hardly worth mentioning
Crashes / Fires:
0 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
0 / 0
Average Mileage:
110,908 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Subaru Forester engine problems

engine problem

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2003 Subaru Forester Owner Comments

problem #10

May 012014


  • 90,000 miles


We purchased this car new and maintained it according to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. However, around 75,000 miles the head gaskets started leaking. After each use of the car, oil would leak onto the exhaust manifold and produce a burnt oil smell in the garage; not good. The leak remained limited and our service technician (aaa-approved), advised us to not make any repairs right away, but to monitor the leak. The leaking became progressively worse and affected both the left and right side of the boxer cylinder heads. At 90,000 miles, the leaks required a full head gasket repair, necessitating extraction of the entire engine. While this work was done, timing belt, water pump and other unrelated maintenance issues were performed. The main complaint we have is with the premature failure of this boxer engine's head gaskets. Subaru *knows* there is a problem as it recommends an coolant additive for older engines in an attempt to postpone the head gasket problems. And a quick google search reveals that many thousands of Subaru owners have had head gasket problems, yet Subaru of America (soa) has never issued a recall. If the boxer engine design is prone to head gasket problems, as it appears to be in Subaru, and failures happen well before 100,000 miles, Subaru should stand behind its design and compensate owners for these expensive failures. Our repair cost nearly $4,000, with no guarantee that it won't happen again. We believe soa should issue recall for a faulty engine design, and develop a head gasket that will stand the test of time! soa continues to build this same engine into its current models, and the purchasers of these vehicles will each discover the head gasket problem, when warranties have expired and require expensive repairs. If these problems had led to crashes soa be forced to issue a recall.

- Saint Paul, MN, USA

problem #9

Dec 012014


  • miles
On winter days, where temperatures are not unusually low for a northern state, the fuel lines on the Forester will shrink and contract. The result is that fuel will leak out of the line resulting in two things, fuel vapors in the cabin and fuel puddling on the engine. Fuel puddling on the engine represents on obvious safety hazard in the event of a fire. The heavy fuel vapors and odor in the cabin caused me to become nauseous and light headed. In order to drive home safely, the windows had to be opened almost completely. Luckily they were not frozen up, which is also common in winter months. There have also been several days where wind chill alone could result in frost bite in only a few minutes. I could not have rolled down my windows safely on those days or in similar temps because of the added vehicle speed. Soa is aware that this is a problem, but refuses to correct the issue or admit that it applies to most of its models. The problem even continues on later models. This is a well known issue, see this thread that spans several years (continuing today): www.subaruforester.org/vbulletin/F87/smell-gas-cold-starts-41319/ the lines and problem are almost identical to the impreza issue, which resulted in Subaru service bulletin number 09-36-03.

- Pittsburgh, PA, USA

problem #8

Dec 302014


  • 240,000 miles
A rubber hose connecting two metal gas lines has started to leak. This is due to the cold weather. Subaru issued a recall for this on the WRX models of the same year. This engine is the same engine as in the WRX. It is the 2.5 N/a. why are our motors not being fixed as well? this is a major fire hazard. It is near the ignition system and above the exhaust pipe.

- Dunlap, IL, USA

problem #7

Sep 272014

Forester 4-cyl

  • 111,969 miles


We were driving on the interstate traveling about 70 mph when my husband noticed the back window had a greasy film that the wiper only made worse. We pulled off the highway to a gas station to take a look and noticed smoke billowing from the hood. After waiting a few minutes he raised the hood to more smoke. Having just had an oil change two days prior, I recalled that the service person mentioned slight transmission and oil leaks that were not major concerns and the car was safe to drive and could be addressed later. Turns out there was a hole in the piping directly underneath the battery, which was caused by battery acid dripping directly onto the metal piping causing the automatic transmission fluid to leak out. After removing the bolts from the plastic apron underneath the car to take a better look, it appeared transmission fluid had been leaking for a while. After pouring several quarts of transmission fluid into the car we were able to slowly drive it to the nearest service garage (about 5 miles), where we got a diagnostic done. Apparently this problem is not a new one to Subaru as a service bulletin was released for this particular issue (though they stated it could be from corrosion due to road salt or salt water, not battery acid). A replacement at oil cooler piping kit and foam packing must be installed to prevent corrosion damage. The battery placement directly over the piping is what contributed to the hole in the piping, causing a dangerous situation that could have led to a fire underneath the car. Apparently Subaru has redesigned the location of the battery in relation to the at fluid piping in their later model cars so it was a concerning issue that warranted this change. The garage manager felt it should have been a recall issue as it could have led to the vehicle catching fire.

