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Subaru 2001 Outback ran out of oil after 7600 miles?

I took my car into the local Subaru dealer cause I was hearing a rattling in the engine. I was taking it in for an oil change and to have them look at the sound. They told me that my engine needs to be replaced b/c it ran out of oil! This does not make sense to me at all. Can anyone help explain if this is really possible?

SOme background – due to the head gasket issue my car overheated at about 80K and the entire engine was replaced under warranty. I now have about 117K on the car (37K on new engine). I do not drive the car ‘severely’, not a lot of stop and go, and I drive it maybe 4 of 7 days a week. The oil indicator light never came on, no check engine light, no apparent leaks, no apparent burning, no nothing except the noise. The dealer said as soon as he started the car up, the oil light was on. And, they see shavings on the dip stick. He told me I should have oil changed every 3500 miles, not 7500 as stated in the user manual for the car. It has been a year since last oil change and 7600 miles (I know – my bad on that!). I am suspicious about the dealer’s analysis.

Anyone ever heard of a 2001 Outback or other Subaru of similar age and mileage running out of oil on a fairly new engine after 7500 miles?

An overheating engine can not only cook valve seals but also ruin piston rings; either of which can cause oil consumption.
Anytime an engine overheats (and ESPECIALLY if one does not shut the engine off and walk) they drastically increase the chances of oil useage afterwards.

The dealer is correct about changing the oil at 3500 miles because most of those manual recommendations are from La-La Land. Note there is usually a “severe service” recommendation and this applies to 99% of the cars on the road.

No matter the mileage interval the fault is yours because you apparently fail to ever raise the hood to check the oil level; a topic that seems to pop up here on a regular basis.

You also have a misconception (and a very common one) that you have “37 on new engine” and that an engine repair such as a head gasket constitutes “a fairly new engine”. Your engine is nowhere near new. It’s a well-used 117k miles motor that is equivalent to a 217k miles one due to the overheating.

Thanks for your reply. Just to clarify – they didn’t just fix the head gasket they put in a new engine – twice before they got it right.

Other than taking responsibility for not checking the oil regularly, my real question is: Should a car RUN out of oil after 7600 miles with no indication? If that’s normal behavior then so be it but I’ve never heard of such an occurrence without an underlying reason. I’m trying to figure out how it could run out of oil – down to the last drop.


I agree with ok4450.

The “oil indicator light” DOES NOT tell you about a low oil level until it is–literally–too late. That is not what the oil light is all about, as it indicates oil PRESSURE problems, rather than oil level, and those are two entirely different issues. That is why the Owner’s Manual of every make of car advises that the dipstick should be checked frequently. Some manuals actually advise that the oil level be checked every time that the gas tank is filled. Thus–failure to check the dipstick constitutes negligence on the part of the owner.

Also, the Check Engine Light is not intended to tell you that your oil level is low.
That assumption, coupled with all of the other incorrect assumptions, tells me that the car owner likely never read the Owner’s Manual, as it explains the function of all warning lights and gauges, and it also talks about the importance of checking the oil

As ok also said, it is very unlikely that a new engine was provided under warranty. Instead, the original engine was overhauled, and it is almost definitely the original engine.

The combination of allowing the car to go 7,600 miles between oil changes and failure to check the dipstick are both negligent behavior on the part of the car’s owner. Sorry to have to give you a reality check that you probably didn’t want to read.

Are you seriously saying you haven’t checked the oil in 7,600 miles? If so, then of course it’s possible to run the oil level so low that it causes damage. Some engines burn a quart of oil per 1,000 miles, which is generally considered normal and acceptable by the manufacturer.

By the way, contrary to your expectations, the check-engine light will not come on when the oil level is low. The oil-pressure light probably will not come on unless the oil level is way below the point where damage has already been done. You need to read about these lights in your owner’s manual.

As for how often to change the oil, what’s in your manual should be fine.

Regarding the oil change interval, I would be curious to know the period of time that it took to accumulate those 7,600 miles. Was it 3 months, 6 months, 8 months, …?
Would the OP care to share this information with us?

I would have to ask the question, what happened to the oil? If the oil was leaking externally it seems you would have seen signs of it on the ground after parking the car for a while. I doubt that the engine could have burned that much without seeing smoke in the exhaust. Bad PCV valves can cause oil to be sucked up into the intake. Check the air filter for signs of oil. Another possible trouble is the oil leaking into the transmission through a bad seal. Check the tranny oil. If those areas aren’t a problem then I would have to wonder if the oil level was full to begin with.

