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New to me 03 obw with a “few” issues lol

2624 Views 71 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  ChattownOBW
Hello everyone. Picked up a 2003 outback wagon today. I test drove it last week in a rural middle Tennessee town and it seemed to do great. However, it was 30° out, spitting sleet and I drove about 10 minutes at 45 mph.

Bringing her home today 120 miles was a different story. It was empty so stoped at the first reputable station I could find only to see that the gas cap was MIA. No big deal. Put some fuel in but not too much cause I didn’t know if it would slosh out. So got 20 bucks. A little over half tank.

I opened the door after pumping gas and set the alarm off. Which was strange causeI didn’t even lock the doors with the door or fob.

Continue on to a state highway where the speed limit is 65 and as soon as the road opens up the check engine light comes on. I figure maybe from the missing cap so keep trucking.

Hit 60 mph and thought the steering wheel was going to make an exit out of the car. It would shake from about 55-70 (the fastest I got) so badly that it made me super uncomfortable And I have had a lot of janky cars in the past.

Drove about an hour and stopped to grab a bite to eat. Noticed a smell of antifreeze. And saw an active drip standing in front of the car. Popped the hood and the overflow tank seemed to be the origin. The PO supposedly had all new cooling system parts installed including radiator and all hoses. Overflow tank was pretty full so I figured maybe they just overfilled when they put all the parts on.

Got her home and up on jack stands to crawl under and every bit of rubber in the rear suspension is gone. Both rear shocks are blown and leaking. Driver side boot is torn on the rack and pinion. It the front suspension doesn’t look too bad. And the axles look fairly new.

My ultimate plan for this is to do all new suspension with around 2” of lift total. Haven’t decided on the Rallitek kit or cobbling something together yet but will be doing something. And a little larger, more aggressive tires. That should be about it. This thing will be our little dog hauling, canoe carrying adventure wagon.

Any tips on what to do or how to fix common issues are welcome lol. This is my 4th Subaru with the others being 04 wrx, 01 forester and 05 forester and I am excited to be back in a Subaru!
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Hey thank you for the reply!
Good call on the belt being broken in one or some haha tires. It’s about to get new ones so fingers crossed that will solve that.
Everything was tight and nothing looked particularly bad when I was under it. Wheel bearings all seemed tight. No brake issues. Axles looked new but had surface rust. Looked like newer sway bar end links on the rear.
The oil level seemed high to me but was very clean and didn’t smell. Almost like it was just done. Also looked like a new filter. And the coolant was also very clean. Which, I guess would be expected with all the cooling bits recently replaced. I’m really hoping that they just overfilled it when replacing parts. The high oil level is concerning though.
I’ve had only one head gasket issue in my previous Subarus and that was on the 05 forester. My wife drove it while it was actively showing her on the temp gauge she shouldn’t be for quite some time haha. Hopefully I won’t be going down that road again.
The heads did have a small amount of oil on the bottom of both but looked more like it was from the valve cover even though I could see what looked like new valve cover gaskets. They were bright blue.
As for the suspension lift portion I didn’t even think about the shock/strut drop out not being suffice for lift springs. I was looking at kings for a while then settled on a Rallitek set up with the 1” springs, 1” spacers and rear link set. Then was going to run kyb’s but maybe I should keep looking.
As for the worn out bits I have no idea. I’ve briefly looked for bushings but haven’t had much luck as of yet.
Thank you for the suggestion on tires. I had some Falken wildpeak’s on my wife’s all4 mini last year and they were great but can’t find them in the correct size for the outback. At least not the more aggressive type.
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Those tires are similar to what I had before. They are a little more street oriented. Hers were at/3w’s before. But those will prob do just fine.
I also don’t have any experience with lifting a Subaru. Have done plenty of trucks and jeeps but never anything like these. Same as you, I’ve just searched around for info so far. In my mind I feel like a subframe spacer set would lower everything suspension wise so while giving some more body ground clearance the suspension would still be the same distance to the ground. But I could be all wrong lol.
I rebuilt the rear subframe of an old Mercedes 300D a few years ago and broke a mounting bolt and it was one of the worst mechanical experiences I’ve ever had to deal with. I hope to never have to do anything like that again.
Heck yea! I had 2 of them. And one sd but I used it mainly for parts and put that engine in my 85 Toyota pick up haha. They were great cars for sure. This is my 85 the one I broke the bolt off in the subframe mount
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Ha yea with maintenance those things will last forever. That one had about 240k there. I had a gold 85 that had 340 and my SD was an 83 and I have no clue how many miles it had on it. I never drove it honestly. Just bought it for the engine to put in this truck.
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Well I crawled under the Outback again today to better inspect things. Also had my buddy come over and check the car out and we went for a drive in it.