- Virginia Beach, VA, USA

problem #6

Jul 022012

Forester 4-cyl

  • 138,000 miles
As I was driving the check engine light came on for the first time - it is now on continuously due to fuel cap. I pulled over at a service station only to realize my oil was next to empty. I promptly filled and continued the final half hour to my destination. Upon arrival I inspected the engine from under the hood & below the car. It was at this time I noticed build up and fluid around both head gaskets. Initially there was oil residue only, now, 18 months later I have coolant and oil leakage & cannot afford to spend the $1800 I have been quoted to replace the head gaskets. Very disappointed in Subaru for not handling this in a better way. My brother has the same car (year make & model) and has similar issues at fewer miles. My parents have a 2008 outback and had their head gaskets fail at 54,000 miles. Unacceptable. I enjoy everything about my Subaru except for the excessive amount it will cost to fix such a common design flaw.

- Marquette, MI, USA

problem #5

Jan 172014

Forester 4-cyl

  • 138,000 miles
While driving vehicle in extremely cold weather notice strong fuel smell coming in car.

- Solon, OH, USA

problem #4

Feb 132013

Forester 4-cyl

  • 77,116 miles


At cold temperatures, fuel leaking somewhere from vehicle, causing strong odor inside and out of cabin. Concerned that this amount of fuel could be hazardous to breathe and/or cause risk for fire. Need more proactive response from Subaru on this matter, at this point 26 of 115 complaints for this make/model/year are for this issue.

- Deerfield, IL, USA

problem #3

Nov 102013

Forester 4-cyl

  • 62,000 miles
2003 Forester has extremely strong aromas of fuel when starting & driving in cold weather. Fuel vapors are very dangerous, here are side effects of inhalation: Inhaling gasoline fumes brings concentrated hydrocarbons into your lungs and bloodstream. Some of the ingredients in gasoline are extremely toxic and are mutagens. Liver damage and permanent brain damage are possibilities. The side effects caused by the inhalation of gasoline can range from central nervous system (cns) depression, which can include: Eye and throat irritation, mild or pronounced dizziness, headache, lack of appetite, drowsiness and in-coordination. In more serious circumstances, it can cause unconsciousness, pulmonary edema, and death. Subaru should issue a recall and address the issue, because they installed a defective product!

- Scarsdale, NY, USA

problem #2

Nov 252013

Forester 4-cyl

  • 177,000 miles
Upon starting and running the vehicle in temperatures below freezing (32 degrees F), the fuel lines near the intake manifold in the engine bay leak gasoline, transmitting an unburnt fuel smell to the cabin via the HVAC system and blower fan. These fumes are toxic and therefore hazardous to motorist and passenger health. Also, fuel dripping near a hot intake manifold is a fire hazard. The lines appear corroded in spots and the fuel leak is visible and apparent. There is no recall for this issue. However, based upon the inspection, the apparent fuel leak in such close proximity to the hot engine is a major hazard for the motorist of the Forester and other motorists on the road - this issue should be resolved and Subaru should announce a recall on all (2003) Forester models.

- Silver Spring, MD, USA

problem #1

Jan 242013


  • 75,000 miles
Started and drove vehicle approx. 1 mile in 20 degree weather when I began to smell an extremely strong raw gasoline odor. The passenger compartment was inundated with the odor. I checked for leaks but did not see any(it was at night). I slowly drove home with my passenger-side windows open. Haven't driven the vehicle since....

- New York, NY, USA

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