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2005-2009 Outback Ghostwalking/abnormal winter handling fixes

Potential solutions for 2005-2009 USA Outback ghostwalking

This thread is only intended to discuss potential solutions to the “ghostwalking” or abnormal handling symptoms described in the “dangerous on ice” thread. These symptoms are believed to be caused by a chassis and/or drivetrain issue. Topics to avoid in this thread are tire choice, tire tread depth, and driver error. While tires and driver error can certainly exacerbate shortcomings in any chassis, that line of discussion is not the goal here.


Reference links
To report a safety issue to the National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration
https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/ivoq/



Summary of the ghostwalking symptoms:
In winter driving conditions and especially on ice, some USA 2005-2009 Outbacks appear to have a chassis tuning issue where the rear suspension oscillates in such a way to cause rear-steer. This is not fishtailing due to using too much gas, lifting off the gas mid-corner, or hitting the brakes too abruptly. This can occur during straight line driving at moderate speeds. Road feel and handling confidence is totally lost when this occurs. The symptoms are not 100% reproducible and Subaru has not acknowledged that there is any problem. Subaru did revise the rear wheel alignment specifications for these cars in 2007 due to rear tire wear complaints. The change to alignment spec tightens the tolerance for rear toe.

Ghostwalking does not seem to affect European/Austrailian/Japanense spec Outbacks, nor does it affect the Legacy cars. The USA Outback is raised an additional inch compared to Outbacks sold in other regions and does not include a load-dependent self-leveling system. It is plausible that the added height and lack of self-leveling feature compromises the suspension geometry and driving dynamics. More study is required.

Because ghostwalking is not 100% reproducible, it is difficult to pinpoint a fix. Through experimentation, several board members have come up with solutions:




Recommend skipping straight to solution #2
Solution #1: 4-wheel alignment with updated OEM specs per Technical Service Bulletin: “05-36-07 JAN 07 Tires/Alignment - Tire Pressure/Rear Wheel Toe-In Specs”. The updated Subaru specs have a tighter specification for rear toe angle. Your car may already be aligned to this spec.
  • Cost $50-$100


Solution #2: 4-wheel alignment with updated OEM specs and 100-300 pounds of cargo in the rear. By adding cargo weight during the alignment process, you simulate “real-world” conditions and the tires should point straighter when the car is loaded down. This is a technique that racing teams use - they align the car with the driver in the seat because the driver’s weight can influence all aspects of handling and tuning.
  • Cost $50-$100

Solution #3: Replace worn rear dampers. The 2005-2009 chassis dampers (struts/shocks) are notorious for premature wear. The rear end is the worst with a floatly/bouncy feeling after only a few years of use. The fix is to replace the rear shocks with a more robust aftermarket brand like KYB Excel-G/GR-2. Using the 2003-2004 chassis rear KYB shocks is a popular option because they stiffen the rear end considerably and are 100% compatible with the 2005-2009 cars. See the main suspension FAQ thread for more info.
  • Cost $100-125 in parts for rear dampers and 1-2 hours labor
  • Required: Add cost of an alignment $50-$100
  • Optional: Add cost of front dampers $125 and additional 1-2 hours labor
  • www.ajusa.com
  • www.justsuspension.com

Solution #4: Increase rear spring rate with Rallitek Overload springs. By increasing the rear spring stiffness, the rear suspension geometry, specifically the toe-angle, will change less when going over bumps and cornering. This should help reduce any rear-steer effects. By changing the springs, the overall handling balance of the car will change towards oversteer. Since the Outback chassis is tuned with understeer from the factory, this will actually lead to a more neutral-handling car. But in emergency stopping situations, it may be less safe for under-skilled drivers.
  • Cost $150 in parts and 1.5-2 hours labor
  • Required: Add cost of an alignment $50-$100
  • RallITEK.com

Solution #5: Whiteline rear camber adjusting bushings/eccentric bolts. The Outback chassis with the multi-link rear suspension only comes with one rear-toe adjustment on the in-board rear-most lateral link. A problem with this design is that every time you change toe, you also change the camber. So while the toe-angle may be within spec, it is easy to have a camber angle that is mismatched side-to-side or too far away from 0°. Because the multi-link suspension is designed to gain negative camber during compression (outside tire gains camber during cornering), you don't need a lot of static negative camber to get good handling. In fact, a lot of static negative camber can compromise braking and stablity when travelling straight with this type of suspension design. So, the Whiteline KCA399 kit adds an adjuster-bolt and matching polyurethane bushing to the outboard upper-middle lateral link to allow the camber to be tuned in addition to toe. The Whiteline kit replaces an OEM rubber bushing which may deteriorate with age. In extreme cold, it is possible that the OEM bushings contract or change stiffness enough to alter handling. In many industrial applications, polyurethane performs better than rubber in lower temperatures so it is plausible that a poly bushing might hold the alignment better.
 

