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'97 Outback, 2.5L Auto; '02 MB E320
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Discussion Starter #1
Here is the story. I live in Austin, TX and there is not much rain here. I've got my 97 Outback in December and it's my first car. I love how it looks, drives, huge cargo space, roof racks and all. I've a mechanic fix valve cover gaskets, replace water pump and TB only to find later it needs HG as well, which I decided to do myself. It never overheated so I thought my chances are good.

About a month ago turning left from a light in the rain (at 15 mph or so) the car acted up, not reacting as expected to steering and I hit the curb bending front-right control arm.

I replaced control arm, bushing, ball joint, went for balance and alignment, and been driving it happily until there is a rain again.

Today going back from Harbor Freight with cargo full of tools for HG job, I noticed some skidding when turning left (that special tires noise). Half a mile later on a slight left curve the car suddenly pulled to the left, I turned the wheel to the right, which kind of worked for .5 sec until it started skidding again now to the right. There was another car front and right and I probably hit the brakes instinctively because then I was spinning, hit the curb on the right with the rear left and then right wheels ending up on a grass with broken rear left alloy rim and rear suspension damaged on both sides.

I limped off the highway to the nearest auto service, the guys there come up with $4k parts + $1.5k labor quote to fix it, which wasn't even funny. I towed it to my garage.

So now I have another expensive project in sight (getting parts online will cost about $800 incl. shipping, wheel being the most expensive part), no car to drive and concerns whether there is some mechanical issue (torque bind maybe?), which makes the car unsafe in the rain even after I fix all that.

I know braking on a wet road is a bad idea but other than that, are there any special tips for handling Subaru on a wet road? I've heard someone saying AWD helps until it skids but then the skidding it's much less predictable than rear- or front- wheel drive.
 

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Onyx, 2008 LL Bean 3.0R and 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
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4,111 Posts
Tires are the obvious first guess. The ones in the pic look OK, but your post tells me otherwise. I'm no tire guru but there are plenty here. Are they down to the wear marks - those little tracks that go from left to right?

The next thought: When it doesn't rain much in your area the road has time to accumulate dirt and oil from all the vehicles that use the road. The most dangerous time to drive in the rain is when it first starts raining because all the road crap becomes a viscous slippery layer before it has time to wash away.

I imagine you've had the steering and suspension checked while you had it in the shop recently. These AWD cars react and track differently in a skid than front or rear wheel drive. It can take time to get used to. Maybe find a large dirt or gravel lot and increase your experience with the AWD system. Have fun.

Or, speaking as a dad, slow down!
 

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Somebody Else's XT
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+1 on roads turning into slick gravy in the rain. Happens a lot in Southern CA, why not Texas too? It can be slipperier than ice if there's a lot of it ponded on the roadway.

Your first crash sounds like classic Subaru off-throttle understeer. You're slowing down (or at least not accelerating) and trying to turn at the same time. You notice the car isn't turning as much as it should, you turn the wheel more and nothing, car keeps moving ahead until you lose more speed or hit something. The answer is to add a little power- the car will pull itself through the turn instead of skidding off the outside. The trick is to already be slow enough that adding power doesn't create a new problem such as not having enough room to stop for traffic. It's not really AWD-related, lots of light FWD cars have the same reaction.

As far as AWD theory- most of what AWD does for you is prevent you from getting stuck. Low speed stuff. It is still active at highway speed, but it can't do much to help you. Once your tires break free and start spinning, it's done playing nice. All it can do is blindly pass torque to the wheels, and it's up to you to figure out whether wheelspin will help your current driving situation. (This is where traction control/VDC would get involved if equipped)

Not sure how to analyze your second wreck... any further detail?

Either way I think you are going faster than your tires can manage. Time to figure out if this is 1) bad tires 2) bad alignment or suspension problem preventing the tires from maintaining full potential 3) too much speed for any tire in that situation.
 

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'97 Outback, 2.5L Auto; '02 MB E320
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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks!

The tires are good and evenly wore about 7/32 of thread on each. I also just checked pressure and it's between 30 and 31 psi.

Here is (Google maps) the exact place where I crashed yesterday -- ended up on the grass to the right and this little curb did all the damage. I was going about 45 mph (same speed as cars ahead) in the middle lane. Could it hydroplane at this speed? I think the car does have TCS.
 

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Somebody Else's XT
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You can hydroplane at 15mph with the right combo of tire size, vehicle weight, puddle depth. "normal" cars don't have issues until you're up over 35, and they aren't usually severe unless you're going faster. Skinny tires with deep treads are most resistant, wide tires with little tread are worst. This is why wide performance tires can be scary- you can go from insane traction to zero traction and back again in a spilled beer's worth of puddle.

Subaru didn't use any kind of TCS prior to the VDC system in 2001 I think... backup anyone?
 

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2012 Outback 2.5 i Premium
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I'm going to blame those tires. What kind are they? They don't appear to have any channels to direct water away from the center of the tire so they're going to behave like water skis when you hit any standing water. Higher speed and applying the brakes mid turn on bargain rubber are a recipe for disaster.
 

