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Starter cutout twice in 99OBW

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Hi all,


So I had a defective battery after 2 1/2 years and had it replaced in December. Car started just fine, so we hit the road from Florida to Massachusetts later that day. Continually started fine but a couple days in Mass around 30 to 35 degrees and the starts were getting slower. Cranked slower and took a couple extra seconds to get running. I decided to have it checked when we got back to Florida as it always started fine.


On the ride back to Florida, we had rain almost the entire way. Every start was fine, perhaps better as the temperature outside went up a few degrees between rest/gas stops.


At some point, we stopped to fill up, restarted fine. Drove 2 miles on the highway, stopped at a rest area for a pit stop, left it idling. A minivan next to me had their headlights and the lady driving was sleeping with a pillow against the glass. Obviously planning on staying for a bit of time. I couldn't hear if her engine was running or not being next to my car and the highway, so I got in my car and turned it off.. Her engine was off too.. Okay, so I asked my wife to knock on the lady's window and tell her the lights were on.


Now here's the kicker, in the meantime, I went to restart and the dash lights came on, but no start, no click, no tick, nothing at all. ("It's just lights sir, they seem to have no function whatsoever"). I turned the key back and tried again, same thing. After a few tries, I noticed some of the lights flickering rapidly and still the same thing, no clicks, ticks, engine sounds, etc. I turned it off and immediately checked this forum on my ipaq pda phone.. I was panicking as it was about 5am, super downpour outside, car won't start and we're hundreds of miles from Florida.. On New Year's Day morning, so who knows if I'll even FIND an open mechanic later that morning?


I found several posts on here about flickering dashes, bad $7 pieces in the starter, bad solenoids, bad starters, etc.. I tried switching my car's alarm to valet mode and starting again. No luck.. Checked the manual, nothing.. After more than an hour in the car in the rain and too much Powerade, I had to use the bathroom again. I went back in, came out, waited for the rain to let up a little, ran to the car, got in and was going to call the highway patrol number posted by the building but decided to give it one more shot.. Turned the key forward, the lights were solid and then the car started without hesitation or roughness.. (on second thought, THAT is the kicker, no? :-\


So everything was good. We drove for a few hours, stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast, came back out, car started up just fine. Okay, maybe it was a fluke.. Drove til the tank was low again and stopped for gas.. Maybe we stopped in between too, I don't recall.. Anyway, stopped for gas, left the key turned forward (my alarm auto-arms itself if you pull the key and all the doors are closed). Parking lights were on, maybe headlights too (I was in the backseat sleeping, not sure where the switch was set). Filled up, ready to start up and the dash flickers again! Tried it a few times, turning the valet mode on and off on the alarm again, no luck.


So we rolled the car away from the pumps and tried it again, same thing. Flickering lights, no engine sounds, no clicking/ticking. I checked the battery voltage with a meter and it read 10.20 volts.. Not exactly bursting at the seams with power, but usually enough to get the job done. I asked some guys for a jump start and they hooked up their mazda or whatever pickup and my dash lights still flickered when I tried to start it. Still no sounds at all. We kept our batteries attached like some weird mating ritual of two sea creatures far from their watery home (the rain had nearly stopped by this point) for about 10 minutes. Then they told me they were going to be late for something and had to go. My car still made no sounds whatsoever. They left and we sat in my car. Decided to give it 5 minutes and try it again..The dash lights were solid before starting and it turned over immediately, like it was just messing with me and once it decided it was no longer funny, it gave up the game and acted like nothing was wrong.


We filled the tank the next time with the engine running and each subsequent stop we left it running.. I drove the car today and it was fine when I left the house.. When I left from the office about 3 hours later, it took 6-8 seconds to turn over, the engine turning slower and slower until it finally found a spark it liked and started up. I was amazed it actually was turning fast enough to kick over. I turned on the headlights and when I hit the brake to put it in reverse, the radio went dead and back on a couple times. I put it in park and ran it around 2,000 to 2,500 rpm's for a minute and then backed out. At some point the ABS light came on for a second or so when I pressed the brake again. The radio went out again at the end of the parking lot, so I shut it off.. While driving, the headlights were bright but seemed to dim briefly when the A/C compressor kicked in or I hit the brakes. Acceleration was fine.. I drove back to AdvanceDiscount Auto and said I have battery problems again, I think it's defective..


