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Subaru Legacy/Outback "Check Engine" Light Problems



  • This forum has been very enlightening. I have no issue with paying for maintenance but these repeated trips with no resolution and the "deer-in-the-headlights" expressions are getting old. The catalytic convertor was replaced at 105,000 along with the two related sensors. The CEL typically comes back on within three weeks of service. Dealership has checked the codes and reset things 5 or 6 times only to have the CEL illuminate again and again and again. It's been a good car other than this annoying issue.
  • morin2morin2 Posts: 399
    If you've found one of the few places in the US selling real gas, please post the info on WI has a fair number of stations selling real gas, followed by 10 stations in AL and 9 in SC. Most states have none, a few have 1 or 2 stations. If the pump is not labelled, you cannot assume that its ethanol-free. Many states do not require pump labelling and you don't know what you're getting unless you test it yourself.
  • 2005 Subaru Outback 2.5 xt turbo- check engine light is on and the cruise control light is flashing. Just had a remote starter installed for Christmas-could that have caused this problem? Thanks!!
  • doggrandmadoggrandma IowaPosts: 144
    There are so many stations that sell real gas here in Oklahoma, that I could not begin to list all of them, and in College Station, TX, you can't buy gas with ethanol!

    We have the benefit of living in oil country! Or as they say here "earl". ;-)

    However, in Dallas, you can't find ethanol-free (real!) gas. Supposedly it's due to the air quality, but that is so bogus! Ethanol causes more pollution than real gas does. This has been a con job from the beginning.
  • morin2morin2 Posts: 399
    Well, now I'm jealous! I can't even get pure gas at a marina here for my boat. There are only 2 stations selling the good stuff in MD and they are 3.5 hours away. If the EPA allows 15% ethanol this summer, I'll be forced to sell my boat to someone who can afford to replace motors more often than I can.

    Ethanol reduces fuel economy, so the same amount of gas gets burned - there's no decrease in emissions. Further, there is so much demand for corn that its being planted everywhere - including where it should not and heavily fertilized. The fertilizer runs off into our waters, leading to the Chesapeake Bay, already choking on nitrogen. So the feds throw money at removing nitrogen from the Bay, and throw money in the form of subsidies to the ethanol producers, who buy the corn and drive up the prices and hire more lobbyists causing more corn to be planted & more runoff - its ridiculous. Those of us not growing corn or producing ethanol are the big losers.
  • Check engine light came on (97 Outback 2.5, 201000miles) . I checked oil and trans fluid levels, both were good. As I drive the headlights, actually ALL the lights blink or dim at lower RPM's when I hit the brakes. The lights return to full brightness after a few seconds. I'm not a vehicle tech but I'm thinking alternator or maybe the battery ????
    Any thoughts are welcome.
  • doggrandmadoggrandma IowaPosts: 144
    Everything you say about ethanol is true, and it has even been shown to cause more respiratory problems than the emissions from real gas. Ethanol is a boondoggle supported by the farm state politicians who are beholden to huge agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland. In fact, there are several Illinois congress critters (from both parties!) who are demanding that the EPA stick to the schedule of requiring more ethanol in gasoline. It has nothing to do with air quality or energy policy and everything to do with politics. As usual, follow the money!

    My daughter and SIL just moved back from MD a year ago. I'll ask them if they know of any places there to buy real gas. I understand your frustration. Ethanol will eventually ruin your engine and make your vehicle perform poorly along the way. :(

    Or, you could join us here in Okieland! You wouldn't believe how much lower our cost of living is here.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    E10 is mandated here in MD, too.
  • Sounds like the cooling fan isn't working. Can you see or hear it running while idleing?
  • I am having the same problem without the remote starter!
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,920
    Alternator. I have heard that the alternators on the 95-99 vehicles were somewhat prone to failing. I am not sure how true this is, but I replaced mine ('96 Outback) at about 200,000 miles for the same reason - it was getting so weak that it would only charge the battery at full highway speeds (RPMs above about 2500). At anything less, the lights were noticeably dimmer. If allowed to idle long enough, the battery would actually drain and the car would die.

