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really awful
Typical Repair Cost:
Average Mileage:
186,000 miles
Total Complaints:
1 complaints

Most Common Solutions:

  1. replace (1 reports)
1997 Subaru Outback electrical problems

electrical problem

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1997 Subaru Outback Owner Comments

problem #1

Jan 222007

Outback AWD 2.5L 4 cyl

  • Automatic transmission
  • 186,000 miles


Hello. I have had a major problem with my 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback, that caused it to actually be unsafe to drive, and caused it to become a lawn ornament for a year. In January of 2007, I had an approximately 12 mile drive I needed to make. After two miles of driving, I noticed my odometer was completely dead. I remembered that my odometer needle had been 'jumping' around, just the day before, as I was driving the car home. The car was running fine, though. It was running great at the moment I saw the odometer was completely dead. I looked around the dash. My check engine light was on. I was pressed for time as I had an appointment, and the car was running good, so I kept going. At approximately 9.5 miles into my trip, I came to a stoplight. The light was red, so I stopped. When the light turned green, I gave the car gas and was shocked that the response was a mere 5 miles per hour or so. I felt like I was driving a turtle! I gave the car gas and it still wouldn't go. Other people were honking at me to get out of the way. After a short distance, my speed increased a little more, but not much. I couldn't figure out why I lost power, or why the car wouldn't go. I checked my emergency brake, and it was definitely off. I suspected my engine was worn out, from high miles. I got a tow truck to take my car to a mechanic shop. The mechanic checked it the next day, and he said he test drove it for a few blocks, and it ran fine. ?! I swore to him, up and down, that I was telling him the truth. He said he couldn't find a problem. I came to pick up the car, and it drove fine all the way home, which was approximately 10 miles from the shop. A couple of minutes after I got home, I started it back up to park it in a different spot. It crawled like a turtle, again! I called my mechanic to let him know. I told him I wasn't going to mess around with it, anymore. I wanted to replace the engine and needed an estimate of the cost. I was floored when I was told a used engine with no warranty would be $2,500, and a new one would be $5,000. That did not include labor! So the Subaru sat where I parked it for a whole year, because I needed to come up with the money for the engine plus labor. I had the mechanic put in an engine in January of 2008. He located one at "Engine World" in California. It was used, with under 40,000 miles on it, and with a warranty. This company imports the engines from Japan. My mechanic says that Japan has a law that requires engines to be replaced with a brand new one, when they get to 40,000 miles of service. The engines are imported, cleaned, inspected, and tested. Days passed after the engine arrived, and no phone call from the mechanic. So I called, and he told me he was trying to figure out an "electrical problem". I said okay. After a few more days, he called to say he had the engine in okay, and he was still having a problem. I asked what it was, and he said that when he'd take the car for a test drive, it drove like a dream for a few miles, then it would lose power in two cylinders. He also said the odometer wasn't working. I was floored. I asked him how far he drove it before the power loss occurred. He said about 10 miles. I reminded him of the incident of the year before, and how the Subaru had done the same thing to me. So all the money I spent on the engine replacement, didn't solve the problem. The check engine light was also on. I paid the mechanic to do a diagnostic. The codes that came up didn't match with the problem, he said. He had another identical Subaru in the shop for a radiator problem. He started a 'swapmania'. Sensor parts were swapped and the mechanic promised me he was marking my parts so they could be accurately put back. Then he swapped the computer. Nada. He still felt it was a computer problem. I paid for a replacement. He test drove the car and it still did the same thing. He took the car to a friend's shop, to test on different diagnostic equipment. No results there, either. My mechanic went over all the wiring diagrams, and spent hours pouring over possible causes, and free of charge. He was determined to find the problem. He found a black box with a phone like keypad on it, under the center console. A wire ran from the box to another black box, under the passenger side dash. He said the box said "PURSUIT" on it. He wanted to know if I bought the car from a cop. No, I said. I didn't know what those boxes did. He said he talked to another mechanic, and the other mechanic said that box was some kind of burglar device, and maybe I activated it somehow, or picked up a crossed signal from some tower, somewhere, and that's when my problems started. He thought it might be a disabler, in case someone tries to steal the car. I told him to pull it out, that I didn't know it was there, and didn't want the system in my car, because I never got a manual on how to program it. I bought the car used, and maybe the previous owner lost it, and failed to mention it to me. I had high hopes this was the answer. No. It wasn't. The mechanic handed me the black boxes and some wiring. The power loss problem still continued. The boxes, it turned out, were my KEYLESS ENTRY controls. My mechanic said he had checked everything else and didn't know what to do for my car. He looked terrible, and the secretary told me he was losing sleep over my car. I drove it to another shop. They charged $108.00 per hour for diagnostic service with a two hour minimum. I authorized them to do two hours. They did two hours of work and called me to tell me my car was 'possessed' and I needed a 'priest', not a mechanic. Bad joke. They proceeded to ask for two hours more of diagnostic time. The technician thought he was close to finding the answer. I said okay. I got another call. The diagnostic didn't show any problems. However, the mechanic drove the car and it did to him exactly what I said it was doing. The gentleman I spoke with said he did some research on the computer, where he found a similar situation that another mechanic found on a Subaru. My heart skipped a beat. I asked if there was a solution. I heard the word YES, and something about having a diagram to show me. I drove down to the shop to talk to the gentleman in person. I paid $450.13 for the diagnostic. I was told that mechanics have a couple of information databases that they use to tell each other about experiences they have with unusual car troubles and ask each other for advice. One is called 'Identifix'. It had no information relating to this problem. The other was 'iATN', and there were two reports of Subaru cars with similar problems. In both cases, the problem was in the transmission. One said the speedometer gear in the trans axle was worn and had to be replaced. It said, "the speedo gear in the differential needs to be replaced. Unlike many domestic vehicles, the transaxel has to be removed and disassembled to do this. The theory is that if the computer cannot lower the idle, it will shut down the number two injector. The theory is that the computer sees a closed throttle, no speed, no engine load on decell and thinks that the vehicle is stopped with a high engine RPM. It then tries to idle the engine down. Failing to get the engine under control, it shuts down the number two injector." This vehicle was fixed when the speedometer gear was replaced. This meant my speedometer driven gear, which is made of a nylon type plastic, was worn down and stripped. The teeth no longer made contact with my speedometer shaft, which in turn turned the inside of the speedometer sensor, which caused my odometer to show my driving speed. It meant I needed to remove my transmission and differential, in order to disassemble it. I took my Subaru back to my regular mechanic. He tried turning the speedometer shaft with his hand, and it turned easily. He hooked up a drill to the speed sensor and turned it on, to check my speedometer, and it worked. He then tore down the transmission and the differential, replaced the driven gear, and the car is finally fixed. I spent hours on the internet, reading blogs and hoping to find at least one answer, but didn't even find anything written about this problem. The 'Identifix' and 'iATN' websites are for professional mechanics, and charge them a fee if they help them find a solution, so they weren't available to me. That's why I'm taking the time to write about this problem, here. Good luck to you, if you're here looking for answers. I hope this info. helps somebody else out there, and saves them time and aggravation.

- , Gill, CO, USA

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