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1999 Outback Automatic Transmission Failure


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#1 coyotesareus

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 05:24 PM

Well, I recently got the transmission on my last Subaru rebuilt. This the Subaru number five for me; the second one purchased new. I just got the whole front end replaced when the dealer replaced the timing belt before the transmission started to fail (water pump, oil pump, front seals).

It is the same, sad story I've read on other Subaru automatic transmission failures:
Starts with lag going from P or R to Drive
Lag gets longer over time; worse after it warms up.
Lag gets critical, as in maybe never going into drive
Time to rebuild

I waited until the lag was up to 30 seconds to minutes and then took it to a transmission shop. They spent a better part of a day trying to diagnose it before giving up. So, off to the dealer.

I called Subaru of America ahead of time to listen to them deny there was a problem- even after citing posts on this forum. I requested that they help me keep the dealer honest and informed them that if they did not diagnose the problem but instead told me I needed a new transmission that it would be my last Subaru. They promised to call the service manager.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear from the dealer that the transmission has a problem and needs to be replaced for $3,600 (rebuilt). They didn't bother doing any diagnosis, so, true to my word, Subaru has lost a loyal customer.

I took it back to the specialists for a $1,700 rebuild. For the record, the problem was pistons in the low end clutch pack. They are supposed to be elastomeric, but had hardened to the point where they no longer moved properly. They put 125 PSI on them and they wouldn't budge. This in a car that spent 90% of its life cruising a rural freeway at 70 MPH.

So Subaru, goodbye and farewell. I liked your products, but I found out the next problem will be my 2.5L head gaskets. There are plenty of other good products on the market.

I have too much service money in this car to part with it, so it is now my wife's in-town shuttle. I bought a '99 Acura CL (2.3L 4 cylinder, 5-speed MANUAL) for my commute. At 110,000 miles it still sounds and drives like a new car. Not a squeak, rattle or excess engine noise to be found. Incidentally, it had virtually the same list price as the Subaru Legacy Outback did new.

Thanks for reading the long, semi-rant. I know that some poor soul will Google 'Subaru transmission lag' and I hope they find this among the other forum posts. It's sad; I had considered myself a Subaru owner for life until they didn't even bother trying. I'll vote with my wallet on this one.

Next stops: carsurvey.org, MSN auto, edmunds.com

#2 firstwagon

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 05:47 PM

So I guess you won't want to hear about my neighbour who had both the engine and the transmission replaced on his 2000 Acura TL then.

Sorry to hear about your bad luck, hope all goes well.

#3 svxpert

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 06:57 PM

<<This in a car that spent 90% of its life cruising a rural freeway at 70 MPH.>>

i would have bought the 5-speed. you would have been problem free then.

#4 OB99W

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 08:15 PM

[...]I called Subaru of America ahead of time to listen to them deny there was a problem- even after citing posts on this forum. I requested that they help me keep the dealer honest and informed them that if they did not diagnose the problem but instead told me I needed a new transmission that it would be my last Subaru. They promised to call the service manager.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear from the dealer that the transmission has a problem and needs to be replaced for $3,600 (rebuilt). They didn't bother doing any diagnosis, so, true to my word, Subaru has lost a loyal customer.[...]

Once my '99 OB was out of warranty, the dealers never saw me again for service. My experience with 2 dealers during the warranty period was that they either were incompetent or just didn't care. My experience with SoA is that they exercise little or no control over their dealers. "Deny" seems to be SoA's approach to all problems.

When (and I do mean "when", not "if") the OB has a major failure, be it trans/HGs/etc, I may not even fix it. Rather than put any significant time and money in, I'll likely dump it as-is and buy another brand. While I'm sure that some Honda, Toyota, etc. owners could tell their own horror stories, in my circle of friends and family, vehicles from those manufacturers have proven to be much more reliable than my Subaru, given equivalent care.

It seems that SoA's corporate philosophy is that they have enough customers so that losing a certain percentage isn't important. Maybe when the number they've alienated reaches a critical mass, the sales figures will begin to reflect it.

