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'06 Subaru Forester Head Gasket Dilemma

Hey folks,
I’m at a loss with the decision I must make about my '06 Subaru Forester with 167,000 miles on it.
I bought this car about 6 months ago with some advice to keep an eye on the coolant levels from the 3rd party inspector that I used.

After a while it was clear that there actually was a coolant leak somewhere and it continued to grow.
I was having to refill the system every 2 days.
My mechanic finally pinpointed that coolant was leaking into a head gasket.
So we put some stop-leak tablets in with the coolant and it seemed to perhaps fix the problem for a week or so, as the coolant tank levels were remaining consistent.

However, when I checked the actual radiator while the engine was cold, the levels seemed to be rather low.
Near the end of last week, I filled the radiator with coolant.

Then catastrophe hit. During a drive, while the engine was idle at a stoplight, the engine and therefore the car began to shake much more than was normal (my motor mounts also probably need to be fixed). Then I lost all ability to accelerate-the pedal was giving me nothing.
I had to restart the car in order to get any acceleration at all.
I had to do this twice more in the 1/4 mile home.
When I got home I realized that there was light smoke coming from the hood and there there was heavy white smoke coming from my exhaust.
The smoke from the hood turned out to be radiator fluid evaporating because it was splashed all over the place under the hood.
The heavy white smoke from the tail pipe dissipated and then would return very heavy when I pressed the gas pedal.
I also checked and noticed that my oil level was incredibly low, even though the oil has been changed within 1000 miles.

Now, finally to my question.
My mechanic is recommending that I completely replace the engine with a refurbished one.
That will cost me approximately $3500, half what I bought the car for.

My other option is to have them remove the engine, do a valve job, machine the head gaskets, and replace what motor mounts need replacing.
I believe he said that it would cost anywhere from $2000 to $3000 depending on the amount of labor needed once the engine is removed and a clearer picture can be seen.

Is it worth me paying for a new engine, or do I risk having the repairs done?
I am worried that there could be more wrong with the engine ever after we do these repairs.
I’m very much at a stand still and cannot decide what to do next.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Thank you in advance!

When someone comes into the shop where the engine/transmission requires replacement, and the vehicle is at the age mileage as yours, I go with a used component.

But then, I have a close relationship with the yard that provides these used engines/transmissions. So I know what they provide me will work.

I installed used transmission from this yard in the wife’s 97 Accord six months ago.

And so far? So good.


There does not seem to be a large price difference so make the choice that lets you sleep at night.
The next time a 3rd party inspector says something like keep an eye on something run and look elsewhere.

Good advice from Tester above. If you have a good source for a replacement engine, and appropriate guarantees for both parts and labor, that’s what I’d recommend.

The actual answer depends on how much damage was done driving the car with the failing head gasket. It’s entirely possible the only thing you’d need is a new head gasket. That might cost $1000 or so, almost entirely due to the labor to remove and replace the head. The gasket doesn’t cost much itself. The extra $1 K to $2 K per your mechanic mentioned is b/c it generally makes $$ sense to skim the head to make sure it is flat, and refurbish the valves while the head is off. Otherwise you’d have an engine with a new head gasket and 167K mile valves, which probably isn’t the thing to do if you want to use this engine for quite a few more years.

The risk of the head gasket/valve job is it might not restore the engine to working order due to problems later discovered in the bottom half, and even it worked out fine, the car would be off the road and unavailable for you to use for quite some time.

Hard question - these engines are famous for head gasket issues, so I’d be concerned about a used one. Maybe a good used one with new head gaskets? I’d be very worried about rebuilding it, coolant in the oil could cause problems.

I’m in agreement with texases about coolant in the oil (and even coolant being burned in the cyliinders) possibly being the cause of other major issues; usually related to crankshaft bearing wear, low oil pressure, and/or oil burning.

The problem with used engines or transmissions is that they’re always a coin flip. The salvage yards will “guarantee it to be good or the money will be refunded”.
The problems with that statement is that they’re attesting to the condition of an engine they have never heard run and know nothing about and labor for pulling the engine again is not covered.

If you do go with a used engine I strongly suggest the addition of a new timing belt kit, new crankshaft seals, and if the transmission is an automatic the converter seal should also be replaced.
Most of that stuff is penny-ante but it’s also not rare for one of those seals to start leaking when everything is back together with an untouched engine. This means back out she comes… :frowning:

The guys are correct here…I cannot argue. On one hand you really dont know the life the engine had with the previous owner. A new to you used engine could be just the ticket…again…no idea really what kind of shape the engine is actually IN if it comes from the US… It would be helpful to see the car and the odometer if you source it locally and or in the states.