I pulled the battery and they tested it. Sure enough, it was defective.. I mentioned the starter cut-out and the sales guy said maybe the computer didn't like having the positive terminal pulled and needed to have some kind of reset procedure. But I explained this happened more than a week after the new battery was put in and hadn't happened when I had the last battery installation, nor did it happen when I pulled the battery to install amplifiers, new radios, etc.


So with the (new) new battery, it started up just fine again. I've started it twice now with the new one and it seems great..


So is the problem with the subaru starter cutout? I called LoJack (who installed my alarm) and they said unless I have a chip on my key, the starter cutout was originally on the car and to talk to a Subaru dealer..


I can't predict when this will happen, if in fact it will again (so I don't know where to test), but some kind of time amount seems to correct the problem. It's not related to battery strength as it turns over just fine when it decides to finally give me control back once again. There seems to be no problem starting when it does start, so I don't think anything is worn down to the point of near-failure.


All I know for sure is that it was raining for about 1,200 miles of our trip. I smelled a faint oil smell on some stops, which I think was oil sitting under the engine getting washed up onto something hot from all the rain coming off the road. It went away after a few seconds of being stopped and the dipstick looked good. The battery was low when I checked it. The battery was tested and found to be defective and was replaced. The only aftermarket things installed were my radar detector and Kenwood head unit. I unplugged the radar and turned off the radio and that didn't stop the flicker. But each time this happened, the lights flickered and then when it wanted to work, the lights were solid.


The alternator was tested while bolted to the engine when I got the first battery replacement a few weeks back and tested fine.


What happened and will it happen again and how can I fix it?



I don't know if I can trust my car now and that's a sucky feeling :(


Thanks in advance, anyone! :eek:


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Just a thought for you... If this is an automatic, next time try pushing the shifter harder into park, or even shifting it into neutral. It won't start unless it sense that the shifter is positioned in Park or Neutral. Every now and then my 96 would not start and it was this reason. Your car might be on the hairy edge when in park, and sometimes that switch isn't fully activated.



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There is a chance the battery was defective. Have someone do a load test on the charging system, as well as check the voltage. You may have a marginal battery. When i get a no start the very first thing i do is check the battery termincal and make sure they are clean and tight. This is the simpliest cause for a no start. The next one to suspect is the NSS but since you said the start was getting slow, im betting on a marginal altenator or dirty battery cables.




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that's a possibility I guess. would that cause the flickering lights though? that was a definite occurrence both times this happened.


yep, its an automatic.


the steering wheel was not locked at the time. I will try to get it barely into park and see if I get the flicker at that point.


I read in other posts that the flicker was caused by AC in the dash lights.

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flickering lights is a voltage issue. Also cables do get old and sometimes need replacing. One trick to see if its the cable is if it happens again, take one side of a jumper cable, and go from the starter terminal to the battery then start the car . If it starts replace that cable.





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couldn't I just check that with a continuity test?


is it possible the alarm is going bad? or the starter cutout circuit has a problem?


why would it flicker and then be solid after waiting a while?


I will pull the alternator and get it bench tested next week, but this seems more related to the cutoff circuit than anything else, I think?

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So... the problem is back, and worse..


I now have a clicking sound coming from I believe the starter. The starter is near the back of the engine on the driver side, right? There's a thick positive cable going to it, but it's really difficult to reach.


I had the battery replaced the other night (mentioned in my post above), and the battery is still at 12.3 volts or so. So either the starter (or is it the solenoid?) isn't getting enough voltage, or isn't doing what it should with it.


The dashboard light is still flickering when I turn the key forward, even before I attempt to start it. So something isn't quite right somewhere and I think the clicking is the end result of it, not the actual problem.


Any thoughts what to check? I don't think I can get a jumper cable down to the thing that's clicking because of it's location.


This may be a clue. With the key turned forward, there's roughly 3 volts between this clicking thing and the negative terminal on the battery. There's no continuity between the positive terminal and this thing's positive terminal.


Also, the negative connection to the engine next to it is tight (both bolts are tight).


