Common Subaru Oil Leaks

Where does my Subaru Leak oil?

Most likely you know about the 2.5L SOHC head gasket leaks. They’re an external oil and/or coolant leak. This article is to target the other common oil leaks that your Subaru will eventually come up with. There are a few other areas that these vehicles like to leak, but after these are taken care of these vehicles are pretty bullet proof in my opinion. I’m going to list these areas and then explain a bit about each one.

The common Subaru oil leak problem areas are:

  1. Rear of engine, PCV baffle plate
  2. Front of engine, crank seal and piston access plugs
  3. Valve cover/spark plug tube seals

Well, of course there are other areas that leak oil but, as of my years of experience working on Subaru’s I would have to say these are the most common oil leak areas. Also need to point out that the spark plug tube seals are only a problem on the 2.5 SOHC and the 2.2L SOHC second generation engines.

Subaru 2.5L SOHC Spark Plug Tube Seals

Subaru 2.5L SOHC valve cover spark plug tube seals are very common to leak. They will cause problems and you won’t even be aware of the leak. The reason for this is because they leak into the spark plug tube and take a long time before the oil works it’s way out to an external leak that you will notice. The problem with this is the oil will contaminate your ignition wires and spark plugs and cause cylinder misfires. Subaru misfires are not a good thing as those catalytic converters are very expensive. If you don’t know why I referred to the catalytic converters, this is because cylinder misfires are the number one cause of pre-mature catalytic converter failure. With that being said, just pop out your ignition wires on all four cylinders and check the tubes for oil. You really don’t even need to look into the spark plug tube; if they’re leaking it will be all over the ignition wire that you just removed. It’s pretty obvious and I’m sure if you were not a mechanic you would pick up on this pretty quick. The driver’s side is harder to get to so check the passenger side first. If you find those leaking you’ll be replacing them as a set, so no need to check the other side.

Subaru Baffle Plate

The baffle plate or PCV baffle plate is common to leak and on the older engines they have used a plastic cover. This is a common problem area so Subaru has updated the plate to steel with Allen head bolts instead of Phillips screws. Only use the updated part if your plate is plastic. Some of the early and late MY 2000 Subaru’s have used an aluminum one from the factory and in my opinion these are the best one, except they still use the Phillips screws. Just use an impact hammer for removing and tightening the screws and you should be fine. The Subaru Fuji bond is also outdated so don’t use it, instead get there new pink tri-metal RTV sealant. This is about the best sealant I have ever used and use it on all other vehicle types. The only other sealant that I could say is better is the Toyota FIPG black sealant, but they don’t sell it in a caulking gun tube like Subaru does. When replacing the baffle plate I always recommend to replace the rear main seal also, it just doesn’t make since not too. Your right there already and the part is fairly inexpensive.

Subaru 2.5L SOHC Piston Access Plugs

I have been seeing these piston access plugs on the 2.5L SOHC engines leaking. I’m not sure fully why, but it’s as simple as removing it and applying sealant to the threads. The reason I’m pointing this out is because during timing belt replacement at around 105K, you may replace the cam and crank seals and overlook this area. Compared to the DOHC engines the cam and crank seals practically don’t even leak. I still replace the seals due to mileage with OEM seals, but have got burned with not re-sealing these access plugs. So, if your replacing your own timing belt or having a shop do it, let them know you want these sealed again. There are two plugs; one above the water pump and the other one is to the left of the oil pump if you’re facing the engine.

Subaru Repair Portland Oregon

If you live in the Milwaukie or Portland Oregon area give us a call or contact us for a free vehicle inspection on your Subaru. I have over 13 years experience in Subaru repair and am offering repair services at $40.00 hour labor rate. You will not find a more experienced Subaru Mechanic for that price in the Portland Metro Area or most likely anywhere near here.

