Oil’s well that ends well for this Subaru owner

By | September 10th, 2015

When Tricia Kalinowski, a faithful and repeat Subaru customer, noticed her recently-purchased and highly rated 2010 Subaru Legacy losing engine oil way too fast, she feared the worst.

After repeated visits to the dealer revealing no end or diagnosis in sight, her car was headed for a major engine tear down – or worse.

Think you know how this one ends? Maybe not.

Subaru enjoys a solid reputation as long-lasting and versatile transportation at a good price. They are fine with leaving excessive power, low gas mileage, and overpriced redundant gadgets to the other guys.

Automotive News reports that Subaru is struggling to satisfy customers because they can’t get enough cars to the dealers to keep up with demand. That is the kind of problem we consumer advocate types in the forum like to hear.

“My husband and I have owned four Subarus,” says Kalinowski, who lives in Blaine, Minn. “Two of them had more than 100,000 miles when we traded them in.”

She adds,

Finding a used Subaru with low mileage can be difficult. Most people hang on to them.

We felt confident in buying the Legacy and have always had exceptional service. We bought the car in 2011 as a certified used car from Subaru with about 10,000 miles on it. It now has 47,000 miles.

That is some serious loyalty. Can Subaru do no wrong? Maybe.

“Things went well until we noticed it using a lot of oil,” Kalinowski continued.

After repeated service checks, the dealer agreed the engine was using more oil than customary and replaced the head and timing chain cover gaskets. “We were happy and thought the problem was solved,” she added. “Our cheers were premature because it started using a lot of oil again.”

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While Kalinowski had dipstick fever keeping on top of the oil level with extra oil containers in the trunk, service technicians remained stumped. But were they? Subaru is currently the subject of a class action suit regarding this topic.

After an oil consumption test confirmed the engine oil problem with a loss of at least one quart every 1200 miles, Subaru needed to make this right. Hauling around extra jugs of oil indefinitely while other problems may be brewing is just not an option. They are Subaru. Their Certified Pre-owned Warranty is impressive.

Subaru or not, I would be surprised if the dealer eagerly and voluntarily took the hit for an engine tear down or replacement on a 47,000 mile car. I am disappointed they tried to convince Kalinowski this is normal, when Consumer Reports disagrees.

And so do I. My tinkering with “fun” cars back to when Subarus first became popular in the U. S. revealed even muscle cars with big engines did not use so much oil so often.

“We have been Subaru customers for over twenty years, and Subaru says they pride themselves on loyal customers and repeat business,” Kalinowski lamented. “Not being ones to take things lying down, we realized it was time to step it up a notch. We found a corporate customer service contact for Subaru of America.”

This is the Elliott approach, but initial interest in their claim waned after a few weeks of back and forth, followed by the corporate office’s concurrence that the oil loss was “normal.”

As hope seemed to be dripping away, the oil problem (for other cars as well) was making its way into consumer media. And Kalinowski received a magical phone call saying the new engine was approved and to call for an appointment.

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What happened? Was it the bad press? Could be. Subaru could not get to Kalinowski’s engine until many weeks later due to their admitted back-up from…replacing engines.

No company, and no one, is perfect. As with life, it is the ability to own a mistake and make it right that defines success. And mistakes can be opportunities for learning rather than regret.

In the end, Subaru did the right thing even though they needed some cajoling. Claiming the problem was rare, but then that the oil loss is normal, followed by replacing the engine outright was all over the place. But some level of initial resistance isn’t that unexpected.

To be fair, and to their credit, Subaru was obligated to make Kalinowski whole, but a rebuilt or correctly repaired engine could do that (her model year was not referenced in any consumer actions). A brand new engine in a 47,000-mile four-year old car might even be a net gain.

Good for Kalinowski for staying the course. “Even though Subaru took entirely too long, I think they deserve acknowledgement for finally taking care of their customers,” she concluded.

Oils well that ends well.

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