What to do when my engine seals all decide to leak at the same time?

Hi all,

I just towed my 1999 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport Wagon 4D to the dealer today because I had a major oil leak. I opened the hood and checked the oil level yesterday only to find out that there wasn’t any oil left or very very little. The service department at the dealer checked it and told me that there are multiple locations that leak oil, and to fix those, they would have to take the engine out and reseal it at these different locations. It costs about $1,800-2000 to repair.

I am about to sell the car since I am moving, but now due to this problem, I am not sure whether to sell it in the current condition or fix it before selling it. The car is in a good condition since I have always been on top of its maintenance. I checked in the Kelley blue book and Edmunds - their price differ quite significantly.

Any ideas what I should do to get a reasonable value for my car and how to decide whether to fix it or not before selling it? Any inputs are greatly appreciated.

Thank you in advance!

Have the Positive Crankcase Ventilation system inspected first. If this system can’t vent the crankcase pressure oil will be pushed past seals and gaskets on the engine.


Start using the oils marketed for old engines and hope that will help seal up some leaks. Check your oil weekly and drive the car. Old engines leak oil, it is a fact of life. Like old folks get arthritis. Just add oil as needed. If that is too much for you sell it and get a much newer car.

Running an engine out of or very low on oil for a time will damage the engine and there’s no way I could see spending that kind of money for seals on what could be a prematurely worn engine; all depending upon the miles…

Running a dry and wet compression test and an oil pressure test are good first steps in a rough determination of what condition the engine is in.

The value of the car will vary based on the results of those tests and a 15 year old Subaru with a damaged engine would not be worth a whole lot; as least to me.
One thing for certain; spending 2 grand to fix oil leaks will not add 2 grand to the value.

Are you in the practice of periodically checking your oil. If not, what prompted the check that day? If so, have you noticed a trend of increasing oil loss or was this all of a sudden? If it was all of a sudden, then while you may have several small leaks, only one of them is responsible for the sudden loss of oil and that is the only one that has to be fixed. A lot of times when this happens suddenly, its just a broken oil pressure sending unit and that is a cheap fix.

Sounds like you have a leaky Subaru engine. I don’t think this is a very uncommon scenario. I see these engines with oil leaks at the right front head gasket. The head gaskets can be replaced with the engine in the car but I’d never do it that way, much easier and faster to pull the engine out and work on it. And when I do have the engine out, it gets a complete reseal–all seals and gaskets so there are no surprises down the road. The price you were quoted is fair and reasonable.

Two things here though tell me you should sell the car as-is with the disclosure that it has oil leaks. One is that you ran the oil perilously low, the other is that you’re selling the car. There’s no way you’ll recover the cost of the repair without driving it for a couple of years.

+1 to asemaster’s post.
Just be honest with the sale. You’ll never increase the value of the vehicle by that much by fixing it. Odds are that you’ll sell it to someone willing and able to do the work themselves. Seals and gaskets are cheap…it’s the labor that gets expensive.

Maybe they all (I’m sure not every one) are simply the same age and got brittle and leaky due to age. Actually you might consider this as a good thing, and replace them all at one time, instead of one this month, another in 3 months, etc. Bottom line is a cost-benefit analysis. You said it was a good car with good maintenance, so if it’s paid off, get it done and you’ll probably have a good car for a few more years. If you’re going to trade or sell it, be honest with whomever is going to inherit this problem. Good luck! Rocketman

We really can’t tell you what to do until you tell us how often you check your oil and how much oil you had been using. If you’re not sure, get the oil changed (use the high-miles oil mentioned above), then check the engine for major leaks. If none, then check the oil daily until you have an idea of how much oil you’re using/leaking.