Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

2011 Subaru with 35K only starts when it feels like it

My 2011 Subaru Outback Is Now a $33,000 paper-weight
My 2011 Subaru Outback, with only 35,000 miles on it, only starts when it feels like it. The battery is brand new, connections are strong, wires are clean and sound, starter cranks like a champ, but the car just won’t start. This began shortly after the 30,000 mile servicing. The car usually starts in the morning, or if you leave it parked for seven hours or more. But otherwise, chances are it won’t start.

I have been stranded four times now over a three week period. I take the car to Stamford’s Subaru service center and they keep it for three days and then tell me their diagnostic computer says there’s nothing wrong with it and to come pick it up. Last time I did, I ran into a neighbor with a new 2016 Outback, and she said she has exactly the same problem. She has had the dead car towed to Subaru Service four times. They told her it was her fault because she “wasn’t driving it enough.” No, seriously.

Subaru Service is playing dumb; They told me my problem was very rare. Wrong – just go on a Subaru forum, or Google “Subaru won’t start” and you find a bunch of owners with the same problem. They, too, have been put off by Subaru service departments, who obfuscate or shift the blame, and who have no solution. From the forums one is amazed at the myriad repairs, tricks and work-arounds that Subaru owners have come up with to try and solve this problem. There is no quick fix. In fact, as of now, 11/26/16, there is NO certain fix, and Subaru Service appears to be as baffled as angry owners.

When I picked my 2011 Outback after the fourth incident, the service manager said they still couldn’t find anything wrong on the diagnostic computer, and my car started up every time they tried it. One of the service techs told me to use my smart phone to video the non-starting failure every time it happens, and I am now doing that. It doesn’t help start the car, but it does allow Subaru Service to see what procedures I use to start the car, and it becomes a record of incidents.

I am a 75-year old veteran, and my wife has only one leg; we can’t afford to be stranded somewhere, especially in winter, at night, in the middle of nowhere. It’s just too dangerous, and could result in serious harm, injury or even death. We bought the Subaru because of its reputation for reliability, and now we are afraid to drive it anywhere beyond walking distance.

Nothing against the knowledgeable members here but this sounds like a Subaru forum would be best.


First of all, I’d bump this up to a higher level in Subaru. The info is in your owner’s manual. Keep all the paperwork. Ask for a loaner until this is resolved.

The dealer is useless if all he can do is read the codes.

Second, I’d look into the lemon laws of your state.


I might add something else . . .

Just because some guys on the internet are all saying their Subaru cranks over, but doesn’t start . . . does NOT mean that they all fail to start for the exact same reason. It also doesn’t mean that Subaru corporate is aware of some massive problem and is trying to cover it up

There are many reasons that a car won’t start, and there are many such situations that will never result in a fault code of any kind

Clearly, it’s a lot easier to diagnose the problem when it’s happening every single time, not intermittently, such as this situation

What you need is a guy who is able to think outside of the box . . . “Okay, the customer states the car intermittently will crank, but not start. I’ve got no fault codes, and the customer says the problem has occurred several times. What would cause that?” Nothing against dealership mechanics . . . I used to be one myself, after all . . . but that environment doesn’t really lend itself to thinking outside of the box, and the dealership doesn’t encourage it, either. We’ve gone through this several times, and there’s no point in getting into it, IMO

Seriously . . . telling the customer to provide a video of how they start the car is almost pointless. Unless the customer is seen attempting to start the car in “drive” position, for example, the video wouldn’t yield much useful information. And the customer might see it as insulting. Translation . . . the customer feels the dealership isn’t taking him seriously, doesn’t believe him, is blowing him off, is trying to wash their hands of the customer and the car, etc.

At this point, it could be many things, such as a neutral safety switch, fuel pump check valve, crankshaft position sensor, etc.

1 Like

Lemon Law?
With a 5 year old car?
Unfortunately, the time limit for that type of relief is long past in this case.

1 Like

Sorry to say it has to be diagnosed in failure mode to find out why it will not start. A similar situation talked to the dealer, and they were onboard with diagnosing it immediately, as it seemed a half hour or 45 minutes,there was not an issue. Turned out to be a failing fuel pump in my case. The better you can pinpoint the times of failure, the easier it will be to try and stop at the dealer when failure is immenent.

Recap, could be many things but figure out a pattern, and get the dealer to work with you.

