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2008 H4SO 4AT VDC 235000km, Eastern Ontario, Canada
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hi folks, new member and new owner of a 12-year-old third generation wagon with about 230,000km. Love the car overall, but I am troubled by the steering weight after driving it for a few days.

At slow speeds, when I am parking or maneuvering out of a tight spot, the steering feels very heavy. A lot of effort is required to turn the wheel. It feels as though there is no power assist at all.

Driving around the city the steering is lighter and comfortable, but it still feels a little heavy to me. It feels like a European car from the 80's which was surprising to me because I was expecting a lighter feel like a modern Toyota.

Cruising on the highway the steering weight is VERY light. It almost feels like there is unnecessary power assist. Feels like I'm piloting a Cadillac hearse with an EJ25 swap, kind of strange.

Mine is the only Outback I have ever driven so I'm not sure if the extra light steering on the highway is normal or not. I feel like the really heavy steering at slow crawl can't be normal, but maybe it is? Curious to know if other Outback owners think this sounds weird or not.

The steering rack is not making any noises, it has no clunkiness, and I don’t hear the power steering pump wining so it doesn't feel like something is wearing out. I checked power steering fluid today after driving the car and it was a tiny bit below the hot minimun so I'll top it up shortly and see if that makes any difference. I don’t have much service history for this car, so I have to assume the power steering fluid hasn't be changed recently. However, the fluid in the reservoir looks clean, pink in color, no particles in it.

To me, it feels like the power steering is miscalibrated somehow, giving too much assist at speed and too little when crawling slowly.

Anyone else had trouble like this? Any diagnosis tips?
 

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I had a third generation Legacy Wagon - the same as the Outback except with less ground clearance. My steering never behaved the way you're describing, so while I can't help with diagnosis, I can confirm that it's not normal.
 

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2008 H4SO 4AT VDC 235000km, Eastern Ontario, Canada
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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you for the feedback SilverOnyx. Good to know that it sounds odd to someone with more experience behind the wheel of these cars.

I'm picking up some HP sauce from the dealer today to top up my power steering reservoir. Will see if that makes any difference.
 

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2008 H4SO 4AT VDC 235000km, Eastern Ontario, Canada
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Discussion Starter #5
Yes, flush sounds like a good idea. I have been thinking about that too.

I think I'm going to top it up first, drive it a bit, and see if anything changes. I'd like approach this problem one baby step at time because I don’t know much about steering systems and I'm curious to see the effect of tiny changes on the feel of the car.

After that, the next step will be a full (easy) flush. Thanks for the link to the video.

Happy trails. 🐦
 

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any work done to the car before this began? Any groaning or other noises up front when turning at low speeds?
 

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2008 H4SO 4AT VDC 235000km, Eastern Ontario, Canada
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Discussion Starter #7
There is no groaning or other noises Lucky. I checked out the accessory belt for the power steering pump and it looks to be in good condition, tension seems good and the pulley on the pump was solid.

No work done recently on the steering as far as I know. Just got the car last week. I think it probably wasn't driven much in the last six months judging by the odometer readings on the CarFax report I received.

Dealer who I purchased from had an alignment done and I have that report which looks good. Nothing seems out-of-the-orginary there. And the tires are good too and they are properly inflated.

Unfortunately the dealer closed early today so couldn't get any fluid... Will try again tomorrow.
 

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At slow speeds, when I am parking or maneuvering out of a tight spot, the steering feels very heavy.
If at those times, the engine is just idling, when the steering wheel is turned, the engine rpm should increase for a moment, to support the extra load the power steering pump is putting on the engine. To do this, there's switch inside the pump. When the steering wheel is turned and the pump pressure goes up, the switch closes and that signals the ECM to blip the engine rpm. This can be tested simply by moving the steering wheel with the car parked or moving with the engine at idle. If the rpm doesn't respond, check the back of the pump. There's a connecting post to which a wire should be connected. It's not uncommon for the wire to have been inadvertently pulled off.

I'm picking up some HP sauce from the dealer today to top up my power steering reservoir.
How low is it, if at all? Unless it's significantly low, the symptoms are probably not related to the level. However, old fluid could be problematic. The level in the reservoir should normally remain the same when the engine is off and when it's running, not counting the change due to temperature.

