CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

I'm at a wit's end here

I have a 1996 Subaru Legacy Wagon with a 2.2L 4 cylinder engine that I have been driving for about a year. When I got it, it had 198,000 miles on it and a slight leak out the valve covers. My mechanic informed me that as long as I kept oil in the car, it wouldn’t hurt to run it like that for a while and that the leak wouldn’t get worse. Well about a year later and 30,000 miles added later the engine feels like it’s failing. Slowly the leak got worse and my mechanic now belives the main leak to be in the front of the engine out the camshaft o-ring and my oil pan is now leaking out the main seal. I know this causses much more significant oil loss and now im putting oil in every morning before I drive it for the day.

Now for the issues. I’ve always had a rough idle that fluctuates between 1200 rpm and 550 rpm. it only fluctuated every once in a moment and It wasn’t caus for concern. But Now it fluctuates a lot and according to the meter on the dash, its hitting 250 rpm and abruptly goes back to 750 (what I think the idle is set for). There is a large dark stain where I have been parking my car for the past year and a half and there is oil leaking all over the engine and its smokes wen I come to a stop. I know it’s not good when it’s doing that. I do wash it off but money has become tight and I’ve lost my job due to car troubles recently.

What it does when I drive it. First off when I start it, it takes a moment to start. Not always but sometimes. Then it’s fine for a little bit. I put it in gear and away I go. Suddenly I notice a loss of acceleration and I have to push the gas pedal in further for it to register. That doesn’t always happen but has become more and more frequent and it does it whether the engine is cold or not. As I cruise down the road, I notice the acceleration problems just keep creeping up. It does try to stall out on the occasion but mostly as I am comig to a stop or when I am waiting in traffic. It’s when I’m waiting in traffic you hear the ide get really erratic with the needle constantly moving from as low as 250 all the way up to 1500 RPM. I do hear a knocking noise and the engine shaking when its trying to stall out. As I stated above, I am a loss as to what can caus this.

I have replaced the ignition coil pack and the plugs and wires . I have bought a new oil pan seal.
Now I do have access to a couple of 2.5L engines from similar subarus of about the same years. Are any of the parts interchangeable between a 2. 5 and a 2.2L engine? like the sensors?

So your 23 year old car now has 228,000 miles and is leaking and not running so well. Not surprised. It is an old car with a ton of miles but you knew that.

You told us lots of things but not whether the check engine light is on nor the error codes if it is on. They can be read for free at local auto parts stores. Just ignore anything the counter guy tells you except the actual code numbers like P0300 or similar.

Without the engine error codes, my best guess is that the engine in this car is just worn out. I’d start by running a compression test on the engine. If it can’t build much compression, it is a waste of time to put in new gaskets and seals.

Sorry about your situation. Short of pouring some stop leak product and something like Restore in the oil to band-aid this car until you can afford another, there is little more you can do that won’t cost far more than the car is worth.

4 Likes

Yeah. What @Mustangman said. For a car this age, replacing front seals is something you do to to special cars that you want to keep and that you’re willing to lose money on. Otherwise, drive it till it falls apart and get something else.

1 Like

These Subarus were well known to have leaking head gaskets, which could be part of your problems. Does your mechanic have a lot of Subaru experience?

Sorry folks. I did forget to mention codes and check engine light status.
Yes the light is on but it goes off and then comes back on. The codes that come across are a misfire in cylinder number 2. p03020. It’s the consistent code. I have had a code coming up about the EGR valve but I tested it and it’s working.
As far as the head gaskets go, I haven’t in the slightest checked them but the engine temperature is fine.
My mechanic is my father who’s a diesel mechanic but he’s worked on 2 Subaru prior to mine and done pretty extensive work but even he’s stumped on this issue.

The good news is that your father is probably qualified to replace the head gasket for you. Sometimes they fail in a way that doesn’t make them overheat.

The bad news is that having your father as a mechanic means you’d offend him by getting a second opinion.

When you announced that your mechanic told you to ignore leaky valve cover gaskets, my opinion of him dropped a few points, because replacing a valve cover gasket is relatively easy and cheap. I’d think having a mechanic in the family would mean your car is running in tip top shape, but it sounds like you’ve been ignoring symptoms and neglecting this car for a long time, and who can blame you doing that with a car this old?

I would suggest you see if you’re father will help you overhaul the engine, replacing all the gaskets and replacing anything that might be broken, like the EGR valve, but it seems he doesn’t think it is worth it, and he’s probably right.

As mentioned, you need to run a compression test. If the engine is dropping a cylinder (or more than one) then there is no sense throwing any more parts and money at it.

Your oil pan cannot leak out of the main seal and odds are the oil pan gasket is ok.

As for oil leaks in the timing belt compartment this needs to be remedied ASAP because an oil saturated timing belt will soon break and take out the intake valves in the heads.
This goes back to the compression test because a dropped cylinder or two will make the installation of a belt kit totally pointless.