Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Subaru Impreza
Denis Flierl's picture

The 4 Subaru Models Most Likely To Need Expensive Engine Repairs

There are four Subaru models you might want to avoid when shopping for a used car. See which models could need an expensive head gasket replacement.

If you are shopping for a previously owned Subaru, there are some models to avoid or it could cost you a lot of money in repairs. The most expensive repairs on an older vehicle are an engine rebuild and transmission replacement. Consumer Reports (by subscription) lists the cars most likely to need another expensive repair, a head gasket replacement.

They have identified four popular Subaru models with the potential to have this engine issue. CR says the 2001-2009 Subaru Forester, 2001-2009 Subaru Outback, 2006-2008 Subaru Impreza, and the 2006 Subaru Baja are more likely to need the head gaskets replaced than other models.

Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Subaru Impreza

Why do head gaskets fail on some Subaru models?

The Subaru EJ25 2.5-liter Boxer is the engine that has experienced the most problems for the Japanese automaker. The gasket material they used in this engine was unreliable and Subaru attempted to correct the issue in 1999 with an updated multilayered metal shim gasket. But some 2001-2009 engines still had the problem.

Consumer Reports says the older Subaru models using this engine will typically start to have head gasket issues around 90,000 to 150,000 miles. The reason the Boxer engine seems to be more prone to have this problem is because of the engine design.

Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester, Subaru Impreza

Subaru uses the Boxer engine which has a horizontal design and pistons lay flat in the cylinder. When the engine is turned off, the fluids tend to pool next to the head gaskets instead of draining, and over time acids in the fluids eat away at the seals. The gaskets deteriorate and oil and coolant fluids start leaking.

How much will head gasket repairs cost? If the head gasket needs to be replaced, it will cost at least $1500 for parts and labor. The parts don’t cost much, it’s the labor to pull the engine that is most of the repair bill.

What are the signs of a faulty head gasket?

The signs that a Subaru engine might need the head gaskets replaced are white exhaust from the tailpipe, milky white oil on the dipstick, the engine overheats, and exhaust bubbles in the coolant reservoir.

What if you already own an older Subaru Forester, Outback or Impreza?

There are many older Subarus with 200,000-250,000 miles on them and they’ve never had problems. You can extend the life of the head gaskets by doing a few things; Change the oil regularly (every 3,000 miles), swap out the old engine coolant with fresh antifreeze every 2-3 years, and keep batter terminals clean to reduce acidity in the cooling system caused by electrolysis.

Did Subaru fix this problem in newer engines?

After 2009, newer models using the EL25 2.5-liter engine should have far fewer head gasket problems because Subaru started using a multi-layered steel cylinder-head gasket. Starting in 2012, reports say the Japanese automaker redesigned the 2.5-liter engine in the Forester and Outback and has fixed the problem.

If you are looking to buy an older Subaru Forester, Outback, or Impreza, make sure you check the vehicle for engine leaks, pull the dipstick and check for a white milky substance, and most importantly, ask the owner for maintenance records. If the vehicle has been serviced regularly, it’s far less likely to need expensive engine repairs.

You Might Also Like: Subaru’s 5-10 Year Cost Of Ownership Is Higher Than All But One Other Mainstream Brand

