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Spuddering out of 1st and 2nd gear

I am soooo frustrated with the lack of proper diagnoses on the part of two different car maintenance shops. This car started to sputter out of 1st and 2nd gears in the spring(it’s a 5 speed). I took it in this past May and the shop replaced the O2 censor. It was good for about one month and slowly started to sputter again and this time it was backfiring and the car does not have the power it once had. I have had the fuel filer replaced, cleaned fuel injectors, air cleaner and cleaned the throttle too. When crusing in 4th and 5th gears it is fine until I am on an incline (how often do I drive inclines…ALL THE TIME!) Anyway, I cannot give it gas to get up the incline without it sputtering too. GAWD! is there anyone out there that can help me???

Also, I had the clutch replaced in January, it there any possiblity the clutch is a problem?

What year is your Impreza, and how many miles are on it?

2002 with 135,000 aprox. miles on it

I am not clear about the nature of the problem.
“Spuddering out of gear”? Are you saying that the car pops out of gear, in addition to losing power?

the car is running the engine is reving but it is jerking as though it cannot get enough gas. Even if I take the rpm’s high to get out of 1st it will do this and 2nd is the same. Sputters means it is jerking, spitting, backfiring for a few seconds then it lets go. On a typical day, when driving the car for the first time, it will do this about 70% of the time. There never seems to be a problem with reverse.

It does sound like fuel starvation. Since you recently replaced the fuel filter, then I would suggest having the output of the fuel pump checked.

Incidentally, that fuel filter should be replaced every 30k miles, so with over 130,000 miles on the odometer, if the fuel filter was not replaced at least 4 times over the life of the car, then it is very possible that you killed the fuel pump by forcing it to push gas through a partially-clogged filter.

Unfortunately I did not know about replacing the filter every 30,000 miles, good to know. So if I have the output of the fuel pump checked then this will tell me if the fuel pump is bad, correct?

Do you have a CEL (Check Engine Light) lit ? Any codes reported ?

If both of these are negative get a dynamic fuel pressure check you could have a bad fuel pump or pressure regulator.

If the fuel system checks out okay then your coil pack could be suspect, cp problems should report a misfire code though this is not always the case.

MAP is also suspect but you need to start eliminating systems - fuel or ignition first.

I’m assuming everything is stock and you haven’t done any remapping on your car?

Yes, it should.

Regarding maintenance, everything that you need to know is contained in the booklet entitled Subaru Warranty and Maintenance that is–hopefully–in your glove compartment. Since you were not aware of the need to change the fuel filter every 30k miles, then there is also a very strong probability that other vital maintenance procedures have been overlooked.

If you want to keep this car running for its normally long life, I urge you to first verify that everything needed at the 120k maintenance has been done. Then, be sure to follow the maintenance schedule for other intervals thereafter.

Yes. everything is stock and I have not done any remapping on the car.

CEL has been on for years, the shop that I have taken it to for the last four years cannot figure out why it is on. I have never taken this car into the dealership for maintenance or repairs and now I may regret it. The car had an electrical problem about four years ago, no problems with it till then. The windows would not go up or down. It was in the shop three different times for this problem and the third time the shop told me that there was an extra relay that was switching off so they removed it and the problem has gone away. However, I think I may need to find a different shop or take it to the dealer for this repair. You have been very helpful by educating me on possible problems. Any more suggestions?

Just an interesting note: I regularly replace fuel filters, so I never actually looked at what my manual says. Guess what? It says absolutely nothing.

This is a '97 Escort. The owners manual says nothing about it. It isn’t in the maintenance schedule. I looked in my Haynes - it said something like the fuel filter does not require routine replacement, but… or something like that.

I’m not going to stop changing it regularly, but wow…that is really odd.

I knew I would be scolded for not reading the manual. My thinking was that the shop that wanted me to trust them would do regularly required maintenance since that’s what I asked them to do.

As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify”.

Every car owner should have some familiarity with his/her car’s maintenance needs for two reasons:

To avoid being cheated by suggestions for unnecessary procedures
To prevent damage to the car from skipped maintenance

To expect a generalist in a garage to be familiar with every make of car is sort of like expecting your family physician to know how to cure every illness. The more common ones, yes. The unusual cases will be referred to a specialist.

Since Subarus are not one of the more commonly-found vehicles, it is better to have them serviced and repaired by someone who has experience with that make of car.

I have read all the helpful suggestions, thank you. I have made an appointment with a Subaru dealer service manager to diagnose the problem. We’ll see what happens. Also, after looking at the ‘Maintenance and Service’ portion of my manual it say nothing about fuel filters.

Really? I have a 2002 Outback, and the maintenance schedule clearly lists fuel filters as one of the many items for the 30k, 60k, 90k, 120k maintenance intervals.

It is possible that you are looking at the “California” maintenance schedule that omits several important items. Make sure that you are looking at the “Federal Specification Vehicles” maintenance schedule, which should be on the previous page.

The “California” maintenance schedule is a “feel good” idea concocted by people who apparently believe that less maintenance is better. Ignore that schedule and use the “Federal” schedule if you want your car to last for many more years.

I’m looking at the Maintenance ans service portion of the manual and I do not see anything about a fuel filter

“extra relay” eh…I think you might need to find another shop with CEL diagnostic capabilities :).

Okay, first stop is Autozone and see if they can pull any codes, let us know what the codes are (if any), these may well give you the answer.


My suspects would be either a vacuum leak, MAF sensor, or a fuel delivery problem. (pump)

A vacuum leak can affect the MAF quite a bit and it’s a simple matter to connect a vacuum gauge to see if a leak exists.
The sad part is that the majority of techs do not use this valuable tool.

As to fuel filters I believe they should be replaced every 15k miles or even sooner if a problem is suspected.
The problem is that it’s entirely possible to have a clogged filter and a great running car at the same time, although the perception is that if the car runs fine so is the filter. That’s not always true.

A clogged filter will make the fuel pump work harder, which means shortening the life of the pump.
(For what it’s worth, I’ve run across 2 filters in the last few weeks that only had about 15k miles on them and both were clogged. One was so bad that I could only blow a tiny wisp of air through it. That car also ran great, go figure.)

Thanks more info for me to have when talking to the maintenance people and I will be replacing the fuel filter MUCH more often as a result of this happening.