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Subaru Legacy/Outback "Check Engine" Light Problems

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  • I love my outback-I have had it since 2002. 150K miles but my CEL light is coming on and going off by itself. The first time this happened I had it checked and garage informed me they didn't know why but said oxygen sensors or catalytic converter and I should take it to the dealership. How many converters are on the outback wagon LL Bean? I also have had a minor oil leak for the last two years-it appears to be minor and I have been monitoring it-love this car-It has everything I want-I did notice my mileage has dropped on long trips. I used to get up to 28 MPG now I am getting 22-23. Could this be the oxygen sensor?
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    my CEL light is coming on and going off by itself.

    If the light goes off occasionally, then your situation is not dire. Here's how it works:

    A misfire is considered a very serious situation. That dumps huge amounts of unburned fuel into the cat while risking internal engine damage. The light will go on immediately, maybe even flash warning you of impending doom.

    Most other one time 'events' set an internal flag, called a pending code. This is the recording of a problem, but may not turn on the dash light. Three such 'events' in a short duration logs a hard fail, and a CEL. If these minor events stop happening and 40 cold starts occur with no new fails, the slate is wiped clean, and the CEL goes off. A readout will probably not show any pending or stored codes present.

    So if your light occasionally goes off you are probably having very infrequent, short term 'events' in which the polution levels exceed the EPA limits. But the sky probably isn't falling.... yet.

    This is where seeing the recorded 'snapshot' data can really help. Maybe it only happens during WOT, and if you simply backed off the leadfoot a little you could save $1000 on a converter. Or maybe you drive up a steep hill (high load) while the engine is still cold, and when it transitions to closed loop monitoring the cat or the oxygen sensor isn't quite up to temp for efficient operation.
    Maybe letting it warm up for 1 minute before tackling the hill will prevent the CEL.

    The fuel economy on my '02 OBW routinely drops by several mpg during the winter. Prolonged warmup, reformulated gasoline, etc., seem to have a big impact. But sure, a bad front sensor that is not directing the system to optimize performance could decrease this further. Still, I'd want to know more before spending a lot on replacement parts!
  • Thanks fibber2. That is helpful information. I'm prepared to take it to the dealer next month and see what they believe the problem to be and hope that they are right. I will pay this time, but if it happens again, I will probably be looking to sell the car.

    I would have to agree about my local mechanic. That's why he gets my business.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    For your situation Frogzone, and for everyone else: Type up a history with everything you know about the problem: Frequency of occurrence, codes recorded, etc., and insist that the service writer staple it to the paperwork for the tech to review. The CEL needs to be 'current'. Don't clear the ECM and expect the tech to guess at it, or be so old that it risks being wiped out by the time he gets to it. If the fault only happens on cold morning starts, leave it with them overnight with clear instructions as to your use case to make it fail.
  • Thanks for the info-I don't know much about cars-I drive them! Are there two or three converters on the outback? Should I be worried about the oil leak? I have read this appears often but it isn't in my head gasket. Should I be adding a conditioner to the oil? Any suggestions will be helpful-I would like to keep this car for over 250k. Love the way it handles.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    If it were a design flaw they'd all have this problem.

    They're not uncommon but it's not exactly prevalent, either.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    The Bean is a flat 6, so someone else will have to help here on the number of cats. I have not heard of any head gasket issues on that engine. Is it an external oil leak, or is it burning oil? Generally, I wouldn't recommend adding other stuff to oil, but opinions vary.
  • Appears to be external-I can ocassionally smell the burning oil, but my levels don't go down much. I think it is under the pan but I know it could be expensive to fix.thanks for the info--
  • bfuchsbfuchs Posts: 2
    I am having the same problem, but I didn't put in a remote starter. Did you ever figure it out?
  • bfuchsbfuchs Posts: 2
    I have a 2005 Subaru Outback, and my check engine light is on, and my cruise control light keeps flashing, also my rear left turn signal doesn't work when it gets above 50 degrees outside. Has anyone had a similar problem?
  • poyntonspoyntons Posts: 3
    I have a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback. It has about 250 000 km on it. Lately I have been having an issue with the coolant system - here is what has happened:

    Jan 1 2010: Radiator leaking - I replaced the whole unit with a new one.

