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Subaru Legacy/Outback "Check Engine" Light Problems



  • jd_24jd_24 Posts: 92
    Here in Minnesota we run 10% ethanol year round. Both of my Subarus run just fine and get great MPG. (2001 Outback and 2012 Impreza) Winter blend gas changes many additives and not just ethanol. There is a winter blend gas here in MN too, but the ethanol amount stays the same.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801
    I have performed de-carboning and intake cleaning on my own for a good number of years. Never had a warranty issue and the car actually ran better. The issue with ethanol in fuel is that it binds with the moisture to some degree or another and in spite of the supposedly better filter technology, it still gets into the injection system. This is especially crucial if the engine has direct injection. Water can destroy injectors in a heartbeat.

    On another note, I have been speaking with independent auto repair shops, so far three of them, and have been asking them that if they had the choice between a Subaru Outback or a Honda CRV with AWD, which would they take? So far it is 3-0 for the Honda. All say that Honda has better engineering, and two have made comments about Subaru head gasket issues and oil leakage. One told me that he has seen and worked on 2009 and 2010 Outbacks with about 100K miles on them that required new head gaskets. They were naturally aspirated and not turbo and had received proper care and maintenance. I am going to speak with a few more independent shops before I make up my mind, but it does not bode well for Subaru. I like the car and it drives nicely plus you see tons of them on the road but to hear what the independent shops have to say is disturbing.
  • saedavesaedave Chicago, ILPosts: 694
    One told me that he has seen and worked on 2009 and 2010 Outbacks with about 100K miles on them that required new head gaskets. They were naturally aspirated and not turbo

    There is a new engine in 2013 Outbacks that has the head gasket problem solved. It was first used in the Forester for two model years so it has on-the-road proof of reliability. Earlier and current turbo Subaru engines use a different block that does not have the gasket problem.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801
    So, if I purchase the 2012 Outback with the 2.5L four cylinder, then how much of a chance will there be of blown head gaskets? I keep my cars for 12-15 years before retiring them.

    Would I be better off getting the Forester if it already has the new head gasket design?
  • saedavesaedave Chicago, ILPosts: 694
    Would I be better off getting the Forester if it already has the new head gasket design?

    Yes, the design is not just a new head gasket but a a new cylinder head that has different cooling water flow. Either a 2012 Forester OR a 2013 Outback has the new design. Interior passenger room is almost identical, but the shorter Forester has less cargo room. If you keep your car 12-15 years 2012 vs. 2013 depreciation differences, if any, are not significant.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801

    Thank you for your response. It is helpful. I have been doing further research by calling independent repair shops that deal with all brands of cars and trucks. So far I have spoken with seven shops and the score is six for Honda and one tie.

    Some of the main points are:

    1. Reliability and engineering. The six shops said that the Hondas are more robust overall.
    2. After market parts: many more are available for the CR-V than the Subaru and they cost less.
    3. Head gasket issue with the Subaru. Several shops mentioned this without prompting with some shops talking about redoing head gaskets in 2009 and 2010 Outbacks.
    4. Company backing of their respective product. Several shops told me that Honda does a better job of backing their product than Subaru and I believe that one or two posters here have said much the same.
    5. I am a bit scared of the CVT. I understand how they work and that they are a good way to get more MPGs. If they do fail, I understand that repairing them is very expensive.

    I drove the Outback and really liked it and sat in the Forester and liked the airiness of the passenger compartment as well as the visibility out of the car. The one cubic foot of cargo capacity extra in the Outback is offset by the shape of the cargo area in the Forester.

    I am not trying to poop on the Subaru but this will probably be the last new car I purchase and I want something that is dead reliable and easy for me to maintain. Based on my findings, a Honda it will probably be.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Odds of a coolant leak from the head gaskets on the FA/FB block are roughly zero because the coolant no longer flows through the gaskets. ;)

    Honda has its own set of issues, trannies for V6 models and A/C compressor for recent CR-Vs.