With him driving and me as a passenger I noticed that when accelerating the vibration from the steering wheel was almost non existent. But when he eased off giving her the beans it started shaking the steering wheel. When we got back home and I put the car on jack stands I noticed the front driver tire had a small bubble on the sidewall. Not sure if that’s an indication of a broken belt or what but doesn’t look great. It needs tires and I planned to get larger ones anyway so no problem. Just not sure if that’s the cause of the vibration at speed. Maybe a bad front axle??

Like I said before the rear suspension needs everything replaced rubber wise. I’m just wondering if I should get replacement parts with bushing already installed or if I should spend a year replacing all those bits. Talk about a lot of links and bushings lol.

The front looks like it’s in better shape as far as bushings but both ball joints need replaced. They are still tight but the boots are torn on one and pretty much missing on the other and they are pretty dry looking.

There was an intermittent miss while my friend was driving today merging in to traffic. He revved her out to redline, which I have not done, and it missed several times in the process of getting there. I’ve only ran it up to right below 4k rpm. But over all it seemed to rev out and run pretty good.

I think I’ve decided to just get Monroe quick struts. From what I’ve read on here everyone hates them but I’ve not read anywhere where someone has actually had an issue with them. Then I’m going to do 1” or so spacers. Not going 2” just because I don’t want the extra problems from going that high. It’s not like I’m going to be rock crawling with this thing so I think anything sun 2” will be fine with some 215/70r16’s.

I took a few pictures of various bits underneath the car so here they are for your viewing pleasure haha. I haven’t cleaned anything yet but I did after taking these pictures spray everything down with kroil oil in preparation of removing stuff.
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Brakes and regular maintenance, that's it. Aside from the turbo going out (great grandmother had run it low on oil prior) the only things I needed to do were adjust the fuel rack and steering lash. Old as it was, unbelievably reliable.
And valve adjustment. That was about it for mine too. I did rebuild the injectors on my gold one as the person before me had ran veggie oil and I just wanted to rebuild them for piece of mind and the experience. It was a fun little project.
Well I switched gears yet again and ordered all KYB shocks, struts and accompanying parts along with 2006 Baja springs. Also ordered the whiteline kta124 kit as it comes with most the bushings I need to replace as well as offering adjustment for whatever issues the height increase may bring.

I’m going to swing by the tire shop tomorrow and put in an order of Toyo open country tires in the 215/70r16 variety so that maybe in a few weeks I can have this thing done as far as suspension and tires goes.

I guess it would be wise, while doing all this, to change or at least check the diff fluids. I will try and get that done this weekend at some point

I read the codes today and as I figured it had a P0457 for the cap missing as well as a P0420. That one I’m not sure about. Reader said catalyst system efficiency below threshold bank 1. Im assuming the cat is shot? I only see one O2 sensor but with this many miles and how the exhaust smells I’m gonna say the cat has given up all 9 lives. I did buy a replacement fuel cap but won’t get to see if that clears the code for a while as it will probably be on jack stands till I get everything installed.
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Will keep ya posted for sure! Also had to pump the brakes on those tires. They added 200 bucks for mounting and balancing so looking around for a bit cheaper option. Either way I’ll post updates as they come.
I feel ya man. Mine definitely needs some love. I think you have a good plan no matter how you go about it. Depending on the wait time I would maybe just do the rear and keep going like you have been with checking fluids. Then do the front when the parts come and so on. It’s hard for me to slow down sometimes. Most of the time I want to fix everything but also want to drive the thing and it’s a constant struggle haha. But for now this is one of three projects I have going so trying to just slow down a little.

What did you go with for your suspension stuff? I’ve been having a bit of difficulty finding bushings but I think I have them all coming now. Some places will call parts something different from another place so kinda hard to figure out what I need to order. I believe, and hope, that I ordered front and rear trailing arm bushings and the upper link bushings today. So that along with the new links should be all the suspension bushings in the rear. We shall see when everything arrives haha.