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Thanks for the excellent write up Phat, I think your solutions are all reasonable and have a history of success by the members of sob.org and legacygt.com.

On a personal note, I'm now looking into making some hardware changes to improve the somewhat dangerous under-dampened rear suspension. It will be interesting to see if the changes have any improvement on the rear end wiggle we all know and love. Sarcasm aside, great job!
 

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Thanks phatvw for the good work.

Maybe someday Subaru will give an explanation as to why they put such a vehicle on the road when: + 400 lbs + ice = !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers.
 

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Solution #1: 4-wheel alignment with updated OEM specs per Technical Service Bulletin: “05-36-07 JAN 07 Tires/Alignment - Tire Pressure/Rear Wheel Toe-In Specs”. The updated Subaru specs have a tighter specification for rear toe angle. Your car may already be aligned to this spec.
  • Cost $50-$100
Solution #2: 4-wheel alignment with updated OEM specs and 100-300 pounds of cargo in the rear. By adding cargo weight during the alignment process, you simulate “real-world” conditions and the tires should point straighter when the car is loaded down. This is a technique that racing teams use - they align the car with the driver in the car because the driver’s weight can influence all aspects of handling and tuning.
  • Cost $50-$100
It seems implicit here already, but just in case it's not 100% clear, anybody having an alignment done should skip #1 and go straight to #2.

My sample of one:
I just had a couple alignments done within a couple months, after having some suspension work done.
Without changing anything else in the rear except adding 200lbs. ballast, my rear toe went from well within spec to way out of spec.
This seems to be the nature of the Outback's suspension geometry: more weight means more (positive) toe.

YMMV,

Bimmer
 

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ok just spent 2-3 hours reading

Just to clear something up

I am looking to help prevent a accident in the 06 by replacing things NOW before there is a major issue.

I am looking to replace the REAR struts with 00-04 ones and REPLACE the rear springs with the rallitak ones.

then get a allightment done with some weight in it.


By doing BOTH the struts and springs will it be to much ?? im not a big fan of having a "soft" ride but dont want it to feel like a tank either
 

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Discussion Starter #9
ok just spent 2-3 hours reading

Just to clear something up

I am looking to help prevent a accident in the 06 by replacing things NOW before there is a major issue.

I am looking to replace the REAR struts with 00-04 ones and REPLACE the rear springs with the rallitak ones.

then get a allightment done with some weight in it.


By doing BOTH the struts and springs will it be to much ?? im not a big fan of having a "soft" ride but dont want it to feel like a tank either

Not too much. The 04 KYB dampers with Rallitek springs + modified alignment would be a GREAT combination. Your car will probably ride more comfortably and be easier to drive overall compared to the worn out OEM dampers.

I ended up doing 05 KYB + Rallitek + modified alignment with 150 pounds of cargo. Rides great! I would have done the 04 KYBs had I known they were better at the time I ordered the parts.
 

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Mr overkill wrote:
By doing BOTH the struts and springs will it be to much ?? im not a big fan of having a "soft" ride but dont want it to feel like a tank either
In addition to phatvw's excellent reply above, please also see DAFTEK's post #1279 in the previous, now closed, thread.

Cheers.
 

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Without changing anything else in the rear except adding 200lbs. ballast, my rear toe went from well within spec to way out of spec.
This seems to be the nature of the Outback's suspension geometry: more weight means more (positive) toe.

YMMV,

Bimmer
Bimmer,

So even with the RalliTek springs 200 lbs of ballast makes a big difference? Would you be willing to measure the difference in wheel center to fender lip w/ and w/o the extra load? I was hoping 200 lbs wouldn't make a signifigant difference with the RalliTek springs...
 

