Note: This was originally written to cover the Outback / Legacys with FB25 engines... However, it seems that you folks have been having an awesome time with oil consumption too, so I've posted this here as well. -GB
How to handle a Subaru FB Series Engine and Excessive Oil Consumption?
The first thing you should be aware of is that this is supposed to be only 2013-2014 Legacy and Outbacks (FB25), 2011-2014 Foresters (FB25), 2012-2013 Imprezas (FB20), and the 2013MY XV Crosstreks (FB20)
The TSB and Oil Test Procedure of interest are:
Service Bulletin (TSB) 02-1157-14R
(Previously there was one TSB for each model)
FB Engine Oil Control Ring TSB Oil Consumption Test Procedure
Oil consumption and the FB25 Experience
If your Subaru with an FB20 / FB25 4-cylinder engine is burning oil, you need to know a few things before taking it to a dealer or calling Subaru of America.
Subaru claims that any of these conditions will / can cause the car to burn lots of oil:
• When the incorrect oil viscosity is used (viscosity other than 0W-20 in the case of these specific vehicles)
• When engine braking is employed (use of the transmission’s gear ranges to decelerate while using the engine to apply resistance)
• When the engine is operated at high engine speeds (continually or under frequent, hard acceleration)
• When the engine is operated under heavy loads (frequent carrying of heavy cargo, passengers or trailer towing)
• When the engine idles for long periods of time (may be related to frequent use of a remote engine start system)
• When the vehicle is operated in stop and go and/or heavy traffic situations
• When the vehicle is used under severe temperature conditions (cold or hot)
• When the vehicle accelerates and decelerates frequently
So, I read the conditions above as “If you drive your car, you’ll have excessive oil consumption.” Look at the conditions: If you carry passengers you’ll have excessive oil consumption? My Outback is a family car…
Subaru goes on to say:
Concerns related to a possible oil consumption condition are generally initiated when the customer believes the engine oil level on the dipstick has dropped since the last time it was checked or when the low oil lamp illuminates. These types of complaints by themselves do not directly indicate a concern with the vehicle exists.
Well, that’s not exactly accurate… if the oil light is coming on, then you probably have an issue, provided that the oil light is coming on before 3600 miles.
The burn rate is 1/3 of a QT of oil every 1200 miles which equals the car hitting the service limit, which requires repair (a new engine or engine block).
So, if your engine burns 2 quarts of oil in 7200 miles (for the 2013/2014 Outbacks), then you are burning enough oil to have your short block replaced. (Not to mention the fact that the oil light would probably come on two times, which may be why Subaru lowered the oil change interval on the 2014 to 6000 miles.)
Burning oil in the 4th Gen Outbacks / Legacys (2013s) with the FB25 engine is usually accompanied by several symptoms:
1) The low oil warning light will turn on, indicating you are typically a QT or so low (lower than 1 Liter). This will happen at least once during the Subaru prescribed oil change interval of 7500 miles (2013 models) or 6000 miles (2014 models);
2) When you check the oil, after having been previously noted the oil level was at the full mark on the dipstick, the oil level will be somewhere below the full line of the dipstick;
3a) In rare circumstances, you are burning so much oil that smoke is coming from your tail pipes, or your car fails emission inspection for your State;
3b) The check engine light turns on, indicating that your car is failing emissions or has an oxygen sensor issue.
In the last two cases you need to get the car to the dealer after going to a third part to pull the codes from your engine. DO NOT HAVE THEM CLEARED. This way, when you walk into the dealer, you can speak with authority. Also, have the third party write down a repair estimate that lists the codes. You want a paper trail.
Checking the Oil
Now, you're going to assume the checking the oil is as simple as pulling out the dipstick. That's PART of the process, but, unfortunately, the design of the FB25 engine doesn't make it that simple.
The best way to check the oil is to let the car sit on a flat level surface for at least 2 hours. Then, grab a white paper towel (maybe 4 sheets layered), and pull the dipstick out while holding it vertically. You want to check each side of the dipstick in a well-lit area! If you notice consumption, you'll want to take pictures with your phone, and the white towels help you not only keep the engine from having oil dripped on it, but gives you contrast. (If the oil isn't dirty, you need to turn the dipstick until the oil reflects light and the camera can see it well.)
I typically let the car sit overnight, so that all of the oil that is going to return to the crank case has done so. This gives you the most exact data, and it makes it MUCH easier to read the dipstick; the oil that has bubbled up into the dipstick tube during the operation of the engine will have all returned to the bottom of the dipstick tube.
