Which head gasket is best for a Subaru?

March 18, 2010

If you’re finally going to have your head gaskets done on your Subaru it’s only smart to choose the best possible gasket available at that time . For a while the only option was a genuine Subaru gasket. Now we offer a solution that is arguably better than anything Subaru currently has to offer for the phase 2 2.5 engine. Plus you’ll no longer be required to install the Subaru Coolant Additive to your cooling system. Stay tuned for more detail as I add to this blog or stop by in person for more info.

MikeQuite possibly the last head gasket you'll ever need for your Subaru

Updated: June 2010

Six-Star® Head gaskets are a multi-layer stainless steel head gasket engineered to insure years of longevity for your Subaru.

We believe so strongly in these gaskets that we exclusively use Six-Star® brand head gaskets on all of the phase1 and phase2 2.5 engines we repair at Smart Service.

We all know that a head gasket issue can be one of the biggest headaches you’ll ever run into on your Subaru. We only use Six-Star® gaskets at Smart Service when we perform a head gasket repair because we want it to be the final time you ever have to replace your head gaskets.

In our opinion, they are currently the best gasket available for the repair.

In comparison to the original single layer head gaskets your Subaru originally was equipped with, these head gaskets are comprised of three layers of stainless steel. Stainless steel is used for added strength, it’s ability to rebound, and it’s natural resistance to corrosion.  They are constructed of 3 layers. The inner core is a layer of flat stainless steel sandwiched between and riveted to 2 layers of .010 embossed stainless with a flouroelastomer Viton coating.

The Viton rubber coating is one of Dupont’s high performance elastomers. In technical terms, Viton flouroelastomer rubber based material will easily handle temperatures from -40° to over 400ºF with the ability to withstand temperatures up to over 700°F for short periods.

The composition of these gaskets along with the interlocking embossments create unsurpassed sealing properties making Six-Star® Head Gaskets the ultimate choice for your all aluminum Subaru engine.

No More Coolant Additive!

The unique design and properties of the multi-layered stainless steel gasket combined with superior ability of the Viton coating to withstand heat, chemicals and corrosion, it may be last head gasket replacement you’ll ever need for your Subaru engine. Not to mention, you’ll never need to use the Subaru Coolant Additive ever again on your engine.


Subaru Head Gasket, Will Subaru pay for repair?

February 26, 2010
Failed Subaru Head Gasket

Have you been a victim of this?

Many Subaru owners have been faced with the dreaded head gasket failure on their Subaru. There has been much discussion about what the problem is, why it happened etc. I would like to discuss another subject that doesn’t come up often.

Is there any way Subaru will pay for my head gasket repair and how do I get them to do it?

Let’s start out with a few basics and work from there. When you first purchase your Subaru it comes with a factory backed warranty. A 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper and a 5 year 60,000 mile powertrain warranty is standard. If you have head gasket failure within that time you are one of the lucky ones. Once that warranty expires you’re on your own.

Now I would like to share some of my experiences on how Subaru owners whose warranty expired did their homework and were fortunate enough to have Subaru pay for the repair.

For the most part I’ve  found that dealing with Subaru of America is a pleasant experience. They are very straight forward reasonable people that want you to be happy with their Subaru. Unfortunately they have to draw a line somewhere or Subaru would have limitless requests of persons wanting their Subarus repaired way outside of warranty.

In the old days of the automotive industry, we wouldn’t think twice if a car had a major mechanical failure at 60,000 miles or more. At 100,000 we thought it was a major milestone and were ready to trade it in on the next car before it broke down.

With advancements in engineering and higher quality control, we’re seeing Subarus and many other makes go well over 300,000 without any major failures as long as a person has kept up on their maintenance.

Now that  our expectations have been raised on how long a car should last, we’re thrown a bit of a curve ball when our head gaskets fail before we think they should. Especially if one has been meticulous about their maintenance.

If you happen to be a victim of failing head gaskets on your Subaru there are some things that some of our customers have shared with us that were helpful in getting Subaru to pay for the repair even though the cars were technically out of the warranty period.

