Despite cars being increasingly efficient, there is still a small sliver of the auto market that seems to be stuck in the ’60s, burning oil like nobody’s business and hoping that we won’t notice. Unfortunately for them, someone did finally take notice, and it just so happened to be Consumer Reports, which released a scathing report on the matter. Its findings show that certain auto manufacturers are building engines that require fresh oil between servicing, which is something no new car owner should have to concern themselves with, regardless of what kind of car they buy.
After zeroing-in on 498,900 vehicles produced from 2010 to 2014, several engines immediately emerged as top offenders. Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V6 scored poorly, as did BMW’s 4.8-liter V8 and twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, along with Subaru’s 3.6-liter six-cylinder, 2.0, and 2.5-liter four-cylinder powerplants. So if you have an Audi A3, A4, A5, A6, or Q5 chances are you’re burning oil faster than Dennis Hopper in Waterworld. BMW 5, 6, 7, and X5 owners had better watch out too, as should Subaru Forester, Impreza, Legacy, and Outback drivers.
According to the report, BMW 5 Series owners with V8 engines were “27 times as likely to suffer excessive oil consumption as owners of an average vehicle” and that “BMW outlines such consumption as part of its manufacturer specifications.” In an e-mailed statement, BMW spokesman Hector Arellano-Belloc said “BMW engines may consume up to one quart of engine oil per 750 miles under certain driving conditions” and that performance models are known for consuming even more oil than that.
That’s not good at all, especially since cars that burn oil prematurely are going to roast even more as they age, but fortunately, data shows that 98% of cars made between 2010 and 2014 should not have to add oil between changes. And while 2% may sound like a tiny portion of the pie, it accounts for around 1.5 million vehicles, and the majority of those car owners probably have never even looked at their oil levels to make sure everything is copacetic under the hood.
So what are manufacturers doing to confront these issues and keep us from dropping money into our cars when we shouldn’t have to? In short, not much. Automakers continue to tell drivers that oil consumption is normal (regardless of how new it may be), and that Subaru considers a quart every 1,000 miles to be acceptable, while Audi and BMW say that losing a quart every 600 to 700 miles is typical. But opponents argue that adding an overpriced bottle of synthetic oil once a month is the last thing a new car owner should have to concern themselves with.
We find ourselves here at the Cheat Sheet in agreement with the Consumer Reports, that any engine that burns oil in excess prematurely should be repaired or replaced under the powertrain warranty at no cost to the owner. But automakers like to hide behind fine print; when confronted with a customer complaint, the manufacturer defends itself by saying “this falls within the car’s technical specifications,” or they just blame it on the car owner for not driving “properly.”
However, Subaru has recently authorized dealers to perform oil-consumption tests and back in 2010 it began modifying its engines to better combat these issues. Class-action lawsuits against Audi requiring extended powertrain warranties on its 2.0-liter turbo engines to eight years or 80,000 miles, means that European automakers will soon be forced to follow suit. But until then, Audi is advising new drivers to “always have a spare quart of engine oil in case the engine oil needs topping off while on the road.”
When we showed the list of top offenders to Tony Barber, owner of Cincinnati’s Turn in Concepts and specialist in all things BMW and Subaru, he said, “I’m surprised to not see more Subarus [listed]. BMW recently talked about the oil burning issue in their twin turbo V8s that started in 2010. Basically, drivers in the U.S. do too much cruising and not enough hard acceleration leading to oil burning issues. Instead of changing something in the engine they changed the oil change interval from 15,000 to 10,000 [miles].” And when asked what BMW owners should do he replied, “all drivers should check their oil at a minimum of every other fuel stop.”
So if your new car burns too much oil, take it to the dealer and bring all of your receipts for oil changes and individual quarts. Once there, find out if your car is eligible for repairs under any “customer-satisfaction campaigns” or “technical service bulletins” so the dealer can conduct an oil-consumption test instead of warranty repairs. If you exceed the manufacturer specs while still under a powertrain warranty, you will probably be covered free of charge. However, if your car is not consuming oil at a rate that is “excessive,” you could be in for quite the legal battle, so consulting an attorney about lemon-law statutes and checking if your car is a part of an excessive oil consumption class-action suit might be your best plan of action.