#5 grossgary

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 07:48 AM

honda's and toyota's are excellent vehicles, i highly recommend them often to friends/coworkers. but....the dealers and service of these vehicles is no different than subaru. some are great, some hose everyone. to think another manufacturer is a gauranteed source of 100% warranty coverage and outstanding dealership service on any mechanical problem is wishful thinking. overall from what i've seen there's little difference across manufacturers in the big picture. like i said, some are great, some hose people.

your acura is a great choice, your either spent time researching which engine/trans to get or got lucky but you chose wisely. but there are plenty of other acura's that have transmission, paint and other common problems. if someone who bought a TL has transmission problems rules out all other Acura's to eternity because of that, they are reducing their choice of good vehicles to choose from (like the CL you have). research and good decisions can be made with any make, be it subaru, acura, honda, etc. knowledge is always a good thing. to blindly accept all products from any manufacturer as the best choice...or the other way 'round, is not in the best interest of someone looking for a reliable vehicle.

good luck and have fun!

#6 Steves72

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 01:09 PM

The automatic transmission in my 2000 obw is the single biggest disappointment I have experienced with this, my first, Subaru. I purchased this car used at a Subaru dealer and the transmission was replaced about 60 days after I bought the car. I was very luckly to discover that the transmission was still under warranty. However, the remanufactured transmission still is a huge disapointment. In my 30+ years of driving, I have mostly had GM automatic transmissions, when I have had automatic cars. Those transmissions were always so much better then the slush box in my Subaru. I personally do not mind a manual transmission but my wife cannot drive a stick and this car had to be available for her when it was necessary.

Specifically, here are the various things the transmission does that drive me crazy. When it is cold out and the transmission is cold, the car almost refuses shift out of first. I can have the engine up to 4000rpm with light thottle and it will not shift up into second. This symptom disappears within two blocks of my house but it is not "right". When the transmission is cold upshifts are so slowwww that the rpms of the engine will often shoot up by around 300 to 400 when the transmission shifts between first and second. The engine speed increases around 100 or so rpms when it shifts from second to third. This too disappears once the transmission is warm. There is a short uphill run that I make every day on my way home from work. BY this point in my drive the car has reached its full operating temperature. I can feel the transmission downshift twice climbing that hill at 45mph. At the top of the hill I turn onto a side street that is flat and has a 35mph speed. It takes over a 1/4 mile for the transmission to finally upshift. It will take that long even if I take my foot off of the gas completely. It's like the computer cannot sense that the load has been removed. Once a week, I drive a fairly hilly road. None of the grades are very steep but there is a lot of up and downs for short stretches. The transmission lags at following the engine load. In short the auto transmision sucks!

If this one problem could be corrected, I would fell much more comfortable about driving this car out of the rebuilt transmissions' warranty period which expires in October of this year.

Steve

#7 mtsmiths

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 01:44 PM

When it is cold out and the transmission is cold, the car almost refuses shift out of first. I can have the engine up to 4000rpm with light thottle and it will not shift up into second. This symptom disappears within two blocks of my house but it is not "right". When the transmission is cold upshifts are so slowwww that the rpms of the engine will often shoot up by around 300 to 400 when the transmission shifts between first and second. The engine speed increases around 100 or so rpms when it shifts from second to third. This too disappears once the transmission is warm. There is a short uphill run that I make every day on my way home from work. BY this point in my drive the car has reached its full operating temperature. I can feel the transmission downshift twice climbing that hill at 45mph. At the top of the hill I turn onto a side street that is flat and has a 35mph speed. It takes over a 1/4 mile for the transmission to finally upshift. It will take that long even if I take my foot off of the gas completely. It's like the computer cannot sense that the load has been removed. Once a week, I drive a fairly hilly road. None of the grades are very steep but there is a lot of up and downs for short stretches. The transmission lags at following the engine load. In short the auto transmision sucks!Steve



NONE of that is normal. take it back and don't listen to them when they say it's 'normal'. Make them find a couple other '00s and drive them ... than ask them to explain' normal'.

Our 2000 Legacy has 175,000 miles, of which we have driven 75,000+ all over the country, but predominately in NW Montana. Ive had the car in -27 deg, and +100, and have never seen ANY difference in shift patterns, or experienced lags, starts or untimely downshifts.

