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.

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Mike Corbin

About Mike Corbin

Smart Service is a Subaru service repair and maintenance shop operated independently of Subaru of America or Fuji Heavy Industries. We are a family run business that combine high quality Subaru care, personal friendly atmosphere and a cost savings over the Subaru dealer. We have been supporting the Subaru community since 1999. Follow Mike on Google+.

190 Responses to “Which head gasket is best for a Subaru?”

  1. Hello Mile Thank you for your information I actually need to replace a headgasket on my 2001 Subaru Outback. I took it for a recall on the cooling system but on 04/16/04 at Peninsula Subary, Bremerton WA but they never told me about the head gasket.

  2. Mike-
    My wife’s 2003 Outback 2.5L built in Dec. of 2002 was recently diagnosed with leaking head gaskets (both sides are leaking oil and at least one side (left) is leaking coolant). And supposedly it is also leaking power steering fluid from the “input shaft”.

    I have a two part question, the first is whether or not this car would possibly be included in the Subaru recall for leaking head gaskets?

    And the second question is that I was planning on doing the fix for this car with a friend of mine who is a mechanic. Could you tell me what manufacturer made this gasket that you pictured? And where do I get it?

  3. Will these head gaskets work on 96 – 99 Legacy and or Outback. Why the range of years, I,ll be buying one soon, and chances are I,ll be changing gaskets. Thanks

  4. The Subaru dealer I bought my 99 Forester from maintain my car since then. 3 yrs ago (at 70,000 miles) they said head gasket leaked and changed both gaskets, which I paid for. I was never notified any recalls about it or not told to use special coolent after replacement. Now 30 thousand miles later, I am just told (during a routine minor maintenance check at 93,000 miles)head gasket is leaking and I need to pay for it. I did not accept to pay for it, but 3 weeks later, my car is still with the dealer and I am using their loaner car. They are not able to come with a solution yet. Tomorrow, I am going to the dealer to talk it out and I want to thank you for the information. It will help me to discuss the issue with them. If you can comment about my situation, I also will appreciate it. I always had a very good relationship with them and that is probably making it difficult for them to say no, but I do not think I should pay for a new head gasket and $2800 every 30,000 miles. If I was notified about the problem then, I would prefer to sell the car after the first incident.

  5. I am about to do my head gaskets for the second time on my 2000 outback(150,000). I would like to know why it is better, who makes this gasket and where can I get them.

    Thanks

    Jeff

  6. My son has a 2002 subaru legacy GT–how do I tell if it is a phase 2 2.5? I have a feeling that we have a gasket leak as we loose coolant over time, but it must be very slight. I am just wondering if this car is worth haveing an expensive repair like this done or not. We just put $400 into it to have both the O2 sensors replaced and the check engine has just come on again, which our mechanic claims would likely mean the cat is shot. He really loves this car and I have to admit its a nice ride, I just want make sure we’re just wasting our time and money

  7. Hello,
    I’m unable to tell you if Subaru will participate in the repairs of your head gaskets but I would certainly call their 1-800-SUBARU-3 customer service hotline to discuss it with them.

    As far as the head gasket, they are “Six Star” brand by Northeast Imported parts. We do sell them here and you can call us to order a set if you would like.

    Thank you,
    Mike

  8. We have the same gasket to fit the 1996-1999 2.5L engine. The best option for the 2.2 equipped Subarus is still the genuine Subaru head gasket.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  9. I sympathize with your frustration. That is the reason that we went with an alternative Subaru head gasket. We just saw enough repeat failures that we believed there must be something better out there.

    I understand the difficult position the Subaru dealer must be in. They want to keep your loyalty but it may be expensive for them to keep it. I hope they decide to help you.

    Take care,
    Mike

  10. Hi Jeff, We have them in stock if you’d like to order a pair. Northeast Imported makes the “Six Star” gasket.

    Mike

  11. All 2002 GT’s were phase 2 2.5 engines. I am of the opinion that fixing the car is worthwhile if it is in otherwise good condition.

    I believe that if you crunch the numbers it will be obvious that repairing the car (assuming you like it) will leave you much further ahead monetarily than trading it in on a new one. You compare $3000 bill on a repair to a car you own that will probably last the next 5 to 10 years vs. $3000 down payment plus $600 per month payments for 5 years.

    In most cases the most costly repairs will be behind you once the head gaskets are done. Then just normal wear and tear, tune up expenses etc that you’d still have to do even on a new car.

    I hope this helps.

    Mike

  12. Mike,

    I can’t believe I’m reading this! I’ve been battling a “4th cylinder misfire” for the last 2 years. In addition, the engine coolant levels have been dropping, bit by bit, but with nothing showing on the ground. My mechanic just said, “maybe there is a slow leak around the head gasket, which would also explain the misfire”.

    Who knew?

    I bought the car second hand. It’s got 192,000 miles on it. Probably not worth a new head gasket at this point.

    Oh, well.

    Kim

  13. Yes we do,

    You can call us to order a pair at 206-417-0880

    Mike

  14. hey mike
    thanks for the information. am considering buying my first subaru, i live in new hampshire and it seems the logical choice. i have been inquiring around and am hearing, from sellers of subarus, that the head gasket issues were taken care of in the 2005 models and later. is this your experience? if i went with an earlier model and the head gasket goes is it a $3000 repair? is it cheaper if you replace the gasket as prevention even if its not going? are some models better than others – although they all have basically the same engine, yes? ill keep researching this stuff myself too…

  15. and kim…dont know what model you have or if this effects you – i have been looking into the catalytic converter problems on subies too and thought of your misfire when i saw this on http://www.cars101.com/recalls.html from 10/09 – is this reliable information, mike?

    “Certain 2005-2008 Forester and 2005~2007 Impreza models require permanent removal of the one-way fuel valve located in the fuel tank. The valve is in a sub-chamber in the fuel tank and when the tank’s fuel level drops below 1½ gallons, the sub-chamber is intended to provide a reserve for the fuel pump during vehicle cornering. However, the one-way valve may inadvertently act in such a way as to prevent fuel from refilling the sub-chamber, failing to provide the intended reserve. If this were to happen, the fuel pump could momentarily draw air causing the engine to experience a sporadic misfire condition resulting in possible damage to the vehicle’s catalytic converter. (The “Check Engine” light will illuminate alerting the driver that the catalytic converter efficiency has degraded beyond an acceptable level and may be releasing air pollutants that exceed emission standards.) This Service Program will remove the valve. Program #WVL-22″

  16. I have a 2001 Subaru Forester and have been told there had been a recall due to a failed head gasket. Because I bought this car used I did not receive this recall. What can I do to get this fixed. I have been experiencing problems with this. If I have to pay for it what will it cost me?

  17. Hi Mike, thank you, your a good guy… great info..

    I have a 2001 Forester I bought used in 2005 that was “Brand New” it still smelled new inside with only 4 thousand miles on it. (senior couple owned it).

    Now in 2010 I have 54K miles on it and my story with it over heating will sound like everyone else that has this over heating problem.

    I’ve taken very good care of this car being I’m an x mechanic knowing how important maintenance is to a car.

    When the temp is in the mid to low 90′s the car is fine in heavy traffic, the temp needs to reach to 98 degrees before the temp gauge starts to act up towards over heating. I never made it to over heating because I’ll shut down very fast.

    I wanted to ask you Mike, has this new stainless steel head gasket been used in another engine application? perhaps for other reasons as if a marine engine that uses ocean water to cool the engines? or maybe even another similar vehicle problem.

    Before not knowing that the deal was I thought it was a poor design in air flow in hot weather, so I was going to add a third or a bigger fan with a manual over ride switch to use at will. I’ve seen that done on custom rods and you can actually watch the temp gauge go right down…

    But as this head gasket gets worse I suppose I’ll be fighting a loosing battle in time.

  18. I have a 2000 Outback wagon with 141,000 miles that needs a new head gasket. I am told I should also replace water pump and timing belt and should expect to pay about $2,500. I am trying to decide if I should fix or trade it in for a 2001 or newer model with less miles. The car will soon be paid off. A NOC senosr and front CV joints have recently been replaced and oil has been changed regularly. Transmission seems fine but is that next? Any advice on the “fix or buy” question? Thanks!

  19. I should add that I discovered it running really hot one day and had to drive several miles before I could get off the freeway and get some more coolant in the radiator. What are the chances I have done serious damage to the engine? I took it to Walker Subaru and they of course are interested in selling me a car. They said they will take mine with its problems and sell me a 2001 with 87,000 miles for nothing down and $250 -300 month for 36 months.

  20. We see that the newer the Subaru, the fewer the frequency of head gasket of failure. I agree with you that 2005 and newer seems to be slim to nil failure rate. We haven’t seen any issues with the 05 head gaskets and newer yet at our shop. I have heard of a couple 05 failures from my friend at a local Subaru dealer.

    If you went with an earlier model, mentally keeping $2500 set aside for a future repair would be prudent. I’m not a believer in replacing head gaskets that are not leaking just as preventive maintenance but, if there are other looming repairs such as engine oil leaks, timing belt needs that would be costing 2/3 or more of the full head gasket expense, it may be best to just get it done then.

    Good luck with your Subaru purchase. I’m sure once you’ve done your research and chosen the Subaru that best fits your needs you’ll be a Subaru owner for life.

    Take care,
    Mike

  21. I think before making any changes you have to confirm what the actual issue with your Subaru is.

    If the car is running near the red because of failing head gaskets (either loosing coolant externally or having exhaust gasses pushed past the head gaskets into the cooling system) adding another fan will be a waste of time.

    If your head gaskets, thermostat etc. are in good mechanical condition, the fans are coming on when they should etc. I would check to see if you may have a restricted radiator (either internally or externally-bugs dirt).

    The multi layer steel gasket we offer for your Subaru is a style of gasket that’s been used in the automotive industry for quite a few years now. The design and materials are what set the quality gasket apart from the average gasket. The same company that designed and manufactures the Six Star head gasket also designs and manufactures head gaskets for NASCAR and other racing applications so they have lots of experience dealing with extreme conditions. I do not know if they are used in marine applications.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  22. Whether or not this particular dealer action affects your particular Subaru is something I can’t answer without your VIN but the WVL-22 Subaru Recall Notice is a valid recall.

    I advise you to call your local Subaru dealer service department with your vehicle VIN # and ask them if there are any open campaigns or recalls on your vehicle. I also advise any Subaru owner to do this from time to time since mail intended to notify you of recalls or campaigns may not always get to you.

    Happy motoring,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  23. I think your price point for the repair is in the ballpark as far as complete Subaru head gasket jobs go. If it’s done for much less then there are probably corners being cut.

    The decision to fix or trade in depends on the condition of your car and if you’d like to make car payments for the next 3 years on a Subaru that will eventually come up with the same problem in my opininon.

    If your 2000 Outback is in reasonably good condition and has been properly maintained than you’ll be much further ahead monetarily to repair it. (If I had it done I would recommend using the Six Star gaskets so you won’t have to do it again in the future). The fact you overheated it may or may not have an affect on the repair price. If it overheated enough to damage the block you would then be closer to the $4500 price range for the whole repair since it may necessitate replacing the short block. If it was disassembeled and the engine block was found to be warped, we do have an in-house method of repairing it if it’s not too far beyond factory specs.

    $2500 can be paid of in 8 months at $300 a month. (most probable scenario)
    $4500 can be paid off at $300 per month in 15 months. (worse case scenario)
    2001 Subaru… 36 months and it will likely still need head gaskets in it’s future based on what we’ve seen so you can add another $2500 in future expenses to that one along with usual wear and tear expenses.

    I hope this helps you come to a decision that works out best for you and your Subaru

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  24. I believe the 3.0 H6 cyl has better chance to survive this head gasket problems than the 2.5

  25. Raphael, Although there are far fewer H6 equipped Subarus out there, they have now been around since 2002 and between both of our Subaru shops we have only seen a couple of failures. I believe if we were to compile statistics, the H6 would have an extrordinarily lower head gasket failure rate than the 2.5 equipped Subarus that are out there. We’ve seen a similar quality on the WRX Turbo 2.0 and 2.5 engines. They seem to have a significantly lower failure rate on their head gaskets also. Maybe another good topic in the works…..

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  26. Mike,
    I just stumbled upon this site. I own a 2004 Legacy Outback 4EAT that I bought 2nd hand in Jan 2006. It had about 60,000 miles on it and now has 100,000. I took it into the dealership 6 months ago and they told me it had the head gasket leaking and that it would cost me $3,500 to repair. I took it to another mechanic for a 2nd opinion and he said I should call Subaru North America and insist they cover it under WWP-99…despite the fact that only cars thru 2002 were covered under that recall. He also told me this “conditioner” they instruct everyone to put into the engine is just a gimmick…just particle filled liquid to prevent the leak. What do you think?

