Subaru owners complain of engine failure, high oil consumption

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The company says burning oil is normal; get to know your dipstick

Subaru is very popular in Indiana these days, following its announcement earlier this week that it will add 1,200 workers and invest $140 million to expand its assembly plant in Lafayette.

It's popular with consumers around the country too, as sales this year are at record highs. Besides steadily growing sales -- 12.5% over last year -- Subarus have collected all kinds of recognition for high resale value, safety and reliability.

But not everyone is singing Subaru's praises. The cars are not so popular with customers plagued with excessive oil use and engine problems. A class action lawsuit filed last July claims that defective piston rings are to blame and many consumers fear the excessive oil consumption will lead to trouble down the road.

Hardly a day goes by, in fact, without negative reviews and angry emails from worried Subaru owners. The latest comes from Susan of San Francisco, who wrote about her Forester: "I purchased it exactly one year ago from a local Subaru dealer with 16K miles…I now have 31,500 miles and it is burring oil like crazy."


More samples from the last few days:

  • Jill: "We have a 2013 Legacy. We have to add oil approx every 2500 miles and the engine has a very noticeable knock when you first start it."
  • Becky: "Just paid $1700 for a repair and added 4 quarts of oil today...1000 miles before oil change is due. I am very upset!"
  • Terry: "I bought a 2011 Subaru Forester. I am dealing with the same oil issues that the other owners have written to you about. I was told when I bought the car that I did not need to replace oil between oil changes as it was synthetic. Obviously not true. I am not due for an oil change for 2000 more miles. However, my Subaru has gone through almost 3 quarts in 5000 miles."
  • Melinda: "I just had to have the engine in my 2012 Impreza rebuilt.  Pretty upset with Subaru but have been a VERY loyal customer for years."

In a recent ConsumerAffairs review, Robert of Lemster, N.H., describes a situation that is so typical we could nearly recite it by heart:

"My wife and I bought a brand new Subaru Forester, our second one. Had no complaints with the first one -- 250,000 miles. The new one is a complete ****. Around 30k miles started burning oil at the rate of about a quart every 2k miles. ... Anyways they finally admitted there was a defect and replaced the top end (short block). Now with less than 20k since the replacement having the same issues."

"Within acceptable levels ..."

A 2015 Subaru Outback (Photo: Subaru)

What could be causing so many similar complaints? We posed that question to Subaru.

"While we believe the oil consumption of our vehicles to be within acceptable levels, we continually work to reduce the amount of consumable goods, such as oil, that our vehicles require to operate," said Dominick Infante, national manager of product communications for Subaru.

"We are working with customers on this issue and any customer with a 2011 or newer Subaru who believe their car has an issue can bring the car into their local dealer," Infante said.

That, of course, is exactly what many consumers have done. The lucky ones have gotten a new short block under warranty. Others have paid thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Best solution: prevention

The solution, obviously, is prevention. Consumer Reports magazine last year reported on a study involving nearly 500,000 cars. It found that certain Audis, BMWs and Subarus were prone to burn oil. All three manufacturers insist that burning a quart every few thousand miles is normal.

It may be normal but it's a dangerous situation, especially for consumers who are not familiar with the operation of a dipstick. Anyone with a small-block, turbocharged four-cylinder engine probably needs to make it a habit to check the oil -- with the dipstick, not relying on the dashboard lights -- every week or so. By the time a warning light comes on, it's probably too late.

The fast-oil-change industry has long contended that the oil should be changed every 3,000 miles or so. Given the horrible experience so many consumers have had with their cars, that's probably good advice. 

You don't want to end up like Jennifer of West Point, Calif., who said: "I changed my oil as was recommended in the manual and one day the light came on and the engine was blown and later discovered the oil was empty. It had burned up all oil in one months time."

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