Reader Question: Oil Burning Subaru

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Leo asks: My wife drives a 2013 Outback. We bought it slightly used with 13K in 2014. It now has 130K. Still a decent car  It has been burning oil since the get go. Uses 0W20 Synthetic so not cheap. I always check the cars every 2 weeks or so. Usually add a quart to the Subaru. 2 weeks ago I forgot to replace the oil cap.  My wife called me as she was going to work. “The light is still on.” I suggested she stop and look at the dip stick. She did. She found oil blowing out the top. My bad,  first time I have ever forgotten to replace the cap. She put a couple quarts in and forgave me for my lapse.  Now 2 weeks later it needs more oil. I googuhled it (probably should have done that sooner) and learned that there have been many oil burning issues with the Subaru.  A class action lawsuit with a settlement extending the warranty to 10 K, we are outside the extension with 130K. My question is: Should I get rid of the car now? We routinely put 200K on our vehicles.

My reply: It’s important (I think) to start out by stating that all engines consume oil to some degree; so the issue is whether there is abnormal oil consumption. Depending on who you ask, this will be defined as more than 1 quart every 3,000 miles.

For me, the deciding issue would be mechanical issues, such as low compression due to poor cylinder sealing and (or) valvetrain problems, etc. If it is just that the engine uses a bit more oil and needs to be topped off every so often… and I liked the car… I’d keep driving it and topping it off. Even at $10 per quart for high-end synthetic, that’s cheaper and easier than buying a new car.

At the same time, I would also keep abreast of the class-action situation and I would personally write a letter to Subaru, telling them how much you like the care but are concerned about the oil use…  you might be surprised by their reaction. There is a good chance you’ll hear from them – and a decent chance they will offer to do something to recover your trust (and business).

Please keep us posted!

. . .

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Eric, allow me to field this one for you. Leo, as owner/operator of my own auto repair shop, this is a very common occurrence for many of my own Subaru customers. Firstly 0W20 is the recommended oil weight for the engine as it came new, with no mileage. No owner’s manual, of any decade that I’m aware, ever makes mention of the fact that as mileage accrues, so does wear and tear in the motor. At 130K it would be wise to use a 10W30 weight oil, synthetic or otherwise, in warmer weather, and maybe 5W30 in the winter, depending on your home climate. In addition, most Subarus of this year generation have internal and external head gasket leaks at this mileage. If you desire to go 200k, or even 300k, which is very possible with these cars, you will need to have a shop with skilled mechanics (not someone working for cheap) remove the motor and have a reputable machine shop re-work the heads to correct the problem. You may end up spending $1800.00 to $2500.00 for this to be done properly, but it will give your motor another 150K, doubling your car’s life expectancy. This is providing the body and chassis are in decent condition and not rusting out from salt corrosion, etc. It may sound like a lot to spend, but can be a car-saver if done correctly. Do not fall for the common fast and dirty “head gasket only job” because that will solve no more than to rob you of your money for no improvement whatsoever. Invest wisely in the repairs of your Subaru, and 300k is easily attainable!

    • Thanks, Graves!

      I agree, of course. Spending $2,500 to go through an engine and get another decade-plus of life out of an otherwise good car is eminently sensible…

    • Graves, I take it the heads and probably the block also, need to be decked, but it’s mainly the heads that warp over time. I know nothing about those particular engines but I do recall a couple friends having them run a bit warm,.

      Aluminum heads and iron blocks are prone to head gasket problems, moreso when they commonly run hot.

      I believe it’s the main reason you rarely see an older Japanese small pickup here in Texas when they were once replete.

      One of the worst things to happen to them was a/c and no significant increase of the cooling system.

      My Nissan required block repair and head decking when the gasket went and old hands with them just shook their heads and said BTDT.

      • Not aware than any block decking service was needed with any of my customers, but I sublet this job out to another shop with more hands and stronger backs. No comebacks or further issues, so far. I used to pull heads on the 1980’s Loyal series with the 2.2L,
        but they had more working space and did not require motor removal to do so, either.
        Even doing valve cover gaskets on the last generation is tight on work space now. I swear they intentionally make the work space impossibly tight so that repairs become overhauls instead.

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