2000 Outback won't start, then starts after sitting for a while

I have a 2000 Outback Limited with 133,000 miles. I bought the car used and it has had to have a lot of maintenance. Most recently new head gaskets and radiator. Last weekend while doing errands, the car would not start, after sitting for around 20 minutes. The battery is less than a year old and the radio, etc, worked. I had it towed to my Subaru mechanic who checked the battery, alternator and starter, but could find nothing wrong, The car started for him each time he tried. Today, I was driving home from work, stopped somewhere for around 10 mins. and when I tried to start the car, nothing. Not even a noise. I had someone give me a jump, but that did not start the car. I let the car sit for around 45 minutes and it started right up. What is wrong with this beast?

Maybe neutral safety switch.

i have the exact same problem on my 1997 Outback with 173k miles.

More details. Always starts fine after sitting an extended time (although I have another (?) issue where if it sits for too long (say a week) then after it starts the first time it sometimes sputters and dies after about 3 blocks - I’ll make a separate thread on that, but thought it might be relevant).

However, if the car gets hot (either running long time, bad traffic or lots of heat) and then you stop the engine (running into store, getting gas, etc) for a short time and try to restart it, nothing happens. All the lights work, windows, etc, but there is literally nothing when you turn the key - doesn’t even try to turn over. Jumping the car does nothing.

If it sits for a relatively long time, it starts right up with no issues.

So, short errands bad, long shopping trips good is the lesson my wife has taken from this. Please save our bank account!


Same as the above; likely a neutral safety switch which may also be called a range selector switch.

Next time it acts up try shifting into neutral to see if it will start. If it does start the neutral switch is likely faulty. That test is not definitive but it’s easy enough to do anyway.

I agree with @ok4450 and the others. Try shifting into neutral and see what happens. The safety or inhibit circuit is the most likely trouble for this and is a fairly common issue for this age of vehicle. If you still have the orignial starter in the car then the solenoid contacts are about due to go out also. The sign for that is when you hear a single click when trying to start the engine but don’t hear anything else happening.

Starter is probably getting hot and the brushes are not making good contact due to expansion.

starters for old ford 360 and 390 motors are notorious for binding up somehow when they get hot . seems like battery is weak and barely has enough power to turn over engine, but will fire right up after cooling off for awhile and heat distortion abates.

Of course it hasn’t happend since I posted this to test the d@*& thing, but I don’t think it’s the battery since I’ve replaced both it and the alternator in the past year.

I hate intermittent faults!

I would guess the trouble is with the safety (inhibit) switch for the starter. It is a pretty common problem. You could install a temporary bypass switch to the solenoid so in case the problem happens again you can get the engine started. It is pretty simple to do and might save a tow.

An update on this issue from our end. Finally happened again and the plot definitely thickened…

Last night she drove from work to pick up one of the kids, (45 min drive in mild weather) and even after sitting for half an hour, it wouldn’t start up. she let it sit for another 15 minutes, but still nothing (literally, there is no sound from the engine when turning the key to start)

Facts (as I know them)
1997 Outback 2.5L - 170k miles
Battery replaced last year
Alternator replaced last year
makes your traditional old subaru noises when running normally
scheduled maintenance performed when required
A/C repaired this year
Transmission repaired early this year (between original occurrences and the most recent 2)

Last night:
interior and exterior lights on and strong - power windows worked fine
Tried shifting out of park into neutral. No Change
rolled the car down across a parking lot to a more accessible location - no change
popped the hood and jumped the car from our Honda - started right up - turned it off - started right up again
No Check Engine Light or other indication of issue
(as an aside, I tried one of those new Automatic (brand) OBD readers to see if there was any codes - either there weren’t or it didn’t register)

However the PREVIOUS time this happened (before the previous post) we got a jump from another vehicle and it didn’t make any difference - it still wouldn’t start. (the difference being that that was within 10 min of stopping a very hot car (hour plus on the road in stop and go traffic on a hot day). That time, I walked back to the care 90 min later and it started right up.

sometimes a jump helps, sometimes it doesn’t
it doesn’t start in neutral or park
it generally starts by itself an hour or more after it is stopped

Could the transmission safety inhibitor switch still be the issue?
Is there a coolant switch of some sort on this car?
I’ve seen a couple of other threads on other boards mention replacing the Camshaft and CrankShaft Position Sensors - does this sound reasonable?
@Cougar - any hints where to start on that bypass switch, I’m handy around the house, incl with electrical, but don’t know this car at all.

Thanks so much, everyone!