1 Like

Sorry you are having this difficulty. I think you may be overstating it a little though by suggesting this isn’t a rare problem. By the posts we get here anyway, this isn’t a common complaint among Subbie owners. Suggest you drop the blame-game. What you need is a solution. Here’s a couple of ideas:

  • Ask the dealership to keep the car for a couple weeks, and one of their techs can drive it back and forth to work and on daily errands. Eventually it will not start and the tech will likely be able to figure out why at that point. Almost certainly it is either spark or fuel.

  • If you feel lucky, you could just replace the crank position sensor. Those are common heat-related failure items, resulting in no-spark only when the engine is warm.

1 Like

I am the proud owner of my third Outback, and I wouldn’t have bought the second one if the first hadn’t been the most reliable car I ever had, and–of course–I wouldn’t have bought the third one if the second one hadn’t been even better than the first.

I currently have 69k on my 2011 Outback, and the ONLY repair to date is the replacement of the windshield washer reservoir. The “low fluid” light wouldn’t turn off, and because the float/sensor was stuck, they replaced the reservoir under warranty.

The engine starts immediately–no matter the weather–the vehicle has no squeaks or rattles, the powerful (optional) 3.6 liter engine returns a consistent 23/24 mpg in local driving and 28/29 mpg on long highway drives, it has consumed a grand total of 3/4 of a qt of oil in those 69k miles, the original brake pads still have 7 mm of friction material on the front, and 6 mm remaining on the rear pads, and–overall–my Outback performs just as well as when I first took delivery of it in late 2010.

Rather than being typical, I can say that the OP’s problem is an aberration.

I wish I knew the answer, but I do recommend this forum. There are a couple of knowledgeable guys here.

BTW, when this happens, do you smell gas?

Thanks, Barkydog,
I have been turning the ignition key half way on, to service, three or four
times for three or four seconds, to let the fuel pump pressurize, per a tip
on the Subaru Outback forum. Also, another tip was to turn the key to
service and leave it there for six or seven seconds to let the relays get
the message. I am not a mechanic, and it’s hard to tell if these measures
are making a difference. You’re right that you need to let it stand for a
while, but for me it has been a longer period of time. No idea what that
means. Maybe temperature related? Or some kind of vapor lock?
All best, Ken

Thanks, George,
For your calm and cool reply. I did find dozens of owners with the same
problem on Subaru forums. And two people in my immediate community, just by
chance. And also via google. Asking the dealer to keep the car for a couple
of weeks is a great out-of-the-box idea, but I am in residential real
estate and I can’t live or work without a car. My dealer does not do
loaners, or rentals, either. So if my no-start issue persists, I will have
to rent a car, or call Uber every time I need to go somewhere.
I bet you’re right that it is either spark, or fuel, or the crank position
sensor. On the first time I took the car to the Subaru service center, the
tech did mumble something about the crank sensor. I don’t know why they
didn’t do anything to address that.
I am 75, and have owned LOTS of cars over the years. Back in the day, if
your car didn’t start, it was either the battery, connections, cables,
plugs, or points. They were all things that could be detected and corrected
by any handy owner. Those days are long gone. Now even the techs are
baffled if the diagnostic computer can’t find the problem. Maybe what I
need is an old mechanic who goes by sound, sight, smell, feel, or instinct.
Thanks again, Ken

Thanks, Keith,
Yes, there are some very knowledgeable guys here. I’m getting some really
good responses and diagnoses. Way more than came from my dealer’s service

No, my 2011 Outback is not flooding when it cranks, and there’s no smell of
gas. Even when I pop open the hood. I don’t think any gas is getting to the
cylinders. One guy on the Subaru forum offered the tip of spraying starting
fluid (ether) into the air intake when or just before cranking. I’m going
to try that. If it works, my problem could most likely be the fuel pump.
Thanks again, Ken

Your comment that it could be a failing fuel pump is legitimate, but overlooks the complex electrical systems that now operate all the systems in the car, including the fuel pump. Yes, there is a fuel pump, but unlike decades ago when they were mechanical devices that operated off the running engine, they are entirely powered by electricity and operated with a system of relays and sensors to deliver fuel under pressure where and when needed, and not otherwise.

In your case the first step would be just as it has always been, disconnecting a spark plug and seeing if there is spark when the engine is cranking over but not starting. That lets you determine whether you have a problem in the ignition system or in the fuel system. Squirting starting fluid into the intake while cranking the engine might do that too, if the engine “catches” for a second or two before stalling.

If the Subbie dealership doesn’t seem to want to figure out why it cranks but doesn’t start, suggest you use a local inde mechanic instead. Any good mechanic should be able to at least determine if it is a spark or a fuel problem. But unless you are willing to spend lots of money, they’ll have to have the car at their shop when this happens to make the diagnosis in an economical (to you) manner.

