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Leaky headgaskets in 04 Subaru Forester

I just returned from the dealer where I had brought my 2004 Subaru Forester for its 60,000 mile service. The mechanic noted on the invoice, “Both headgaskets are starting to leak engine oil - $1,700 plus tax.”

So my question is, how long can I let this go (is there any way of knowing this without a crystal ball?) Is this a common problem in Subarus? I’ve taken great care of the car and am disappointed…anyone have any advice?

I have a car with a bad headgasket also and only comment on what I have been told, which is if you don’t get it repaired soon you can expect to have to replace the entire engine. I have also been told it is not cheap to have done and there is no 100% guarentee that it will work and you won’t have further issues down the road.

I would also suggest going and getting a second opinion from a certified mech in your area.

I think that this needs at least a second opinion, and maybe a third opinion.

First of all, there is no known issue with head gaskets on '04 Subaru models, unlike the ones from '96-'02. Second, it would be extremely unusual for head gaskets to leak oil to the exterior of the engine.

If the mechanic meant that oil was seeping into the coolant, that is a possibility. However, if the oil leak in question is to the outside of the engine, then it is much more likely that the leak in question is from the valve cover gaskets. Valve cover gaskets are a MUCH cheaper proposition than head gaskets, and ignoring a leak from a valve cover gasket does not have the dire implications that accompany ignoring a head gasket problem.

I would suggest that you first return to the dealership, and ask them to point out the “oil leak” to you. If they tell you that it is an oil leak into the coolant, there should be a dark, oily line in the coolant overflow bottle. On the other hand, if they show you a leak to the outside of the engine, then it is much more likely that the valve cover gaskets are leaking, rather than a head gasket or two.

Then, seek out an independent mechanic who specializes in Subarus, or at least an independent foreign car specialist who has some experience with Subarus. With any luck, his tests will reveal that there is no problem with the head gaskets. If it turns out that the head gaskets are okay, I strongly suggest that you never return to that dealership.

VDCdriver, I second your reccomendations

Just my opinion here, but I think these Subaru head gasket leakage problems are due to the fact they use aluminum heads/block, fewer number of head bolts, and do not retorque those head bolts (Torque to Yield, or TTY) along with not coating the gaskets from the factory with a sealer; which is what Subaru used to recommend always be done out in the field.

At one point over 20 years ago Subaru used to recommend a cylinder head bolt retorque on certain models with mechanical valve lifters but not hydraulic lifters.
So what happened? The engines with hydraulics leaked oil whereas the mechanical lifter engines did not. Engine blocks/heads/gaskets/head bolts were all the same with the only difference being a retorque on the mechanical lifter motors.

Subaru used to pay for this inspection/retorque at 1000k miles but this was done away with by the bean counters no doubt. TTY head bolts will allegedly never change but I don’t agree with that premise because all metal changes with constant heat/cold cycles and head gaskets have a tendency to do what is called “relax” after being in place for a while.
This relaxation can easily translate to leakage problems and I’ve gone back in on some engines with TTY head bolts and found them to slightly loosened at times.

This problem also occurred with some Nissan models back in the 80s. Nissan took away the head bolt retorque recommendation and head gaskets started leaking oil from the oil pressure port that provided oil to the overhead camshaft.

There’s a possibility that going in and retightening the head bolts could stop this leakage (assuming it’s only weepage from the lifter galley area here) but that’s a wild guess on my part without seeing the car.
Anyhoo, that’s just my 2 cents worth. Or less than 2 cents! :slight_smile:

Thanks so much for all of your comments. I called the dealership back for more info, and was told the oil is not leaking into the coolant, but rather it is outside on the cylinder. At this point it is a very minor leak. The woman with whom I spoke said it was definitely coming from the head gasket, not the valve cover gasket, and it would require a complete replacement of the head gaskets. Guess it’s time to find opinion #2

Be skeptical.
Be very skeptical.

96-2002 were covered by an extended warranty introduced in mid 2003. So they never covered 2003, 2004 which some still had defective head gaskets. Obviously very bad press trying to sell a car.

2005 seems to be a safe year thus far from NASIOC posts and another Subaru forum I visit. Thankfully the turbo engines do not have this problem.

I would not tear down an engine to stop a tiny oil leak.

I certainly would not spend into the 4 figures to cure a small oil leak.
You might consider this.
Valve lash is something that should be inspected on a regular basis, and is often not done.

While getting the lash adjusted have someone simply take a torque wrench and recheck the torque on the head bolts. Odds are the bolts have loosened and snugging them up again may stop the leak in its tracks.

I had the exact same problem - a headgasket leaking oil externally, which the dealer told me about after my 60,000 mile service. I contacted Subaru of America and they had me bring the car back for a “dye” test to determine if the car was leaking coolant or oil. The dealer confirmed it was leaking oil.

An external oil leak is MUCH more likely to be coming from the valve cover gaskets than from the head gaskets.
This is something to check out before plunging into very expensive (and possibly un-needed) head gasket repairs.