By John Goreham
If someone told you that a car you were about to buy has a one in 50 chance of experiencing major problems, would you buy it? That is the case with the most popular used Subarus. Some number of late-model Foresters, Imprezas, Legacys, Crostreks, and Outbacks, under 2 percent according to Subaru, will suffer from excessive oil consumption. Here’s what you need to know if you are shopping for a used Subaru.
Owners report that Subaru’s 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, “FB,” engines use too much oil. So much oil, that between oil changes the oil warning light will illuminate. Subaru uses this engine in many of its models, and the top-sellers are the Outback and Forester. Rachel B. in Landaff, NH, told CarComplaints.com about her Forester’s issue, saying, “Before my first oil change my oil light went on telling me that I needed oil. I thought this was quite bizarre because I've owned lots of new cars in my life and never had this happen..” She is not alone.
DME from Warwick, NY, is typical of a large group of Subaru owners who find out their cars are burning oil, but the rate of consumption has not yet gone to critical levels. DME wrote to CarComplaints.com, “I bought a brand NEW 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i, manual transmission in July of 2014. It started to eat oil from the beginning, but the dealer said it was normal until the engine breaks in. So I continued to drive it, and the oil consumption got worse.”
Just for the record, cars are not supposed to burn any oil. Modern cars going back decades have used technologies that preclude oil being consumed. Many Subaru owners who sought help from their dealerships were told that oil consumption “is normal.” However, Subaru also says that less than 2 percent of its cars have the problem, so clearly it is not normal if 98 percent of them burn no oil.
The good news, sort of, is that Subaru has recently settled a lawsuit brought by owners. The class action suit brings relief to owners in the form of replacement engines and longer drivetrain warranties. The typical solution is for the “short block,” the basic block containing the pistons, to be replaced by the dealer. No small job. Owners are also being reimbursed for costs associated with the problems.
Cars covered under the settlement include the following FB engine-equipped models:
- 2011-2015 Foresters
- 2012-2015 Imprezas
- 2013-2015 Crosstreks
- 2013- 2015 Outbacks
- 2013-2015 Legacys
For shoppers who want a used Subaru, the problem is knowing which cars have the problem and which do not. Some owners have reported that the replacement short block also burned oil, so the fix may not be permanent. We suggest asking for the complete service record of any Subaru under consideration that appears on the above list. Look at each oil change receipt and note any mention of “oil is low” or any “low oil light on” comments. Ask the seller if the car burns oil and ask them to sign a short statement saying it does not. That may scare them into some honesty. If the seller says they “don’t know” if the car burns oil, move on to another used Subaru or a model from a different brand.
Subaru posted no media updates on this issue following the lawsuit’s final approval by a judge this past month. In fact, a search on the Subaru media site for “oil consumption” yields no results. Car Talk tried multiple times, and with multiple Subaru contacts, to get input from the company directly on this story and received no reply aside from an acknowledgment of our inquiry. USA Today’s publication, the Courier-Post, had better luck. It reports that Subaru spokesperson Michael McHale said: "We believe that by this settlement, Subaru has affirmed its reputation for standing behind its products and taking care of its customers."
The Forester and Outback are fantastic vehicles. They top the safety scores in their segment, and all segments, for that matter. Both are also among the most fuel-efficient AWD vehicles available. They make great used vehicles. However, the numerous reports by owners that Subaru and its dealers tried to avoid responsibility for the problem gives us pause. Dealership customer service satisfaction and a brand’s willingness to address a design problem are something shoppers should consider when choosing a used car.
Author note: The Author has owned four Subarus including a 2016 Forester. He's not angry with you Subaru, just disappointed.