They gave you a junk tranny ... make 'em do it over.

#8 grossgary

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 02:16 PM

try checking the fluid level, replacing the filter and replacing the fluid. could be something that simple.

#9 seattlelegacy

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 02:58 PM

I don't know, I have never worked with a Subaru dealer, so my "experience" is only what I have heard on this site and from other subaru owners. From everything that I have heard, I won't be buying a new subaru -until- I know what life expectancy of the latest gen 2.5s is like, -and- I won't be buy an automatic - ever. I have the 4EAT in my 93 leg wagon and its a total peice of $hit. No one here has ever had anything great to say about the 4EATs. It may also be worth mentioning that all the JY ones not only have a bad tranny, but usually a bad engine too, leading me to believe (and a quick search here will verify) that the 4EATs not only destroy themselves, but they usually take the engine with them. I love my legacy, but I'd really like the 5MT swap, or to put a D/R from a EA82 into it. BTW, I searched for that specific conversion, and didn't find anything - any one know if there has been some sucess with this?

I see a definite distinction between the EA71/81/82 gen subes and the legacy/OBW gen subes. Subaru was started by building equipment for the military - it was simple, tough, and as reliable as the sun rising. But when the focus had to shift toward pleasing a consumer market (as it does today) things just went south - there was no way the company could maintain viability by building simple little EA81 engines forever. Sure, we would love it, but its too much of a niche market. They had to change, and today I don't think of them as being any different than any other car manufacturer. Of noteworthy mention, they do have one (Audi being the other) of the best AWD systems on the market; when it works.

Jordan

#10 nipper

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 04:47 PM

So I guess you won't want to hear about my neighbour who had both the engine and the transmission replaced on his 2000 Acura TL then.

Sorry to hear about your bad luck, hope all goes well.


There are a bunch of hondas out there with transmission failures. Read the honda boards and you would be surprised.

nipper

#11 otis

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 05:00 PM

Sorry about the tranny... good luck with it.

#12 OB99W

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 05:50 PM

NONE of that is normal. take it back and don't listen to them when they say it's 'normal'.[...]They gave you a junk tranny ... make 'em do it over.

Well, I guess "they gave" me "a junk tranny" too, because mine has behaved very nearly as badly as the one that Steves72 has, and it came right from the factory attached to my then-new 99 OB :mad: !

I've never investigated where the trans temp sensing is done, but on mine it acts as if it senses air temp and not the fluid. On a cold day, even after the engine and trans are quite warm, if I park it for just a few minutes, when I start it again it's right back to the reluctance to upshift, etc. Mine also doesn't seem to know when the engine isn't loaded, as upshifts after climbing even a moderate hill and then driving on flat terrain are slow as well. The fluid is at the right level, etc., and I doubt replacing it would do anything good, since the problem has been there since I took delivery of the car. Of course, this is "normal" behavior, according to the dealers.

The trans is hardly the only thing on my OB that performs poorly, but talking to the dealers and SoA is as productive as talking to the proverbial brick wall. I gave up long ago. I've repaired the things that were critical myself, and I'm ignoring the rest as best I can.

It's one thing to buy a car used, not know its history, and then expect the dealer/manufacturer to stand behind the product; it's quite another to pay $26,000 for something new and get treated like dirt.

I envy those who own a Subaru that has given long and relatively trouble-free service, and those who have found good dealers or had SoA be cooperative when there was a problem.

#13 Chef

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 05:59 PM

What went wrong with these trannies I wonder. My 4EAT has been a fine transmission in my 92 legacy with 250 000 km - perhaps it had been replaced at some point, but I doubt it. It needs to warm a bit on the highway before the overdrive kicks in, but other than that, shifts nice considering the age.

#14 nipper

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 06:20 PM


I've never investigated where the trans temp sensing is done, but on mine it acts as if it senses air temp and not the fluid.

The tranny fluid temp is detetmined in the or around the valve body last i checked. It does not warm up as quickly as the engine does, but also does nto cool down as fast either.