    The good news is that the replacement part is probably about $100 and takes 20 minutes to replace (if you take a lunch break in the middle of it!).
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • For the fourth time in the last 8 months, my wife's 2001 Subaru had to be towed. Dashboard lights flickering on and off, engine sputtering. We've run out of things to replace on this vehicle. Dealership mechanics are either clueless or criminal (or both) as once again I've gotten the deer-in-the-headlight looks. I will be ridding myself of the vehicle now and never buying another one. :sick:
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 10,920
    Sounds like a bad ground connection or a short to me. Since it is affecting the entire vehicle, I suspect the main negative cable from the battery may be the place to look. Do you ever have starting issues? I had a problem with the connection on my '96 Outback at one point. It was just ever so slightly loose and it never caused problems while it was in operation, but occasionally it would not give enough juice to the alternator to crank the engine.
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • Thanks for responding to my rant. Never had a starting issue with it. Until it hit 100k, it was very dependable. Since then, the chronic electrical / electronic problems have seemingly worsened despite the replacement of the alternator, catalytic converter, various sensors and numerous diagnostic tests. The CEL initially and now the other dashboard lights flicker just before it dies. Today I was told the new alternator that was installed 5 months ago is "toast." The part is covered under warranty but the labor is not. This was the final straw... I traded it today. Good riddance. Thanks again.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    It's late now but I would have suggested the single-point ground "fix" that was discussed on NASIOC a while ago.
  • yasuyasu Posts: 7
    I have had oxygen sensors replaced..both catylitic(spelling) replaced and this Subaru mechanic says they look like they have never been replaced and they were.. that is how I found out that this Subaru(2002) Outback has two. Every year I have to do something to the car to get it to pass inspection. I often smell a burning smell when I get out of the car and also what smells like antifreeze during the time I am driving it. Any information about these conditions and their successful conclusion would be appreciated. After reading everything on here I am very discouraged that I will get an answer. This car has been a financial nightmare for me. Any information is greatly appreciated. :cry:
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    There are so many reasons that trigger repetitive oxygen sensor and cat codes, and unfortunately some of them actually have nothing to do with failures of these components. The system looks for the most likely offender, but it can easily be tricked. Someday soon I will write up a little piece on the subject. Promise...

    You mentioned smelling antifreeze. On a hunch, but take a look at this post and my description that follows:
    jbur1, "Subaru Crew Problems & Solutions" #18529, 23 Jan 2010 1:49 pm

    If you smell antifreeze, and it is leaking internally as well as externally, it probably isn't doing a lot of good for your cats or sensors. *Maybe* there is a connection?
  • I'm reading through the thread, but can't find anyone with my same issue. The CEL light has been coming on most of the time over the past week. The only problem I noticed prior to this development was that my winshield wash pump no longer seems to be working well - the liquid doesn't shoot out much at all (and yes - the resevoir is full!)

    Any chance these are related?

    I'm planning on taking it to the dealer unless someone has a good idea that I can try at home. I'm decent with cars - but haven't run into this problem before.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    I'm afraid not. OBD-II is for monitoring engine performance that impacts emissions compliance. Anything that would push the emissions to 1.5X or so of the EPA certification will log a code & trigger the light. While the manufacturer does play a role in selecting sensors and the test methodology, you can be sure that windshield washer performance was not part of the monitoring plan!

    I'm constantly getting car wax into the nozzles, degrading the flow. The opening is pretty big, so try going at it with a needle or a stripped length of fine electric wire.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    If it's below freezing, you may have old fluid in there that no longer has its antifreeze capability. That's happened to me before.
  • Thank you for the responses. I took the car to the dealer, and it was an oxygen sensor that was causing the CEL. They replaced it and its now off. Paid ~230 parts/labor

    The wiper issue was plain stupid me. Ran out. I thought I had just filled it - I will check for cracks.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    The OEM Oxygen Sensor is around $100 for the front, $135 for the rear. Add in an hour or so for reading the code and scoping the sensor output. Good diagnostics include making sure that this is really the cause, and not something that is simply fingering it as the cause! Change the sensor, rescope to be sure it works, then test drive and read the codes again to be sure that it hasn't logged a new pending code that will throw a CEL two days from now.

    Add it up, and I'd say you are north of 2 bills!
  • I have a 2002 Outback and the check engine light has been on for a couple of years now. This year, my mechanic said that it will no longer pass emissions testing and I have to resolve the issue. His code pointed to the catalytic converter, but he said that I need to have the dealer do it because he's replaced a bunch of them and the CEL comes back on. After reading the thread above, I'm reluctant to pay $1200 to replace the catalytic converter if that is not really the problem. How will I know before spending the money? And is this a common problem? Thanks.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    I could write a book on this subject, but don't have time to elaborate today. Basically, I personally don't like simple code readers because they tell you little, leaving you to guess what to fix. A computer scanner gives you snapshot data of the events logged at the same time surrounding the throwing of the code. Plus OBD realtime monitoring under operating conditions (plotting RPM, load, temps, throttle position, front and rear O2 sensor output voltage, etc.) provide solid data that can pinpoint the probable cause of fault. Finally, the dealer can tap directly into the O2 sensor wiring and scope the output to confirm that the wiring back to the ECM is OK. It could be an ECM mental problem, an oxygen sensor issue, an inefficient cat, or even something as simple as a temperature sensor calibration that is allowing the system to switch from open loop to closed loop too early and logging a code before the cat is fully warmed up.

