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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 ImprezaWhy 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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Photo credit: Subaru


Joel Treacy (not verified)    July 8, 2020 - 10:46AM

Subaru also makes a coolant additive.One should make sure the engine ground strap is not corroded and is tight

Steve (not verified)    April 13, 2021 - 11:19PM

In reply to by MattyB (not verified)

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.

Nancy (not verified)    January 31, 2022 - 7:06PM

In reply to by Steve (not verified)

Just was told my 2011 Forester is showing signs of needing new head gasket. 101K miles. Using lots of oil but love my car. Still better than a car payment.

ANDREW (not verified)    July 8, 2020 - 2:28PM

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.

Norman Silva (not verified)    July 8, 2020 - 7:57PM

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.

Larry Gill (not verified)    July 9, 2020 - 9:05AM

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!!!

mike J (not verified)    July 9, 2020 - 7:19PM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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.

Not Mike J (not verified)    March 18, 2021 - 8:07PM

In reply to by mike J (not verified)

"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!

DeWayne B Felder Sr (not verified)    January 29, 2021 - 10:57AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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

JEREMY Shawn MOORE (not verified)    May 21, 2021 - 9:34AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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

Eric Barber (not verified)    August 9, 2021 - 6:33PM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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!

Ron Galvin (not verified)    August 11, 2021 - 5:10PM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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!

Rcpmac (not verified)    August 18, 2021 - 7:33PM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

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

Larry (not verified)    September 24, 2021 - 11:54AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

I have a mechanic friend ,Master Nissan mechanic, went through all their training when working for Nissan dealerships. Became a consultant to Nissan service departments Nationwide ,taking calls about mechanical issues dealerships were having trouble solving.
He works in an independent shop now, regularly fixes head gaskets on Subarus, and he says Subaru heads HAVE to be dead flat and true or a new head gasket will fail prematurely. Most Subaru heads need to be sent off to the machine shop and milled true. My mechanic friend says even if they're more than a thousand out of true you're taking a chance at that gasket will fail. So that's a lot of more expense right there to do these right.

Jams hammond (not verified)    October 25, 2021 - 12:43AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

You are right. I do all my own work and I'm not mechanic. Also you don't have to remove the motor to change the valve cover gasket. Just lift the motor move to the opposite side do the job.

Matt (not verified)    January 31, 2022 - 12:03AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

I plan on doing a head gasket timing belt and water pump job on my 2011 Impreza. My only fear is losing timing for any reason. How do I avoid the engine going to rest position when I remove the timing belt?

John Shea (not verified)    February 22, 2023 - 11:53AM

In reply to by Larry Gill (not verified)

You are on drugs ! Just because you know which end of a screw driver to hold does not help others who don’t. Doing a head gasket replacement is not a simple job.

Dean (not verified)    July 9, 2020 - 1:22PM

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.

Michael Smith (not verified)    July 19, 2020 - 8:47AM

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?

Eric A Gross (not verified)    June 9, 2021 - 3:14PM

In reply to by Michael Smith (not verified)

"...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.