  27. Hi Jonathan,

    Here’s a link to another blog that goes into more detail on how you might approach it:

    http://www.smart-service.com/blog/2010/02/subaru-head-gasket-will-subaru-pay-for-repair

    I believe it’s worth calling Subaru at 1-800-SUBARU3 customer service to explain your situation.

    As far as the “conditioner” being a gimmick… I don’t believe it’s a gimmick but an attempt at a more cost effective way of reducing the number of head gasket leaks on this particular engine(thus reducing possible damage to their reputation). It may serve to fix or minimize the symptom but may not address the cause. Subaru doesn’t have the same deep pockets as Toyota and I believe it’s unlikely we’ll see any kind across the board head gasket replacement recall. I could be wrong but I doubt it. Especially in a situation where a majority of the failures are occuring beyond the 5 year 60000 mile warranty provided by Subaru when a person purchased the car.

    Good luck with Subaru corporate!

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  28. I own two 2003 subaru foresters and both are having head gasket issues. The one had a complete failure in February of this year after noticeable leakage for 3 years. There was a severe internal leakage as well which I feel has been responsible for poisoning the oxygen sensors and cat. So after a $2800 gasket repair I need a $1600 cat repair. The second forester with half the mileage is currently starting to leak as well and it has started throwing cat efficiency errors as well now. Very disappointing. I’ve recommended subaru to several friends over the years and they have purchased outbacks and foresters. Can’t say I’m confident in recommending them anymore as the service costs are comparable to poorly designed North American vehicles. Gave my son the repaired sube, my wife is slowly destroying the other sube and I’m now driving a honda civic. (my first ’89 civic lasted 12 years before it was totaled by a hit from behind and I spent less than $3500 total to maintain it for those 12 years. In fact, this contributed to my decision to buy a Japanese built subaru… how ironic!)

  29. I’m sorry to hear of your woes. I think most Subaru entheusiasts are in the same boat as you and I in saying that we’re all very disappointed by the amount of head gasket failures we’ve seen thus far. I also agree with your opinion that the coolant over time may have lead to the failure of the catalytic converter and O2 sensor.

    I hope someday Subaru is able to redeem your confidence in their product. We really love what they offer and there still isn’t a better designed AWD system in existence in my opinion.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  30. I am looking at buying a 2003 Outback that appears to be in excellent condition with just over 32,000 miles. Is there a web site I can go to that with the vin number, or prior owner information can find out if the recalls were taken care of?

  31. For information on title, mileage and recalls on your Subaru I would purchase a Carfax report (www.carfax.com). I would follow it up with a call to the dealer with the VIN # and request if there are any completed or outstanding recalls.

    I would also avoid any Subaru that shows a “rebuilt” or “salvage” title.

    Last but not least, make sure you have a Subaru specific shop inspect it before you sign on the bottom line.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin

  32. Hi

    I am looking at purchasing a 2006 Impreza should I be worried about a head gasket leak in the future?

    Thanks

    Elise

  33. My ’03 Forester @ 90,000 miles was doing hilly commutes 54 miles round trip for 2 years here in NJ at which point overheating on thermostat dial started occurring. My Sube mechanic topped off the coolant, replaced thermosstat & did the timing belt 2 years ago. This month in city stop & go traffic, the car overheated again. This worked for awhile. @ 126,000 miles, after numerous opinion, mechanics chemically analysed the coolant & found positive hydrocarbans, meaning oil leaking secondary to gasket leakin. When engine revved up, saw bubbles in the coolant reservoir. Just spent $1900 on mechanic labor to replace gaskets. Time to trade?

  34. Hi George,

    I think it may be a worthy investment to have the head gaskets replaced on your Forester if the rest of it is in overall good condition. Subarus frequently go 200,000 miles plus once the head gasket issue has been taken care of. Let’s say you spend $1900 on the head gaskets and another $500 on misc. other repair/maintenance that might make sense to do while the car is being worked on. You compare that to the diminished trade in value the car has in the condition it’s in along with what you would have to come up with for a down payment to replace the car and it’s a no brainer (espescially when you consider the car payment you will be avoiding).

    Now, if budget is not an issue and you just would like to own a newer Subaru that better fits your needs, it may be a reasonable time to part ways with your Subie.

    Good luck on your decision what ever it may be,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  35. Hi Elise,

    I wouldn’t be too concerned with head gaskets on a 2006 Impreza. We have seen very few of them fail and they seem to be holding up better than the prior model year Subarus. As with any Subaru, I recommend having it fully inspected by a reputable shop before making the purchase.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  36. Just stumbled across you blog while doing a search on Subaru head gasket problems. I have a 2002 Subaru Outback Sport with 172K. Last night driving home from work, the radiator overheated, the reserve cap blew spewing this yellow mustard colored liquid all over the interior of my engine compartment. Yup…the head gaskets blew. And I’m not sure why the coolant was so dirty. Was not aware of the head gasket issues prior to this. Looks like I’m in for the full expensive repair, but going to call the Subaru customer service hotline with high hopes. Just wondering if anyone has had problems with Subaru service centers refusing to put in non Subaru genuine parts as the Six Star Headgaskets seems to be the way to go.

  37. Sorry to hear the news C.J.

    If Subaru does opt to help you out, I’m sure they’ll only use their own gaskets since it’s the only way they would be able to warranty the work on the head gaskets. It’s the same most places you would go. If a shop can’t use what it feels is best for the job they may opt to do it but they won’t stand behind it.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  38. I have a 2001 Subaru Forester, received the recall a few months after buying the car. Took it in to be addressed by Subaru dealer. Always kept up on all the required maintenance. Now 9 years later and out of warranty the head gaskets leak and had to be replaced, which I paid a pretty penny for Subaru to do. Today while talking to a friend that is a certified Subaru mechanic he gave me some interesting information regarding this recall. In order to avoid eating the costs of replacing head gaskets under warranty, Subaru came up with this additive which contains some pulpy stuff that would stop a leak should one develop in order to stall the inevitable need to have the head gaskets replaced, hoping that this would happen out of warranty so the customer would have to foot the bill. This is a bit underhanded to me. Do you know if I would have any recourse to get some kind of reimbursement for that head gasket job?

  39. Hi Susan,

    To the best of my knowledge, if your Forester was included in the recall in which they added Subaru Coolant Additive to the cooling system in order to prevent the head gaskets from leaking it also gave you an extended head gasket warranty for 8 years or 100000 miles (whichever came first) on external coolant leaks from the head gaskets. If there is a chance Subaru will help with the cost of the head gaskets, it is usually decided before the job is done. Since you’ve already paid for the job it may be more difficult to get financial help. I would still call 1-800-SUBARU3 and explain your situation to see if they may elect to help you. It’s worth a try at least.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  40. Hello Mr. Corbin:

    I’m happy to report that I was able to get some compensation from Subaru. It came to 50% of the work for the head gasket. I’m pleased with the settlement as I paid a lot to get that repaired and 50% is better than 0%. It’s nice to know that Subaru does work with its customers even when the vehicle is out of warranty.

    Thank you for your blog!

  41. Susan, that’s great!

    If there’s any other helpful information on how you got them to participate in helping you, please feel free to post it. It may help someone else in a similar situation.

    Cheers,

    Mike Corbin

  42. I picked up an 02 Impreza 2.5 SOHC. I noticed a coolant leak on the back of the Driver’s side head(uv dye helped). I noticed oil leaking too, so I bought some UV dye for the oil and discovered the bottom of the head was also leaking oil. I don’t know what the series cut off points are, but am curious if these gaskets cover my car? It is an early 02 build, and EJ251 is the engine number on the dataplate.

  43. Hello Mr. Corbin:

    I went to their website Subaru.com then went to the bottom of the page and saw “Contact Us”. I’ve used this form in the past when I wrote them about how well my Subee performed after a trip I took. Anyway, I filled out the form and almost word for word what I wrote to you is what I wrote to Subaru. Based on my experience Subaru is a decent company they want customer loyalty so they’re willing to work with their customers. Apparently their policy is 50% when out of warranty. Don’t know if I would have gotten more or nothing at all if I pressed my issue.

    The main thing is: Keep to the facts about the issue and be able to back it up with a dealers work order. They will want copies of the work order in question. It contains a wealth of information that they’re looking for to make their decision. They don’t answer e-mails right away, usually takes a day for a response, so be patient.

    This whole process was resolved in less than a week because of e-mail and a scanner. I should get the check in 2 weeks.

    Thanks again!

  44. Hi Mike,
    Original owner of a 2001 Forester with 150k on the clock. Started smelling sweet a few months ago. My (former) mechanic couldn’t diagnose it. My new one did; externally leaking head gasket. Never has overheated. I confirmed that the SB WW99 was applied (in 2005 at 74k miles). I never got a notice to have the conditioner replaced at each 30k coolant interval recommended in the manual. So, I probably didn’t get that from my various mechanics.

    Would adding the conditioner now seal the leak?

    When I called Subaru NA, at 800.SUB.ARU3, they listened to my sad tale and declined to assist in the repair. I absolutely want to know what Susan did to get some help! They only would offer me a $750 rebate on a new car. 150k is normal performance these days. My Mazda Protege started dropping body parts at 160k, but motor was going strong. Wife’s 1990 Camry was traded in at 160k for the Forester. NOTHING was wrong with it.

    I’m mostly convinced by your repair arguments above. Any suggestions as to what all to do to it while heads are off? Can I make it more fun to drive without getting crazy?
    Timing belt and water pump are ones I’m planning already, but those won’t add fun.

    This car also burns up tires. Mechanic told me alignment is not adjustable.

    This is quite a helpful resource, thank you.

  45. I am in the market for a Forester. I have a couple of 2001s and 1999s in mind. All with 112,00-130,00 miles on them. We are on a budget of $4500 and was wondering what may be the best choice based on years? We definitely do not have $2500 to spend on head gaskets….
    Thanks!

  46. Thanks for the info. I hope it’s helpful for other head gasket suffering Subaru owners.

    Mike

  47. Hi,
    They really are pretty much identical vehicles, engine, trans etc. There is no one year in that range that is better than another.

    I would just pick the one with the prooves best upon mechanical inspection.
    If one of the 4 has already had head gaskets completed recently it may be the best option as long as they were either done with Six Star or Genuine Subaru head gaskets.

    It think your budget of $4500 will give you a reasonable selection to choose from.

    Good luck and make sure you have it inspected before making the purchase. If anyone is too busy etc to let you do an inspection, walk away.

    Good luck!
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  48. Hi Kris,
    I posted Susan’s reply today on what worked for her. Sorry Subaru has declined to help you thus far.

    As far as making any fun improvements while it’s apart, there isn’t too much you can do at this without thousands of dollars. By the way, Subaru alignment is fully adjustable front and rear on Subaru Foresters so you might take it to a different mechanic.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  49. Hi Ryan,

    The Six Star gaskets we offer do fit your engine. Keep a close eye on your coolant level until you are able to fix the issue.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  50. Thanks Mike.

    Do you recommend using new head bolts when doing the head gaskets?

  51. I have a 2002 Forester with the 2 phase 2.5 engine, 79K miles, that has been diagnosed with external head gasket failure. I got the recall notice and conditioner was added at about 17K miles, and at 30K service, but not at 60K service at an independant. After talking to SOA, they offered $500 toward service. The dealership quotes warranty price of $1,200. If I add in the timing belt and water pump, it brings the gross price to about $1,500, or a cost to me of about $1,000. The dealership says they will pull the engine. I’ve been quoted a price for all that of about $2,200 at a very reputable nearby shop that will use the Six-star gaskets. What do I do? Is it worth the $1,000 to $1,200 extra for a Six-Star gasket? If I buy the Six-Star and take it to the dealer will they install it? Are the replacement Subaru gaskets better than the original? Is the job performed at the dealer likely to be decent?

  52. Hi Tim,
    I’m glad to hear Subaru is offering to do at least something for you.

    If you’re going to keep the car long term (which I would think make sense on a Forester with only 79k) I would opt for the full package with the Six Star head gaskets.

    The dealer is probably only going to replace 1 head gasket in their repair and eventually you will need to do the other side anyway. I do believe that the genuine Subaru head gasket that is being used now is much more reliable than the one that was originally in there.

    I don’t think the dealer will use anything other than genuine Subaru parts since Subaru is participating in the repair.

    Bottom line, if it’s a nice Subaru that you would be happy to drive the next 5 or more years I think it would be a sensible investment to have the engine pulled, have both gaskets replaced along with the other seals and gaskets relating to the job. Just make sure the shop you are having it performed at makes sure that the cylinder heads and engine block surfaces are perfect and have a RA finish of 50 or higher (machine shop term for roughness average).