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2011 Tacoma TRD Sport Double Cab Long Box
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Subaru didn't use any kind of TCS prior to the VDC system in 2001 I think... backup anyone?
Right. It may have been a bit earlier in other countries, but since we're talking about the U.S. I'm sure you're correct. In addition, the H4 cars didn't get VDC until much later.

I'd go with tires, too. Once you're moving at a decent rate of speed (unless you're doing something like climbing a hill in snow, rain, dirt, etc.), AWD doesn't offer a significant advantage to FWD or RWD. I can't see how it would have had any impact on this situation.

Sometimes wet roads can be really slick (especially on new pavement). I've slid a bit on corners in the rain even with these beefy Geolandars...usually it's been when I'm going a bit too fast.
 

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Somebody Else's XT
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Just to address it- Torque bind can cause your car to lose traction in strange ways in turns, but you tend to notice a problem long before you make it up to 45mph.

The best test is to drive tight figure 8s in a parking lot. Try to do it with your foot completely off the gas pedal. If the car hiccups, stops or binds up, start looking for AWD problems.
 

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2005 OBW 2.5L, 1989 Subaru Justy, RIP Blu
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This sounds like torque bind rearing its ugly head.

How does the car handle on dry pavement driving in a tight circle after it is warmed up.
 

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01 Outback H6 VDC, 97 GT wgn w/ ej22, 98 OBW w/ej22
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first, do not buy new parts for everything. some things maybe but most things, buy used. Car-Part.com--Used Auto Parts Market this will save you at least half.

torque bind sounds like a good place to start. although my first guess was RWD, caused by a busted front axle or something. but i think if that were the case you would have other ''symptoms / conditions'' to comment on. so maybe not this.

do you have a FWD lite on you instrument panel?

is there a fuse in the FWD fuse holder under the hood , passenger side, near the windshield wiper motor?

when you punch it sitting in the grass, maybe wet grass, do the front tires spin and the rear tire do nothing? or vice versa?
 

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'97 Outback, 2.5L Auto; '02 MB E320
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Discussion Starter #11
On dry pavement it wouldn't move when the wheel is full to the left or right unless I give it some gas, I couldn't remember steering wheel jerkiness.

Tires are Firestone Affinity Touring -- I found this in the old receipts.

No FWD light, and no fuse in FWD box. I think RWD works because it never spinned front tires, even when giving it plenty of gas from stop but that's the only evidence I have.
 

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Somebody Else's XT
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On dry pavement it wouldn't move when the wheel is full to the left or right unless I give it some gas, I couldn't remember steering wheel jerkiness.

Tires are Firestone Affinity Touring -- I found this in the old receipts.
Sounds like a little bit of torque bind anyway. When it gets very bad it is hard to turn the wheel, it fights back and tries to center up and it isn't gentle about it. The level you're describing doesn't sound that bad, and I'm doubting that it contributed much to your crashes.

A trans fluid flush may get you square again, and it's the cheapest thing to try. You can DIY, it's not much different than an engine oil change. I strongly recommend using the real-deal Subaru HP fluid vs. any generic. Bottles avail. at the dealer parts counter.

Tires change over time, but if those are anything like the affinities I used to sell then they aren't that hot. Nice quiet tread design but they get pretty mushy in the corners.
 

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On dry pavement it wouldn't move when the wheel is full to the left or right unless I give it some gas, I couldn't remember steering wheel jerkiness.

Tires are Firestone Affinity Touring -- I found this in the old receipts.

No FWD light, and no fuse in FWD box. I think RWD works because it never spinned front tires, even when giving it plenty of gas from stop but that's the only evidence I have.
Are you sure those are the Firestone tires? Any images I find online of that tire has a big Firestone logo on it.
 

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Are you sure those are the Firestone tires? Any images I find online of that tire has a big Firestone logo on it.
Looks like they're a different tread pattern, too. Maybe the design changed at one point? Don't see too many tires with no name on them!
 

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2012 Outback 2.5 i Premium
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Looks like those are Firestones. I find it odd that the branding is on the inside instead of the outside. Did your tire shop install them correctly?
 

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'97 Outback, 2.5L Auto; '02 MB E320
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Discussion Starter #16
My bad. Tires are not Firestone. The receipt I found had Firestone in "declined work" section :)

For some reason all tires are installed with branding inside and it says Kelly Explorer Plus. I bought the car with these tires last December.
 

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2012 Outback 2.5 i Premium
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I knew it was "something" Plus. Are they mounted correctly? There is usually a direction indicator on the tire to ensure they grip correctly.
 

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Somebody Else's XT
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Not that many tires are unidirectional, even though it is gaining popularity. Most will work in either direction, unless marked otherwise.
 

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'97 Outback, 2.5L Auto; '02 MB E320
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Discussion Starter #19
Not that many tires are unidirectional, even though it is gaining popularity. Most will work in either direction, unless marked otherwise.
Right, these have symmetrical pattern and no direction marks.
 

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From the pic above, the tires look a bit low. Have you checked your pressure? Underinflated tires don't handle as well. Overinflated tires can also reduce handling.
 
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