Subaru Legacy Hot Center Panel/Burning Smell

Just drove from NY to Boston. For most of the drive the center panel where the radio and ac/heat controls was really hot. Upon arrival there was a burning smell coming from the engine. Popped the hood and saw smoke or steam (it’s raining) coming from the center back of the engine (the rectangle piece…where the carburetor is). It is a 2007 Subaru Legacy wagon w/ 68,000 miles. We just had an oil change on Sunday. Checked the coolant and it was low but the radiator was full. The transmission fluid was full. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Did you have the heat on at all? That can make areas around the vents very hot, and the radio cranks out heat too if you have it on, especially if you have it loud. I don’t think this is related to the burning smell or smoke/steam.

It would be useful to know if it was smoke or steam that you saw. Since you said there was a ‘burning smell’, I’d guess that some oil was spilled on the engine during the oil change, and you’re smelling it burning off–that would make smoke too. Or a cap could have been left off, the drain plug may not be tight, it could have been overfilled, or it may have an oil leak that you weren’t aware of, that the long drive exacerbated. BTW, cars haven’t had carburetors since the mid 80s.

Thank you…the heat was on at points and the cd player was running for a long time. lol about the carburetor. We will check for missing caps and lose drain plugs in the daylight tomorrow. we drive to Providence tomorrow so we should be able to see if it smokes.

One thing you didn’t mention checking was the oil level. Make sure you check the oil before you go on another trip, especially since it may be leaking. Good luck.

The car is leaking oil. There was an 8" puddle under the car when we got to it this morning. Had someone look at it. He said that it looks like when we had the oil change they overfilled it so oil is all over the place (hence smell) and the oil pressure switch/sender is broken…I think he said it was a cut in the wire???
They couldn’t get the part so we drove back to NY without it and will deal with it this week. He also said we should do an oil leak detection test.
Is it possible the place we had the oil change messed up that switch or is that just a coincidence?
We will continue to monitor the oil level until we get this sorted out.
Thanks for your help oblivion!

It’s possible the oil change place messed up the switch. This blog is full of horror stories about instant oil change places and the consensus is that most of them hire people that couldn’t make it at Burger King, and that they should be avoided! (no offense to BK workers intended)

Drastically overfilling the oil can cause various types of engine damage too. If the engine is severely overfilled, it can actually starve for lubrication, as the crankshaft will whip the oil into a froth, which cannot be pumped throughout the engine. It can also cause blown seals. Even if the oil level is perfect now, I would be leery of driving it with an oil pressure sensor that isn’t working, doubly so since you may have an oil leak. Not only are you leaking oil, but the system that’s designed to give you a last-ditch chance of turning off the engine before damage occurs if you lose oil pressure isn’t working! I personally would not drive it, especially on a long trip until you’ve assessed whether you have a leak and how bad, and until the oil pressure sensor is fixed.

Good luck and have a safe trip.