This post was written by: Martin Hand


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Martin Hand

About Martin Hand

ASE Certified L1 Advanced Mastertech. Martin Hand has over 15 years experience in Asian and European Import Auto Repair. Specializing in electrical diagnosis, engine performance, AT/MT transmission repair/rebuild. Martin is also pursuing a degree in Computers Science & Information Systems starting at Portland Community College while he plans to transfer to OIT. Certified in Java application level programming, experienced with other languages such as PHP, Ruby, JavaScript and Swift. Martin has future plans of automotive diagnostic software development.


  • Max W. says:

    Martin: I have just done the head gasket repair on our 2002 OBW with 2.5 SOHC. It had 170k and seems to be about the limit on the gaskets from that generation. From the moment we started it up, it has had oil leaks. I pinned it down to what I thought was a driver’s side cam seal leak, but upon getting the timing covers off and the cam sprocket off, there’s no oil inside the housing. I replaced the seal(a Felpro black seal from Mexico(identical seal as is on the passenger side that is not leaking. Saw some imperfections in the seal bore and the local Subie dealer mech said to use the red anaerobic Permatex gasket material to fill in the voids. I did that and the oil leak was still dripping even with the engine off. I take the timing belt off for a second time and swear the leak is not coming from the camshaft seal. With the bottom of the valve cover being wet and the subframe as well, it’s hard to tell if the leaks is blowing back onto the rearward components or whether there’s additional leaks back there. I also noticed some seepage on the passenger side that does look like valve cover gasket issues, as the passenger side cam seal is totally dry. I’m in the process of replacing the valve cover gaskets as the FelPro kit I used during the head job seems of have had Chinese made VCGs, Chinese spark plug seals, but the sealing washers were from Japan. I went to the dealer and got OE VCGs, but since the spark plug tubes are dry, I kept the old (2k miles old) Fel Pro seals in there. The rear “cam caps” appear to be a bit weepy as well, so I may have to use the red PErmatex stuff on them too. This is very frustrating and wondered if you had any advice for me going forward. The timing belt housing is bone drySorry for the long post, but I felt it necessary to give you the whole history. Thanks in Advance!!

  • Other than that, valve cover gasket and half moon oil leaks are very common and will leak onto the exhaust from the cross member just like you described.

  • Bobby says:

    Hello, I have a 1995 Subaru Impreza 2.2L and I noticed a trail Of what seems to be pinkTransmission fluid. I turn the car on, and the leak looks like its coming from above the Exhausts shield spewing onto the ground. It smokes very little. I check the transmission fluid n it seems to be still full, I’m baffled. What do you suggest is causing this leak? Please let me know any suggestions will be great, Thanks! ☺

  • William Buchanan says:

    I have a 98 legacy outback 2.5l dohc I have oil leaking from what appears to be the cam seal or valve cover but I have oil on my rack n pinion and front bottom of my trans. Is it possible to over tighten the camshaft mounts (front cap) and squeeze the seal to the point of leakage? Just finished a head gasket and timing job on it and did everything to spec.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Not possible, more likely seal got damaged on installation or scratched seal surface on the camshaft. Check to make sure the rack and pinion is not leaking either.

  • Stuart Bigham says:

    I have a peculiar oil leak on my ’96 legacy lx. I degreased the whole motor to find where the oil was leaking onto the exhaust from, and couldn’t find the source. After running the car for a bit, it started doing it again. I checked and the smoke was coming from out of the exhaust heat shield, so i removed it and removed the padding and shield and ran the motor for a bit longer. Eventually it started smoking again, and from the looks of it, the oil is actually leaking out of the exhaust manifold, specifically down the 3 bolts holding it to the head.
    The head gasket looks dry and the valve cover seal is done dry. I can’t figure it out.

  • Steve says:

    Thx so much for this page. My 2002 Forester is leaking like a sift. Easily a quart every couple days so i don’t drive it. Only 120000 on it . Know it isn’t from the heads because it continues to leak after sitting and don’t see it coming down the engine from the heads. Figured it was the rear seal but will now change that and that plate . Might as well do the head gaskets too beforethey become a problem . tNot looking forward to pulling the engine but want my Subaru back.

