Friday, January 15, 2016

Getting "real" with Oil Consumption Lawsuits

While Subaru continues to grow and expand there's been one nagging issue that seems to tug at the reputation for making quality vehicles that last a long time.  The Class Action Lawsuit against Subaru of America regarding Excessive Oil Consumption has rattled the cage and many potential consumers and current owners have taken notice. 

Since this shocking news broke a few years ago, I've been asked about once or twice a month about it from friends, family, and customers. I work in sales at a Subaru Dealership and I'm an enthusiast of the brand to begin with, so I was also concerned when I heard about it.  On the surface, I thought having a negative issue like this floating about could hurt sales.  The bigger picture for me was my own personal reputation in recommending these vehicles to nearly every friend and family member I have.  Suddenly, to throw Subaru into question also felt like subjecting my own recommendations to scrutiny.  Ever since those issues first started coming up, I had to find out more and get answers.

Below are the vehicles that had Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) released for them.
  • 2013 Legacy & Outback w/ 2.5 FB engine
  • 2012 - 2014 Forester w/ 2.5 FB engine
  • 2011 - 2012 Forester w/ 2.5 FB engine
  • 2012 - 2013 Impreza w/ 2.0 FB engine

When I first looked at that list... every vehicle there was on the list I was looking out for.  My father-in-law's 2013 Legacy, my mother-in-law's 2011 Forester, my dad's 2014 Forester, my mom's 2013 Outback, and my 2012 Impreza were all supposedly burning excessive amounts of oil.  In my frantic reaction to this, I had all of our vehicles checked out.  As I asked each owner about their oil changes, none of them reported anything unusual or anything that the service department had cautioned them about.  Still, I figured if there was a Class Action Lawsuit and websites, magazines, blogs, and news stations were reporting about this shocking development that it would HAVE to cover a large number of cars, especially considering how many vehicles were listed in the TSB.

When the dust settled, I found that the reason many owners (like myself) had been so concerned was that all the reports on the matter either minimally or completely failed to mention the number of vehicles that were actually having these issues.  I decided to break it down on my local level.

After speaking with the Service Advisors and Service Technicians in the Service Department about the frequency of issues related to the Oil Consumption Technical Service Bulletin, I got an idea for how few vehicles have actually had excessive oil consumption.  On average, about 40 customers per month inquire about this and have oil consumption tests performed.  Of those, 2-4 of those tested vehicles are actually exhibiting the reported issues of above-average oil consumption and fall under the TSB for the repair to be covered by Subaru.  If we average that out over a year, that's around 500 tested vehicles with just over 10% of those vehicles actually having the reported and confirmed issue.  Not to say that's a small number, but in the grand scheme of things it's hardly as big of an issue as some may be led to believe.  Without those numbers presented, we assume the worst and assume all vehicles are in danger of this issue.

So is the issue there?  Yes.  Has it been resolved?  Yes.  Is a widespread plague effecting hundreds of thousands of motorists coast-to-coast?  No.  But that's the impression that is all-too-often presented or implied.  Especially living in an age where massive recalls are being announced on a weekly basis, it's almost assumed that ANY recall-type issue is crippling.  My friends in Volkswagens get teased about emissions stuff all the time since their fun with the EPA.  But how many of them are actually driving Turbo Diesel vehicles that were the cause of this scrutiny?  Not one of 'em.  The culprits fueling these kinds of reactions are the shocking GM recalls or the Takata Airbag recalls or Toyota's unintentional acceleration issues that give consumers the impression that any and all recall-related issues are bad, widespread, and represent a massive oversight on the part of the manufacturer.  That same knee-jerk reaction I had when I first heard about the Oil Consumption recalls is the same that many other Subaru faithful likely faced... but there's hardly any articles out there shedding light on the scope of how many were actually effected by this.

