2003 Subaru Forester Head Gasket Leaking Coolant 55,000miles



My 2003 Forrester with only 55,000 miles is leaking coolant from the head gasket. Repair estimate is $3000+. Just finding out that this was a known problem and 1999-2002 models were recalled for it. Clearly, the problem was not fixed in the 2003 model. While I am beyond the 5 year warranty mark, I am under the 60,000 mile mark. I am trying to get Subaru to cover or share cost of the repair since they did not disclose this known defect. Appreciate any advice when dealing with Subaru. I change the oil every 3,000 miles which is above and beyond what is recommended. I am very disappointed in Subaru for not correcting this problem. I hope they do right. If not, I will go back to Toyotas. Had a 1985 Corolla GTS for 17 years and over 100,000 miles and never had a problem with the engine. A gasket going in a mere 55,000 miles is ridiculous.


Subaru was having head gasket problems in 1973 and 1983 so why stop now.

Oil changes have no affect on whether a head gasket fails or not. That’s caused by other factors.
It’s just my personal opinion (and assuming no engine overheating has occurred) but I think these head gasket seepages are due to the all aluminum design, cutting the number of head bolts down, and the “relaxing” of the head bolts and head gaskets.
In theory, TTY head bolts (Torque to Yield) are not supposed to need or even be retorqued but the way I look at it is that metal is metal and all metal will move with heat and cold applied.

Subaru is notoriously chintzy about doing much of anything unless prodded and about all I can suggest is that you contact the Subaru regional office in your area about performing a Good Will warranty.
Getting this covered is not a given but it’s worth a shot. The most they will do is say no.
Keep it polite but express strong disappointment about the gaskets giving up at 55k miles.

(On a side note, I’ve done more Subaru head gaskets than I can even remember but 3 grand sounds way high unless you live in San Francisco where the labor rates are astronomical.)


Besides the 3k oil changes (good for you) did you ever change the coolant? Subaru prescribes it every 3yrs or 36k miles. Hopefully you have some documentation of this so you can present when trying to work with Subaru if they ask but may not.

Supposedly they improved the 2003 engines however it does not seem true until 2005 which are devoid of this issue. Not sure where the $3000+ is coming from, you may want to hunt around as that seems at least $1000 too high but not sure of collateral damage.


Judging from posts in this forum Subaru does seem to have an astonishingly large number of head gasket failures. But head gaskets do fail – more or less at random – on many models from a number of manufacturers. Two of our last 8 cars (a 1979 Mazda GLC and a 1995 Neon) blew head gaskets. So even if the Subaru head gasket problems are localized to some engines and years, it’s not impossible for an engine not in that group to suffer a blown head gasket.

$3000 seems way out of line to replace a head gasket. The gasket is cheap. The job is mostly labor. An independent mechanic can do it as well as the dealer … and probably cheaper.


Agree; most cars have aluminum heads now and it seems Subarus have the most head gasket failures. The last head gasket failure I had was on a 1965 Dodge Dart 273 V8 in 1968, and the leak was to the outside. Repair bill came to $59 plus tax.


Thanks for all the replies on this. I don’t know if the coolant was ever changed. Possibly not. But if Subaru had disclosed the defect and indicated that was a preventative measure, I would have changed it every darn year.

The $3000+ estimate was from 2 local Subaru dealers in the area. I’m in Northern Virginia. My local AAA approved service station that originally diagnosed the problem gave an estimate of $2200-2400 but Subaru wants me to take it to a dealer.

There shouldn’t be any collateral damage to the engine. It never over-heated. I’ve never seen a puddle of coolant. The only reason I had it checked out was because my boyfriend detected a sulpher smell. Other than the smell, there are no signs of any problems. So I think we caught it early.


While this is strictly a try and hope kind of deal, you could possibly have someone go back in and try retorquing the head bolts.
If the bolts/gaskets have relaxed as I’ve mentioned there is a possibility that retorquing the head bolts could stop this.

I’m fully aware of the TTY head bolt thing but if you have this done you might be sure and ask if there was any movement on the head bolts during the process.


UPDATE: I am pleased to report that Subaru agreed to share the cost of the repair. My co-payment will be around $300. Thanks for all the replies and I hope my post has been helpful to someone else. I am delighted Subaru decided to help out as I love my Forester and hope to have it for many years to come.


Congrats on your end and to Subaru for coming through.


Let me ask a question first, and don’t dance in the aisles over Subaru just yet.
You state that you have a 300 dollar co-pay. Does this mean they’re replacing one head gasket or both?

There’s a few more questions and comments involved in a repair like this but I’ll withhold that for a bit.


Thought I would bump this back up in case the OP wanders back in for a bit of additional info that might prevent their posting again in the future with yet another head gasket failure.

As to that 300 dollar co-pay, that means the OP is footing all or most of that “good will” repair.


Gasket set for a Subaru at best is $100. So it is only $200 in labor to remove engine, remove head, verify head and reinstall?


They replaced both head gaskets.