1. Check with the dealer for any outstanding campaigns or recalls.

A simple call to any Subaru service department with your VIN # will reveal if there are any outstanding recalls or campaigns relating to your head gaskets. There was a campaign ( WWP-99 ) in which Subaru added a coolant additive and would then provide a 8 year 100,000 mile warranty for external head gasket coolant leakage.  Most of those cars are now beyond the limits of the campaign but it never hurts to check.

2. Keep your Subaru maintained and save every receipt.

Even under the factory warranty,  Subaru can deny a claim if they believe lack of maintenance contributed to the problem.  It’s within your rights to have your maintenance done anywhere you like so don’t let them use that as a reason, but you must be able to provide them with documentation that you have met their minimum maintenance requirements as defined in the warranty manual that came with your Subaru.

3. Put together a history of all the Subarus that you and your family may have purchased over the years.

This may be very good leverage to show them that you are a very loyal client. It may even help on a local level with a Subaru dealer you’ve purchased your car through.

4. Call 1-800-SUBARU3

This is the customer service hotline to begin your effort to get help from Subaru. Once you’ve done all of the above, call Subaru and explain your situation. They will likely refer you to a local Subaru dealer to confirm the issue before discussing things further. They will also likely be in close contact with that dealer.You may even want to ask for an appointment with the regional Subaru rep. for that dealer. It may make sense for him/her to be present when your car is being looked at.

From there things can go in many different directions. Here’s a few examples I’ve heard of.

A customer schedules their appointment with the dealer. The dealer confirms the issue then relays the info to Subaru. From there a decision is made whether or not Subaru the dealer will participate in the repair.

Whether they offer to help will usually be related to all of the above items I discussed. Once it’s been decided you’ll either be told no, or they will offer to fix the car. The level of participation can vary .  In some cases the whole repair will be covered by Subaru. In other cases Subaru may say no but the dealer decides to use some of their own discretionary good will fund to help you out. Most dealerships have a fund set aside just for this kind of situation. You may be offered some kind of partial help also. An example may be either a discounted price or a split between you and the dealer.

Keep in mind that if they do opt to help, they will only repair the very minimum that is necessary. If only one head gasket is failing they will only repair one. If that is the case you might inquire how much it would be to add in the second head gasket and timing belt since things will be partially apart anyway and the second gasket may fail in the future.

Smart Service will always be there to repair Subaru head gaskets and we even carry a gasket that we believe is Superior to what Subaru has to offer. If that time comes give us a call and we’ll take good care of you but if there’s a chance that you can get it done and paid for by Subaru it’s worth a little effort.

Based on our customer reports, Subaru is choosing to opt out of helping in most cases but I am writing this because there have been a few that actually did get help from Subaru. The information above is what helped them sway Subaru into partcipating.

If you were  successful for you in getting help from Subaru in an out of warranty situation, please share it with us. We’ll pass it on.


Mike Corbin


Making Head gaskets Last on my Subaru

September 22, 2009

Subaru head gaskets are about as hot of a topic as national health care lately.  If you own a Subaru you know what I mean.

Since the 2.5 liter Subaru engine was put into production there have been thousands of head gaskets replaced across the country. We’ve done a good portion of those ourselves. In another post I’ll go into further detail about the details of Subaru head gaskets but for today I would like to offer some suggestions on how to help prolong the ones you have.

Subaru head gaskets can fail for numerous reasons. Failure of sealant, improper torque, surface imperfections in the cylinder head or engine block and of course heat or excess heat.

I’m going to focus on excess heat. Within the engine block the coolant is circulating to keep the engine cool due to internal combustion occurring. The coolant remains in contact with the metal and is able to absorb heat, travel to the radiator and release the heat to the atmosphere.

Two important things must occur to for the coolant to do it’s job. It must have adequate flow to move the heat away from the internal areas of the engine and it must remain in contact with the areas it’s trying to cool.

There are 3 very important items that may individually have a negative impact on the coolant’s ability to do it’s job. If all 3 components are bad or inferior,  problems could develop even sooner.

