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My 2004 Subaru Outback wagon failed inspection today due to an oil leak. I saw the oily mess under the front end. They cleaned all the oil off the underside and put in UV dye to diagnose the leak.

I'm supposed to go back tomorrow for a diagnosis, but I suspect they're going to "diagnose" something super expensive and possibly, totally unnecessary. Why? Because the very first thing they suggested was, "it's probably the head gasket." The head gasket was replaced at 140k miles in 2012 by a Subaru dealership I trust (in another state.) Since then, it's never overheated (never even close!) no white smoke, no coolant issues at all, no chocolate-milky oil goop, no head gasket symptoms. It's at 190k miles now, and the oil was changed just last week. (In another state at my parent's mechanic, he mentioned an oil leak but said it was "nothing serious.")

Attached is a photo of the area they cleaned (I drove it 5 miles, took picture.) Can anyone point to a more likely source of the oil leak? I'd like to go in there tomorrow having a clue, but I can't even identify the parts in the photo. That's the oil pan, right? Could it honestly be the head gasket again? So soon?

Help? Advice? Pity?
 

2004 Subraru Oil leak

 

Edited by MC1r

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Given the milage, if its an engine oil leak, it most likely coming from a seal or valve cover gasket. If its leaking coolant its most likely the head gasket. Seals and valve cover gaskets are relatively inexpensive repairs.

Edited by steve56

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good job taking a picture. Take the same photo tomorrow after more driving.

 

Short answer:

Crank seal ($500-$1000)

or valve cover gaskets ($200-$300)

 

Preferably get photos of the entire underside from frame rail on one side to the other. You've got most, but not all of it.

 

Bad leaks that get worse quickly are often (not always) seals - crank seal or cam seal. While the seals are $5, it's mostly labor. It's basically a timing belt job plus cost of seals. $500-$1000.

 

If you do it be sure to get a complete timing belt kit - tensioners and pulleys. The originals are devoid of grease by now and you have an interference engine and don't want to pay that labor cost twice (seal now, belt later).

 

Crank seal costs $5 and could be replaced in two hours so an honest shop charging by the hour could conceivably repair this for $200 but that's unlikely to find and better off doing the timing components now as well.

 

A crank seal would leak around the center of the engine - arouns the oil pan as you do have pictures there.

 

Dont think too poorly of the shop - EJ25's leak oil externally at headgaskets all the time. Afailure mode you're apparently not familiar with - EJ25's do not mix oil and coolant, which you mention. So they're closer to factual than you are...as an illustration, though they're still likely to be wrong here, I just wouldn't fault them...yet. It's usually.2005+ models but sometimes earlier ones and replacements (which yours is) have more variations in failure modes. Few shops know these specifics/engines this well but HGs are probably more commonly seen than oil seals, if that's what yours ends up being.

 

Did you add oil if it lost a lot?

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All that being said headgaskets can fail a second time. Doesn't happen terribly often with OEM gaskets and dealers have a good track record overall. Though dealers don't generally install the best available gasket or resurface the heads.

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there are a number of likely suspects for oil leaks

 

from the front of the engine: Crank and/or Cam seals are the most common - oil will seep down through the seams of the timing covers - if these are leaking you run the risk of the timing belt being saturated in oil and causing failure.

Also of note is the oil pressure sensor at the top - under the alternator - when this goes it generally makes a pretty big mess, however.

 

sides of the engine: valve cover gaskets are the most common, but head gaskets can also be suspect

 

rear of the engine: oil separator plate - most common on mid to late 90s models that had a plastic plate (yours should be metal), rear cam seal (passenger side)

 

these are the most common oil leak areas, there are of course other potential areas such as the oil pan itself, oil fill tube, etc, but not all that common.

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Thank you all for your replies, you've been very kind.

I have not needed to add oil, I do check it at least once a month and it's never been low. I put cardboard under the engine overnight, and it's still totally clean - not one drop of oil.

 

I uploaded the photos I took yesterday and the pictures I took just now to BEFORE and AFTER Flickr albums. I drove 30 miles between the two sets of photos.

I don't see any new oil leakage. Do you guys see anything? This rusty drip concerned me, but it's dry to the touch and I can see it was there yesterday.

Most importantly, can you tell from my AFTER photos what's NOT the problem? I'm headed back to the mechanic this afternoon.

Thanks again!

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That's ridiculous, that's less oil leak than most subarus on the road. Go somewhere who doesn't wanna be a wongleflute about it. Most places in Maine don't really care about stuff like that...

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