    Feb 3 2010: Engine was miss firing and would not idle. I noticed a cable was hanging loose under the car. Once I secured the cable back into place - the car operated fine. I am not sure what this cable was - but it was located just in front of the front left tire, just beside the exhaust manifold, just aft of the radiator (perhaps the knock sensor?)

    Feb 20: The temperature gauge went to high (after a long drive) - yet the engine was operating normaly, coolant levels normal, temperaure felt fine.

    Feb 21: Went to the car in the morning, all the coolant in reserve tank was gone. Went to a mechanic and they could not find any leaks or any problems with the car - the temperature was back to normal.

    March 3: Temperature went back to high (after a long drive). Took it to a mechanic and they replaced the temp. gauge.

    March 10: Temperature shot up again (after about 60 km) and the mechanic played around with the new temperature gauge - have not had a problem with the temperature since.

    March 14: Car started normally, but was surging during acceleration. I went under the car and noticed that the cable (that I referenced earlier) was about 1 mm loose - I pushed it back in and the car operated normally.

    My question is: Why is my car continuously over heating? No mechanic nor I can seem to figure out what the problem is. Is there any relation to this sensor cable becoming loose and the enginer over heating? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Could be head gaskets, an issue not uncommon for that year.

    Have the mechanic to a compression test on the cylinders.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Sounds like two different problems?

    As AJ said, the missing coolant and the temp rise after highway speed are often listed complaints that turn out to be related to a head gasket failure.

    The mystery wire and engine performance??? Can you get us a photo so we can see where this is plugged in & routed? Or ask your mechanic what it is? '98 Outback = EJ25 series one (DOHC) engine. Front of the engine just behind the radiator, low, drivers side... cam position sensor, maybe? Knock sensor (at least on later engines) is up top on the block.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,461
    No, cam position sensor is on top as well, though it is on the driver side.
  • poyntonspoyntons Posts: 3
    edited March 2010
    Thanks for the help guys,

    I managed to get a few pictures of the sensor - remember it is just in front of the front left tire, just aft of the radiator, right of the exhaust manifold (can see that on left of picture) and to the left of the oil pan.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/Sean.in.India/Car?feat=directlink

    there is 3 pictures at this link

    I will get a compression check on the car soon - and let you ppl know the results
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,461
    edited March 2010
    Oh.... haha! That is not a sensor at all; that is a block heater. If you follow the cord that came unplugged, it should terminate in a three-pronged plug that is not attached to anything.

    I find it interesting that your car behaved differently after you reattached it, given its role is strictly for warming the engine block when the car is off. :confuse:

    Maybe there is a grounding issue with the car? It is possible that the cord on the block heater is worn or the end plug is touching metal and makes for a better ground....
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Glad you recognized that, Wes. It left me scratching my head, further accelerating my balding condition!
  • poyntonspoyntons Posts: 3
    Talked to my mechanic, he did indeed confirm it was my block heater - which I almost didn't believe! But apparently it was all just a coincidence about the cord and my engine performance. We unplugged it and drove on it - nothing at all. I think my mechanic thinks I am a little crazy. Anyways, I hope that solves everyone's concerns - I don't want to be responsible for anyone going bald!

    My mechanic thinks its the head gasket - so I will just ride the car until the whole thing goes - then drop in a new engine (hopefully).

    Both times my car was running funny was on a rainy day (and I thought it was the block heater) - could moisture effect my car in such a way?
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    edited March 2010
    Moisture can be a huge factor when it comes to electronics, especially high voltage components like the coil pack and wires. A little carbon mixed with water becomes a great second channel conductor. I found a corroded connection between a single plug wire and the pack (located just in front of the air cleaner box) on a rainy day. If things are bad enough, you can sometimes even see the discharge. But even the basic 12v wire connections can give you trouble if they are loose or becoming corroded, and damp days can bring out the worst.

