Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Possible Oil leak in Subaru Outback wagon

I have a 2002 Subaru Outback wagon. I took it to the dealer for the 60K service and he called to say that I have an oil leak and need to have the head gaskets replaced for $1100. I have not noticed any oil under the car in the garage, the engine does not run hot according to the indicator on the dash, and the oil light does not come on. Occasionally, I notice a burning smell but not regularly. The dealer said that it was a mess underneath and that the oil was getting on the exhaust pipe. Could there be an alternative explanation and/or solution? Is replacing the head gaskets the appropriate option? Any advice would be appreciated.

Let’s clear up some possible misconceptions. If the oil light comes on, then your engine is generally toast, so don’t wait or use that as an excuse to not repair the car. The oil light measures oil pressure and red means little to no pressure, and that leads to an engine failure due to lack of oil pressure.

You can get a second opinion, to make sure that the diagnosis is correct. Use an independent mechanic or mechanics files at car talk home page, and his estimate could be substantially less than the dealer estimate.

Obviously you do have a oil leak if you smell burnt oil, as you indicate in your note, so something probably needs to be done.

All I can say is “It’s possible”! You need to get a second opinion from a mechanic who knows Subaru engines. Preferably not a dealer.

Normally oil leaks from the VALVE COVERS when you have valve cover gaskets that deteriorate. These cost a lot less than $1100 to replace. On many cars you can do this yourself.

When Subarus have leaking head gaskets, the leak COOLANT, not oil. Or the coolant leaks into the combustion chambers and shows up as white smoke from the exhaust.

In summary, the dealer’s story does not make sense to me or you have misunderstood what he said. Did you get this diagnosis in writing?

The valve cover gaskets are somewhat problematic in these engines due to the configuration of the cylinders (horizontally-opposed, so the valve covers are mounted on the sides of the engines). Replacement is nowhere near $1100. I think the headgasket issue had been solved in these cars by '02. BUt keep an eye on the oil and coolant levels.

Time for a second opinion at an independent shop.