After so much work was done, the oil has to be checked regularly. Coolant and transmission fluid too. Out of oil and metal chips on the dipstick seems like the engine self-diagnosed to me. The engine may have been fine when replaced, but all the covers had to go on it as well as a few seals, like the one for the dipstick. Workmanship can be good but some things crack or get distorted when installed.

Subarus are fine but the engines are designed to lose more oil if there is a cover leaking. They are surely not designed to prevent an oil leak from being critical.

Yes, it would be perfectly normal operation for a car to go through 4 quarts of oil in 7500 miles…actually, it’s probably more like three quarts or so before the level drops below the pump’s pickup tube and the engine gets destroyed from oil starvation.

You “own” this one, pure and simple. The engine did not self-detruct due to oil usage, it self-destructed due to negligence. Hopefully you’ll use this as a learning experience.

Since there is no way on Earth this car should have gone through 3 engines in 117k miles there needs to be a lot more info presented about costs, what was done, the definition of “new” engines (this apparently being the 3rd referred to as such) and so on.

Based on the history of going a year without an oil change, never raising the hood to check the oil, ignoring the red oil light and temperature gauge, etc. it would appear to me that any engine problems are owner inflicted.

Car makers should start shaving weight and costs by eliminating the instrument cluster as we know it. Simply install a large, single gas gauge in the center and call it good since the gas gauge is the only one that many drivers pay attention to.

He said one year…

Like I said, I do take the responsibility for not checking the oil regularly. Stupid on my part.

By new engine – I do indeed mean new engine blocks. The first time they replaced the lower half (as I recall) and then the second time they replaced the whole thing – it was not just putting in new gaskets, etc. The total cost of all this was approx $8k, which was covered by warranty. As I think back on it, there was a leak in the radiator that the first dealer did not notice when putting in the half engine. The car overheated again and destroyed all the good the first replacement had accomplished so a whole new block was put in.

I am just going to accept the consequences of the situation and learn the lesson to check fluids regularly and to not rely on the gauges. I was naive to think the car would self-diagnose and warn me of a problem. Lesson learned. Will fill it up with oil to get it home and start looking for a new car.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts/comments/warnings/etc.

That kind of oil consumption is normal and acceptable. I have a 2006 Grand Caravan that uses half a quart every 3000 miles; some vehicles even newer than that use a full quart every 1000 and it is considered normal. I also agree that oil should be changed more frequently than annually, unless you drive less than 3000 miles a year. For your kind of mileage accumulation, I would go with six months or 3000 miles for oil change intervals, whichever comes second.

To harp on a subject we all too frequently have to harp on on this forum, ANYBODY whom operates a motor vehicle should be able to know and understand how to check fluids, open the hood, change a flat, and recognize any abnormality to the normal operation of the vehicle. At least pay attention to the instrument cluster, get to know what it normally looks like, read the owner’s manual, and if you don’t understand how to do the things the book tells you to do, stop by a repair shop or community college that teaches automotive and ask them to show you some things. Your dealership may even be willing to do this, as long as there are some decent, civilized people there. If you go that route, try asking a tech, not the service writer. The service writer is usually a former car salesman who proved to be shady enough to sell services he knows nothing about other than that they enlarge his paycheck.

To ok4450: While we’re simplifying the instrument cluster to work on today’s people, we might as well as eliminate the fuel gauge also. Some people don’t pay attention to that either. Everything can be warning lights or message displays, accompanied by a persistent chime, featuring messages like: low fuel, very low fuel, you’re about to run out of gas moron, slow down before you get pulled over, you’re going to blow it up if you don’t stop, too late, you just blew it up, and then the “check wallet” light system, as described by Tom and Ray. We could also replace the “check engine” light with one that says “ignore this light until your annual emissions inspection”

No speedo?

Yes, I just noticed the “one year” comment on my second reading of the original post, and that only reinforces the fact that this is owner negligence, pure and simple.

While the Subaru maintenance schedule does indeed mention 7,500 miles between oil changes for non-turbo engines, it also clearly states, “or every six months, whichever comes first”. I don’t think that this is at all ambiguous.

Allowing twice the specified elapsed time between oil changes is…I will try to be polite…not smart. Failure to ever raise the hood in order to check the oil is…not smart.

Most definitely, this is a case of owner negligence.

