Did Subaru Ever Fix the Head-Gasket Problem?

I know the late '90s Outbacks were prone to them. My son just junked a '99 (well, sold it to a mechanic for $800, which some way was a good deal) after the head gaskets failed for a second time. He’s thinking of buying a later model, perhaps '04 or '05, and so we’re wondering whether Subaru ever really solved the problem, which seems to be related to the flat-four ‘boxer’ configuration.

We bought my wife an '07 2.5i Outback last year (used), so this is of more than academic interest.

/Mr Lynn

No, but the other engine builders may be trying to catch up to Subaru. I see that the cylinders on a lot of engine blocks aren’t connected to the block at the top end. You can see into the water jacket almost all the way around the cylinder except where the cylinder is connected to the other cylinder.

This is no way to build an engine if you want the head gaskets to seal. There will be movement and there will be leaks.

I haven’t seen a Subaru block, but if you look in the overhaul section of a manual and it looks like what I described, Subaru hasn’t completely fixed it.

The Subaru engines may be just as good as what is being built today. Ease of manufacture seems to be the goal these days.

Subaru, and many Subaru fans, claim the issue has been resolved. My independent Subaru mechanic, however, tells me he’s seen head gaskets last anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand miles, and it doesn’t matter much what year the car is.

The older 2.2 Liter engines don’t seem to have many head gasket problems, and for some reason the 2.0 Turbo engines don’t, either. I don’t know much about the 6-cylinder engines.

There’s no way to predict head gasket failure, or the lack thereof, on a particular car. If you want the sophisticated AWD system of a Subaru you pay your money and you take your chance.

By all indications, the head gasket problem on non-turbo 4 cylinder models was finally resolved by 2003-04. The six cylinder engines are essentially bullet-proof, and have shown no indication of head gasket problems.

A search finds this site, from a Subaru specialist in Seattle, All-Wheel-Drive Auto, with excellent technical discussion of Subie HG problems by Justin Stobb (very readable, except for confusing plurals and possessives):


Apparently there were two generations of head gaskets, with different problems. Most of the subsequent comments concern 2002 and older Subies, but without reading them all I found this query and Justin’s answer:

Ian Says: ?November 3rd, 2008 at 4:58 am

Hi, I?m researching 2004-2008 Subaru Outbacks. I?m aware the hp differs in each year and there is a turbo. Power is not as important to me as being mechinally [sic] sound. Have you heard of any problems with any engine in this range of years? Or are they too new to tell yet? Thanks a lot for your awesome site, Ian.

Justin Stobb Says: ?November 4th, 2008 at 5:18 am

Hey Ian,? Thanks for the feedback on our site. ?The engine is basically the same from 2000 to 2004 and from 2005 to 2008. ?The big difference is the variable valve train components in the 06 and newer models. ?I would probably steer towards the 05 to 08 platform, the 2.5l is basically the same with some revisions but I feel that overall the 05 and newer seem to be pretty solid at this point.?We saw the 2000 models with gasket leaks by 2004 so to not really see any issues with the 05 models makes me feel pretty good about the mechanical aspects being improved.? Justin

BTW, Justin identifies battery corrosion as a contributing cause of the HG failure! Also, the second-generation gaskets were helped by a coolant additive Subaru developed, which should be added any time the coolant is flushed and replaced. And there are some inherent difficulties with a flat engine, which doesn’t have a lower block for fluids to drain into when the engine is at rest. (However, Justin adds that the boxer engine helps with the AWD and lower center of gravity, so there are trade-offs.) Read the article.

Anyone know of a comparable Subaru expert in the Metrowest area of eastern Massachusetts (between Boston and Worcester)?

/Mr Lynn

Glad to hear your son is still interested in getting another Subaru. Here is a link to a good Subaru site you may like to join.


I believe in 2005 they did for the 2.5L non-turbo engine. I would personally skip the 2004 Outback as it is the older design and not in the same class of car as the newer 05-09 redesign.

I own a 2004 WRX with 2.0L and active in related forums and have never heard of a blown head gasket for turbo 2.0L or turbo 2.5L except where the owner kept driving without any coolant in the engine.

Consumer Reports last I looked shows major engine trouble (head gaskets presumably) up to 2003/2004. 2005 the non turbo engine is well above average.

Mr Lynn,

Post over on this board for your query on a Metrowest Subie mechanic.


Thanks, Cougar (and others). Son is debating between another Subie and a Honda CRV, as they now have a baby and the CRV has more rear-seat room.

Any opinions on that choice would interest him, I’m sure.

I’ll certainly check out the forum site(s).

/Mr Lynn

If your son really needs AWD the Subaru system is plain superior to nearly all others. A CRV is essentially FWD with occasional kick of rear wheels. The problem is it flounders in difficult conditions. Your son may never see them and it won’t make any difference.

Subaru uses a full time AWD system and power is always delivered to front and rear wheels at all times.