Intermittant Non-Starting Car

2000 Subaru Legacy Outback (or is it Outback Legacy…I’ve never known)
165000 miles

I have this chronic and intermittent problem with my Subaru. It’s been going on for years. I had it to the dealership a few time as well as other mechanics, but of course it never misbehaves then.

Here’s the problem. The car always will start when cold. Occasionally when you go somewhere, primarily short errands etc. the first stop is no problem but when you stop at the next place and come back a short while later (5-15 minutes) it will not start. It does not make a sound. Lights work. Battery is just fine. Stopping on long trips is especially problematic.

At first it would cure itself after opening the hood, scratching your head, etc. and closing the hood. Or maybe it was slamming the door but you could depend on it starting after some hocus pocus like that. Now it seems to be getting worse. However there is one thing that so far never fails… you can jump it and it will fire right up. Remember, the battery is not low, but jumping works.

Actually the battery is just about a year old. One time it died and when I couldn’t get it to start after a long time I thought it was finally my chance to get a mechanic to trouble shoot it. So after towing and about $300 between troubleshooting fees and the diagnosis that the battery was shot they were confident they had solved the problem. No such luck

I can say confidently that the battery terminal connections are clean and tight. I’ve checked the wire and mount on the starter too.

So just throwing this out here to see if there is a common issue or something that I could check to resolve this problem. Replacing the car is not a current option.


I think you have a heat related problem. Something is failing when it gets hot. Could be a sensor of some sort or maybe a wonky starter. Lets see what others have to say

If it has an automatic transmission…try this. When the problem occurs just shift into neutral and see if the engine starts. If it does…replace the neutral safety switch. This problem is as common as dirt on most vehicles. If it has a manual transmission…replace the starter/clutch interlock switch.

I can agree with fender on heat related. When my son owned the car it likely did the same thing to him and he replaced the starter.
I just asked my wife if she’d tried neutral and she had thought about it but couldn’t figure out how. I can address that. It’s a good suggestion we’ll try but is that something that jumping would override? Actually jumping doesn’t seem logical to me but it works.

Had a starter do this to me. I jumped it and it would start. Replaced it and all was well. Next time wack the starter and try again. Could be crank or cam sensor. They fail when they get hot.

Yea… I’m trying to catch it failing. Seems like it always happens to my wife when she’s out and about. I just tried putting it through the kind of workout she does but it’s starting like a champ right now :frowning:

If when it doesn’t crank and as you say doesn’t make a sound i would suspect no or low voltage at solenoid or solenoid/starter bad. Since it is so intermittent and you need to determine problem while behind the wheel, connect a test lamp visible to the driver, to the starter solenoid ignition terminal. When there is a no crank condition and no test lamp lit then problem is either ignition switch/neutral safety switch, security relay,starter relay or ignition wiring between.

If lamp lights during no crank then suspect starter,starter circuit or battery.

As others have mentioned a intermittent park/neutral safety switch can be tested, also the starter and security relay can be substituted. I would however try to identify a direction with the voltage/lamp test before changing parts.

Thanks cj2. That’s something I can try

Swap keys with your wife and it may happen to you. Many car keys have a security chip in them. I guess they sometimes get weak and aren’t recognized. My father-in-law had this problem and it was his key.

yea… fortunately/unfortunately my cars aren’t new enough for that key technology

I’d be amazed if a 2000 Subaru didn’t have a security chip of some sort in the key.

Well I assume it doesn’t. My wife has the Subaru key but I just have a blank duplicate…hmmmm but she always seems to have the problem…

Got this off the internet so it must be correct :wink:
Legacy, Outback 1995-2004 Standard Key
Legacy, Outback 2005-2009 Transponder Key

Try bending your battery cables, if they are corroded inside you should be able to feel the brittle strands of copper breaking.
The only things I can think of that will prevent a car from cranking intermittently are all in the starting system with the neutral safety switch and the starter solenoid being the main suspects.

You could remove the plug from the neutral safety switch and put a jumper wire across the two terminals for the nss. You back up lights won’t work while you have the jumper in.

I tend to agree with the neutral switch diagnosis which may also be referred to as a neutral safety or range selector switch.

Given the fact that Subaru has never really had an issue with the starter motors it’s difficult to put those high on the list of possibilities.

Ok… I’m a technician by trade, but of the computer/printer kind. I’m used to taking things apart and putting them back together again. Locating the starter was easy. Does anyone know where the neutral switch can be found on this vehicle?

The neutral safety switch is on the side of the transmision. There will be a shift cable or linkage connected to it

Kind of like this; second pic from the left, in the middle and down low.

Alrighty then… I’ll likely have to take that into the shop if that’s the culprit but I appreciate all of the advice and suggestions. I like to walk into the mechanic’s and feel as knowledgeable as I can in situations like this. I’ve tested a test light as suggested above so we’re going to exercise the car again today and see if we can catch it in failure mode.

Intermittent problems sure suck. I’d like to try the test light idea just to see what I can see. We tried all day Sunday to create the failure to no avail. It seems most prone to fail when my wife is out on her own running errands. She’s not crazy about driving my truck. Maybe I should follow along at enough distance the car won’t detect me.