2002 Impreza WRX smells of burning oil
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This is a discussion on 2002 Impreza WRX smells of burning oil within the General Maintenance, Troubleshooting & Accidents. forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; So, I will admit I am a newb, I'm also trying to not get scammed. I got this car new ...

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    2002 Impreza WRX smells of burning oil

    So, I will admit I am a newb, I'm also trying to not get scammed.

    I got this car new in 2002 and it only has about 50k miles on it. I had taken pretty good care of it, regular oil changes, ran full synthetic on the oil changes and changed oil about every 3000 miles. I can check oil and add oil myself, but I've never changed it out myself.

    On Feb 16th, I noticed a strong burning smell which I presumed was oil. Never having smelled this in the car before, first reaction was to check the oil. The oil level was low, but not so low to trigger any warning lights. This was the first surprise because I had checked it about 500-1000 miles before this and it was full (I know, I should check it more often, but right now I want to focus on the future instead of past). Also, this was synthetic oil - my last oil change was 18 months ago and I estimate I had driven about 2000 miles total since that oil change. So, I added a quart of oil and drove it to an instant oil change place to have it changed out. Smell goes away, and I happily think the problem is solved.

    Then on Feb 23rd, the burning smell came back. There was also a noise coming from the engine while it was idle, which I hadn't heard before, and I can't really describe. I turn the car off, check the oil, oil level is still full. So, the next morning, I have it towed to the closest dealership (one which I had never done business with before).

    The dealership calls me the next day and tells me that the turbo charger is blown and that it will be a minimum of $1800 to fix, but they need to do a compression test to check the condition of the enigne. So they call back a few hours later and tell me cylinders 2 and 4 are not holding compression and they need to rebuild the engine - now looking at a total cost of between $6500 and $7000 to have them to do everything. Simultaneously, the service rep comments on how well I've maintained the car, and says I've taken excellent care of it, and offers me $1500-2000 in *cash*. He explicitly says cash several times. So I get very suspicious at that point, went to pick the car up with a friend and drove it home. The service guy allegedly changed the oil and the spark plugs, which he didn't charge me for. The service guy alerted us as we picked up the car, and said "you can't hear it now, but after like 3 minutes you'll hear the rods knocking".

    Upon arriving home safely, neither of us smelled burning oil or heard any strange noise. The service guy said that the tell-tale blue smoke was coming out of the exhaust when he examined it; as we drove home, I didn't really notice this but we kept the RPMs low.

    I should note that the handling of the car seems to be fine; I don't notice a change but I don't really go above 4000 rpms much, mostly just suburb driving. And, it's been so icy and cold that I've intentionally reduced my acceleration in case of ice, so is it possible I wouldn't notice a blown turbo? I'll also mention that I live in the Northeast and January and February have been brutally cold, often under 20 F for weeks.

    So what is the next step to take? Do I try another dealership or should I try a chain repair place like AAMCO? Is there anything I can try at home to investigate the problem? Thanks in advance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gman934 View Post
    I got this car new in 2002 and it only has about 50k miles on it. I had taken pretty good care of it, regular oil changes, ran full synthetic on the oil changes and changed oil about every 3000 miles.
    You have more than met the mileage requirements for oil changes. Assuming you have at least met the time requirements, and you have not modified the car but rather followed the maker's schedule with authentic parts, the engine should be "new."

    On Feb 16th, I noticed a strong burning smell which I presumed was oil. Never having smelled this in the car before, first reaction was to check the oil. The oil level was low, but not so low to trigger any warning lights. This was the first surprise because I had checked it about 500-1000 miles before this and it was full
    This implies a leak.

    (I know, I should check it more often, but right now I want to focus on the future instead of past).
    If only I knew how to do this.

    Also, this was synthetic oil - my last oil change was 18 months ago and I estimate I had driven about 2000 miles total since that oil change.
    This does not meet the maximum time criterion for an oil change unless I'm mistaken. Nonetheless we don't know if what you are seeing is an ("old") oil related failure.

    So, I added a quart of oil and drove it to an instant oil change place to have it changed out. Smell goes away, and I happily think the problem is solved.
    This implies a leak originally either at the oil filter or the oil drain plug. However....

    Then on Feb 23rd, the burning smell came back.
    ... this contradicts my above conclusion.

    There was also a noise coming from the engine while it was idle, which I hadn't heard before, and I can't really describe. I turn the car off, check the oil, oil level is still full. So, the next morning, I have it towed to the closest dealership (one which I had never done business with before).
    Is the noise a clacking or clicking or grinding sound?

    The dealership calls me the next day and tells me that the turbo charger is blown and that it will be a minimum of $1800 to fix, but they need to do a compression test to check the condition of the enigne.
    If true, go elsewhere.

    So they call back a few hours later and tell me cylinders 2 and 4 are not holding compression and they need to rebuild the engine - now looking at a total cost of between $6500 and $7000 to have them to do everything.
    I'd not bother. The car is worth that amount, roughly.

    Did you see any CEL (check engine light) on the dash all this time?

    Simultaneously, the service rep comments on how well I've maintained the car, and says I've taken excellent care of it, and offers me $1500-2000 in *cash*.
    The parts or rolling chassis are worth more individually if his diagnosis is true. If it's false, the car is worth even more.

    He explicitly says cash several times.
    Classy.

    So I get very suspicious at that point,
    Good.

    he service guy allegedly changed the oil and the spark plugs, which he didn't charge me for.
    He just gave you $60+ in parts and expendables for free?