However, in researching this and finding out as much as I can on the matter, I also realize that there are two fundamental issues with my conclusion.  The first is that, well, a media outlet like a website or magazine or news station isn't going to focus on a fact that shrinks the scope of the problem.  They're going to focus on the issues because that's what stirs the pot.  So any research on the actual scope of this lawsuit is irrelevant.  To downplay this news would just detract from the attention this "big story" would be able to rope in.  The second issue is that, at the end of the day, the vast majority of owners who have had this issue haven't gone for Subaru's throat.  They've been taken care of.  Subaru has, in any recall or TSB situation, been very straightforward and helpful with resolving things.  So, digging deep to find these facts and tell the story in a truthful light is really only beneficial to the small percentage of folks that had a knee-jerk reaction to this shocking news. 

The good news, at least for a guy in sales, is that Subaru is still growing and expanding and getting better.  This lawsuit issue hasn't hampered their progress.  It's being handled and taken care of and the company is still forging ahead and looking forward.  Top Safety Picks for all models, Top Picks from Consumer Reports keep coming, and things in general are looking up!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2-week Garage Queen

All I could think about when I got behind the wheel of my first Subaru was "I get to be a rally car driver now!"  And while you would hardly think a base-model Impreza Hatchback with a CVT would be able to do that, or not be the best candidate to do so, the mere thought of it made me smile ear-to-ear.  However, when I approached the first gravel road this then-new 2012 econbox had ever seen... I got cold feet.  A brand new car getting dirty, dinged up, and driven to the limits didn't seem like a good idea.

I drove the car for about a month or so before I worked up the courage to go adventuring on some back roads.  When I finally did "pop the cherry" on my Hatchback, there was no turning back after that.  I continued to seek out turn-laden gravel roads and S-Turns in the dirt with it.  Even after I purchased my '00 Impreza Coupe rallycross project car, which was admittedly more fun than my traction control nannies in the '12 Impreza, I still managed to go have fun on my local Welsh rally stages.  It seemed the "garage queen" bug would never hit me again.

Fast forward 3 years from then to October of 2015.  I was holding off replacing my beloved Hatchback until Subaru made one in a turbocharged format again.  My exact criteria for replacing my adventuremobile was another hatchback, for it to be a WRX instead of a WRX STI so the ride quality and gas mileage would be better with the new FA20 DIT, and for it to be silver so as to not attract trouble.  So what did I do?  I went weak at the knees for a 2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue.  Sedan, not a hatch.  Dinosaur EJ25 under the hood instead of the new FA20.  Bright "Grabber Polestar" blue.  Not only did I break every rule I had just made about replacing my hatchback... but I was faced with a bigger problem: being a garage queen.

For those who don't know, a Garage Queen is a rarely driven car that is in mint or near mint condition, is only driven in fair weather (no rain/snow), and is kept in the garage.  With only 700 Series.Hyper Blue WRX STIs in existence in the United States (that's only 14 per state), it's a bit of a rare bird.  Couple that with summer performance tires limiting this car right off the showroom, and it's hard NOT to think about this being a garage queen.  So that's what I started to do.  When it rained, or snowed, or was too cold out for the factory summer tires, or when there was any sort of chemical deicing treatment on the roads, this bluebaru remained in my garage.  I simply drove my Rallycross car when conditions were too threatening to the well-being of this piece of Subaru history.
From December 23rd to January 7th, it remained in the garage.  Then I picked up some used BBS wheels, mounted all-season tires to 'em, fixed some urethane mudflaps, and rolled it out onto Nebraska's Winter Roads laden with ice, snow, and salt.  I had a few people say "I thought it was supposed to be a garage queen".  I can't do it.  Not completely, at least!  I'll still wash it and take care of it and worry about parking locations and freak out if there's hail in the forecast... but Subaru Tecnica International didn't go through the trouble of tuning this WRX for it to be a museum piece.  I've never been able to even purchase a Hot Wheels toy car without being driven to madness by trying to keep it "Mint in Box".  It has to be taken out and played with, even if just for a moment.  This one, this WRX STI, needs to be driven and enjoyed.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

'16 STI Rally Armor & BBS Wheels

There are some cars that are "garage queens".  There are others that leap into adventure, regardless of the mess.  Well... being the rally enthusiast that I am, I've had a bit of an internal struggle with this car.  One of 700 built, my 2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue is a bit of a collectors item.  With such a status, you'd think it'd be a garage queen it's whole life.  For the first few weeks, that's kind of how I felt about it. But after driving it through the break-in period and getting after it a bit, I realized it would be quite the miracle to keep this car locked up the entire winter.