Subaru Radiator Caps OLD vs NEW
Subaru Radiator Cap

Subaru Radiator Cap

Radiator cap:

Keeps coolant in a sealed system, allows overflow to exit and return as coolant expands and contracts,  but most importantly it raises the boiling point of the coolant in the system by keeping the cooling system pressurized.  Most radiator caps for stock vehicles keep the system pressurized between 13-15psi. This can raise the boiling point depending on the mix of coolant/water an additional 35-40 degrees.  A 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water has a boiling point around 265 degrees. Add to that a radiator cap that holds 13psi and now you have coolant that won’t boil until 300 degrees .

There are areas throughout the engine where the coolant circulates that become very hot. So hot that it can boil coolant. Since we must have the coolant in contact with the metal to perform it’s heat transfer duties we now have a problem. Scenario: Radiator cap is weak (which we run into all the time on Subarus). A weak radiator cap not holding pressure may not let all of the coolant get hot enough to boil but there are areas within the engine that are now boiling. Boiling coolant has air bubbles that now keep the coolant from contacting the cylinder walls and other extremely hot areas within the engine. This heat is more than the engine and gasket were designed to withstand on a regular basis and thus a situation that will accelerate the failure of the gasket.

Flow of the coolant is important also. To keep from boiling the hot coolant must be quickly moved away from the hot cylinder walls up to the radiator so it can release it’s heat. Below is a picture of a Subaru water pump and also a quality Japanese aftermarket water pump. Although we for the most part believe in genuine Subaru parts, here’s a case where genuine Subaru part’s may not  be the best choice. Note the  stamped steel vanes on the Subaru pump vs the quality cast and machined impeller on the Japanese counterpart. The tight clearances and  defined impeller vanes are very efficient at moving coolant through your Subaru engine. (an interesting side note that  older Subaru water pumps  were made nearly identical to the pump on the right).

Subaru Water Pump1

Genuine Subaru Water Pump VS Aftermarket Japanese Waterpump

Genuine Subaru Water Pump VS Aftermarket Japanese Water Pump


Another important part of keeping the hot coolant flowing out to the radiator and away from the internal hot spots in the engine is a high quality thermostat. I’ve shown below the comparison between a generic aftermarket brand on the left and a genuine Subaru thermostat on the right.


Aftermarket Thermostat VS Subaru Thermostat

Aftermarket Thermostat VS Subaru Thermostat

Note the Subaru version has a much larger spring, larger diameter central area for coolant flow and is made of steel and brass. The generic brand contains copper, a big no no with Subaru. Subaru actually states that copper in a Subaru cooling system is ill advised and may cause excessive electrolysis and corrosion.

Even after trying to be dilligent about providing the best possible cooling for your Subaru you still may need to cross the head gasket bridge some day. If you ever get to that point, Smart Service will have a solution for you. We now offer  new and improved aftermarket head gaskets which we believe will be the last ones your car will ever need. I’ll make a future post with more details about their construction.




Theftproof your Subaru

November 18, 2014

SPD Blotter | Seattle Police News and Events

According to the Seattle Police SPD Blotter, if you own a Subaru 2001 or older, you’re in the top 3 of the most stolen cars in Seattle.

I have a tip that could help slow down that would be thief from being able to start your Subaru. Although some of the older Subarus have became a target, with a little know how you may be able to confuse or slow down that would be thief into passing up your Subaru.

Most thieves will insert a screwdriver type device into a doorlock and just twist until it breaks open and unlocks. Once inside, they hammer out the ignition tumbler assembly and just twist the electrical portion of the ignition switch and off they go.

This tip will hopefully slow them down long enough that they’ll pass on your car and move on. It involves a simple method of disabling the ignition system. Since 1990 Subaru has used a coil pack instead of a distributor to fire the spark plugs. These coil packs can be disabled thus keeping the car from starting. It is located on the firewall toward the rear of the engine.

On a 1990-1999 Subaru model we accomplish this by disconnecting the ignitor assembly. The ignitor is responsible for triggering spark from the coil. If we disable this, the car will only crank over but it won’t start without spark.

Subaru Ignitor 1

Disconnecting the ignitor assembly is a simple process. There is a small tab that you need to squeeze down on while at the same time, wiggling the connector and pulling back on it.

