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Subaru Rear Main Seal leak

I have a 98 Subaru Outback Legacy Wagon. For the last month or so it’s been leaking oil (spotting on the driveway and burning oil smell when it’s hot.) I had it checked by a mechanic today and he said it’s the rear main seal and that the engine will have to be removed to replace it. The car has 135,400 miles on it and we don’t know the maintenance history so he suggested we replace the timing belt, water pump and valve cover gaskets. The quote was for 10hrs labor on the rear seal and 2.5 on the water pump and timing belt at $70/hr plus $266.25 in parts (all told, $1221.25.) My question, is this a reasonable price? Do we really need to replace the timing belt and water pump? Does the engine really have to be removed?

Thanks in advance,


“Do we really need to replace the timing belt and water pump?”

Only if you expect to keep the engine running!

To be more specific, since this engine, like many modern 4-cylinder engines, is of the “interference” design, and since the timing belt is supposed to be replaced by 7 yrs./105,000 miles, and since you have no idea of the car’s maintenance history, unless you want to be in the situation of having multiple valves and pistons collide with each other unexpectedly from belt breakage, you need to replace that timing belt that is probably living on borrowed time.

(Hint: If it breaks, you will be spending the money for belt replacement plus the cost of tearing down the entire engine in order to inspect the internals of it and the cost of replacement of the parts (valves, pistons) that have been ruined. It will not be a pretty picture, I can assure you.)

And, since the timing belt has to be removed for water pump replacement, it makes economic sense to replace the water pump now, rather than pay the labor at a later date to have the timing belt removed and reinstalled in order to replace the water pump if and when it fails.

As to the rear main seal, you did not mention how often you need to add oil. If you only have to add…let’s say…1/2 a qt. every 1,000 miles, then you might want to just keep monitoring the oil level at each fill-up and adding oil as needed. But–How much oil do you have to add, and how often??

P.S.–I would suggest that you read the thread titled, “When did your timing belt break?”

Ok, ok, good info. Since the last oil change (just before Thanksgiving) I haven’t had to add any oil. The car is running well but there’s that burning oil smell when we have the vent open and you can see a bit of smoke after driving it for a while. Do you think $1221 is a good price for all the work that’s needed? I know there are no absolute answers to that question but I thought I could find out if it’s way, way out of line.

VDCDriver, thanks for the reply and I will read that thread.


These engines are notorious for valve cover leaks (and the oil drips onto the hot exhaust manifolds), and those are on the list of repairs your mechanic recommends. Personally, I would get all the work done except for the rear seal and see how your oil use is then.

I would find where your oil is leaking onto the exhaust and make some kind of deflector sheid so your oil doesn’t fall onto your exhaust. Another thought to is what kind of fire hazard are you going to have to have all that oil spread underneath your car!

hmmmm, I crawled up under the car yesterday to look at the valve covers again. There’s some oil seeping from them but not much and the manifolds are clean. The leaking oil is coming mainly from the back of the engine and blowing back on the tranny and exhaust from there (specifically the junction where the exhaust manifolds come together underneath the transmission. I was thinking of having the valve cover gaskets replaced and getting the engine cleaned and then seeing what’s up but the prices quoted for that were pretty steep anyway ($220 & $280 respectively.)

Still haven’t heard any thoughts on price of work??

I agree that checking the real oil use before pulling engine. You can buy alot of oil for $700!! The cam seals could be leaking and oil running to rear making it look like rear main. power wash it and check it out after a few trips. Cam leaks are more common than rear mains in MHO. Is this mechanic familar with Subbie’s?? I live in Mts and there is Subaru also at every other house down the block! Labor for timing belt and pump is good (takes me longer) I’m not sure you need to pull engine. Haynes manual suggest pulling tranny for the seal and clutch, lot less connections etc. A fully equiped garage has equipment to drop tranny with stands etc rather than what I do on my back in driveway.

This should be the first thing checked when you have an engine leaking oil from any seals. Cheap and easy.

Watch this video for the easiest repair. Just slam a new seal right over the old one.
Youtube Link

For crying out loud. Did you not see that this is an eight year old thread?

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There ought to be a law . . . !

Reviving an 8-year old thread is outright insanity


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Nice catch, Volvo.
I emplore the forum geeks, good people that they are, please consider having a “first posted” date visible by each subject heading. It would save a lot of wasted time answering years-old threads. Please please please please pretty please?? :pray:

While we’re deploying the pretty pleases, @VOLVO_V70, could you kindly ease up on the people popping up to post who are either new, or not so regular? :pray:

Also, @the_same_mountainbik, I’ve attached a screenshot. The originally-posted date is visible – check out the red circle.

It’s faint, and it took me some adjusting…but it does tell you the thread’s life in brief.

The date stamp appears on my screen, I don’t know why you three keep bumping old threads to the top.

I reported this as a bug. The sorting of the recent threads gets messed up every now an then. I saw a list this morning and the 4th most recent post was 2 years old. I then refreshed screen and sort order was good again.