Car Talk: After 7 years, a little oil loss is not a big deal

Dear Car Talk: I have a 2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 171,000 miles. It's been burning a quart of oil every 1,500 to 2,500 miles. This doesn't seem right, and I know Subarus have issues with oil burning.


What can I do to fix or improve this? Or is it time to trade it in for another vehicle? — Kirby


Dear Kirby: What do you think the doctor says when a 95-year-old guy comes in and complains, "I have to get up at least once a month during the night to pee."


He probably thinks: "Once a month?? You're a medical miracle, Sheldon!"


That's my reaction to your oil burning, Kirby. For a car with 171,000 miles on it, this is not a terribly serious problem. My late brother wouldn't make an offer on a car unless it burned at least a quart of oil every 300 miles.


First of all, burning a quart every 1,500 to 2,500 miles is not much at all. If you were burning a quart every 500 miles or less, I'd tell you to start saving for a down payment on your next car. But a quart every 1,500 to 2,500 miles is almost insignificant on a car of this age.


What you should do is check for leaks. Don't assume you're burning the oil. Some leaks can be easy to find and cheap to fix.


For instance, maybe your oil pressure switch is leaking. You can fix that for $50. Or maybe your valve cover gaskets are leaking. We see that frequently on Subarus. And if that's where you're losing your oil — or some of your oil — you can fix that for a couple of hundred bucks or less.


Then maybe you'll be losing a quart every 3,000 miles, or every 5,000 miles.


Some leaks won't be worth fixing, like if you're leaking oil from the head gaskets. But if you have any obvious leaks, I'd fix those.


And then I'd buy a case of oil the next time it's on sale, and just keep an eye on the dipstick. At your current rate of oil loss, a case of oil ought to get you to about 200,000 miles. That's pretty much how long Subaru engines, on average, last.


We know some go longer. But however many more miles you get from here on out, Kirby, rest assured you've gotten your money out of the car.


Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.