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Cats and dogs riding hours together peacefully, tornados – and a Subaru breaking down. Armageddon!

We have a low-mileage (less than 50K) 2006 Subaru Forester with the turbo (and yes we always use premium gas). Four hours into a six hour drive, we stopped to fuel up with a quarter tank left. Minutes after getting back underway, the car started bucking, not responding, lights on the dash were flashing, and the check engine light was going on and off. We pulled over and after a few minutes it would turn over but wouldn’t stay running. We sat and waited for a tow for an hour, during which time nothing improved. It was 90+ degrees outside, raining, we had two dogs and two cats with us – and black and green sky coming at us because (as our nifty weather band radio said) there was a tornado warning with funnel clouds sighted. After a tow (where human and beast alike rode in the car, up on the back of the flatbed truck) through lightning and thunder and hail to the local garage (“John’s Pit Stop”), we had to leave the car overnight. (Thank god for my sister-in-law, who drove through the tornados to pick us up!)

The next day, the garage tells us they started the car, it ran hard and chuggy for a while, then evened out and was running just fine. They checked it out, hooked it up to their computer – the computer said nothing wrong, no codes, etc. Then the next day they drove it and it was still running fine. They checked the gas to see if there was water in it (nope). They couldn’t find a thing wrong with the car. My dad drove my husband out to pick it up and followed him back…and it was fine. I’ve been driving it around for a couple weeks still on the same tank of gas…and it’s been fine. I just refueled it this morning with a quarter tank left…and it drove fine afterwards. The gas cap was screwed on tight. The temperature gauge never broke a sweat. The hoses and belts were all intact. Nothing smelled funny, or like it was burning. There was plenty of every fluid, and the oil wasn’t due for a change. Before stopping for gas EVERYTHING, including the acceleration, was just fine.

What the heck??? It’s a Subaru for crying out loud – it’s never given us a minute of trouble. We’ve talked about replacing the fuel filter just in case…thanks for any suggestions you can give!

The only thing I can think of is that perhaps some particulate found its way into the fuel line, worked its way through, and got blown through the system out the exhaust.

Or perhaps the severe weather caused a really severe dip in ambient pressure and the tank’s airspace pressure (vented through the charcoal canister) developed a really low pressure and that prevented the pump from providing enough fuel pressure. I’ve never studieed the effects of tornado weather on sutomotive fuel systems, so please understand that I’m wildly guessing.

Barometric pressure plummets in a tornado, but in order to actually experience that, you have to be IN the tornado. Tim Samaras proved that several years ago when he managed to get one of his probes directly hit by one:

In order for it to have had an effect on the OP’s gas tank, she would have to have taken a direct hit.

I’d say it was contaminated fuel of some sort.

Lol- thanks for the comments. This is the husband here. Fortunately, we were not in the tornado so we did not test the theory further. My first thought was water in the tank, but I guess that checked out OK and the car has run fine. Second thought was debris in the tank, disturbed by the fill up, and that appears to be the working theory. I was going to change the fuel filter but discovered that the fuel filter is in the (cough) fuel tank, and I’m not going there. Thanks Subaru- nice touch. Great car, but really? Anyway, we are going to hit the road again on another 6 hour drive in a few weeks. I’m going to add some fuel injector cleaner to the latest batch of gas and cross my fingers. If anyone has other suggestions about what else to do from here, please let us know your thoughts. Thanks!

Just a comment to let you know that in-tank allegedly “self-cleaning” filters are the norm now. It isn;t just your car.

You shouuld be fine. In this case I think the fuel injector cleaning additive is a perfectly fine idea.

Was there a lot of lightning around. If so, maybe an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) upset the computer temporarily.

If it was pouring rain, you may have gotten enough water splashed on some critical electrical component that it temporarily was shorting and causing rough running. Or the engine may have inhaled some water, which could have soaked the mass air flow sensor. You may just have to wait until it happens again (if it does) to get more info.

If your check engine light was flashing though, there should be a stored code.

With no codes to work with it could be any one of a number of things. If it was raining when the problem first started then I’m inclined to agree with oblivion about water causing this problem.

Regarding the fuel filter, if that has never been changed and if it’s partially clogged this can cause premature fuel pump failure which can manifest itself as a now and then thing. The car may run fine like this until the pump hiccups.
If the filter is changed it should be inspected about an hour after being dumped out. This allows any gas inside to evaporate. If one cannot blow freely through it then it’s partially clogged and could give credence to the erratic pump theory.

The tornados may have been close but you likely did not go through one. I got caught
in one once while going through a small town at night and while this one was comparatively small (it only flattened about a 1/3 of the town) the pickup I was in was feeling it. Being pushed backwards, elevating a foot into the air, settling down, and then the previously mentioned low pressure did a number on me. Both the rear window and right side glass blew in and threw me over the steering wheel followed by everything in the truck except me being sucked back out the rear window opening.

Thanks for the replies. There was lots of lightning, but nothing that hit near enough to us to be unusual. We did go through a very heavy micro burst about a half hour before the fill up, but at the time of the break down there was no precip. Very strange problem, but I am pretty confident it was a fuel issue- either the fuel itself or a clog in the line of some kind. What I can’t quite figure out is why the car refused to start for us on the side of the road, but worked fine the next morning. Some water that needed evaporation somewhere? Thanks again for the help. If it happens again and we find the reason, we’ll post it for future reference.

Thanks for the followup post.

This may be one of those anomolies that never gets solved and never recurrs. They are real and they do occur.

Sincere best.

Sounds like a fun day ok4450. Were you shooting a scene in Twister? :wink:

I’ve seen two tornado’s in my life when I lived in Tennessee.

I’ll take the snow we got where I grew up Pulaski NY (250"+ a year) over Tornado’s. You don’t usually die while sleeping in your bed when it’s snowing out.