I also went with some knock off brand all terrain tires from eBay that were like 428 bucks to my door. I should be able to get them mounted for under 100 bucks so that’s saved me about $350. We aren’t going to daily this car so as little as we will be driving I think it will be fine.
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Sounds like a good plan! I prob should have done RalliTek or King springs too but what’s done is done haha. Tires, kta124 kit and some trailing arm bushings arrived today. Hopefully will start taking apart next week time permitting.
Well I started taking things apart today. I got about 3 good hours of work in.
Pulled all the wheels/tires off and sprayed more kroil oil lol. Started at the rear and successfully removed the sway bar and links, the two small lower links, the passenger side larger link and the passenger side shock/spring assembly.
The driver side lower mounting bolt on the shock is going to get cut off I have a feeling. I used my big impact to no avail on that bolt as well as the outter bolt on the larger link. I have not yet ran into a bolt that thing wouldn’t take off or break the head off of. But alas, the bolts are still in the car haha. Those fasteners have had penetrating oil on them for a week now. Pretty stubborn.
I’m going to try and pull the upper links out tomorrow and replace the bushings in them. Also I realized I ordered the wrong bushings for the trailing arm where the larger link mounts at the rear. So will try and get the right bushings for that. But I feel like that bushing and the one in the front of the trailing arm is going to be a huge pain in the butt. May be better off getting trailing arms if I can find them.
I cleaned the wheels up and dropped them and the new tires off at the shop to be mounted and balanced. Hopefully will get those back tomorrow even though I won’t put them on for a while.
I’m still waiting on the Baja springs to be shipped. I’m a little nervous about building my struts and shock assemblies up. I’ve done it before a long time ago but hopefully it goes just fine.
I didn’t take any pics today as I was focusing on what I was doing and trying to get nuts and bolts apart and getting a little frustrated haha.
I’ll post more tomorrow hopefully if I have time to work on it.
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Yea I think I can cut the two that are being problematic fairly easily. I was half way planning to replace the fasteners anyway so not that big of a deal.
Glad yours passed the test haha. Mine actually felt pretty solid too but visibly I could tell a lot of the bushings were shot.
Being a mechanic for my trade for the last 20 years I was against impacts for ever. I always thought hand tools were enough and impacts were a waste and only stripped bolts and created more problems. I bought the small brushless 24v dewalt impact about 2 years ago for a project and since have added a bunch of other tools and batteries and I must say if used correctly they really are super handy. I broke out the big 1/2” impact for this and I have seen that thing loosen up bolts that I figured would be impossible but these two in the back of the Outback have kicked it’s butt. I was able to get a 1/2” ratchet and about 30” of pipe on both the bolts but still no dice. I’ll let them soak until tomorrow and give it another go. Hopefully yours will come apart easier when you are ready to tackle it.
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haha, so far so good actually. Got the caliper and such off (needs replacements, just ordered those) and the big ol' bolt for the one strut came out without much trouble. Will have to see how the other side goes.
Well heck yeah! Congrats!
Well today has been a little rough. I ended up cutting the bolt for the shock to get that mug off. The one for the long curved control arm or link or whatever the term is still refuses to budge. I have resorted to calling in my buddy for back up so he hit it with a mini sledge while I gave her the beans on the bolt head with the big impact. Still no dice. The bushing on the passenger side there actually isn’t bad so I’m hoping to maybe be able to pull this bolt out without ruining this side and maybe not have to replace them. I was just trying to not pull the trailing arm out but I might as well do it anyway cause I have the front bushings and not sure how I would r&r those with the trailing arm on the car.

So I decided to switch gears and pull the upper links out because I have new whiteline bushings to put in them. Well, I’m going to have to get new arms all together because the inside bushings are so badly gone that the metal part of the bushing ate the hole out in the link arm.

I’m gonna call it quits for the day before I become more frustrated haha.
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Congrats on your success haha! I haven’t fooled with the brakes yet but I guess if I pull the trailing arms off I will soon enough.
Went and got the wheels and tires from the shop too. They somehow managed to mount one tire with what I assume was the plastic back the packing slip was in seated between the wheel and tire on the bead. I guess I’m about to take that one back. Didn’t notice until I got home of course.
Honestly I haven’t even looked at them. Driving they seemed fine. I have to work all weekend so the car will have to wait till Monday but I will inspect them then.
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Haha I feel ya on the for all I know. But hopefully neither of us will need that just yet. Glad to hear it all went well for ya.
Little update. I ordered those dang Baja springs on the 9th. Have tried calling and emailing the place to cancel it as I found them at a closer to me Subaru dealer and figured the original place was never going to send me anything. So went ahead and ordered another set with the local place. Then they didn’t have them in stock either so got to thinking maybe they were obsolete. So started looking at spacers to use with my stock springs. Decided to order a set of those then try again to cancel the original spring order and the second one as well. Only for the place to answer and tell me they shipped today. The second place was closed already so I may have a stock pile of Baja springs soon haha.
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Of all the things to stock up on. Couldn't have been tires or rood racks or such. They'll still sell I'm sure though.
Haha well I may just send them back depending on how much I will pay for return shipping and restocking. At least one set will go back or get sold at some point.
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