1996 to 2011 Subaru Head Gaskets Issues

There are two separate groups or years of production that the failures fall into.


The first Group is the 1st generation 2.5 Dual overhead cam engines from 1996 to 1999 models. This group usually will develop an internal head gasket leak ultimately resulting with an overheating engine.


Early signs of head gasket failure these engines will include an oily residue with a fuel or sulfur smell found in the coolant overflow bottle. What typically happens next is intermittent higher than normal coolant temperature gauge readings, followed with intermittent overheating especially during a long freeway trip or a drive up long grades.


The Second Group is the 2.5 single overhead cam engine from mid year 1999. The early symptoms are usually an external oil leak at the rear of both head gaskets. Early detection of failing head gaskets is the key to keeping the repair costs down. When the problem is diagnosed and repaired at the earliest signs of failure the potential for additional damage can be held to a minimum. There is documented chronic problems up to 2011.

The early 2.2 engine, H-6, and Turbo models do not suffer the head gasket problems. They do fail, but not from a factory issue, it is usually an overheat problem like any other engine on the market.


My current on-going special is $1,500. This includes all new gaskets, seals, water pump, timing belt and tensioners, oil pump reseal if necessary, oil and new coolant.



There are two other issues with these Boxer engines: Oil consumption, random or chronic that can and will result in catastrophic engine failure. The other is piston slap, this is an annoying sound but not harmful. Check back for further articles on these problems.


Since I wrote this 6 years ago, Subaru has added oil consumption to their line up of problems. Model years 2011-2014 have a class action lawsuit ongoing—click here.

Early Head Gasket Failure:


The picture below is from a Forester that had head gaskets replaced from another shop. The machine shop left a rough cut surface that allowed exhaust gasses to blow into the coolant passages after a short time in service.

Before Surface Treatment

After Surface Treatment

At Apple Automotive:


We do not automatically resurface every head. If the heads are not warped , we condition the sealing surface, giving it a multi-directional, micro finish that we have

developed over the years. We have never had to re-do a job with this level of attention to detail.

Subaru Head Gasket Failures Explained