By on March 24, 2010

Jon writes:

Hi Sajeev, I own a 2002 Subaru WRX wagon, and live in Tennessee.  Last month, Subaru and the NHTSA issued a recall for certain 02-03 WRXs in northern states.  The recall states that in cold weather, there may be an underhood fuel leak.  Tennessee is not considered a cold-weather state, so my car is not officially part of the recall.  But I’ve noticed that if the temperatures get down to the 20s (not particularly cold, in my book), I can definitely smell raw fuel coming from the engine bay.  I’ve called two dealerships in my area, and neither of them have heard anything about the recall.  I called Subaru directly, and they are insisting that I take my car to a dealer for an inspection.  Naturally, the cost of this inspection will only be refunded if the car is then included in the recall.  I do not at all like this option.  Any ideas on where else to turn?

Sajeev Answers:

Offsetting planned losses via regional recalls makes me sick.  Look, it even snowed in Houston this winter. TWICE. It’s been mighty cold outside, so maybe Subaru should send a letter to “not affected” customers saying they aren’t worth a service tech’s inspection skills?

Because that is the end game: so get the local community involved.  Forget about complaining to Subaru’s customer help line, talk to NHTSA and consumer advocates for advice.  I’d start with those bloodhounds on local TV: this makes for great news. My local CBS affiliate was the first to blow out the Ford Explorer/Firestone problem, so to speak. Point is, this stuff works.

If all else fails, go to the local courthouse and file for arbitration.  That certainly gets Subaru’s attention: legal fees are far more painful than fixing your trivial fuel line. So here’s the cop out from the horses’ mouth:

Recall Number: 09V468000

Dates Manufactured: Sep 2000 to Sep 2002

Number of Vehicles Affected: 5724

Date Owners Notified On: Dec 2009

Defect Description:

SUBARU IS RECALLING CERTAIN MODEL YEAR 2002-2003 IMPREZA WRX VEHICLES ORIGINALLY SOLD IN OR CURRENTLY REGISTERED IN THE STATES OF SOUTH DAKOTA, NEBRASKA, NORTH DAKOTA, MINNESOTA, IDAHO, IOWA, MONTANA, COLORADO, WISCONSIN, NEW YORK, WYOMING, MICHIGAN, ALASKA, NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT, AND MAINE. DURING COLD STARTS, TYPICALLY UNDER EXTREMELY COLD TEMPERATURES, FUEL LEAKS IN THE FUEL DELIVERY LINE COULD OCCUR WHERE THE LINE CONNECTS WITH A RUBBER HOSE.

Consequence of Defect:

FUEL LEAKS, IN THE PRESENCE OF AN IGNITION SOURCE, COULD RESULT IN A FIRE.

Corrective Action:

DEALERS WILL REPLACE THE FUEL LINE FREE OF CHARGE. THE RECALL IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN DURING DECEMBER 2009. OWNERS MAY CONTACT SUBARU AT 1-800-782-2783.

Notes:

SUBARU RECALL NO. WVK-21. OWNERS MAY ALSO CONTACT THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION’S VEHICLE SAFETY HOTLINE AT 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), OR GO TO HTTP://WWW.SAFERCAR.GOV.

(Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com)

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37 Comments on “Piston Slap: Flammable Subies Up North, But Tennesseein’ is Believin’!...”


  • avatar
    educatordan

    That is a dirty pool. I thought Subaru was better than this. What about New Mexico, for people living over about 6,500 ft in altitude? I’m in Gallup NM and we had months were the night time temp was freezing or below every single night. What if I start my Subie to defrost it?

  • avatar
    tced2

    Isn’t Subaru (partially) a division of Toyota?

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Since 2005, Toyota has owned a minor stake in Fuji Heavy Industries. Prior to that, GM owned the minor stake that Toyota purchased. What are you trying to say?

  • avatar
    relton

    I would get the car fixed IMMEDIATELY, and worry about the recall and reimbursemen later. It can’t be that much of a job to replace the fuel line.

    You are probably right that Suburu should fix this under a recall, but putting yoursefl at risk while arguing about it doesn’t make much sense.

    Bob

  • avatar
    segfault

    On my last Altima, telling the dealer that I traveled a lot was enough to get the recall done, even though I wasn’t in a state specified by the recall.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Or you could spend $15 for a new fuel line and spend 20 minutes replacing it?

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    We live in Pennsylvania and my wife also owns a 2002 WRX wagon. She recently received a notification from the dealer to come in and have the fuel line checked. I’m not certain if it was an official recall notice or not.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Interesting what is classified as a “northern” state. Utah experiences the same climate as Idaho and Wyoming, as does much of Nevada.