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press and the founder of Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Subaru also makes a coolant additive.One should make sure the engine ground strap is not corroded and is tight
Might want to add 2010 Forester to the list as well. I had issue above at 150,000 miles.
Forester trails Outback and Impreza by one model year of engine change. Your motor is the same as an 09.
2011 Forester bought new. Block replaced by Subaru at 60k as it was using 5 quarts between oil changes. Now at 105k its leaking oil around the cam cover. Dealer says they have to drop the engine to fix...$3-4k! It's a love hate relationship w in th this car...won't buy another Subaru.
Also SES light may be on due to misfire on startup due to coolant getting in the cylinder. Mine did this for a year before I had to change the gaskets. Luckily I can do this stuff myself.
I had problems with my 2007 Impreza - head gasket. I did research and found Subaru was on their fourth version of head gaskets for the Impreza. I had bought five Subarus at the time and got onto head office and told them they had sold me an inferior product - which was true. They paid for the repair - replacements of head gaskets - $1600.00. Pressure them - don't give up.
I would like to know the price of Subaru turbo used engine
eBay is full of them, $1500-2800 depending on condition
This article is pretty Uninformed and must be aimed at teens buying cars with no help.... 1) a head gasket and timing kit goes for about $400 and unlike most cars, a moderately skilled driveway mechanic can do this in about a day by themselves. We’ve done them in under four hours with two sets of hands. If you can change oil on one of these cars you can likely do the head gasket. 2) ANYONE looking to get a PROBLEM FREE used car should stop. Problem free used car for under $10k??? STOP!!!! ALWAYS EXPECT TO PAY ABOUT $10k+ for a reliable running vehicle. Or..... just stop. To the experience of many, many people, a SUBARU head gasket is a cheaper fix than most problems in used American cars. Try a rack replacement on a cobalt!! You’ll WISH for a subaru head gaskets issue!! Does this mean it’s not a problem? NO! And Subaru knows this. Lesson here, find a Subaru under $5k, do the head gasket, water pump and timing all at once (totaling around $700 in parts) YOURSELF, and have a great reliable car for about another 200k. Stop telling people to AVOID an easy fix and start encouraging them to do their own mechanical work. These are the easiest cars to work on!!!
let's see 2 people multiplied by 4 hours each (minimum) = 8 hours plus parts. It's cheaper for me to work overtime and have the pro's do it....but then again, I'd just avoid a Subaru and not worry about this issue....and replacing wheel bearings every 70K miles and CV boots at about the same. Subaru reminds me of the older Audis...they each suffered from the same problems for years and years and never get addressed.
"let's see 2 people multiplied by 4 hours each (minimum) = 8 hours plus parts. It's cheaper for me to work overtime and have the pro's do it." Great insight, lots of us get overtime, and we all make more than $18/hr. "...but then again, I'd just avoid a Subaru and not worry about this issue....and replacing wheel bearings every 70K miles and CV boots at about the same." I'm actually not quite sure which I'd rather have... as per the car manual preventive maintenance or something as shitty as a 2021 Ford F-150 with rusty chassis. Absolutely anecdotal, agreed! "Subaru reminds me of the older Audis...they each suffered from the same problems for years and years and never get addressed." You're hitting the nail right on the head. Has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the EJ and FA engines in Subaru vehicles are boxer engines. Porsches don't have the same headgasket issues and aren't 2-3x as expensive to repair. Got it. Oh, and driving style and preventive maintenance sure aren't factors here! In summary, fantastic bashing on an internet forum of anyone making minimum wage and following their car manual, as well as a fairly good car brand. Thanks Mike J!
Thanks....because I'm About to get an impresario and a forester....was about to steer clear of them. Preventive Maintenance...get it out of the way....excellent...thanks
Right on just purchased first one got a feeling got a real good deal
You can't do it right in 4 hours unless you have freshly machined heads waiting for you. Also, don't buy that kit from Subaru. Or if you do, get a different gasket. They still give the OEM single layer in that kit
Subaru's are junk, best to stay away altogether. Way overrated and way too much trouble to keep on the road. Had an early Forester and I'll for sure say NEVER AGAIN!
Easy fix? Mr. Gill is making lots of assumptions. Check out this video and ask yourself if you can (or want?) to do it. I consider myself a "gear head", and this makes me cringe. Good luck!
