new car estimate $2946

That depends upon the reason for the head gasket replacement. If the engine was overheated and a head gasket blown because of that then I’d say that you should probably get rid of it.
If the head gasket(s) are simply weeping a little oil or coolant then try retorquing the head bolts.

I have no idea why they would want to replace the oil pump unless this is one of those misguided attempts to cure a low oil pressure problem. Is that it?

Your mechanic couldn’t find the problem? What problem would that be?

Subarus are KNOWN for this…they actually found a defect in their head gaskets…and I believe did a recall? I have repaired MANY Subarus for this exact issue…shame really…because it is otherwise an excellent engine…they just screwed up the gasket…they released an updated gasket…

On Some Subie engines I believe they located the Oil Pump right behind the Main crank pulley…its driven by the crank nose (My Honda H22 was like that, pretty sure Subie also). So I guess while they are in there they decided to hit you for an Oil pump? What was wrong w your old one? Low pressure? Seems a little odd to me also.

Are they going to do the FULL T-belt replacement? Including the water pump…tensioner, idler bearings…front main seal? ASK>…because you are due for it and they will have all of those parts in their hands to do the heads…so… They are most likely pulling the engine out to do all of this.

Where are you located? I do these jobs all the time…maybe I can help you?

As noted by Honda Blackbird, this is a problem with Subarus of that year as well as some earlier models. There was no recall - Subaru has not accepted any responsibility for this particular issue. However, I agree with OK4450 that we need to know a bit more before we can offer opinions - did you let the car overheat? Or did you discover the leak prior to overheating? if it did overheat, how far did you drive it? Did it die on the road or did you stop as soon as the temp gauge started to rise?

In general, it doesn’t seem to me that you have a lot of mileage (Subarus can last longer than this), and it may be that as long as they have to change the gasket, they can do the other things for the same labor charge. Be sure to have both gaskets done so the other one doesn’t fail.

Fix the car, but find a shop somewhere familiar enough with these cars that can do it for less. This is a common issue for these cars. We do several a year for head gasket leaks. As long as the car has not been overheated or run out of oil, this repair can be done complete with head gaskets, water pump/timing belt, oil pan reseal, and a few extras for $1800-2000.

The price seems pretty fair to me for the amount of stuff they plan to do. If you can find someone experienced with Subarus who’ll do it for less than $2k, I’d go with them. Otherwise I’d pay the dough to have the dealer fix it up right.

If you’ve taken good care of the car , no big wrecks, no loss of oil pressure, no overheating incidents, and had it’s had the needed service at the recommended servicing intervals, fixing it is probably the best bet. Fix it up, and it will probably last another 100K at least before needing a major engine overhaul.

If the car hasn’t been well maintained, been in a wreck, or has had prior major repairs, or has been generally unreliable, I’d sell it and buy a new or slightly used car.

One time I had a VW that wouldn’t cooperate, had a bunch of problems that the dealership couldn’t figure out how to fix, so I sold it, and bought another VW, the same make and year! It worked flawlessly for another 150K. You never know.

If the oil pressure is low, the engine is probably shot. The combination of them wanting to replace the oil pump, along with the apparent head gasket problem, leads me to believe you probably have low oil pressure from coolant getting into the oil and destroying your engine’s bearings.

Oil pumps are not a maintenance item.

I would ask if this oil pump is related to failure or simply recommended maintenance. Because if this is oil pump failure all your $2000-$3000 on top end motor work(head gaskets etc) will likely lead to another $2000-3000 on the bottom end of the motor.

The oil pump is the outlier here.

Otherwise as has been said, head gasket replacement on these cars is pretty common. My buddy just had his replaced, along with water pump and timing belt he came in around $1100 so in my opinion your price is high unless they really are replacing an oil pump as well.

I have had to change the headgasket twice on my 02 subaru. The first time was at 100K, then second at 150K. If this is the only major repair in a while it might be worth it unless you suspect the condition of the rest of the vehicle is not up to par. Your car is likely worth much more than the repair.

Subaru has really let people down with this Horse-Sh&^… They made a great car with a rather great engine actually…Why do they balk at making this right for the Subie-roo-owners? That seems rather dastardly to me…they should know better. People love their cars and so do I actually…but man to foist all that labor and work onto the customer thru no fault of their own is pretty SH*&&Y if you ask me.

C’mon Subaru Whats up?

Subaru has had head gasket problems for over 30 years. The only period in which they haven’t had them is the late 70s and the early/mid 80s on most models. That’s excluding failures caused by severe overheating of course.

Somewhere in the attic in my stash of junk is a decades old service bulletin about acknowledgement of head gasket failures and (paraphrased) “we will repair these under a Good Will if the customer raises enough stink”.

Subaru of America is the same company that sent their parts reps around the country literally smashing up a fortune in brand new parts right off the shelf with a hammer. That’s not hard to figure out.
Fewer parts - higher prices or no availability = customer buys a new car instead. :slight_smile:

OK4450, permit me to ask, do you think the high headgasket failure rate on Subies is related to the horizontally-opposed cylinder layout?

