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.

Subaru Report - We’ve got you covered! Check back tomorrow for more unique, informative SUBARU news, reviews, and previews you can trust.

Leave your comments below, share the article with friends and tweet it out to your followers!

Photo credit: Subaru

Subscribe to Torque News on YouTube.

Follow Torque News on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.


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.
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
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.
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?