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Subaru Forester exhaust/fuel smell in cab

kev9kev9 Posts: 4
has anyone had a problem with an exhaust or fuel smell in the cab? i have had the exhaust checked & the seal on the back door, all have been fine. it has only happened in the really, really cold weather.


  • It happened to me. I have 03 Forester. This is the coldest weather since I have owned it. And I have gotten the fuel smell. Coming from under hood somewhere, I need to check a little closer, but when I looked yesterday I could not tell exactly where it was coming from. If I park care in garage, it does not leak/stink. but if it has been parked outside, i get plenty of odor. I have not called dealer yet. Car is out of warranty and the talk on WRX forum of cost of $400+ to fix has me scared off.
  • kev9kev9 Posts: 4
    i have had my exhaust checked (& it was fine) & i also had a transmission place check the fluids for any unusuall smell or look, that was fine as well. my check engine light has not come on ever through out the entire thing. the only other thing i have noticed that has also happened under the hood somewhere is a high pitched noise after the car is off. this has also only happened in the cold. i have no idea if they are related. i am calling my mechanic tomorrow, i am not sure what will come of it. if i find out anything i will oist it here.
  • kev9kev9 Posts: 4
    since they talked of $400+ to fix it have you been told what the problem is with your forester?
  • tidestertidester Posts: 10,059
    Have you had the fuel hoses checked? Very cold weather may be causing them to contract and leak some small amount of gasoline.

    tidester, host
  • Any news about this smell?...plng. to buy a 2007 forester this week end..think i smelled this in one i tested..not sure if i should buy one now if this is problem...don't like fumes of any kind in passenger cab...
  • kev9kev9 Posts: 4
    i had my mechanic check it out again & he couldn't find anything that he could say for certain as to the cause of the smell. turns out the my radiator itself (not the reserve) was not completely full (so he topped that off) & also found that even though i have had the oil changed pretty recently that it did appear to look liek it had been changed in a while (no more quick stop oil changes!!), he changed the oil & put a really good filter on it. drove it all day yesterday & i didn't smell a thing. we will see when the really cold weather hits it again, that seems to be really when it happens. i would say if you are looking at one & it smells have the dealer go through the thing top to bottom & try it in the extreme cold (single digits, if possible). other than that i love the car.
  • rochcomrochcom Posts: 247
    In many areas of the country, fuel is reformulated during the winter months and contains large amounts of solvents that are highly volatile. It may just be that these are what you are smelling. There may be no leak at all. They are most noticeable in the cold because the engine takes a bit longer to start and some of the vapor could be sucked back into the vehicle by the passenger compartment fan.
  • No, I have not. I have not bothered to talk to dealer. After the temp got back over 15 degrees, the smell went away. I will wait till it is back to zero and maybe call them.
  • thebird3thebird3 Posts: 1
    I bought my Subaru Forester last week from Goldsteins, an hour of driving it there was an odor coming through the vents. It smells like someone regurgitated in the car, but it is coming through the vents. Anyone who gets in the car asks "What is that smell?"
    It is very upsetting to have a new car smell so badly. What is causing the odor? I did not have the problem with my old 98 Subaru?
  • smittynycsmittynyc Posts: 291
    You could be smelling undercoating burning off the exhaust. If so, it'll go away in 500-1000 miles of normal driving. But that smell is a considerably less offensive than what you're describing -- it really doesn't smell anything like vomit. It's more of a sweet, smoky smell.

    I hate to suggest this, but if the smell is really that sharp and awful and "organic", you may be looking at a rat/mouse that died somewhere in the engine compartment or even in the ducts of the ventilation system. While not common, this isn't unheard of in a new car that's stored outside at a dealer and driven infrequently.