The 2008 reservoir is a different design than in the video. The opening is smaller. I use a battery filler (e.g., 6 oz Battery Filler | Princess Auto) to withdraw fluid from it.

The reservoir has two levels (2005+ power steering reservoir, and p.s. system...), separated by a frame and screens nearer the bottom. Don't push the withdrawal tube down hard as that can damage the screen.

I get about 120-140 ml out (reservoir at full cold to start) each time. The p.s. system holds about one litre, so it takes a number of reservoir fluid replacements to get most of the old out.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for the suggestions and guidance Plain OM. It is not very low at all, a few mm below the hot minimum. I am also skeptical that adding a few drops of fluid will make much of a difference.

Heading outside now to check the behavior of the pressure switch at idle...
 

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Discussion Starter #10
OK, pressure switch looks properly connected, comes out the back of the pump and is routed over the top with a plastic connector and that looks stout too. When I turn the steering wheel with the engine idling there is tiny little RPM blip, although it occurs following a one-or-two-second delay after the wheel is turned.

Without a load, my engine is idling around 700-800 RPM, when a steering load is applied it blips to about 900 RPM and then settles back down. Feels like the pressure switch is working properly to me.

I may just be over-obessing about the steering feel... There is definitely power assistance occuring at idle and slow speeds. That became obvious to me when I tried to turn the wheels without the engine running.

Still it feels heavier than it should when crawling around, for example, when I'm slowly backing into a parking space I have to use both hands to turn the wheel. I'm used to being able to turn it with one hand in those situations.

I'm tempted to get some Dexron III fluid from Canadian Tire tonight. I was trying to hold out for the genuine Subaru ATF Type HP sauce but getting some from the dealer is more difficult than I had hoped.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
I got some generic Dexron III fluid and topped up the reservoir. Drove around a little and was pleasantly surprised to find the steering has improved. It is lighter at idle and slow crawls, firmer at high-speed, and has a more confident feeling return-to-center.

It is still a touch heavy in slow maneuvers, but this noticeable improvement is promising. Going to do an easy full flush next to see if that improves the feel a little more.

Thanks to everyone who chimed in here. Greatly appreciate the help. 🦆

Any caution against using Dexron III fluid instead of the hard to find HP sauce?
 

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I'm tempted to get some Dexron III fluid from Canadian Tire tonight. I was trying to hold out for the genuine Subaru ATF Type HP sauce but getting some from the dealer is more difficult than I had hoped.
The 100 rpm blip is correct.

Dexron III shouldl be fine.

I periodically drain and refill the AT transmission. Takes 3.5 -3.7 litres of the HP fluid, so I always have some left to accumulate for the p.s.

When my 07 is stopped, the steering wheel can't be "spun", e.g., with a couple of fingers turning against the spoke, as can be done when the car is moving.

I don't think I've ever intentionally sensed the load at idle, stopped, but will be out tomorrow and can give it at try. Of course, it's subjective. I guess if I had a luggage scale (don't) I could measure the pull needed to move the steering wheel a quarter turn. That would be somewhat objective, but there's still many variables, such as the road surface, tire treads, weight etc.

I'm surprised too about the change. The old fluid must be quite old for a few ml. to have such an effect. Is it particularly dark?
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
The fluid wasn't dark, didn't look much different than the fresh stuff.

I suppose I added more than a few milliliters. The level was previously a few millimeters below the hot minimum level and I topped it up to meet the hot maximum.

Good to know that your steering wheel isn't super light at idle Plain OM. I'm somewhat accustomed to the feel of Toyota Prius V and Toyota Yaris cars from the local car-sharing monopoly. It is much easier to spin the steering wheel at idle on those cars. But they have smaller wheels and tires, less weight on the front wheels, and more aggressive power steering assistance than the Outback.

I have a very rudimentary understanding of the power steering system. I think the rotary control valve is the device that modulates the amount of pressure that flows out of the pump into each end of the hydraulic piston in the steering rack. Or in other words, the rotary control valve controls the amount of assistance when you turn the steering wheel. Keep it straight and the control valve should depressurize the rack to eliminate assistance. Turn to the left and the control valve should pressurize to the appropriate end of the rack to assist with turning.

