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2002 LL Bean Outback
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Discussion Starter #1
Recently, the flasher relay on my 2002 Outback started clicking fast whenever the ignition is on. When I use the turn signal or 4-way flashers, everything works normally.

I've ruled out a couple things--
Flasher relay -- new relay same problem
Ground ok -- If try different ground points, the problem doesn't change.
12v ok -- If I try different voltage sources, the problem doesn't change.

This leaves me with the third connection to relay being the source of the problem. I don't know what to try next. Any ideas?
 

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Welcome to the SubaruOutback.org foru,

Have you tried locking and unlocking the doors using the remote control?

Sometimes, when the battery is low, or is disconnected and reconnected, the security system will interpret this as if it was an unauthorized intrusion and cause the flasher to operate. Using the remote control clears it.
 

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2002 LL Bean Outback
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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for your reply; I checked the security system. Now I realize I wasn't clear on an important point: The flasher relay clicks lightly (not full contact?) at about double speed (sounds like it's oscillating). It does not flash the lights. When I use the turn signals or flashers, everything works normally, until I turn them off, then a light, fast clicking noise. I would never had noticed the problem, because there is no symptom, other than this annoying clicking from under the dash.
 

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There's a few relays under the dash. I presume you have confirmed that it is definitely the turn signal and hazard module (flasher relay) that is clicking.

Does it keep clicking when the ignition switch is in the OFF position, or only when in the ON position?

The fact that the flasher clicks normally when the turn signal is set to left or right suggests that when the turn signal is in the off position, there could still a connection through it. The connection might be poor, which would act like a high resistance. The flasher could then click rapidly, and although the bulbs might be getting some current, it might not be enough for them to actually light up enough to see easily.

The circuit is fairly simple: 12 V power from the ignition relay is brought to the Hazard switch. In the Off position, the 12 v is routed through the Hazard switch to one pin of the flasher. Another pin of the flasher goes to ground. The third pin goes to the turn signal switch, where it is connected to either the left or right signal light circuits. The other side of each bulb is connected to ground. When either the turn signal or Hazard switch is turned on, the current through the flasher causes it open and close its internal contact in the 12 V line, thereby turning the signal lights on and off. So, for the flasher to continue to click when the ignition switch is at ON (assuming there is no clicking when it is OFF), there must be a connection from the 12 V supply through the flasher and the turn switch. It is possible that there is a wire between the flasher and the turn signal switch that is worn and contacting ground. However, there has been the odd report of problems with the turn signal contacts.
 

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2002 LL Bean Outback
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Discussion Starter #5
I have positively confirmed that the flasher relay is causing the clicking noise.

It doesn't click with the ignition off. I already checked to see if the 12v and Gnd must be attached for the clicking to be maintained, and they must. So, if the ignition off the 12v is gone, so the problem is gone. I haven't tried I straight run from the battery with the ignition off; but, I'm not sure what this would confirm anyway.

It sounds like the next step is to start isolating where the current could be leaking downstream of the relay. I'm not sure how to do that, short of taking out light bulbs. If that doesn't isolate it, there's a lot of wire between the relay and the lights.

I'm still curious if the fast clicking is a clue. I plugged in the check engine light (it's been disconnected since I bought it). I noticed that the light flashes at the same rate as the flasher relay, about twice as fast as the turn signal usually flashes.

There's gotta be a clue in the somewhere, but I don't recognize it.
 

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So there's more than one symptom showing, but they might not be related.

When you say that the Check Engine light was "disconnected", what do you mean? Was the bulb removed from the instrument panel socket? Why was the light disconnected since you bought the car? And how long ago was that?

Usually, a flashing Check Engine light means there is a serious problem in the engine system, and that the car should be immediately shut down. But there's nothing I am aware of that would link the check engine light and the signal light flasher (other than the fact that they both use 12 V), although here I could be wrong.

What happens to the flashing Check Engine light when the signal light switch is turned on (left or right) and the flasher changes from the fast clicking to the normal signal light on-off speed? Does the Check Engine light still flash at a fast rate, or does it also slow down to the signal light rate? Does the Check Engine light go out when the engine is running, or does it still flash?

Was any work done on the car shortly before you noticed the clicking?
 

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2002 LL Bean Outback
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Discussion Starter #7
I traced the problem to the turn signal switch. When the turn signal was off, there was a 60 ohm "grease bridge" from the left turn signal to ground. This was just enough conductivity to make the relay go crazy. I guess that there was enough metal dust in the grease after 120k miles to create the bridge.

I cleaned it and everything's fine.

Anybody need a brand new $83 flasher relay at a discount price!
 

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'00OBW, '96&'94 Legacy - all rusted RIP, current: 2016 Focus MT
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Thanks for an update on the results. Hm that is an interesting problem, never seen that posted before.

