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!


  1. The problem I see with your analysis is that you include only those vehicles which Subaru has defined as defective. They say an engine is defective if it burns a quart in 1000 miles. My daughter has a Forester that burns a quart every 1300 miles. That's 2 quarts added between oil changes at 3000 miles. And someone recommended a 5000 mile interval? That would be nearly 4 quarts between changes. To me, hers is a defective engine and I suspect there are many others out there like it. So I conclude that the problem is much greater than 10 percent. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    1. If it's consuming oil that quickly at a consistent rate, it's probably just an unfortunate situation that it doesn't fall "exactly" within Subaru's parameters to identify this problem. For a company that was selling around 300,000 vehicles per year in the time that this defect would've covered, we'd see much more backlash from owners if it were significantly higher than 10%.

  2. Dave Addison: just blogged this today -

    Sorry Reverend! It doesn't fall into Subaru's parameters because they would have to fix too many of our vehicles so the parameters get lowered to a standard that isn't realistic.

    1. No apology needed. Subaru is still fixing vehicles that have this issue. It sounds like, from the testing you've done, that your car could qualify after an additional test. Most manufacturers wouldn't care after 100,000 miles, but it should at least say something that Subaru would still repair your Impreza 40,000 miles over the Powertrain Warranty.