Thanks in advance :)


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there's roughly 3 volts between this clicking thing and the negative terminal on the battery. There's no continuity between the positive terminal and this thing's positive terminal.


the solenoid on the starter (the clicking thing) has 2 terminals. one has the large hot wire direct from the positive battery terminal. this should have the same voltage as the battery. you might check continuity betwen this terminal and the battery + post.


the other treminal on the solenoid is the power from the ignition switch. this terminal only has voltage when the key is turned to start. if this terminal isn't getting the voltage/amperage it needs, your car will never start, it may click.


if the solenoid is clicking, it is getting some power but not enough. you can test this with a piece of wire and a 1/4" female tab connector. with the key switched to the on position, run the wire from the smaller solenoid connector (1/4" male tab) and run it to the battery + post. you only have to touch the wire to the positive post long enough to see if the starter turns the engine. BE VERY CAREFUL, THE CAR COULD START, make sure it is in park with the brake on. keep hands and tools clear.


if it starts (or turns over), the problem may be your ignition relay or wiring. if it doesn't, it could be your starter contacts.


you can search for directions for adding another starter relay under the hood. this worked great for me. also directions for replacing starter contacts.


of course neither of these solutions takes in to consideration the flickering dash lights.


if youhave question be sure to ask.


good luck,


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Thanks for the info John,


I tried your advice and here's what I found out:


  • The AT Oil Temp light doesn't flicker when I first insert the key. But after the first start attempt, it flickers each time it's put in the ON position. This is the light that flickers, not all of them.
  • I get the same clicking when connected directly to the battery as with the normal wiring connection.
  • With the meter connected to the solenoid control wire and battery negative terminal, I get 0 volts key-off, 5 volts key on, and 12.5 volts at start position.

I do know that when my key is in the ON position, I hear a clicking sound from under the hood..


I *think* I may have found a connection here.. If the car is sending 5 volts to the solenoid whenever the key is in the on position (and probably while running too?), then the solenoid is ALWAYS running. I've heard this clicking since I bought the car new 7 1/2 years ago, when the key is in the ON position. Is this normal? Maybe the solenoid has gotten worn out from 123,000 miles of clicking?


But why oh why is my AT Oil Temp light flickering? It even flickers when this control cable isn't attached.


And hopefully an unrelated question here: Is there any danger of screwing up my ECU by resetting my CEL with the engine running with my code reader? I've done it maybe 6 or 8 times over the past year. The CEL's have only been either a misfire on cylinder 4 (since cleared up after replacing wire #4 and plugs 2 & 4 and driving 100 miles or so), or a catalyst below efficiency threshold (from a couple eraser-sized leaks in my exhaust pipe).


What's going on here? :-\


The ECU has been reset twice in the past month when the battery was replaced twice.

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You have two problems.

The simpler one is you need a starter (or solenoid if your so inclined, I just replace it as a unit).

The more important one is the blinking AT light. This needs to be addressed now.

Does it blink 16 times then goes out? How does the car drive when you make a U turn? How long has it been blinking. It is trying to tell you there is something wrong with the transmission that needs to be addressed very quickly to avoid a large repair bill.



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Should I buy an entire replacement then? And where should I purchase that? I don't need the car really for the next week, can go longer if necessary.


The one local junkyard I found with Subarus has 2 SVX's (one minus an engine, the other is a 6 cyl), and an early 90's Legacy sedan missing the ignition coil, not sure what else.


I think I'd prefer to get new parts anyway.


The AT Oil Temp flicker has *only* occurred on the 2 times the car wouldn't start (in my original post), and then now, when it won't start. Never during running. The only time that light has come on while running was driving across Pennsylvania 3 years ago in the winter (with snow, so it truely was winter). I don't know how it could have gotten hot when it wasn't really shifting out of 4th (I was on an Interstate). But I pulled over quickly, checked the manual, and sat there for a bit. The light went out and never returned. That was 3 years ago.


So I don't think I have a transmission problem, since it hasn't come on with the engine running at all.


I just tried to shoot a video clip of it, but the file is huge and I don't have anything to compress it with at the moment. But anyway, it's a steady flicker, not 16 flashes. It's going too fast to count and it doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon when the key is left on.


Only the AT Oil Temp light flickers, the others are all solid.


Does this explain anything or just make things more complicated? :confused:

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If it flickers 16 times when you turn on the car, it means get it to dealer quickly just to find out whats going on.

I suspect your solenoid has a short in it, hence why all the lights flicker when you try to start the car.

A starter is something I buy anywhere as a rebuilt unit. I have never had a rebuilt starter go bad on me out of the box.

If there is an automotive electrical place near you, they can bench test the starter to confimr that its bad.



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I can check with the usual chain parts stores (Autozone, Advance Discount, NAPA, etc) around here.


It's not flashing 16 times though, it's flickering continually. And just the AT Oil Temp light is flickering, not the whole dash (I think I may have stated that incorrectly in my original post)


Since it doesn't turn, just clicks, when I attach that directly to the battery, I think it's safe to assume the solenoid/starter is bad.


