August 7

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets



Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience. 25 time winners of Best Auto Repair in Vancouver as voted by their customers. We're talking cars. How are you doing, Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So, today's victim is a 2010 Subaru Forester that had something going on with the head gasket. What was happening with this vehicle? 

Bernie: Yeah, so the owner brought the vehicle to us saying that the head gaskets that need to be replaced. There was some fluid leaks coming out of the engine coolant and oil. Usually it's just oil, but this one had some coolant leakage as well. 

Mark: So, do you need to do any kind of inspection and diagnosis when this is the case? The customer comes in and tells you what's going on. 

Bernie: Yeah, we always do some testing and diagnosis because as much as I like to say that the customers, there's that saying the customer is always right, in the automotive world, let's say the customer's often wrong. But they'd had it looked at somewhere else and so we did look at it and it's a pretty easy verification on a Subaru. 

I'll show some pictures in a little bit. But you can see where the head gaskets leak on these things. It's very noticeable and there's not really any further diagnosis beyond a visual inspection needed. But the one thing that was interesting about this one is, you know, the coolant and oil had mixed. So the actual engine oil had a bit of a chocolate milky effect. So this head gasket was actually in worse shape than most we see. 

Mark: So what repairs did you do? 

Bernie: Well, we basically replaced the head gaskets and do everything that's involved. So when we do the head gaskets, we, of course do the timing belt at the same time. We'll talk about that a little later on, but the head gaskets are you know, we have to remove the timing belt. We have to remove the cylinder heads and everything associated, the exhaust manifold, the intake manifold. In this case, we had the cylinder heads pressure tested just to make sure there wasn't a crack in the heads.

Only because there had been coolant and oil had mixed. So that's a little more extreme than usual. So we had the cylinder heads resurfaced at a machine shop, which we do every time, irregardless, because it's just important to have a flat surface. 

So we replaced valve cover gaskets, intake and exhaust gaskets. There's a coolant pipe that goes over the top of the engine. We replaced that. There's some seals there that can leak. And while we're there, why not just take that pipe off and do those seals. We also adjust valve clearance at the same time and usually replace spark plugs as well. Sometimes ignition wires too. That's kind of the list of what we do. 

Mark: So this is a lot of work it seems like, and we've talked quite a few times about Subaru head gasket repairs. What causes these head gaskets to fail? 

Bernie: It's basically a design issue. The the head gaskets, you know, let's just get in some pictures and I'll kind of explain it as we go.

So this is a view actually with the timing cover off the front of the engine. What we're looking at here is the right cylinder, where the right cylinder head, I'm moving my mouse pointer around, where the right cylinder head meets the engine block. This is where the mouse pointer is.

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

This is the bottom of the engine. This is the old oil filter we hadn't removed yet. And the exhaust bolts up in this area over here. Along this seam, and actually, Ed had cleaned it before I had a chance to take any good pictures. So this would have actually been a lot oilier, but you can even see some oil and collected oil and material at the front of the head gaskets. That's how bad this one was leaking. But there was a definite, more distinct amount of oil and some coolant drips down in this area here. 

We talked about what makes the head gaskets leak. Okay, so here's the old head gaskets here. And these are basically like a single, they're like a one steel layer gasket with a coating on top of it. And I think the coating breaks down over time. I'm pretty sure that and the fact that it's a single layer steel gasket... 

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

This is a picture of a replacement. I took this off a parts website, but if you look at this carefully, you can see there's actually 3 layers of steel and it's formed with indents and ridges to seal certain services. These little rivets at the corners here, they basically hold the steel together. This is a good, high quality head gasket. And this is what we replaced it with. And the STI and the WRX models, some high performance models, they all have multi layer steel gaskets and they very rarely fail. So I think it's really a materials issue with what causes these gaskets to fail.

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

I'll just look at a couple of other pictures here. These are close ups. So this area here, this is kind of the oil return passageway, it's at the bottom of the cylinder head. So all the oil sort of gets pumped out into the valve train area, drops down, you know, gravitational, of course, drops down to the bottom of the head and it flows back into the engine block.