I apologize if I come across here as a bit rough on you. Negligence irritates me quite a bit and my wife (32 years) has heard it from me for almost the entire span.
You would not believe how many times we’ve gone round and round over some of the things she’s done.

I even post hypotheticals to her now and then. One question involved her driving down a dark lonely highway about 10 at night when the oil light comes on.
The lights of a farm house are visible a mile or so off in the distance.
The question is: Do you stop then and there and call someone or are you going to continue on to the farmhouse? Her answer, as always, is drive on.

One thing that would bother me here is the leaking radiator during the half (called a short block) engine installation.
If the dealer ran your car out the door with a new engine and a leaking radiator they made a serious mistake. Proving anything could be difficult though.

It’s the shop’s duty in my opinion to assemble your car, drive it for 5-10 miles while getting it up to operating temperature, and bring it back in the shop for a going over.
This means double checking for oil/coolant leaks, rechecking various nuts/bolts/clamps, etc.

If the radiator leak occurred a month or so later then I would not consider it the dealer’s fault. It’s possible that the radiator could have been weakened by the prior overheating and accompanying pressure build up of a blown head gasket and just chose to give up.

Sorry to hear of this one. It’s more tragic than normal due to the huge amount of money, and aggravation, that was expended.

OK we all make mistakes. I think netkat will not make this mistake again.

I strongly recommend learning how to check your oil, if you don’t already know how and to do so at every fill up for at least six months. If it is holding steady, then you can switch to every other fill up.

You may need to add oil, so be sure you understand what oil is needed and how to add oil with out overfilling. Overfilling is just as bad or running too low.

While I almost always agree with ok450, I guess we don’t agree on manufacturer’s oil change intervals. However you do need to consider that the manufacturers usually have miles or months whichever comes first and they also have a severe use schedule, and many people who don’t think of their use a severe really do fit into that group. When in doubt, change the oil more often than too little.

I’d add to this thread not to trust everything you hear on the web! 7500 miles for an oil change is not unreasonable. I probably wouldn’t wait that long, even on the manufacturers recommendation, only because I’m extra cautious and an oil change doesn’t cost much, but I don’t believe there’s much evidence anywhere to suggest that 3500 miles is much better than 5000 or 7500 for that matter. As others suggested you should at least be checking your oil regularly, but saying you have to change it at 3000 miles or 3500 miles I think is excessively cautious, especially on a vehicle with 117K. When I was in college I don’t think I ever drove a car that cost me more than 500 dollars and most were in the 200-500 range. I drove them for 50k or more with oil changes at 10K or longer, some I probably never changed the oil in! On the other hand, with my new cars I give them nothing but synthetic oil and I change it under 5k without fail. The first option is certainly not my recommendation, but you have to keep things in perspective.

As a non-mechanic, I have to disagree with some of the posts here. I had a look in my owner’s manual. Re when the Engine Oil Pressure Warning Light [the manual’s term for it] is illuminated, it stated the following (summarized): 1. Drive to the side of the road and park the car 2. shut down the engine and wait five minutes 3. Check the oil level and add as needed. 4. Check warning light–if it remains illuminated, have vehicle towed to a Mazda dealer.

“CAUTION Don’t run engine if oil pressure is low. It could result in extensive engine damage.”

The maintenance procedures recommend checking oil at every fueling.

Nowhere does the manual state that the oil pressure warning light is not designed to catch a low oil level. Indeed, the procedure recommended by Mazda appears to imply the opposite–that low oil level is the first thing to look at when the light comes on.

Nor does the manual state that the light may not come on until it is too late. This would be good information for a car owner to know–motivation for checking oil frequently. I now know this, but only because I frequent this website–I did not realize membership in such a website should be a prerequisite to owning or driving a vehicle.

It seems to me that a warning light that comes on after the damage is done does nothing more than give a false sense of security–perhaps it would be better to remove the light and clearly warn in the owner’s manual that there is NO indicator for low oil level.

The fact that this issue comes up with some frequency indicates to me that there is a problem that is not caused solely by owner negligence–i.e. some failure of communication or perhaps, an warning system that could be improved. IIRC, one poster with a similar problem had a SUDDEN oil leak that was not detectable by periodic oil checks.

If we can warn car owners when fuel levels are low, when seat belts are off, when keys are left in the car, or when lights are left on, then I have to wonder why it is impossible to warn them when the levels of such a critical fluid are low.


It’s not impossible. Some cars, such as BMWs, do have oil-level warnings. I assume it must be too expensive of a feature to use across the board.