    I'd have the dealer check it out -- if I'm right, they will have dealt with this before and will know how to get the beast out. The good news is that the smell will go away totally and permanently as soon as the corpse is removed.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    My Miata started smelling "stale", so I opened up the fresh air vents and sprayed in some Lysol. It is 14 years old, though.
  • I got a 2007 Forester Sports X in March 2007 because I was so happy with my 2004 Forester X. Just one problem with a brake switch causing the car not to shift out of park one day...but that was fixed. Love the car in theory and in general...BUT....

    I have a BIGGER problem...a terrible smell coming from the engine whenever the car gets hot. The dealer tech smelled it right away when I stood with him in front of the car, acknowledged it was bad, and he later told me he thought it was undercoating accidentally sprayed on the engine during the manufacturing process, and it could NOT be fixed.

    Sadly on a prior checkup they claimed to smell nothing (you only smell it with the windows open) and the Subaru regional field tech also claimed (after the local tech had explained the cause of the problem) that no smell existed. This created a stink of a different kind. And nothing in writing except they checked for a smell they couldn't find.

    Subaru has offered to trade the car in, and pick up some but not all of the cost of the trade...but I'm wondering if I should take a chance and pay even more money for a brand new car when the brand new car I just purchased and was otherwise very happy with turned out to have a toxic smell from the engine.

    On the other hand, what are the odds I could have the car declared a lemon in NY when the car still drives, albeit with a bad smell? I feel stuck...

    I also wish there was a way to turn off the "three unlocks to open" requirement for the hatch and passenger doors. I know it's there to protect old ladies in parking lots, but in the rain when I want to open the hatch or simply let a trusted passenger in the car with me, it's a real pain.

    Wish I could have just written a rave, because aside from the issues I'm having with this car I still love it, Geosquealers notwithstanding. Traded in a 2001 Acura CL Sports-Type for my 2004, a move comedian Tom Papa made fun of, and I was happier with the Forester since it handled better!

    What was worse was getting poor customer service from Subaru of America, from a shrill customer service SUPERVISOR who yelled when I said something she disagreed with...she told me the smell could have been caused by something "after-market" like the remote start or the alarm even though she know I'd had it installed at purchase by my dealer. Of course, when you buy an accessory from the dealer to install in your new car before you pick it up, you assume you are purchasing it from Subaru and Subaru won't suddenly disavow any responsibility for it.

    And when I asked Subaru for another supervisor after she'd literally yelled at me,
    they gave the email to the shrill woman so she could call me and tell me she didn't mean to be rude, she's just a loud person. Last Friday she told me she'd call me Monday. No question. Didn't hear from her until an email late Wednesday.

    They promised I'd be contacted this week by another supervisor "early this week" It's now end-of-business Thursday. I've sent quite a few emails through their website indicating my dissapointment with the car smell, the lack of detection, and the poor treatment by customer service.

    I think it's time for a regular letter to the president of Subaru of America. Too bad Asa Aarons just left hope now is that Subaru realizes they have an evangelist about to jump ship and make a fair offer on the trade-in.

    Anyone else have a smell like antifreeze-meets-orange-juice overwhelming them in the 2007 Forester when the engine gets hot?

  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    Cross posting like this is against Edmunds rules. You already posted this once and the people who can help have or will reply there.

  • p0926p0926 Posts: 4,423
    A law firm soliciting business in the Town Hall?

    Hosts is that allowable?
  • tidestertidester Posts: 10,059
    No it's not. :)

