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really awful
Crashes / Fires:
6 / 0
Injuries / Deaths:
5 / 2
Average Mileage:
47,686 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Subaru Forester seat belts / air bags problems

seat belts / air bags problem

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2003 Subaru Forester Owner Comments

problem #19

Jun 112014

Forester 4-cyl

  • 126,244 miles


I was driving at 55 mph when my right front control arm snapped. I looked to ensure no vehicles were coming, and made the decision to turn left to get back on the road with all four tires as I could only turn left. I could not control the vehicle, and the vehicle turned side ways and then rolled three consecutive times landing on its wheels facing South. I was transported to the hospital. On the way to the hospital in the ambulance the driver had to stop, because I was throwing up convulsively while being strapped to a backboard and I thought I was going to die of not being able to breath due to my airway being filled with vomit. I sustained the following injuries: 2 forms of vertigo which I still have, a shoulder injury which I was in a sling for six weeks, severe muscle injuries in my back and neck, I now have severe muscle spasms and cramps throughout my whole body, loss of memory, and severe contusions throughout my whole body, and also a right leg injury which affects my walking capability, ptsd and severe flashbacks of my accident with me rolling over and over again, because I was conscious through the whole accident. There was an open recall on the lower control arms on my vehicle which was never repaired. The suburu recall campaign # is wvx-34, and the NHTSA campaign number is 11V-464. The necessary repairs were never performed. The airbag NHTSA complaint number I filed for the airbags not deploying is 10598597. There were 22 other reports to the NHTSA regarding the airbags not deploying due to the wiring harness attached to the drivers seat being not long enough, there are several complaints to the NHTSA. The federal trade commission is in the process of investigating my accident also. The federal trade commission reference number is [xxx]. information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6)....updated 08/12/15

- Tionesta, PA, USA

problem #18

Jun 112014


  • 126,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Subaru Forester. The contact stated while driving approximately 55 mph and attempting to avoid hitting an animal he lost control of the vehicle and it rolled over three times and crashed. The air bags failed to deploy. A police report was filed. The vehicle was destroyed. The contact was transported to a hospital. The details of the injuries were unknown. The manufacturer was made aware of the failure. The failure and current mileage were 126.000.

- Tionesta, PA, USA

problem #17

Dec 072013

Forester 4-cyl

  • 45,568 miles
The air bag warning light on my Subaru Forester is on yet again. It has done this several times. In reading online there are wired brought together at a connector that when both ends are pushed together then the airbag warning light will go out. Just using google online to search I have come across dozens of complaints. As this is a vehicle safety component, Subaru should repair this at no cost. Why Subaru could not have implemented a much more secure, reliable connector for such a critical safety subsystem is baffling as a more reliable connector should not cost but a couple of dollars more. Subaru should be repairing this at no charge to vehicle owners.

- Honolulu, HI, USA

problem #16

Mar 162005


  • 25,000 miles


(all) the air bags failed. The passenger side rear, (fell) out of the carrier. The drivers auto lock on the seatbelt failed, the rear storage cover popped (out) of its holders, flew to the front (V'ed), hitting her in the rt temple, as she (bounced) backed and forth hitting the dash and center post drivers doors. Geico (gave) me the car incase Subaru wanted to send an investor. Called them at their Corp. #. threatened to sue me if I went public. Had to hire a lawyer in fairbank. Two rivers woman killed in collision published March 17, 2005 by [xxx], staff writer a vehicle collision claimed a woman's life near 10 mile chena hot springs road about 5 P.M. Wednesday. [xxx], of two rivers died after she lost control of her Subaru on the slippery road, veered into the oncoming lane and was struck by a commercial van. "her vehicle was spinning out of control, " said Alaska state trooper [xxx]. [xxx], who was driving East, started fishtailing and veered into the westbound lane. The van driver, 51-year-old [xxx], was driving West. [xxx] died from head injuries. The crash is still under investigation. [xxx]with his three granddaughters when the accident occurred in front of his house. "I just heard this god-awful commotion, "[xxx] said. "I heard it, but I didn't see it." He ushered the three children, who had been sledding on a snow berm, into the house and ran out to the road. [xxx] pinned in vehicle. No pulse, wasn't breathing. Emergency responders had to pry off the Subaru's passenger side door and cut the seat belt to free. The collision inflated the van's air bags and[xxx] sustained only minor injuries, officials said. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Gold Hill, NC, USA

problem #15

Sep 092011

Forester 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
2013 Subaru. Consumer writes in regards to brake problems. The consumer stated almost from the moment, he purchased the vehicle, he and his wife experienced problems with the brakes. The consumer stated on two occasions, his wife experienced a slow brake response. The consumer stated the first time the incident happened, his wife was driving downhill and when she attempted to apply the brake, the vehicle would not stop, which resulted in an accident. His wife suffered a back injury. The second time the incident happened, his wife was driving again, and the brakes did not respond. Consequently, his wife had another accident. The consumer also stated the air bags did not deploy in either accident. Updated 04/04/14