    I really don’t see what the harm in taking the car to the dealer is…you have a good chance of getting it refunded and replaced.

  • avatar
    Jason Porter

    There has been a TSB (technical service bulletin) on this for literally YEARS on the early US WRX models. No recall needed to get the repair, Subaru normally performs warranty service for TSB items regardless of mileage if the vehicle exhibits the problem. Have the dealer pull up your vehicle’s record on Subarunet, any applicable recalls should be listed. Make them print you a copy. The TSB is a quick lookup as well, at least for any service writer that has a clue what they’re doing. Each TSB has a specific warranty code listed and includes all of the necessary instructions, as well as the part numbers and labor information required to get the job done.

    • 0 avatar
      grimlock

      I had this fix done to my ’03 wagon back in 2005 or so here in Georgia. Even then, my dealer was aware of the TSB on this issue and there was no charge for the repair.

      ‘Sup Jason!

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    It can’t be cold in Nobel prize winning Big Al’s home state!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Look, it even snowed in Houston this winter. TWICE. It’s been mighty cold outside

    Nah, you don’t know cold until you’re somewhere that you need to wear goggles or risk your eyeballs freezing.

    On days like that, self-immolation was the last thing I was worried about. My real concern was that a) the car would start, and b) after starting, that rocker panel extensions weren’t going to crack when I went over a bump.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Uhmmm… Lawyer from FL drives to the XLVIII Christmas’s Gala Personal Injury and Malpractice Lawyer’s Association Hall Meeting in Anchorage, AK. Lawyer’s WRX starts and runs rough in the morning. Lawyer gasses it in hopes it clears-up but it instantly catches on fire. Hotel engulfed in flames. Out-of control Priuses trying to leave the III Global Warming Focus Group Research Council held on next door hotel crosses parking lot median and crashes into hotel lobby room, trapping lawyers inside.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I’m with relton…jon! if your smelling raw fuel get it fixed now. You get into fender bender with gas leaking it can get real ugly,real fast.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Despite my general distaste for the legal profession, this is one of those things that really needs a class-action lawsuit to sort out. Saab is pulling the same BS over broken springs in 9-3s, only certain states get the springs replaced for free. But what if you live right on the border? I call serious BS on the whole thing – if it is a safety issue, FIX IT regardless of where the car currently is.

    But I agree, fix it now, and worry about the money later. I have friend who has had a couple of older Subarus go up in flames on him, but they were tired old beaters.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    If you smell raw gas DO NOT DRIVE. A fire is a terrible way to lose a car. If you have to drive carry a fire extinguisher in your car, but I do not recommend it. Also gas fumes over time can mess up your brake booster causing a diaphragm rupture.

    My car is very prone to cold weather fuel leaks. They tend to be caused by the rubber fuel lines shrinking in cold weather and thus making the clamps that hold them loose. Fortunately a few minutes tightening clamps with a screwdriver fixes that problem. It’s usually really easy to find the leak. When the car is cold, pop the hood and have someone start the car. Use your nose and eyes. A paper towel can help to dab spots and see if it picks up liquid. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. I would go on a subaru forum and see what people say about your car. It’s probably an easy DIY fix.

  • avatar
    rwb

    Hm, this is worrisome. I live in MA, the only state in New England not covered for some reason, and drive a 2002 Outback. On the colder days in winter, there is a rather strong smell of raw gas from the engine bay within the first few minutes from startup. I tightened up the clamps securing the hoses while they were cold and it helped a small amount, but on sub-20º days it’s still pretty bad.

    Differences in underhood fuel lines are minor between my car and a WRX of the same vintage; does anybody know if the TSB for the WRX could be applied in my case if my car obviously displays the issue described, and I were to try taking it to a dealer in NH or VT?

    I frankly don’t understand why only the WRX is claimed to be affected when virtually all of those cars use the same rubber fuel hoses with the same issues, and why they’ve left out the areas they did. I blame the bean counters.

  • avatar
    JonF

    Thank you, Sajeev and everyone! I had received a letter from SoA a couple of weeks ago stating that these parts were now being covered under a much-extended warranty nation-wide. Since it’s gotten warmer here, I’d not thought about it much, but you all have gotten me in gear. I’ve called two dealerships. Jim Reed Subaru gave me the runaround, but I’m taking it to Darrell Waltrip Subaru on Monday. They will give the car a quick examination, and order the recall kit. DW Subaru even offered me a loaner car.

    Again, thank you all!

