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1999 Subaru Legacy Wagon CEL on Again

I have a 1999 Subaru Legacy Wagon with 130,000 miles on it. It was received second-hand but was supposedly well taken care of. In August 2009, the alternator was replaced. Two days later, while on a road trip, the CEL came on. The dealer said that it was the catalytic converter code that came up and they would clear it out and not to worry if it came on again. At the time, I really thought it was from the no-name gas station that we had stopped at and just got bad gas. I always get Shell or Texaco or Mobil but we ran out of gas sooner than planned because of bad weather.

Almost a year later it came on again and they again said it was the CC. Coincidentally, it was just 50 miles after getting a generic gas. The dealer cleared the code and gave me a quote for a new CC.

Last weekend the CEL came on again within minutes of getting gas. I pulled over and checked the gas cap and my darling fiance had not tightened. The CEL went off after I started the car for the fifth time after it had come on.

Tonight it came on again driving on a local road at the exact second the gas tank reached the 1/4 mark.

It is always on steadily, never blinking.

Does this sound like a catalytic converter issue? They are really expensive and I just want to make sure that this is really the problem and not a little oxygen sensor.

Rather than any of us–or you–making blind guesses as to what the problem might be, you need to have the stored trouble code(s) read. If you go to an auto parts retailer, like Auto Zone, Advance Auto, O’Reilly, or (possibly) Napa, you can likely have the codes read free-of-charge. Then you can come back to this thread and post the codes for specific advice. The codes will be in a format like P0123.

Incidentally, I am intrigued by one of your comments, namely, “It was received second-hand but was supposedly well taken care of”. That would seem to imply that the car did not come with maintenance records. Have you personally made sure that all of the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance for the 90k and 120k service intervals has been performed? If not, the problem is likely related to skipped maintenance.

And, then we come to the topic of the timing belt, which was supposed to have been replaced in 2006, or at 105k miles–whichever came first. If this was not done, I hope you realize that when the belt snaps, the cost of engine repairs will likely exceed the book value of the car. If you don’t know through documentation that the timing belt was replaced, you need to do it NOW.

The car was received from a family friend. The woman passed away about a year before it was given to us. During that time it was in a garage. There are a bunch of service records but they aren’t complete. Anything that was in her house was thrown away. The only things I have are what was in the car which covers about 4 full years. It had a 50,000 mile service in 2006 but I don’t see timing belt on there so I am going to call the dealership in the morning about that.