    Your local mechanic is smart. Without the proper tools, he can only begin changing things and hope for the best. You'll pay more at the dealer, but they then have to warranty their work.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    All things considered both issues are resolved and you spent a lot less than I expected, so call it good. :shades:
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Yup, they only describe a symptom.

    If the cat is going bad, it still had to be something upstream that let unburned fuel pass, which clogged up the cat. A new cat may just clog up again eventually.
  • yasuyasu Posts: 7
    Thanks fibber 2 for your response. I look forward (hopefully before too long) to your piece that you are going to write on this subject. My 2002 has been a great snow car for me and it runs great except for that pesky CEL. I am past the point of no return financially with this car and if I could get to the bottom of it and find out what is causing this.. I would be a very happy person. Has Subaru ever ackknowledged that this is a problem? At this poiont I am not asking them to pay..just tell me what it is so I don't have to keep paying. At least on here I know that I am not alone..misery loves company..I guess. Again..many thanks for your reply.
  • dswissdswiss Posts: 11
    Well, frogzone, I don't want to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that I went through three new cat converters and numerous replacements of sensors, switches and even a totally new transmission at three different dealers on my Legacy. All this within the 36000mi warranty. When it hit 36000 and the CEL came on again, I sold the car. As you can tell from reading through this thread, this problem is not a maintenance issue, but a basic design flaw to which Subaru has never admitted to. I don't know if the newer models still have this issue, and I don't want to find out. I lost so much $$$ on my car that I am done with Subaru.
    good luck with yours.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    Just another quick visit...

    (You are welcome, Yasu. I really need to stop promising an article. You'll just have to put up with occasional posts!)

    I'm not convinced that Subaru has a specific problem in this regard, but it may be true that they have either a bit more delicate system, or less useful diagnostics that impact the ability to pinpoint the cause. I'm present, but less active on the Honda boards. Plenty of very similar OBDII complaints over there. Personally, I went thru hell with the evaporative emissions system on a '97 Dodge GC for 3 years before finally getting rid of the van. I understand the frustration.

    Realize that OBDII was first introduced in 1994, but the roots of the standard (readout interface, selection of sensors to be monitored, etc.) dates back 2-3 years prior. Think for a moment about the state of computer power both under the hood, and on your desktop in 1991-1992. For me it was an 80386 PC running Win 2.0 or 3.0. Most cars still had carbs or throttle body injection. Pretty darn crude! The "P0" codes - those mandated by the EPA were locked in then. That is all that your handheld code reader tells you about!

    Manufactures are free to add their own proprietary P1 codes, but you must have a manufacturers specific add-on to be able to view and interpret those. Only well equipped shops have the resources for that. Then there are the Transmission, Airbag, Controlling Network (much newer cars), and others that very few of us can read out. Some mfgrs have added hundreds of extra readouts. Last time I looked, Subaru was rather light in this area. The net is that this limitation may make it harder to diagnose and pin down the cause of a fault.

    Another aspect is "what exactly is a fail"? Mfgrs must certify compliance to whatever the pollution standard was in force in that model year. OBD is then set by the mfgr to throw a code on that vehicle if the measured output by the rear oxygen sensor is 1.5x the certification limit. Honda got nailed some years back for cheating and setting it at something like 2x to cut the number of CEL complaints!

    Do Subaru engines degrade faster, exceeding the 1.5x limit? Could something degrade the cat so that it doesn't do it's job efficiently? Could head gasket issues (internal leaks) come into play on some cars? Could sensor placement issues make them more susceptible to being dulled and not respond properly? Could the front sensor be seeing the unburnt gas, yet the required adjustment limits are outside of the ECU map to fix it, and beyond the cat design to clean up the mess? Could other things trick the system to logging a failure during warm-up (like an out of calibration temp sender I mentioned earlier), when there really is no failure?

    Two years ago I was at a Failure Analysis conference that had an Auto Industry panel discussion, and I asked when OBDIII might be introduced given how inadequate OBDII was. They said they'd get back to me on that....
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,775
    A thought came to mind as I was out driving this morning.

    Imagine if as among their proprietary codes Toyota had included a gas pedal pressure transducer and a throttle cable rate-of-return sensor, in addition to the already mandated throttle position sensor? They would have nailed this sticking gas pedal issue 3 years ago, saving them hundreds of millions in losses so far. This could grow to a $1B issue for them (lost sales, liability, replacement costs) as the details unfold.

    All mfgrs will come to realize that the payoff is great for better self diagnostics.
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