    Feel free to call me if you need any more advice.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  53. Great question Ryan.

    This is an interesting topic. Subaru does not specify anywhere that their head bolts must be replaced if they are removed. On the other hand, Six Star recommends replacing them with their new head gaskets.

    In my opinion, if making head gaskets last were as easy as just using new head bolts when doing the job, Subaru would have recommended it a long time ago. Since they don’t recommend it I think that says alot about there opinion on the imortance of the head bolt in the whole formula.

    I think replacing the head bolts is an outstand precaution that eliminates the possibility that the old bolts are somehow stretched or flawed but I don’t think it is a requirement.

    I don’t have hard numbers on this one but in general I haven’t seen any higher failure rate of head gaskets on vehicles that did not use new bolts vs. vehicles that used new. The biggest reason we’ve seen cars that come in to have their second set of head gaskets replaced is that there were imperfections in the cylinder head and or block upon assembly that kept the head gasket from sealing as well as it could have.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  54. Hey Mike, I just purchased a 97 legacy with the 2.5 with 117 k on it. The owners told me that the head gasket, water pump, and radiator were just changed about 5k ago. They gave me the reciepts for proof. Just recently my subbie has developed a knocking noise. I am hoping it is not a rod or rod bearing. Could anything have been done to develop this when the gasket was installed? Do you have any suggestions on what I could check that would tell me if there is a bad rod or rod bearing? Would checking oil pressrue tell me? Could it be a knock sensor? Timing belt pully? How can I decifer what this sound is?

  55. Hi Chad,

    I’m sorry to hear about the issue with your Subaru Legacy.

    I don’t believe that anything during the repair would have caused the knock unless the car was just plain started and run without oil.

    To check for a bad rod bearing, remove each fuel injector connector one at a time while the engine is running and the noise is evident. If the sound goes away or diminishes significantly then you’ve found your cylinder.

    Also, there can be a knocking noise on a Subaru 2.5 that relates to some slack in the hydraulic tensioner ram that keeps tension on the timing belt. It usually will be in the front/center of the engine only on startup after sitting overnight. It is best to have the timing covers off when listening for this one with an automotive stethescope.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  56. I stumbled across this site in my search of info about failed head gaskets. I have a 2002 Subaru Legacy which started having problems at 56k. Based on what I found here and elsewhere I called various dealership to find out if there were any outstanding recalls on my Subaru, which they claimed there weren’t (but I had already read there were). To repair the head gaskets I was given quotes ranging from $2,000 to $3,000.

    To make a long story short, I called various dealers. Of them, only one said there was a known head gasket problem. He further volunteered the following info: Subaru will pay in full to have the head gaskets replaced if you are the original owner of the vehicle and can show you performed the first major maintenance at 30,000 (I think it needs to be w/ a dealer but if you have records to show you did it elsewhere, I’d definitely try to get reimbursement from them!). I know others have gotten partial reimbursement from SOA but try to find a dealer to go through and see if he can get you full reimbursement, which this guy did for me. Obviously I’m going to throw some business his way in the future, so we both wind up winning.

    Anyway, hope this helps others.

  57. Very nice.

    I’m pleased to hear any time that Subaru will step up and fix the head gaskets at no charge to you. Once again, it pays to do your homework and be persistent. I’m disappointed that the other Subaru dealers you approached didn’t at least acknowledge the head gasket problem.

    I hope your experience is helpful for others out there trying to get help from Subaru on their head gaskets.

    Cheers,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  58. Hello,
    I own Subaru Legacy 2003 2.5L and am the first owner and am being Canadian. Unfortunately none of the above are supposedly refer to the Canadian clientele and owners of Subaru cars.
    I stumbled across this site,too, to look for more info about these leaking head gaskets. The mileage in our Subaru is close to 146K but still, didn’t expect to have any problems so early with my car.
    I am afraid that I will have to replace head gaskets on both sides, because I am loosing coolant quite a lot.

    I would want to know if there is a slight chance to get partly reimbursed by Subaru Canada? Anyone knows?
    It will be of great help knowing that there is such a possibility.
    Thanks a lot for your help,
    cheers,
    Alex.

  59. Hi Alex,

    Not sure what Subaru of Canada’s policies are with warranty repairs but the good thing going for you is your low mileage (146k kilometers? about 90k miles). The campaign/recall in the United States stipulated that if the coolant additive recall was performed that Subaru of America would warranty the head gaskets for coolant leakage for 8yrs or 100000 miles, whicever came first. I would start by calling your local Subaru dealer to see if they can help. If not call your nationwide Subaru customer service number. I hope you have luck with Subaru of Canada and some help in replacing those head gaskets on the 2.5.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  60. Mike,

    Nice blog here…hoping you can help. I recently did an engine rebuild and used Six Star MLS gaskets. I had to remove a head after the head bolts have been torqued (engine was not even cranked over – still a long block). Can these gaskets be reused in this case?

    Thanks!

  61. Hi Mike, I just found this site while searching for failed head gasket information. Noone seems to be too sure what is wrong with my car. I have a 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon with 2.5l turbo and 196,000kms. I bought this car 1 year ago from the original owner. Since overheating the first time in August, I noticed that my reserve tank from the radiator was quite dirty and realized the second time(November)it was in fact oil, however, there is no evidence of oil in the radiator.How would it get to the reserve tank? The car has overheated 4 specific times. The last time being this past Friday, and the weather certainly wasn’t warm here in New Brunswick!(The car is parked for now.) Once the car is stopped, it heats right up and blows radiator fluid out the purge hole from the reserve tank. I don’t seem to be leaking any fluid. Should I bother with the thermostat? Or, once the repair is begun, how probable is it that the heads will be warped? Also, does the six star gasket fit my model? Thanks for the information. ( As well, I was just about to have the gas tank replaced, should I bother?) Kelli

  62. Hi Nick,

    I would not recommend using the Six Star head gasket after it has already been torqued (nor any coated MLS gasket for that matter). The sealing surface may have been compromised as well as the raised embossments. For the price it’s cheap insurance just to use a new one.

    Take Care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  63. Hi Kelli,

    It is probable that the oil in your recovery tank is from the radiator and cooling system. Remember the oil always floats to the top. You’ll also probably find your radiator cap seal is swollen from being in contact with the HC’s. (hydrocarbons). I wouldn’t waste time with your thermostat. If you’re gushing coolant is is probable that there is a significant failure of the gasket forcing combustion in the cooling system and forcing coolant out. A quick sniff with an exhaust gas analyzer will probably show high amounts of hydrocarbons in the system.

    We do sell Six Star gaskets for that engine. From the sounds of it yours may be more severe and I wouldn’t be surprised if the heads and block are warped beyond specs.

    It’s a bummer but from your info that’s my best guess without seeing it.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  64. Hi Mike,
    the Subaru recalls website had a link to your site. We have a 2002 Forester which needs new gaskets. We have just over 100,000 miles on it. We never received anything from Subaru about recalls before, or what to do to prevent problems. We’re taking it into the dealer on Saturday for them to look at it. Any chance, do you think, they’ll cover the repair costs?
    Thanks,
    Sara

  65. Hi Sara,

    From other postings I do think you have a fair chance of Subaru at least helping out with the head gaskets. I could be wrong. It’s possible that they’ll bring up the fact that it never had the recall and opt out of helping. You never know. It may come down to your relationship with the dealer that it’s at.

    Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  66. Hi Mike,
    Great blog – and I apologize if my question was answered in here somewhere and I missed it but….I actually had the head gaskets in my 2001 Legacy replaced in 2004. My dealer said it was a recall issue and fixed it at no cost. Apparently I have a head gasket issue again now.(115K miles total) That doesn’t seem right – is it?
    I’ll put a call in to Subaru but also if you think replacement is a realistic possibility, do you have a recommendation for a service center in Denver?
    Thanks,
    Nancy

  67. Hi Nancy, Sorry to the head gaskets done by the Subaru dealer may not have held up. I know it doesn’t seem right that the head gaskets have failed again but depending on the workmanship etc it can happen. Your Subaru Legacy is a good example of why we switched to a non Subaru brand of head gasket made by Six Star which we have had great long term success with. If you are having it done again you may check to see if that is an option. Usually a Subaru independent shop will be more likely to use them. Most Subaru dealers will only use the factory head gasket.

    Sorry but no recommendations for a Denver shop. I do know that there multiple independent Subaru shops in the Denver area though so just ask around.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin

    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  68. I had a 2000 Outback w/ failed head gaskets at approx 105K. Had kept up required maintainence and could document it. After the repair was done I contacted Subaru of America at the dealers recommendation and they were willing to split the cost and sent me a check for $750. Shortly after, I bought a 2006 Outback. I was assured that the problems w/ the head gaskets were a thing of the past. Unfortunately, my 2006 is now in the shop having head gasket replacement at 93K.

  69. Well… I’m sorry to hear about your Subaru troubles. I am not surprised by the head gasket failure on the 2000 Outback. I am a bit surprised about the head gaskets on the 2006 Subaru though. We’ve seen a couple but it has been a much lesser frequency than the rest of older Subarus pre-2005. I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch on this one to see if it is just a few of them or if it develops into the same issue of not if but when will I need to replace my head gaskets.

    Again, sorry to hear of it but if done properly your Subaru should be good to go for many thoundsands of trouble free miles.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Subaru repair in Seattle

  70. Mike,
    I have a 2001 outback and the head gkt is leaking like the rest. I like my outback but my mechanic said to get rid of it now. He put stuff in it to help stop the leak too. So far no more leak but the engine light stays on probably because of this. The dealer said it will cost 2000.00 to fix. I would rather buy another car. I did not know there was a recall and subaru dealer didn’t tell me. Suggestions on what to buy that it’s a good car to trade for? Would get another but can’t trust them now.( thanks

  71. If you are looking for another Subaru I’d suggest a 2006 or newer. These seem to have a much lower head gasket failure rate thus far for what I’ve seen throughout my shop. Also if you are looking at other makes and models, I suggest purchasing an online subscription to Consumer Reports. (about $25 per year). This will allow you to review all makes and models new and used.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  72. Mike – Mine is a 2003 Forester (VIN manufac date is ’02) w/141K, manual trans. Started smelling odor like hair burnt in a hairdryer a few months ago; mechanic found no problem. Started smelling antifreeze outside car after operating; no signs of leaks in engine compartment or on ground. When weather got very cold (below 20), could smell antifreeze inside car if I turned on heat as soon as engine started; had to wait at least 5 minutes to turn on heat to prevent odor inside car. Also had problems stalling, esp. in reverse, & the radio failed to turn on once. After each stall, must turn off engine & pump clutch at least once before it’ll start again. Checked engine compart again; battery fluids OK, powdery buildup on contacts, no sign of coolant spray/leaks, but coolant in tank looked like oil. Took to mechanic & he said 1 head gasket is leaking; he wants to replace both sets “because they’re the same age & the other might leak too”, and also suggests replacing timing belt & H2O pump even though they were done at 90K “because we’re gonna be removing them anyway”. He replaced the coolant & did an oil change for now while I look for 2nd opinions. Does his diagnosis sound legit? How about the course of action/repairs he suggests?

  73. His diagnosis sounds legit for for the loss of coolant and oily coolant recovery bottle. All the other problems are a random mix of things that I have no idea where to begin without seeing the car. The water pump and timing belt are a good thing to do if you can afford it but if not, they should still last since they were only done 50k ago. (a timing belt is good for 105k miles).

    Good luck

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert, Shoreline Washington

  74. Thanks Mike. The stalling is apparently due to a bad spark plug & wire, which might account for the burnt hair smell as well. SO I guess from your answer that I’ve gotta redo the head gaskets…rats! The estimate was $2100!

  75. Hi Mike,

    You would not believe what a godsend finding this site is to me.

    I have a 2003 Impreza Outback Sport (249k miles) with a myriad of problems that all seem to stem from the head gaskets.

    I have replaced the engine @ 230k miles with a 2.5L from a 2006 Impreza Outback Sport that had 40k miles on it, and now, at a total of 59k miles on it, the head gasket has warped beyond belief, my cat system has killed out three O2 sensors (haven’t been able to figure out why until now), and I’m looking at 2500 plus in repairs to fix this all.

    I wouldn’t be so sure about those 2006′s being more stable. I think it’s just that not many people with 2006 and newer have over 150k miles on them and so these issues aren’t prevalent yet.

    Here’s where I’m straight up frustrated and GRATEFUL because now I know I’m not alone.

