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Fun with Forester: Subaru Forester Is Maintenance-Minded

Sections: Powertrain, Telematics

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2014 Subaru Forester XT Photo Shoot 041

That black cylinder is the oil filter, if you didn’t know, on our 2014 Subaru Forester test car. Note how easy it is to find and how Subaru designed in a catch pan around the filter so that any residual oil dripping from the filter when it is first unscrewed will be neatly collected instead of strewn over your engine bay. Also note how easy it is to find other maintenance points– from left, the radiator cap, the coolant overflow reservoir, the oil filler hole, and barely in the frame at far right, the battery. (Lyndon Johnson photo.)

I love it when a car company makes it easier to do routine maintenance in your own driveway. In our time of frequent owner’s manual admonitions to “see your authorized dealer” for everything and all-covering plastic trays under the hood (we’re looking squarely at you, Lexus LS460), it was refreshing to open the hood of our 2014 Subaru Forester test car and find a sight like this.

That’s the oil filter, sitting as pretty as you please on the topside of the engine. Not only is this access point easy, but Subaru was thoughtful enough to include a sort of catch pan around the filter so that when you unscrew it, any residual oil that may be dripping out of the filter element will be collected neatly rather than dribbled all over your engine bay.

When it comes to doing oil changes, I’m no noob. My father ran a quick lube business, and I spent many a day working for him on everything from Cavaliers to Caterpillars. Only one other car in all those oil changes had a similarly easy-to-change filter: An early aughties Toyota Camry. But even in that case, Toyota didn’t include the neat little catch pan, and as a result, I ended up dribbling a small quantity of waste oil (where else?) directly on the exhaust header heat shield on the front of the Camry’s engine, causing the engine to seem to “smoke” for the first few minutes after startup. It was a bit awkward explaining that one to the customer.

My own fleet of vehicles has included some real doozies when it comes to oil filter locations. Both my ’94 Nissan Hardbody and my wife’s ’04 Nissan Sentra had filters that pretty much required you to snake your hand up from the bottom, around the exhaust header. And of course, any maintenance manual would tell you it’s best to drain the oil while it’s still hot. As a result, I scalded my hand and forearm many times when doing at-home oil changes on either vehicle. Thankfully, the Ford Ranger that replaced that Hardbody has a much easier-to-change filter. The Nissan cube that replaced my wife’s Sentra looks to have a pretty difficult filter to reach, but I haven’t had to care yet– it has always gone to the dealer service bay.

That wouldn’t be an option for me if I were to own a Subaru Forester like our test car. The nearest Subaru dealers are all more than an hour drive from my home, so I’d probably be doing all my routine oil changes shadetree-style. That’s why I’m glad Subaru was thoughtful enough to design the oil filter placement this way. Why make it harder for your customers to maintain their vehicles, after all?

Well, we know why, if we’re honest. Dealer service departments can be huge profit centers for the dealers, so why wouldn’t they want a car that makes driveway routine servicing difficult? After all, that owner would be more likely to bring the car back to the dealer service lane, right? Right. That’s what we do with our Nissan dealership 20 minutes from home– partially because the cube’s engine bay is so tight, partially because the car’s still under factory warranty at this time, and partially because we shop in the same area as our dealership, making it convenient to do our maintenance there. But were we to own a Forester, with no conveniently located Subaru dealerships in our area, a difficult-to-service engine would only frustrate me and lead to the car being dumped sooner.

I suspect Subaru understands this, thus the tidy design of not just the oil filter, but all serviceable items under the hood. Coolant, brake fluid, washer fluid, and the air filter were all equally as easy to get to.

Disclosure: Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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