Engine breaking in 2003 Subaru Outback Wagon

Why is the engine breaking in my standard transmission 2003 Subaru Outback Wagon so pronounced in first gear? It has been this way since I purchased the car and makes driving at slow speed in traffic something of a chore. There is no problem as long as I am accelerating. But when I start to de-accelerate in first gear, the car won’t slow gradually but lurches until I give the engine some gas. Other Subaru Outbacks of the same vintage that I have driven don’t seem to have this problem, but accelerate and de-accelerate smoothly in first gear, even at low RPM. Could this have something to do with the engine timing?

It doesn’t sound like there is any problem. You really can’t drive around, except a crawl, in first. Try to do you parking lot driving in second instead. This would have nothing to do with timing. Put your mind at ease.

Use 2nd gear if you are moving very slowly. If you come to a stop put back into 1st and restart.

I agree that driving in slow traffic calls for second gear, rather than first gear. First gear is only for initially getting the vehicle moving, and should then be followed quickly by a shift to second gear.

If you don’t do this, you may find that you REALLY wind up with your engine “breaking”, rather than the desired engine braking.


Thanks for the reassurance, but the problem occurs in second gear as well, though it is less pronounced. I didn’t think anything of it really, until I drove a friend’s manual outback and didn’t notice the phenomenon at all. Maybe my outback just has much better than average compression.

It seems there is a problem with engine idling, or WHEN the throttle plate is at, or near, idle position. This might be a problem with the iac (idle air control) valve, or, throttle plate.
Clean the intake tract. This includes the iac, MAF, throttle plate and throttle bore. Use an MAF Cleaner on the MAF. Use a liberal amount of CARB/Throttle Body Cleaner in the intake tract. Let it soak a few minuets. Start the engine and let it smoke out the exhaust!

Look at the tps (throttle position sensor) voltage (or, resistance) at, and near, idle. If the voltage is has spikes, the engine idle can be erratic. You may find a mechanic who knows how to look at the tps (and other sensors) voltages with a scan tool.