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When my 2005 Subaru Outback decided to be a cliché Subaru and blow its head gasket, I removed the whole damn engine to get it fixed. Then I replaced the air conditioning. Then I wasted even more time messing with the car… I thought I was home free after 100 miles of testing in the mountains and busy traffic. I decided to climb a steep sandy hill off-road and my temp gauge climbed spitefully. At wit’s end, I dove into the ungrateful Outback once more. 

In fairness, it was 100 degrees out and I just fixed the air conditioning that was at the time running full blast. I hastily returned to some pavement and got some speed going to cool the car down, which worked semi-successfully. I refused to shut the AC off in the sweltering heat, so the temp gauge came back down but not completely back to normal. In the stop-and-go of my drive home, the car remained just a hair hotter than normal, which increased my panic as the miles ticked away. The last thing I wanted was another blown head gasket.

While I was out running errands, shortly before the overheating episode, I picked up a new transmission mount and a gallon of coolant to have on hand for the Outback. I was planning to swap the mount that night, but I added an emergency coolant burp to the list to see if I could work any extra air out of the system.

I Lost Money on My Subaru Outback, but Mostly I’m Just Glad It’s Out of My Life
Image: Chris Rosales

The reason I swapped the gearbox mount: my flat-six was doing its best impression of a solid-mounted race engine because of the old mount I tore when I reinstalled the engine. It was a quick 20-minute job, then I moved along to burping the coolant system once more, this time with the car on an incline and on tall ramps to get the no-spill funnel higher than any part of the car. The procedure is essentially accomplished by letting the car idle with its coolant cap open, typically purging air in the form of bubbles that come up and pop. This would surely get any and all air out of the flat-engined ingrate.

I sat there for half an hour making sure to re-do the whole bleed procedure, not noticing any egregiously large bubbles but I frankly couldn’t see very well from the driver’s seat. I buttoned the car up, went to start it and — [click]. Huh? I removed the key and cycled it to accessory mode, the car powered up and did part of its gauge sweep motion, I twisted to start it and the car died once more with the gauges stuck mid-sweep, jiggling hilariously. What the hell

Immediately, I knew it was an electrical issue. I’d recently disconnected the battery and removed the alternator for the AC compressor repair, so I started double checking my work. The terminals were tight and the grounds weren’t corroded. I pushed the alternator connector in a bit farther with my fingers, but that shouldn’t cause the issue I was seeing. I tried the keys again, and the engine kicked over and ran smoothly, with a new error message on the dash.

Error IU, the Subaru flashed urgently in its trip odometer. Good old Google came to the rescue (in my panic I didn’t get a photo, but you can see something similar from another Outback owner here).

Error IU was an error code for the Subaru’s main body control module, a serious computer in the CAN network that works as the CAN hub for the entire car. This was a massive yikes. I read that leaving the battery unplugged to reset can solve the issue, so I did that and had some lunch.

After eating some rice, I hooked the battery back up to the Outback and took it for a spin, with no error codes upon startup. It was going well until I was closing out my test loop and the car started flickering and threatening to die like the battery was coming loose. It did it for a few seconds, then stabilized with a flashing cruise control light, sport light for the gearbox, and check engine light. Yeesh, once again.

I Lost Money on My Subaru Outback, but Mostly I’m Just Glad It’s Out of My Life
Christmas tree dash. Image: Chris Rosales

I got back home and started going over the electrical again. The battery terminals were tight enough, or so I thought. I checked the positive terminal again and it was plenty tight, but I could still jiggle it with a good amount of pressure. Keen to eliminate any issue, I gave it a good few cranks until it was absolutely secure. 

Apparently, this did the trick. The car started to behave itself once again. But while the car was finally clicking, something else clicked in my head: I did not want to deal with this car ever again. And that’s no way to have a relationship with an adventure vehicle. The realization that I’d had with a few other beaters in my car-owning career washed back over me, and I knew it was time to unload the thing.

I listed it for sale with some snazzy pics on a Thursday, test drove it for 40 miles on Friday to verify that my repair worked, and someone came and bought it on the following Saturday. 

With the Outback out of my life, my chest unclenched and my mind cleared. The Outback, or at least mine in particular, was a lot more trouble than it was worth. I worked the energy up to swap the engine, but I did not want to spend a lifetime potentially putting fires out with this dumb old Subaru.

Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge when a car does not make sense, and “adventure vehicle I’m dubious of” does not make sense for me to own. So it’s on to the next.

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