The light flickers even when the solenoid is not attached to the key switch. But why is the light flickering? Does it flicker when the solenoid isn't attached/is malfunctioning as a notification?


Why is there 5 volts heading to the solenoid whenever the key is in the ON position? Do all Subies click when switched to ON and all of them spit out 5 volts continually into the solenoid? This seems strange to me.


I'll check around for rebuilt starter assemblies, but I'm afraid if I don't correct the flickering AT Oil Temp light problem, then when I attach another one, it's going to damage that one too. :(

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Thanks Nipper,


My ABS light came on briefly the other night when I was driving on the defective battery to swap it at the store. That was when I hit the brake pedal.


So electricity can do weird things, yes. But what should I do about this? If the starter isn't connected and the light comes on, is that indicating my starter is not being 'seen' and it's letting me know, or is there something wrong with something else that I need to check? :-\

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the flickering , i don't know. what worries me is the low voltage at the solenoid when the car on but you are NOT trying to start it. 2 things come to mind, one you have a short sending power when it's not supposed to, and two, that continuous power is cooking your starter contacts. i don't really have enough experience to know if either of these are valid concerns, but they seem on target.


maybe there is a short in the steering column or the ignition switch.

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Exactly. I don't think it's supposed to have 5 volts shooting at it non-stop.


Does your car have a clicking sound in the ON position? I never understood it, just assumed it was 'a Subaru thing', though I couldn't think of a reason why anything should be making noise when the fan switch is on '0', etc.


Would resetting my CEL several times with the engine running cause any adverse effects?


I'm really at a loss for what to do next :-\

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This is why the net sucks, we can't really hear for ourselves whats going on. You may have to take this to a shop to have them diagnose it.

You can always reach under the dash and gently shake harnesses to see what happens, but due to the limitations of the net i dont know what to say next.

A dead short in the starer solenoid can cause this problem, but may be time just to get a shops opinion.



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Yeah I know. This would be so much easier to find someone local and figure this out over a pizza or something..


I attached a video clip of me trying to start it just now. There's really nothing visible under the hood, just the same sound, but louder. You can see the dash lights fairly well in this.


In Windows Media Player, pressing Alt-3 will zoom to 200%.


You can clearly see the AT Oil Light doesn't flicker before the first start attempt, and then flickers after that. That's gotta indicate *something*.. I can pull the cluster and check the harnesses tomorrow I guess.:confused:


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Alrighty.. So then would the starter/solenoid be possibly good then? Even though connecting the control cable of it directly to the battery still produces a clicking too?


What should I pull out? The transparent topped fuses look good in the fuse holder under the hood. I believe all of the fuses in the fuse panel under the dash are good.


I've pulled the cluster a few times to replace the bulbs with others, and then replaced them again with LEDs. I made sure everything snapped in when I reattached it but I can check that again.


I didn't retest the battery terminal voltage. It should be close to 12.4 or 12.5 still though. The windows move just fine. I mention this because when I was watching the 5 volts on the starter control wire when the key was ON, it was dropping down by .01 volts roughly every second. Starting around 4.98, I watched it drop to about 4.87 volts. It was a consistent drain. I don't know if it was dropping from the battery, or just draining from something else. Not sure if this indicates anything.


Another thing, when I was touching my wire from the starter directly to the battery, there was no spark when I connected it, but there was a sizable spark when I pulled it away from the positive terminal. Maybe an inch across or something.


ahhhhhhhh this is no fun..

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you are over analyzing, now put the tools down and get a beer.


If there is a short in the starter solenoid i dont care how you hook it up you will have the same issue.


The starter circuit is simple.


If your jumping from battery to starter and still having a problem, that cuts out everything and points to the starter.

Personally i just replace the entire thing.



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I know, just wanna make sure I don't kill any replacement parts. :cool:


So where is the 5 volt leak coming from, and does your Outback click when you switch the key to ON? Mine always has, since day 1, and when my engine was rebuilt/replaced/whatever, they didn't fix it. So presumably this is normal behavior..


But the flickering light.. What is that all about? On my trip back to Florida, both times when it didn't start, the AT light was flickering just like this. So I'm fairly certain something is wrong somewhere. But it does spit out 12 volts to the starter even with the flicker..


I'm just trying to be cautious..


What's a decent price for a rebuilt starter/solenoid? Are there any aftermarket units I could get through a chain store that would be reliable?


Thanks :)


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