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Cold weather gas smell - 2003 Subaru Forester

I noticed that As our Vermont weather approaches freezing, I have a strong gas smell when I drive my 03 Forester. I had a local mechanic, a person I have no experience/reason not to trust, check it last winter. They all smelled it; ran all kinds of diagnostic “paper” tests to try to find a leak; checked with local Subaru mechanics and couldn’t ID the problem. The weather got warmer and the problem went away. It has started again this winter and I am smelling it again. I have an appt with a local dealer but the talk on the street is that this place cannot always be trusted to not try to scare people into more “service” than is really needed. The dispatch person in their dept also said “I’ve heard a lot of people say that about Subarus - I think it’s just something that happens with this car.”

Is it safe for me to be driving (with my 2 year old?) Has anyone encountered this as well?

Is this vehicle under warranty? If not, why are you going to a dealer for some expensive diagnosis that isn’t producing any results? Maybe search out a good independent. Are there any recalls on that vehicle? There is always something on this forum about people over filling there fuel tank and loading up thier fuel overflow cannister. Would you be one of those people?

Thank for your reply! No warranty anymore; independent shop we go to couldn’t find source and suggested a faulty gas hose expands and contracts with temp. We’re not overflowing gas tank - I stop when it stops, this has been ongoing despite how long it’s been since I’ve filled my tank. We checked on recalls and warnings and nothing came up.

I thought it was curious that the phone call with the local dealer suggested this wasn’t the fist time she’d heard about this…

Does this only happen at start-up, or the entire time the car is being operated?

I’ve experienced the strong gas smell in cold temperatures with my Sube as well, but only at start-up. Once the car is warmed up/at operating temp the smell goes away. In the absence of any identifiable source, I just chalked it up to a richer fuel/air ratio being used when the car is started in cold weather (of course I have no idea how true this might be…I can come up with all sorts of baseless theories to explain away things I don’t understand).

I had also heard about the fuel line issue…essentially the fuel lines contract in cold weather, resulting in leakage, but was told that this issue had been addressed with my model year (06).

You could check out for info specific to your car.

This past Friday, with the temperatures here in Pittsburgh dipping into the ngetative numbers, I smelled the distinct odor of gasoline in my 2003 Subaru Forester as I sat at a red light. This had never happened before. I called the Subaru service department and was told that they had received about 10 calls that day about this same issue. He indicated that the cold weather caused the lines to contract and allow gasoline to leak onto the engine. He said that the as the weather warmed up, the lines would expand again, thus minimizing the problem. However, he said that the only way to correct the problem was to have the lines changed. When I asked if it was a hazard to continue driving the vehicle until I could have the lines replaced, he suggested that I limit my driving since gasoline dripping onto a hot engine was dangerous.

The idea is cold weather causes rubber lines to contract and leak,some things come to mind,why only with Subaru? is the leaking fuel visible? everyone knows cold equals contraction but why is this contraction accompained with leakage,why did Subaru not select a material that does not exibit this condition?

Really what comes to mind is, why is there not a recall related to this situation? it is a definite safety hazard.

Even with VW AFC fuel injection (one of the first) I didn’t see cold cause this and the fuel hose used on these cars leaked with the slightest stress put on it(very easily degraded by heat or just time)surely on a quality modern car such as Subaru they didn’t scrimp on fuel line quality. Obviously something is going on but a better explaniation than cold=leakage would be nice.This issue should be resolved at Subaru’s expense.

Subaru has skirted around getting this fixed on early 2000’s where it is prevelant. I believe the amount of fuel leaked is negligible and a bit of gas is leaking. Maybe every Subaru owner should complain to NHSTA and get something going and reimbursement for back repairs.

I know Subaru WRX owners for 2002 only (they fixed in 2003-present) had this very problem. It was around a $600+ repair and was due to the routing of fuel lines near heat. Subaru was covering it for a while but now that has passed.

As temperatures drop to near freezing fuel leaks at the injectors often become evident on some cars. Replacing the O-ring seals at the injectors has corrected the problem. It is necessary to cold start an engine and closely watch the fuel rail and injectors for evidence of leaks before engine heat evaporates the fuel, leaving only the vapor and its odor. Once fully warmed up, the leaks stop. Many of the leaks that have been found here could be so minor as to be ignored but I don’t make that call…

I posted before and did not know the exact answer. I found my bill for repairs. My subaru guys know what they are doing, not to say that they are cheap. However, with the gas smell problem on my 01 Outback, they fixed it by: “Replaced fuel rails with new clamps” Cost $398.78 It worked


I have the same problem on my 03 Forester…I did what someone suggested below and wrote NHSTA a complaint and copied all of the below posts into my complaint. Thanks for all of your input to help out.


I’m experiencing the exact same gasoline smell in the bitter cold of this winter, 2018, in my 2004 Forrester. Thanks for the previous advice. I’ll check hoses and write complaints

Same problem here on my 2003 Sub Outback! Only happens when the outside temperature dips below 25. It doesn’t matter how long the engine has run, in fact, the overwhelming gas smell seems to get worse the longer I drive! Very aggravating!!
I’ve found it occasionally helps to turn on the cabin recirculation button on the heater. This doesn’t always work, though…

The smell is more than annoying it’s dangerous. I suggest you find a good independent mechanic who has a great deal of Subaru experience and have the situation looked into.