Subaru WRX Problems: 8 Common Issues (Explained)

The Subaru WRX is an exceptionally popular car that began its life as an experimental rally car.

A rally car must be quick, nimble, and capable of handling a variety of driving conditions.

The WRX is a good reliable rally car and has helped to make Subaru a true sportscar manufacturer.

That said, all car models have problems of their own, and here’s a list of the most common issues and problems with the Subaru WRX models.

Check also: 5 Subaru models with the most recalls.

1. Head Gaskets Might Fail and Cause Engine Problems

The WRX has an aluminum head that helps to cut down on engine weight. Unfortunately, aluminum heads are prone to damage when the engine compartment gets hot.

If you live in the Desert Southwest or another local area where the summers are hot, the WRX might run much hotter and cause the head to deform.

A subtle warping of the head would make it possible for the head gaskets to fail and allow oil to leak out from within the engine compartment.

A leaking head gasket could become a serious problem if you let it linger for too long. The lack of oil could cause excessive engine heat and damage to mechanical components.

The valves in particular could become deformed or damaged and cause the engine to run roughly.

You need to keep a close eye on the oil levels in your WRX and watch for any excessive oil loss. If you see oil accumulating near the heads, you likely have a problem with the heads and the head gaskets.

The problem often occurs when a WRX tops the 100,000-mile mark.

2. Rough Running Due to Faulty Oxygen Sensors

Oxygen sensors perform the very important task of measuring the amount of oxygen that goes into the combustion chamber and helps to optimize the power, performance, and fuel economy of your WRX.

When an oxygen sensor goes bad, your WRX will not run as well as it should.

You initially might notice a drop in fuel economy and a rise in operating costs. As it gets worse, you could notice a drop in performance – especially while accelerating.

When idling, the engine might misfire and idle roughly. Those all are signs of a bad oxygen sensor.

The WRX shares the same engine and oxygen sensors are most other Subaru models. Unfortunately, virtually all of them suffer from short-lived oxygen sensors that develop cracks and become incapable of performing the job for which they are intended.

Instead of optimizing oxygen levels, they either fail completely or cause faulty oxygen levels inside the combustion chamber.
If your engine is getting too much oxygen, it is prone to running lean, overheating, and damaging the valves.

If your engine gets too little oxygen, it will run rich and cause carbon buildup in the combustion chamber and on the spark plugs.

The bad oxygen sensors generally affect older, high-mileage WRX models and will trigger the check-engine light.

The fix is fairly simple. You just replace the faulty oxygen sensor. The costs go up if the valves suffered damage or the engine has excessive carbon buildup.

3. Bad Camshaft Seal Threatens Engine Integrity

The camshaft performs a very important of opening and closing valves in time with the engine. When a camshaft fails the engine will run poorly and might fail completely.

That does not mean that the engine is dead, but a costly camshaft replacement becomes necessary.
A camshaft needs oil to reduce friction and heat.

Without oil, camshafts will overheat and suffer damage that will stop your car from running. Unfortunately, many WRX owners have complained about oil leaking from the camshaft, which greatly increases the potential for a camshaft failure.

The primary culprit is a faulty camshaft seal that is prone to early wear and tear.

When the camshaft seal starts to leak, the camshaft gets less oil, which causes more friction and heat.

You could check the engine for signs of oil leaking onto it from the faulty camshaft oil seal.

Replacing the seal will stop the problem, but you might also want to replace the camshaft.

Given the tight fit of the Subaru boxer engine within the chassis, extensive labor might be required to replace the seal and possibly the camshaft.

4. Cooling System Problems Make Owners Steamed

The cooling system on your WRX is critically important for ensuring a smooth-running and long-lasting engine.

The coolant helps to maintain a safe operating temperature and provides the cabin with heat on cold days.

When a problem with the cooling system occurs, the entire motor is in peril, and that really steams a lot of WRX owners.

If your WRX is running hot but the oil levels are good, there is an excellent chance you have one of the many Subarus that come with a water pump that does not last as long as intended.

A bad water pump could lead to overheating and catastrophic damage to the engine.

Heat is your engine’s biggest enemy, and friction is what creates it. When properly oiled, the motor has reduced friction and a lower operating temperature. The coolant is a big part of making that happen.
Although the coolant does not directly reduce friction, it removes heat from the engine core to complement the work done by the engine oil.

Less heat means less friction and a longer-lasting motor.
If the engine’s operating temperature is getting hotter, you might be among the owners who have a bad water pump on your WRX.

If you see any signs of coolant collecting beneath the engine compartment, that is a telltale sign of a bad water pump.

5. Leaking Oil Pump Seals Might Mangle the Motor

If you notice your WRX is consuming a lot of oil, another leaking seal might cause the problem.

This time, the oil pump seal might be the cause of oil loss and could create a small amount of oil accumulation beneath your engine.

The oil pump circulates the oil within the motor.

When the oil pump’a seal leaks, the motor could suffer along with your bank account.

