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2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium
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Discussion Starter #1
2013 here just about to crest 123,000 miles, I hope.
Let me preface this by saying ALL of the bull$&#* I've put up with the past year could have been avoided if Subaru had left the instrument cluster design well enough alone. That f-ing MPG meter needs to go and a tried and true temperature gauge needs to be put back!

So... end of last summer my A/C started acting up. It would randomly shut off, mostly on the highway. The car also decided its diet of regular 87 octane wasn't good enough, and now demanded 91 to curb its sudden preignition issue. I took it in to a Subie dealer, who couldn't figure either out, then I took it to an A/C expert, who also couldn't figure it out. Instrument tests, refrigerant changes, relay changes, spark plugs, fuel system cleaning, everything was checked and rechecked. My checkbook started crying at one point, or my brow started dripping sweat on it when the cold air stopped blowing on my way home and I mistook the drops for tears; I'm not quite sure...

Around fall and after another recharge check, the A/C problem disappeared. Figured that was it. NOPE. Still had to run premium fuel, and this summer the A/C issue returned, getting worse in late summer when the northeast hit a prolonged hot/humid spell. During one particular trip into Philly when the temp was 95 with 100% humidity, the A/C died, and my confusion and anguish all disappeared when I saw that shining beacon of automotive dread flashing at me from the lower left corner of the instrument cluster... the "high temp" indicator. I put the windows down, turned the heat on high and drove like Grandma for the remained of the trip. The light went out and I arrived to my date drenched in sweat. The valet got a kick out of my appearance, that is until he went to park the car. "It's hot in here, bro. Why's the heat cranked?"
"DON'T Touch the controls!" I barked as I walked away, not entirely thrilled with my all wheel drive sauna.

The next day I made a dealer appointment, entirely prepared for the worst. I expected "head gasket" to come out of my mechanics mouth. Get the shotgun Maude, I'm taking the Outback out back to put it out of my misery. Luckily, dealer said everything was in spec. Pressure test and cooling system came back fine. Honestly, I was thoroughly relieved that the engine was fine, but I think some of that relief was also not having to pony up the $35K for the 2017 3.6R model I fell in love with while I was there.
Not wanting to loose 40 pounds of water weight during long drives, I spent the next few days experimenting... Bought a scan tool and drove around, watching the coolant temp jump to just over 220 degrees F after 10 minutes of driving. The fans would cycle on and off, then finally stay on as the temp settled around 225. Only time the high temp light would flash was on the highway when the engine was under load and the temp would go north of 235F. I'd crank the heat and after 15 seconds the light would go out and the temp would dive back down to 220. At this point, two bells went off in my head... First, there was nothing wrong with the A/C, and there hadn't ever been... the **** thing was running hot, and the condenser was overheating and shutting down the compressor. This is what REALLY angers me because if Subaru had simply fitted the vehicle with a temp gauge I would have SEEN this fluctuating last year. Waiting until 230+ for a idiot light is pointless if the AC condenser kicks the compressor off at 220. In my book, if the engine computer is shutting things down due to heat, the car is overheating... right?
The second bell was the one telling me I've discovered the problem... the only reason the engine would overheat at high speeds while under load was inadequate radiator flow.

Now to make a long story short... I drained the radiator which I found was full of calcium deposits because whoever owned the car last most likely put tap water in with whatever green coolant they added to it. I changed the radiator, the thermostat, flushed the system out with Citric acid to thoroughly dissolve anything in the engine and rinsed several times with DI water before filling with $50 worth of Subaru SUPER coolant. I asked what was so super about it when I bought it, expecting an elf to appear and perform a dance while enlightening me on all the magical properties of this wonder solution.
"Non silicate, non borate, non phosphate. Same stuff Honda uses," the fat guy behind the counter murmured.
"At $25 a gallon, really?"
"Plus tax."

The result: Coolant temps at a steady 195F now, the ac is ice cold, and she's back to running regular gas without a ping. Changed the CVT oil too, which was black and smelled like you would expect fluid to smell when it's spent the last 20K cooking in a radiator. Trans was also overfilled by one full quart from the factory, so on top of the overheating, the cars done 123K miles with the CVT overfilled. What a champ! (I'm knocking on wood right now.)
Hey Subaru... TEMP GAUGE, NOW! And who's filling your transmissions?
 