  • woodie says:

    I have a 2014 forester XT 2.0 turbo. 20k miles. I bought it 5 weeks ago. ( lease return) from original dealer.
    the problem, I went to work (fire dept.) I smelled oil smoke as I parked. I found oil leaking from the oil filter base. (filter to housing.) it was pretty much all over the front and side of the engine. I have a 15 minute drive to work. never heard of this issue before. I Googled a lot of sites for answers.

  • Dave says:

    Has Subaru finally fixed the head gasket and oil leak problems for the 2017 Forester (as claimed by a couple of Subaru service reps) or would I be better off buying a Honda CRV? I really like the visibility on the Forester, but I don’t want to be a remorseful buyer. Thanks. Dave

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      I have not seen headgasket failure on the late model engines. They have been completely redesigned to a timing chain motor. I do believe they have issues with oil consumption though.

      • Dan Treview says:

        My 2016 Legacy Limited 2.5i has been in for repair FIVE TIMES in the last three months for this (all under warranty, but still inconvenient/irritating). I think the ’16 Legacy and the ’17 Forester have the same engine (?), unless you have the turbo one. Anyway, this last time they pulled the engine out, replaced all gaskets, o rings, rocker cover gaskets, gasket thermo, and replaced the snout of the torque converter (which they said had broken). And guess what – 200 miles later, burning oil smell coming into the cabin through the air vents AGAIN. I’m quite certain Subaru has lost all the profit they made on this car, let alone the profit they WOULD have made if they had fixed it correctly the first time and kept me as a repeat customer. It was my first Subaru, and it will be my last. After owning it only 12 months, I can unequivocally say I vehemently hate this car, and loathe driving it. I can’t sell it because a VIN number search might reveal all the problems it has.

        I’m in touch with corporate on these issues (though I’m not this emotional with them), and finally asked them to replace the entire vehicle. I haven’t heard back yet.

        So those of you with late model 2.5i Outback/Legacy, keep making noise on this issue because I think Subaru is going to have to gear up for MASSIVE recalls, because this isn’t the only thread online where I see people making the EXACT SAME COMPLAINTS.

        • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

          I have heard of oil consumption problems (burning oil) with the late model engines but not external oil leak problems. Hopefully the manufacturer will take care of you.

      • Dave says:

        A Subaru representative assured me that there are no head gasket or oil leak issues with either the turbocharged or six cylinder engines. Can I trust him? If that’s the case I would like to buy a six cylinder Outback. Would I be okay with that model and engine? Thanks. Dave

    • Dave says:

      Are there problems with oil consumption or leaks on either the 6 cylinder or turbocharged Subaru engines?

      • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

        They all will develop oil leaks over time. The turbo engines can have oil consumption problems, depends on how they are taken care of. Very important to keep clean oil in the engine, will prevent a lot of problems. Don’t follow the factory oil change recommendations and change it every 3,000 miles.

  • Cezarri Howard Yu says:

    Hi sir. My 99 ver 4 impreza has oil leak at the valve cover gasket, the problem is whenever My speed reached at around 80kmh and have rpm at 6.5 the right side of my engine starts to create a smoke. Is there something wrong? Ty

  • Kevin says:

    I’m looking to buy a 2008 Impreza with 103k miles on it. When I went to have a look at it, I noticed oil on the underside of the car, right behind where the oil pan and oil plug is located. The engine compartment (inside and underside) all looked very clean, no oil leaks seen. The oil pan on the underside was also clean. Do you happen to know what this oil could be from. Where in the engine compartment would the head gaskets be? I’m assuming towards the front of engine? Could it be the baffle plate? Where would I see oil if this was the cause? Also, when driving it, there wasn’t any smell or apparent smoke any where.

  • Dan Treview says:


    Great article. I’m glad I found it.