    On the original engine I had to have the heads remachined and new gaskets put on at 100k miles (which was in 2005)–I was in Bowling Green, KY and there were no Subaru dealerships close and the only Subaru mechanic in town didn’t mention anything about a recall or issue on this problem.

    I am the second owner of the car (bought it from the first owner at 96k miles, who had records of every maintenance done, which was everything required maintenance you can think of, and the records of it done through the local subaru dealership). When I purchased the car, I asked about any recalls and they said they had never received anything from Subaru. I did my own research and nothing had come up about a recall of this nature.

    Now I don’t know if that was because in 2005 the 2003 models hadn’t experienced issues yet because the car was still so new or what. But I do know that when I had the heads remachined, it was because the Nissan dealership (which partnered with subaru even though it wasn’t officially a subaru dealer any more) couldn’t get new heads for my car because they said Subaru hadn’t made any replacement parts at that time. Whether that is a crock or not, I ended up out of my car (driving the dealer rental which my insurance paid for) and stuck in KY for a week (I travel for work and use my own vehicle) while waiting for the heads and head gaskets to be fixed/replaced.

    Now that original engine ended up throwing a rod–mechanic said that the piston was literally launched through the engine, kind of like an arrow through a heart. So bye bye original engine.

    Enter the picture, current engine. I had the old engine replaced with this used one in spring 2010 (which came from a totaled 2006 Impreza Outback Sport w/ same specs) and then commuted from LA to Las Vegas twice a week over the summer. On occasion, I would also be assigned to Death Valley. This is in the middle of summer where it’s 125+ degrees Farenheit in Death Valley. So, naturally, after driving from LA to Death Valley with the AC on, and noticing that the car is starting to overheat, I would turn the AC off, turn the heat on, and the car would stop overheating, or at least not overheat as much (temp gauge would show a little over half way between hot and cold). I thought this was odd, but when I would get to Las Vegas, it would stop overheating and I could drive around town w/ the AC blasting and didn’t have any problems. After consulting with my mechanic, he found that I had a slight oil leak, though he couldn’t figure out exactly where it was coming from. Said not to worry about it unless I started noticing my oil going down considerably.

    So, then this winter… I’ve been in a Utah winter for late 2010 to current where the snow and cold have been very cold and the car is still overheating. How a car can overheat at 6 below 0 is beyond me. Anyway, long story short, I was driving and noticed when I stepped on the gas, my rpm’s 0′d out and it took pushing on the gas three or four times before it would take to the gas and go. This lasted all of about 1/2 mile (thank gods I was on the way home when this happened) and it died in my driveway.

    Next time I tried to start the car, white smoke is blasting out of the ignition and I notice a slight leak under the engine, which was not oil. Radiator fluid is full, and I couldn’t figure out what would be leaking. Didn’t look like transmission fluid either, and definitely not anti-freeze. So I got together with my brother and law and after he checked a few things, he confirms what I thought…head gasket is blown…

    *note* The check engine light has been on for a year with this error that the O2 sensor is bad…AGAIN…the THIRD O2 sensor that I’ve replaced in three years has gone bad..not to mention I’ve replaced two of the three catalytic converters since 2005.

    So…now my dilemma. I have already been through enough engine repairs with the previous engine and am concerned that after another 150k, I’m going to be replacing the engine again, even after fixing the head gasket. I’m already at 250k on the original car, though have replaced struts, wheel bearings, brand new tires, etc…

    The question is, are there any known reports of issues with the 2006 engines going through and throwing a rod after 250k miles even with maintenance and regular oil changes???
    And what’s with the cat system eating the O2 sensors yearly?!?!

    Thank you soooooooo much for this site! I absolutely ADORE my subaru and have this total attachment to it, but I am getting ready to cut my losses and get a newer one…I can’t keep forking 2500-4000 every couple of years in repairs…and if that’s what the forecast for this Outback Sport is, she’s going to have to go…

    Peace…

    Ted

    Also,

  76. I have the head gasket problem on a used 1997 subaru legacy outback wagon 2.5 DHOC that i bought 2-3 years ago. It overheated a couple times after i had it a couple months. Took it to 3 or 4 mechanics and they found no problem. I remembeed from several years about bad radiator cap causing overheating so i put on a new cap and car did not overheat untill here recently when over heated 4 or 5 times getting very hot. I would drive yntill the teop gauge went to Hot the shut engine off and coasted untill it came to stop then waited untill it cooled some the done same again untill i got it home. Put new rediator cap with no change this time so it looks like head gaskets are blown. I have a backyard mechanic who will do the job at reasonable price but i need to furnish parts. Since i am on SS I AM looking to find parts at reasonable prices. Seen your blog here about the newer design head gaskets but cant find the price. What is the cost of the new design head gaskets?

    Thanks
    Mike R.

  77. Hi Mike,

    I’m sorry to hear of the head gasket issue with your Outback. The Six-Star head gaskets for your Subaru are available on our website and are $101.74 for the pair. You’ll want to order the set for the Phase I DOHC 2.5 engine.

    http://www.smart-service.com/store-head-gaskets.html

    I hope your backyard mechanic is well qualified because it’s a very technical job and any variance in the procedure could mean they won’t last.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA

  78. Hey Ted,

    For a 2.5 to throw a rod at all is a rare exception on any Subaru other than possibly the 1999 2.2 engine. Usually the only engines we see throw rods have been run low on oil or abused and as I said it’s very rare. As far as your 02 sensors? I don’t know. Are you using genuine Subaru sensors? As far as the cat’s go, they themselves don’t harm the O2 sensor at all. It’s whatever is going out the exhaust like possible blowby or coolant going out the exhaust. It’s normal to get 50-100k out of them.

    Not sure if this helps you make a decision but at least it’s more information to ponder.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  79. I am fortunate to have found this site. Mike you appear to know the details of this issue. Luckily I am also just across the pond in Bellevue. I’ll be seeing you folks soon for a set of those gaskets.

  80. Hello Mike, you have given fantastic information here and I certainly do appreciate it. I just purchased a 2002 Subaru Forester L, 2.5 with 92,000 miles. I have driven the car over the last few weeks and it drives fantastically. From time to time I get a scent of anti-freeze. Other times I do not. I have checked the level a couple of times and all seems where it should be. This vehicles was owned by 2 other people prior to me. This scent of anti-freeze I get the signs of the head gasket leak or could the scent come from the anti-freeze reservoir? Also I have had no signs of any type of overheating or at least from the gauges. The vehicle is in excellent condition in and out and plan to keep as long as possible. If you deem necessary I would like to invest in the 6 star gaskets. Lastly, I have a great local mechanic and shop, done lots of work on different cars I have had. Would you recommend that Subaru do this job if needed or go with my own shop? Thank you so much for your time.

  81. Hello, I would suggest you have the underside of the vehicle closely inspected along the head gasket seams to see if there is any coolant residue. There isn’t a smell that comes out of the coolant resevoir.

    If it does ever need them replaced, the Six-Star is the best option I know of at this time.

    Good luck,
    Mike

  82. [...] Which head gasket is best for a Subaru? | Smart Service Subaru Blog __________________ 1997 Outback 2.5L DOHC [...]

  83. We use the Six-Star MLS gaskets.

  84. Mike,
    I purchased my Subaru Forester new in 2002. Before the waranty ran out I noticed a slight antifreeze smell an loss, but only occasionally. I took it to the dealer and they informed me that they could not find a problem but the problem continued. Now at 102,000 miles the antifreeze loss has increased and I have developed an oil leak. I can only assume the head gaskets have failed. I contacted Subaru and they informed me that they were not aware of any such problems which as you and I know is a lie. No consumer confidence here. You might say this is my first and last Subaru.

  85. Hi Steve,

    Before giving up on Subaru as a whole, I suggest you contact the 1-800-SUBARU3 customer service line. Your experience may be a result of the individual dealer not wanting to address the issue.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle

  86. Hi Mike,

    I am currently looking for a Subaru to buy (1st Subaru) but had come across nothing but bad news about the head gasket, O2 and Cat issues. Just wondering if a 2003 forester with 250,000 kilometers with bad gaskets (causing fluid to be pushed out of overflow), would be a good buy. If I bought the vehicle, at a good cost of course, and replaced the gaskets with the 6 star. Would it be a good decision considering the mileage or should I stay away from this all together? I’m just wondering because I’m not sure what kilometers should be expected from a Subaru engine. Thanks for your time and input.

  87. Hi Mike,

    It could be a good buy if you buy it for a good price. The problem is unless you know the history of maintenance and how badly it’s overheated in the past, there could be some costly complications beyond just replacing the head gaskets with Six Star gaskets. If the maintenance was poor, you may end up with a car that burns oil etc even if you repair the gaskets. Also, the overheating can weaken the rings leading to oil consumption. You also don’t know until the engine is apart what shape the block is in. If it was overheated badly it can warp the block surface and the individual cylinder roundness. At that point you may as well install a new or reman shortblock along with doing a valve grind on the heads. If you get it for such a good price that you could still afford to install a complete engine and still be in it less than it’s worth then it may still be a good deal. (assuming the rest of the forester is mechanically sound)

    Good luck, Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle

  88. Hi Mike. I am praying you can help me figure out what to do. I have a 2003 Subaru Legacy that has 114,000 miles. Last year I had to replace the water pump,some belts and a muffler. About 8 months ago I noticed that when I ran my car to warm up it would bring a burning smell into the car. I then noticed a drip or two every once in a while of oil on the ground. I took my car to a place that only work on Subaru. They looked my car over and said I need a head Gasset replaced with a price of $1600-2000. I did not have that kind of money. They told me I had time to save up money and get fixed later. Before I hand over that amount of money I took my car to another shop. They told me it was seals that were leaking. So now I am confused at how it could be 2 different problems. But my question is that it is now 8 months later, if it is my head Gasset is it even a good idea to fix? Was there some damage done to the motor if the coolant was now in there. I dont know if I pay out $2000 and find out my motor got out of wack or what ever else could have been happened from driving around, my car has lost its get up and go.Is it too late to get my car fixed? Please help me!?! I am clueless to cars and to how long it was ok to drive with needing the head Gasset replaced? Please help me decide if it is not too late to repair or should I not bother putting the money into car?

  89. Hi Natalie, Understand if it’s the seals and or gaskets leaking on your Subaru will help determine what to do. In many cases when the head gaskets are leaking, you are able to smell some unpleasant smells from either hot oil or coolant on the outside of the engine evaporating and entering through the ventilation system. It is probable that with that mileage, both the engine seals and head gaskets are leaking. How bad is the question. It does sound worthy or repair since ith only has 114k miles and to your knowledge has not overheated yet.

    The price is reasonable for the amount of work that must be done (about a 2 day job).

    Good luck ,
    Mike Corbin
    Seattle’s independent Subaru expert

  90. My 1999 Subuaru Legacy 2.5, just purchased came with brand new head gaskets and typical parts replacement overhaul (water pump, etc.)
    As soon as I got it home, there was evidence of a leak, so they took it back, apart and replaced the head gaskets again.
    After 700 miles, my check engine light went on. THe first symptom was the temp gauge shot up, and dropped to normal in a second. then gradually got hot. I drove it in and asked for the solution, thinking thermostat or fan switch.(I never lost coolant) My guy said “head gasket”. My hub began driving it for short trips over a 2 week period, no problems over 200 miles. Check engine light comes on again, I take it tro someone different who determines a blocked radiator—replaces radiator,thinks problem solved. I drive it home- 18 miles later, gets hot again. Anyone have any ideas about this? We are frustrated and can’t invest a lot more money in this car.

  91. I think it’s going to come down to the quality of the diagnostics. If someone is not thorough there can be other issues that cause the problem to return. The first step is to test for hydrocarbons in the cooling system with an emission analyzer. Then, if there are hydrocarbons, no radiator, thermostat etc will ever solve the problem until you resolve the fact that exhaust gasses are being pushed into the coolant.

    On a Subaru, the engine is aluminum and there are various things that can occur that damage the aluminum surface so that the head gasket does not seal well. A hairline crack in a cylinder that was overlooked during the repair could cause the symptom. An overly agressive mechanic cleaning off the old gasket material could damage the surface thus keeping the gasket from sealing properly etc. Also just poor quality gaskets and or installation procedures can lead to repeat failures. Did the shop measure the cylinder head and block surface before re-assembling the engine? Warpage of the aluminum due to heat can also contribute.

    Now, if there are no hydrocarbons in the cooling system, a thermostat, radiator or waterpump certainly can manifest the symptom you are talking about. Not likely, but you can’t rule it out.

    I recommend making the engine block surfact is perfectly clean and have no gouges, imperfections or warpage beyond .002in. Same goes for the heads. If the cylinder heads have a groove worn where the gasket compression ring is or is warped, it should be machined also.

