Subaru Head Gasket Woes

Subaru Head Gasket Failures

Subaru’s are great year round cars for New England. On any giving day you drive by our shop it can look like a used car lot for Subaru’s. We do service that many.

As I said they are great cars, but like all things good they’re not perfect.

There are three repairs that strike fear in the hearts of Subaru owners. If you own a Subaru, the odds are not in your favor of avoiding one of the following repairs:

The top three most expensive problems with a Subaru

1. Timing belt replacement.  (Necessary maintenance)

2. Converter replacement. Short trip driving, ignoring a check engine light or poor maintenance are a factor.  Other times it’s just dumb luck.

3. Cylinder head gasket replacement.  The “luck” thing plays into this in a couple of ways.  But, it is helpful to follow the recommended service/maintenance schedule provided by Subaru.

 Costly Repairs

All of these items can be costly repairs, but today we’re going to talk about cylinder head gaskets. The other day a Subaru wagon came in for a basic service. The customer also complained of a burning smell coming from the vehicle. With the vehicle on the lift, inspection found that engine oil was leaking onto the exhaust system.
Where was the oil leaking from?
The head gaskets, in fact, oil was leaking from both sides of the motor.

Let’s Take a Look

The next 2 images are from  the driver’s & passenger side cylinder heads showing the area where the leak was occurring.  This condition is more of a Subaru problem and is rarely seen on other vehicle makes.  (click on image for better view)

So why is that? When it comes to Subaru’s they are known for problems with their head gaskets.

Subaru’s head gasket problems generally come in 2 flavors.

1. Head gasket failure resulting in an oil leak, as you can see by the images shown.

2. Head gasket failure that allows combustion gases to be pushed into the cooling system, or coolant being allowed to enter the combustion chamber.

In either event, to correct the problem requires removal of the cylinder heads to replace the gaskets, which is no small task.

To get a better idea of cost for a job of this type use our link to Repair Pal and plug in the Subaru information shown below.

Head Gasket(s) Replacement 2008 Subaru Outback with a 2.5 liter engine, near zip code 03261 or plug in your Subaru’s info


Go to Repair Pal….


Let’s Get the Engine Part…

With the cylinder heads removed inspection of the cylinder head gasket found the cause for the leak. The sealing material on the gasket had failed. The next few images show (click on image for better view) the area that the gaskets had failed, it is fairly easy to see. As you look at the images another question may come to mind.

What is that material that looks like paper on the cylinder head gasket for?

That material actually has a couple of responsibilities, aiding in sealing but it also is designed to allow for movement of the cylinder head.  Yes, movement of the cylinder head..  More on this in a minute.

As mentioned previously, this has been an ongoing problem with Subaru’s.   You can get the replacement gaskets from Subaru; they have improved the design, but there is better product out there to help prevent a re-occurrence of this problem.

With some research we have found an aftermarket head gasket that is of better quality and has been providing us and our customers with excellent service.

What makes the aftermarket gasket so different?


 How Do They Measure Up?

To give you an idea of the difference, we used a micrometer to measure the difference in thickness of the original equipment Subaru gasket.

You’ll note the gray dots on the gasket, these are the points where the measurements were taken. The next 3 images show readings/measurements found. As always, (click on image for better view)

Run your mouse over the images to see the measurements recorded. Okay with that out of the way, let’s take the readings/measurements in the same places on the aftermarket gasket.


Head Gasket’s Main body measured  .027” Head Gasket’s Armor ring measured .032” Head Gasket’s sealing area for the oil passage measured .033"







Head Gasket’s Main body measured just over .0.35” Head Gasket’s Armor ring measured .064” Head Gasket’s sealing area for the oil passage measured .053”.





The first thing you’ll notice is the gasket is thicker in all 3 places. Run your mouse over the images to see the measurements recorded. You remember the picture that showed the area that failed in the old gaskets? Now look at that same area on the aftermarket gasket compared to the Subaru factory gasket. The design has been changed to improve the sealing in that problem prone area. (click on image for better view)


Got-to Slip and Slide

The aftermarket gasket is a 3 piece gasket while the Subaru is a one piece gasket. Both gasket’s have the silvery looking Teflon looking coating. The coating on the old style head gaskets looks like paper peeling off  in an earlier photo of the old & failed head gasket.

The coating is needed to allow the cylinder head to move where it sets/seals to the engine block. Why is this? The cylinder head will heat up at a different rate than the engine block during warm-up. As the aluminum heats up, it expands in size. As you can guess the head will grow/expand faster than the engine block.

We’re not talking big numbers here. You could not see change with your eyes. But in the world of engines there is a lot going on!! I will not bore you with those details.

In any case, the coating on the head gasket allows for some slip n slide. This slip n slide is also part of the problem. The coating doesn’t last forever under these conditions.

Three is Better Than One

The aftermarket gasket by being a 3 piece gasket allows for more slip-n-slide. The center part allows 2 more slip-n-slide surfaces to help reduce work the coated surfaces that seals against the cylinder head and engine block.

If you took the time to visit the Repair Pal web site and plugged in the information provided you’ll agree that if this repair was being performed on your Subaru you would want the aftermarket head gasket installed.



