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Subaru Forester 2003 - no power, CEL

krc2krc2 Posts: 4
edited March 2014 in Subaru
(Sorry - this may be a re-post)
Wife was driving home from working, and coming up hill there was no power. 60MPH max, and car was surging/hesitating. Did not recall if temp gauge was high. Essentially, car was not drivable past 50MPH.

I checked the coolant level once she came home, and the car appeared to be hot (temp gauge was high once I turned on ignition). Coolant was a bit low, so added some. Temperature came down fine.

I test drove the car and certainly it seems that on either high acceleration or trying to go past 50 mph causes the car to surge, RPM rev is inconsistent, and there is a general loss of power noticed. Sometimes the CEL will blink, but stops blinking and goes solid after a few seconds.

I will try to get a scanner to pull the code, but any ideas on possibilities? Thanks....


  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    Sounds like misfiring; that will likely be the code(s) you pull. Could be from a number of things - fuel filter, bad spark plugs and/or wires.... Can you replicate the problem under other speeds but similar conditions (in other words, heavy load on the engine)?
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • krc2krc2 Posts: 4
    The code pulled indicated a misfire in cylinder 4.

    I can kind of replicate with heavy acceleration on startup and the surging happens sooner than at freeway speeds.

    I have a compression gauge now (borrowed) and will check the compression as I also change the spark plugs and wires (probably needed anyway - thought I had last put in long-life platinum plugs on last change). For some reason, seems to run better right now (yesterday/today) so maybe something loose also.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I'd go in order of cheapest cost first.

    Spark plugs
    Then wires
    Then the ignition coil

    If it's not that then it's probably fuel related.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    I suspect, from your description, that it is spark-related and is the plug wires. Never hurts to replace the plugs, too! If it is not running well, the plugs will foul (even if the problem is not their fault!), then could continue causing problems even after you fix the initial cause.

    If it has not been replaced, you might also consider replacing the fuel filter for good measure. It is easy to access and inexpensive to buy.

    Hopefully the replaced wires will clear up the problem.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Same here. I had a 93 Miata that ate through spark plug wires every 30k like clockwork.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    Well, quite embarrassingly, I recently had a problem with my Escort that I was convinced was not plug wires since they were the most recent thing replaced (about 2.5 years ago, but only about 20,000 miles or so on them). I replaced the spark plugs and the problem was gone for about 75 miles, then slowly began to return. I finally decided it was either the ignition coil or fuel pump, but do not have the tools to diagnose either of them. So, I took it to a shop for extensive diagnostics and the final result was bad plug wires. With those replaced, the car runs perfectly again.

    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • Hi, I have a Forester 2003 2.0L with a similar problem. Has your problem been resolved. My mechanic clipped an oscilliscope to the spark leads from the coil and found a discrepancy. He advised to change the coil. My question is that this fault did not show up on the scanner and no codes came up. Is this possible.
  • krc2krc2 Posts: 4
    I changed out the spark plug and wires and tinkered with other things also.

    I would also have him check the basics first: transmission oil level (yes - sounds strange), ensure the air filter is properly enclosed with no gaps or openings, spark plug inserted correctly. If you search on google you will find info on the codes.

    Also, have him look at the spark plugs themselves - is there any indication of a problem?

    If the fault is on one cyclinder, can he change the wires from one to another, or swap the coil to see if the problem moves? I can't remember if there was a separate coil per cyl. or not.

    And, finally, of course, a compression test could be in order to validate that the head is ok.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    My 1998 had one single ignition coil. About an $80 part on-line.
  • suebarusuebaru Posts: 1
    I have replaced the coil, plugs, wires and still my 2003 Subaru is back firing. Was told it may be the valves. What about the timing belt? Love the car but it is getting to be a pain.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Time to find a good mechanic. It's nothing simple we could diagnose online, that's for sure. Good luck.
  • My 2003 Forester (bought new) has 55,000 miles on it. It has had some unusual problems but nothing I couldn't live with. Last week, however, I had a huge problem. I was on the turnpike in cruise control mode. All of a sudden, the RPM needle started swinging wildly and I was losing power. I took it out of cruise and still couldn't get power. I got to the shoulder and shut down. Smoke was pouring out from the engine. Mechanic said that the engine was leaking coolant - something it seems I would have noticed. He said no - it was leaking into the engine. When I had my car serviced 3 months ago, the coolant was fine (per visual inspection). I have located a PDF document that states - per Subaru - that certain 1999-2002 models may develop coolant leaks at the head gaskets. I am certain that this is what happened to mine. I now need a new engine at the cost of some several thousand dollars. I wondered if anyone else has had this happen to them.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    What surprises me is your model year is 2003 and we haven't seen many post 02 models with that problem.

    Call 800-SUBARU3, tell them what happened.

    For 99-02 owners they had a campaign where they would add some stop leak and if you let them they extended the warranty to 7/100.

    You didn't do that but you were never offered the choice, plus you're only at 55k.

    Yours may be under the 5/60k powertrain warranty either way, but go ahead and call and open up a case with them.
  • Thanks for input. I am in contact with Subaru. Also, after some lengthy research, I am finding reports from other 2003 owners of exactly the same thing happening to them. In at least one other case, the owner was not advised by the dealer about the stop leak either. Another said the stop leak postponed the problem only long enough for the warranty to expire. I will update here when all is said and done. Thanks again.
  • My mechanic has (re)determined that the cause of engine failure was due to a hole in the radiator. However, some of my questions remain the same. First of all, if there was a significant "hole" in the radiator, wouldn't I have seen/noticed coolant leaking? 3 months ago, I had general maintenance done, including coolant exchange. I have never seen coolant leaking from my vehicle. That is something that would be hard to miss - and I have a dog who could die if she decided to go at it - something I know dogs are attracted to. Also, is it possible that if the head gaskets blew, the sheer pressure could have blown a hole in the radiator?
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    Hmm.... not likely, as the radiator cap is set to keep the pressure in the system at 15 psi max, and the radiator or heater hoses would likely have split before a "hole" was blown in the radiator. Where is this alleged hole? It is possible, however unlikely, that debris contacted the radiator and created the hole while you were driving (thus setting off a chain reaction of events).

    It seems unlikely that is the case, however, since the radiator for the A/C system is in front of the engine radiator and thereby protects it from frontal impacts.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • Thank you xwesx. I also posed the "debris" theory to myself and a couple of friends. But then the question arises: what would I have had to hit to puncture such a severe hole in the radiator? And, the fact is - I didn't hit/run over anything. I have to say - the Ohio turnpike is a well maintained highway. I did go through some construction zones. Could a wayward piece of metal have flown up and punctured it? That seems way out in left field for me.

    A couple of possibilties: (?) - An inferior grade of coolant has been used. Or, the mechanics where I have my vehicle being serviced punctured the radiator when they removed it? I really don't want to believe either of those things.

    I don't know where the "hole" is. But, I will ask them to hold on to all of the parts.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Just brainstorming here, but where is the hole?

    If it's at the top of the radiator, you wouldn't see liquid leaking, but rather vapor from the coolant, which would boil if it's not sealed.

    You probably would have noticed the steam, unless it leaked out slow and steady.
  • The hole turned out to be at the very top of the raidator where you add the coolant. I asked again if that would have been detected last spring when I had the coolant exchange done. Mechanic said it would have been hard to miss. My guess is that the hole developed after the fact. I don't do a lot of long distance driving but I had taken several trips which would have been at least 4 hours round trip by freeway. I was also glad that he said the coolant that remained/dripped out was the coolant recommended by Subaru.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Then my theory is actually plausible.

