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

RAY: 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.

Love it or list it: The case of the bad luck truck

Dear Car Talk:

My 1984 Toyota pickup truck has been sitting for a year and a half. Here’s the story: The battery was running down overnight. My auto parts store said it was probably the alternator. The neighbor replaced the alternator and voltage regulator for me, but that didn’t fix it, and he did some damage in the process.

During all of this, the license plates expired, and I canceled the insurance, not knowing how to proceed with little money.

Then two men stole the catalytic converter and probably the muffler.

I realize I have to do something, and it can't sit forever. It has a good engine and transmission, so I'm thinking I'll try to start it. What should do in preparation before starting it? – Roxanne

RAY: Well, it depends what your goal is, Roxanne. Do you want to get it started so you can fix it and drive it again? Or do you want to start it so you can sell it?

If you just want to get rid of it, I wouldn’t try to start it at all. I’d just advertise it “as is.” Be completely honest. Good engine and transmission. No converter or muffler. Not currently running due to charging system problem. Excellent truck for a mechanic who wants to fix it, or for parts. Best offer and must tow it away.

There’s a certain cult around these old Toyota trucks, and my guess is someone will want it. You may even get some money for it.

On the other hand, if you want to drive it again, keep in mind that you’ll need whatever parts caused the battery to run down, whatever parts the neighbor damaged, plus a catalytic converter and muffler. So you’re probably looking at over $1,000 in repair costs. At minimum.

Even if that sounds OK to you, I still wouldn’t start it. Instead, I’d find a shop you trust (try, and arrange to have it towed there. Your mechanic can take steps to prevent any engine damage when starting the car after it’s been sitting for years.

For instance, he can remove the spark plugs and squirt oil into each of the cylinders so you’re not moving the pistons against dry cylinder walls. Then he can turn the crankshaft by hand, with a wrench, to get the pistons moving slowly, and make sure the rings aren’t stuck.

If all that works, he can crank the engine with the coil wire detached – letting the engine turn at cranking speed, which is much slower than running speed.

That allows the fuel pump to fill up the carburetor with gasoline, and allows the oil pump to start lubricating all the parts of the engine that haven’t seen oil since “Game of Thrones” was in Season 3.

And then, once he gets it started, he can begin to figure out what it’ll need to get on the road again. At that point, you can always go back and reconsider Plan A: Selling it “as is.” Good luck, Roxanne.

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