    Interesting enough (and my daughter whom I take to school every day commented on it), my '02 pulls the hill just off my driveway the best on a damp, misty morning. It tends to shudder a bit when cold and pushed to climb, yet on a wet day it is smooth and willing. Some people swear by water injection, and I think there might be something to it.

    Oh, and thanks for your concern about the ever growing bald spot!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,461
    poyntons-

    You might also consider cleaning the mass airflow sensor (large sensor located just "downstream" of the air filter). When it gets a little dirty/dusty, it can give faulty feedback in wet/damp conditions. They are very easy to clean - just shoot it with carburetor cleaner.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 8,461
    Hah! Hey, coming from Alaska, what good am I if I cannot even recognize a block heater.... ;)
  • yasuyasu Posts: 7
    Inspection was due to run out in December, so I took it to my Subaru man.He is completely puzzled after checking everything and soliciting advice from other Subaru gurus. This summer we will replace the whole exhaust system to see if there is a glitch there. I am so down under financially on this car that there is no going back. The good news is that I made the final payment on it last week. In the meantime, I have purchased a 2008 Subaru Impreza...no, not the sport model, although they are very sexy. I am already in love with this car. I am getting 30mpg on the highway..that is why I did not get the sport model..I need the mileage as I travel quite a bit.Driving the Impreza has been sheer joy compared to the Outback. It is like going from a farm tractor to a sports car. However, I am still determined to find out what is wrong with the '02 Outback. It runs excellent and gets good mileage on the highway, but there is that pesky engine light......Thanks again for all the information and advice.
  • golinegoline Posts: 9
    I posted a long time ago about our 99 OB wagon which has had the light on for 3 years now after many attempts at repair! Now our 98 Forester's light is on with the same exhaust code....and we are exhausted financially from trying to fix these problems!

    It's time for a new car and we're looking for another brand. Some people say it's "just the computer", but as it causes the problem at inspection time annually, it's a major pain in the butt.

    I love the cars otherwise and this problem really makes me mad. :mad:
  • bb2010bb2010 Posts: 2
    Can anyone help me with this? This is the first forum I have ever joined so please be patient if I get the format wrong? Just picked up my new Legacy 3.6 limited Saturday at 9:30am. After driving for a bit, the brake seemed to thud when I pressed on it and skip. This morning, after driving around for a while, I had to jam on the brakes and the car stalled out completely. Also after a few hours, the check engine, oil temp, cruise control and brake light warnings all started flashing on the dash at once. Any ideas???? I am having it towed tomorrow, but am very discouraged by this experience. :lemon:
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Yasu (and Goline):

    Do you know the Pxxx code that is failing with this Check Engine Light? It's hard to even guess without knowing more.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Welcome, and sorry to hear that your ownership experience is starting out on a wrong note. I remember the frustration of having my very first new car towed in (2 or maybe 3?? times) during the first week for electrical gremlins. Terrible...

    My first thought when you described the odd brake feeling and the stall that the vacuum booster has a seal failure. The sudden leak into the engine intake can induce a stall. The rest of it? Unknown. Let us know what they say!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Have you driven over any big puddles, i.e. is there any flooding around? I'm wonder if any electricals got wet.

    Let the dealer take care of it. Ask for a loaner given its brand new.

    If your dealer is anything but helpful call 800-SUBARU3 and ask for them to open up a case number to help you out.

    Please keep us posted. Best of luck.
  • We just had the same problem with the check engine light and the flashing cruise control. Did you ever find out what was wrong?
    Matt
  • yasuyasu Posts: 7
    I never did. Am still determined to do so, but have run out of money. This car has drained me financially.. I have to take a breather. I have had more than several distinguished mechanics and dealers look at it to no avail. I truly am starting to believe it is a conspiracy.. I leave you with this thought... a fool and his money.. of which I now have none.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,732
    Once again, what code are you getting? Someone might be able to help you. Complaining without getting specific doesn't help anyone.
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