Oh really. I bought a 2002 with 111000 miles. Owner took good care of it and it had head gasket and water pump replaced. Im confident it will only require regular maintenance for a long while and if something unexpected fails? So what. I have reserve equity built into that car Paid $3500. Great condition
I had an 07 Outback that had the throw out bearing go out twice in 20k miles (155k-175k). I traded it in and now have a 2011 Outback that just finished it's SECOND head gasket job. The first one was at 125k and this one at 160k. As much as I love them, I'm done with Subarus when I get rid of this one.
Am I reading this wrong or is it just poorly-written? At the beginning of the article they say that generally the 2001 through 2009 models are affected by the head gasket issue... The next paragraph says it is due to faulty material used in the head gasket and they attempted to fix it in 1999.... So let me get this straight. They attempted to fix it 2 years before it was an issue?
"...Subaru attempted to correct the issue in 1999 with an updated gasket. But some 2001-2009 engines still had the problem." Yo no sey, seems pretty easy to read to me.
I was pretty satisfied with the 325K miles I got on my Forester ‘03 engine before I sold it to a friend (it’s still on the road with the original head gaskets).
I will say this about Subaru’s if these cars was such a problem with head gaskets why do I see so many subarus on the road I see a lot of then and in China they are the number 1 most cars sold yah in China I just bought me a 2006 Firester x base model power everything with a moon roof the guy I bought it from did head gaskets timing belt water pump brand new radiator and what ever else the guy was strait forward with me I got it with 144,141 miles and paid 2500.00 cash and I’ll say I’m very happy with it it’s not eating coolant I had put about 600 miles on it he had changed the oil and like I said I put 600 miles on it and the engine oil is still clean like he just changed it so he must of done one hell of a job cleaning it as well I’m so happy with my purchase I baby it I sher the hell don’t beat on it love the all wheel drive and all service record wer up yo date from the original owner I’m. The 3 rd owner but the vehicle is in great shape
This happened because of General Motors when they bought into Subaru. They redesigned the head and gasket. They did this at Opel, Isuzu and quite a few other car companies they invested in. It ultimately led to a majority of companies going out of business. SAAB and Opel being prime examples great companies and cars killed by a greedy giant.
My wife's 2017 Forester has almost 60,000 miles on it. It's always been dealership maintained....oil changes etc. It just had It's 60,000 mile schedualed maintenance performed at the tune of $800! Anyway..ever since new, i've had to add 1-2qts (sometimes 3! quarts) of oil in between oil changes! When asked about it, she was told, by multiple service writers, that ALL vehicles do this. I've been doing my own mechanics for about 45 years and i've (of course) never experienced or even heard of anyone that's even heard heard of such "B. S." ! I would NEVER buy, or allow anyone to buy another Subaru! How do they get away with this? Quality of a lot of products is so bad now days!
Our 2013 Forester was a rolling disaster. The lead mechanic told me to my face that all cars leak oil every 800-1000 miles. I told him that was absolute bullshit. I sold that car ASAP and I will NEVER buy another Subaru again.
Hello, my 2010 Forester 2.5 X naturally aspirated has 117k miles on it and does not lose or use any coolant or oil. I have always changed the oil every 3k miles or so and change the coolant every other year.
How did the head gasket issue never become a recall situation? I have a 2006 Forester that leaks oil and coolant and would love to keep it but I don't see why if its a known defect. I should have to pay for a known defect in the vehicle.
Very interesting article! Keep battery terminals clean to reduce electrolysis in the coolant. That one I have yet to hear! Very interesting indeed!
Yes, this has been addressed in repair forums and is believed to help slow down the destruction of the head gaskets
I have a lot of cars so I don't put miles on too fast but just hit 159,000 miles on my 2002 Forester. Since I have owned the car I have replaced a steering rack, wheel bearings, ball joints, cv axles, brake pads, belts, oxygen sensors, valve cover seals and several girlfriends but no head gasket issues. Now at 160,000 miles I will do the second timing belt. This vehicle is built like a tank and inside is in incredible shape. No cracks in the dash etc. like a lot of cars and I live in Las Vegas where it's hot. I love driving the car and especially enjoy the standard transmission. I thought about buying a new car many times but why when this one is so good!