- Omaha, NE, USA

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problem #14

Apr 042012


  • 95,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Subaru Forester. The contact stated that the air bag warning light illuminated on the instrument panel. The vehicle was taken to the dealer for inspection where they advised that the occupancy sensors needed to be replaced. The vehicle was not repaired. The manufacturer was notified and stated that the vehicle was not included in the recall. The failure mileage was 95,000.

- Spokane, WA, USA

problem #13

May 012012

Forester 4-cyl

  • 90,000 miles


Air bag light remains on. After 3 attempts to repair in the shop, still remains on.

- Louisville, KY, USA

problem #12

Jun 212012

Forester 4-cyl

  • 63,450 miles
2003 Subaru Forester. Passenger side airbag light on. Dealer stated that airbag on passenger side harness wires were corroded and required harness repair. Subaru parent company said there is only a 30000 mile warranty on the airbag wires.... this is a design defect and safety issue. Should be covered U der 100,000 warranty.

- Holly Springs, NC, USA

problem #11

May 292011

Forester 4-cyl

  • miles
I have a 2003 Subaru Forester and have had an ongoing problem with the air bag light coming on. Sometimes it comes on and goes off by itself. Most recently, it went off after I changed the passenger seat position. I have been advised that it is due to the airbag sensors under the front seats being jostled or detached either by changing seat positions or sliding something down alongside the seat (like a magazine or newspaper.) I've had the sensor on the passenger side fixed at considerable cost to me. It's annoying and clearly a design problem that should be remedied by the dealer at no charge.

- Albuquerque, NM, USA

problem #10

Nov 222010


  • 101,570 miles
Frontal impact while striking a deer at this speed should have deployed both air bags. The air bag light sometimes would remain on, but mostly it was off. From what I have found through other complaints is that this year vehicle is known for this issue, but a recall has not been issued. Is it going to take a death to force Subaru to correct this issue" the other issue found while repairing the vehicle is that both head gaskets are seeping coolant, the drivers side is seeping more just like the recall describes on 1999-2002 models. Even though this a 2003 it was purchased in the fall of 2002, Subaru failed to contact me and advise me to add the $1.44 coolant additive to save the head gaskets. How is a consumer supposed to know these little details" now the vehicle has too many miles for them to care, sticking me with the estimated $2000 repair.

- Black Creek, Wi, WI, USA

problem #9

Jul 232009


  • 44,195 miles


My check engine light came on and I brought my car to my local Subaru dealer. The service technician examined the car and determined that the engine light had come on because of a problem with my airbag. However, upon examination, he was unable to find anything wrong with the airbag and the engine light went off. I was then told not to worry about it since it was probably nothing. Luckily, the manager overheard the conversation and remembered a service bulletin (#17-07-04) that had been issued by Subaru regarding this very problem for 2003 Subaru Foresters. He explained to me that oxidation on the contacts in the wiring harness for the airbag sensor was causing the airbag light to come on and that I needed to have the necessary work completed (per the service bulletin) or else the airbags might not activate in an emergency. Since this is a protected part located inside the vehicle I feel that it was not designed appropriately to resist oxidation and that such a factory defect could potentially result in a very serious safety issue to owners of this model Subaru car. (we have a 2001 Forester with 112,000 miles and have never experienced any problem of this nature.) I looked online and found numerous similar complaints all related to the 2003 Forester and only to the 2003 Forester. In fact, there is a complaint on the national highway transportation safety association website dating back to 2005, involving a death when the air bags in a 2003 Forester failed to activate. Based upon all the similar complaints for this very model car that I see online, I am concerned that this could potentially be a serious safety issue. When I called Subaru to explain my concern, they reimbursed me for the cost of the repair, which was $186.47. However, I feel that I need to advise this association of the matter as well since I fear this could be more widespread than is now known.