Documenting the Issue
We'll get to the dealer aspect of things later, what you want to do is start by documenting your issues.
You always want to know when the last time you changed the oil in the car was, what the level the oil was at that time (with picture of the dipstick after sitting on a level surface overnight), and a picture of the odometer with the current mileage. Send the pictures to yourself in email to establish the date and time for the record.
1) If the low oil warning light turns on, take pictures of warning light / symbol WITH THE CURRENT MILEAGE shown on the odometer
2) If you get a warning light, make sure you pull the car off to a flat level surface, and get a picture of the dipstick / oil level as best as you can. (It will be very hard to read, but take pictures of both sides.). SEND THE PICTURES TO YOURSELF IN EMAIL TO ESTABLISH AN EXACT (LEGAL) TIMESTAMP FOR THE EVENT. It would be best if you can let the car sit for 15-30 minutes so that most of the oil returns to the crank case, but that's not always possible on the side of the road. It would also be useful of your camera to be enabled for metadata tagging (GPS coordinates, data/time stamps, etc. within the pictures); though in most cases you’ll want to turn those features off for your own privacy. If you are on a highway, please be careful and safe, while it’s good to get the pictures, your safety is more important.
3) If you need to add oil to the engine, try to find either 0w20 or 5w20, otherwise you'll need to use 5w30. It has to be synthetic unless you are absolutely unable to find it. You can use 5w30 in a bind, or 5w40 (and one would assume 0w30/0w40 should be fine as well, but the manual only lists 5w30/40 when 0W20 is not available). The oil has to be SM or SN "energy conserving" labeled as well. If you use anything heavier than 0w20, you should consider having the oil changed as soon as convenient. (We're attempting to establish the rate of consumption while documenting the issue, and oils with a higher viscosity index will not burn at the same rate; most 5w20 oils do not have as high viscosity indexes at 100C as their 0w20 counter parts! [I pulled all of the data sheets.] Obviously, keep any receipts if this happened unexpectedly and you need to purchase oil to top off with, otherwise keep 2 QTs of 0w20 API SM/SN oil in your trunk if you are having a problem.
4) If you are checking the oil level regularly, and notice the level going down, keep taking pictures and sending them to yourself in email. Do not top the oil off; drive the unit until at least 6000 miles. Take a picture of the oil level before the change. All of the excessive oil burners I've been alerted to will eventually have the low oil warning turn on within 6000 miles.
When you get a low level warning light, it's time to take the car to the dealer, so long as it's under 7500 (2013) or 6000 (2014) miles on that oil change.
Subaru of America vs their Franchise Holders (aka Subaru Dealerships)
The first thing you want to know is the SOA is empowered to pretty much do anything, including replacing the car.
However, they rely exclusively on the dealer and what the dealer tells them. Neither organization is inclined to do anything above and beyond the call of duty unless you are really on top of your game, AND have the moral / legal / ethical high ground with lots of documentation.
Of course, the dealer will perform something called an Oil Consumption Test.
The primary issue that is being seen is that SOA has a very specific Technical Service Bulletin that tells the dealers to fill the oil to the full mark on the dipstick.
However, as you can probably tell from what I posted about it previously, you have to take your time to do this procedure; dealers are not about taking time.
Currently, one of the biggest issues is that the dipstick in the FB25 engine used in the Outback / Legacy has questionable accuracy. I’ve personally been involved in three separate Oil Consumption Tests where the dealer has overfilled the car according to the dipstick. However, according to the Subaru Field Representative involved in the case, what’s important is that the start point can be clearly read, and that the level is MARKED ON THE COPY OF THE TSB FORM THE DEALER IS REQUIRED TO SEND TO SUBARU OF AMERICA. (I got a new short block because, as far as we can tell, we’re burning exactly 1/3 of a QT of oil every ~1012 miles. This happened because, among other things, I had pictures and the dealership did not mark the forms.)
Let's talk about mechanics, and how dealer mechanics historically make money.
Subaru has a list of how much time any given service will take to perform, from oil changes to engine block replacements. So, let's say Subaru dictates that an engine block should only take 19 hours of labor to complete, but the mechanic knows they can do it in 15 hours. The dealer will charge Subaru for 19 hours of labor, and the mechanic gets 4 extra hours of pay for the work. However, this is also true in the reverse: if it took the mechanic 24 hours to do the engine, Subaru will only pay for 19 hours. This means the dealer has to suck up the extra 5 hours, or the mechanic has to lose 5 hours of pay.