If this were me I would repair what I had in the vehicle at the moment. You might want to shop around for a head mill and gasket replacement… I think you could do a little better on that price. Put it thisa way…if you did it yourself. The gaskets cost about 100-150 bucks for every gasket you need not just the head gaskets…the milling work is around 150-200…then you just reassemble. See how cheap that is? Sure its work…but…I do this myself so its kind of a nice “out” for sure.

If you went the replacement engine route…To help a little with the “knowing what you are buying issue” I would go with a JDM used engine…I have purchased around 10-15 of these between myself and other friends and they have always been very very sound and seemed low mileage… Japan has stringent emission standards…they basically force you out of your vehicle around 50K miles…which is silly but…they do. The registration costs get higher and higher with more mileage…and they must offer other incentives to buy a new vehicle…but I do know about that 50K mile thing and the taxes and fees rising until you buy new again. This produces very very fine examples of used engines. The ones I have personally purchased have all seemed like they had around 50K on them. Whenever I pull the valve covers off of them…the inside is a nice golden color or even pristine sometimes…suggesting proper oil maintenance at the very least. The compression tests I perform, the appearance of the rubber hoses and other external components on the engine all point to lower mileage. Haven’t had a single issue with one of the JDM units to date and this is over 15 engines so far…they have all looked, tested and performed very very well indeed.

Some components of your old engine will need to be swapped onto the JDM, but none of that is a serious issue since you have the components for the USDM market on your engine now…so just swap over. Otherwise you will have an emissions conflict.

You will find PLENTY of sources for used JDM powerplants on ebay…guys specialize in their importing of these components. It looks like an awesome business to be in also…wish I could do that some days.


Might as well replace the head gaskets and bolts, before installing that used engine. Should be pretty easy to do on the engine stand

Don’t forget to adjust the valves, if they’re not hydraulic

Correct me if Im wrong but the 06 Subarus didn’t suffer from the pandemic of Head Gasket problems like the mid to late 90’s engines… I thought they solved that problem when we get into the 00’s and up… Not certain however…but this seems correct to me.


At work, one our newer guys came from Subaru. He said the headgasket problem persisted WELL into the 2000s

I have to agree with those saying that the engine having been operated with coolant-contaminated oil has probably (likely) done serious damage to all the sleeve the bearings. And those are your most critical ones.

The chances of your having other problems should you do the headgasket are high. Unfortunately, replacing it with a boneyard engine also carries risk. IMHO you’ve gotten good advice from OK4450 and Honda.

Oh my…didn’t know that @db4690 …Jeezoo… this cant be good for their reputation. You would think they fixed the issue…then again…they probably had plenty of engines pre made and waiting…all suffering the same defecto… Thats crazy…after the flood of people affected from the original ones…you would think that would be priority number one on an otherwise reliable long lasting engine. Those engines are capable of very high mileage.

Wonder if the head bolts are a focus…instead of just the gaskets themselves…I know they release updated gaskets to “fix” the issue… They were probably just full of it…who knows


The problem with the “Subaru head gasket issues are now fixed” is that the statement is always made about the current incarnation of the cars. I well remember statements on this forum a dozen years ago that head gasket issues are now a thing of the past.
The same thing was said in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

My position has always been; “give it a few years and see what shakes out” and leaking head gaskets is usually what inevitably shakes out.

This is not meant to infer that I think Subarus are lousy cars. On the contrary; I like them a lot.
My bone of contention with Subaru is not the cars; it’s with corporate policy and to a lesser degree the perception of infallibility associated with them.

Shame…they are or were pretty good machines. I wonder if the Subaru Impreza STi is also affected in a similar manner …being fairly highly Turbo charged…you would think they would be throwing head gaskets like gang busters. Maybe the beefed up design prevents this however?

I know Subaru is ABLE to solve this problem…so why dont they…this is bad publicity and then some.


The OP did not say the oil was contaminated, only that it was low. Since this is a Subaru, I recommend that you take it to a Subaru dealer for repair. They are used to this and are often very competitive with independents on price for this job, and they have much more experience. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the price, considering the shock you just got.

If you have more than one dealer in your area, get quotes from each one. Also look for any independent that used to work at a Subaru dealership. Do a google search for anyone who specializes in these.

My personal opinion (and which may be at odds with many) is that Subaru head gasket issues are caused by not retightening the head bolts after a period of time.

I’ve personally changed more Subaru head gaskets than I can even start to remember and have never had a job fail me no matter if it was done with OEM head gaskets or aftermarket gaskets.

The only job that failed and someone tried to blame on me was pure and simple the fault of the car owner. It was a young lady who drove her overheating Subaru until the head gaskets gave up.
Dad covered the bill and both were advised by me that if the temp gauge ever headed towards the red to stop as soon as possible as Subaru aluminum construction does not tolerate severe overheating very well.