    Let me correct myself - ALL brands have their issues, but either of these is certainly far above average overall.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801
    I understand your response. But I still am wondering why most independent shops that I spoke with have told me to get a Honda versus the Subaru. If they are relatively equal vehicles, why the difference of opinion?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Because shops tend to work on cars that are out of warranty.

    The shortest warranty is 3 years or so, really it's 5 years for powertrain.

    So those mechanics are looking at cars 5+ years old, or 2007 models and older.

    The other Subaru weak spot, BTW, was wheel bearings on the Impreza and Forester. Forester moved to the Legacy's sealed type design and complaints dropped.

    Fortunately we haven't seen a frequent issue pop up again and again since those two, fingers crossed.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801
    I understand that the shops see mostly out of warranty vehicles, but now another issue to be concerned about, wheel bearings. As you state, Subaru went to a sealed unit and so far so good.

    However, what about those vehicles in which the owner drives 60K miles in less than five years? As I understand most car warranties, it is either time or mileage, which ever comes first. That would mean I would probably need to purchase an extended warranty to say 100K or more miles for the drivetrain.

    I have looked at the Honda forum and I am aware that they have their issues too. I think a few more calls/visits to shops and dealers will give me the information I need.

    As emissions get tighter and fuel economy standards rise, cars in general will become more complex and more troublesome. I find that PZEV Subarus produce less power than their non_PZEV brothers. The same holds true for Kia and Hyundai. I find it funny that you need to burn more fuel to get cleaner emissions. I know Honda and Subaru have good in-house diesels that they sell in Europe. It would be nice to see them in the U.S.
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,158
    YES! I would love to see the Subaru diesel here!

    I'm not sure that the PZEV has less power for Subaru, at least not the Forester. I'm thinking PZEV was actually rated a couple HP higher for my model year - 2010. I doubt it's noticeable either way. The EJ25 in my car can be quite spunky with the five-speed when I ask it to be. :shades:

    It's a solid car overall.
    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
    Yeah, my 2009 PZEV made 5 extra HP. Not all Subarus are that way, though.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,780
    edited September 2012
    A few comments – coming in late to the discussion.

    1) MAF cleaning (or the ability to do so) varies by manufacture and design. I cannot say this as fact, but it seems I’m seeing that older systems that used IAC were more tolerant of chemistry. Newer systems with electronic throttles and no separate IAC (like my Toyota) have dire warnings in TSB’s and the service manual to NEVER spray the MAF but to clean the throttle plate and surrounding sealing surfaces very carefully. I guess I’d have to call these systems more high strung (?) as they rely on the plate position and MAF feedback to very carefully meter and control idle stability.

    2) Decarbonizing? Lots of discussions all over the web about SeaFoam and similar products used in this way. Half in the tank, half sucked in thru a vacuum hose. The real issue on many modern designs is to find a vacuum hose that enters early enough that the cleaner gets evenly distributed. There are also concerns about carbon chunks scoring cylinder walls, getting caught in valve sealing surfaces, clogging cat inlets, etc. My advice - only if you are absolutely sure you need it. Add it to fuel in a good concentration, but skip the forced feeding.

    3) Chemistry lesson: Ethanol is added to fuel to provide additional oxygen in a homogeneously mixed (liquid bearing) form. It is known as an oxygenate, because when ethanol (C2H5-OH) decomposes it releases the hydroxyl along with ethane (a gaseous fuel). The normal stoichiometric fuel/air mix provides enough air to burn the ethane (a very clean burning fuel), so the extra oxygen (and presumably hydrogen) help with converting unburned fuel into water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (C02). Without the extra oxygen, you tend to get more carbon monoxide (CO) out the tail pipe. In NY we pretty much universally use 10% blend. The downside is the reduced energy content of blended fuels, so mileage suffers overall. Other seasonal tricks (changes in light volatiles content) may also impact some engines drivability.

    Ethanol is hygroscopic (collects and binds with water), but in cold climates we used to add either methanol or ethanol to fuels for exactly that purpose! It’s called DRYGAS, and it was a great way to prevent fuel system corrosion and gas line freeze. Given that fuels contain a lot more of it than we added in the old days, I guess there could be debate about how much more water this might attract. On the other hand, the closed fuel systems on today’s cars don’t allow nearly as much airborne water vapor into the fuel system, so it’s probably a wash.

    4) On the subject of Honda CRV – have they fixed the post oil change fire issue? I guess you don’t have to worry about an aging CRV as much if it simply burns up in your driveway!!! OK, slight exaggeration, but it was a known problem for a while! Tranny longevity has also been a knock. Lastly, there was a strong argument that the (Haldex??) AWD system was slow to kick in, making the CRV only an occasional AWD verses Subaru’s renowned reputation for outstanding AWD systems. Assess your need for a good AWD system, then decide. To be fair, my sister loves her '08 CRV, as does my neighbor ('04, IIRC).

    Subaru is incredibly popular in the NorthEast. Can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one or two in my parking lot at work. Today I walked out and thought there must have been a SURARU ONLY PARKING sign installed, as I was pretty much surrounded.

    5) Head Gaskets…. Yes, as my 2002 Outback is less than 200 miles away from rolling 100k, I could tell you more than you want to know about the root cause of the scrubbing, the myriad attempted engineering fixes over the years, etc. Suffice to say that the F series engines (mine was an E) don’t route cooling water thru the head gasket, but use hoses to connect the head to the block. That change, plus additional ribbing should solve this issue. For long term ownership, wait for a 2013 Outback. Other than the head gaskets, it has been a pretty amazing ownership experience. I still enjoy driving the wagon daily.

    Did I cover the last two weeks adequately? ;)
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,158
    Steve, as always, you can deliver one impressive post. :shades:
    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
    Can you please do that for every other thread? :D
  • Subaru's are the AWD of choice in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. (Lake Tahoe and area. When one goes to any of the communities around the Lake, one would think only Subaru's existed! Their traction on ice and in snow is legendary...Domestics and and most Japanese AWD's cannot out-do the Subaru. I live in the Eastern Foothills of the Sierra. We have a quarter mile of very steep road to get up to the street I live on. My neighbor has a Honda. He parks it at the bottom of the hill when it is snowing or when the road is covered with ice. I drive right up it, no problems.
    I will say 2000 Forester was much better on ice and snow than my 2011 Outback...had better side wind stability as well. But..the 'cush' of the Outback outweighs the minor differences between my Forester and the new Outback.

    I just hope I can get the mileage up on the Outback..only averaging 25 mpg..and that is 90% highway driving on cruise control. The local dealers blow me off, saying that's normal. Heh...I may have my company attorney write a letter to Subaru, asking them to correct the mileage issue or give me a new car. THAT might get Subaru's attention as there is now court precedent on the mileage claims on new cars.

  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,780
    The fuel mileage claims are not something that the manufacturer’s advertising departments come up with on a whim. It’s a direct quotation from the EPA test results.

    Now one can certainly argue that the EPA test methodology is flawed, or that the car makers somehow set up engine/transmission calibration to take maximum advantage of the test routine, but those are the numbers that they are legally obliged to quote. Unless Subaru deviated from the script, they have the EPA to fall back on with any legal challenge to their claims. You'd have to prove that your particular vehicle was somehow different from the vehicle Subaru submitted for testing, or that your vehicle was somehow mechanically deficient.

    The test method is available. Why not try duplicating it and see what you come up with?
  • I understand your reply, but there is now court precedent that completely blows the EPA and car manufacturer mileage claims out of court. Essentially, the court ruling said that the car manufacturers are obligated to produce mileage figures that are real road driving figures, not test figures as EPA produces.

  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,780
    edited September 2012
    Interesting. Can you site a reference? Not challenging you - I'd really like to read this decision as it certainly has industry-wide impact. So they are required by law to post the window sticker with the EPA-sanctioned results, but then have to meet or beat the numbers in some kind of real-world driving (and this real world drive cycle is defined by who???) in order to use the numbers in advertising???

    You sound like enough of a car guy to realize that there are a hundred test variables that impact mileage results. Who now gets to decide where and how the drive should be done if there are no standardized tests? And this is supposed to somehow make things better? Crazy....

    You and I both know there are places that local courts just shouldn't meddle. I see a serious appeal in the cards.

    Interesting sidebar story:
    I was talking to someone I'd seen around town before at the gas station near home. She is on her 5th OBW in 13 years or so. Her husband has this thing about trading in her car at 40k miles. She was in her 2012, and I think she said it now had like 15k miles on it, so it was broken in. She complained that the '12 got several mpg less than her nearly identical 2010. Sample differences? Who knows....
  • I'm sure an appeak is n the's California...who knows what will happen: ain/

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Gotta love it:

    which would see plaintiffs get a $100 to $200 and $1,000 discount on a new Honda and trial attorneys get $8.5 million
  • I started having problems with my 2002 Subaru Outback. First, check engine light came on which was the catalayic convertor. Then, the overheating started which blew a head gasket. Got a head gasket job. Then, the radiator blew, had to get another hg job. While, getting the second hg job they replaced the timing belt kit. Now my car makes weird noises, whines. Mechanic said the power steering fluid leaks which is some of the whinning. Now he told me I need the differential replaced. But never offered to do any of the work. Now, my car whines and when I turn the steering wheel the wheel squeals but there is something wrong with the front tires. Now he says motor is blown we put 20/50 oil in it and is running okay with no knocking from motor but still whines and turns funny or front tires feels funny when you turn the car. What to do?
  • Time to buy a new car!
  • jd_24jd_24 Posts: 92
    Get a new mechanic?
    Head gaskets are typical for the 2000- 2003? Subaru models. I jsut had ours done on a 2001 Outback. Some of the rest, might just be due to age? However I'm at least wondering about the mechanic's ability. Seems a bit curious it all went bad right after the head gasket job.

    Time for a new Subie. New ones won't have the head gasket issue due to a redesign.
  • When I bought my '07 Legacy in 2006, I... fell in love. And, just like a married couple who can't stand each other anymore, I learned to despise some of its traits. Subaru, consider this my application for divorce. Without further ado, here are the recurring issues I have had over 7 years of driving this car:

    1. Wheel bearing failure. Three times I had to replace the undoubtedly cheap wheel bearings on my car, the first before 30,000 miles. Fortunately, neither bearing seized on the highway, but the possibility of it makes me cringe. Subaru, you ought to know better. Much better.
    2. Leaking head gasket + front cam seal before 150,000 miles. Huge disappointment. I bought this car on the premise of better reliability than my previous Mercury Mystique. But hell, in 175,000 miles, my Mercury never developed serious engine problems. Nor faulty wheel bearings, ever. As kids like to say these days: WTF.
    3. A pandemic of electrical issues before 150,000 miles. The past two years I must have been stopped by the cops an average of 1x/3 months for broken lights. Boy, how these things went. And then there is the radio which refused to turn on, even with the engine running, before coming back a few days later. Again, never saw any of this in my cheap cheap cheap Mercury Mystique.
    4. Oh, the... tires. Three times I had to replace four tires because of a single sidewall cut to a single tire. Stretch a $125 tire replacement into a $500 4-tire replacement anyone?

    That's right, Subaru. I want a divorce. And I am not sure I want to ever see you again.

    ...despite the amazing ways in which that Legacy zipped through snow while everyone else skidded, especially on slopes. Or the ways it steered, always so tight and responsive, with zero body roll. But. In the end, I want a car that works, not one that doesn't (notice the double-negative anyone?)