If the dash isn’t getting any power when the problem happens the trouble is either with the ignition switch connections or a problem to the power panel under the hood. Get a test light probe and leave it in the car so you can test for power the next time this happens. Check the fuses under the hood first. A wire from the battery ties to the panel. You may have a fusible link in the panel used as a main fuse so check that connection carefully. If the fuses in the panel are okay and getting power to them then check the ignition switch. It supplies power to most of the dash fuses.

To run a bypass switch to the starter solenoid you just run a switched power wire to the small lead on the solenoid. Since that bypasses the safety switch you need to be careful when the car is in gear and starting the engine. As a safety you could add a fuse to the line and only install the fuse when you need to use the switch.

Hot engines are tighter and harder to start. You may not be getting enough “juice” to the starter. Try cleaning all the ground wire connections. There may be corrosion impeding the flow of electricity to the starter.

Not cranking on a hot start? Usually this would be a problem with the starter motor. When you are driving around, the engine is kept cool by the coolant circulating, but when you stop the coolant stops too. The heat inside the engine will migrate out and can make things attached to the engine a higher temperature than they’d be if the engine was running. If the problem was that the engine cranked, but didn’t start, I’d suspect a crank sensor failure. (Which is often located near the starter motor.) But since it simply doesn’t crank, I’m thinking the starter motor is to blame. Don’t replace the starter motor at this point though. First thing is to ask you mechanic to measure the voltages at both terminal of the starter motor during attempted cranking (when its not working). If one or both are low (below 10.5 volts with a new battery), first thing is to find the cause of that. If both are 10.5 volts or above during attempted cranking, and it won’t crank, next check that the starter motor bolts that hold it on to the engine haven’t come loose. If they remain tight, then the starter motor will have to be removed and bench tested. If the problem does turn out to be the starter motor, definitely consider to get it fixed locally at an auto-electric shop. I think you’ll find the shop prices to repair your starter motor are reasonable. There’s only a few things that can go wrong, and are easy to fix by an experienced tech. Either that or purchase an OEM replacement unit (new or rebuilt) from the dealer. Avoid the low priced off-shore aftermarket units.


I’ve never had a starter rebuilt at one of those small auto-electric shops

What’s the turnaround time been, for you, that is?

@db4690 … The most recent time I had an auto-electric shop fix my starter motor, all they had to do was replace the solenoid contacts and the plunger. Took about 10 minutes, they did it while I waited. Fee? $25 parts and labor.

If they have to replace the brushes, clean up the commutator, maybe lube or put in a new bearing, it takes more time, but they can usually have it done, bench tested, & ready to pick up by the next day.

If you could be sure a $75 off-shore rebuilt unit from an parts store would work without grief, that would be the way to go. But in my experience at least, the number of new problems introduced can be minimized by keeping the same OEM starter motor that came with the car in service as long as practically possible by having a local auto-electric shop fix it when it breaks. Another advantage is the reduced starter noise, as the teeth on the starter and the flywheel wear at the same rate, and are perfectly meshed. The offshore rebuilt units are considerably noisier, at least at first, as the teeth don’t match the flywheel.


I have a question . . . that you may or may not be able to answer

Do you happen to know if the auto-electric shop used high quality parts to rebuild your starter?

@db4690 … the auto-electric shop I used showed me the new parts they used when replacing the solenoid contacts. And they showed me the existing ones, which were obviously just by looking at them kaput. But those contacts are just small (albeit thick) pieces of copper as far as I can tell, so it is hard to know if they were higher or lower quality compared to whatever else is available. The car starts good as new, is about all I can say. I had this done about 2 years ago and no problems so far – well, once I figured out my ignition switch was on the fritz too, and was part of my starting problem. To address this I installed a 40 amp relay so the starter solenoid current no longer goes through the ignition switch and only goes through this relay now. (Source for 12 VDC 40 A relay: Radio Shack, $4.95)

I looked through my paperwork after I posted above, and remembered that I didn’t actually have a new plunger put in. They told me the old one was still ok. So all they put in was the flat stationary copper contacts, and the fee parts and labor was $10, not $25. It was $25 if I wanted the new plunger too.

I do get the sense from talking to the owner there that she knows what she’s talking about. She seemed to know about as much as any tradesperson could about repairing and rebuilding starter motors and alternators. And she didn’t try to upsell me with parts I didn’t need, for example she told me I didn’t need a new plunger. That saved me $15. I expect she uses good quality parts as she depends on repeat business, but I have no way to verify.


Thanks for the very informative update