- Wilton, CT, USA

problem #8

Sep 062008


  • miles
Airbag warning light illuminates when drivers seat is moved. It appears that the electrical connector beneath the drivers seat is defective. I have found many complaints on the internet of this problem for the 2003 Subaru Forester. It is an obvious manufacturing defect. Why no recall? this is a serious problem with the cars SRS.

- Charlottesville, VA, USA

problem #7

Nov 012007

Forester 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 63,589 miles
Air bag light would come on and stay on for a few days and then go off. This condition would occur at random, with no warning. Finally the light stayed on long enough for me to get it to the dealer. Subaru dealer indicated that the wiring harness under the driver's seat for the airbag sensor had oxidized contacts leading to a failure of the airbag system. Dealer could not explain why contacts "inside" car in a protected area could "oxidize", but indicated that they had learned from service bulletins that this was a known problem with cars in the northeast. Wiring harness part cost $17.13 but the labor to replace was $207.13 failure of such a critical part due to simple oxidation, especially where the part is protected inside the vehicle suggests that the part was not designed appropriately to resist oxidation/corrosion. This is a safety issue that could result in a failure of the airbag system with possible injury.

- Acton, MA, USA

problem #6

Jul 172007


  • Automatic transmission
  • miles
After pickingthe car up from an oil change I noticed the air bag light was on. I drove the car back to dealership, and technician told me that from adjusting the seat the wires had become bent/loose, and they would have to take out seat and resolder the wires so the airbags could fire properly. Are you supposed to be able to adjust your seats?

- Sellersville, PA, USA

problem #5

Sep 142006


  • Automatic transmission
  • 57,000 miles
: the contact stated the air bag light illuminated. The dealership determined the harness assembly underneath the floor board was not long enough to maintain a connection and recommended a kit be installed. After the kit was installed, the air bag light went off.

- Chesterfield, MO, USA

problem #4

Jul 152005

Forester 4WD 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 13,611 miles
2003 Forester for past 2 years the air bag light stays on after starting about once a month. Subaru technician found that the air bag connector under drivers seat was loose and he plugged it back in. That fixed it for about a month. Since then when light comes on I have to reach under seat from rear foot area and wiggle both plugs, air bag light goes out and works for about a month then I have to repeat the procedure. I do not like the idea of my airbag being disabled by a loose plug. What if I was in an accident after the plug loosened but before I restarted motor (apparently computer only checks air bag circuit each time car is started and light does not come on when connector becomes loose).

- Saranac, NY, USA

problem #3

Mar 162005


  • Automatic transmission
  • 27,000 miles
March 16th 2006. 5:00 pm. It had snowed earlier that day. Witness claims the 2003 Subaru Forester slid in a curve into an on coming lane. Unit spun around and was hit in the left rear corner(tail light section) shoving the rear body panel and quarter panel inside the unit behind the rear passenger seat. Left rear tire was torn from the unit. The rear shade cover (cargo area) flew out of it's holders now bent is a (V-shape) and hit my wife in her right temple, adding to the head trauma she received when the seat belts failed and the air bags failed. Her forehead hit the steering wheel, the left back part of the head was crushed hitting the hinge pillar and right temple was bruised from the rear cargo cover. In seconds, left her bleeding to death in this unit. I called Subaru Corp. In March to inform them of the accident (just) in case they wanted to investigate. (not interested) (very rude) I still have the unit here if you would like to check it out. It's (suppose) to be the safest unit on the road?

- Fairbanks, AK, USA

problem #2

Sep 232003

Forester 4-cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 27,800 miles
This vehicle posed a serious safety problem because the vehicle only had one key hole, but had five doors, the consumer was able to access the vehicle through the drivers side door/key hole. Once the consumer was in the vehicle a lock pad on the door allowed for entry through the other doors, or a key remote. The consumer's lock pad also didn't work temporarily so the consumer couldn't open the hatch. The manufacturer and the dealer had not been notified of the problems. The remote entry device did not work temporarily so the consumer had to gain access with the key to the only hole on the driver's door, but then the power locks failed so the consumer had no way to open the hatchback. There was no release for the vehicle. The air bag light was on and needed a new harness to re-fix the problem and the odometer along with the speedometer failed immediately after the consumer had taken ownership. The consumer also stated there was a problem with the power windows

- Waterbury, CT, USA

problem #1

Sep 302003

(reported on)


  • miles
Consumer noticed while traveling air bag indicator light stayed on. Dealer had been contacted, technician could not duplicate problem.

- Los Angeles, CA, USA

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