2004 Subaru Outback Ran Low On Oil Now Needs New Engine?

Reader Question I have a 2004 Subaru Outback LLbean edition with a 6L Boxter engine. I always take it to the same local shop for my oil changes and minor repairs.

I recently took the car to him to perform the 30K service. About a week after I got the car from him I noticed a knocking sound in the engine. Not being a mechanic at all, I wasn’t sure what the sound was. Within a few days the check engine light came on, so I took the car to the dealership right away to see what was going on.

The called me and said that the engine was 4.5 qts low on oil. The engine only holds 6 qts. To make a long story short, I now have the car in the subaru dealership with the engine torn out and apart. Apparently a rod was damaged and there is metal shavings all inside the engine. The dealership says I need a new engine.

I have spoken with the mechanic about the apparent mistake made by his shop in not refilling my car with oil. He is not willing to admit fault. What should I do to get him to own up to the roughly $10K to put a new engine in my car? Any ideas would be great.


Hey there Jed
This is a bad situation, and I don’t really know what or who can be the blame for this. IF, your mechanic did not refill the engine with enough oil, or did not fill it at all…which happens sometimes, the engine would have made noise and probably stopped running within 5-10 miles.

Since it was a week after the oil change before the engine started to knock kind of leads me to believe it might have left the mechanic shop with enough oil, enough to keep it from knocking.

Could there have been an oil leak that caused the oil to leak out of the engine and cause the damage?

You might want to ask your mechanic if he has insurance that will cover this, and you might want to pay his deductible amount to make the claim. We have insurance at my shop just for this type of situation, and I would just turn this in as a claim if this happened at my shop.

Last option, call a few junk yards in your area and see if you can find a used engine for your vehicle. I am not familiar with this engine, or how many of them were made, but it would be worth a few phone calls to a junk yard to see if there is a vehicle like yours that is wrecked but the engine is still in good shape.

I would also talk to your dealership and see if they overhaul the engine themselves or do they subcontract the job to an engine rebuilding shop.

I would definitely call a few engine rebuilding companies and get quotes from them. Dealership are usually NOT a good place to have this type of work preformed, just because of their labor rates and inflated parts costs. A company that specializes in engine rebuilding will usually do the job at a reduced rate from the dealership.

$10K sounds WAYYYYY out of range. Hopefully they came up with that number to get you to go away, or cut your losses and buy a new car from them.

Austin C. Davis

Reader Follow Up


Thanks for the reply. The Dealer said that the car holds 6qts of oil and that it is totally possible for the engine to run for as long as it did on 1.5qts. I am still waiting to hear from the dealer on whether or night they might cover this under warranty.

My main question to Subaru was that if there was a low enough level of oil in the engine to do damage, then the oil light should have come on. That I feel is my best argument to the dealership. Any additional thoughts?


Hello again Jed,

I agree with the dealer that the engine COULD run on 1.5 qts of oil, but I would concur with you that the oil warning light should have been on and I would expect the engine to produce a tapping noise due to lack of lubrication at the top end of the engine like the valve train and lifters.

You might ask the dealership at what point does the low oil light come on. If the light comes on when there is LESS than 1.5 qts in the engine, then this is a problem with Subaru, because you were not warned of the situation, then how can this be your fault?

I would find it odd that the oil change guy would install 1.5 qts of oil and stop. To me, either they would totally forget to install ANY oil at all…which happens, but the engine would have died in just a few miles and it would have been making a loud knocking noise as you left the repair shop AND the low oil light would have been on etc. etc.

OR they DID install the proper amount of oil (or at least 5 quarts which is what most vehicles hold) and there is a large oil leak or there was an internal problem in your engine which caused the damage.

If you are trying to get Subaru to pay for this, you really should be talking to the district level manager for Subaru not someone at the dealership. Ask them who the area rep for Subaru is and work on that person.

I would get ready for a battle, gather all your oil change receipts so you can prove that you have been maintaining the vehicle and that the same oil change place has successfully changed the oil in the past.

I would like to know what they would do if this happened after an oil change by the dealership, you might want to pose that question to them as well. I don’t think anyone can point fault at any one person in this situation, this comes under the heading…”stuff happens”.

Keep me posted will ya, I would like to post your outcome on my site. This might help the next person in this position.


Austin Davis

Reader Follow Up

I will keep you in the loop for sure. I hadn’t thought of talking with the District Manager, but I think that is a good call. I hope that Subaru owns up to this issue and takes care of the problem.

The car did start making a odd sound after the oil change, but I wasn’t sure what it was. We had been having the car in and out of the dealership working on an “engine surging” problem.

The dealership thought is was the throttle positioning sensor, so they replaced that, but it didn’t solve the problem. I assumed this noise was somehow related to the surging issue. When the check engine light came on though, I took it straight to the dealership.

The dealership said there was no sign of any leak when they noted that it was 4.5qts down on oil.

Thanks for your continued help on this.

Posted in: Running Problems

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