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With oil and luck, Subaru can avoid the heap

Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2009 Subaru Outback with
143,000 miles. My check-engine light
came on while driving. I have a device
in the car that told me the engine
triggered “Code P0028.” I drove home
and Googled the code: “Blah blah oil
level, blah blah solenoid …” I barely
know how to do self-service gas,
but I do know how to check the oil.
There was not a drop on the dipstick.
Shocked (because I am faithful about
oil changes and other maintenance), I
was also puzzled because I was only 8

miles over the suggested mileage for
getting an oil change.
The mechanic said I was not leaking
oil so I must be burning it. But I’ve
never seen any smoke or noticed a
burning smell. The car has always
functioned perfectly. My mechanic
said to check the oil frequently and
carry a quart of oil in my car for those
times when my oil is low. I’ve driven
860 miles since then and my dipstick
registers “full.” Could the mechanic
have been wrong about it burning
oil? — Mary
I don’t think he was wrong, Mary. I
think you probably are burning some
oil. If the oil had leaked out (and you
would have to lose at least two quarts
for the dipstick to register no oil), it
would have made a mess somewhere
on the engine, and your mechanic
would have noticed it. Imagine if
you spilled two quarts of cooking oil

somewhere in your kitchen. You’d
find it. Even though your dipstick
still reads full after 860 miles, that
doesn’t mean you’re not burning oil.
The oil change interval for this car
is about 7,500 miles. If you lost two
quarts in 7,500, that’s only a quart
every 3,750 miles. So, it doesn’t
surprise me that you haven’t seen any
drop in oil in only 860 miles. Plus,
oil burning accelerates as you lose
oil. If you start with four quarts, and
let’s say you burn a quart over 5,000
miles, now you have three quarts of
oil trying to do the job of four quarts.
It’s working harder and running
hotter. That means it may burn the
next quart in 2,500 miles.
Your mechanic is right that you
should check your oil regularly and
top it up when necessary between
changes. It would also make sense
to decrease your oil change interval

to every 3,750 miles from now on.
Keeping newer, cleaner oil in there
may help reduce the burn rate too.

But the bottom line is you have now
entered the stage of car ownership
we call “Heapdom.” You are officially
driving an old car, Mary. And at 10
years and 150,000 miles, it’s right
on schedule. With a little luck, you’ll
be able to nurse this Subaru for tens
of thousands of more miles. It will
require some vigilance. And some
more oil.
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
© 2019 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug
Berman Distributed by King Features
Syndicate, Inc.


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