My 97 Subaru "pukes oil"!

The mechanics words, not mine, even!
My 97 Subaru Outback has 161000 on the odometer, a new radiator, new timing belt, and new water pump (less than a year old). The engine is in good condition. They said it idles out like a new car. So that’s good news.

The bad news is it has some serious oil leaks. Needs a new oil pan, some minor rear brake work, and then there’s the gaskets… gonna need a lot of work, and will run $4000+. (On the plus side: no rust because it’s so lubricated under there! Haha.)

I bought the car for $2600. It’s a good car, but I never planned on keeping it and now I want to sell it. I think the repairs would absolutely be a good investment if I wanted to drive it for another 5-8 years. I’ve been told these Subbies can go to 300000. Paying that upfront would basically be like having a minimal car payment. But trying to judge a fair price on this thing is mystifying me. What would you pay as a private buyer? What would you accept as trade-in value? KBB says a Subaru in “Fair” condition is worth about $1500 and in “Good” condition $2500. What condition do I aim for? Other than the minor rear brake issue, you could still drive it, you’re just gonna keep dumping in oil at every fill up like I do now. I’d really like to get back close to what I paid for it initially. Is that just wishful thinking?

Thanks for your thoughts!

While it would not be unusual for a 16 year-old engine to have some gasket-related oil leaks, there is a possibility that some of this problem is due to a gunked-up PCV valve. When the PCV system is not working properly, the amount of blow-by pressure that builds up in the crankcase can cause all sorts of gasket problems and increased oil consumption.

Given how cheap a PCV valve is, I would suggest that you clean out the PCV hose with an appropriate solvent and replace the valve. This just might reduce the amount of oil that is being, “puked”. And, if this turns out to be a good solution, then you have to seriously question the competency of your current mechanic.

Wishful thinking? I specialize in that. It’s opposites day today so I’ll go in a different direction. The car is getting kind of old and probably (like an old Fremen Reverend Mother, seeking to be replaced) has been calling through time and space for a new engine.

I’m the deranged third base coach who is flashing the sell sign. I live in New England where a car that old will lose five pounds every time it goes through the car wash. Although your car seems to have natural protection in a crude sense of the phrase; that body and everything on it is not what it used to be.

I just traded my GMC blunder bus for a new small SUV. I’m broke now, so I want everybody else to join me. Come on! You’re invited.

They showed me a camera image of the internal gasket all gunked up and said that was where the work comes in. I have no reason to suspect incompetency, but I’ll keep that in mind… At this point I just wanna sell the car regardless! I’ve been wanting to get something different anyway, here’s my excuse, right? So, would you consider asking $2600 for it outrageous? If it is a PCV problem that can be fixed fairly cheaply (which I’ll leave up to the buyer), then maybe it isn’t?

You’ll take a huge hit on price if the car has an obvious problem.
You’ll be lucky to get $1200 if it looks like the Exxon Valdez under the hood.

A blocked crankcase ventilation system(PCV) will cause sludge/gunk to build up inside the engine while trapping blowby pressure which causes oil to “puke” out any hole. For a few dollars and a couple of hours work you might take care of the problem. Doing so would be worthwhile whether keeping the car or selling it.

Yes, I would consider asking $2600 for it outrageous. But Kelley Bluebook disagrees with me. They’re suggesting about $3K private sale. Post it on EBay for $2600 and see what you get for offers.

Depending on the area, you can indeed get insane prices for certain cars. But with that sort of problem, I’d be surprised if you got over 1K for it. When did you buy the car? I’d love to get 33k for my 2012 legacy but it’s not going to happen - very rarely can you sell a car for what you bought it for…

Here’s the report from the mechanic:
Oil pressure switch has heavy leak. Both valve cover gaskets have leaks. Oil pan has leak. Transmission cooler lines have moderate leaks. Back break pads and rotors need replacement. Steering Rack-n-Pinion has left torn boot and seal leak. Water pump has mild leak. Brake and coolant fluids are dirty. Air filter and belts are good.
Those of you suggesting a PCV change, does any of this sound PCV related? If you haven’t figure out by now, this is my first car. I don’t really know what I’m doing and I obviously didn’t look the car over very well before I bought it (last March)!

Unless you are willing to make yourself familiar with things automotive and raise your car to investigate and confirm the shops report you are at their mercy. If the shop profits from exaggerating problems to gin up high profit work you can go broke dealing with them. But then, if you are looking for an excuse to move on to a new automobile, why wait.

“Oil pressure switch has heavy leak.”

Fixing that and checking out the PCV system will give you the most bang for the buck.
The other things you can probably live with for awhile.

Have your next candidate (used) car checked out by a mechanic before purchase.
It’s worth the $150 or so.

The PCV valve is like a $5-15 part for most cars and EXTREMELY easy to change. I agree with everyone here that this is a no brainer and should be done no matter what. You will probably not stop the leaks but might slow them down.

The water pump is something that will eventually fail. I would suggest replacing this for sure and the timing belt (does it even have one???) while you are in that far.

Valve covers are typically pretty easy to get at but I am not familiar with these cars.

@jp10558 a leaking oil pressure switch can cause a fast and severe leak. It might be gushing out so much oil that the oil pan is soaked. Perhaps the oil pan isn’t even leaking.

I agree with @circuitsmith

Replace the oil pressure switch and the PCV valve

Count my vote as replacing the oil pressure sender and servicing the PCV. A leaking sender can certainly make things appear to be worse than they actually are.

My only question is how much oil are you adding in 800 miles?

If only 1 quart you can buy many many cases of motor oil for $4000. I once upon had a time a $800 Subaru XT coupe “leaking like sieve” with a $2k estimate to fix. However instead spent $1/qt for cheap motor oil every 700 miles throughout college(4yrs).

Do the safety repairs like exhaust, brakes and tires as they all can kill you. But otherwise carry on…

I think I’m putting in about half a litre every 450 miles. So, 1 litre around 800.
The oil pan does have a minor dent and leak, I saw that at the shop. Looks like it was bottomed out at some point (that definitely wasn’t me though!)
@cwatkin, I had the radiator, water pump, and timing belt replaced last September. The water pump is showing slight signs of rust already, but I’m hoping the repair was under warranty and I can get that fixed for “free”.
So sounds like if I do the PVC value and the oil pressure switch, it’ll at least raise the sale value of the car? I’m determined to get rid of it regardless.


Unfortunately the repairs will not raise the car’s value

They will make it easier to sell

It’s not that easy to sell a car that’s obviously puking oil

Main seal is probably bad