So far the two failure modes ive seen here on the list and others lists are internal seals or the front pump going bad. Seems to start around 1999 MY. i hope rebuild kits have better seals.

nipper

#15 seattlelegacy

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 06:32 PM

What went wrong with these trannies I wonder. My 4EAT has been a fine transmission in my 92 legacy with 250 000 km - perhaps it had been replaced at some point, but I doubt it. It needs to warm a bit on the highway before the overdrive kicks in, but other than that, shifts nice considering the age.


My OD does the same thing... but mine shifts kind of hard sometimes.

#16 OB99W

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 06:53 PM

The tranny fluid temp is detetmined in the or around the valve body last i checked. It does not warm up as quickly as the engine does, but also does nto cool down as fast either.

Thanks Nipper; that's what I would have expected, so I wonder what explains the behavior of my trans. After a reasonably long trip, even a short stay in cold air (certainly not long enough for the valve body or vicinity to cool down much) is enough for the trans to again take a long time for the first shift, just as if it had been left out in the cold overnight. It acts like the sensor were hanging free on the outside of the trans, not making good thermal contact with something massive.

Unless someone can tell me precisely where the sensing is done, I'll have to look into it myself after the million other things I need to do are completed. :banghead:

EDIT: Of course, this problem may have nothing to do with the temp sensing, since it concerns the shift out of 1st (not inhibition of torque converter lockup or of 4th, both of which I'm aware are normal when the trans is cold). Unless Subaru had some mis-programmed TCUs...

#17 Steves72

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 08:18 PM

Well, I guess "they gave" me "a junk tranny" too, because mine has behaved very nearly as badly as the one that Steves72 has, and it came right from the factory attached to my then-new 99 OB :mad: !

I've never investigated where the trans temp sensing is done, but on mine it acts as if it senses air temp and not the fluid. On a cold day, even after the engine and trans are quite warm, if I park it for just a few minutes, when I start it again it's right back to the reluctance to upshift, etc. Mine also doesn't seem to know when the engine isn't loaded, as upshifts after climbing even a moderate hill and then driving on flat terrain are slow as well. The fluid is at the right level, etc., and I doubt replacing it would do anything good, since the problem has been there since I took delivery of the car. Of course, this is "normal" behavior, according to the dealers.


I do not know for certain if my transmissions behaviour is "normal" or not, but I will say that I have been pleased with most other aspects of this car. The only thing I would have changed if I could go back to the day I purchased the car was to buy the other Outback I was considering. That Outback was not a Limited and I would not have had two leaks from the lines that drain the sliding roofs.

Steve

#18 OB99W

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 09:12 PM

A bit of investigating at the Endwrench site has led me to the information that the 1999 phase 2 4EATs have 7 shift maps, one of which is specifically used when the ATF is cold. As Nipper previously suggested, it does appear that the temperature sensor is attached to the lower valve body (next to duty solenoid B) and that would seem to be a location that wouldn't rapidly change temp. I'm beginning to wonder if the temp sensor might be out of spec, and telling the TCU that the trans is colder than it really is. That could explain both the overly-delayed upshift and the particularly poor gas mileage I get when it's cold.

Anyone know what the correct resistance readings are for the trans temp sensor, cold and hot? Any help would be appreciated.

#19 nipper

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 09:26 PM

Anyone know what the correct resistance readings are for the trans temp sensor, cold and hot? Any help would be appreciated.


May want to check first to see if it has a resistance reading at all. All automatics have been doing this since the early 90's just some are more noticible then others. i dont know under what circumstances fault codes trip the tranny light on the dash.
As annoying as it is, have you tried disconnecting the battery overnight and letting both computers reset? its a long shot, but may be worth a try.

nipper

#20 friendly_jacek

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 02:11 AM

Cold temp in 4EAT only affects 4th gear, ie AT will not shift to 4th on cold tranny. What you guys are describing is totally abnormal. I would check TPS, as this affects the shift points. I would change fluid (subaru AT is very sensitive to maintanance neglect), filter, and maybe try one of the friction modyfiers. Finely, maybe the TCU went crazy on you?