    I hope this helps you get to the bottom of the issue.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  92. I have a 2008 Subaru Legacy Sedan 2.5i that I bought 7 months ago at 88k miles. It had high miles due to a salesman that had it. I have had the oil changed 3 times now and was told today that my head gaskets are seeping oil and that they would keep an eye on it but if needed to be replaced would cost 2100. I have many problems with this whole situation, mainly being this car doesn’t have that many miles on it and I just got it less than a year ago. How is that a powertrain warranty doesn’t cover head gasket problems? Have you seen any other 08′s with this problem? I can’t seem to find any other person that has had a problem with the 2008 Subaru Legacy.

  93. Hi Heather,

    The price quoted for the head gasket job is about in the range I see. I like the idea of keeping an eye on them because at this point they are just an oil leak. If they didn’t qualify how bad the oil is leaking you may want to find out more details. We’ve seen many Subarus with oil residue around the head gasket that wasn’t much of a leak and it tended to just ooze over the years without ever failing. It may be years or many miles before you ever have to replace them. If they said coolant was leaking, I would be much more concerned.

    Also, the powertrain warranty does cover head gaskets. Unfortunately you are beyond the 5 year 60000 mile warranty (unless you purchased and extended warranty)

    As far as any 08′s with that problem…. I haven’t seen any yet (although yours does have much higher mileage compared to the ones we see at our shop which tend to be still in their 5/60 warranty)

    I hope for your sake it’s just a minor seep and isn’t anything to worry about. If they do ever fail and need replacement in the near future, it never hurts to call 1-800-SUBARU to see if they will help even though it is out of warranty.

    Take care,
    Mike

  94. I think I’m going to have another mechanic who I trust do a compression check on the engine and see if anything comes up. They only said it was seeping oil and to not stress out about it yet, but of course that’s hard to do knowing it could cost 2100 to fix. Is it true that the head gasket is made out of aluminum? I know that aluminum breaks down after awhile and isn’t the strongest material for an engine part. It sounds like Subaru should be sued for all the problems people have had with head gaskets over the years! Thanks for getting back to me quickly and if I have any other questions I will send a comment.

  95. P.S. They did say there was a crease but I didn’t get the details as to where the crease was. Would that be the seal? And could the seals just be replaced and fix the seeping problem. Still learning about how the head gaskets are set up.

  96. I also have a 2003 Forester less than 60,000 miles on it to date – just local driving. I am the sole owner and it was bought new and well maintained. Recently, I noticed what I noticed what I thought to be oil dripping from the driver’s side under carriage. Took it to our mechanic who diagnoised it with a leaking head gasket!!! This (honest) mechanic suggested that we contact Subaru because it was unusual to have head gaskets laeking on a vehicle with less than 60,000 – especially a Subaru!
    We contacted Subaru Of America headquaters in N.J, and they required all my maintenance logs to be sent over to Subaru headquarters, and the vehicle would need another inspection at an authorized Subaru dealership. The Subaru dealership found that not only one head gasket was leaking, but (now)the other gasket was seeping also! We could not believe this! SOA offered $500.00 in repairs toward a $1,700.00 repair. Fear of further damage to the gaskets, we had the repair completed at the Subaru dealership. After the repairs were complete I discovered(on-line)that many other 2003 Forester owners were experiencing the same “gasket problems” with vehicles 60,000 or less. I decided to write a letter to Subaru and ask them to recall these models, and to do the “right” thing cause it’s the right thing to do! I also said there are many LOYAL Subaru owners experiencing this same situation and they are frustrated too. Today I received a letter from Subaru stating that ” Subaru does not warranty the head gaskets as part of their warranty!! And by giving me a $500.00 goodwill repair gesture, they have fulfilled their obligation in full and have gone beyond” (exact wordage)
    I was so dissapointed to read this from a company who is well aware of head gasket problems in many of their models. We may need to contact a government agency that may determine this to be a recall issue. I just sold a 1996 Honda – never a problem – regular maintenance was all it required. I suggest each person reading this who has head gasket issues write a letter to SOA headquarters in N.J – maybe they will get the message! So deeply dissapointed in Subaru of America at this point. This Forester was a birthday gift from my husband!

  97. Hi,
    I urge anyone who has had head gaskets isuues in any of their Subaru models to write a letter to SOA headquarters in N.J. Attention D. Schwartz. I also found a government agency Recall.Gov that you can file a complaint. Subaru must do the right thing concerning this head gasket issue: Issue a recall on your faulty models – you owe that to your loyal customers!
    J. Juirs

  98. Hi Heather,

    Subaru does not use an aluminum head gasket, rather a steel one. You may have been mistaking the fact they have an aluminum engine.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  99. Not sure about a “crease” either.

    The main thing is if it’s only seeping, just have them keep an eye on it. It could be a matter of years before any repair becomes necessary.

    Mike

  100. Dear Lucia,

    I’m sorry to hear of the head gasket issue with your Subaru Forester that has so few miles on it. I understand your frustration but I am glad to hear you did get some help from Subaru. I wish they were able to do more for you. Others haven’t been quite as lucky.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service

  101. Hey Mike,

    Great site, lots of info. I have a 2000 Subaru Outback with close to 150,000 miles on it. I am currently living in Mexico at the moment. About three months ago, I hit a tree branch that had fallen in the middle of the road. Put a hole through my grill and damaged the hood and the radiator. Supposedly everything was fixed. Since finally getting it back, it has been randomly overheating which it has never done before. Another weird thing is that my alarm system (didn’t know I even had one) comes on when I lock all the doors and unlock with the key and lift the door handle. This is totally new. I don’t have a remote, and when I lock all the doors from the drivers side and shut the door it beeps, as it always had, but now when I try to open the door it goes off. Which as I said never happened before. When I got it back the battery was totally dead. That was when I first noticed the alarm issues. Anyhow, everything is fine with the car. New thermostat, new water pump, radiator is fine, heater core flushed, and still it randomly overheats about every two weeks or so. Also when it overheats the air conditioner stops working. Could this be an electrical issue? Maybe a shorted module that services these components. Headgasket? I have no idea. My mechanic here thinks it might be some electrical issue dealing with the alarm system. Thanks,

    Landon

  102. we just had our 2001 legacy outback engine rebuilt is it advisable to add coolant additive. The heads were torque different then subaru’s spec’s. The shop that we had engine rebuilt at has not had any head gasket failures.

  103. Hi David,

    If the head gaskets are genuine Subaru gaskets, then I would advise the Subaru Coolant Conditioner each time the coolant is renewed. If they are other than Subaru gaskets, I would not use it.

    Take care, Mike Corbin

  104. Hi Landon,

    I think that you should have someone check for exhaust gas in the radiator. If the head gaskets are failing, it can cause air pockets in the cooling system thus overheating the vehicle without actually having a leak. I doubt it’s an electrical issue unless they forgot to hook up the electric fans that should come on at 208F.

    As far as the alarm goes, you may want to by a keyless remote and have it programmed to the car. The car originally has a keyless entry system.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  105. I need to know if my 2001 subaru legacy outback EJ 2.2 engine is an interference or a non-interference

  106. Hi David,

    It will be an interference engine. It should also be an EJ25 unless you are outside of the U.S.

    Mike

  107. Hi,
    I have a 2000 Outback (92K miles) that I just noticed has lost it’s coolant. None is visible in the radiator and there is just an inch or so at the bottom of the overflow container (cold). I don’t see any visible coolant leak nor have I smelled coolant. I have not (yet) seen overheating. The last time I checked the level was about 2 or 3 months ago and I thought it was OK. Is it safe to replenish the coolant and drive a bit to get a handle on how bad the leak is? Also, if I add coolant, should it be genuine Subaru coolant? Would I also need to add some conditioner?
    Thanks,
    Larry

  108. Hi Mike and whoever else cares to reply.
    I have a 2003 Forester with 11,500 miles on it. We bought the car at Wilmington Subaru (now out of business) with about 30,000 on it in 2005 and no extended warranty.

    My mechanic informed me that I had a leaky left head gasket along with a power steering leak and leaks in 3 parts of my exhaust system.
    Now I get a recall for lower control arms broken at hanger brackets due to corrosion caused by road salt.
    My mechanic told me to have a Subaru dealer Inspect the front lower control arms and they are bound to see above mentioned leaks. He said let them inform me about the other problems and to work out a deal with them: probably just for the gasket issue. Who knows? Total estimate for all repairs around $5,000 which is roughly what we owe in on it.
    Should I have another Subaru dealer look at it first or call 1-800-SUBARU3 and feel them out about the issue.
    If I can get half of or at least $500 off, mentioned in above posts, that would help just a little.

    My main question is what’s best way to approach Subaru about this.
    Thank you,
    Doug

  109. Hi Larry,
    When you suspect that you may have coolant loss on your Subaru here’s a couple of steps you can take. First of all after the car has been sitting overnight (before starting it) remove the radiator cap and top off the coolant until it is full to the brim. Install the cap and then add coolant to the overflow bottle until it is just above the bottom line on the bottle. Monitor it’s level for a few days first thing in the morning. Check the radiator and the overflow. If the level remains the same for a few days, increase the duration between when you check it to see how long it takes before you need to add coolant.

    It isn’t always head gaskets that cause coolant loss on Subarus. It can be the fact it just wasn’t topped up properly at it’s last service, a coolant hose that has a few drips from around a clamp, a water pump etc.

    I hope you are fortunate and don’t need head gaskets yet.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  110. Hi Doug,

    Wow, that’s low miles for a 2003 Forester! First of all, what kind of leak were you told of? If it is just an oil leak at this point at the head gasket, there’s no need to to much at all. It will ooze and eventually get worse but could take years and many miles. If it is coolant than I suggest moving foward with repairs. As far as exhaust, I’m not too much of an expert if it’s corrosion related. Out here in the Northwest they don’t salt the roads so we don’t see the complications that arise with exhaust corrosion and underbody components. If the power steering is leaking the question is how bad. I think that the first step is a second opnion to evaluate the nature and severity of the head gasket and power steering leaks. The exhaust leaks may speak for themselves. You may save some money on the exhaust by having a good exhaust/welding shop repair the sections instead of replace the exhaust. It may eventually need it but exhaust shops can be pretty creative.

    If you do find that the head gasket is leaking coolant from the left side I would then call the Subaru customer service # and see about assistance.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert

  111. Hi Mike,

    I have a 1998 Subaru legacy — It had 117, 800 miles when I bought it, with a blown headgasket.

    Since then I had my mechanic (known since 1999) fix the headgasket and a bunch of other issues — Cost $1600 + Tax — 12/08/11 — Drove it home — worked Fine for 2 days — started overheating again — Drove it back to the Mechanic — replaced the radiator — $300. Now it is still overheating again — I hear a bubbling/crackling sound before the Temperature starts going up again. I stop the engine — for 10 min — Turn the heater on high and restart the motor, and it drive fine until the same thing repeats. What Can i do at this point ? Any help would be greatly appreciated !

  112. Hi Leonard,

    Wow, what a dilemma. My first thought is to just ask for your money back. Not everyone is the best at repairing Subarus. If something was overlooked, done wrong, poor quality parts used etc. it may be in your best interest to stop where you’re at and start over elsewhere. Not knowing the shop, your relationship etc with them and their Subaru knowledge it’s a hard question to answer.

    Keep in mind that every time the engine overheats it can do potential damage to the engine block, piston rings, cylinder walls and cylinder heads. If you have to keep taking the car back over and over and continue to overheat it, the engine could become unrepairable at some point.

    The shop may have made an honest mistake and want to stand behind their work but you have the tough choice of deciding how many times you want them to try. All in all it sounds like you paid for a repair to solve a head gasket leak that has not solved the problem and you’re either entitled to the company repairing their work under warranty or just refunding your money so you can try it again elsewhere.

    I hope it goes well for you.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Everett and vicinity

  113. I have a 2008 Subaru Legacy with around 64,000 miles. The head gasket has developed an oil leak and it causes a very bad burning smell. I am wondering if others have this same problem so early? Also, would you suggest the Six Star brand gasket for this model year?
    Thanks

  114. Hi Mike,
    First off I’d like to suggest that you contact 1-800-subaru3 to see if they will help. Your car is new enough with low enough miles I think you stand a chance of dealer participation. If they don’t help an you’re on your own, Six Star is a good way to go.

    I hope Subaru gives you some help.

    Mike

  115. [...] you'll be fine if you use the right gaskets. I've used, and recommend, Six Star MLS. See here: Which head gasket is best for a Subaru? | Smart Service Subaru Blog The 2010 EJ has a revised head gasket, but I haven't heard/seen if they've employed a MLS gasket, [...]