Subaru Ignitor Release Tab

Removing Subaru ConnectorDisconnected Subaru Ignitor

Once the ignitor is disconnected, you may want to leave the connector partially plugged in to make it appear it’s connected just to make it less obvious.

If you own a 2000 or newer model Subaru you’ll have to disconnect the ignition coil pack itself.  It’s located on the top/center of the engine. It has the 4 spark plug wires connected to it as well as the connector that has the signal wires that tell it when to fire.

You’ll be disconnecting that connector as seen below:

Subaru Ignition CoilDisconnecting Subaru Ignition Coil









Hopefully you’ll never have your Subaru stolen but at least you have some good ammo to help prevent or at least slow that would be Subaru thief. Remember, criminals are lazy. If you make something more difficult for them, it’s likely they’ll move onto another car instead of risk being caught trying to figure out why the your Subaru won’t start.

Good luck and just remember to plug everything back in before you drive away!


Tire Time

September 17, 2014

Tiretread           Well now that the summer is winding down and the weather is due to change for the worse any time now, it’s time to check  your tires.  Once you’ve checked all the pressures it’s time to check for tread wear. Your all wheel drive Subaru may climb a snowy hill like a mountain goat on an energy drink but it can only do so if the tires are good.  Take some time and inspect the tread depth at different spots on the tire. There is a simple way to do this and all you need is a penny. Place the penny with Lincoln’s head facing downward. If you can see the top edge of his head the tires are worn to their legal limit and it’s  time to replace them. If they’re getting close you still may consider doing it now instead of when they’re totally worn out. Another important aspect of tire life is the tires age. A tire that still has plenty of tread can be more dangerous than one that is worn out if it has lost it’s structural integrity. Look closely for cracks in the sidewall of the tire and if you’re unsure, have a tire expert evaluate them for you. Think of an old and new rubber band. Side by side they look the same but when you go to stretch them, the old one starts cracking and then breaks. As tires age, and deteriorate due to sun damage, they loose their strength and elasticity also. If you are unsure of how old your tires are, there is a DOT Date code stamped on the tire. Here’s a link that explains the date code in more detail:


Tire Rack article on tire date codes


Be safe out there!

Mike Corbin

Smart Service


Smart Service turns 15! Happy Birthday

May 28, 2014
















Well, this May, Smart Service turned 15 years old. I thought it would be fun to post some pictures we’ve taken over the years for those of you who’ve known us from the start.  We couldn’t have been more blessed to have the customer support that you’ve shown over the years as well as I feel so fortunate to have such a great group of Subaru enthusiasts  working here.

Thanks to your support and a lot of hard work by the employees of Smart Service we’ve gone from a 1 man shop to a 2 location shop with over 13 full time employees.

Thank you all again and we hope to be around for another 15 and beyond!


Take care,


Mike and Samantha Corbin and the rest of the staff at Smart Service including:

A.J. Temple, John Melseth, Ron Mackenzie, Kevin Cyr, Charlie Krieg, Arturo Tolentino, Matt Olsen, Tom Hoag, Dan Rodriguez, Walt Westerinen, Tom Dahlen, Larry Friesner and Lois Rule








Subaru Fuel Smell when Cold

December 4, 2013

This is just a follow up to a prior post about a strong fuel smell on the very cold mornings after the car has sat overnignt.

As the cars age and fuel lines age, we’re hearing this complaint more frequently. In most cases it can be traced back to fuel line connections under the hood.

The fuel lines loose their resiliency when they age as well as the very cold weather causes them to shrink thus sometimes causing them to leak where they are connected to the fuel rails. In some cases it’s found with a mirror and a flashlight. You may not actually see the wet fuel but usually you’ll see some staining on the underside of the hose. Replacement of the hose with new is optimum but in many cases just tightening of the clamp will solve the problem.

If you have an early WRX there was a recall may apply to this particular issue and it could be done at the dealer free of charge if your model is within the recall range. You simply have to call the dealer with your VIN number to see if it falls under the recall.

We hope this information helps some of you out there solve this problem.





2014 Forester is Motor Trend’s SUV of the Year!

October 15, 2013

Forester named SUV of the Year!


