Piston Slap: Do New Cars Burn Oil?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Jim writes:

Dear Sajeev:

I hope you are well. I have a 2011 Subaru Forester (silver/5 speed) which has been great since purchase. I have travelled 19K to date and change oil every 6 months or 7,500 miles. I have one somewhat troubling matter, however: I’ve added a quart of synthetic oil prior to each 6 month/7,500 mile oil change.

Is this to be expected? My friendly local Subaru dealer says that “all cars” will use oil over a 6 month period. I’ve stopped in every 1200 miles the past 6 months and verified that it is using some oil.

However, my silver 1990 535i 5 speed with 250K did not use any oil when I drove it daily for many years. It is now in retirement. The local bmw guys tell me that the m30 engine was the best ever built by the Munich folks.

I keep my cars for a long time and would prefer to address this now, prior to the warranty expiration date.

Thanks and best wishes,

Sajeev answers:

Supposedly many (all?) late model vehicles come with a caveat about oil consumption in their owner’s manuals. Just for fun, I looked at my only late model vehicle’s owner’s manual and the 2011 Ford Ranger (modern Duratec or ancient Cologne V6) doesn’t have a penchant for oil consumption. So anyway…

We’ve discussed Subaru’s oil concerns several times before in this series, but I doubt they have relevance here. So I’m not surprised to read your problem. Do I know any details off hand? Nope. Luckily, we have Google searches and the NASIOC. Do more searches there and you’ll see my point.

Odds are your dealer isn’t lying: the Subaru Boxer engine (especially the turbocharged ones) can burn oil, so be okay with it. Kinda like Mazda RX-8 owners! Ditto the V-10 powered BMW M5 and M6. These whips prove that certain engines are designed for performance, consequences be damned.

Unhappy with my answer? Sell the Subie and buy a normal car with owners that’d call for blood if their machines started sucking down oil…and they’d get that blood, too. To wit, a quote from an interesting article I Googled:

“Do cars today consume more oil than in the past? Not according to John Ryder, a master automotive technician and Philadelphia-area manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Approved Auto Repair Network.

Ryder agrees that manufacturers now commonly insist it’s normal for a vehicle to use up to a quart of oil per 1,000 miles. But in real-world experience, he says, such consumption is rare. “You see it in a super small percentage of cars,” Ryder says.”

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Corntrollio Corntrollio on Apr 25, 2013

    I also sometimes wonder if what people think of as "using oil" is sometimes a very small and hard to perceive leak. More than once and on different cars (American, German), I've had a mechanic catch a leak that wasn't leaving spots on the driveway before, and after that the oil level wasn't below spec again. Note that the stealership service department would often do nothing if it's 1 quart every 1000-1200 miles, but my indy guys have always caught these things. I've always contemplated doing an oil analysis (a la BITOG) on my cars (synthetic) to determine if I'm changing oil too soon, but it's convenient to do an oil change when other service needs to be done, so I'm sure I do it early sometimes. Even if I did the analysis, I'm not sure if it would change my behavior that much, so it'd mostly be to confirm that what I'm doing is okay. On one car, I followed the 10K factory service interval for synthetic oil until it hit 100K, and then I started doing it every 5K, somewhat idiosyncratically. I'd just rather keep it running, and it doesn't cost that much with the amount I drive to do it every 5K.

  • Hans007 Hans007 on Apr 26, 2013

    my cousin and i both had 2010 Audi A4s. mine was a 2.0T quattro and his was a FWD 2.0t there is a defect in the EA888 engine with the piston rings in certain model years (earlier ones like 2009-2010) . both our cars burned about a quart of oil every 1000 miles, after about 2 years ownership. audi would say it was within spec and to just top it off at first when it was only burning a quart every 2500-3000 or so. anyway i sold my car, he still has his after audi made some valve fix that makes it "less bad". so yes, a modern car can still burn oil if it is a piece of shit made by VW group

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