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2018 OB 3.6R Ice Silver
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29 Posts
Hence the nickname, huh? >:)

Seriously, though, you should find a better service department. Secondly, glad you got it resolved. :)
 

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2014 3.6R Limited
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1,036 Posts
Like your tongue and cheek post. Why not put in an aftermarket temp gauge? Sounds like you wasted a lot of money at a few crappy shops!
 

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Lawn ornament XT
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14,366 Posts
Subaru temperature gauges aren't exactly linear instruments. I mean, it's better than the idiot light in the later models, but they're rigged to point at 9 o'clock through a wide band of temperatures.

Just pointing out that you might need to be careful what you wish for, because Subaru already has a suboptimal real temperature gauge, and they might think you mean that.

If you open yourself to aftermarket, you can get great temp gauges that have trustworthy behavior, and a mini-renaissance of good (data-style) gauges is upon us.

Good post.
 

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6,116 Posts
Subaru temperature gauges aren't exactly linear instruments. I mean, it's better than the idiot light in the later models, but they're rigged to point at 9 o'clock through a wide band of temperatures.
That is the case with most modern cars. The temperature gauge is little more than an idiot light.....but they look good.

I would agree that an aftermarket gauge would be a good choice.
 

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'14 Subi OBW, '18 Subi Forester
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1,809 Posts
Rasterman has it right. Most OEM dash temp gauges will show a mid steady position from around 180 - 220 degrees. They just don't want people crowding the service writers desk every time they perceive that temps are running a bit high. So from that respect, the stock gauge isn't much more informative than the light. Plus, they find most people have no idea what a gauge is telling them, and rarely notice the needle position before disaster strikes. By contrast, a big red light catches their attention! But agree, a gauge would have at least given the 'informed' owner some useful data when it did begin to move.
 

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I wish too wish there was some way we could monitor our temps while driving. Do you guys recommend any particular temp gauges/sensors for transmission and engine temps?
 

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2014 3.6R Limited
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1,036 Posts
That's interesting about the temp gauge. I'll never forget going to my 1st HS reunion in a 76 Grand Prix. It was hot...cruising down the interstate with air blasting away. The temp light came on and the engine was toast the minute it did. Kindda spoiled my 1st reunion and have never owned a car with just an idiot light since.
 

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2011 Outback Limited. White, Sunroof, 2.5, CVT. Bought 2/15/11. Love it! Broke 109K, 2/20.
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449 Posts
The reality is that most, if not all, manufacturers have been putting make believe gauges in their vehicles for quite some time. I own a 2002 Miata that has a gauge that shows a linear readout, but it is commonly known in the Miata group that the real gauges went south around 2001, more than a decade prior to your Outback being assembled. I agree that a real gauge would have shown issues as they were developing instead of after the goose is cooked, but the other sad reality is that very few owners/operators actually pay attention and even fewer actually understand what they are seeing, hence the "make believe" instrumentation we have today.

Glad you finally resolved the problem and are now enjoying trouble free motoring (I hope!!)
 

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2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium
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Discussion Starter #10
I wasn't aware of how gauges work nowadays. I have an old chevy dump truck at work that has a labelled 160 - 210 - 260 gauge in it that dances all over when I'm hauling something and its warm out. If the current "dummy" numberless setups are designed to hold steady through a range of temps, I Guess I wouldn't have noticed anything anyway until recently when it got hot enough to trigger the high temp indicator light. Ahh, they just don't make 'em like they used to.

The scan tool was what really helped. Watching the temp real time, and seeing it spike during high speeds was the "ah ha!" moment. I'm not sure a gauge would have been as informative given that it was only just stepping into the high temp zone.

Now that its fixed, I'm comfortable enough that I can go back to simply relying on the light. I just hope that next time the lights activate PRIOR to a confusing, related malfunction. I don't want to be stuck without cruise control and a radio locked on whatever station is playing Kenny G just because one of my tires low, but not low enough to throw the low pressure light.
 

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2011 Outback 3.6R Limited, Red
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578 Posts
Great write up!

I really like my Scangauge II. Bought it for my previous vehicle, but the temp display on it gives me great relief. Saved me too when I noticed it starting to overheat due to low coolant on a long road trip this August. Instead of panicking when then red idiot light kicked on (comes on at 240F FYI), I was able to see exactly when the temp would go up, leading me to a quick diagnosis of low coolant, followed by confirmation of an empty overflow tank.

Now to just figure out where my pin-hole leak is at.
 
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