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Working on Subarus

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James Turner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 0

Hey, I just recently moved back to Utah and I'm splitting time between SLC (sugar house) on the weekends and Ogden during the week. I drove out here from Maine a few weeks ago in my 01 subaru forester. The headgaskets have started leaking much worse than before the trip and I'm wondering if anyone in the SLC area has replaced the headgasket's in their subaru before? I'm thinking about taking on the project myself after a lot of research and the fact that I don't want to shell out $2k to a shop. I figured it would be worth asking on here since there are so many climbers and so many subarus in Utah. If you've done a HG job before, I'd be interested to talk with you about your experience and see if you'd be willing to help out with my repair should I decide to go through with it. I can't offer much in terms of payment, but, beer and pizza could be counted on. I'm also trying to get back into climbing after a year of only 10ish days of climbing, so perhaps we could even be new partners!


Doug Kinsman · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 0

I  am not sure about Foresters but I know in my Outback I had to pull the whole engine out to do HGs because there is zero room to work with between the shock towers and horizontally opposed cylinders. Easy job once the block is pulled since you have all the access in the world then. How bad are they leaking? Coolant mixing with oil?

Alex Milton · · Molalla, OR · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 0

Forester is basically the same just a smidge more room. Can be done with the engine still in, but even if you had to buy an engine hoist it would still be worth it to take it all the way out. IME it's much easier to leave the tranny attached when you remove the engine - mating engine to the trans with it in the car is tedious and frustrating. I don't know what else to tell you that Youtube won't explain in x100 better detail, but two people of reasonable mechanical ability should be able to do it in a weekend, a day if you work quick and know engines. While you're in there I would replace the spark plugs, timing belt, tensioner and water pump, minimal extra time and cost but will delay the time/expense of that down the road.

Might try joining some local subaru groups on facebook, they have been a good source of troubleshooting/extra hands for me.

Ken H · · Granite, UT · Joined Jan 2006 · Points: 3,954

In 2012 we sold my wife's 1999 Outback which had bad head gaskets. I believe the guys who bought said there is a difference with single overhead cams and dual overhead cams. I believe they said one has to come all the way out but the other just needs to be hoisted up a little and you don't need to pull the whole block. Either way I think you need a hoist. Probably can rent a hoist from someone in SL County.

I'd check here:

budman · · Moab,UT · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 10

Done a few.  Mostly heavy diesels in class 7 and 8 trucks as well as mine equipment.  Some models had external leaks and others internal leaks.  Best to pull the engine because it allows better access to putting a better finish on the block surface.  I recall 5 star being an aftermarket shimed style gasket like the ones used in heavy diesels.  Only takes a few hours to pull the engine.  I live down in Moab, if you need info send me a pm.   Bud

Pjm · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 10

James, in 20100 I bought a 2007 Outback and it had that pin hole leak on both sides - very annoying particularly since it was at 75,000 miles. The job I had done was around $3.5K from a private Subaru specialty shop in Atlanta and they had to pull the entire engine. I also had some other stuff done and the final bill was around $5k, BUT, I now have a motor that will go several hundred thousand miles more. From what I have read and was told, if you don't do it right, it will just go back to leaking. I just passed my Subie along to my 16 year old son and it is happily ticking along and runs great. Good luck!

Ben Horowitz · · Tokyo, JP · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 121

I know it is a taboo thing to mention, but Gold Eagle No Leak additive works pretty well. I had a bad leak on my Subaru Forester (2003) with oil leaking out onto exhaust and making a nasty smell (no coolant leaking into the head). I put in about half the recommended amount, went on many long trips and definitely helped a lot. It is obviously not a perminant solution, but might be enough depending on how long you plan to keep the car and/or how long you think it'll be till you get around to fixing it. I eventually had the job done since I had lots of other issues (lots of deferred regular maintenance, squeaky timing belt, old water pump, etc.) that were trivial to solve with the engine pulled and the car didn't have that many miles (~110k).

See here for more experience:

WHAM . · · Utah · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 1
Tim Lutz wrote:

 All Subies blow head gasket between 120-150k. is yours the 2.2 or 2.5? 

I have a 1997 legacy with the EJ22. It has 330k and has never had a head gasket replaced. 

The issue is still present in the 2.2 but it is not a foregone conclusion like the EJ25

James Turner · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 0

I have a 2.5L SOHC that just passed 160k. I don't lose much oil between changes, and definitely don't seem to be burning any, which is great.

If I do go forward with the repair, I'm definitely doing the timing belt and water pump, it only adds another $170ish dollar to the parts bill and you have to take the belt off the replace the gaskets. It just makes sense. I've had some other problems with it, a few months ago I replaced the passenger side CV axle (for the second time, the stealership did the first one and it didn't last) and the ball joints. It needs an outer tie rod end, and driver's side rear strut. The rear bushings on the control arms are starting to leak a little. But nothing else major, to my knowledge. It is indeed a tricky situation since the repair, done by a shop, would cost me about what the car is worth (very possibly more than it's worth). If I can do it myself, it's a no brainer, I could fix all the known problems for less than $700 probably.