    And what is up with the new CVT? I love the concept, but boy, step on the gas just a bit and does it get loud inside. It sounds like a mechanic hammering metal on metal - at a rate of 4000 hits per minute. Add to that the annoying high pitch drone that accompanies the hammering - a drone which, now that I think of it, reminds me of my mother's sewing machine, as its pulley drive system plugged away... Just amplify the sewing machine by, oh, a factor of 100 and you have the Legacy. So quiet.
  • mcharliemcharlie Posts: 22
    edited February 2013
    Perhaps you should have gone someplace that sells good steel for the CVT trans.....the CVT in my 2011 outback is quiet and oddly enough, efficient. Thought you had an Outback..the CVT trans was only available in the 1989-1994 Justy's, then Subaru discontinued the CVT box until the introduction of the Lineartronic CVT in the 2010 cars. Now..I *DO* take Subaru to task for their mileage quotes for the 2011 Outback/Legacy line...they say the Outback gets 29 we get is 26 (90% highway driving of 70 miles or more)..even thinking about taking Outback to court because of the advertised mileage figures don't come near to actual. I have enough Outback and Legacy owners (Right here in my small area alone!) to join me in a class action against Subaru, for misleading mileage figures. I have already talked to the DSM and he IS worried, as he knows the courts have already sided with the customer on poor mileage complaints. (Against Honda, wasn't it, last year??)
  • xwesxxwesx Fairbanks, AlaskaPosts: 11,158
    Was there one against Honda? I know that Hyundai was taken to task on their Elantra claims.

    The CVT certainly sounds different than other automatics (DSGs sound different than others, too), I didn't find it noisy or unresponsive in the Legacy I drove.

    I certainly agree with lifeson34 about the handling on the third generation outback and fourth-gen Legacy cars. It was wonderful; night-and-day different from the fourth/fifth generation (2010+).
    2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2008 and 2013 Subaru Forester(s), 1969 Chevrolet C20 Pickup, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250 Pickup
  • I just looked it WAS Honda..the hybrid model. I never drove an earlier Outback, so have nothing to compare. I know our 2011 is very nice...but, oddly enough, it is not as wind stable as our old 2000 Forester.....Not as stable on ice and snow either, but still quite good. We had opportunity to rent a new, 2013 Forester a few months back. WOW..what a piece of crap..sounded like we were in a tin can....not solid at all...close the door and instead of a 'THUNK', it sounded like a stone dropped into a bucket. Sure glad we didn't find a 5 speed Forester and opted for the more cush Outback! Now..if only Subaru would get the electrical issues ([Check Engine Light] park brake, cruise control, etc.) solved, I would feel a little more secure on trips with the car.
  • winter2winter2 Posts: 1,801
    edited February 2013
    I purchased a 2013 Outback 2.5i Premium in October of 2012. I have a bit more than 4K miles on it and it is fine.

    This is my first car with a CVT and this CVT is different from the 2012 and earlier Outback CVT. I have driven both and the newer version is more responsive and has significantly less of a "rubber band" sensation than the older version when accelerating. This version is noisier when accelerating as it whines. On level pavement, the CVT is dead quiet.

    Fuel economy is good for what the car is. The one long trip my wife and I took from MD to NYC got us a bit more than 27 MPG with average cruising speed at about 70 MPH through hilly country (we do not take I-95) and the engine barely had 1500 miles on it. Our 2010 Mercury Milan with 2.5L four and FWD does not do any better on that trip.

    The doors and body structure on the Outback are solid and all of the doors and the tailgate give a solid "thunk" when closed. Even the base Subaru we considered had the same solidness to it. Even at speed there is no "hood shake" that I can see.
  • fibber2fibber2 Mid Hudson Valley, NYPosts: 3,780
    I cannot argue with a number of the man's comments, as unfortunately it doesn't sound like he had the best ownership experience.

    One area where I'll object:

    4. Oh, the... tires. Three times I had to replace four tires because of a single sidewall cut to a single tire. Stretch a $125 tire replacement into a $500 4-tire replacement anyone?

    ...despite the amazing ways in which that Legacy zipped through snow while everyone else skidded, especially on slopes.

    Catch that? The tight control of uniform wheel rotation - both a blessing and a curse....
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