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Burning rubber smell off the engine

(2001 Subaru Outback)
in Lebanon, NH on January 07, 2010
Bear with me, this is kind of a long question...

A month ago, at the time of an oil change, my '01 Outback was due for a new timing belt (at 105,000 mi.), and I took it to the Subaru dealer's garage and had the new belt installed. Ever since, when I idle or after I turn off the car and get out, my engine emits a sort of burning rubber smell. So I took the car back to the dealer and mentioned the problem. He found oil around the head gasket, suggested I might have a leak. I told him that several months ago, another mechanic botched an oil change, mis-installing the filter, which leaked and sprayed oil all over my block. So the Subaru technician cleaned off the gasket residue, took it for a 15 min. drive, checked the gasket again and found no oil leaking. So it may NOT be a leaky gasket, BUT a day later I'm still getting the smell.

My questions: Is it possible that oil from that earlier botched filter is still burning off in places? At the time, I smelled it for many days, then it went away. Now it seems to be back.

Or should I be really worried about my head gasket? What else could be wrong?

Other recent activity: Snow tires were installed two months ago, at which time I needed a realignment.

I bought this Outback six months ago.

Thanks for any light you can shed on this issue.
Displaying 5 answers & 8 comments
Popular Answer
Bret"s answers are spot on. Other things to look for this is a flat 4 cylinder engine with two cylinder heads. I have seen and replaced many head gaskets on these engines where you could actually see visual leaks all be they minor between the cylinder heads and the engine block on the lower edge of the cylinder heads, look closely at the sealing surface between the lower edge of the cylinder heads and the engine block, you will need to support the vehicle and with good light inspect from underneath the vehicle. One other thing look for a torn inner CV boot on the passenger side, I have seen these spray grease on the hot catalytic converter. Valve cover gaskets also frequently leak and cause smells on these engines.
on January 08, 2010
Bret & Pat,

I can't thank you enough for the advice. I'll keep a close eye on my oil level, at the very least, for the next few hundred miles, about the time I'm do for another oil change anyway. And if I'm still not in the clear, I'll have these possible symptoms to suggest to the mechanic. I just read elsewhere that an oil seep from the valve cover gasket isn't necessarily an urgent problem...but should be dealt with in time. A seep is better than a spill, which I don't have.
on June 14, 2011
Re: checking headgaskets for leakage. Some 2001 Outbacks have had leaky headgaskets, of which mine was one (twice) Somewhere within these answers is an answer to my question concerning campaign WWP-99, which I was told by Subaru of Am is the cause of these leaks.
on January 07, 2010
Oil residue from a large leak can take a long time to burn off, but it should be OK after a few months. You may be smelling the tires, and you did say it smells like "burning rubber" so make sure the tires are not rubbing on anything.
I would drive the vehicle and after a few hundred miles, recheck the headgasket for leakage.
on January 07, 2010
If the tires are rubbing on the inner fender or the suspension (two most common places) then you might hear it when turning, and it will be fairly visible when inspecting the tires, suspension and the inner fender well. This is easier when the vehicle is on a hoist but can be done on the ground too.
After you drive the vehicle, sniff around and see if the smell is from the tire area, and pop the hood and see if it is from the engine area.
Good Luck!
on January 07, 2010
Thanks for the reply. I wondered if it was my snow tires, which are also recent to the car. How will I know what they're rubbing up against, or if they are? And should a mechanic be able to confirm that issue?
on February 06, 2011
seen this before if spacer for cover gets left out belt wil rub a hole in timeing cover and have rubber burning smell
on September 04, 2010
I had the same issue with my 2000 Outback at around 120,000 miles. It turned out to be head gaskets. My local shop said it is a fairly common thing on the boxer engine at that mileage. My shop pulls the engine to do the head gaskets because it's hard to do with the engine in the car. Also they replaced the seals while the engine was out because they would have needed it soon anyway. Now that smell is gone and the car should be good for another 100,000 miles or so. ; )
on September 07, 2010
Appreciate the reply. Head gaskets are what I've been fearing all along, and I've heard plenty about their tendency to go after 100K. My latest symptom is a coolant leak, or what I suspect is a leak. I refill the coolant reservoir about every couple weeks. So I'm even more suspicious the problem is the head gaskets. Do you mind sharing how much it cost you to repair?
on December 15, 2010
i have the same problem with my 2000 Outback sport. but i wasnt aware that burnt oil smells like burning rubber.
on February 22, 2011
Have your dealer check for any recalls. Some have a recall that has the dealer put cooling system conditioner (Subarus version of stop leak) in the cooling system. While this will not stop oil leaking it may correct the coolant leak. I also agree that the CV boot is by far the most common item causing a burning smell. For oil from head gaskets to cause a burning smell they would have to be leaking badly
on February 15, 2011
Also have the shop check the CV boots since a torn boot can spray grease on the exhaust and produce this smell.
on May 30, 2012
I have the same problem with my 2001 Subaru Outback which has 221,000 kilometers on it. I have reported this to my dealer for quite some time, maybe 10 years ago. Until now I only got the smell when it rained. Visual checks have not shown any problems with tires, etc. A month ago it got much worse even in dry weather. On checking I noticed the right side CV joint totally blown out and grease everywhere, exhaust, engine etc. New CV axles replaced on both sides but the burning rubber smell is as bad as ever even after washing the grease off. I am still no closer to a satisfactory exclamation.
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