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Problems with my 2002 Subaru - Electrical?

I have a 2002 Subaru Outback Wagon. In May this year the OEM battery finally wore out, I was feeling poor so I bought a used battery from the local auto parts store. 2 months later, one day my car started chugging like it was having trouble starting and sounded like the battery was dying but then did start. Later that day it wouldn’t start at all. Wouldn’t turn over at all, but dash lights came on with key turn. Tried to jump it, wouldn’t jump start. I bought a refurbed starter, had it put it, car starts.

A week later the same thing happened. Won’t jump, no turn over, dash lights on when key turn. Had the battery tested, it was “good”. Had the starter pulled, it was bad, put another refurbed starter in. Also replaced cables to the battery, and the clamp things that go on the cables to the battery. A week later, same thing, won’t turn over, dash lights on with key turn. I was in the Costco parking lot when it happened this time, and got the tire mechanic to try to jump it. It jumped but was chugging like crazy and smoke came out of somewhere. The mechanic said he really thought it was a bad battery, that it sounded like the motor was trying to run off the alternator. I bought a new battery from Costco, and returned the used one to the parts store. When the used one was taken out, the mechanic said he could smell battery acid and it might have had a bad cell.

Now, the car will start when the engine is cold, but when I drive somewhere and it gets nice and hot (I live in Florida), it will not start again unless it is completely cold, or I get a jump. At least it will jump start now without a problem. I have had a mechanic use his little tool to check for computer codes, and of course there are none. I need to solve it not starting at all unless it is stone cold. My question is, what do you think is wrong?

I think you have a bad starter. Try hitting on the starter next time with a mallet. Also, check and clean all battery and starter connections. Clean the ground straps too.

I think you might have a bad alternator, you can remove it and have it tested at an auto parts store for free.

Get one of these so you can keep track of what your charging system is doing:

(Remember to remove it if it stays on after the key is out.)

“I think you might have a bad alternator”

Since the OP did not replace his battery until it was ~12 years old, I think that you may be correct.

Being penny-wise by using batteries beyond their design life can result in being dollar-foolish if you wind up killing your alternator by making it work overtime by trying to keep that old battery charged.

Bryan Henandez and VDCdriver, thank you your posts sound spot on. The OP is a she not a he :-), I did not know that about batteries life. I think I will get that gizmo that insightful posted. It will be easier than my trying to figure out how to take the alternator out myself, or pay someone to as I have put a lot of money into repairs already and just want to fix the problem so I can sell it with a clean conscious. It’s only got 98,500 on it.

You can go to an autoparts store like AutoZone and they will check your alternator for you.

I think you had a bad battery from the start and replacing the starter was a mistake. Depending on the jumper cables, a bad battery can prevent a jump start from working. Low cost 8 or 10 GA cables will not pass enough current to override a battery that has an internal short. Professional 2 or 4 gauge cables usually can do the job.

Now I think you are getting some very poor quality refurb starters.

From what you say, I suspect, along with the others, there may be a problem with the alternator. Have a load check done on the charging system and make sure there isn’t excessive AC ripple voltage coming from the alternator. One easy way to see if the alternator is causing trouble is to remove the rear connection to it and then start the engine and see if it runs better with alternator disabled. Excessive AC ripple voltage can ruin a battery.

If the starter motor is not engaging at all and there is no solenoid click sound from the starter when turning the key to the START position you might consider the possibility of a faulty neutral safety switch; a.k.a. a range selector switch or by any one of several other names.
This is the switch that allows the starter motor to operate in PARK and NEUTRAL only.

While not a 100% definitive test, you might try shifting into neutral to see if the engine will then start.

You certainly got your money’s worth out of that original battery and while it’s a personal preference, I would never consider running a battery to an age like that. Most give up long before then and getting stranded is not on my bucket list and a questionable battery drastically increases the load that is put on the alternator.