When it is All Said and Done

As a reminder,  Subaru has learned from the past and has made corrections in their product.  While technicians were waiting for a solution from Subaru, a replacement aftermarket gasket arrived.  The aftermarket gasket is a strong performer and our gasket of choice when it comes to replacement head gaskets on a Subaru.

Note; that cylinder head gasket technology is far more complex  than the small part we touched on in this article.


You’ll find several images from the head gasket replacement on the Subaru, see below.


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  1. Ed Wahlers says:

    What after market brand/manufacturer do you recommend for replacement head gasket for Subarus?

  2. The head gasket is always subjected to high pressure while the car is running because it seals the cylinders to maintain maximum compression and to protect it from leaking coolant or engine oil. A blown head gasket is one of the car problems that should never be ignored because it can lead to more serious problems that would be expensive to repair.

  3. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for the article on Subaru head gaskets (we just lost our engine due to the gasket).
    What I’m unable to find in your column is the manufacturer of the after market recommended gasket set. Can you enlighten me?


  4. Your website info is very helpful.

    Do you know if the recent production of subarus have fixed this gasket problems? Just curious as I’m looking to purchase a new outback. Thanks!

  5. I own a 2006 Subaru Outback wagon H4-2.5.. I needed to replace the head gaskets at 60,000 miles. A Subaru dealership did the service. Later I found out that a 3M roloc disc (Whiz Wheel) was used to prep the head surface. The head’s were not machined. They also used a gasket’s for a turbo engine, the service manager recommended the turbo gasket’s. Did the dealer do the repair correctly, or did I pay for a Band-Aid repair? I now have 89,000 on the vehicle. I’m now getting ready for the timing belt replacement.

  6. elizabeth durstin says:

    We have owned a Subaru which now has 98,0000 miles. It was serviced by Center Subaru in Torrington,CT. except for some of the oil changes which were done by us during vacation. This car has been an excellent vehicle, never any signs of overheating. This past month the car went in for a new clutch and my daughter was told that she had a cracked head. (news to us). I understand there were some real problems with these heads. Center Subaru charged her $2,600. We really feel that this should be covered by the warranty. They gave her a $500. credit. I don’t feel this is right. We notified Subaru, they haven’t gotten back to us yet.

  7. Marcy Bresnan says:

    I wish I would have known this before. Just lost my engine on a 2005 outback. Hard to find another one. You would think that they would use a better gasket from the beginning. Fixing the problem with another engine at this time and requested to have them change the gasket before they put the engine in this week. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Scott Asbjornsen says:

    The Superior Head Gasket brand is Six Star. Speciality Subaru Shops sell them, and use them. If your Head Gaskets fail, it might be more cost effective to buy a rebuilt long block on E-Bay. It is a Michigan Subaru Independent Shop, and they use the Six Star brand Gaskets. The prices are terrific, and they ship nationwide. You will end up with a better engine core than from the factory. This problem with Head Gaskets, represents a failure in Subaru’s procurement department. The Gasket Supplier should have been taken to task as soon the problem reached a 25% Failure rate. I am replacing my 2003 OBS Engine at 199,000, but there has been oil leaks for 7 seven years. I will be using Lucas Engine oil leak protection in the oil, and 10-30W oil. The 5-30W does not properly protect the engine, but licensed shops are required by law to use it. Have your oil changed by a neighorhood mechanic, and use the 10-30w. I use Hardex Semi-Metallic braje pads (sold on E-Bay). They stop better than stock pads, and if you want real safety, you will have brake dust. So do the Best German cars. Get Brembo or Disc Italia rotors. The are the best, and you never them. They do not rust, either. Just replace the pads. for questions and resources.

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  10. Bummed in Nevada says:

    Re 2010 with Multi Layer Metal / Viton seal gaskets… BLOWN !!!!

    I’d been driving a turbo-diesel crew cab for years, moved into town and decided to get a smaller, more versatile, and snow-worthy vehicle since I love the mountains and ski as much as possible in winter..

    I recently got a used 2010 Outback and the thing just blew its head gaskets on a trip to San Francisco. I’m just shy of 60 years old and ended up doing a Walmart parking lot thermostat removal… In the dark. In unfamiliar territory. Pretty stupid for a supposedly grown up guy.

    I am super bummed ’cause this is supposed to be a DURABLE car… NOT !!! I find that there are these CHRONIC BIG $ PROBLEMS with these cars. Yes, there are videos on You Tube claiming that they fixed the problem and all that but my motor (now disassembled) has the fancy three layer metal and super Viton rubber head gaskets. So … All you Subaru fans out there –


    If anybody can come up with any reason at all why I should ever trust this vehicle, please let me know. Seems like –

    THEY ARE DESIGNED TO FAIL. And no one has a solution other that thrusting in luck??? Whatever.

    Does anyone out there have a solution other than fixing this car and getting rid of the POS??? I like the way it drives, although some of my buddies think its “girly”. Is there any way to reliably fix this? Seems like ALL THE LOCVAL SHOPS KNOW ABOUT THE HEAD GASKET PROBLEMS. THEY SAY “THAT’S JUST THE WAY SUBARUS ARE”.

    You know, funny thing, I tested the old thermostat, the original OEM one, vs. the replacement OEM one and the old one was only opening half as far as the new one… Could lazy thermostats be causing overheating, leading to HG fail? Probably not.


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