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Subaru Head Gasket Problem

What’s up with the Subaru head gasket problem

Looking at buying a Subaru? Make sure you’re aware of the Subaru head gasket issue.

Subaru is a Japanese automobile manufacturer founded in 1953. They are the 22nd largest automaker by production. They are well known for their boxer engines in larger cars. However, concerns have been raised about the frequency of gasket failure in their cars, with some people needing to replace the head gasket as soon as 90,000 miles to avoid head gasket failure.

What is a head gasket?

A head gasket is a thin strip of metal with holes in it. It sits between the engine block and cylinder heads in a combustion engine. It sits there to avoid coolant and oil leakage in the cylinders by sealing and compressing the cylinders. If it fails, it is important to replace the head gasket immediately to avoid issues such as coolant leak, gasket failure and damaging of essential auto components. Cylinder head materials such as iron are much more effective than materials like aluminum.

Which car models are affected?

Models that experience high rates of failure include:

  • Subaru Forester, 1999 to 2010
  • Impreza, 1999 to 2011
  • Legacy, 2000 to 2009
  • Outback, 2000 to 2009
  • Baja, 2003 to 2005

Most affected models were developed in 1997-2000, which means the issue is less prominent in newer Subaru cars, as the engine design has been modified and improved over the years. The Subaru Outback engine was completely redesigned in 2012, which should mean that while older Outback’s are a hit or miss, the new ones should be fine to drive.

Why are so many models affected?

One defining feature of the Subaru autos is the boxer engine, which has horizontal cylinders and the engine lays flat. The horizontal motion of the pistons is how this engine got its name. This has multiple benefits, including better handling and balance, because it’s lower to the ground, but it can cause constant pressure on the gasket and built up carbon deposits at the bottom of the gasket.

The reason this issue is mainly in models developed around 1999 is because of the materials used. A composite model, involving a multi layer steel shim, allowed coolant leak into the combustion engine.

What has Subaru done to fix this issue?

Subaru has yet to fully stop the issue, but the rate of head gasket failure is lower among newer models. This also means lower rates of Subaru head gasket replacements. This could, of course, be due to the fact that older car models have more mileage, and because of that, more chance of head gasket and associated problems. This doesn’t seem to be the case though, as Subaru has tried multiple times since 1999 to fix the issue. 1999 was the worst year for these issues, with significant improvement by 2002 on internal leakage, but external leakage was still common. Models from 2009-2012 should also be significantly safer, due to multi layer cylinder heads. The Subaru engine was rumored to be completely redesigned in the 2012, which will hopefully eliminate all issues. Of course, this will be something we won’t have proof of for some time, as it takes time for mileage to increase on cars.

Will Subaru pay for repairs?

Unfortunately, probably not. First, there’s no recall on the faulty engines, as recalls from the manufacturer are voluntary, unless the fault poses serious danger or excessive emissions. A head gasket failure isn’t immediately dangerous, nor does it increase emissions.

Secondly, most failures occur between 80,000 and 100,000 miles. The Subaru warranty is 3 years, or 36,000 miles, which, that early on, is very unlikely to require replacing.

This means that drivers of old Subaru models, like the Subaru Forester are likely on their own when it comes to covering the costs of a faulty head gasket. Which is why it’s important to know and be able to recognize the signs of a head gasket problem early on.

The signs your head gasket is blown

It’s important to know the signs of a head gasket problem, so it can be remedied before further damage happens to your car, increasing costs of repairment. Signs include:

  • The engine overheating (can be checked by looking at the temperature gauge)
  • Bubbles and sulfur-like smells in the cooling system.
  • Milky white oil in the combustion chamber
  • Oil dripping around the block in the engine
  • Lowered coolant levels due to coolant leak

Why is it bad for the gasket to need regular fixing?

Fixing the head gasket after it fails is expensive and time consuming. It could take hours for a qualified mechanic to replace, as well as check other important aspects of the car, including the combustion chamber, timing belt, water pump and manual transmission weren’t damaged as well. This puts you out of a car for what could be multiple days. Not to mention the costs of replacing the head gasket.

A trip to your local mechanic could put you out of a few thousand dollars, even more if you visit a dealership. A lot of people can’t afford to lose a couple thousand dollars due to a Subaru head gasket problem. But if they keep proper maintenance and monitoring of the head gasket and temperature gauge, issues can be avoided.

Is there a solution?

Don’t buy a Subaru and if you have one, maintenance and regular checks will help early detection of any issues.

Of course, other manufacturer’s automobiles can have head gasket problems. Likewise, not every Subaru will have issues, but the rates are much higher in Subaru models and should be avoided if the model has a history of issues.

If you have a susceptible model, proper maintenance and early detection of head gasket issues will prevent any issues from becoming serious.

Remember to change the oil regularly, check the coolant levels and replace when necessary, check for leakage or strange smells anywhere and take your car in for maintenance when needed.

Being well informed is the best way to keep your car healthy, stay read up on car maintenance or ask your local dealership any questions.