It’s true that cars of yesteryear could frequently be diagnosed by pretty much any gear-head mechanic and fixed with some chewing gum and duct tape; but fixing modern cars isn’t that much more complicated than the older cars. The difference is, w / modern electronic fuel injected cars it require techs properly skilled and trained how to do it, with access to the needed tools and electronic diagnostic equipment. Some part of that equation may be missing at the Subbie dealership you are using, either that or you may be saying something to them that is making them shy to start the process, for example are you complaining to them about what it might cost? Most shops charge on the order of $100/hour – they have to do that to pay their bills – so even minor problems can run up quite a bill. That’s another difference I guess from the 1960’s, where the shops would charge maybe $10 -$15 hour. But the mechanics have to have a place to live, and so they need enough income to afford to buy a house or at least pay their rent. Modern cars, modern living.

“Now even the techs are baffled if the diagnostic computer can’t find the problem.”

If they can’t think on their own, absent any codes, it’s quite possible they’re not very good technicians, after all

I can’t tell you the number of no-code stalls, no-starts, etc. I’ve fixed over the years

I’m not bragging . . . it’s just the way you have to be if you want to be successful and survive in this business

Those that can’t cut it get weeded out and move on to something else, or keep bouncing from shop to shop, usually not by their own choice

1 Like

Thank you Bill,
I am writing a letter to several folks higher, and to my dealer as well. I
am running the letter by my brother, the attorney, before I mail it. In
Connecticut, lemon law is only good for two years or 24K miles.
All best, Ken Delmar

Thanks, George,
You are clearly WAY knowledgeable in this discipline. What happened to me
this afternoon may help diagnose the problem: I started my Outback after it
had been standing for several hours, and drove to AutoZone to turn in my
previous battery for the $5 refund, and to buy a can of starting fluid, per
a tip from a guy on a Subaru forum. I turned off the car in AutoZone’s
parking lot. When I came out ten minutes later, my car wouldn’t start.
Cranking like mad, but no ignition. I videoed this event for the record.
Then I popped open the hood and sprayed a shot of ether into the air
intake. The car started. I got in and drove for home. About a mile later
the car just stopped dead on a busy street. Dead as a door-nail, and would
not restart. On the dash, the BRAKE light was lit (the brake was not on),
the Check Engine light, the Cruise light, and a couple of others that were
just silly. I put on the emergency lights, donned a yellow emergency vest,
and put out emergency markers. The drivers behind me were merging from two
lanes into one, honking and glaring at me like I did it on purpose. I
popped open the hood and hit the air intake with another shot of ether. The
car started reluctantly after several cranks. I drove home, another mile
and a half, and parked the car so it could be easily picked up by a flatbed
truck. I called the manager of my local Subaru Service center. He would not
take my call, and did not call back. My wife and I cancelled our vacation
trip. This car is now totally unreliable and scary.

You should be relieved, your car has no longer has an intermittent failure difficult to demonstrate (have you been able to demonstrate this problem in the past?). Try to leave the vehicle there until it is repaired and thoroughly tested.

That would be Subie


Thanks, Nevada_545. I sent an email this morning to the owner of my local
Subaru dealership/service center. When the car died in traffic yesterday at
3:15 PM, I called the manager of the service department. He would not take
my call, and he did not call me back. I got a call later today from the
owner/manager of the dealership and he told me his business sells 300
Subarus a month, and so it is true that I am a rare exception. That doesn’t
help me at all. I told him that I wanted four things looked at
specifically: the fuel pump. the crank position sensor, the relays, and the
alternator. And I said I didn’t care what the diagnostic computer said,
that it was clearly blind to the problem. He said okay and to bring the car
in tomorrow whenever I could. I told him that if this fifth visit to the
service center failed to resolve the problem that he should come up with a
proposal to make me whole again. I am willing to trade the car in for any
similar car on their used car lot – NOT a Subaru – as I have lost all
confidence in the car. I don’t want to trade the car in at a non-Subaru
dealership and neglect to tell them that it doesn’t start randomly. Just
not me. Neither will I offer to sell the car to some unsuspecting slob who
thinks he is getting a great deal on a really reliable automobile. I have
been videoing the last two incidents of non-starting, and I will continue
to do so, since the service department – and the owner – claim they have
started the car “30 or 40 times” with no incident. I do have witnesses
other than my wife and daughter, and I will not just let this go.