Auto repairs are seldom fun, but nobody wants to replace a head gasket. For those not engine savvy, the head gasket is a thin gasket typically made of steel that sandwiches between the cylinder block and the head. It’s hard to reach in the best of circumstances, and if you can’t handle the repair yourself, it can easily cost upwards of $2,000 at a shop.
Head gaskets are usually meant to last the life of the engine, but some models certainly have a reputation for spitting them out early and often. Consumer Reports conducted a study based on data from its Annual Autos Survey to suss out the worst offenders, and if you’re a Subaru fan, you probably already know this isn’t going to be pretty. The same goes for team BMW, and in fact, BMW and Subaru models account for nearly the entire list in the Consumer Reports study.
The top offender is the 2006-2007 BMW 3 Series, with head gasket failures possible between 90,000 and 138,000 miles. From there it's a parade of Subarus with the 2006-2008 Impreza, 2001-2009 Outback, and the 2001-2009 Forester. To be fair, these vehicles are using the same engine, but head gasket failures starting at around 95,000 miles are uncomfortably common.
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze interrupts the Subaru slide, but its head gasket issues can start as early as 62,000 miles. Another Subie – this time the Baja – enters the list followed by the BMW-sourced 2008-2010 Mini. The 2000 Mazda MX-5 is singled out, with the 2013 BMW X5 and 2008 Infiniti M rounding out the list.
A bad head gasket isn’t a problem you can skimp on, either. If you're very lucky, you'll have a small external leak that puffs some smoke. Oftentimes, the leak will cause the engine to overheat as air gets into the cooling system. You’ll also lose power, and there’s a very good chance that engine coolant will end up in the oil. If the engine doesn’t expire from overheating, compromised oil will most decidedly kill it in a hurry.