'98 Subaru Legacy L starting issue

Hey everybody, and a big Hello! to Click-n-Clack if they happen to mosey in here! Its great to be on the site. Huge fan of the show.

'98 Subaru Legacy L, Automatic Tran., 2.2 L, ~140,000 mi. (a youngster)

My issue is with intermittent/delayed starting. What happens is that when I turn the key, the starter solenoid will click once. Eventually after several tries of turning the switch, it starts, usually with some hesitance. When I try to start, I don’t hear anything laboring like the starter Bendix grinding against the flywheel, just click and nothing. I did have the CEL come on once for like 40 minutes and then go out. Once started, however, the car tends to run well and once warm starting is still hesitant, but is quicker. Did conk out on me once at an intersection, was able to restart. Luckily I can walk to school, so I have been keeping it off the road.

As far as troubleshooting goes, the car has the same difficulty starting in neutral as well as park. Within the past year I have replaced the alternator (died), timing belt (routine maint.) as well as the battery (bad). I have also reseated all the ground wires and coated them with dielectric grease. A few months ago, I took the starter out and had it bench tested as good at a “popular auto parts store” in my region - it tested good (starter readily turned over and the Bendix deployed and retracted). Funny thing, when I pulled the starter and replaced it after being checked, the car started flawlessly for a month or so, so I chocked it up to a bad connection. Guess not.

Hope you can help good folks of Car Talk. I’m a poor Nursing student and funds are understandably slim. Thanks in advance.

Your issue is that you have eroded…or Corroded starter solenoid contact points inside your starter solenoid… This is MASSIVELY COMMON on Toyota Denso Starters…(Subaru also uses these starters as well) so common in fact that they offer a kit to rebuild the solenoid. The great part is that the starters on these Toyoties are very well made…and they even have a solenoid that is able to be easily torn down and rebuilt with a new plunger and electrical contacts.

What is happening is that when you hear that click…the elctromagnet in the solenoid is working and throwing the plunger into the two contacts at the other end of the solenoid…what occurs over time is that either the plunger contact or the two copper contacts in the solenoid get burnt, or eroded or corroded (the latter less frequently) and the voltage is not able to be passed from one side to the other…and thus powering the starter motor itself…

I reckon if you found yourself a knowledgeable mechanic worth his salt he would rebuild it for you…if not remove the starter yourself and bring it to an automotive/truck starter rebuilder and he will have that thing up and running in no time with no issues.

I have rebuilt over 100 starter solenoids in my day…saving the customer a TON of money by allowing them to continue using their original starter …which 99% of the time is FAR better made than any aftermarket replacement starter… and these starters can survive up to about 5 solenoid rebuild before the actual starter motor dies. I even bought myself a nice big kit that enables me to do 5 solenoid contact rebuilds on a wide array of starters… You can actually get your current solenoid contacts to work agian by cleaning up the contacts…or filing them level again…but whats the point when the contacts cost no more than 5 bucks for a set… MOST shops will tell you that you need a new starter when 99.9% of the time it just needs the solenoid rebuilt Trust me…

You either have this issue…or its possible that your starter relay is suffering from a similar issue…but you stating that you hear the starter CLICK…means we have moved past the starter relay at that point… Hope this helps


Thanks for the reply. One question though, if the starter contacts were bad, why did it test fine? I physically saw the starter turn and the Bendix deploy when current was applied. I really hope its just the contacts, but the starter working outside of the vehicle gives me pause on this diagnosis. Not trying to be critical, just methodical. Thanks again for the help.

Because the contacts will actually make a good connection from time to time…and when they do…they will engage the starter motor in full force…so it will seem just fine…and in fact the Starter motor itself is more than likely 100% healthy…it is the solenoid…that engages the starter motor itself that is having issues… It is also MUCH easier for the solenoid to make this connection OFF the vehicle when it doesn encounter resistance by the flywheel…(most likely why it worked on the bench) WHen it makes the proper contacts ALL is fine…when it doesnt it will seem like your starter is shot. WHen you turn the key and get only a click…if you whacked the starter solenoid with a hammer you may just jar it enough to make the proper electrical connections within the solenoid.

Trust me…I have been inside so many starter solenoids that I lost count long ago. ALso removing the starter and reconnecting it also cleaned off your electrical connections on the outside of the solenoid…making things work a bit better…perhaps this is all you needed? That is another possibility…but I am fairly confident that you have the issue i am describing…it is more than just common. Time will tell…you can leave it on there for a while to see how long she works…when it acts up again…it will be those solenoid contacts…they just dont last forever


Thanks. I’ll look into replacing the contacts and the solenoid plunger. It seems like a relatively inexpensive and easy repair.

It more common to be able to clean up and reuse the “plunger” it is the contacts that the plunger smacks into that bear the brunt of the electrical erosion due to the arcing that takes place…

If you are able to remove your own starter then you can most likely do these contacts yourself…its not hard at all. I bet if you do a search for Subaru Starter solenoid rebuild kit or Denso Starter rebuild parts (If its a Denso starter-quite likely, they are top quality units)…you can pick up what you need on the net. I know I found an Automotive starter rebuild place online that sold almost every contact or piece you could possibly need… I will see if I saved it in my favorites…let me check…I usually do that

No I didnt save that particular site but go here to see what these parts look like…there are many sites on the net with similar parts…GREAT resource to get what you need for solenoid parts.



This is a pretty common problem with Soobs and other cars and HB is correct about the contacts being bad after about 10 years of use.