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The One Subaru Model Most Likely To Need An Expensive Head Gasket Repair

What is the Subaru model most likely to need an expensive engine repair? Check out the Subaru Impreza model year to avoid.

Is the Subaru 2.5-liter engine in older Impreza models reliable? A new report from Consumer Reports lists nine cars most likely to need an expensive head gasket replacement. They say the 2011 Subaru Impreza is the one Subaru model identified from their Annual Auto Surveys at risk of developing head gasket issues.

Owners from the annual survey say it costs them $1,500 to get the head gaskets replaced in the 2011 Subaru Impreza with the 2.5-liter Boxer engine. The report says the typical mileage for the problem to occur in the Impreza is 85,000 to 109,000 miles.

2011 Subaru Impreza head gasket

The nine cars Consumer Reports identified to need a head gasket replacement are the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, 2011 BMW 3 Series, 2014 BMW X1, 2011 Buick Lucerne, 2011 Subaru Impreza, 2012 BMW 5 Series, BMW X3, 2013 Mini Cooper, and Mini Clubman, and the 2015 Buick Encore.

Consumer Reports did not say the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX or 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI included the same engine issues. A 2.5-liter turbocharged engine powers those models. The 2011 Impreza sedan and hatchback have a naturally-aspirated Boxer engine.

2011 Subaru Impreza head gasket

In an earlier report, Consumer Reports said the 2001-2009 Subaru Forester, 2001-2009 Subaru Outback, 2006-2008 Subaru Impreza, and the 2006 Subaru Baja are also more likely to need the head gaskets replaced than other models.

Subaru's gasket material used in the 2.5-liter engine was unreliable, and Subaru attempted to correct the issue in 1999 with an updated multilayered metal shim gasket. The report says some 2001-2009 engines still had the problem.

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 EJ25 2.5-liter engine should have far fewer head gasket problems because Subaru started using a multilayered steel cylinder-head gasket. Beginning in 2012, reports say the Japanese automaker redesigned the 2.5-liter engine and fixed the problem.

If you are looking to buy an older Subaru Impreza, Forester, or Outback, 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.

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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. Check out 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: main image IIHS


Sarafina (not verified)    June 8, 2021 - 5:27PM

Denis. I am fully convinced you know ZERO about Subarus. The majority of the 2.5 liter engines between approximately 1997 and 2009 will have the head gaskets fail. That's WAY more than one model. And good engine upkeep doesn't help. Keeping you fluids topped can't fix a factory defect/poor design. Post 2009, you better get the best warranty you can get because there are a litany of other engine defects. Regardless, fix those head gaskets and then you're still better off than having a crappy American car that will rust apart before it hits 75K miles.
Keep up the clickbait, Denis. You're a pro.

Donald Lewis (not verified)    January 4, 2023 - 5:24PM

When I saw the advice to keep the battery connections clean to preserve the head gaskets I knew whoever wrote this hasn't a clue about automobiles.