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2003 Subaru Outback Head Gasket

Our 2003 4cyl Subaru Outback just rolled 100000 miles and my mechanic says both head gaskets are leaking. This doesn’t shock me given the Subaru history of head gasket problems and the mounting evidence that the tweaks in the 2003 model didn’t put the problem to bed.

I’m curious if anyone out there has had success with Subaru of America providing assistance for this problem as they did for the older models – by extending the warranty to cover it?

If the car has been regularly maintained by the dealership, SOA will probably help you with the cost of the repair.

I would certainly ask the dealer and the area Subaru rep for some help with this. I hope you have kept all of your maintenance up to date and have records to prove it.

If you have used Subaru coolant conditioner your gaskets are covered for 8yrs/100,000 miles for some 2003 and all 2000-2002. Contact SOA.

I have a 2003 Subaru Forester with 88,000 miles on it that is having its HG replaced right now. Subaru covered most of the cost of this replacement (I am paying about $600 for some of the extra parts, etc.). I was told that Subaru was paying for HG replacements up to 125,000 miles.

JMHO here, but often when one is paying “part” of a bill like this in actuality one is actually paying all or most of it. Why? For this reason.

If Subaru covers the cost of head gasket repair under a legitimate factory or good-will warranty this means the dealer is working under what SOA (Subaru of America) allows and will not receive one dime more than that.

This means that parts/labor the dealer is allowed to be reimbursed for is drastically cut.
Parts? Cost + 25%. Not one penny more.
Labor rate? Discounted often 15-20% underneatht the normal shop hourly rate.
Labor time allowed for the repair? This is where Subaru is notoriously chintzy. The labor rate will often be about 1/3 of what the book calls for; IF the shop is lucky.

When adding all of this up odds are the total parts/labor (600 as mentioned) may not exceed that and may even be much less than 600. Subaru of America and the dealer may not be making much, if anything, on the repair but then again they’re not losing money on it. It serves as good PR though.

An update on this in case it helps others:

We opened a claim with Subaru of America and they covered 25% of the repair cost. Not great, but better than nothing. Apparently there is no guarantee of help up to 125,000 miles.

Some things that might have affected their decision (though they said they didn’t have a “big effect”):

  1. The vehicle has been maintained by independent shops b/c a dealership was too far away (over an hour), including this repair. They “suggested” I take it to a dealership for this issue, but then the dealership would tack on $100 to inspect the problem prior to any decision about reimbursement (i.e., the dealership would not take my independent shop’s word for it). I wasn’t willing to risk adding insult to injury.
  2. The vehicle was fixed after 100,000 miles, although I had documentation for the problem as early as 96,500.
  3. I don’t imagine Subaru coolant conditioner was used in coolant replacements after factory (twice if I recall correctly, at 60,000 and then during the timing belt work at 90,000). They never asked about this, however.

I also have a 2003 Outback which I just was told has two leaking head gaskets at 72K miles. I’ve emailed SOA, but have yet to call them. My dealer quoted me a $1425 price to replace the head gaskets and will do the timing belt at the same time. Whether SOA helps out or not, I don’t know yet, but given the level of chatter on Subaru’s with this problem, it seems that the recall should include some later years (i.e. 2003? other?). I’ve used the dealer and a local independent mechanic (the go to guy for Subaru’s here in town…pricey, but dependable), so my maintainence records are spread across more than one location, but I’ve done all the services. I can’t say I have EVERY oil change receipt. Any thoughts? I was happy with my Subaru up to this point, despite some other earlier QC issues. I was thinking of buying a new Subaru before this happened. Now, I may look elsewhere…

My other question is, if I go ahead and have the repair done without pre-approval (I’m used to dealing medical insurance) would Subaru be any less likely to kick in for part of the repair with the dealer as long as I have documentation? Or is it best to talk to them first to get something worked out (IF)?

When it comes to dealing with SOA I would not trust them for one silly millimeter when it comes to anything verbally.

As an ex-Subaru tech/shop foreman/serv. manager, I can’t even count or remember how many verbal committments I’ve heard from them about a pre-approved repair only for them to turn around the next day and display their amnesia.
Many customers, mechanics (myself included)and dealers have been left holding the bag later.

Work it out in advance and make sure there’s a paper trail to fall back on if they balk later.

Here is a good post from a mechanics blog on the issue: