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Subaru Forester Engine problems

razookirazooki Member Posts: 1
I would like to know if anyone has experienced the endless problems that I am currently facing with my 2002 Forester L.

My engine light went on about a month ago and finally when the ride was 'bumpy', feeling like it was going to stall, I took it in to Subaru to have it checked out.

They found numerous problems.. and at only 120000km, they told me I needed a new head gasket, a new clutch, and I can't remember what else, for a grand total of $2700. Not quite what I was expecting... but no choice, had it done.

Exactly one week later, on came the engine light. I took it back in, this time I was told that I might need an oxygen sensor. They reset it, and the next day on came the light. This time the bill was $340, and the service manager also told me that they found another problem with the 'clutch cover....' part alone cost $200, but they didn't charge me... thanks.

I kid you not, one week to the day, on came the blasted engine light. This time it was a corroded wire under the gas tank... the bill, $180.

It is now two days later and my car would not start today. I had someone push it and we got it to start.

Needless to say, I'm not impressed. Is this just a nasty stroke of bad luck or am I being snowed, or is there a history of these problems.

I'd appreciate any feedback, including how to avoid losing my cool at the dealership tomorrow.

I kid you not, one week to the day, the light came on


  • smoky66smoky66 Member Posts: 2
    A well cared for 99 Forester with under 60K has started losing several quarts of oil between changes - there is a pump clicking noise when it is low. No signs of drip under the car. Anyone seen this problem? Seems a bit early for rings or valves.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Sorry to hear about your more-than-a-fair-share of problems. It might be common to experience one of those issues, but certainly not all on the same vehicle.

    Call 800-SUBARU3 whenever an issue like that creeps up that might be related to a problem you had in the past. See if they'll cover it or at least help you reduce the cost in some way.

    You might be past the 3/36 warranty, but if not, consider a Subaru Gold warranty if you will keep it longer.

    Having said that, I don't think your experience is typical. I have 80+k miles on my '98 and have one visited the dealer once, for a recall years ago.

  • gman67gman67 Member Posts: 1
    I purchased a 06 Forester last November and have had problems with the idle when the engine is cold. The Forester is a base model non turbo with the standard 5 speed. Originally the first week we had the car it suddenly lost power and when I engaged the clutch and pulled to the side of the road the engine died. I was able to restart and the car ran fine all the way to the dealership. The dealer wound up replacing the intake plenum stating that the wires we dammaged inside the plenum. After the replacement when it is cold out below 40* F. say the engine once started will rev to around 1500 rpm. Once you start driving the car and the car is in gear and the clutch engaged the engine revs anywere from 2500rpm to over 3000rpm! We have taken it to the dealership multiple times and have involved the are rep who stated that this is a problem that is occuring in thousands of 2006 cars and tried to blame the drive by wire system along with new changes to the emission set up in the car and basically stated that there is no fix for the problem and does not feel that this is a safety issue even though it had been brought to his attention that the car also accelerates on downhills while it is in this high idle mode. The idle does drop to aprox 1000rpm after the temperature guage has reached 1/4. Has anyone else had this problem? Has anyone else had better success with a repair. I do think that this is a safety issue when a car actually accelerates on its own requiring you to drag the brakes even on a slight decline to control the car accelerating on its own.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    That definitely doesn't sound normal. I've only driven an 06 auto, though, not a manual.

  • tazerelitazereli Member Posts: 241
    this is an emisions feature that subaru built into the computer programming to warm up the catylitic converter and car sooner? My old subaru had a high idle on cold days that settled down after the car warmed up.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    That's a good year to shop for, by then the wheel bearings were more robust (03+) and the head gaskets were also resolved (02+).

  • goncst8goncst8 Member Posts: 3
    Thanks for the replies, very helpful. I was most concerned about the head gasket issue. Since I had left the original message, I did a little more research and that surfaced, along with the "piston slap" issue. I couldn't tell if it had been resolved or not. Out of curiosity, how was it resolved? From what I read, it sounded almost like an inherent design flaw with the 2.5L motor?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Piston slap never developed a pattern the way head gasket failures did.

    For the latter, Subaru issued a TSB and sent a letter to owners of 99-02 models asking them to take their cars into their dealer. The dealer added a coolant conditioner and put a sticker on the radiator notifying any future service tech that the coolant had this conditioner in it, so it would not be drained and filled without the stuff.

    Owners that did that got a 8/100 warranty against HG failure. So Subaru address the issue pretty well. From 02 on they used revised head gasket materials.

    The only other thing we truly saw a pattern of failures with was the rear wheel bearings on 02 and earlier Foresters and 01 and earlier Imprezas. Subaru switched to a more robust design with the next generation of each car, and again we have not observed failures (at least regularly) since that time.

    If you read Consumer Reports, you will notice sudden improvements in the Drivetrain and Engine scores right around 02-03, so their data tends to agree with what I've observed reported here on Edmunds.

    For the past few years Engine ratings are all "Much Better than Average", which ought to show that piston slap is not common, though it does exist in some circumstances.

  • b10609b10609 Member Posts: 37
    My wife's '03 Forester has 30,000 km and dealer will be shortly replacing just 2 pistons, etc to cure noise problems. Does this make sense to owners who had repairs ? I see references to short blocks by some folks out there ? Any comments on the success of repairs lately ? Comment from factory rep was the repair is being done early and may not be successful as block not fully "seasoned".This car is 41 months old !! Comments & ideas welcome - Waterloo
  • salemforestersalemforester Member Posts: 4
    This topic was briefly visited quite some time ago (see message 1056 from Karen56). I'd like to revive it. I have a 2001 Forester. It periodically releases an intense gasoline odor in the passenger compartment. It is distinctly gasoline (not rotten eggs or some other odor). It happens sporadically. It is not related to season, driving, filling up the tank or any other logical thing I can identify. The odor lasts for a day or so, then disappears. This happens probably once or twice a month. Again, I can discern no pattern. I've seen no signs of leaks and no change in fuel consumption. Engine performance is fine. No code lights thrown.

    My questions:

    1) anyone else experience this?
    2) can someone describe the fuel vapor capture/use system in detail for me (e.g., lines from the tank fill tube to the engine, etc.)?
    3) where is the charcoal canister for capturing fuel vapors located on a 2001 Forester?
    4) is the canister easy to replace?
    5) canister replacement cost?
    6) any other thoughts, ideas, suggestions?

    I'm new to the forum and all help is appreciated.


  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    Welcome to Edmunds SalemForester.

    Is that Salem Oregon? (I know there must be 50 Salem's out there). Just wondering if you can pump your own gas or not - no self serve in Oregon.

    Do you ever fill-up with the engine running? Someone just pointed out this morning in another discussion that doing so can mess up the evap system (but usually that would also turn the check engine light on).

    Sounds like this is going to be one of those animal, vegetable or mineral problems to solve. :surprise:

    Steve, Host
  • salemforestersalemforester Member Posts: 4
    Hi, Steve

    Thanks for the welcome.

    Beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

    We self-serve here. Never pumped with engine running.

    The reason I brought up charcoal canister is that I've heard that overfilling can saturate the canister with vapors. I'm not sure that's the problem and I don't want to prejudice any other possible explanations.

    Can you direct me to post about fill-up with engine running?
  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    I've heard that too about the canister; another reason why people shouldn't top up the tank. You'll have to wait until someone more knowledgeable than me pipes in with some suggestions.

    Here's the fill up post:

    keuper20, "Ford Freestyle Owners: Problems & Solutions" #581, 8 Apr 2006 7:40 am

    Steve, Host
  • lakepoplakepop Member Posts: 221
    Can't post a picture of the Subaru fuel system but try:


    If the link doesn't work I could email it to you ?
  • salemforestersalemforester Member Posts: 4
    Thanks lakepop. I got the picture. It helps. I'm going to take a little time to look it over.
  • growler5growler5 Member Posts: 67
    Sounds like a problem I had a few years ago with a Beemer. There was a problem with a leak within the fuel injection system.

    Symptoms - would happen once a month or so, no apparent pattern as to when it would happen. After a year it seemed to occur more frequently on consecutive days. When I checked into it, the dealer found a service bulletin or recall that fixed the issue. Gas would spray out at high pressure, vapors would enter the cabin via the ventilation system. Replacing a part (fitting? tubing?) within the fuel injection system fixed it.
  • salemforestersalemforester Member Posts: 4
    Good news...I have the answer!! And, as typical, almost entirely by accident.

    For those who want the short answer to my smelling gasoline in the passenger compartment, here it is. (The "whole story" follows.)

    The answer: disconnected crankcase blowback hose.

    Here's how I understand what the mechanic said. The crankcase blowback hoses (there are two; one on the passenger side, one on the driver side in the engine compartment) recycle back into the engine gas vapors that accumulate in the oil crankcase. This saves gas and lessens emissions. If the hose(s) get disconnected then the gas vapors "blowing back" from the crankcase are released into the engine compartment where they can be sucked up by the interior ventilation system (heater) and pumped inside the passenger compartment, hence, the strong gas odor inside.

    The mechanic said that whenever he gets a gas odor complaint the first thing he checks is the crankcase blowback hoses. They can be knocked loose by anyone fiddling around the engine block, especially if removing spark plugs. Anyway, the Subaru mechanic quickly and easily reattached the disconnected hose and checked the other one as well. It took 3 minutes. Graciously, no charge at all.

    So, that's the short answer for anyone who smells gasoline in the passenger compartment.

    Does this make sense to any technically inclined readers?

    Now, a little more elaboration for those who like the "story" part.

    How did I even stumble on this? Well, I was peering under the hood trying to make sense of the gas vapor control system per the diagram that lakepop referred me to. There is also a diagram pasted by Subaru on the inside of the hood which I hadn't noticed before. My primary mission was to try and locate the charcoal canister for reasons I mentioned in the previous posts.

    Well, anyone whose tried tracking the maze of hoses and metal pipes on the engine knows how daunting it can be to follow everything. Making it even more challenging is the fact that many hoses and pipes disappear out of view passing here and there around the engine. So, I'm bending over and twisting this way and that to follow everything. The fact that many of the tubes drop down in the shadows and into darkness makes it even more difficult. (Obvious hint: the mechanic pulled out a pen flashlight to be able to see the hoses.)

    I wasn't using a flashlight but it was a very bright sunny day. I happened to notice a tiny, bright metal shiny glint that caught my eye. I could have easily ignored it because it was difficult to see exactly where it was deep under some tubes and hoses. When I looked closer it looked only like a non-descript hole. Again, I was tempted to simply ignore it and go on tracking down the charcoal canister. But I took one more careful look and what I realized is that the shininess was from the top of a short open metal tube that had liquid around its lip causing it to glisten. Then I noticed oily liquid stains all around the tube and on the engine components. (Had it been a cloudy day or had the car been parked in the shade I would have never seen a shine!!)

    Not being a mechanic, my first thought was "Am I missing some dip stick?" I thought the tube looked like a dip stick tube. I thought that it might be the front differential dip stick. I wondered if the last time I had an oil change the service agent checked my fluids and forgot to re-install a dip stick. So, seeing all this mess I went to the Subaru mechanic thinking I was going to need a replacement dip stick. In the maze of hoses around the tube top I did not notice a short piece of rubber hose hanging loose near the tube. It was covered with black oily residue. As I found out, that gunked-up rubber hose, with an attached pinch clamp, was the crankcase blowback hose that had become disconnected from the tube coming from the crankcase. The blowback contains a small amount of crankcase oil and it was that oily residue that was all over the area.

    So, now you know "the rest of the story."

    Feel free to supply your own moral / lesson learned!

    Thanks to everyone who responded.

    I hope this helps other folks.
  • lakepoplakepop Member Posts: 221
    Good save.........I was thinking canister....but it was still an easy fix at a good price.

    All the Subaru forums I follow are loaded with people anxious to help...so don't ever feel bad about looking for inputs. Also THANKS for posting the solution....people tend to forget their role in the info loop.
  • ellengelleng Member Posts: 33
    Hi all, I have a 2004 Forester XS Premium with 68k miles on it. I've been quoted 350.00 to replace the timing belt. I'm in the Germantown, MD area and am wondering if other have similar experiences. If anyone is in the Montgomery county, MD area and has done better please let me know.

  • mckeownmckeown Member Posts: 165
    Ellen, unless there is a problem that requires the timing belt to be replaced, it's replacement interval is 105,000 miles.
    Since I don;t know that area, I'm sorry, I can't suggest anyone, I know here on northern NJ the dealers get from $650 to $800 just for the Timing Belt replacement. Some also replace the Water pump and other pulleys as preventive maintenance.
  • ellengelleng Member Posts: 33
    Thank you! you just saved a ton of money that I don't have to spend just yet.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Yep, 105k, though they recommend an "inspection" at 90k. I think I'll just change mine at 90k, since the labor is already paid for (they gotta take the timing cover off IIRC).

  • eps105eps105 Member Posts: 216
    My 4-year old 2003 Forester XS Auto suddenly began starting roughly about a month ago. The starter seems to turn fine (so I don't think it's the battery), but when the engine turns over, it sputters briefly -- only for about a second or two -- as if it's about to stall, but then it "finds" itself and kicks up to normal idle RPM's.

    This problem only happens when the engine is cold -- it starts up without hesitation if it has been driven within the last few hours.

    Since it only happens when cold, I'm leaning toward thinking the battery may just be getting a little weak, but I've heard that batteries should last a lot more than 4 years.

    Also, I believe but am not 100% sure that the problem started around the time that oxygenated fuel here in Philadelphia switched to 10% ethanol. I've been researching the message board archives and Googling for answers, but haven't found any mention of Ethanol causing rough starts consistently for Subaru owners, only a mention of theoretically rougher starts due to the lower vapor pressure of ethanol.

    I'm also thinking about resetting my ECU, but I've been consistently getting 26 MPG inexplicably in mixed driving for the last few months, up from about 23-24, so I really don't want to mess with the ECU if I don't have to.

    Anyone have any ideas?


  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    How are the fluid levels in that battery?

    I neglected mine and it died prematurely.

    Top off the cells with distilled water.

    The OE battery is pretty weak anyway. Mine starts much better after I replaced it with a WalMart battery with nearly twice the CCAs. It was cheap too, under $60 IIRC.

  • eps105eps105 Member Posts: 216
    Juice, thanks for the input on my rough start question. I was already planning to buy the high-rated Wal-Mart battery, so it was good to know you've had a good experience with it.

    My electrolyte levels were fine, but I figured that since I'd probably need a new battery in a year or two anyway, it wouldn't hurt to get a good new battery (with a full 3 yr warranty and 8 year prorated) now to hedge any risk of a dead battery this winter. So I bought the top-end Maxx-35 battery at Wal-Mart for $62.

    (My dealer quoted $120 for a new OEM battery installed, so the Wal-Mart battery + easy DIY install is a steal.)

    I've had the new battery in for 3 days, and it seems to be starting a little better. I still get some hesitation starting it in the morning, just not as bad as it was.

    In the end, I think it was the reset of the ECU from disconnecting the battery that made the most difference. In fact, the very first time I started the car after replacing the battery, it immediately stalled! On the next try, it must have "learned" the proper fuel mixture as it then started up readily.

    I am also thinking about buying some fuel injector treatment to put in my next tank of gas. I don't think this could hurt anything, and could do some good.

    Any additional thoughts from anyone are appreciated.

  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    I didn't see Juice or anyone mention the fuel pressure trick yet - some people get better results if they turn the car on but don't crank it for a few seconds. This gives the fuel system time to pressurize and helps the engine crank easier. Or something like that. :shades:

    Steve, Host
  • eps105eps105 Member Posts: 216
    Steve, thanks for the tip! I will give this a try.

    If this works, my next question would be if this trick is a band-aid for a larger problem. Since my problem only started a month ago, I would assume that something in the fuel system is broken or about to break, which is band-aided by pressurizing the fuel line.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Good point, that's something we should do every time. On Subies, the fuel pump is loud enough that you can clear hear it prime up.


  • kaarstenkaarsten Member Posts: 3
    I have a 99 Forester that started losing 1 quart of oil every 500 miles at 60K. What was your final diagnosis? After almost a year of troubleshooting and repairs, Subaru is finally going to begin engine diagnostics.

  • tazerelitazereli Member Posts: 241
    As my wife was pulling away from the curb this morning, I noticed that her 02 Forester L/4AT hesitated some when she was attempting to accelerate. Any one witness this before and any potential cause and fix to the problem?

  • erikwierikwi Member Posts: 71
    Is the 4.2 quarts in the owner's manual correct for the 2006 Forester nonturbo? I changed my oil at 2500 miles and put 4 and a quarter quarts in. Oil was a hair above the full mark on the dipstick but not above the notch. I checked it today and it was just over a quarter of a quart down in 1000 miles. I saw somewhere else on the forums that oil capacity should be 4.8 quarts. Which one is right?
  • dstew1dstew1 Member Posts: 275
    On another Subaru forum (search "scooby mods"), they posted this clarification of the owner's manual directly from SOA:

    Dear xxxx:

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We do apologize for this inconvenience. We appreciate that you brought this to our attention. The correct capacity for the engine oil for the 2004 Forester XT is 5 quarts when replacing the engine oil and filter.

    The 4.2 quart capacity noted in your owner's manual is for the 2004 Forester non-turbo models when just filling up the engine oil and not replacing the filter. The capacity of the non-turbo models when replacing the filter is 4.8 quarts.

    We have advised our Publications Department that this information needs to be added to future Forester owner's manuals.

    Thanks for the opportunity to be of assistance. If you need any future assistance, please feel free to contact us.

    Best wishes,

    John J. Mergen
    Subaru of America, Inc.

    While this specifies 2004, note that this letter is from August '03. I'm assuming this information is true for the '05 and '06 MYs as well.

  • erikwierikwi Member Posts: 71
    I thought so! I guess someone didn't get the message in the publications department. Also, book recommends 5w-30. In my area, temps regularly see 90+ in the summer. I switched to Syntec 5W30 at 2500 miles. Would Syntec 5W50 be a better choice? It would cover the entire temperature range of my climate.
  • raybearraybear Member Posts: 1,795
    I always stick to what the manufacturer recommends.
  • erikwierikwi Member Posts: 71
    Well, the book is confusing. In the maintenance section, it says 5W30 is recommended but in the same paragraph, it says to use the proper weight for your local climate. I think I'm just going to use Syntec 5W30 and be done with it. Synthetics handle heat and cold better than dino juice anyway.
  • rochcomrochcom Member Posts: 247
    I think it would be almost impossible to burn a quart in 500 miles unless there were serious ring problems, in which case you would see blue smoke in the exhaust, OR a seal leak. I had several seal leaks in my '98 and the seals were replaced under warranty. You should check for leaks where you park and for odors where the oil may hit an exhaust pipe - the latter is how I detected mine. My '98, uses almost no oil at 125,000 miles.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Join us OCD Clubbers - just fill the oil filter before you install the new one. That pre-soaks the filter element.

    And yes, you end up using almost all of 5 quarts.

  • kaarstenkaarsten Member Posts: 3
    Thanks. I know it seems unbelievable, but it is true. I've had the cam seals replaced twice. There are no leaks when the car is sitting, but there are exhaust like odors when I am idling and black/blue exhaust when you rev the engine up to 5 rpm. Was it your valve guide seals? It sounds like it is my rings. Honestly, I've been patient with Subaru for over a year while they misdiagnose. The oil consumption began in earnest at 61,000 miles and Subaru continually dismissed me as the problem got continually worse. I'm open to suggestions because an engine overhaul at 75,000 miles seems a little absurd.
  • erikwierikwi Member Posts: 71
    I must already be a member :) I've always prefilled my filters whenever possible. When I was going to school for my automotive technician degree, the instructor told us it was always a good idea to prefill when you could.

    I did that to mine and put it 4.25 quarts. 1000 miles later it showed up about a half quart low. Juice, are you saying that even with prefilling the filter, it still takes 5 quarts?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    I'm including the oil used to fill the filter in my 5 total quarts.

  • erikwierikwi Member Posts: 71
    Ahh, I understand now. Thanks for the info!!
  • rochcomrochcom Member Posts: 247
    I am not sure which specific seals, but there were two different ones. A small amount of blue exhaust smoke at high revs might not mean anything, but at the rate you are burning oil, I would expect blue smoke constantly. The smell I referred to was almost like burning rubber. There was a problem with grease burning on the exhaust pipes of early Foresters and this smwll was similar, but turned out to be leaking oil hitting the hot pipes.

    Some other possibilities: Are you using synthetic oil? In an older vehicle, I had been using Mobil 1 (original formula) for some years with no problems, but on a high speed trip during hot weather, it all slipped past the rings. During a 1000 mile trip, I ended up replacing it all one quart at a time with regular 10W-30 oil and that stopped the problem.

    Is there another Subaru shop nearby that you can take it to?
  • kaarstenkaarsten Member Posts: 3
    Thanks for all of your suggestions. The problem ended up being bad Valve Guide Seals in Cyclinder#4. They replaced them, and we'll see what happens next.
  • submansubman Member Posts: 1
    We have a 2002 Forester, and had the same trouble. You would start to accellerate, and it would suddenly slow right down. It was a pin hole in a vaccum line.
  • mb789mb789 Member Posts: 89
    I have an '06 Forester X with about 2300 miles on it, and when I start it up in the morning, the engine seems to be running very fast (sounds like a mini diesel), the RPM is between 1 and 2 I think. When the car is put into gear (reverse to back out of the driveway), the engine calms down to normal, and everything is fine after that and it runs smooth.

    Is this common, or is this some kind of problem that needs checked out? I didn't notice it doing this when I first got it 3 months ago -- it had about 120 miles on it then.
  • kate5000kate5000 Member Posts: 1,271
    do you have A/C turned on?
  • kev_xt_ownerkev_xt_owner Member Posts: 41
    I have an '04 Auto XT and it does the same thing (runs faster when I first start it before I put it in gear). I do believe this is normal, however. I think it's the car's way of warming up the engine. As you let the engine warm up, the RPM decreases. Alternatively, if you put the car in gear, the car no longer tries to maintain that warm up speed.
  • once_for_allonce_for_all Member Posts: 1,640
    it should run faster... however if it sounds like a diesel, that may mean you are getting some piston slap along with it. If it is a consistent sound every morning, I would get the dealer involved.

  • bayview6bayview6 Member Posts: 141
    I would just use the new SM regular oils, 5W30. They are probably about 50% synthetic anyway. ;)
  • yu203964yu203964 Member Posts: 35
    My 2003 Forester with 60K km and auto transmission. During these 2 mornings, when I started the car, the CEL was blinking for about one to two minutes. The engine was shaking. Ater driving for about one to two km., the light was gone and the engine no more shaking. The temperature was not very cold. It's around 6 to 10 degrees C. I'll take it to dealer to check the coming Monday. Anyone knows what are reasons for the light? My regular warranty expires last year (after 3 years). Will this be covered by the major component warranty, which covers up to 5 years and 100K km.?
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