A year later she was on her way back to college and a heater hose split on the turnpike. It was only another 25 miles to the university she said…

UGH…ONLY another 25 miles !!! JEEZOO ! I have heard the head bolt retorque idea many times @ok4450. Ive never been in a position to be able to do that sort of PM…I always get them after the fact. But I can see that being a solution. One thing that may be preventing this being done is that you can barely remove the valve covers on most of those things because of the frame rail and engine relationship. Then again…engine removal in a Soobie…has got to be one of the easiest to remove in the business. My record for pulling a Subaru engine is under 20 minutes so we are talking EZ to remove here !

Hell if people knew about this likely fix…they wouldn’t do it…we can barely get the oil changed on time with most people. Nobody has the mindset of or for PM for the engine…just run and everything is fine in their minds…they have to be forced to stop by major issues. Shame cars are so abused… I have always said…I can tell you A LOT about a person by the way they maintain their vehicle…sometimes to be a good troubleshooter you need to get into the owners heads and find out how they tick. I have used this theory with great success in the past as well as today. Knowing the owner goes a long way toward fixing strange problems sometimes. Part Technician…part Psychologist…



With all due respect, are you telling us that if the ORIGINAL headgasket failed and NOT due to overheating, neglect, etc., it’s because the owner did not retorque the head bolts “after a period of time.”

If that’s indeed what you are saying, then IMO the Subaru headgasket and bolt design is 100% garbage :frowning:

I’m no Subaru guy, not by any means, but from what I hear, many headgaskets failed through absolutely no fault WHATSOVER of the owners

One of my colleagues . . . not the Subaru guy, by the way . . . is a bit older than me and has probably worked on all sorts of cars at independent shops over the years. According to him, you should count on having to replace the Subaru headgaskets every so many years, no matter how well you treat it. Just a fact of life, apparently.

I’m assuing the gaskets that are failing are mls. That has been the standard for some time now. By your logic, we should be seeing lots of headgasket failures all the time, on every kind of vehicle that uses this, if the owner doesn’t retorque the headbolts. AFAIK, that is not the case with Toyota, Ford, GM, etc.

Yes, I’m saying that head gaskets have been a thorn in the ribs for Subaru for a long time. Starting in the late 70s up to the middle 80s there were no problems because a head bolt retorque was mandated and Subaru even paid for it.

In the middle 80s Subaru announced that auto trans cars no longer needed a retorque although the manual trans cars did. The engines in both are the dead-on identical same.
So what happened then is that the automatic transmission equipped cars started having issues with leaking head gaskets; usually oil. The manual trans cars were trouble free.
At that point Subaru issued a bulletin stating that if head gaskets were leaking the head bolts should be retorqued.

This eventually morphed into a policy that retorques are not needed on any of them; a policy which continues today.

I certainly can’t explain other makes not having issues. My Lincoln engines are all aluminum with never an issue. I can only state that I’ve done countless Subaru head gasket jobs and do retorques on all head bolts with never a comeback. I have also retorqued head bolts on head gasket leakage complaints and in most cases have stopped that problem with nothing more than snugging the head bolts up.
Of course that will not work on head gaskets that have flat given up with breaches into the combustion chamber or one in which long term etching by hot coolant has eroded the gasket or head.

I’ve also owned 3 Subarus over the years and did head gaskets on 2 of them. There were never any HG problems after replacing them. One of them got head gaskets at about 70k miles and at near 300k miles when I got rid of the car they were still good. Another one got head gaskets at about 80k miles and at 225k miles those were still good also when I sold the car.

With tongue in cheek, I might suggest that Subaru should do their heads like the old air cooled VWs; no head gaskets at all.

I dont know if I agree with the head gaskets needing replaced as a matter of course tho…that really should not be the norm at all. Im sure there are a lot of factors involved…such as engine block and head materials…the engine layout… whether V inline or flat… The running temp of the engine, the effectiveness of the cooling system layout… Lots of things go into this. But they should not fail every so many years as a matter of course.

Hell I know some engines that have never had a head gasket replacement and these are those Mega Mile people whos primary goal is super high mileage…

I dont know every factor that goes into failures…I know they are many however and I am CERTAIN that Subaru could stop this from happening…and they should…for Pete sakes Mon! Maybe the head design is to blame in the Subarus… Are the heads to “thin” and thus expand and cool at a rate that isnt acceptable…or too thick causing the same sort of issue? I’m sure they could figure this out…they are a large company with plenty of engineering might. Maybe they are too thin? Maybe the smallish block area for the heads is to blame…the block or the heads expansion characteristics to blame? You would think such a small head would be easy to tame…not like a straight 6 with plenty of length being a factor…but straight sixes seem pretty bulletproof…they also have a big block too. The problem probably lies in there some where?

I like the idea of a retorque of the head bolts…nothing wrong with that…seems rather prudent if you ask me.