CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

2002 Outback getting terrible MPG

Hello all,
I have a 2002 Outback that has been steadily getting worse in MPG. I live in Colorado Springs (elevation 6300 feet), and I’ve driven the Outback here since July 08. It has 141,000 miles, brand new tires, and now I’m lucky to get 17 city. I admit that I’m not a “car person”, but this seems really low to me. Especially with the elevation here. Before I had the Outback I drove a Prizm which got better MPG when I moved here. I’ve tried all grades of fuel and even Premium doesn’t make a difference. Any ideas? Thanks.

What is the EPA or Subaru suggested MPG? 17 is bad if it’s suggested hat it should get 27, but not bad if EPA is 18 city. Do you know what Subaru or EPA suggests it should get? Rocketman

Wait till summer if it still runs well. Elevation, driving on hills, city driving and cold weather. In the interum, get a tune up. I had a Chevy Prism too, and they are so good on gas, eevrything else seems terrible. It’s awd and winter…

Actually, the OP is getting gas mileage that is right on the money, so to speak.
According to the EPA’s own website, that vehicle is rated as follows:

City MPG=17
Highway MPG=24
Combined MPG=20
User’s Average MPG=22.8

Having owned the same car, I can tell you that the above-noted figures are accurate, real-world numbers, and that I averaged 22-23 mpg on a consistent basis. If you expect the Outback to equal the gas mileage of your old Prizm, you are being unrealistic, due to the fact that the Outback has AWD, is considerably heavier than the Prizm, and has a somewhat larger engine.

Unless the car is equipped with the optional 3-liter six-cylinder engine, you are wasting your money with Premium gas, as it will not improve the car’s fuel economy or its performance. The six-cylinder engine requires Premium gas, and the standard four-cylinder engine is designed to use regular gas.

The only way to improve gas mileage is to make sure that the car is maintained properly, the tires are corrrectly inflated, that you don’t idle the engine excessively (like at drive-up windows), and that you are not carrying heavy, unnecessary items in the car. However, you are currently getting the exact city MPGs that the EPA specifies for your car.

If you want to see the official numbers for yourself, take a look at:
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=make&path=4&year=2002&make=Subaru&srchtyp=yearMake

Maybe your headgaskets are about to fail? Seems all subarus here have bad heads.

What did you get last winter?

I’m a “one-note Johnny”:
Try changing the thermostat.

With the winter conditions and fuel changes the mileage you are currently getting may be fairly normal. One thing you might check is the engine temperature sensor to see if it is working correctly. You will need a scanner to monitor the temperature as the engine warms up. Sometimes the sensor will fail and show the engine is cold even though it has warmed up and extra fuel is sent to the engine when it shouldn’t be.

Thanks eveyone for your input. I got some really good information from this thread.
VDC Driver, I do a pretty good job maintaining the car and the points that you listed. The engine that’s in it seems woefully inadequate; it has no “get up and go” especially in the summer, when the A/C is on. Even at the lowest setting it saps all the power.