Volkswagen wants you to know that burning through a quart of oil every 1,000 miles is within their 'acceptable' range. We have a different definition of acceptable. VW has settled an oil consumption lawsuit in the past, is there any hope for the future?
As a general rule, newer engines shouldn’t use much more than a quart of oil between changes. Older engines with their busted seals and worn valves? Sure. But if you need to carry around a quart of oil in your trunk just to keep your engine running between oil changes that screams P-R-O-B-L-E-M in big, bold, neon letters.
Part of the Car’s “Normal Operation”?
Volkswagen sticks to the PR 101 script when asked about the problem. They usually say “oil consumption is a normal part of a car’s operation.” And yes, that’s true. But we’re not talking about oil consumption, we’re talking about excessive oil consumption.
At the time the complaints were issues, many of these vehicles only had 40,000 – 75,000 miles on them.
What Causes an Engine to Use More Oil?
Realistically, there’s only two ways an engine uses oil – it either burns it up, or leaks it out. Here are some of the top culprits:
As engines get older their parts start to break down (trust me, that’s something I relate to). When things like rings, seals, and gaskets start to wear that can lead to oil leaks. Bottom line is older engines require more oil because they have:
- Worn Piston Rings
- Bad Valve Seals
- A worn out turbo (if your car is turbo-charged)
- Engine runs hot
But what about new engines? Here’s some of the explanations we’ve found:
- Modern engines can burn through more oil because of lower tension piston rings that are used to promote better fuel economy.
- There’s more use of “sacrificial oil.” That is, oil that is used to lubricate parts (like valve guides)
- Engines that run at 3-4k RPM will use more oil
The points are valid, but are they enough to explain how much oil people are being forced to use?
The Consumer Reports … er, Report
In June, 2015, Consumer Reports looked into a growing number of excessive oil consumption complaints specifically in vehicles from the 2010 to 2014 model years. Their investigation determined certain engines were the main offenders:
“Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V6, BMW’s 4.8-liter V8 and twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, and to a lesser extent Subaru’s 3.6-liter six-cylinder and 2.0- and 2.5-liter four-cylinders.”
Of particular interest is Audi’s engine which is, of course, developed by Volkswagen.
Consumer Reports found that 98% of cars built between 2010 and 2014 did not need to add oil between changes. That other 2% represents about 1.5 million vehicles.
A Related Case
In September, 2014, Audi / Volkswagen agreed to settle an oil consumption lawsuit for owners of the Audi A4, A5, and Q5 with turbocharged engines.
“The lawsuit alleges about 126,000 Audi vehicles have defects in the 2.0L turbocharged engines that caused the vehicles to guzzle oil. The affected vehicles are the 2009-2010 Audi A4 and Audi A5, and the 2011 Audi A4, Audi A5, and Audi Q5 with the engine code of CAEB.”
Audi extended the powertrain warranty on its 2009-2011 CAEB 2.0-liter turbo engines to 8 years / 80,000 miles.
On the surface that seems like promising news for VW owners looking for similar compensation. However, the judge in the case said the automaker raised important defenses such as:
- All cars use oil and oil consumption issues were disclosed in the vehicle owner’s manual.
- The engine warning light was coming on when oil levels got too low.
- Oil consumption can be viewed as a maintenance issue making it difficult to establish if an actionable defect exists.
VW could use those same defenses to fight off any future lawsuits.
Problems with Oil Consumption? Try This.
- If you suspect your car is guzzling down oil than it’s imperative that you regularly check your oil level (yes, with a dipstick). The last thing you can afford to do is drive your engine with an empty oil reservoir. Trust me, it won’t end well.
- Have your mechanic look for leaks or to conduct an oil consumption test, especially if you’re still covered under the original powertrain warranty.
- Make sure you know how much oil your engine needed at each oil change and keep meticulous records. Save your receipts to show you maintained a proper oil-change schedule.
- Ask whether your car is eligible for repairs under any recall, customer satisfaction campaign, or technical service bulletin.