#21 OB99W

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 07:56 AM

Cold temp in 4EAT only affects 4th gear, ie AT will not shift to 4th on cold tranny. What you guys are describing is totally abnormal. I would check TPS, as this affects the shift points. I would change fluid (subaru AT is very sensitive to maintanance neglect), filter, and maybe try one of the friction modyfiers. Finely, maybe the TCU went crazy on you?

It seems that later '99 4EATs got new shift maps, including one called "Cold ATF". See: http://endwrench.com.../994EATInfo.pdf It would seem that the delayed upshift when cold was planned, perhaps to more rapidly warm the trans and engine, or avoid lugging a cold engine by keeping the revs up. However, mine seems to stay in that mode too long, and revert to it too readily. The behavior it exhibits has been there since new, continuing through filter and fluid change, and if my TCU is "crazy", it was "born" that way ;) .

Thanks for the suggestion Jacek, but the trans shifts are a lot more "correct" when things are fully warm, so throttle position sensing wouldn't seem to be the problem. I'm much more inclined to think that the trans temp sensor is "crazy", or that Subaru went overboard on the '99 4EAT "Cold ATF" map. But I'm open to other suggestions.

#22 OB99W

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 08:18 AM

May want to check first to see if it has a resistance reading at all. All automatics have been doing this since the early 90's just some are more noticible then others. i dont know under what circumstances fault codes trip the tranny light on the dash.
As annoying as it is, have you tried disconnecting the battery overnight and letting both computers reset? its a long shot, but may be worth a try.

I don't think the sensor could be open or shorted, since the TCU is supposed to flash the AT Oil Temp dash light if things are that out of bound. It hasn't ever done that, and the light comes on when starting, so the bulb isn't out. Thanks for the suggestion concerning resetting the ECU/TCU, but I've had the battery disconnected for long enough to accomplish that (for other reasons), with no change in trans operation.

So, I'm back to asking if anyone has specs for the cold/hot resistance of the temp sensor in a '99 4EAT. Anyone, please?

#23 friendly_jacek

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 02:24 PM

It seems that later '99 4EATs got new shift maps, including one called "Cold ATF". See: http://endwrench.com.../994EATInfo.pdf It would seem that the delayed upshift when cold was planned, perhaps to more rapidly warm the trans and engine, or avoid lugging a cold engine by keeping the revs up. However, mine seems to stay in that mode too long, and revert to it too readily. The behavior it exhibits has been there since new, continuing through filter and fluid change, and if my TCU is "crazy", it was "born" that way ;) .

Thanks for the suggestion Jacek, but the trans shifts are a lot more "correct" when things are fully warm, so throttle position sensing wouldn't seem to be the problem. I'm much more inclined to think that the trans temp sensor is "crazy", or that Subaru went overboard on the '99 4EAT "Cold ATF" map. But I'm open to other suggestions.


I respectivery disagree with your opinion. Please read the following and better description of 4EAT: http://endwrench.com...AatPh2Win04.pdf

Only lack of 4th gear is the difference in cold with this tranny. I have 2000 that is the same 2nd generation of 4EAT and never had the problem you described in cold. I had a similar behaviour of abnormally high shift points when TPS had connection problems and the TCU thought I was flooring the gas pedal. This is only why I mentioned that. But it was different since the TPS threw a code eventually and there was no connection with temp. However, TPS tells the tranny how high the load is, and you seem to have some problems with that too.

Of interest, the first generation of 4EAT (up to 98) had indeed diffrent shifting map when the the ATF sensor sensed HOT (not cold) fluid, to cool down:
[FONT="]http://endwrench.com...EATPh1Win04.pdf

In retrospect, I remember than before AT failed in my nissan sentra many years ago, there would be a delayed shifting from 1st to 2nd on cold tranny. But since you had that since new, would not apply I guess.

Edit: read page 10 from the [/FONT][FONT="]http://endwrench.com...EATPh1Win04.pdf
It describes the work of solenoid A decreasing the line pressure under some circumstances. Looks like you also want to investigate the droping resistor and tachometer signal.
[/FONT]

#24 friendly_jacek

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 03:06 PM

Well, I recently got the transmission on my last Subaru rebuilt. This the Subaru number five for me; the second one purchased new. I just got the whole front end replaced when the dealer replaced the timing belt before the transmission started to fail (water pump, oil pump, front seals).