  116. I sure wish that you guys had a shop in Milwaukee! I have an 02 with a slightly leaking head gasket.

    Early in the questions [Sept 28, 2010] you said that the head and block surface for the six star gasket replacement should be RA 50 polish. But later [July 7, 2011] you said they should be machined if they were warped or there was a “crease” from the embossed area.

    So my question is: Do you normally machine the heads or do you normally just clean the heads prior to installing the six star gaskets. In other words, is the surface from the manufacture acceptable for the six star gaskets assuming that the heads are not warped or show any deformities.

  117. Hello Mike,

    If any machine work must be done on the head or block, a final finish of 50 RA (roughness average). If the block is disassembeled and there is no warpage or imperfections in the head or the block, the factory surface is acceptable. We find that more often than not, at least the heads need resurfacing.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA

  118. Hi mike,
    In order to machine the block, does it have to be completely disassembled? Is there a way to keep metal out of the short block while machining it?

  119. There’s no perfect way to machine the block without the chance of some metal making it down in the bore. Most machine shops want you to provide block without pistons.

    Ask your local machine shop. They all have a little different way to go about things and different equipment setups.

    Mike

  120. Hi Mike,

    I have a ’98 Outback Limited bought used in October ’04 w/82,000 miles. The head gaskets and timing belt were replaced by a dealer in February ’05 ($1400.00). Over the next 7 years (80,000 miles) I’ve invested in a new starter, 4 struts, 2 cats w/sensors, another timing belt, water pump, thermostat, miscellaneous boots and gearbox fluids.

    Currently the power steering pump is leaking but I’m not complaining and intend to fix that also because I love the car…..but I hate the engine which two days ago started overheating.

    Based on my observation of the engine’s operating characteristics, I suspect I’m pushing exhaust gas into the cooling jacket.

    Are Six Star head gaskets my “final answer”? How much do they cost compared to the OEM’s? Is there any other/additional engine repair procedure(s) you can suggest that would increase the opportunity for me to perhaps move on to some body work?

    Mike

  121. Hi Mike,

    I believe that currently the Six Star head gaskets is the best available choice for your Subaru. Although there have been a few reports of failures it’s the closest you can get to a “final answer” in my opinion. Items that help insure that they last include having the heads and block machined to a 50ra finish or better cleaning the threads for the head bolts and properly oiling and torquing the head bolts. You may not necessarily need the block or heads machined but if we’re going for perfection that would be the best you can do.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Seattle’s Subaru Independent since 1999
    Seattle Washington

  122. Thank you so much Mike. I definitely intend to give Six Star gaskets a shot. I read above that they’re about $100/pair (reasonable when considering a $1500 – $2000 job). I just need to find a reliable mechanic who will install them without causing other complications. I understand that the engine needs to be pulled to perform the job and honestly the thought of anyone besides the dealer doing something like that causes me a little concern.

    Also, I was just wondering, how long have Six Star gaskets been available to Subaru owners? Because I managed to get approximately 6 years/80,000 miles out of my last head gasket replacement, or at least I THINK I did (complications caused by a failing water pump made it hard to tell exactly WHAT was going on with my engine), I am curious to know whether there are any blogs from Subaru owners satisfied that they have used Six Star gaskets. Or is it too early to expect to hear from a Subaru owner that’s gotten say 100,000 miles out of Six Star gaskets and swears they’re the best thing since fuel injection? :-)

    Mike

  123. Hi Mike,

    My Six Star gaskets are on order and by the grace of God I managed to find a mechanic (more like shop owner by day, top fuel drag racer by night…this guy probably rebuilds engines like I change my socks) that I feel comfortable giving my car to knowing that what I consider to be major surgery will be performed. Anyway, this man seems enthusiastic about giving me a good job and is willing to work with me regarding the use of Six star gaskets.

    However, he has asked me the following questions:

    Is there any special type or brand of coolant recommended for use with Six Star gaskets (you’ve already stated that Subaru coolant conditioner will not be necessary) and are the manfacturers bolt torque specifications still applicable? If not, what are the bolt torque specifications when using six Star gaskets?

    Mike

  124. Hi Mike
    I believe they’ve been around for about 3 1/2 years now (possibly longer but that’s how long we’ve been using them).

    As far as finding happy end users, you’ll have to do a little google searching on that one.

    Take care,
    Mike

  125. We prefer Subaru coolant (but no additive). Also, included with all the Six Star gaskets there is an instruction sheet on the proper torquing procedure.

    Mike

  126. Great. Thanks so much Mike. My gaskets are due to arrive on Monday. You’re doing a good thing for a lot of Subaru people.

    All the best.

    Mike Daniels

  127. [...] I recommend reading some material: Subaru Head Gasket Problems Explained. – Seattle Subaru Repair Which head gasket is best for a Subaru? | Smart Service Subaru Blog Good [...]

  128. I agree with most everything being said here.
    I’ve done at least 15 Subaru head gasket jobs over te last 3 or 4 years. I never ever do one without resurfacing the heads.
    I have used factory Subaru head gaskets, Felpro, but never the one being recommended here.
    I’ve never had a failure after resurfacing the heads regardless of the gasket brand used.
    I’ve had great luck with Subaru engines. I usually buy only Subaru’s with bad headgaskets because they are cheap and fixable. In fact the Subaru head gasket job is pretty simple after you get the hang of it, and stay away from the 95-99 dohc. Its a nice engine but soooo much more of a problem to deal with.
    For the life of me I do not understand why diagnosing a bad hdgskt is such a big deal. Bubbles in the radiator give it away. Simple as that.
    And every subaru made is going to need a hdgskt eventually. Lucky they are a simple fix.
    But give me an old 2.2 any day of the week. Noninterference and built to last. Why did Subaru ever change that design? what were they thinking about?
    Ive defaulted back to 95 nd 96 2.2′s. Impreza or Legacy, doesnt matter. Best thing they ever made.

  129. [...] to check out the info here: A Better Subaru 2.5l Head Gasket in Seattle – Seattle Subaru Repair Which head gasket is best for a Subaru? | Smart Service Subaru Blog BTW, any and all of the Six Star parts are highly recommended, so I have been told by mechanics [...]

  130. Steve,

    I’m glad to hear of your success on repairing the head gaskets whichever brand you use.

    Take care,

    Mike

  131. I found low coolant level in my 99 Outback during a routine fluid level check about a month ago (down about a quart, no prior overheating). I topped it off, and since then I’ve had 3 separate overheating incidents – gauge shoots up rapidly and I shut down and coast to a stop immediately. Overflow tank will be full upon first checking under the hood. After letting car cool down for a half hour, it all gets drawn back into the radiator and I end up having to top off very little – or not at all. I can cruise on the highway for several hours at 75-80 MPH, no overheating while doing so – but almost guaranteed to happen as soon as I pull off the exit. I don’t have an exhaust gas tester,but have used a radiator pressure tester in an attempt to diagnose the problem. No pressure leak down after 10 minutes. No rapid rise in pressure when starting the engine. Pressure rises slowly, when temp gauge has settled at it’s usual just-under-halfway point, pressure will be at 13 PSI. That’s the rated pressure of the cap,and my tester verifies it is opening at that pressure. This seems like a problem to me – it implies that the cap will be open the whole time I’m driving and allowing steam to escape into the overflow tank – eventually leaving the radiator low/dry. I’m assuming the cap should open only in short bursts when needed to vent excess pressure… or is system pressure really supposed to hold it open once the car is warmed up? Would one of the high pressure 17 PSI/1.3 bar radiator caps potentially help with the coolant blow-off? If it is a gasket problem, which has more potential as a cheap temporary repair – the Subaru coolant additive or a generic $10 block seal product?

  132. Combustion Gas Leak Detector

    Hi Andre, I suggest getting the cooling system tested for combustion gasses before spending any more time on the cooling system. Any shop with an exhaust gas analyzer can do it for you or you can purchase the Lisle 75500 combustion gas testing kit from Amazon.com or other vendors. I strongly suggest NO STOPLEAK. Fix the problem the right way with new gaskets if needed. I’ve never seen this work on Subaru head gaskets but I have seen plugged radiators and heater cores after a product like that was added.

    Good luck

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Head Gasket Experts on Subarus

  133. [...] has anyone tried the six star brand? Which head gasket is best for a Subaru? | Smart Service Subaru Blog [...]

  134. We just bought a 99 Subaru forester with 117k on it. It ran great in the town, but my boyfriend took it for a drive in the freeway. On his way back, the car overheated and it does not run. Is it a complete loss? Is it worth trying to repair it or sell it by parts? I am so sad. I loved the car and I drove great, my boyfriend is surprised this came out of nowhere. Please some help.

  135. Hi Lucy,

    Your Forester may well be worth repairing if the rest of the car is in good shape. When Subaru head gaskets fail it can sometimes just come out of nowhere and leave you with an unplesant surprise.

    Definately have it checked by a Subaru specialist if possible and if it is head gaskets, I’d suggest using the “Six Star” brand head gaskets.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Mukilteo

  136. I wish that I could have seen any and all of this information sooner. I had replaced my radiator, thermostat, coolant and have new head gaskets(as it overheated to the point of needing to replace one of the originals). My ’02 2.5L RS sedan ran great for a few weeks and then would randomly overheat and the check engine light was ‘on’ more often then it was ‘off’. I let it sit the winter as I could not decide what to do with it and after having it for 10 years and being my first car, it has a lot of sentimental value. We just recharged the battery, had it running, albeit gently for a little over a week and the symptoms started up again. I had hoped that it was something triggered by the cold weather (which was when the problem initially started). I have a nephew who just totaled his truck and if it’s cost-effective, this car could really help him out.

    Is there any hope for salvaging this vehicle?

  137. Hi Melaney,
    It sounds like there is hope but it’s going to need a proper diagnosis and repair this time.

    The one worry is that if the engine has been sitting and coolant has filled the cylinders, the cylinders may be corroded and ruined. You won’t know this until the engine is taken apart.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Subaru in Seattle

  138. Looking at my 2011 impreza 2.5NA I am certain that the edges of the head gasket look multi-layered. I’ve been told they still use the old gaskets on the 2011 but sure look multi-layered to me; am I seeing shadows or did Subaru change the gaskets. Any comments appreciated.

  139. Hello,

    Subaru has been using a multi layer for a couple of years now. The newest models haven’t been out long enough to see what the results are but hopefully for all, we see a reduction in the frequency of head gasket repairs.

    Just keep up on the maintenance and your Subaru should give you many trouble free miles.

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Shoreline, WA

  140. Mike,
    I have a 1999 Forester S with intermittent overheating issues. At 1st sign of heating changed thermostat..fine for a week and at end of 100 mile trip it overheated and ended up with cracked radiator/replaced cap and radiator. Also found traces of sludge in coolant reservoir..cleaned and flushed rad and reservoir. Still having temp probs and also seeing bubbles in the reservoir. Only driving to work and home now and saving money for a fix…assuming HG replacement to be needed?? Sniff test first? Which HG replacement u suggest? Can the headbolts be reused? Type of antifreeze? Really appreciate your help and if I lived in your area I would bring it to you!

  141. Hi Dustin,

    I think once you do the hydrocarbon test on your Forester you’ll confirm that they are pushing there way into the cooling system. Head gasket replacement will be the only fix for this (assuming the block and heads were not damaged).

    I like to use the Subaru factory antifreeze. As far as head bolts, Subaru does not specify that they must be replaced so I’m comfortable either way. Just make sure they the threads are properly lubed and bolts are torqued per factory specs. Go with the Six Star gaskets if you can (which are available on our online store http://www.smart-service.com/store-head-gaskets.html) and if not the genuine Subaru would be my second choice.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    Mike

  142. My mechanic replaced my Left side HG on a 2000 Legacy GT Limited with approx 115K miles (and Subaru covered the cost, A+++++++++ to Subaru). But now with 140K,they failed again. He’s working up a deal for me (maybe $500 for both sides +material) but when he replaced the left side, he mentioned the head was warped and had it shaven. Did you ever hear of the heads warping? I know for a fact that we never ran without coolant i.e. overheating. We’ll be placing an order shortly. Topton, PA

  143. Hello Curtis,

    We see warped heads on Subaru’s all the time. Not always, and not usually severe, but usually still worth having them resurfaced considering the sensetive nature of the job at hand.

    Great deal on the price by the way!