    So what is the next step to take? Do I try another dealership or should I try a chain repair place like AAMCO? Is there anything I can try at home to investigate the problem? Thanks in advance.
    No chain repair shops, no further dealers. Search here in the local subforum for a recommended Subaru independent specialist in your area. Go there and ask for their opinion. Post back with what they say.
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    Sounds fishy to me, id try another shop and stay out of the dealership if you can.

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    Wow, I just want to say thanks for the quick and speedy reply. I really appreciate it!

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    It's very possible to have a blown turbo. Regardless of miles or not, I'd not wait to have oil changed for 18 months, synthetic or not. There's a reason why a lot of oil change intervals list 3k miles OR 3 months (obviously longer intervals for synthetic)...

    That being said...run your own compression test (Google it)...its not that hard. Pay for another place to do it if you aren't up for it (only costs a couple hundred bucks at most).

    But being that you smell burning and have lost oil, it does point to consumption, which can definitely occur if you have a bad turbo.

    Positive thing is, after your sleuthing to determine if your block is still ok, you can pick up a used TD04 stock turbo for $100...swap it in yourself in an afternoon with some beers, and all will be well again. None of that $1800 bullcockey.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SD_GR View Post
    Did you see any CEL (check engine light) on the dash all this time?
    Nope, the CEL never came on at any point. In fact, no warning lights ever came on.

    Quote Originally Posted by SD_GR View Post
    He just gave you $60+ in parts and expendables for free?
    Yeah, I guess he just assumed I was going to pay the $7000 to get all the work done.

    Quote Originally Posted by SD_GR View Post
    No chain repair shops, no further dealers. Search here in the local subforum for a recommended Subaru independent specialist in your area. Go there and ask for their opinion. Post back with what they say.
    Working on that one now

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    Just to update:

    I called two places but I haven't decided which one I'm going with yet. And, after learning more about my problem, I did some testing. I am almost positive the turbo is truly blown; I let the engine warm up to normal temperature, then revved it up to a little over 3000 rpm and sure enough, plenty of smoke coming out of exhaust and burning smell returned. I heard the whirring sound blown turbos make, although it wasn't as loud as in some of the Youtube videos I watched.

    So I got a sinking feeling in my stomach seeing the smoke and hearing the sound. Now I am worried the dealer was diagnosing the problem correctly, and I am worried about my engine. I can't really tell what rod knocking is supposed to sound like, so I can't tell if I have it or not, and as I've already mentioned, the check engine light is not on.

    A few things will determine where I take my car: (1) Is the car safe to drive two blocks without further engine damage? (2) Is the car safe to drive 6 miles without further engine damage? (3) Approximately how much should I be looking to pay to fix the blown turbo, including parts and labor? (4) If the engine is truly damaged, is a rebuild or replacement recommended and what prices should I be looking at?

    Basically, if it's going to cost $7000 to fix it like the original dealership said, I'm considering just having it towed to a different dealership and trading it in.

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    1) The responsible answer is "maybe."

    2) Ditto

    3) Used turbo plus labour at a "tuner" shop, say $600 < cost < $1000.

    4) Depends; see "hybrid build" threads for example and/or used engines. Also depends on what if anything is wrong in the engine -- and you don't know. If you don't need heads (and again, you don't know anything is wrong beyond the turbo) there are options below $5K.

    Find out for sure and fully what is wrong; everything.
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    I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Benjamin Sisko
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    Just wanted to update this thread. Today I took it to a local Subaru specialist that's highly recommended by ClubWRX forum members. I didn't tell them anything about what the other place found, I just said I smelled burning oil and wanted them to look at it.

    They called me back about an hour later and said there's definitely a leak, and asked for permission to remove something to get at deeper internal components (off the top of my head, I want to say it was the radiator they wanted to remove). *Note: the shady Subaru dealership I originally took it to never asked to do this and never mentioned finding a leak.

    A few hours later they called me and said they found the source of the leak: it was the oil pump. They go through pricing with me, itemizing parts and labor, which was reasonable. They also recommended replacing the clutch, which I agreed with, because it had been making a bad sound when engaged.

    They did not once mention the turbocharger. Should I be concerned about it? Right now I am not too concerned because I trust this place more than the dealership, which never even mentioned a leak.

    Also, should I be concerned about engine damage due to a leaky oil pump? The Subaru specialist didn't mention it as an issue so I'm assuming they aren't too worried about it. No CEL or oil light ever came on, and the lowest the oil ever got was probably down 1.25 quarts.

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    I'd ask whether they have reason to suspect the turbo is faulty. If they recommend replacing the clutch, that implies the car has an engine that will continue to spin the flywheel for some time... You can always clarify with them directly but I suspect from what you've said they don't think oil pressure was ever critical.
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    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. Ernest Hemingway
    I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Benjamin Sisko
    DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are the author's alone and are inherently worthless.

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    As long as you kept up with checking oil levels through the ordeal, you are probably fine.
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    I got the car back today and it sounds great, smells great, and runs great. They said the oil pump leak was actually not too bad despite the smell, and they said they thought the engine was fine. Looks like I caught it in time.

    Just want to say thanks again everyone, especially SD_GR for referring me to the regional forums. Never would have found the place I took it to otherwise.

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    Don't mention it, you're welcome! Enjoy the fora.
    WRX Info Links, Courtesy TheJ
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. Ernest Hemingway
    I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Benjamin Sisko
    DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are the author's alone and are inherently worthless.

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