    tidester, host
    SUVs and Smart Shopper
  • I've been having this problem on and off now for the last three years or so with my Subaru (Outback). Have gone through various checkups and still the fumes come back in the cold and only in the cold. Seems to be coming from real close to the engine cause I can smell it worst right near what looks like the alternator.
  • After googling around more I discovered a lot of Subaru owners were experiencing what sounds like the same problem: smell coming from engine compartment when cold and heater is on. I'd thought the smell was maybe exhaust. It had a bit of a different smell to it which I'd called richer before though I wasn't sure that was the right technical term for it. Anyway, turns out other owners were reporting gas leaks from fuel lines especially when cold. So I popped my hood and looked around. Didn't see anything I could detect - though there was something that looked a little wet but I thought nothing of it (there's lots of snow around here) so I turned on my engine. That's when I saw what looked like little sparks on the driver side of the engine. But it wasn't sparks, it was fluid dripping from a hose clamp down to something lower. With the various reports of leaking gas I quickly shut off my engine and wiped the hose with a cloth. Putting the cloth up close it smelled just like gas too. Bingo. I then tried the easy suggestion I'd read of just tightening the clamps. When I did this while the engine was on it looked like the dripping just got faster making me think perhaps the hose was cracked instead of the clamp just being loose. I called my favorite local Subaru dealership who told me something like "oh yeah you have a fuel leak" as though it was something they'd have told me if I'd recognized it as a gas smell instead of an exhaust smell. That doesn't sit well by me though cause I'd told them repeatedly how the smell only seems to come around really when it's cold and the heater with outside air is on. Makes me feel disappointed that Subaru may be intentionally hiding this problem rather than doing a public recall. I don't know that this is the case for a fact, but like with the infamous head gasket leaks, it's my opinion at least at this point that Subaru is keeping these secret rather than being impressive and forward about these things. My local Subaru service department said there's a 50/50 chance it's just the clamp that is loose or otherwise it's a leak from the hose. Given that my tightening of the clamp seemed to make it leak more I didn't want to take the chance of maybe cracking the hose more or something (I'm certainly not a mechanic). So I brought my car to nearest repair shop. $257 later - for removing the top of the engine supposedly to get to all the hoses and clamps to replace them - and no more smell inside my car's cabin. At least none on the drive back.
  • I am having the same trouble with my Outback Sport (2002). In January last year, I smelled fuel in the cab with the heater running. Fortunately, I had purchased the extended warranty, so I went to the dealership, where they kept it for two days and claimed they didn't smell anything. Meanwhile, a local garage checked it and said they smelled the fuel coming from the fuel injector. I smelled it again about two weeks later (again when it was really cold - less than 32 degrees) and immediately took it to the dealership. This time they smelled it and gave me a loaner. They also showed me a notification Subaru had sent out regarding this problem, instructing the mechanics to change the leaky o-rings on the fuel injector. After 6 weeks of the part being on backorder [thankfully I had the loaner the whole time], my car was fixed and seemed to be working fine. Then today (less than one year later and again below freezing), I smelled the gas smell again, inside the cab, with the heater on AND off, and outside of the car after it had been parked for 30 minutes. When you would open the door, the fuel fumes would hit you in the face. It reeked of gas fumes. I went back to the dealer and now have a loaner again. Even the mechanic at the dealership said he could smell it as I pulled up. I will let you know what they say it is this time, but the dealership said there were no other people coming in with this problem, this year or last year. You might want to have your o-rings checked.
  • I posted about this in the late summer of '07, and now I've just become accustomed to driving with my windows closed and the vent on recycle. Shame for a car less than a year old.

    Subaru claimed they'd do their best to get me out of the car, severely low-balled me on the trade-in value and then offered me 50% of the difference after leading me on with a "sample scenario" where they'd pay $4000 if the trade-in cost $5000.

    For those of you without a calculator, that sample scenario, designed to placate me and give me false hope (I must assume, since it was so radically and statistically significantly different from the actual offer in percentage terms), was 80%. And even that didn't seem attractive for a brand new car that should have had no smell.

    Sorry I'm not alone. Best of luck to you all.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    This was a known problem on the 02-03 WRXs, I forget which hose it was that had a bad clamp on it but it was in the cold weather. Look for a TSB or recall on the 02-03 WRX.

  • I got my 2002 Outback Sport back today. It was an actual fuel leak, as one of the valves was broken and leaking. They replaced it and it seems okay for now. No more gas smell from the heater or from under the hood. I asked them to check for the bad clamp, but they said they were all fine. Thanks for all the help!
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Glad to hear they resolved it.