I’m just curious because Subie and Scion are about to release a shared-platform joint project using this engine layout. On paper the car and its design features look great, but I wonder about the long-term reliability.

Has SUbie had this gasket issue for a long time? I didnt notice, like REALLY notice until recently. Look at good ole Porschy… They haven’t had this issue and theirs is an H-6…subie has one too, dont know about the gaskets on that one. Thats funny about Subaru…and that piece of literature. I never saw such a rash of head gasket failures until the 96-02 models maybe…and I mean like everybody has head gasket failures… and the heads are straight… They have also released a “NEW” head gasket to remedy the issue. I aksed the parts guy about it and he said…“Uh…this is the gasket you HAVE to use now, you cant order the older gasket anymore anyway”…SO… they acknowledge this issue simply by their re-designed head gasket. Yet wont acknowledge it to the customer… I say the SUbie owners should raise a stink…thats a lot of people facing an engine removal caliber of a repair (nevermind that those engines are super easy to remove…Im sure they dont say that either lol…but anywho)… I dont know what the problem is actually…if its just the gasket, man…that sucks.

Good point about the Porsches. I guess all I can hope for is that the joint-venture engine won;t have the problem.

Probly wont…they couldnt possibly not know at this point… Nor let it affect more or new models with an H4. I am certain many have made a Stinky mess thus far for Subaru…I sure would have if I bought one new and was told about this repair.

Mountainbike, I think the reason for head gasket failures varies by generation, a bit of the design, and policy.
In the early and mid 70s Subarus would drop head gaskets whenever the sun came up due to the engine design, which was a wet sleeve engine. This meaning the cylinders were removeable and sat on copper crush gaskets.

In the late 70s Subaru went away from this design to a “normal” design. At the time Subaru recommended, and paid for, a 1000 miles cylinder head retorque and valve lash check. No head gasket problems after that unless overheated.

Going into the mid 80s still no head gasket problems EXCEPT in one case. On Subarus at the time that were equipped with an automatic transmission hydraulic lifters were used. Everything else was solids. Subaru recommended that the automatic cars not get a head bolt retorque; all others did. So what happened? Head gaskets were weeping on the automatic cars but not on the manual transmission cars.

Getting into the current generation of Subarus (90s up) the head bolt retorques are a long dead issue and these are the common complaints on this forum all of the time.

My opinion is that the current problems are caused by several things; failure to retorque cylinder head bolts, cutting down the number of head bolts from 8 (10 in some of the 80s era) to 6, and possibly the non-application of a sealer on the head gaskets when the engine was originally built.
Subaru does, or used to, recommend a sealer on head gaskets during replacement. I use aerosol Copper Coat instead of the overpriced Subaru product, Fuji Bond, and always retorque head bolts twice. The first retorque is some hours (letting it relax) after the first retorque and generally I like to go back and check them again in a 1000 miles or so. I have yet to ever have one comeback on a Subaru head gasket because of the way I do it.

I would add that back in the 80s in regard to that weeping gasket problem on automatic cars that Subaru told us to retorque the head bolts on the weepy cars to cure the problem. Something else about this particular problem. The engine, the head gaskets, the head bolts, everything was identical on both the automatic and manual cars; the only difference was the valve lifters so there were no design differences.

One oddity I have noticed is that Subaru heads are quite prone to warpage although given the short length one would not think this would be a problem. Subaru allows .002 maximum and my non-scientific guess is that about 75% or more of the heads I’ve checked (and I check all of them) exceeded that; some by much, much more. I’ve never been able to quite figure out why this is the case.

I know that head gaskets are often replaced for weepage but retorquing the bolts could stop that weepage unless it’s been a long term problem and hot coolant has etched the cylinder head or gasket out a bit. It’s always worth a shot is the way I look at it. Guess that essay is bit lengthy but it’s JMHO anyway.

I’ve owned 02 WRX, put almost 100K on it with more than stock power and never had the issue. Then i bought a 06 NA forester and within 45000 miles i got the head gasket leaks. Dealer was weary but finally replaced under warranty around 59k miles.
Did my research on this issue among subaru forums and found that this is only a problem on NA EJ25 engines (2.5 liter) and it’s due to the poor engine design. Those engines have open deck short blocks (turbo models have closed or semi closed decks). for those of you that don’t necessarily know all of the engine lingo, it means that the cylinders are surrounded mostly by open space serving as a coolant passage. Closed deck engines also have these passages but are much smaller with much more metal around the cylinders. As a result, on the NA engines found in forester, legacy, impreza, etc, the cylinder sleeves look as if they were attached to the rest of the block in only few places. This design causes a lot of cylinder vibration during normal operation, subsequently causing gaskets to shift after period of time. So far it appears that subaru is either unwilling to fix it or doesn’t know how to fix it without serious EJ25 engine redesign. One simple fix would be to equip all subarus with the closed deck design.

My forester has 110k on it and so far the problem has not returned but all signs from previous owners that had gaskets replaced point towards return of the problem sooner or later.

The vast bulk of the ones I’ve done were semi or closed blocks so I can’t say as I buy into the block design being the root of this evil.