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

And so oil sits in this area. And this is where the leaks will often occur. This passageway here again, moving my most pointer. These two passageways here are where coolant flows through the cylinder head and the engine block. So you know, if you have any deterioration between these two surface areas, you're going to get coolant and oil mixing.

You know, it's kind of hard. This is a smartphone photography, so it's hard to get really fantastic resolution. But I think this next picture is a little better. You can actually see where the arrow points a little bit of a pitting in the actual coating here, where it's broken apart. And we tend to see this every time we do one of these gaskets, you can see a deterioration of this coating here. So, to answer your question with many words, that's the reason. It's just poor gasket material. 

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

We have more pictures. So this is a view of the engine mostly reassembled, the fans aren't put back in, but this is the intake without the upper radiator hose with but timing covers are on the front of this engine and the intakes in, the fuel lines, of course, are yet to be hooked up. So this is partial process, but this is what the new head gaskets installed. 

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

And this is a view of the engine with the heads off. So this is basically looking at the engine block. We do this in car. Sometimes we remove the engine, but most of the time we just do it in car because it's actually simpler and, it's not necessary to remove the engine. I mean, you can do the rear crankshaft seal. It's very rare that those ever leak. So there's not really a lot of time savings either way. This of course has the front of the engine cover off. There's a water pump there, crankshaft, sprocket where the timing belt goes. And I think that is the extent of our slideshow.

2010 Subaru Forester Head Gaskets

Mark: So, obviously, I guess the big question is then, you put in an upgraded gasket when you do this repair? 

Bernie: Yeah, we do. Now, here's the thing. I was sort of thinking to myself, you know, this car is now 12 years old. That original crappy gasket lasted for 12 years. So maybe 11, you know, probably probably failed a while ago.

So, you know, that's a pretty decent amount of time. But, you know, there are head gaskets. I mean, there are cars, you know, engines where you could run it for probably 30 years before head gasket fails. So you know, over my many years of working on cars, there are certain engines of where there's certain cars have predictable head gasket failures.

I mean, this Subaru 2.5 engine is probably the most common one just because of the oil leak situation. So it's better to put an upgraded gasket in. Chances are this car probably won't be on the road in 12 years, but you never know. If it is, it'll not need head gaskets.

Mark: So you mentioned the timing belt, you replaced the timing belt and assorted other parts. How come you have to change that stuff out? 

Bernie: Well, the timing belt is an interval replacement item .Usually 168,000 kilometres. In time like mileage interval, I think there is a time interval, but honestly, you know, they last a long time. It's a very durable belt. Unlike the previous generation of Subarus, which I owned one of, the one with the two timing belt, 1.8 litre engine, those things snap timing belts sometimes 50,000 kilometres. Just absolute garbage. 

But these timing belts are really, they're fat. They're like a, you know, a way over an inch thick. They're at least an inch wide, not thick, that'd be a tough belt to turn. They're at least an inch wide, if not, you know, an inch and a quarter, so they, there's a lot of surface area and they use round tooth timing belts. It's interesting, timing belts used to have a square tooth and those would break much easier. A round tooth belts last much longer. I don't know why, but they work way better. 

So anyways, we do the timing belt, the water pump at the same time, because it's driven by the timing belt. We also replace the tensioner pulley and a tensioner assembly, as well as the three idler pulleys. We do the front engine oil seals, cam and crankshaft seals. The reason we do all of them is, you know, they've all got the same amount of mileage and usage out of them. And so those parts, if they're not failed now, they will fail in the near future. And, you know, then you're gonna have to pull everything apart again and basically redo the job. So it's best to just do everything at one time, bite the bullet, get everything done. And then it's complete. 