    Mom had a car like that and to be honest they never figured it out. The whole time she had it you could smell gas. Nasty.

    That was a Chevy in Brazil, though.
  • danielldaniell Posts: 128
    Own a 2002 Forester S auto, 60k miles. I have had the same problem a few days ago when temperatures here in Ohio dropped below 20 and the car was parked outside for 2-3 hours. I popped the hood right away and I was able to see gasoline leaking from a hose clamp. It's on the driver side, but very close to the center, about 4" long. It's probably the shortest hose I could see, and the farthest away from the fuel filter. Fuel drips on a small metal rectangle right below. The clamp appears to be tight. The leak dissapears once the engine warms up. If the car is garaged or temperatures are at least high 20s, it won't leak. It only does it right at the startup in very low temperatures, when the engine is cold. I checked the website and it appears to be the same exact problem reported with the 2002-2003 model year Impreza and WRX. Filed a complaint with NHTSA.
  • ...and I own a 2001 Forester S auto, 85K miles. Had this car since last March and with our '08 Winter in Iowa being a doozy, am experiencing the EXACT same problem you describe. All in all I'd say this car, in spite of it's rugged pretensions, isn't cut out for da Nord country, if ya know what I mean. Once the temps hit around zero, the following has happened: 1) Cracked windshield 2) Name Plate popped of after closing hood and of course, the 3) aforementioned gas fumes in the cab.
  • We have had the same problem since last winter with our 2002 outback wagon. Since it has been really cold the fumes are overwhelming. You have to drive without the heater in the coldest weather. This is our second subaru wagon and we are really disappointed with this problem. The wierd thing is that once the weather warms up the heater works and no smell of fumes.
  • jbur1jbur1 Posts: 15
    I have also been getting the fuel smell in the cold weather inside my 2003 Forester (69k miles) as well. It gets so bad at times that it causes irritation in my throat and a burning sensation in my eyes. It also leaves a foul taste in my mouth that lasts well after I exit the vehicle. I have scheduled an appointment at the dealer next week. I called Subaru and they said there was a TSB issued regaring this matter. I got them to issue me a case number in case any issues arrise at the dealer. I didn't ask them if they would help pay for the repair at this point though.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Hope they can fix that. Ours doesn't have that issue.

    My mom owned a Chevy in Brazil way back when with a horrible gas smell, we never really figured it out.
  • After reading extensivly on this problem of exhaust smell coming through the vents when its really cold out, and car is at idle here is what I found. It is a gas leak and in my case was very easy to fix(under 2 minutes). here is a picture of where my leak was coming from.

    I tightened up the two clamps which were very loose, the gas stopped leaking and the smell coming in stopped instantly. The part that I tightened is the shiney black rubber hose in the middle of the pictures. I hope this helps some people. I have a 2003 forester 2.5xs. I hope I save some people from getting robbed blind from their mechanics.
  • aathertonaatherton Posts: 617
    Both of those links merely take me to Is there some kind of public viewing permission that must be set to allow us to get to your album?
  • danielldaniell Posts: 128
    I have a 2002 Forester S, auto, 68K miles. I have had this problem intermitently over the years, whenever the temperature dropped below 15 degrees or so. There are 2 short hoses, about 4"-5" each, where I saw gasoline leaking. One is on the driver side. I am not sure how to post pictures - under the hose there is a small rectangular area, about 2"x3", almost like a tray, where I saw gasoline acumulating. The second problem is on the passenger side, close to the side and front. There are short 2 rubber hoses making a 90 degree angle (the actual angle is metal, hoses cover that). The one that is parallel to the radiator was lose. I am sorry for not being able to give a better description. Tightening the clamps with a Phillips screwdriver seems to have solved the problem for now. The service tech at the dealer (Subaru Beechmont in Cincinnati) said that he had only seen this on turbocharged motors.
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