I have been noticing on some of my soobs that when I first engage the turn signal or wipers, like while the stalk is activating the switch it buzzes or the relay chatters and then is ok after the stalk is fully pushed. Maybe it is this grease bridge forming? Or just the contacts dirty maybe.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I would guess that your contacts are worn or dirty, thus the initial contact has some electrical resistance. Sort of the opposite of my problem.
 

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porcupine73 said:
. . . . .I have been noticing on some of my soobs that when I first engage the turn signal or wipers, like while the stalk is activating the switch it buzzes or the relay chatters and then is ok after the stalk is fully pushed. Maybe it is this grease bridge forming? Or just the contacts dirty maybe.
Not so much a grease bridge, but the grease might be drying out, acting as a partial insulator on the surface of the contacts until the metal contact points break through. Seen this often in older electronic equipment. (The grease is supposed to prevent corrosion by maintaing a coating on the contacts, but move out of the way as the switch is activated. This action is slower as the grease loses its fluidity. It can get so bad that the grease becomes a hard coating on the surfaces, totally preventing the contacts from closing.)
 

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2001 Outback LTD, 2.5L
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Thanks mstelts & Plain OM. I drive a 2001 Outback LTD which currently has 105K miles. Here was my problem: "Recently, the flasher relay on my 200X Outback started clicking fast whenever the ignition is on. When I use the turn signal or 4-way flashers, everything works normally."

This problem started a few months ago at ~100K. I originally thought it might be the turn signal relay or high summer humidity, but the signals always worked perfectly even with the ticking noise. It was intermittent for about a week... just long enough to annoy me. Then the problem disappeared before I could take the car to have it serviced. Unfortunately, the ticking noise started again just 3 months later. These types of intermittent "gremlins" are ordinarily very tricky to troubleshoot, but your discussion forum posts helped tremendously.

I was worried that the repair would be beyond my skill level, but it was a very easy fix that I would recommend to anyone with an hour to kill and a few basic tools. Here are the details...

1). Disconnect the battery (note: this will clear your radio pre-sets, your clock, and trip odometer). You don't truly need to do this to prevent airbag deployment since 1) Subaru states that an airbag can only be activated with the ignition key turned on, and 2) you will not need to remove the steering wheel to do this job. However, if you accidentally toot the horn... it will startle you and annoy your neighbors. :) I also didn't mind this precaution since I have bad terminal corrosion on my Outback every couple of years, so this was a good chance to neutralize everything with a baking soda solution and clean-up the terminals and connectors with a terminal cleaner tool/wire brush.

2). You'll need a small-tipped Phillips screw driver.

3). Release the steering wheel adjustment lever so that the steering column floats freely. There is one hole in the bottom of the lower plastic column cover. Your first screw is there. Remove it and give the plastic cover a tug. There are some snaps that help hold it in place, but it should pop off easily.

4). There are two screws that hold the top cover in place... one on each side of the steering column. You have to access them from underneath the steering column. The first (closest to the door) is easy to see and remove (look for a long plastic stand-off). To remove the second, you'll probably have to lie on your back in the floor to find it since it is partially hidden by wiring and other bits. After these 2 screws are removed, you can push the cover upwards so that it floats freely, but you won't be able to remove it. There are two long stand-offs where the screws attach, and if you try to force the cover off then you'll likely break one or both. That would be bad... so just leave the top cover where it is.

5). There are two small screws that hold the turn signal unit in place. One above the stalk; one below the stalk. There is a wiring harness with connector that plugs into the bottom of the unit. You can disconnect the wiring now or wait and do it after you've removed the whole unit. After the 2 screws are removed, hold the top plastic cover up while gripping the signal unit securely with your other hand and pull it straight toward you. The whole unit sits on a plastic rail and should slide out easily. If you haven't disconnected the wiring harness, do so now.

6). I noticed that there was a lot of oil on the bottom of my module when it was removed. I live in a relatively warm state, so presumably it was once grease and over the years the lighter components of the lubricant separated. If yours is oily also, then wipe all that excess oil off or you’ll soon have it on your hands and clothing.

7). There’s a transparent plastic cover which protects a small circuit board. The plastic cover easily snaps off. Remove it.

8). You can now see the "circuit board" with various copper bits and a small wiring harness. You must remove the circuit board so that it will swing away from the turn signal unit. There are 2 small screws which must be removed. On the opposite side of the board (opposite of the screws), there are small snaps which hold that edge in place. If your screwdriver is too large, you may have to choose a smaller one (a set of mini/jewelers screwdrivers might be helpful here).

9). There is a small plastic slider (with spring-loaded metal contact plate) that moves with the turn signal stalk. It can fall out when the circuit board is lifted, so carefully swing the board away from the turn signal unit to prevent losing it. The board will still be connected to the main unit by the wiring harness.