It is the same, sad story I've read on other Subaru automatic transmission failures:
Starts with lag going from P or R to Drive
Lag gets longer over time; worse after it warms up.
Lag gets critical, as in maybe never going into drive
Time to rebuild

I waited until the lag was up to 30 seconds to minutes and then took it to a transmission shop. They spent a better part of a day trying to diagnose it before giving up. So, off to the dealer.

I called Subaru of America ahead of time to listen to them deny there was a problem- even after citing posts on this forum. I requested that they help me keep the dealer honest and informed them that if they did not diagnose the problem but instead told me I needed a new transmission that it would be my last Subaru. They promised to call the service manager.

So, imagine my surprise when I hear from the dealer that the transmission has a problem and needs to be replaced for $3,600 (rebuilt). They didn't bother doing any diagnosis, so, true to my word, Subaru has lost a loyal customer.

I took it back to the specialists for a $1,700 rebuild. For the record, the problem was pistons in the low end clutch pack. They are supposed to be elastomeric, but had hardened to the point where they no longer moved properly. They put 125 PSI on them and they wouldn't budge. This in a car that spent 90% of its life cruising a rural freeway at 70 MPH.

So Subaru, goodbye and farewell. I liked your products, but I found out the next problem will be my 2.5L head gaskets. There are plenty of other good products on the market.

I have too much service money in this car to part with it, so it is now my wife's in-town shuttle. I bought a '99 Acura CL (2.3L 4 cylinder, 5-speed MANUAL) for my commute. At 110,000 miles it still sounds and drives like a new car. Not a squeak, rattle or excess engine noise to be found. Incidentally, it had virtually the same list price as the Subaru Legacy Outback did new.

Thanks for reading the long, semi-rant. I know that some poor soul will Google 'Subaru transmission lag' and I hope they find this among the other forum posts. It's sad; I had considered myself a Subaru owner for life until they didn't even bother trying. I'll vote with my wallet on this one.

Next stops: carsurvey.org, MSN auto, edmunds.com


To address the initial post, I had a somewhat similar story with 92 mazda protege that would have the delay on hot fluid, especially after high speed hwy driving. Eventually the tranny failed at 60000miles. The rebuilt tranny overheated on the first high speed hwy trip. That brought my attension to the aftermarket radiator that was installed after a major accident at 20000 miles. I put a tranny cooler and the tranny worked flawlessly for another 60000 miles when I got rid of the car.

The hardened elastomer is a classical sign of overheating.
I'm not saying that you abused the car, but I think that high speed hwy driving can produce very high tranny temps. Once I measured tranny temps in my toyota corolla and it was OK (175-200F) until I drove 80-90 mph with loaded car in summer, the the temp went to borderline 250F.

I have both AT cooler and ATF temp guage in my 2000 subaru as I tow some and can tell you that the stock ATF temp light is set up very high as it never lit on mine and sometimes I have max temps 220-230F while going uphill with boat.

#25 OB99W

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 06:02 PM

I respectivery disagree with your opinion. Please read the following and better description of 4EAT: http://endwrench.com...AatPh2Win04.pdf

Only lack of 4th gear is the difference in cold with this tranny.

It seems that we'll have to respectfully agree to disagree with each other for now. I'd already downloaded everything I could find online on the topic, including the EndWrench items you thoughtfully provided links for. Unfortunately, not one gives descriptions of the 7 shift maps that the '99 Phase 2 trans uses. Even the "4EAatPh2Win04.pdf" article is incomplete, since it neglects to mention the torque converter lockup inhibition that occurs in addition to the 4th gear lockout when cold.

Also, the same article lists "Faulty shifting when cold" as a consequence of ATF temperature sensor trouble (see "Self Diagnosis" table). It isn't specific as to what fault(s), unfortunately. I have read elsewhere (although I can't find anything quotable at the moment) that the delayed/raised shifts when cold are implemented to warm the engine and emissions-control systems (including the catalytic converter) faster in order to cut emissions. If indeed that is the case, I have no problem with it; I'd just like to be sure my trans isn't thinking things are colder than they really are.




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