Now, when we do a head gasket job on a Subaru, we don't always do the timing belt because sometimes, you know, the owners had the timing belt replaced previously. Say, at 168, and then vehicle gets like 190,000 kilometres, the head gaskets are leaking. Well, it doesn't make sense to change the timing belt or water pump if it's already been done. 

But one thing we always do is we always replace the hydraulic tensioner and pulley assembly. It's an oil filled, not with engine oil, but it's you know, like a separate piece. It's an oil filled tensioner. They will fail even though you follow the service procedure of compressing it. You put a pin in it and sometimes they'll fail and I've seen it on many different cars. So we just make a practice of if it comes apart, it gets replaced. Because once we do the job, it's kind of on us if it fails. 

Mark: So, as I mentioned before, we've done quite a few podcasts on head gasket replacement on these. What's the range of vehicles where they had these problematic, if we could say that, head gaskets.

Bernie: If memory serves me correctly, I think 1999 is the first year of this engine. And so, you know, we've been doing them from '99 models up until this is a 2010, I think they put them in slightly newer versions maybe up to 2012, but by 2013, there's definitely no more of these 2.5 s ingle overhead cam timing belt engines. In WRXs, they still use the dual overhead cam with a timing belt, but they they're not as prone to head gasket failures. We we have done them, but they're not nearly as common of a failure. And often those will fail more from a coolant leaking into the cylinder problem as opposed to the oil leaking externally problem.

Mark: And so the change was not only they replaced the head gasket material, but they also went to a timing chain. 

Bernie: Yes, they did. Now here's the thing. They could have just used the same kind of gasket material, but for some reason, whenever they changed it to the timing chain model, we haven't seen a head gasket failure on one of those yet. 

Not many engine repairs on those, which is sad for us, but fortunate for the owners of Subarus. You always want to have a car that doesn't need to visit the mechanic too often. I mean, there are problems with those engines in that you know, they have oil consumption and oil burning issues, which is actually worse. 

If you're buying a used one, it's hard to know whether it's an actual oil burner or not until you buy it. But I mean, that doesn't affect every model but it does some and it is a known problem and very hard to fix. But anyway, that's a subject for another podcast. 

Mark: Were there any other parts that you would replace with this service? 

Bernie: I think we've covered it all. 

Mark: And how did the Forester run after repairs? 

Bernie: It was good. You know, it actually ran fine when it came in the door too. And that's the thing about a lot of these Subarus is they actually run fine. They'll just leak oil. And sometimes it's not like puddles of oil. I mean, the worst one we've ever had, there was like a drip, drip on the ground. This person had left it for, a very long time. But most of them, it's just oil, you know, seepage. And most people are proactive. They want to make sure they take care of their car because the seepage will eventually lead to drip, drip, drip, but it you know, they usually run okay. Unless it's actually blowing coolant into the cylinders and then it's a problem. But that's very rare for a single overhead cam. 

Mark: How reliable are Subaru Foresters? 

Bernie: Yeah, they're a really reliable car. I can say there's probably two very predictable problems with Subarus. One of the 2.5 litre, single overhead cam head gaskets. I was thinking before doing this podcast that they all say there's two things in life that are guaranteed, death and taxes. Well, if you own a 2.5 litre Subaru, you're also guaranteed to have to do a head gasket. If you own it for, you know, a certain period of time.

Mark: You said there's two things, what was the other issue? 

Bernie: Oh, yeah, wheel bearings. They tend to have wheel bearing issues and usually often their rears, but, you know, they develop noisy wheel bearing. So, I mean, that's not nearly as much of an issue as a head gasket for cost, but that's kind of a predictable issue as well. And more of the rear than the fronts. 

Mark: If you're looking for service for your Subaru in Vancouver, BC, Canada, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can book online on their website There actually is over a thousand videos on there of all kinds of repairs, all types, makes, models, vehicles. We've been doing this for 10 years. And of course you can also just call them to book. You have to call or book ahead because they're always busy. And the number to call is (604) 327-7112. Thanks so much for watching and listening. We appreciate it. Thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

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Bernie Pawlik

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