2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester Problems

Find out the most common 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester problems owners have run into, like heat shield rattle and excessive oil consumption. Our experts review the symptoms, causes, and fixes for the top issues with the 2nd generation Subaru Forester.

Common 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester Problems: 2nd Generation

1A Auto mechanic reviewing the top 5 problems with the 2nd gen 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester

1. Airbag Recall

Symptoms of Airbag Recall

  • Airbag may implode when activated

Causes of Airbag Recall

Takata air bags had a major recall for air bags. The inflator can fail and if it’s not working, the air bag may break completely and burst, leaving a driver in an accident with no protection. It could also send fragments of metal in the airbag’s place.

How to Fix an Airbag Recall

There is a recall, so bring the 2003 to 2008 Forester to a Subaru dealership.

2. Excessive Oil Consumption

Symptoms of High Oil Consumption

  • Consistently low oil levels
  • Blue or gray smoke out of tail pipe

Causes of Excessive Oil Consumption

Normal, raised oil consumption will happen over time. The 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester has been known to excessively burn oil, meaning owners have had to add an extra quart to a quart and ½ every oil change, and in extreme cases may have to add a quart every 1,000 miles or so.

The engine’s design allows oil to sneak by the pistons in some areas and burn up in the combustion chamber, causing excessive consumption.

How to Fix High Oil Consumption Problems on the 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester

Subaru has a test to find out if your Forester is excessively burning motor oil. It involves changing the oil to the proper amount, driving 1,000-1,200 miles, draining the oil, and measuring how much is in the engine to tell how much oil is burning. Then it will be decided whether to fix internal components or not.

If you don’t have the money or time to bring the 2nd gen Forester to a Subaru dealership, get under the hood and check the oil level periodically. Keep an extra quart or two if you have the space. It’s understandable if you’d rather not store engine oil in your car or if you don’t feel safe with extra oil sitting around, but keep in mind it is not flammable or dangerous and will help with preventative maintenance.

Tip: When adding oil, only go to the maximum line. Adding too much oil can also cause engine damage.

Read more about excessive oil consumption

3. Head Gaskets Failing

2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester engine

Symptoms of Head Gasket Failure

  • Oil leaks on sides of engine
  • Runability issues
  • Smoke from tail pipe after warming engine up
  • Blue or dark gray smoke from the tail pipe, indicating an oil leak
  • White smoke from the tail pipe, indicating coolant leaking into the engine

Causes of Head Gaskets Failing

There are gaskets on both sides, the driver and passenger side, of the engine. These have been known to break down internally, and areas that should only be exposed to oil or coolant can leak other fluids in and mix if the gasket is defective.

How to Fix Head Gaskets Failing

The valve covers are farthest out and away, and the head gasket is between the head and engine block. You can look at the engine from underneath and see if oil is dripping down the sides.

Look for leaks and check all the fluid levels. If the engine oil is low, it may be leaking but it’s also common for the oil to burn. Check the coolant/antifreeze level. If it looks low and there are no visible leaks, it could be burning inside the engine. Both are not good for the environment or your engine.

This job is a big repair and will require taking apart a lot of parts on the top and sides of engine. You’ll need to pull the engine out of the car for full access, which can be timely and difficult if you’re not experienced. This is a good opportunity to replace other parts, so you’ll also need more parts than the head gasket, like the timing belt, water pump, thermostat, and other parts, and you’ll have to drain and refill the coolant.

4. Fuel Tank One Way Valve Failure

Symptoms of Fuel Tank One Way Valve Failure

  • Spitting and sputtering from the engine
  • Engine misfire
  • Fuel light is on but not much fuel to drive with

Causes of Fuel Tank One Way Valve Failure

The fuel tank has a reservoir area to hold ½ gallons of fuel. Once the low fuel light on the dashboard turns on, you usually have a certain amount of time to get to a gas station, and this will also drain the reserve to low levels. A valve in the fuel tank lets fuel slosh around in the tank and can move it into the reservoir to get you to the station, but the valve can wear internally, stick, and prevent the flow of fuel into the reservoir. This can cause you to have a much lower fuel level than there normally would be when the light is on.

This light could be turning on because fuel is low, but also because the valve is failing. This is mostly a problem with 2005 to 2008 models.

How to Fix Fuel Tank One Way Valve Failure

You can access the valve from the top of the fuel tank. Steps include removing the fuel pump and finding the valve at the bottom of the fuel tank, and then twisting and removing the valve. You want the fuel level to be as low as possible, and you do not want it to touch your skin. You don’t need to replace the valve, and with it removed, fuel will move around and get in the fuel tank reservoir.

5. Rust or Rotting at the Front of the Vehicle

Rust on the 2nd gen 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester

Symptoms of Rust or Rotting at the Front of the Vehicle

  • Rotting at forward bracket area under front of vehicle on lower control arm
  • Subframe rot

Causes of Rust or Rotting at the Front of the Vehicle

Moisture and road salt can leak into areas underneath the front of the vehicle and rust them out. If you see rot on the lower control arm bracket, you can also find rot up along the top area. Rot holes will weaken parts and make driving unsafe. With all the weight of the vehicle on it, rotted suspension parts are more likely to fold.

How to Fix Rust or Rotting at the Front of the Vehicle

Tap the control arm with a hammer or pick and see if any parts break free, loosen, or if rust sheds.

Check both control arms and the subframe. If the upper or lower control arm is rotted, replace the control arm and get a four-wheel alignment after.

Subframe rot is harder to fix and the subframe is harder to replace. It’s a larger part and bolts to a few different areas.

Read more about frame rot

6. Heat Shield Rattling

Symptoms of Heat Shield Rattle

  • Heat shield rattle

Causes of Heat Shield Rattle

Heat shield rattle can occur when you hit a bump, but you might also hear it vibrating when sitting at idle. This happens from hardware that can rot and break.

How to Fix Heat Shield Rattle

Inspect and check for rotted or broken hardware. Replace any broken or rotted hardware on the heat shield, and don’t remove and leave the vehicle without a shield.

Read more on how to fix heat shield rattle

2nd Generation Subaru Forester Model Years

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2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester Problems - Expert Advice - 1A Auto
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2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester Problems - Expert Advice - 1A Auto
Review the top 2003 to 2008 Subaru Forester problems owners have run into with this video and guide that reviews the top issues with the 2nd generation
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