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so the 04 struts will be a direct5 drop in without any real priblems :)
Yes.

To address you concerns for harshness:

From the many, many, many posts about the rear shocks, I think the end consensus was that the 05 shocks are slightly softer than the 04s. You may want to opt for the 05's. I think phatVW tried them both out, or someone... I forget. too many posts.

In my opinion, the springs are well worth it. I went from a Buick type ride to something more similar to a Volvo. Not too cushy, not too soft. My wife's Acura TSX is still harsher than the OB.

I'm not sure what you're financial status is, but you can always try them out, and if you don't like it, revert to the stock springs and sell the Heavy Duties. I'm sure you will find a taker on the forums.
 

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I don't find the 04 GR2s harsh at all. Definitely stiffer than stock, but not harsh. They were borderline harsh for the first 1k miles or so, but once they broke in, they became much better.
 

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me neither, but someone else might...
 

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So even with the RalliTek springs 200 lbs of ballast makes a big difference?
Yes, of course, the RalliTek springs are stiffer, but they still compress!

Somebody in the other thread looked up the OEM spring rates and they were about 300lbs/inch. The RalliTeks might be 400lbs/inch
Since there are two springs in the rear, double that to 600-800lbs/inch.

So, adding 200lbs should compress the rear suspension at least 1/4".

It's not a HUGE difference (the change in ride height is not even noticeable), but it does seem to have been enough to change the rear toe a bit.

Keep in mind that these were done on two different alignment racks a couple months apart:
Unloaded the rear toe was -0.05° left and 0.00° right, and loaded it was +0.11° and +0.17°.

I'm not sure how big a problem 0.16-0.17° change is, but note that Subaru's alignment spec tolerance is only ± 0.065°, and adding only 200lbs ballast changed the alignment more than double that.

Then figure out what a couple grown-ups in the back seat weigh, plus the cargo area full of camping gear, plus a roof rack, and top it off with one of those hitch cargo carriers full of firewood... ooops.


Would you be willing to measure the difference in wheel center to fender lip w/ and w/o the extra load?
Yeah, I could, but it would be a hassle, and it wouldn't prove much...

Bottom line: if you have never loaded your car and been bothered by the "butt sag," then stick with the OEM springs.

If the butt sag bothers you, then go with the RalliTeks...
 

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By doing BOTH the struts and springs will it be to much ?? im not a big fan of having a "soft" ride but dont want it to feel like a tank either
Make no mistake, it's pretty stiff, especially when the car's empty.

It's not unpleasant in regular day-to-day driving, but the rear IS noticeably stiffer than the front.
I really notice this driving over speed bumps when the car is empty — at the same speed over the same bump, the front glides over it, but the rear really hops over it.
When empty, the rear suspension seems to top out more easily, too.

Once there's a little weight in the rear, it's about perfect. And on our road trip a couple weeks ago, the butt didn't seem to sag at all (though we had only suitcases, not our car camping gear).
 

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Aside from the new Jan '07 alignment specs to deal with an extraneous issue, there are several scenarios shaping up amongst users to solve the ghostwalking problem:
1) alignment to '07 specs but with [at least] 200 lbs ballast,
2) replacement of springs,
3) replacement of struts/shocks,
4) replacement of springs and struts/shocks,
5) replacement of springs, struts/shocks, and installation of rear camber kit, and
6) installation of rear camber kit only.

DAFTEK in post #1279 of the previous thread indicated that he had done many suspension mods but it was not until the rear camber kit was installed that he felt the ghostwalking problem was resolved.

Bimmer:
Assuming that you have replaced springs and struts/shocks, did your fix eliminate a ghostwalking problem on ice on your vehicle?

It would be good to have, if possible, the attempted fixes being discussed related back to the main issue.

Cheers.
 

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Bimmer:
Assuming that you have replaced springs and struts/shocks, did your fix eliminate a ghostwalking problem on ice on your vehicle?
No.

Just to be clear, I never experienced ghost-walking. I wasn't worried about ghost walking. I only drove on snow and ice once or twice.

FWIW, I think improving the rear suspension is worth doing without ever driving on ice.

The handling benefits, reduced tire wear, and dry/wet road safety/performance are well worth the time and effort and money I've put into this.

Bimmer
 
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