Enjoy the link!






Snow Tires for your Subaru-sooner is better

September 9, 2013

Just a quick reminder that if you were thinking of getting snow tires for your Subaru don’t wait too much longer. Once the foul weather hits the sales tend to dry up if you know what I mean. Also, now is a good time to scour craigslist for a used set. I prefer to have a set on rims for easy changeover. The bonus is that many of Subaru’s wheels interchange with other Subaru models.

If you’ve never driven your Subaru with snow tires it’s quite amazing. They may not be necessary for driving around town but if you are frequently going over a mountain pass or skiing it’s a great investment.




Subaru Sunroof leaks in Seattle?

September 6, 2013

Well with the rains we’ve had I’m sure you’re aware if your sunroof on your Subaru leaks or not. If it leaks there are a few things you can check that may help. If you own a 2000-2004 and some water comes out of the map light, there is a Subaru technical bulletin that addresses where to put some sealant to solve it.

There are also some simple things to do if the sunroof leaks. First of all open it fully and use compressed air to blow out any debris from the channel as well as the front drain holes. Once you do this, pour water in the sunroof channel to see how quickly it drains. If it still drains slow you have a problem further downstream.

Usually we find that mud and road silt has built up in the sunroof drain area behind the front fender liners. Once you clean the muck out of these it usually solves the problem.

If it still has issues the headliner may need removal to inspect the sunroof drain lines (any model). Sometimes we find they are kinked or possibly disconnected from the sunroof altogether.

Simply put, the sunroof is supposed to leak water but it’s supposed to catch it and drain it away in all circumstances.


Biggest Subaru Show of the Year! August 6-8 in Longview, WA

August 7, 2013

Come join us at the 15th annual West Coast Subaru Show held September 6th through 8th at the Cowlitz County regional conference center.

More information and pre-registration available at www.westcoastsubarushow.com

One of our staff members, Dan Rodriquez and his friend Chris Walker have yet again, organized another great event for Subaru entheusiasts far and wide. Whether you swing by for a few hours, camp overnight or stay in a local hotel, this is a must do event on the Subaru circuit.

Smart Service will be sponsoring the awards this year.

Hope to see you there,

Mike Corbin





Failed Six Star Head Gaskets in Seattle

June 6, 2013

Recently we ran into a customer that had failed head gaskets in his 2001 Subaru Forester. This would seem somewhat normal except the customer had them replaced 2 years ago at a local Subaru independent in Seattle.June of 2013 the car came into Smart Service with overheating problems. Our diagnostics confirmed that the head gaskets were failing and pushing exhaust gasses into the cooling system.

Upon giving the customer our diagnosis, the customer mentioned that he had them done 2 years ago at a local Seattle Subaru independent.  Since the repairing shop warranty was limited 12 month, 12000 mile warranty, the customer was technically out of warranty so he opted not to return to them, and had us do the repair.

The disappointing part for the customer is the fact he spent over $2100 for the head gaskets to be done, along with some additional misc. work, and they had already failed. His first set from the factory lasted over 100,000 miles and he was hoping for at least this or better out of the Six Stars. ( a reasonable expectation in my opinon) Now there are rare cases in which a part has a manufacture flaw or defect that doesn’t arise until well after a warranty has expired so we went into the job with an open mind that it may have just been a fluke.

We carefully disassembeled the engine, paying close attention to anything that may have caused these gaskets to fail so soon. The coolant and oil was full and clean, all the heads appeared properly torqued down but, when we removed the heads we found what we believe contributed to their failure.  The head gaskets were coated with some sort of “copper coat” gasket compound.

In the picture below you can see the faint outline of the “Six Star” symbol with copper coat spray on it. Also below that you can see a screen shot of the instructions that come with Six Star head gaskets stating NOT to coat them with anything.