    Keep in mind that until the coolant gets hot enough, the leak may not be noticed. Until the T-stat opens the radiator isn't really doing anything anyway.
  • I can buy that theory.
    Even with that - when/how does one know that something this catastrophic is so out of whack? If I'm doing maintenance when it's recommended - how else would I know?
  • Me and Subaru have a history now. I gathered my vehicle service records. Parking rods on recall - did that. Complained about fuel door not opening - several times. Every single time I had my car serviced - had oil change, inspection, yadda, yadda, yadda, After a brake inspection - when I told them that I was hearing "squealing" noises, they did nothing about my brakes. 3,000 miles later, when I complained that the brake light was on, they did rotor work. 800 miles later, they worked on my rear brakes. I am infuriated. Am I an idiot? I have never owned a vehicle that needed a new engine at 55,000 miles. This is the icing on the cake. Gee whiz.....I waited for the "dummy" light to come on - but it never did. Maybe that's because I actually had the maintenance work done - you know - like fluid exchange. Anyone got another theory?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Sorry to hear about your troubles.

    I don't think you did anything wrong, not at all. Sounds like you maintained it on schedule.

    The only early warning you would have would be the temp gauge (or idiot light on newer models without a gauge) and by then you'd already be overheating.

    All I can say is maybe look for a mechanic who is a better listener. Sounds like you saw early warning signs on those brakes and they didn't do anything. They at least should have documented your complaint. :(
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    Yes, I agree.

    You have to remember that if a hole developed in the radiator (we still do not know why!), the car could go from normal operation to overheating in very short order. There may be very little if any warning, especially when being operated at highway speeds or high RPMs. If the coolant loses pressure, it will boil rapidly. Without water contact to the engine components, localized overheating (the worst kind!) can happen within a few seconds causing all sorts of problems.

    This is unfortunate, but not necessarily or even likely due to neglect/negligence.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • I did email subaru with my complaint. I included a description of the problems I have had per my vehicle service records. I also included a couple of digital pics - the old engine and the radiator (got a close-up of where the hole was). I have to send hard copies of complete service records but it's enough for them to start with.

    I hate to say this - and I've been saying it for years. I think being a woman alone makes me vulnerable when I walk in to have my car serviced. I've learned a lot about cars over the years. And, the fact is, I know my vehicle. I generally know when something isn't right. When I complained about the fuel tank door not opening, I was told "This happens on cars all the time". I've never owned a car where the fuel tank door doesn't open. They never did fix that either. I carry around a can opener in my glove compartment because when the temp goes to single digits and below, it simply doesn't open. And, in Cleveland, Ohio we get a lot of that.

    Well - thanks for the input and putting up with my frustrations. Car is home and running well. I hope it stays that way!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Hope you have better luck from now on.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,148
    You are probably right. Techs often assume that women know nothing about cars (sometimes to their embarrassment!), though I doubt the incidence of such ignorance is much greater, if any, than in men. Never settle for "that happens all the time." If something is not working properly, then it needs to be fixed regardless of how often it happens. As for the fuel door, I agree - never had that problem unless there was actual ice/snow buildup that prevented the door from opening. Is it that latch not releasing fully? If so, try spraying some lubricant on the mechanism to see if that helps the issue at all.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • I had the fuel door problem but it was easily fixed. When I pulled the lever the pin withdrew ok but the door would not spring open, especially when cold out. When I looked at it I found that there is a small flat spring located between the hinges on the fuel door. When the door is closed this spring is supposed to be under enough tension so that the door pops as soon as the latch is pulled.

    That flat spring is held on by one small bolt, so I took it off and ever so slightly bent the spring with 2 pairs of pliers in the direction that provided more tension against the stop when the fuel door is closed. Worked perfectly and haven't had the problem since.

    If the latch is letting go ok on your vehicle this could be your problem, as I have seen this happen on a couple other Foresters. I used to carry a wooden paint stirrer to open mine, not needed anymore. :)
  • I have a Forester and although the care is great in the snow...however, I have had many problems...heat gasket..something about coils...a few times...but I have a weird creaking noise and when I turn the wheel all the way it almost sounds like what a brake sounds like when you need to change mechanic has said that the undercarriage is rusty...I understand that 2003 Subaru's have this problem...I also have a jumping feeling when my car is mechanic said the transmission looks like it is 'slipping' this covered by the recall...
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I'm guessing you mean head gasket and ignition coil.

    Make sure the power steering fluid isn't low, and check it's condition as well. The most likely cause of the creaking may be a bad wheel bearing, though.
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