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Subaru A/C and Fan Problem

I posted a question last week about my Subaru’s a/c. Now it’s become more complicated.

Brief recap: My a/c started blowing less cool air so they recharged the system and added a dye to see if it leaks. (The air flow was perfectly normal, just not the normal cold) Over the course of about 2.5 months it sometimes blew less cool and sometimes seemed fine. Finally it was only blowing warm. Last week my (good and honest) mechanic checked it out and it was working fine for him. He let the car heat up outside & it was still fine. He recharged the system and added dye again. He didn’t charge me for either re-charge. He’s been kind many times in the past, knowing I’m short on funds and have a serious illness.

New complication: Everything seemed fine until 2 days ago. While out doing errands, I got in the car and the fan wouldn’t blow at all. It had been working just fine, (a/c too) the whole day. A few minutes later I tried it again and it came on. Then went off. I left the fan switch on and as I was driving it blasted on. I took it to the mechanic right then, who said it’s the fan blower motor resistor, which would cost $200-something. He went to get the exact price and came back to say the tech note says when replacing the resistor that the blower motor must also be replaced, as the new resistor can ruin the old motor. The new total would be about $800.

He said he could try just replacing the resistor by disconnecting the battery and doing some other stuff to prevent an electrical discharge. (I don’t remember exactly how he put it–I’m sure you get the gist) But it was risky and he can’t guarantee it’ll work. I don’t doubt his honesty, but I know even the most well-intentioned person might not have the right answer.

This car is 13 years old. I’m in a pickle-- no way to buy a new one, no way to pay $800 for a repair and no way to live without a car or a/c!

My questions:

  1. Does this make sense with the initial A/C problem or could there be additional problems with the A/C?
  2. Does it sound like a bad resistor, and if so, can it be safely replaced by itself?
  3. Any other advice welcome. :slight_smile:

1999 Subaru Legacy sedan, 160K miles

No, a new resistor does not blow an old motor. The fan turns fine on high speed, I take it?
If so, you likely just need the resistor pack.
If the motor doesn’t run sometimes in its highest position, it could be the motor** but there are other things it could be as well. The blower motor is $139. $800 seems very steep.

Edit: If it is that resistor* pack, it should only be $39 in parts… To get it out, it involves taking the glovebox out (a couple of screws) so he should only charge 1 hour labor worst case. It isn’t a huge job.
I don’t want to comment regarding his honesty as he’s taken care of you in the past but FWIW, the stuff he’s mentioning to prevent discharge sounds like embellishment. It is just a matter of unplugging the old and plugging in the new.
It isn’t brain surgery. If you can hold a tool, you can probably do it yourself.


Oh nice.

When the fan wouldn’t work it wouldn’t blow at all, not on any speed. The lights on the fan unit worked, so it was getting power.

Ah, okay. It likely isn’t the resistor pack in that case. It could be a connection to it, tho.
Let me dig out a schematic for that car…

edit: It also has a fan relay that could be bad.
The speed switch has a separate contact just to turn the light on the fan switch on - that does not necessarily mean that the motor is getting power. If your mechanic went by that to tell you that the fan is bad, he may be shooting from the hip as that may not necessarily be ‘it’.

It may require a little investigating but I’m not sure what you’re capable/willing/daring to do…

One more thing to make sure we’re barking up the right tree:
When you turn your AC on and the car is cold (ie hasn’t been driving to have it be warmed up yet), do your fans on the radiator turn on? They should.
When you subsequently turn the AC back off, those fans should go back off as well.

Just saw your edits and cost estimates above. The estimate he gave me:
Remove and replace blower motor resistor: Labor $63, Parts $182
Replace blower motor: Labor $157, Parts $351
Supplies $40
With tax, $827

Clearly those prices are pure fiction, unless there are other things replaced he’s not telling you about.
I seriously doubt the resistor is at fault because the motor doesn’t turn at full speed, when the resistor isn’t in the circuit at all. Replacing it will just cost you money but will not help.
It could be the motor but there likely are other things that need to be checked first.

There are two fuses dedicated to the AC (20 and 21). Make sure they are seated well and not blown.
Are the fans on the radiator on when you turn the AC on and the car is cold?

I went to the website you linked and asked the Chat guy if it’s necessary to replace the blower motor when replacing the resistor. He agreed with you that it’s not necessary.

I can check the fuses. (I think he said he did that, but I’ll check it.) But…where is the fuse box on this car?

I don’t understand the last question. Can you please explain what you mean?

There’s likely a fuse box under the hood and another one near your left knee. The one under your hood are the ones usually related to your AC (marked “AC”) and they supply your blower fan inside the car with juice to run. You mentioned that your AC had also not always worked so was wondering whether it has a bad or loose fuse

Regarding question 2:
Thinking about it, that blower fan inside the cabin should work whether your AC is on or not. Never mind. I just wanted to make sure that your AC was working but that’s moot. It likely is and, if it isn’t, it is a different problem.

I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to respond sooner-- getting a treatment that wipes me out. My mechanic had said that the resistor was going bad and that I might get a little more time out of it by hitting the bottom of the glovebox when the fan stops working. That worked the other day, actually. Would a bad blower motor respond like that or is this proof that only the resistor is the problem?

Meanwhile, I did some research. Several online parts stores list the resistor $39-$79 and the blower motor as $160. I called PepBoys and 2 Subaru dealers to get quotes for replacing the resistor as well as the blower motor. I figured if anyone would give me the highest prices, it’d be them. Everyone confirmed that the motor doesn’t need to be automatically replaced when replacing the resistor. Prices ranged from about $200 to replace the resistor only to $630 to replacing both. So they are all well under the $830 my mechanic quoted me.

I’m going to have a talk with my mechanic and present him with what I’ve learned and see what he says. I would love to hear any other advice from you guys.

If the fan did not work on high, then the resistor pack is probably good. In the high position, the resistor pack is bypassed, the resistor pack just reduces the voltage so the fan will operate at lower speeds. When the fan stops completely, it is almost always the fan. Kicking the glove box confirms it.

I hate to come between you and a mechanic that you have always been satisfied with, but $157 to swap out a blower motor? Do you live in New York City or something? With all the paperwork and pulling it into the garage and everything, including coffee break, its only about an hour job, for an amateur. Supplies, what supplies?

Oh I see, so it’s the reverse of what my mechanic was saying then.

Yeah, I’m concerned about it, that’s for sure. He’s always done right by me before so this is not good.

Quotes for just the blower motor (parts/labor):

My mechanic = $350/ $157 + $40 supplies
Subaru dealer #1= $214/ 216
Subaru dealer #2 = $370 total
PepBoys = $164/ $120

There is a lot of variation, but his is way out of range.

Be sure to compare apples to apples. Blower motors are available as brand new or remanufactured. While there is nothing wrong with a good remanufactured motor, they generally cost less than new so just be sure you know what you are comparing.

Oh, good point. Thank you!

I have a 2008 Subaru Outback. The fan was making a lot of noise, but still was getting cold air. Yesterday, the fan and the noise stopped. I was told that the system was self-contained. Is that true? From what i am reading here, individual parts can be replaced. Can anyone give me an idea of expense I’m looking at? I live in Rhode Island.
Thank you