95 Legacy, engine randomly dies

So I have a 95 Legacy sedan, FWD. It’s been a kind of problematic car, and the engine was replaced about 5 years ago (I assume with an old unit, but I’m not sure though because though I was in the family I wasn’t driving it then). But, it’s held up and has continued to be at least roadworthy. But recently, it’s developed an issue where the engine will just randomly die while I’m on the road. All/most of the dash indicator lights come on, but if I shift it into neutral and turn the key, it’ll come right back up. Occasionally it’ll die again almost immediately, but usually it’ll be fine for at least a while. And anecdotally, It seems to happen more frequently at lower revs such as idling at a red light (though will occasionally happen while I’m moving), and when the engine is cold - generally once I’ve driven around for a while, it’s not a problem anymore.

I haven’t taken it to a mechanic (yet), so my question is, what is/are likely the problem(s), and how pressing of a concern is it? I do think that my time with the car is almost up - I’m in my last year at school and am planning on getting rid of this car by next summer - so I’d like to avoid throwing more money at a car that I’m not going to be keeping for much longer. But that still leaves a cold Michigan winter between now and then, and I’m worried about whether it’ll make it through said winter without leaving me stranded on the side of the road when it’s 10 degrees or lower out, and I’ll have to pay even more to get it towed and fixed.


These are the hardest type of problem to troubleshoot. It is random and temporary. To find the source, you have to be having the problem at that time.

There is one thing that comes to mind that you should check and that would be the play in the distributor shaft. Pull the cap and rotor. Rotate the engine until one of the vanes on the shaft lines up with the centerline of the ignitor. A 0.010" feeler gauge should just slip between the vane and the ignitor. A brass feeler gauge is best for this. Now, with the feeler in place, push on the top of the shaft and see if you can open a gap between the feeler gauge and either the vane or the ignitor.

If you open a gap that appears to be half the thickness of the feeler gauge, you need to replace the distributor with a reman unit.

The ignitor itself could also be breaking down, as well as the coil and may other parts and connections. This may sound odd, but if the car would not start, it would be easier to find the problem.

I am having the exact same issue with my 96 legacy wagon. Your symptoms are mine, verbatim. It has, however, begun to get worse. It usually only happens about once a month (roughly) but is now happening more, and staying stalled for a bit longer (last time I had to restart it about 4 times before it stayed on). I’m taking it to the shop this week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

did you ever figure out the problem? I have same year and model, same problem, a subaru mechanic told me to change the ecm relay