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Old 04-27-2009, 09:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Angry Starting problem - Ignition switch?

I have had intermittent starting problems in my 2000 OB for over a year and a half now. When I say intermittment, I mean it has not stranded me or my wife anywhere, and hasn't been consistent enough to diagnose. Basically, there are periods (usually extremities of temperature) when the car simply won't turn over when you turn the key, though all other electrical functions work fine. If you keep switching the ignition, it will typically kick over. Since my wife drives this car most of the time, I don't experience this when this occurs. Like most wives, mine doesn't mention a mechanical problem until it has become serious.
However, I recall the last time I had a similar problem with another car, it was on an old BMW I had. A mechanic quickly traced the problem to a worn-out ignition switch. Today, I noticed something about the OB I should noticed before: the cylinder the key slips into is not that snug. With the key in the switch, it might have 1/32" of play to move around. The wife mentioned that she got it to start by rapping the steering column! Is there any way for me to determine if the ignition switch is the problem short of trying to hotwire it?
Any suggestions welcome. I haven't the vaguest idea of how to get the a new switch rekeyed, but I assume the dealer will do this. I expect someone here has gone through this before.
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Old 04-28-2009, 12:08 AM   #2 (permalink)
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hi,

could be a "bad" switch or a bad connection, if rapping on the column helps i'd say it's a bad connection in either one of the plugs or the switch itself.

here's a link to a thread that will get you to a manual to download. look in the mechanism and function section for a description of the ignition and a picture of the switch and interlock mechanism. in one of the interior body sections it shows how to take the column apart [be careful not to set off the airbag].

one you get it apart you can test the switch with a multimeter set on ohms to check the continuity of the circuit with the key in the different positions. might be cleaning the switches and unplugging and replugging the connectors might fix your issues.

Free factory service manual download links.
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Old 04-28-2009, 08:30 AM   #3 (permalink)
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when i was in the shop(bmw, coincidentally), we changed out quite a few key+tumblers because owners typically like to have like 2 pounds of "stuff" on the key ring. over time, it wears out the tumblers. i know you can get a key and tumbler set just for your car(bmw, that is), but it has to be ordered by vin, and it will take a while. another option, like you noted, was to get a generic key+tumbler set, and have a locksmith rekey it to your old keys. or, if you have the remote locking system, just leave it with the new key
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Old 04-28-2009, 09:20 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Sounds like it might be the "key warning switch". This is a separate switch on the ignition switch assembly that detects when the key is in place. I seem to recall it is located at the back of the assembly and activated by the tip of the key. The switch is linked with the security system. If this switch is not activated, the key can turn because all of the lock's pins are in line, but the engine starter won't run because the security system does not have a "key in" signal from the switch.

This same switch activates the warning chime if the driver door is opened when the key is left in the ignition in the OFF or ACC position. If the chime works as it should when the key is left in the ignition switch after a successful drive, then the next time the car won't start and before pounding on the steering column, turn the key to OFF and open the driver door. If the chime does not activate, then the switch is not working properly.

I seem to recall postings either here or on the subaruforester.org forum about this problem and finding contacts being dirty, but I tried to find them just now without luck so far (probably not using the right key words). If I recall correctly, the switch might be accessed in some models without removing the whole ignition switch assembly -- just the steering column covers.
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Old 04-28-2009, 04:19 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Oh god! The problem has come to a head.

While at lunch I went to start the car, and it kicked over after I turned the key about four times. A whining noise came out from under the hood. I opend the hood and it seemed to be coming from the starter, which suggested to me that the starter/selenoid was stuck. I turned off the ignition, and guess what? The starter continued to turn over quite strongly! I turned the ignition on again and the car started, then I turned it off, and the starter continued to turn over! I had to unbolt the battery cable to get the thing to stop turning over. Now its sitting in the parking lot at work! Not a nice place to be. By the way, I pulled off the wire that connects to the spade plug on the selenoid. It didn't stop the starter from turning.

Any ideas? I'm thinking a stuck selenoid.
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Old 04-28-2009, 06:27 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally posted by eszpresszo


Any ideas? I'm thinking a stuck selenoid.
Yup. The same happened to my brother's Volvo, but his wife didn't know what to do and drove home with the starter motor spinning. A fair bit of smoke, but no lasting damage. A new or rebuilt starter (or maybe just the solenoid) and you'll be good to go.
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Old 04-28-2009, 08:31 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Yes, the ongoing intermittent inability to start, and now the staying on sounds very much like a sticking solenoid. Sticky enough not to move to the "on" position when you wanted it to, and then to stick in the "on" position when you don't need it any more.

The fact that rapping on the steering column seemed to work was probably a coincidence and not a sign of problems in the ignition switch area.
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Old 06-04-2009, 04:26 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I had a similar problem with my 1999 Outback, sometimes the car simply wouldn't turn over, you could hear the solenoid clicking, but the starter would do nothing. 4 starters or so later (on warranty) I went to a knowledgeable Subaru repair shop in Portland that diagnosed the problem as a "Prolock" or some bs. Basically, dealerships were installing this on Subaru's of this era with the intent of upselling to a better security system, which would hook into the prolock. You could see the wiring harness for the prolock below the steering column. If you didn't buy the upgrade, they simply put in a bypass card and the whole thing was a piece of junk. Once removed for very little money, I haven't had any problems. Check it out, just below the steering column under the dash on the right.
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Old 12-11-2013, 02:55 PM   #9 (permalink)
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"Like most wives…"
You're a dick.
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Old 03-12-2014, 07:46 AM   #10 (permalink)
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I am trying to replace my ignition switch on my 2001 Subaru outback wagon. Does anyone know how to? I was at the gas station and my steering wheel locked with my wheels turning to the left and when I put the key in it won't turn. A mechanic told me it was the ignition cylinder. Help please?
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