10). Looking at the bottom of the circuit board, you should see a lot of grease. My unit had white lithium grease on the mechanism that controlled the high-beam/low-beam parts. The white grease seemed to have stayed clean and in-place. The grease for the plastic slider piece was dark and, presumably, the source of the oil on the outside of the unit. On the circuit board side (with the copper contacts), the grease was really dirty and apparently the source of the problem.

11). Take some q-tips and clean away the dark grease on the copper contacts. Use a little vegetable oil, if needed, to help dissolve the grease. When clean, wipe with a soft cloth or tissue to remove any excess grease/oil.

12). Optional, but probably a good idea: if the 3 copper contact points or the metal band on the plastic "slider" look burnt or corroded, you may want to buff them lightly with fine-grit sandpaper. I'd recommend nothing coarser than 400 grit. The 3 copper contact points are REALLY soft and will wear down quickly.

13). You're now ready to put everything back together again. I considered adding a little more light grease to the underside of the plastic slider bar, but there was still some residual grease in the track beneath it so I chose not to. Plus, it is a plastic-to-plastic contact point that I wouldn't expect to seize or wear that quickly. I think Subaru added way too much grease when they (or their vendor) manufactured the unit, but maybe it was to account for colder climates? Regardless, just make sure that the slider piece is inserted correctly (in the center when the turn signal arm is in the neutral position) and then put everything back together step-wise.

14). Once the turn signal unit is reconnected to its wiring, do a quick test to make sure that your signals and lights (high-beam/low-beams/parking lights) still work ok. Temporarily replace your battery connections since you'll need to have the key on. If everything checks out ok, then remove your battery cables (or at least one of them) and complete the job by reinstalling the two steering column covers. Readjust your steering wheel height so that it suits you. Reconnect your battery, re-set your clock, re-set your favorite radio stations, and you are done.

Hopefully these steps will help others who encounter the same problem. I didn’t take time to photograph the repair while in-progress (wanted to finish the job before sunset), so maybe a future reader can do so and upload the photos here if time permits.

Thanks again!
 

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Thanks for the turn signal tip. I followed your instructions exactly (03 Outback wagon) and found an identical situation. Higher mileage elctrical gremlins are what scare many people away from otherwise good cars. Your instructions were so precise that really no pictures are needed at all. If you can turn a screwdriver, lay under the column and have the patience to gently handle smaller parts you can easily do this yourself. It took me 1/2 hour. Thank you Vinny Bob immensely for the simple and free fix.
 

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Thank you also for the great instructions about how to fix my turn signals. Mine were working fine when I was pushing them all the way, but if I tried to just push them halfway (aka quick lane change on freeway) they wouldn't work. They would make a very fast relay clicking sound, but the bulbs would not be working. I followed your instructions and everything works great now! I have included a picture of the contacts that need to be cleaned. Both the green and red circled areas need to be cleaned out thoroughly of old black grease. As you can see mine had a ton of dirty grease in the red-circled area. All fixed now! Thanks again.

 

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I had a left turn signal issue with my 2000 Outback wagon and followed the procedure described here. It almost worked for me but I had the same intermittent/touchy behavior as before with my left signal. Opening the switch again I decided, since I have electronics experience, to apply some solder to the contacts to see if I could raise the profile and provide a smooth dome shaped surface for the sliding contact to mate with. Works fine now after just applying a little solder to each of the three contacts. Thanks - john
 

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Thanks for the info, Vinny Bob. I'm going to try it this weekend. My turn signal has been clicking at high speeds for no reason for about a week and I'm ready to start pulling out my hair! I will photograph the process hopefully figure out how to post it. :)
 

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Sorry my picture stopped working for some reason guys. Here is another one...

Both the green and red circled areas need to be cleaned out thoroughly of old black grease. As you can see mine had a ton of dirty grease in the red-circled area.

 

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Thank you Vinny Bob and TJDunklee for the writeup and the photo. I took my 2000 Outback turn signal assembly apart, cleaned out all the grease, but STILL had an issue with the right blinker not working when all the way engaged. It would work correctly if I pushed towards the right turn position, but once it was 'clicked' in, I would get either no blinker click, or the double speed clicking.

I took it apart several times, testing various fixes and here's how I fixed it.

There are two plastic bipees (dots, bumps, whatever you want to call them) between the center copper post, and each outside copper post. My copper posts had worn down so far from age (2000 Outback with 265000 miles) that the plastic bipees were higher than the copper contacts. I used an Exacto knife and carefully shaved them down a bit. Reassembled, VOILA! My blinker worked perfectly again.

I also, in an attempt to fix the issue, carefully popped the copper bridge on the removable slide piece out, and stretched the spring so the bridge would press against the copper posts with greater force. I tried this 'fix' first, before I shaved down the plastic bippee guides. I don't know if it helped, but it may have, once the plastic obstruction was gone.

I hope this helps someone else with the same issue as me, and thank you again Vinny Bob for the excellently detailed post.

-Owen
 
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