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Gasoline smell when it's cold outside

I have a 2005 Subaru Outback XT with turbo. I have had a strange problem the last two winters and have stumped two mechanics, so far.

I live in Vermont and this time of year, it is necessary to warm my car up for a few minutes in the morning. Last winter, when I warmed my car up, I would smell gasoline outside of the car and in the cab. It only happened when it is about 25 degrees or less outside. After about 10-15 minutes, once the car was warm, the smell would go away. I figured smelling gasoline was bad news, so, I took it to my mechanic who said he found a loose clamp in the engine. He tightened it and it fixed the problem. I didn’t have any other issues that winter or through the next year.

But, this winter, the problem is back. I have moved, so, I took the car to a new mechanic (recommended by friends) and told him the issue. He said that he found a loose clamp between the engine and the turbo and tightened it. He said other than that, he can’t think of anything. Well, that worked for a few days. But, now, the problem is back and with a vengeance. The smell is a bit different. Still like gasoline, but kind of like exhaust, too. And it is strong. I have to open the windows for a few minutes to air the car out before I can drive it. I took it back to the mechanic, but he is stumped and not sure what to do next.

I think my next step is to take it to a Subaru dealer, but with a 10 year old car, I’m hesitant to go that route. Though, I love my car and want it to last AND be safe to drive.

Does anyone have any insight as to what is going on?

Any help is appreciated!

Jen

Have someone inspect the fuel injector O-rings for any leakage when starting the engine cold.

It takes very little gasoline to create that smell.

Tester

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There was a factory recall of Outbacks of that era relating to defective fuel system clamps that allowed slight gasoline seepage during cold weather conditions.

It sounds to me like your car was never taken in for the completion of that recall. For reasons that I will never understand, a fairly substantial portion of the population ignores the recall letters that they receive, so if your car was purchased as a used car, it is entirely possible that the prior owner was one of these “ignorant” people.

Recalls don’t expire, so I suggest that you phone the service department of a Subaru dealership, give them your VIN, and ask, “Are there any open recalls on my car?” They can check this online very quickly, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your car was eligible for a free fix.

Even if it doesn’t qualify for that recall, since gasoline fumes are a potential safety issue, and if your local mechanic is at the limit of his expertise, I think that you should consult with the dealership on this issue.

Please post back and let us know if the dealership was able to resolve the problem.

I recall several vehicles, most notably Jeeps, that had fuel seeping from the base of injectors when cold starting at temperatures below freezing. Even though there was never enough seepage to result in even a teaspoon puddling under an injector the odor was unmistakable and annoying. I found that replacing all the rubber bases and all O-rings was worthwhile. If only the leakers were resealed the others soon developed leaks.

Good posts above. A couple more ideas. The engine computer injects a lot more gas at first with a cold engine, and the colder it is, the more gas. So its possible that some gasoline odor will be noticed on cold starts, esp when it is really cold. That’s just extra gas going out the tail pipe. It should end quickly, within a few minutes of idling. And if all else fails, ask your shop to use their emissions “sniffer”. It will detect gasoline vapors, so with a little probing around they should be able to determine exactly where the gas vapor source is located.

Yeah, I agree that this could well be a nominal condition: extra rich in open loop, and no cat light-off for a few minutes. That will get you a gasoline perfume at start.
(And if it IS o-rings that harden and leak fuel in cold conditions…well, it could be worse, ahem NASA…)

I think the solution lies between Tester and VDC …I wouldn’t go any further until those two items are checked off as being updated. They stole the words right out of my mouth. Excellent advice if I do say so meself.

Blackbird

George,

If you smell gasoline vapors at anytime from an OBDII vehicle, you’re totally defeating the EVAP system that’s supposed to prevent that from happening.

Again, you’re guessing.

Tester

True…this guy should post an EVAP Emissions code if it was fuel cap or tank related. He will NOT have a code for leaking injector seals or leaking fuel lines however… at least I cant think of any. Thats why I think You and VDC nailed it… Its got to be one or the other here.

Blackbird

Yeah, Tester, I’m guessing again … just like that wheel bearing … lol …

Jen, did you have the o-rings checked? Did that solve the issue? I have a 2006 Subaru Forester with Turbo and am experiencing this same problem for the first time this year (this is my second winter owning the car). I didn’t notice it at all last year but it was a mild winter and we are basking in balmy -10 degrees these last few weeks… Planning a vacation later this month and want to make sure this isn’t a serious issue. Thanks!

Leaking fuel injector seals in cold weather has been a somewhat common problem for many years and I thought that everyone had made corrections by 2006. If you have an experienced Subaru mechanic that you trust I would suggest having him take a look at the situation. The car should be left overnight so the engine temperature is cold and the leak occurring at its worst when started.

Years ago my wife’s daily driver had that intermittent gasoline odor due to leaking O-rings and I eventually replaced them all but the leaks were minor and never resulted in a problem other than the odor for the first few minutes that the engine was running. As soon as the temperature increased the seeping stopped as did the odor… Maybe I souldn’t admit that I didn’t immediately repair that problem. Oh well. It’s done now.

That is true, but if this vehicle is covered by Subaru’s recall on the fuel system clamps, that free repair can only be obtained at the dealership. As I had suggested to the OP–before the thread was hijacked by someone else–a phone call to a Subaru service department should yield the information regarding whether there is an open recall on this vehicle.

Yes @VDCdriver. It’s always wise to take advantage of all warranty and recall repairs offered by the manufacturer. But the 1+ year old OP was brought back to life by @Quincy_Ranville in regard to her 2006 model. Could the factory recall still be in effect for QR’s car?

And BTW, the first time I recognized the cold weather fuel leaks I was reminded of the failed Shuttle launch and couldn’t understand how such an infamous failure could have been allowed to reoccur in the automotive industry. Was a 1% increase in butyl rubber all that was necessary to alleviate the potentially catastrophic problem?

Yes, actually, it could.
Recalls–technically–don’t expire, so if the parts still exist, and if that 2006 model is part of the recall, then free repairs would be possible. Yes, there are a few “ifs”, but…why not check with the dealer’s service department?

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