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, Washington

  144. I am considering purchasing a 2002 Forester with a bad head gasket.The owner has provided a written estimate of $1708 but there is a comment that there is a rod knock when warmed up.Can you give me any idea of whether the gasket repair would be sufficiant to have a decent running car when complete or does the knock mean a new short block would be required as well.The rest of the car looks great,115000 miles.Asking $4000 for the car.What would the dollar amount be to repair worse case?
    Thanks

  145. Hi Gaylord,

    Whether on a Subaru engine or any other engine, a rod knock is a serious internal engine issue. As a matter of fact, it presents a more expensive issue than the head gaskets themselves. The piston rod is a rod that connects the piston to the crankshaft. There are bearings to support it on each end to allow for movement between the components. The bearings have very tight tolerances and when they begin to knock it means that a gap has developed between the piston rod and the crankshaft so that every time the piston goes up and down, the rod hammers on the crankshaft because of the excess clearance.

    That engine not only needs head gaskets but an engine block too (or rebuild) which would probably send your repairs upwards of $4500 if done professionally.

    I think it certainly could be a good car if you get it for the right price but make sure you take into consideration what you’ll be spending.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    206-417-0880

  146. Hi, I have a 1997 subaru leagcy I am working on. The engine was overheated and has severe combustion gases in the cooling system. The oil smells very burnt and had a small amount of water in it. After drained the oil and remaining coolant. I added new oil.I was able to get it started. I ran it for about five minutes. There is no engine noise present as far as lower end noise and the engine seems to run well. I am assuming the lower end is ok. What is your experiance of lower end failure after the engine was severly overheated. Will is get noisey after warming up.Can you please comment on what head gaskets I should use. I have read several different opinions on the oem gasket or the six star gasket being used on the stage 1 engine. Thank you for your time and any help would be appreciated.

  147. Hello Mike,

    I think that if you aren’t hearing any bottom end noise the engine will probably survive. The overheating may cause the engine to burn oil if it hasn’t already. When they get that hot the piston rings can lose some tensile strength along with the oil varnish gluing itself to the oil rings. They also may deform the cylinders somewhat (out of round). All in all though if you put it back together with new gaskets and monitor the oil level it will probably survive. I would use stock Subaru gasket on your 2.2 engine. At this time, they’re the best available and never seem to have a problem failing.

    Good luck on your Subaru repair,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Mukilteo, WA
    425-315-9999

  148. Mike, sorry i forgot to mention it was a 2.5 engine. So what would your opinion be on the gaskets with that engine. Also do the head bolts have to be replaced? Thanks for the quick response. Thank you for sharing your wealth of information.You have a great website

  149. Mike,
    I don’t remember your prior post but I recommend Six Star head gaskets on the non-turbo 2.5′s. The head bolt question is another debate. Subaru still has no bulletin nor shop manual that recommends new head bolts. There is some feeling in the industry that it should be done but I would assume that if it were that important than Subaru would have made this recommendation years ago when the head gasket recall first came out. Our shop re-uses the bolts with great success as long as they come out in good condition. It is important to make sure the threads in the block are clean (by running a tap) and oil the head bolts during assembly to achieve proper torque.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Indpendent Subaru Expert

  150. Hi mike, found your blog while driving with my son from Boston to Seattle. Currently driving thru Nebraska in a u haul truck pulling a trailer with a 99 outback awd. We began this trip driving the sine and pulling a small u haul trailer. About 200 miles out of Boston car started to overheat when we slowed down to pay a toll or get gas. When we started moving faster temp would return to normal. We drove all night like that until next when it started to overheat at hiway speeds. We made it to Gary in. And went to a subaru dealer, who replaced the water pump for. $1000 .this morning started ou , ran great for 200 miles and suddenly to shot up. We had made it to Iowa City Ia. Since my son has to start at Harborview on Monday, plan b. we rented a U haul truck and a car trailer and car is on trailer. Any ideas? Will be in Seattle on monday, can u help? I need to drive the car back to California. Thanks bob

  151. Hi Bob,

    What a trip so far. If I had the car in here today, I can get it evaluated this week and possibly repaired before Friday night. I suspect they may not have checked the cooling system for hydrocarbons(failing head gaskets) it may also have a somewhat restricted radiator based on your description. Either way, please call me if you want to get it in at 206-417-0880 or even if you need some advice over the phone. I don’t think it will be a simple based on what we’ve seen in the past similar models with overheating issues but we won’t know until we actually look at it.

    Let me know if we can be of further assistance.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  152. Hi Mike,

    I just recently put in a 2.5 2001 Subaru engine into a l986 Westfalia and am now having trouble with the head gasket leaking on the passengers side.
    I thought i read that there is a solution Subaru has to add to your engine to stop head gasket leaks.
    Is this true and is it advisable?

    Your comments appreciated.
    Thanks Merv

  153. Hello Merv,

    The solution you read about is a coolant additive referred to as Subaru Coolant Conditioner. It was added to many Subarus over the years beginning with the recall/campaign back in 2002 in attempt to slow or stop the external coolant leakage from the head gasket. It was successful on some of the cars and since then Subaru has recommended adding it to all the other models also as a preventive item. As far as your Westfalia is concerned, if there is just oil leaking, it isn’t too much of a worry. If the coolant is leaking from the head gasket it certainly is worth a try to put the additive in but I wouldn’t put much hope in it even if it helps a little in the short term. Be prepared to do it eventually anyways.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  154. Ditto what Lucia wrte above (Aug. 2011). Word doe word my experience. So disappointed in Subaru response to bad head gaskets in year(s) immediately after official recall. Despite ipeccable care, mine were leaking at 50-60,000 miles. WAY too prematurely and I KNOW it was poor workmanship on gaskets. So damn frustrating and sad that Subaru dropped the ball on this one. I’m a huge cultist but … less than ipressed with how they handled the gaskets fiasco.

  155. Hi Mike,

    My 2003 Subaru Forester has only 69,800 miles and is my third Subaru. I purchased it new in March of 2003. I recently noticed smoke occasionally coming from the exhaust pipe when starting the engine (not every time). I took it to the Subaru dealer who determined the left head gasket was beginning to leak oil and the right side was beginning to seep oil. I have had all service work performed when suggested (30K, 45K, 52.5K, 60K) and have the oil changed every 3,000 miles, always by the local Subaru dealer. I have not noticed my engine overheating which seems to be one of the biggest clues of a head gasket problem. After looking on-line to see what might have caused this problem I was amazed to read that it is an ongoing problem with Subaru 2.5L engines. I am more than a little unhappy to have to spend $1,500 on head gasket repair. By the way, the dealership wants to buy my car because it is in such good shape – except for the head gasket – and are willing to give me approximately $8,000 for it. I think it would be more cost effective to have it fixed. What is your take on this?

    Thank you,

    Tenley

  156. Alison, I agree they dropped the ball. Hope they’ve learned from it and can continue to improve their product in the future for those that still love those cars.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  157. Hello Tenley,

    I think it it is more cost effective to repair the Subaru that you have. If the Subaru gives you $8000, what could you go out and buy that is comparable? Plus I assume it’s paid for. Doing the repair is the most sensible thing if you like the car and it doesn’t even have to be done right away based on your description. The smoke out the exhaust may have nothing to do with the head gaskets. We see head gaskets all the time that have slight oil leaks that take years to develop into a problem that needs repair. We also see plenty of Subarus that steam from the exhaust during warm up or different weather conditions. (humidity etc). Does the smoke out the exhaust smell odd like burning oil or sweet like coolant? If not you may not need to do anything yet. Ask the dealer what the smoke is from the exhaust and get them to state whether it will be solved with the head gaskets or not. My guess is that they will be non-committal on that answer.

    I hope this helps you save some money and enjoy your Subaru for many more years.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Washington State
    206-417-0880

  158. Hi Mike, We have a 99 Outbk. wagon ,200,000 on it that hasn’t ever failed until overheating last month,Took the engine out and replaced everything as in headgaskets ,waterpump Timing belt ,other gaskets ,etc . Heads looked in good shape when we had it apart, Got it back together and it still overheats , We did everything by the book as close as we could tell , everythings was torked to specs is it possible we might have missed a procedure with the coolent or heating system ,The cars in excellent shape other wise and my wifes baby would hate to get rid of it, The engine starts right up and runs great just overheats in 15/20 mins. Any ideas ,Thanks, Steve

  159. Hi Steve,

    My first question is did you ever diagnose what was causing it to overheat in the first place? Head gaskets can cause overheating but also can fail as a result of overheating caused by something else. A restricted radiator, stuck thermostat, faulty radiator fans,etc.

    I think it’s possible something may not have gone right with the repair but from the sounds of it I it may be something else completely.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair Seattle
    206-417-0880

  160. CONCERNING 99 OUTBACK,Thanks for your responce ,sorry it took me so long to get back to you . Got the overheating figured out. It was in putting the antifreeze back in ,What I finally did was park the car on a good hill in our yard and filled the anti freeze again with the nose up at a pretty good angle and used some (Patience,lol ) until all the air worked itself out ,Seems to have been fine since then been 3 weeks ,so far so good, Thanks again for your responce ,

  161. I was just wondering if you know if they make the Six-star head gasket for a 2006 Subaru Tribeca? I just don’t want to have to do this repair twice. We have has it for less then a year and it just turned over 63k. So bummed!

  162. I’m sorry to hear of such an early failure on the Tribeca Katy. As of this point, we don’t have any Six Star’s for Tribecas. Once I do I’ll be sure to post them on our website. No idea if or when they are going to make them.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Pacific Northwest

  163. Mike

    Love your website, very informative. Just FYI, I have a 06 forester with 82k and the head gasket is leaking. No coolant leak, just oil. I assume that the six star gasket is good for the 06 2.5L engine?

    It seems to me the problem is on going, not just the earlier models.

    thanks
    Rick

  164. Hello Rick,

    Thanks for the compliment. The Six Star gasket will work well with your particular engine. The good news for you is that there is only oil leaking. It still may be quite some time before the coolant starts to seep out.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, WA
    206-417-0880

  165. Mike,

    Thanks for all the info on your site!
    Do you have any YouTube videos?

    I’m considering buying an older Subaru Legacy (1997) with 137k and a 2.2l engine. Is the head gasket failure rate lower on the 2.2l engine?

    Also, beyond checking the coolant resevoir and the dipstick oil, is there an area on the engine that I should look at for an external leak?

    Thanks,

    -Larry-

  166. Hi Larry,
    You have a gem of a car. The Legacy that you own with the 2.2 may never need head gaskets. It may go down in history as the most reliable engine Subaru ever made. Continue to perform the routine maintenance based on the Subaru manual and it may go another 137k without many problems.

    Take good care of it and enjoy it.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle

  167. Great blog! I hope that I can also bother you for some advice. I have a 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback Limited (2.5 l automatic, not a turbo, 157, 400 mi.), which apparently blew a head gasket earlier in the month while my son was driving it on the interstate on the way from Boone, NC to Raleigh, NC. It was cold (there was snow on the car) when my son left Boone, so he turned the heat up all the way. He noticed an unusual delay in getting any heat, but eventually it came on. About 100 miles into his trip, while traveling at highway speed, there was a puff of vapor through the heater vents followed shortly thereafter by a massive cloud of what he described as smoke enveloping the front of the car. Fortunately he was at an exit ramp and was able to get off the highway and come to a stop as the car stalled out. Though the engine had stopped, the car periodically emitted big clouds. He got the hood open and found the vapor seemed to be coming out of the right front of the radiator (near the upper radiator hose). The car was towed to a AAA garage where they added coolant and ran the car and found hydrocarbons at the radiator cap and diagnosed a blown head gasket. I had the car towed the rest of the way to Raleigh. It was hard to start, but once it was going it idled smoothly and when I put it in gear and gave it gas with the brake on, it was still smooth, with no unusual noises in or out of gear. I did not run it long, because I could not see any coolant in the radiator (though the coolant tank was almost completely filled with coolant). With the radiator cap on, while the car was running, there was a strong plume of vapor coming out of an apparent crack in the top, front, passenger side of the radiator tank just below the bleeder screw which smelled like exhaust. There was no visible vapor or unusual fumes coming out of the tail pipe. The oil on the dipstick and in the oil filler tube looks normal. I saw no evidence of coolant in the oil or oil in the coolant.

    My three questions are: (1) Did the replacement radiator cause this? (2) Should I put new head gaskets on the present engine, replace it with one of the internet advertised used, Japanese domestic market (JDM) engines which supposedly have 30,000-50,000 ,miles on them, or do something else? (3) What is the likelihood that the heater core is also blown?

    Additional history: The car has been in my family since it was new and has had all the maintenance recommended in the Subaru Warranty and Maintenance Booklet done. For the last several years it has been consuming oil, several quarts between oil changes (7,500 mile interval). Last April, a year ago (10,000 miles ago) we were coming down a national forest gravel road when I noticed the car was starting to overheat. I turned the heater on and the gauge dropped into the normal range, except for the last mile or so to get the highway when started to rise and nudged the red area again. I parked the car. We came back later after the engine had fully cooled and added coolant, topped it up after several short trips, and I then drove it home without incident and without substantial loss of coolant, keeping the heater running. I later learned that I did not follow the proper bleeding procedures by opening the screw on the right corner of the radiator. The radiator was leaking slowing out of the bottom. I replaced it and everything seemed to operate normally until the recent catastrophic incident.

