2012 Subaru Outback - did oil make my gasket cover deteriorate?

Dear Car Talk: I own a 2012 Subaru Outback with 52,000 miles on it. Halfway through a 3 hour trip the check engine light came on as well as the brake light. After having the car towed 11/2 hours to my dealer, they told me that because I don’t drive my car very much the oil has been sitting on top of the gasket cover making it deteriorate. Oil has leaked onto the coils, spark plugs making it necessary to replace these parts as well as the gasket covers. Does this make sense? Thanks

Sounds like your engine has oil leaks that need to be repaired, it is 7 years old so that is possible.

I don’t understand the sales pitch, gaskets and seals deteriorate from heat, more driving. City driving and excessive idling are harder on seals than highway driving, if that is a factor with your car.

What you need sounds legitimate, the story about it happening because you don’t drive your car enough is bogus. The inside of those gaskets are always exposed to oil and they are designed for that.

Thanks. That’s what I was thinking.

I could be wrong but I think what they were trying to say was you have oil leaks that did not burn off because you don’t drive a lot . Not that your low driving pattern caused the leaks.

You average over 7K miles per year and the car can’t handle that? Another strong vote of confidence from Subaru. My '16 with 16K miles is going away prior to the end of its warranty.

Judging from the posts on subaruoutback.org (a good resource) valve cover and spark plug seal leakage is not an uncommon problem, and other makes develop leaky valve cover gaskets as well - it’s more a function of vehicle age and individual luck. With some types of seals lack of use may result in drying out and subsequently leaking, but unless you car has had long periods of non-operation this seems unlikely. Check the spark plug replacement interval for your model, if it’s coming up (60,000mi.?) you can save some money by changing them while they’re out. Also, have them replace the gaskets and seals on both sides or you may be going back soon.

Subaru’s engines are boxer design (pistons move side-to-side) so the valve covers are more likely to have oil sit in them along the lower side of the gasket. A small leak is accentuated by gravity. In a standard inline or V engine, gravity brings the oil down past the gasket onto the cylinder head. And boxers have two cylinder heads, so two head gaskets and two valve cover gaskets - twice the opportunity for something to go wrong.

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