    Get this – I have a new 2016 Legacy Limited 2.5, and I drive it about 100 miles per day. After I had the vehicle only six months, I started getting burnt oil smell in the cabin when the engine was warm, I was stopped at a light, and when the cabin air vent was pulling from the outside (no A/C). I’ve taken the car to the dealer twice for repair (still under warranty), and I’m still smelling burnt oil in the cabin under those conditions. They said this last time they replaced and sealed a bolt on the rear of the valve cover, but honestly, I don’t even think the mechanic wiped up the oil because on the way home from the dealer, the problem was so bad I had to turn off the air and open the windows to avoid a burning throat sensation. Every time I approach a stoplight, I’m reaching for the air recirculate button, or shutting the air off entirely until the light turns green and I’m moving again. I can’t tell you how frustrating this is on a virtually brand new $28,000 car. Here’s my question: I still have 15,000 miles left on my warranty, but given my daily commute, that’s only another six months, so I’m looking for a new dealer who can do the repair properly, but I’m unsure if I’m asking them to do the appropriate repair. All I’m doing is describing the burning oil smell in the cabin and then theorizing that maybe something is dripping onto the exhaust manifold, so can you help me come up with the right vocabulary to say to the mechanic? I’m not sure if I’m using the right words to get the problem fixed. I know a lot of Subarus that DON’T leak oil like this, so I’m reluctant to believe it’s a universal problem. Can you help me? Thanks.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      The Subaru exhaust system has heat shields with fiberglass insulation packing that gets contaminated with oil. If there was an oil leak it may take awhile before residual oil to burn out. I would take it to an independent repair shop and have them inspect for oil leaks or excessive oil consumption then take their recommendation back to the dealership for warranty, good luck.

      • Dan Treview says:

        Well, I’ve driven it 700 miles since I picked it up from the dealer (again, I do 100 miles per day), and the smell is getting stronger, and causing burning throat and headaches. It’s so bad that even if I turn the air off, there’s a tiny trickle of air still moving through the vents that still pulls burnt oil into the cabin. So essentially what I’m doing is shutting off the air, cracking the windows and moon roof at lights, and suffering through it, which is uncomfortable as the daytime temps are in the low 50s up here right now, and dropping daily.

        I am going to a different dealer first – just to get the most out of the warranty. I am going to mention to them what you wrote. Thank you SO MUCH for your advice. I love this car, but I hope not all Legacy vehicles are like this because other than that, this car is a beast, especially in the snow.

  • dillon reyna says:

    I just bought a used Subaru legacy l wagon, and it is dripping oil on the oil pan I looked at both sides underneath the engine and it looks like their is oil slowly weeping out also i felt a slight edge sticking out where i think the head gaskets are, also on the oil pan their is a decent size rust spot where a shaft is going into that is pretty rusted out.
    I wanna know how many miles i got before the gasket blows, and i deal with over heating, on the average im putting in about an 8th of a quart of oil every 250-350 miles.

    • dillon reyna says:

      ps i bought it at 188000 on it the heads were done at 120xxx

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      It’s possible the headgaskets are leaking again if not done correctly or they used cheap gaskets. Just have it cleaned up and recheck where oil is leaking from. Headgasket leak can veri, could be external leak or internal combustion leak. Each failure has there own symptoms but doesn’t mean it will overheat.

  • Adam says:

    My 2010 WRX is leaking oil. My temp gauge stays in the middle car drives fine but it leaks what an it possibly be? Please let me know. Small puddles under car

  • Ping says:

    Hi, I was wodnering if ut was possible for a forester 2009 2.5 engine oil to leak into the automatic transmission fluid without external signs? Many thx

  • Geoff H says:

    I’m considerig a 2016/ 2017 3.6 Outback.
    Are these oil leaks still a consideration?

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Those engines are completely different and too new to say what common oil leaks they may have if any at all.