I'd like to pull the engine to do it, but, it can't be a weekend job since I want to take the heads into a machine shop to be resurfaced or at least checked for warp-age and I don't think any are open on the weekend. And I usually work weekdays. I think this is where a lot of people get screwed, they don't get the heads checked and then the new HGs don't last long, so I'm adamant about getting them checked out. Or they get cheap replacement gaskets. Fel-pro now makes a multi-layer steel gasket which seems to be preferred among people on the internet for replacements. It's the new and improved design. Supposedly you can do the 2.5L HGs in the car, it's just sucks and you have to unbolt the engine and jack it up slightly (don't have a floor jack either). Hoist would be better but I think renting one would be cost prohibitive, so I would almost have to find one to borrow if I want to do it with the engine out.

Justin Meyer · · Madison, WI · Joined May 2012 · Points: 47

If you have a way to get it home you can probably buy a used hoist on Craigslist, use it for the job, then sell it again for the same price (assuming you are in a populated area with a busy Craigslist).

NathanC · · Logan, UT · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 10

Owned a few Toyotas with a particular I6 that was notorious for blown headgaskets before I started wrenching professionally.  Even we were saying “at least it’s not a subie”

Count on a few weeks turnaround from any machine shop, even just to check it out.  Also be warned MLS gaskets require a much lower RA on the mating surfaces to seal effectively - plan on lapping if that’s the route you want to go.  Be prepared to pull the motor, and once the heavy lifting is done it’s just about being clean, meticulous, and very organized.  Not hard for an average joe, just lots of gotchas and broken plastic bits (that connector costs how much!?!)

You at least understand head warpage, so you’re light years ahead of some of the DIY’ers I’ve seen come into the shop.  Buy/borrow a hoist and go have some fun!

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,476
zoso wrote: Must be something in these Lezbaroos to go through all this.  I'll stick with other brands.  

It's a basic flaw of the boxer engine design from what I have heard. For years I thought it was the quality of the head gasket materials, but that seems loony and easy to fix. I would be curious if Porshes also have this issue.

D.Sweet · · Damascus, MD · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 20

Not exactly true.  The turbo models don't have these same issues that the NA motors have.  The base block on a lot of these motors is the same but the heads and head gaskets are different.

My suggestion would be to use the STI gaskets on your EJ251 motor.  They fit but are stronger and less prone to leak issues.  The newer OEM gasket is supposed to be better than the original but it really sucks to fix the leak just to have it come back after 40k.

Kev V · · The mitten · Joined May 2013 · Points: 10

If you do go through with it, get your hands on a Haynes manual or something similar and make sure you are torquing everything to spec..

Went through the whole process with a '98 outback, put it all back together and it ran like a boss for a few months, but then the bolt for the timing belt tensioner wiggled loose, timing belt slips and there goes the engine. Damn interference engines!

Kemper Brightman · · Tucson · Joined Dec 2011 · Points: 2,096

My girlfriend has a 2011 Forrester with 80k on it. The mechanics have been monitoring a film on the head gasket for the past couple oil changes. Got it serviced last week and it looks like it's a full blown leak now... Was quoted $2,500 to get it fixed...

Meanwhile my 03 Civic with 170k  full on blew a head gasket going 80 on the highway and cost $1,100 to replace, re-machine and all the extra parts others have mentioned...

We love the subie for so many reasons but having to replace the head gasket at less than 100k ( or ever honestly) seems a bit rediculous.

Im still holding out for the AWD, lifted Prius...

D.Sweet · · Damascus, MD · Joined Nov 2012 · Points: 20

Most places are going to price you for having to pull the entire motor out to swap the gaskets.  This is the major difference in cost between an inline 4 vs H4.  The thing is, you don't actually have to do that.  You can pop the bolts on the motor and transmission mounts and jack the motor up, remove radiator and timing belt etc.  A bit fiddly but it works and is an option for those that don't have a cherry picker.

R. Moran · · Moab , UT · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 140

One has to wonder how a major known flaw in a vehicle so popular has avoided a Recall? Boggles the mind. Subaru run forever you just need to change the engine every 50,000 miles. Routine maintenance I suppose 

Mobes Mobesely · · MDI · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 865
Tim Lutz wrote:

 All Subies blow head gasket between 120-150k. is yours the 2.2 or 2.5? The newer ones, 2013, are supposed to be fixed, but time will tell.

$2k is cheap, the re-furbed 2.2 engine will run 1.5k, so $500 in labor is a steal.  So, that's probably what your car is worth, so a tricky position to be in.

oh, and most burn a quart of oil every thousand miles or so.  This is from, you know, the environmentally friendly company.

True on that, 3 out of 4 people I've known with post 1970s-1990s Subarus have had to do major engine repairs.

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,476
D.Sweet wrote: Not exactly true.  

In doing more research, it looks like Subaru simply ignored the problems with certain productions years like every manufacturer does. Lovely, isn't it? 

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,476
R. Moran wrote: One has to wonder how a major known flaw in a vehicle so popular has avoided a Recall? Boggles the mind. Subaru run forever you just need to change the engine every 50,000 miles. Routine maintenance I suppose 

Which is why I will never own one. Who needs that crap?

Adam Stackhouse · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 13,270

head-gasket issues on a Subaru?  Great car to look trendy in though...

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Northern Utah & Idaho
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