Even a Six Star will fail prematurely in instructions aren’t followed


Federal Law Prohibits Denial of Dealer Warranty Service

May 31, 2013
This article explains one of the most frustrating things I come across in the automotive world if not THE most frustrating. I receive calls nearly every day from people that purchase a new Subaru only to find that they firmly believe they must take their car to the dealer until the new car warranty expires.
For example, one of my customers recently told me, “See you in a few years Mike”. When I asked why (assuming they were moving or something like that) they said, “We’re trading our old Subie in this weekend for a brand new Outback so we’ll be taking it to the dealer until it hits 60000 miles then we’ll be bringing it back to you.”  Unfortunately they were under the same mystical spell that many dealers try to cast upon their new car buyers. Below I’ll discuss your legal rights under a new car warranty. 
Since the advent of the internet, new car sales have become less and less profitable for a dealer. It used to be a big money maker but now that the information is readily available about invoice pricing, specials and other dealers prices, it has changed the dynamic of how a dealer has to operate to stay profitable. Sales was always the number one most profitable department and service was just an add on convenience to take care of any warranty repairs and such. As the profit eroded  to just a few hundred dollars per sale, the dealers were forced to make big changes on the way they operated their business or they would soon be out of business.   
Selling tune ups, brakes, tires now became an extremely important part of the survival of the dealership even to the point that many single car line dealers opened up their service department to all makes and models just to survive. Based on a report by Lang Marketing Resources, in 1995 42% of factory maintenance was performed at independent shops while only 19% was done at dealers. Today only 23% is done in an independent facility vs. now 42% is done at the dealer. 

The importance of this issue has put pressure on the dealer to turn a new car sale directly into a new service customer for the dealer. Once you purchase your new car, the nice salesperson will likely lead you directly to the service department to let you know that you can have all of your factory required services and maintenance performed at their dealership to keep the new car warranty valid. They are clever enough to word it in such a way that it may even lead you to assume that in order to have your factory warranty remain in effect you must have the maintenance done at the dealership. A pleasant introduction to the service manager, and maybe a couple of other service staff and you take the bait… hook, line and sinker. You leave with the impression that in order to keep your warranty intact you must have the maintenance performed at the dealer.


Enter the MAGNUSON-MOSS WARRANTY ACT (1975) USC TITLE 15 CHAPTER 50 Chapter 2301-2312

Essentially, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits a new car dealer from requiring that your factory required service and maintenance be performed by the dealer in order to uphold your new car warranty. They can’t even require you to use their genuine factory parts unless they can prove to the Federal Trade Commission that they have the only part that will satisfy the manufactures requirement. For example, they cannot tell a consumer that they must use Genuine Subaru Oil or your warranty will be void. They would have to go through the painstaking process of proving to the Federal Trade Commission that their engine will fail with any other oil other than Genuine Subaru Oil.

Another positive for the consumer as a result of this law is the burden of proof is put on the business providing the warranty. An example of this would be that the dealer is denying warranty work on your engine because you installed aftermarket spark plugs in your engine. For them to legally deny you the engine repair, they would be responsible to prove that the aftermarket spark plugs caused the engine failure.

The law is set up in the consumers favor. If the issue goes to court, the business denying the warranty must prove that the failure was due to the aftermarket component or improper installation thereof. If they cannot prove this, they will not only be responsible for repairing the car under warranty, but also for all court costs and legal fees incurred by the consumer. Once a dealer is aware that their customer is fully aware of their legal rights, they tend to be motivated to solve the problem outside of court unless it’s obvious to all that the problem was a direct result of the aftermarket component.

So what do you need to do to keep your new car warranty in effect? Simply follow the manufacturer requirements listed in the warranty booklet provided with your Subaru and keep good documentation. At Smart Service, all factory required maintenance, parts and service procedures meet or exceed what is required on your Subaru as well as we keep back up documentation of any service or part we provide. In essence, the only thing you would ever have to take your vehicle to the dealer for is a factory required recall or if a covered component fails within the warranty period.

In closing, I don’t want you to leave with the impression that I’m bashing dealers. There are some very good dealers out that there that can provide quality service and repair. What I do want you to leave with is the knowledge that you are not beholden to the dealer ever. You have rights and freedom of choice as a consumer under the Magnuson-Moss act not just with new cars but with ANY new product you purchase that comes with a written warranty.

For more information please visit the link below. It’s an excellent article by the Federal Trade Commission


Magnuson-Moss Act Explained