What year Subarus had head gasket problems

I’ve read here that a few years worth of Subarus were plagued with head gasket problems. When was that, and when was the problem resolved?

A friend is seriously considering a 2007 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon. The one she’s found is particularly clean and maintenance records are encouraging. Are there any particular problems, HG or anything else, to beware of for this model year? I don’t know the mileage or other details other than it’s an automatic transmission.


1 Like

Consumer Reports shows engine major, engine minor and brakes as major issues for that year. I assume the poor engine repair ratings are related to head gasket and similar issues. Our 03 Legacy wagon was in the middle of the head gasket years, and we had no issues.

Only the four cylinder 2.5L was affected. I did use the Subaru Coolant Conditioner as recommended for our car. No head gasket issues for 153K miles, when it was totaled.

1 Like

Frankly, I’m not satisfied Subaru has ever resolved the head gasket issue completely on the 4 cylinder motors. They just don’t seem to have problems with the 6 cylinders.

We get questions about head gasket issues with late ('07 and up) Subaru 4 cylinders even though Subaru claims the problems were limited to early '00’s models.

Perhaps the 4 cylinders are just too stressed and prone to overheating and head gasket issues regardless of the year made. If I was to ever buy a Subaru I’d buy a 6 cylinder and enjoy the extra power and live with a bit less mpg.

1 Like

“If I was to ever buy a Subaru I’d buy a 6 cylinder and enjoy the extra power and live with a bit less mpg.”


That was the philosophy that caused me to select the six-cylinder model when I bought my '02 Outback.
The difference in gas mileage between that car and my '97 Outback (4 cylinder) was exactly 1 mpg.
In exchange for the “penalty” of losing 1 mpg, I got an engine with a timing chain instead of a timing belt, no head gasket problems, much better acceleration, and lower noise levels in the passenger cabin.

With my 2011 Outback, the six-cylinder engine’s mpg “penalty” is a tad higher, as it is rated at 4 mpg less than the comparable 4-cylinder model in both city and highway driving. However, to be able to accelerate effortlessly onto a high-speed expressway while averaging 23-24 mpg in mixed suburban/highway driving is worth it to me.

I have been able to eke out 29 mpg on the highway, although 27 mpg is more typical for highway drives with the six-cylinder engine. And, the noise level in the cabin is FAR lower with the six, due to both the larger engine size and the fact that the 4-cylinder engine relies on a CVT, while the six uses a “conventional” 5-speed automatic.

1 Like

Subarus has had head gasket issues dating back to the early 70s although the early/mid 70s are another kettle of fish in regards to failure.
Just my 2 cents, but the problem seemed to really surface in the mid 80s when the head bolt retorque was eliminated.

The second generation (94-99) and third generation (99-03) Outbacks seem to be the most notorious for head gasket failures, but there are a number of fourth generation (03-09) Outbacks with failing head gaskets. Over at the subaruoutback dot org site, there’s a log of about 30 pages of HG failures from members and almost all are in the late 90’s. The repairs can be anywhere from $800-$2000 and sometimes Subaru picks up some/all of the cost, sometimes not.

I have an 08 with 78k miles and (knock on wood), it has worked perfectly with no major issues but I am constantly keeping an eye on everything particularly for leaking fluids and checking inside the radiator. A couple of weeks ago, Click and Clack had a caller on their show with an Outback describing the “spike in temp” followed by the other symptoms and before she even finished her description, I said to my wife “blown head gasket”. Sure enough that was their guess too. It made me “appear” really smart to my wife!

The 07 should be good, but it might be a good idea for her to start a “head gasket rainy day savings plan” and save up until it reaches $2000. That way if/when it happens, she can say to the mechanic “I was prepared for that, when will it be fixed” with a smile on her face :).

1 Like

I bought a 2007 Forester used in 2009 (2.5l engine) with the hope that the problems had been solved by 2007, but the ‘black dots’ on CR for major engine problems keep showing up about 5 years after manufacture, now in 2007. So I don’t think the problem was solved by 2007. We haven’t had a problem yet. We’ll see…

Thanks everyone for the feedback thus far.

We own a 2007 Forester and it’s at 60k and today they told us the Head Gasket needs replacing at @2400. Other things will bring the bill to $3k!!!

We feel so let down by Subaru reading about the Head Gasket problems. We had a lemon before and bought this car thinking it would be smooth sailing. NOT!

Since Subaru has a problem…why in the heck don’t they help the owners by not charging so much?

The next repair that comes up, we will dump the car and buy something else. The car is too young to have this kind of problem. This car gets high ratings and shouldn’t when you take into consideration, owners have to pay for Subaru’s incompetence in this design flaw.