    Jon

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Hell, there are mountain areas everywhere. What about a Subaru owner who lives in Big Bear, California (north of San Bernadino)? There’s a freaking ski resort there due to the large amounts of snow in the area, and Subarus are frequently sold in such rugged areas.

    Limited recalls like this are dumb, and the result of companies trying to limit the cost of the recall. Remember Ford’s recall of cruise control switches that could catch fire? They didn’t recall them all at once-they recalled them in batches (in May 99, Jan 05, Sept 05, Aug 06, Mar 07, Aug 07, and Sept 08), even though the same faulty part was used in all the vehicles. I’d be really pissed if my truck caught fire in my garage and burned down my house between May 99 and Sept 08 because it was covered by the last recall but not the first.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      I live a few miles west of Big Bear and there are plenty of Subies up here. Just because you live within two hours drive of Palm Springs does not mean its warm all the time.

  • avatar
    raftel

    Last year, while taking my ’02 WRX to a shop to be modified, I noted for the first time a fuel smell (it was ~12 degrees outside). Aside from the other work, they fixed the problem with Subaru parts, using an already existing TSB as a guide.

    Fast forward to the present, where I get the letter from Subaru letting me know they know there is a problem. My car is now almost nine years old, and has over 100,000 miles on it.

    I sent my receipt to Subaru, outlining what the fuel leak cost me. A couple of days ago, I got a check from Subaru that paid every cent I claimed on the repair – almost $500.

    From my limited perspective, that is extraordinary customer support. The car is way out of any warranty, and I count myself as a very satisfied owner.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Another reason that this “regional” recall is crap is the FACT that used cars are routinely shipped all over the country. Just because the car is in Texas now doesn’t mean that it won’t end up in North Dakota next year.

    While I had a month’s worth of Carfax service, I was checking VINs on many used cars and some of them had been registered in half a dozen states in as many years.

    On a somewhat related note, why do we as consumers put up with PLASTIC fuel system components under the hood? I have no problem with plastic fuel tanks, and plastic lines underneath the vehicle, but no way underneath the hood with the wide temperature extremes and significant consequences of a leak. Remember when cars used to have steel fuel lines, all the way right up to the carburetor?

  • avatar
    allythom

    I had this problem on my 02 WRX wagon. It was a fairly widely known problem in the Subaru community on early WRXs, caused by an awkward joint between two pieces of metal fuel line and the intervening rubber hose stiffening in cold conditions and consequently being unable to flex sufficiently. It was fixed in later model years by Subaru making the joint less awkward through changing the relative lengths of the various bits of fuel line.

    I personally only noticed it on very cold days (low 20s) or when going on snowboarding trips to upstate NY & VT and could never see any liquid fuel dripping or pooling, but there was a distinct whiff. My dealer was crap at diagnosing the problem (the usual ‘they all do that’ BS), so I ordered the parts myself and had an independent mechanic fix the issue while doing some other work on the vehicle. It no longer smells like a gas station on very cold days.

    There was a subsequent TSB and now there is a recall. I should see about getting reimbursed.

    I don’t know how many WRX’s have caught fire because of this but I would suspect it is far fewer than the number ruined by ill-considered ‘tuning’ mods and repeated transmission-mangling-in-an-AWD 6K rpm clutch drop launches. That said, a set of broken piston rings or a shattered first gear is probably less likely to cause maiming and death than an underhood fire.

    • 0 avatar
      TheJonesBoy

      I have this problem on my ’04 WRX wagon and a friends ’02 sedan, and I was able to trace it and watch it happen. My observations are a little different than you describe. It is a joint between two metal fittings, where one is expanding a little quicker than the other during warmup. A little gas, only about a half a cc in my case, leaks out and pools up on the block as the fitting warms up and reseals itself. It usually happens in temperatures below about 25F, and the leak/reseal is over in about 2 minutes of run time. It starts about a minute after startup, and leaks for less than a minute. The fuel dries up very quickly as the engine is warm by this point.

      Now that we have coil-on-plug instead of distributor, the possiblity of ignition in the area is pretty low. Gas only burns in a narrow fuel/air ratio, and you have a lot of air blowing through the engine compartment given the hood scoop and flow around the flat-4. If this was a big problem, you would have seen a lot more engine fires.

  • avatar
    Loser

    Wow…here I thought only Fords caught fire.

  • avatar
    obbop

    The future is plastics.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Ray LaHood and his minions sound asleep as usual.

    Q: How many ex-NHTSA employees are there at Subaru?
    A: Enough to avoid a total recall of vehicles that should not be started in temperatures below 25 deg F from an automaker constantly promoting their vehicles bumper-high in snow.


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