    • Dave says:

      Geoff, see my post above. The Legacy and the Outback have similar engines, if not exactly the same engines. My 2016 Legacy I’ve had for a year and it is undergoing its fifth repair attempt to fix oil leaks as we speak. They tell me this isn’t the norm, and that I should be able to get 200,000 miles out of one of these cars, but the dealers doing the repairs will not tell me I bought a lemon, due to Colorado’s Lemon Law. In my opinion, I indeed bought a lemon. Other Legacy owners at work tell me this is the exception. I need AWD and Legacy is the only car in existence with 36 mpg on the highway without going to the under-powered Impreza (WRXs aside). I’m satisfied with the car IN THEORY but if my experience is more frequent than I’m told, this will be both my first and last Subaru.

      I say give it a shot – the warranty is pretty robust for oil leak issues and chances are, you won’t have the problem on a new vehicle. Good luck.

  • Anthony Bonn says:

    I have a 2002 forester that is leaking oil. From reading your site I think it is coming form the rear baffle plate. Can you tell me roughly how much it would cost to replace it and the rear seal? Thank you.

  • Prime8 says:

    Thank you for the informative article. We have an ’04 Outback Limited wagon 2.5l with all the usual leaks in the usual places, HGs done at the dealer ~100k miles, 145k currently. The leak I can’t find any answers to seems to be coming from near the water pump just above the lower rad hose or the timing cover (?) in that area. I removed & inspected the cover, no oil whatsoever underneath it. After wiping all the usual leak spots clean, this is the one place that is clearly leaking faster than any other. My limited knowledge assumes water pump/water pump gasket…? Any help or suggestions are appreciated.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      The only thing that can leak oil from that area of the engine is the cam seal, piston access plug which is above water pump and the headgasket (which usually doesn’t leak in that area). You just need to remove the timing covers and inspect the leak source from there.

    • Anonymous says:

      Could also be oil pump. I’ve seen them leak before they tend to puke out oil pretty quick cause there under pressure.

  • Ben says:


    Great site. I also am “loosing” oil in a 2004 Subaru STi. No leaks on the ground, but seem to get a fine mist of burnt oil from the exhaust.

    After an oil change it takes only a couple hundred miles to empty the oil out. But no leaks on the ground.

    I have seen many people post of this issue on other forums but no solid answers.

    Usually people say it may be the turbo or a seal in the engine.

    Any ideas? I am in Washington St. So Portland is not a bad trip if you can fix it.

    I just don’t trust any mechanic as I have been burned many times in the past.

  • Barbara Edwards says:

    I guess I should tell you where I live. Central Coast California, near San Luis Obispo. All garages here are expensive. Thank you!

  • Barbara Edwards says:

    Dear Martin, I just bought a 2003 Subaru Forester for $3400.00. It smelled of burning oil after I got it home. Spent $55.00 one day to checkt out the oil leaks. As soon as I got there, the lady said “Oil leak? Subarus are known for that.”. The mechanic said it was hard to tell and to come back the following day and he would put that fluorscent fluid in it that will tell him more. I returned, and he put in the black light stuff and showed me where the leaks may possibly be. For that day it was $50.00 more. Then he quoted $2500.00 and that it will take a long time. Three to four days and he had a pained look on his face. Does it really cost that much? I like this site. It’s very informative. Do you know a trusted Subaru mechanic near where I live,
    or not. I’ll drive far for a trusted mechanic.
    Thank you.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Most likely the headgaskets are leaking oil externally and that is what the $2500 quote is for. This is about how much they cost depending and how the repair is done. It’s a big job and there are lots of variables that can change pricing so do your research before committing to the repair. I don’t have any repair facility recommendations, sorry.

    • Martin Hand Martin Hand says:

      Most likely the headgaskets are leaking oil externally and that is what the $2500 quote is for. This is about how much they cost depending and how the repair is done. It’s a big job and there are lots of variables that can change pricing so do your research before committing to the repair. I don’t have any repair facility recommendations in your area, sorry.

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