What are the potential issues?
- In certain circumstances the dealer might avoid certain jobs because they don't make financial sense for them. Jobs where high failure rates / complications would fall in this category. For example, there are a lot of possible complications when replacing an engine block - all of which are the mechanics fault, but the dealer is on the line for fixing; it is unlikely that Subaru will pay a dealer for not doing the job right the first time.
- A mechanic might rush jobs. Imagine if you are on the books for 4 jobs that should take 4 hours each (16 hours), but you finish them in 8-12 hours. There is lots of incentive to not follow factory procedures if you cut time off the job (this is not specific to Subaru).
- Some dealers actually pay a base salary, and then use an incentive program to reward mechanics if they are on time or under time. This still fosters rushing jobs, but might allow for slack in the operation for difficult / complex work.
A common argument by SOA is that it is in the dealer’s interest to replace engines under warranty, as well as all other warranty work. However, that argument is partially flawed. The reality is that it's within their interest so long as it doesn't cost them money in the long run. Complications cost the dealer…
What I've witnessed is either total incompetence at not being able change oil properly (which is trivial), a willful and systematic attempt to skew the oil consumption tests, or just not caring about doing the job right to the point that it looks like the aforementioned.
Let's be honest, it is a little weird that dealers are overfilling engines with oil with such regularity.
However, it is possible that they are also just rushing the job.
In the case of Fitzgerld’s, I don’t know what’s going on:
- They know about the dipstick reading incorrectly
- They know about the engines burning oil (they’ve replaced “5 or 6 of them so far”)
- They know what the TSB procedure is
- They have actively refused to follow the instructions given them by the SoA Field Rep
- It’s odd…
Why take pictures and send them to yourself?
Well, this depends on your point of view.
In my world, I know that a judge can issue warrants. So, if you send yourself the pictures, it's a lot like sending them to yourself via the U.S. Postal service... You have a time/date stamped communication that an ISP with a court order can provide to the court.
Additionally, if you seek help with media outlets or publications, this goes a long way to establishing credibility.
If, as in my case, you approach a TV station with all of the pictures and the back story, then, say, Consumer Reports and JD Power are indicating that Subaru has issues… well, the TV station in question takes note.
(In my case they offered to do the oil consumption test per Subaru’s TSB, and give us a car while they drove ours to record everything.)
As we used to say in the USAF, be PERSISTENT (like nerve gas)
- CALL SoA, tell them your issue, open a case, tell them the dealer you want to use
- Take the car to the dealer
- If your car is a borderline oil burner (1/3 per 1200 miles), know that it will not grossly burn as much oil in the first 1200 miles, but will likely show it at the 2400 read, and certainly by 3000 miles.
- If your car is a bad oil burner (>1/2QT per 1200 miles), the readings will be obvious.
- Take pictures of the dipstick – when you get the car home at the test’s start, and before you bring it back
- If the dealer puts a wax seal on the dipstick, check the oil anyway. According to the Subaru Field Rep “It’s your car and you can check the oil.” In fact, you should be checking the oil according to Subaru’s Oil Consumption TSB. Just do not tamper with the seals on the oil cap or filter (I never checked to see if there was anything on the oil pan.)
- If you are getting a line from either the dealer or SoA, get a supervisor at SoA involved
- If you are not getting satisfaction from the dealer or SoA, get a Subaru Field Rep involved by requesting one be present to meet you at the dealer when the final read is done for the oil level. (Print all of your pictures, and take them with you. Make sure you’ve labeled them [oil level at start, oil level at X miles, oil level just before taking the car in at 1200 / 2400 miles, and have dates / times, etc.)
Why go through all of this?
There are a few reasons and justifications depending on who you are and your morals.
1) If you know the car is burning oil, you can’t trade it in or sell it without telling the party you are selling it to. It’s a crime, and possibly a felony, to fail to disclose it. Are you going to let Subaru make you into a criminal?
2) Subaru failed to engineer the engine well, why shouldn’t they make it right?
3) Money. You have a vested interest in having the car repaired, as: oil burner = loss of value
Realistically, we’re all getting screwed anyway because it’s starting to become common knowledge that various Subaru models burn oil excessively.
The next message in the thread will include pictures any other examples.
To be continued….