1 Like

Why wail for the next repair, you don’t know when it will happen or how much it will be, you will have to pay for it to make the car selleable

1 Like

Classic. Just got off the phone with my mechanic about my 2004 Subaru Outback. Approx. 80,000 miles on it, head gasket leaking. About $2,200 to repair, if I also go for replacing the timing belt and some other work, you know, since the engine will be removed anyway ($1,000 labor). Thanks Subaru! I thought I had a reliable, rugged car, and was planning to give it to my son who started college this year.

Is Subaru doing anything to address this problem?

Also, a few years back we had a real doozy of an electrical problem with the same vehicle. The car was stalling out unexpectedly in mid-ride; very unnerving when doing 40 or so on a city road. Two mechanics and A SUBARU DEALER couldn’t figure it out or declined to dig into the problem. Finally, my very trusted but busy mechanic (Bruno’s Garage, in Pittsburgh) spent a week on it and traced the problem, some kind of loose wire, I can’t remember all the details. They were very proud of themselves (one of the mechanics has an electrical engineering degree) especially since the dealer was stumped.

1 Like

I owned two Subarus and never had a problem but I sold both too early around 120 k so I can’t say the motors were immune. I always wondered about the head gasket problem. There are two of them. Was it one particular side? When they repair, do they repair both of the head gaskets if the problem is bi lateral with no discriminatory factors? If I were a Subaru Engineer, I might tear appart a Porsche and try to learn something…unless they have similar problems. One thing I have been told by my cousin a few years ago who was a service manager for a Subaru dealership. The flat four WILL NOT be abandon for the foreseeable future as it’s an important engineering distinction that separates them from other cars. But, a car that prides itself on overall reliability should do something. Maybe if they sold a bigger share of the company to Toyota they could get some advice. ;=)

Soon, we will start looking at replacing my wife’s RAV and we wll consider a Subaru again. But, it seems that if you compare it to a Toyota you need to accept that history and live with it. Too bad. Otherwise for me, I would choose a Subaru every time. In my experience, if you don’t take care of a Toyota motor well, it will go 150k. If you do maintain it well, it may outlive the body and every other component; sometimes even the driver.

As far as I know the Subaru 2.5 l engine head gasket problem was reduced in 2003 or 2004, but only eliminated (so it’s said) with the complete redesign in 2011, where they went to a design with no coolant passages through the head gasket. Instead there’s a separate pipe/hose that carries coolant to the head, supposedly.

Also they went from timing belt to chain in 2011, a requirement for me now.

1 Like

Eliminated in 2011 ! Good point @Texases when You add, ( so it is said). How much of a sample of higher mileage Subarus have we accrued in the last 3 years ? Precious few.

I have my 2nd subaru - a 2009 impreza, 73500 miles, owned for 3 /2 years. the oil filter was leaking and my husband brought it to the dealer and was told it needed a head gasket - it failed the MSI test (i don’t know what that is). estimate: $1100 for one, $1600 for both; not sure if the cost includes timing belt (an estimated $300 job). I am MAD. MAD MAD MAD. Hubby is wanting to trade in the car (for another subaru - I don’t think so yet)I call an 800 number for Subaru and plead my story. They called the dealer. 90 minutes later (on a friday afternoon, mind you) i had a VM from the dealer that they would replace BOTH head gaskets for warranty price and Subaru of America would contribute $500 bringing my cost to $350/$400 (timing belt would cost an add’l $100). I will complain more often!


Good deal Cheryl, our mechanics love the Subarus around here,generate much needed cash flow,I’m not going to blame the owners,surely everybody didnt have this issue and the ones that didnt,what did they do right? I believe Subaru needs to man up and" dance with the ones that brung them"(the customer) I expect if it wasnt such a premium for it ,more people would have the 6 cylinder engine-Kevin

Jay, you’re a scholar and a gentleman, well, at least a gentleman: thanks for posting your experience and info. I’ve wanted a Subaru but my mechanic slowly shakes his head “no” saying as good of a car as they may be, a head gasket should the life of a car and the failure of these, it’s unacceptable.

I still wonder if the meticulous use of their additive will prevent the problem, but from what you provided it sounds like it may. also, knowing to avoid the 4-cyl is - weirdly, something hrs of research hadn’t revealed. I hope you’re right.


How many miles on yours so far pleae and you wrote in early 2013 about your 07, had it reached 6 yrs or was it a late 07?

almost all of the head gasket problems are with the 4 cylinder engine.

totally agree w/ all you said. $2400 seems higher than other reporter and some my research. Was that a dealer est or an independent shop if you don’t mind me asking. (former Volvo owner I was “used to” - but not happy ~ sorta frequent high repairs on one of them after 130,000. If I had just the one: ie, HG at the 1300-2500$ range frankly I’d be okay with that, as long as there weren’t constant issues