Perhaps my rotary control valve was a little gunky since the car was probably sitting undriven for many months. Crawling around slowly maybe there wasn't quite enough pressure to open it up completely. And then cruising at high-speed maybe it didn't want to close completely. Maybe a little more fluid helped to degunk it a bit. Or maybe it is degunking itself because the car is finally being driven routinely now. Who knows – not I.

I do wonder if there is another device in the system that modulates steering assistance based on wheel speed. Or can the rotary control valve do that also somehow? 🐔
 

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I'm somewhat accustomed to the feel of Toyota Prius V and Toyota Yaris cars
Electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as many newer gas powered cars (including Subarus) have electric power-assisted steering, i.e., no pump, no hydraulics etc. In your examples, that, plus the lighter weight of the smaller cars (some don't need/have power steering) and smaller tire footprint would probably account for much, if not all, the difference.

I have a very rudimentary understanding of the power steering system.
Close enough.

The pump itself regulates the fluid flow/pressure based on engine rpm. As might be expected, it's designed to provide more assist at lower rpm. It's a mechanical displacement variation. Perhaps a bit of new fluid did loosen things. Might be a sign to do a full replacement.

Incidentally, if it's difficult/inconvenient to raise the wheels, as in the video, then replace what's in the reservoir and drive the car normally. The next time it's parked, replace the reservoir fluid again. Takes only a few minutes each time. Do this until most of a litre has been used (6-7 times).

Also, if using a battery filler or something similar, when the rubber bulb is squeezed, it tends to lift away where it overlaps the red plastic tube, causing a leak. Tighten a zip tie around the bulb at the overlap.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Aha! It did not occur to me that the pump could be providing more pressure at low RPM and less pressure at higher RPM. What a fancy pump! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain that Plain OM. And thanks for the flush tips. 🦄
 

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Thank you so much for taking the time to explain
As the car is new to you, and it appears you're interested in learning about it, perhaps to do some of your own work on it, I would suggest going to https://techinfo.subaru.com/stis/#/login, where you can download copies of the factory service manuals, mechanism & function documents, technician reference booklets, technical service bulletins, read/download back issues of the TechTips monthlies, etc. A $US32.45 subscription provides 72-hours of access to the full library of Subaru documentation. It's all in .pdf format, each document can be downloaded in a single file, most with linked indexes. The mechanism & function document provides some insight into how things work, whereas the FSM is more repair-oriented. Just a note: if you're used to service manuals from U.S. makers, or perhaps larger foreign companies, the Subaru documentation will take some getting used to. But it's still the best value, as I see it.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Thanks for the information Plain OM. I found the appropriate FSM for my car and I have been reviewing it.

I will keep the mechanism and function documentation in mind, they sound enlightening. I don't have electronic money so I can't buy a subscription from Subaru at this time. Fortunately this site is a great knowledge base. I will try to reduce my chitter-chatter by searching more and asking less from now on. I got a bit carried away posting questions because I am SUPER EXCITED about this car. 🐶
 

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Fortunately this site is a great knowledge base. I will try to reduce my chitter-chatter by searching more and asking less . .
Didn't mean to suggest not to asking those questions; just thought it would be handy for you to have the documentation so that it can be quickly accessed whenever you need it or want to learn more about the car.
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
I flushed the power steering system today with the suggested procedure: empty reservoir with syringe, re-fill reservoir, drive in circles, and then repeat until fluid looks clean (or you run out of fluid).

In total I pulled out ~800ml and poured in the same amount. The fluid is looking very clean now. I noticed the FSM says the system capacity is 700ml so I think the amount I exchanged was probably sufficient.

In post #13 I said the old fluid didn't look too dirty to me but I was only looking at the droplets on the plastic dipstick attached to the fluid reservoir cap. When I started pulling fluid with the syringe it became obvious that the existing fluid was dirtier than I thought. It wasn't gnarly looking, but it was significantly darker and less vibrant compared to fresh fluid.

Now, after completing the flush, the steering feels really good. One-handed steering in reverse isn't difficult anymore. And it has a nice weight when cruising on the highway.

Thanks gang for all the pointers. 🐦
 
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