After leaving it safe and sound in my garage for a whopping 16 days, I decided to do some work.  The stock BBS wheels wrapped in Summer Tires were my main concern for doing any sort of cold-weather driving.  Those were swiftly stowed in my shed and replaced with 17" BBS Wheels from a 2005 WRX STI with Continental Extreme Contact DWS tires mounted to them.  These wheels have been refinished and powdercoated black and look fantastic on the car.  Along with these new shoes, I fitted the car with Rally Armor UE Mudflaps sporting a white logo (to match the white logos on the brake calipers).  It was easier to install these mudflaps while the tires were off, so I went around to each wheel completing both installations.  No problems with either!

The tires that we fitted to the refinished BBS wheels are 245/45R17, as that size offered the most accurate speedometer readings.  Fittingly enough, today's weather calls for cold rain, so their first trek  on the roads put them to the test immediately.  While it doesn't seem fair pitting this grip up against summer performance tires, the difference was astounding and instantly noticeable.

While I'll still be a bit paranoid in parking lots and still choose to take my Impreza RS Coupe out when the weather is especially nasty outside, I am so happy to be able to drive it this winter without as much fear of messing something up or losing grip on cold roads.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year, New Plans!

Resolutions, a fresh start, uh... tax returns, there's a laundry list of things the New Year can ring in.  For me, 2016 has a lot to look forward to.  A combination of things I didn't get done last year mixed in with some experiences I've never had before that are on the way!  Here's what's in store for me (and this blog) for the new year!

We kick off the very first day of 2016 with new life breathed into my 2.5RS Coupe that I've been working on.  Today, as it passed over the 170,000 mile mark, I installed the DT ECU with a Stage 2 Tune on it.  Now this rallycross car is making full use of the Gorilla Top Mount Cold Air Intake, Stromung Catback Exhaust, and headers putting more refined linear power to the wheels in this 16-year-old coupe.  The power is much smoother and consistent with the tune tying all these elements together.  I'm really excited to see what it's like for this year's rallycross events with these improvements!

This winter started off relatively mild, so when I got my new 2016 Subaru WRX STI Series.HyperBlue, I didn't really think about needing different tires.  However, December quickly reminded me that Subaru brilliantly fitted every WRX and WRX STI with Summer Performance Tires.  These happen to be absolutely awful when it's cold out so my beloved blue machine has been hiding in the garage until I can get an alternate tire situation sorted out.  Being the OEM freak that I tend to be, I managed to find a set of BBS Wheels from a 2005 WRX STI.  These wheels share the same bolt pattern and, although they're 17s instead of the 18s I have now, they will clear the large Brembo Brakes on my car.  To make them look even more legit, I had New Wave Powdercoating take them in, strip the paint, and apply a nice glossy black finish to them.  This winter I'll be getting some alternate tires for these wheels to use as a all-season option for when conditions aren't ideal for the stock tires my WRX STI came with.

There's also some new experiences in store for me this year.  For starters, I'm incredibly excited to be planning a trip to my first RallyAmerica National Championship event!  A handful of Subaru owners and I are headed to the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood in Salem, MO.  This is the closest round of the championship to my home, so we're making the trek down to finally see our beloved Subarus in action! 

There's more coming up this year and more I plan on doing with both my Subarus, but these bits are at the front of my mind right now!  I'm so pumped for all the great possibilities coming for 2016, so I hope you continue to enjoy the stories and posts to come for the new year!  Thanks for all your support!