A leaking oil pump often will reduce oil levels in the engine and accelerate wear and tear.
An improperly lubricated motor has more internal friction and runs much hotter than a properly oiled motor would. A hot-running WRX is in danger of wrecking the motor if you ignore the problem.
The problem often comes down to a bad seal in the oil pump.

They can become brittle and crack prematurely, which lets the oil leak out.

You might not notice a slow leak, but a bad one often will drip oil onto the exhaust manifold or the engine while it is running hotter due to a low oil level and increased internal friction. You might smell the oil burning on the hot engine or manifold.

You also might observe signs of oil dripping onto the pavement beneath your WRX.
You can replace the oil pump seal with an improved unit that should last longer than the stock part.

You also might consider replacing the entire oil pump to improve its cooling capacity.

6. Torque Converter Causes Wheel Hop

The torque converter helps to even out the RPMs on the respective axles while you are driving.

That is important because either a front-wheel-drive or an all-wheel-drive WRX has wheels that turn at different RPMs while cornering or making turns on city roads.

The outside wheels always cover more ground than the inside wheels when you are turning or cornering.

The difference in RPMs could cause accelerated wear and tear on the drivetrain, but the torque converter eliminates that problem by adjusting the RPMs for each axle.

A torque converter failure means the difference in rotational speeds will affect handling while cornering or turning on city streets. The result often is one or more wheels hopping due to a faster RPM than the slower wheels.

It also makes turning more difficult.

If your WRX is among those that suffer from a faulty torque converter, you need to fix the problem as soon as possible for general driving safety.

If you race, repairing the problem is critically important. A WRX that is under warranty protection should enable you to obtain a factory replacement for little or no cost.

7. Defective Turbocharger Might Reduce Power

You cannot get the best performance from your WRX if its turbocharger is not working.

A defective turbocharger on a race-inspired car definitely is a big problem and has affected some WRX owners.
Several WRX owners have reported the turbocharger lacks oil and causes the engine to misfire. Sometimes, the turbocharger stops working altogether.

A non-functioning turbocharger makes the engine run poorly, saps performance, and robs you of fuel economy. It might even make your WRX undrivable until fixed.

The only real solution is to replace the turbocharger with a new unit, which the factory warranty should cover if the problem happens while your WRX is under warranty. Subaru has recognized the problems with its turbocharger and initiated improvements.

If you are driving an older WRX, it is more likely to suffer from a defective turbocharger than a newer model.

You can help to prevent the problem from occurring by using a better-quality aftermarket oil filter.
General Pros and Cons for the Subaru WRX

8. Defective Turbocharger Might Reduce Power

A turbocharger is a huge part of what makes the WRX a great rally car with good power from its four-cylinder boxer engine.

When the turbocharger develops problems, so does the engine.

A lot of turbocharger issues are related to other problems, like leaking head gaskets or seals inside the engine that reduce the oil flow to the turbocharger.

Many WRX owners report issues with the turbocharger suffering from a lack of oil and causing the engine to misfire or the turbocharger to completely stop working. When the turbocharger stops working, the engine power drops and so does the fuel economy.

Subaru generally has improved the design and quality of its turbochargers over the years. So the older your WRX might be, the more prone it is to issues with the turbocharger.

Replacing the turbocharger might be the best solution but smaller ones also exist, like using a better quality oil filter.

General Pros and Cons for the Subaru WRX

The Subaru WRX is noted for being an exceptionally competent rally racer.

All-wheel drive and a reliable horizontally opposed engine with a turbocharger give it good power and fuel economy.

Most people who buy and regularly drive a WRX enjoy its exceptional power-to-weight ratio.

Unfortunately, its generally experimental design has led to the use of items that are more designed to last for a few races instead of hundreds of thousands of miles of road travel.

What you gain in performance you generally sacrifice in reliability, and many owners modify their WRXs to boost performance.

That makes the WRX a less than ideal vehicle to buy on the used car market.

What Do the Reviews Say?

The reviews continually refer to the WRX as a terrific rally car that handles all four seasons of driving weather very well.

But its relatively low level of reliability makes it less than ideal for daily travel and long-term ownership.

You get a great engine and a potentially great platform for an affordable and compact sports car, but you also get the potential headaches of reduced reliability and higher ownership costs.

What’s the Resale Value on the Subaru WRX?

The WRX has a kind of cult following that makes used models valued among those who intend to work on them and enhance the performance potential of their respective models.

The WRX also has less demand than the Outback and other Subaru models that are more suitable for daily driving and long-term ownership.

The WRX generally is considered to have poor resale value due to its potential for engine problems.

If a prior owner made a lot of modifications to WRX, those modifications might not be professional quality and further degrade the value.

Was this article helpful? Like Dislike

Click to share...

Did you find wrong information or was something missing?
We would love to hear your thoughts! (PS: We read ALL feedback)

ⓘ  The information in this article is based on data from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recall reports, consumer complaints submitted to the NHTSA, reliability ratings from J.D. Power, auto review and rating sites such as Edmunds, specialist forums, etc. We analyzed this data to provide insights into the best and worst years for these vehicle models.