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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
2003 Subaru Outback VDC, 3L H6 about 110,00 miles

Car is currently drivable and oddly not showing any dash warning lights and power steering is now working, though all this below happened hours ago so bringing into garage ASAP.

1. Car stalled for a moment when dropping someone off at the curb around 4PM. Started right back up. Parked the car.

2. After getting back to the parked car about 30 minutes later, I noticed a decent amount of water/fluid under the car, but thought this could have come from the A/C.

3. On the short 5 mile or so drive home on local 25-35 mph roads, not highway, I was making a right turn at low speed and felt the car stall and lost power steering. Car started right back up, but I suddenly noticed that two red warning lights were showing on the dash: BRAKE and BATTERY SYMBOL. I also smelled a slight burning smell. Power steering was still gone. I was a short distance from home and there was no check engine light, so kept driving.

4. I stopped on a side street and noticed that when I pressed the brake, I could hear a clicking sound coming from the base of the gear shift lever. I could still smell the slight burning smell. I was only a few blocks from home so kept driving.

5. Kept driving the last few blocks home, and suddenly the BRAKE and BATTERY SYMBOL went OFF (stopped showing), so now no warning lights were showing, the clicking sound from the base of the gear shifter when depressing the brake was now gone, and I now could hear a little screeching sound and a rattling sound when driving, though nothing was hanging off the bottom of the car. Made it home and called AAA for a tow. Never had multiple warning lights come on before.

6. When tow truck showed, car started up and drove with no issues and no warning lights, and the power steering oddly was working again, though I wouldn't take a chance on driving it in with so many indications of a problem.

Last time I brought the car in was about a month ago, because it wouldn’t start several times when the gas tank was low, and then once when it was even full. Reported the problem on this forum. Good indie mechanic couldn’t replicate the issue and said the fuel pump wasn’t clogged and that there was no evidence of the common failed gasket issue on the fuel pump and suggested waiting until the problem reappeared. Then the problem just disappeared altogether and the car was fine this last month.

Battery was replaced only about 1.5-2 years ago, so I'd be surprised if the battery was at fault.

Any ideas on possible causes? Never had 2 dash warning lights come on at the same time before, and never had this many systems fail only to work again two hours later.
 

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I can't explain the power steering but the rest could be an issue with the alternator. Are the any visible leaks or low fluids or do you think the liquid was indeed condensation from the AC?

ETA: If the car stalls the power steering will go out since it runs off of the serpentine belt. Steering the car with a stalled engine could allow air into the system and possibly blow the cap off of the power steering reservoir spilling some fluid onto the hot engine causing the burning smell. My Ford did that when I lost the belt and drove it two blocks home. Did you pop the hood and take a look at all or just have it towed?

The clicking from the shifter area is most likely the park interlock relay and normal.

-Tim
 

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I would also suspect electrical issue. If the alternator can't put out the proper amount of amperage to the system, the battery will drain down and cause all kinds of issues with warning lights, engine controls, transmission systems, ABS, pretty much everything.

Have the alternator and battery load tested on the car. Also have them check the alternator bearings. If the bearings are bad, they will tend to seize and slow or stop the alternator from turning when they heat up which in turn would slow the PS pump down reducing the steering, and cause an odd smell with the belt slipping. When the bearings cool off, the alternator shaft will turn and operate normally.


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Discussion Starter #4
It was the Crankshaft Pulley (Harmonic Balancer) coming apart

I thought it was the alternator seizing up as well. Got a call from our indie mechanic, turns out it was the Crankshaft Pulley (Harmonic Balancer) coming apart, splitting right down the middle. Think I saw a thread here or on USMB Subaru Forums about crankshaft pulleys delaminating.

This can't occur too commonly as none of the Subaru dealers in the San Francisco Bay Area within 1.5 hours had the part in stock, and I was only able to locate one at a dealer 2 hours drive away - having it shipped in UPS to hopefully arrive by tomorrow noon. The closest one my mechanic found through his big Subaru parts supplier was in Portland, OR. The hit: $229 for the part, $10 shipping and 1 hour of labor at the garage.
 

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The pulleys do separate from the inner rubber ring, if you work on Subaru's awhile you have seen it....but it's most common on 1980's Subaru's and rarely on 1990's stuff, this is the first case of a 2000+ Subaru I've heard of.
 

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The pulleys do separate from the inner rubber ring, if you work on Subaru's awhile you have seen it....but it's most common on 1980's Subaru's and rarely on 1990's stuff, this is the first case of a 2000+ Subaru I've heard of.

I've never really looked at mine - or anything in that area really. Would this be something I could inspect for? Is there a one-piece aftermarket option like offered for the WRX 'tuner' community?
 

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...but it's most common on 1980's Subaru's and rarely on 1990's stuff, this is the first case of a 2000+ Subaru I've heard of.
There's been a few cases reported here and on other Subaru forums involving post-2000 engines. Here's some examples:

http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/110-gen-2-2000-2004/36662-3-0-harmonic-balancer-problem.html

http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/66-problems-maintenance/21292-dropped-my-c-belt-crank-pulley.html

http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/66-problems-maintenance/23706-my-crank-pulley-ate-my-timing-belt-cover.html

Crank Pulley Failure - Beware... - Subaru Forester Owners Forum

I don't think there's any way to reliably check for impending failure other than perhaps probing the rubber -- it should be resistant to entry, say, of a flat screwdriver blade. If the blade goes into the rubber easily that might indicate that the rubber is softening or falling apart.

If it seems okay, to monitor it into the future, one idea is to clean the front face of the pulley and then apply a narrow paint line from the center out to the circumference. When the rubber interface begins to weaken, the position of the outer ring can change relative to the center, and this would be apparent by the shifted position of the line on the inner and outer parts. I'm not certain that this is always going to be a reliable precursor, but it's simple. I did it on mine as soon as I read an early thread on this.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Why doesn't Subaru manufacture a one-piece Crankshaft Pulley?

plain OM, that's a very good idea. Makes me wonder - is it possible to make a one-piece pulley with a mold or eventually with a 3D printer, and if so, why not make it that way?

Also, if this is common, why did so few dealerships within hundreds of miles, plus our garage's Subaru parts supplier, not have it in stock?
 

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I don't think the rubber breakdown is particularly common; while there have been instances, as evidenced by the posts here, the number is relatively low compared to some other issues.

A good question is: Why did the rubber isolation material fail? Was it just a random thing, or were there circumstances, such as coolant or oil soaking the rubber at some time in the past, that might have led to the premature deterioration?

I believe the two piece pulley with the rubber isolation is designed to smooth out the small pulses in engine rotation as it's transferred to the accessory drive belts (serpentine belt in the H6). A one piece pulley wouldn't provide this; nevertheless, I believe there are aftermarket pulleys that are one piece.
 
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