    Thank you for your help.

  168. Hi Bill, I doubt the radiator caused the problem. It’s just the eventuality on those particular engines. With what you described along with the mileage and the fact it consumes oil, I would suggest repairing the head gaskets but at the same time installing a Genuine Subaru remanufactured hybrid engine block. You may have the valves done at the same time. You probably didn’t blow the heater core, it’s probably just vapor coming in through the cowl and in through the vents.

    I’d personally stay from the JDM stuff. I always hear the claims of low mileage but have never been able to get a supplier to document or guarantee the actual mileage.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle.

  169. Hi Mike. My 2001 Outback has been in the shop for about a month. It had the head gasket replaced, I picked it up and paid the $3900+. I drove about 3 miles and white clouds of something started coming out of the engine. AAA towed me back to the shop. The next morning they contacted me to say my radiator seam had come apart because of the increased pressure of the new head gaskets and because of the age of the car the radiator couldn’t handle it and burst, resulting in coolant spewing out and causing all the ‘steam’. So they put in the new radiator said they would only charge me for the part ($190)and I could drive their rental for free until they fixed it.I had just paid them $200 for the rental so was glad to hear that. Well, once they fixed it they drove it less distance than I did and it happened again. They checked the head gaskets and they were warped so sent back to the shop where they had just been and said they had made a mistake and so they wouldn’t charge me anything to fix it but I would still have to pay for the radiator. My thinking is that the faulty head gaskets were what made the radiator blow and I shouldn’t have to pay..I already paid nearly $4000. AND I had had the head gaskets replaced the 1st time just 4 years ago.
    They have been really nice to me until this incident. I am upset over the $4000, if I had known about that at the beginning I think I would have just bought another car. But the $$$ just kept creeping up on me. What are my rights here.

  170. Hi Karen,

    If they’re redoing the engine again I suspect they feel they may be at fault. The fact the radiator blew may have been caused by a faulty repair but a good radiator probably wouldn’t have blown that way. A good solution may be for you to offer to pay the price of the radiator but have them comp you the labor since they need to take it out anyway when they do the head gasket job.

    If they don’t get it right this time, you may want to ask for your money back and try a different shop.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  171. I am in the market for a new/used Subaru forester. I drove it off a muddy road into a slough in North Dakota on 2 June ’13. It had 302,000 miles on it and it sure seemed to be running about as good as it ever has. It had a small leak from the bottom of the transmission, motor oil. Boy was I sorry to do that to my car!

    I think I would like to get a used replacement Forester. What is the oldest I should consider getting? Where should I draw the line and do I want a car that has 12,000 + miles per year on it? (That is, longer drives as opposed to short, around town drives.)

  172. I don’t think the miles are as important as the year. I’d look for a 2008 or newer Forester that has good maintenance records. Sometimes the best values are newer Subarus with high miles on them. They are usually in excellent condition because all they did is highway miles. The price is usually lower because the general public won’t tend to look at the higher mileage cars. (over time this has been changing though, It used to be that Subaru with over 100k was considered worn out. Now people are comfortable buying Subies with 150k on them).

    Good luck in your quest,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

  173. Hello Mike, thanks for the great info! In addition to the head gasket leaking, I am under the persuasion that I have some piston slap (A knocking noise that comes from the block, and goes away when warm).. At 30F, you can really hear it, but at 80F it’s barely noticeable. Anyways – my question is whether or not I should just replace the gaskets, or look into the motor a bit more while I have them off?
    I have been driving the car for about 8 months/15K miles, and the sound doesn’t seem to be getting any worse, but I’m sure I don’t have near the experience that you do with piston slap on these motors, and I am just wondering if it can become a bigger issue..
    Thanks in advance for the advice!

  174. Thanks Mike, I am looking at a 2009 Forester, 5 speed with 141,000. A lease return for $8500. If the service records checks out, might this be a fair price?

  175. Hi Bob,
    Sorry for the late reply. Have been out of town. I think that is a very good price if the car checks out ok.

    Mike

  176. Hi Seth,

    Part of what you do depends on the current condition of the head gaskets and car mileage. If the head gaskets don’t need replacing yet then I’d just continue to drive the car, keep the oil changes up etc.

    I’ve seen enough piston slap to know that rarely does it ever cause engine damage. If it goes away within a few minutes of starting the car then the engine will probably still have lots of life remaining in it. Even if you replace the head gaskets, unless the engine has 200k on it you can probably still reuse the block.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

  177. Hi Mike,
    I am looking into purchasing 2010-2012 used 2.5 liter Legacy or Outback with CVT. What is your opinion on this generation? I know it is still too early, but are there early indications that these cars may have the head gasket issues? What about the CVT transmission? Any other concerns? I know that Subaru started using the DOHC 2.5′s with timing chain in 2013. Will it be wiser to wait it out couple of years to get a used 2013 with the new motor?

    Thank you in advance

  178. It’s a tough call on which way to go other than believing that Subaru has improved it’s quality over the years and hopefully which ever choice you make, both will offer long life with a low repair cost over their lifetimes. If you’d rather have a timing chain I think that engine should be quite reliable. They worked out any issues with it on the 11 Foresters.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert

  179. Hi Mike.

    I appreciate your passion. I am looking at used Subaru Forester’s in the $4000 to $5000 range. Tempted to go to 6K, but thought I would save the extra dollars for future (or immediate) repairs, like a head gasket.

    I’ve bought a half dozen used cars over the last 20 years (all Hondas), only from original owners and only if well maintained with detailed records. May not have that luxury this time out.

    I am looking in the 1998 to 2002 range of Foresters. I drove my first Subaru today – literally – a 2001 Forester S single owner with 80K. Too expensive, but I like very much how the car felt overall. Tomorrow I drive an immaculate (inside and out) 1998 Forester with 145K with a head gasket replacement in its history (will know more detail then). As I look at others this weekend, I have several questions, if you would be so kind to address. Thank you in advance for having the patience to answer them all.

    1. Carfax lists this 1998 with an SOHC. Did some 2008′s come with SOHC? All other information I have found thus far suggests otherwise.

    2. I confess to wanting black leather interior, which seems much easier to find in the 1998″s. But I’ve been advised to stay away from the 1998′s, partially because the internal leaking on the DOHC is harder to catch, and partially because I have heard that the SOHC is more reliable than the DOHC – more parts to go wrong, so to speak. Can you speak to this?

    3. All things being equal, would you be just as comfortable with a 2.5 DOHC post Six Star HG replacement as you would an SOHC, or do you have a preference?

    4. I have also been warned to steer clear of the XT’s, as I am on a budget and I have heard that the turbo is often a source of repair or replacement, and thus less reliable and more costly. Is this your experience?

    5. Upon starting up the 1998 Forester today, just briefly as I did not have much time, the engine sounded almost like what a diesel engine sounds like when its starts up, but then the sound seemed to fade off after 5-10 seconds (not minutes), so it wasn’t receding due to the engine getting warmer. Is this what you have referenced in other posts as piston slap?

    6. If by chance a 2003 slips down into my price range (or if my range goes up), again all things being equal, is choosing the 2003 a no-brainer, or can a case be made (other than the condition of either car or its price) for going with the earlier model years?

    7. You mention in an earlier post that buying a high-mileage, mostly highway mileage and newer Forester is often the better deal than the lower mileage earlier model. How many miles would you cap it at? 150?

    8. And lastly, can you tell me, best case scenario, how long a well maintained Forester (2.5L) in the range of 1998 to 2003 is capable of lasting?

    Thanks Mike.

    Tony

  180. Hi Mike.

    I just did a head gasket change not so long ago. With only under 2000miles after I change my HG. I checked my oil level and it seems to be almost at the empty level. Is this normal? I don’t seem to notice any leaks underneath the last time I had the car lifted just to check everything. And I had the shop changed my oil into AMS oil 5w30.

  181. Hey Tony good luck in your search. Here are some answers.
    1. 1998 was a DOHC, 99 up were all SOHC
    2. I think SOHC vs DOHC is about the same, DOHC is slightly more expensive to repair.
    3. I think both can be good long term fixes if done right.
    4. Yes (if not well maintained) if well maintained with synthetic oil they can be great long term.
    5. It does sound like pistion slap in that case.
    6. For the most part, the newer you get the more amenities you get as well as advancements in airbag and anti lock brakes.
    7. I wouldn’t cap it, it would depend very specifically on the car, it’s maintanance and current condition.
    8. In my opinion, if well maintained from the start those are 300k+ cars with probably 1 head gasket somewhere along the way.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

  182. Hi Dan,

    Just because there are new head gaskets and seals on your Subaru doesn’t mean it won’t use any oil. This has been a costly assumption for some folks. They think that there are no more oil leaks so it won’t use any oil but in the mean time some is burning past the rings and it causes the car to go low on oil.

    I suggest monitoring your oil as well as your odometer and then note how many miles before 1 qt is needed. If it’s over 1200 miles before it needs a quart then you’re within the normal range. The reason people don’t notice it burning oil is because the catalytic converter does such a good job cleaning up what used to be “blue smoke” out the tailpipe.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Washington
    http://www.smart-service.com

  183. Hi Mike,
    I have a 2003 Legacy GT and just had the Valve Cover Gaskets replaced to fix an oil leak. My mechanic told me I had a small head gasket leak. I have been seeing about a teaspoon on the floor in the garage. Suggested using a stop leak. Have not done that yet. A few days after the repair I have about one half cup anti-freeze leak from head gasket after it sits. Once engine heats up, white smoke billows. I turn off the car, its cools down a bit and Im back on the road. I park it in a clean spot and check it when I leave my errand and its clean. My mechanic says I need to replace the head gasket. Would appreciate any input you might have. Im looking at a big investment here and want to cover all the bases. Appreicate what you do!

  184. Hi Brenda, STOP… don’t add Stop Leak… The only thing I would add is something called Subaru Coolant Conditioner that you purchase at a Subaru dealer. From the sounds of your symptoms it may be beyond that. If white smoke is billowing out the exhaust it’s time to get the issue addressed before engine damage occurs. Those symptoms usually mean that a significant amount of coolant is pushing it’s way past the head gaskets into the combustion chamber and out the exhaust. If this is allowed to continue, cylinder wall damage will occur. This won’t be solved by any kind of additive but an engine disassembly will be needed and probable head gaskets.

    I hope this helps,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  185. Mike. 2005 outback.125,000 miles. Timing belt and related parts were replaced just over a year ago. Valve cover gaskets just recently replaced. Work done by trusted mechanics.Still has a small leak behind the timing belt cover. Likely culprit, main seal or head gasket?
    Also what should I expect to pay for 2 rear struts installed.
    Thanks
    Mike

  186. Hi Mike,

    I’d say the most likely culprit assuming everything was done properly last time is the front crankshaft seal. If it’s from the center area of the engine that’s the most likely.

    A couple of rear struts on that should run in the $500-700 range depending on the shop’s labor rate and the brand of strut they use.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

  187. Mike, what can I expect to pay to replace the crankshaft seal?

    Thanks for all your help.
    Mike

  188. Depending on the labor rates where you live, you’ll probably be in the $325-400 range reusing your current timing belt. If the belt is close to being do, just add the price of the new belt to the amount above and that should be a pretty close estimate.

    Cheers,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  189. Hi Mike,

    I’m looking at a 2005 Outback (108,000 miles) at a dealership. They showed me the service invoice for $3000 worth of repairs including both gaskets replaced(cleaned too), water pump, timing belt, 2 front axles/boots, small bodywork, driver’s htd seat, warped rotors, exhaust, brakes. Thing is they are tacking $3000 onto dealer’s retail (asking $11,400). What of that should’ve been adjusted at trade-in? Nice to have it done – what are chances of needing to do it again? I’m thinking of offering $8700. Your thoughts?

  190. Hi Kim,

    Not sure how to advise you on what to pay since it’s up to a dealer to decide how much bottom line profit they’re willing to accept. I think the work they performed is certainly beneficial and will give the car a great chance at a long life. You may inquire if the repair work will be under warranty once you purchase the car. If they will put in writing that the repairs performed will be at least 12 months/12000 miles then there is value there. If they want to charge more for the repairs but won’t back them with a warranty, then if they failed again tomorrow you’d have no recourse as well as have received no value for the work.

    Good luck in your negotiations,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Shoreline, WA
    http://www.smart-service.com

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