Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Subaru Outback radio

I recently (Four days ago) purchased a brand new 2009 Subaru Outback. I live in the San Francisco Bay area. I was told over and over again in sales process about the great radio this car had. I bought the car and drove home in the rain. It turned out that I could get no reception at all in the rain on the two public radio stations, the two jazz stations and the one classical radio station that I normally listen to. I didn?t think there would be a problem with the radio and didn’t test it out during the sales process (except for a brief moment when the salesman cranked up all the volume on a rock station) because over the past year and a half, I have rented or test-driven 30 or 40 other makes and models including Mazdas, Hondas, Pontiacs, Fords, Acuras, Volvos, Lexus, Prius, Chevrolets, and Hyundais. Even my 1994 Honda clearly and easily got these stations. It never dawned on me that the radio would not work in a brand new car. The dealer says they didn’t lie about the radio – it is a good radio, it just happens to have a bad antenna. The dealer is willing to put an outside antenna on the car and re-wire it but I am afraid it will interfere with the roof rack and also not solve the problem. I drove one of their other cars home with an outside antenna but the reception was still all static – better but with static. I asked the dealer if we could cancel the deal since I feel I was lied to about the car. He says no. Even in sunshine this car has constant static. What should I do if I ever want to listen to Car Talk again in my brand new Subaru? (Apparently the problem began with the internal window wiring in 2007.)

I wonder if the antenna itself is bad.

I have a similar car 2005 Legacy with window antenna and the radio works really well. But radio has been changed slightly.

I would suggest try it at the dealership, if it does not work ask them to try another Outback and see if it pulls the station in.

I think they changed the antenna in 2007. I brought the car in yesterday and before I left for three hours to give service a chance to repair the car, the sales rep and I went to other Outbacks and heard the same problem of static on the music channels. We walked over to an older used Civic on the same car lot and that car clearly played the signal for the classical station. There was no static in the Civic. I left my new car for three hours at service. The salesman mentioned that another customer had brought back his Outback Limited and said he too was having problem with reception especially on rainy days.

When I came back, Subaru service said that as far as they were concerned everything was fine because the car worked (as badly) as every other Outback model. In other words since all the cars are defective, I could live with it too. It was suggested to me that I could begin listening to rock stations instead. At the dealership, I was told by the dealership owner (a driver of a Ford truck), that because his Ford truck doesn?t get good reception on classical music I could live with constant static on my radio. I was told that when the salesman said that the radio is a good radio, that didn?t necessarily mean that the radio had decent reception. I spent four more hours at the dealership waiting for people to decide what to do. Their best suggestion is adding the outside antenna. These stations come in loud and clear on the Honda on the same lot but not on the Outbacks. I am concerned about the outside antenna since the loaner model I drove home (2008) has an outside antenna and has better reception but still background static on the music channels. I never thought I could buy a 2009 car with a bad radio – a radio worse than my old 1994 Honda that had a bent antenna.

Maybe you could push for them to put an aftermarket radio in. It might or might not still need and external antenna.

Any recommendations?

It will almost certainly need the antenna – the reception doesn’t work at all in the rain.

Sorry to hear about the trouble on your new Soob since they are great cars in my opinion.

I assume you are talking about the FM tuner and not the AM section though that may have poor reception also. Since the other new vehicles seem to have the same trouble I could see where the dealer really can’t do too much to help you with this trouble.

We need to see if the trouble is really with the antenna, the radio, or something exteral to both. Is there any difference in the noise level with the engine turned off? If not I would first suggest you try plugging in a seperate antenna without mounting it and just see how it works. If that clears up a lot of the noise then you may need to install a different antenna. If the noise remains about the same then you may have to replace the radio with a better unit. I would suggest you check out if you do that.

Another thing that may be of help if the antenna is the trouble is to add a amplifier in the antenna circuit. That would be the easiest thing to do if that is the case and may solve the problem. Still is not good you have this trouble with a new car, especially a Subaru. Keep us posted about this and we will help you get good signals one way or the other.

The static is much worse when driving and the stations literally go in and out. Going over any bump causes a crackling sound. Also no reception at all in the rain – just static. And yes all the stations are FM (including the public radio station that carries Car Talk).

I will take these recommendations to the dealer. It sounds like it may need a new antenna, a new radio and/or an amplifier in the antenna circuit. I will ask them to look at all of that. I am not sure what they are willing to do.

It is very discouraging especially the push back from the dealer. I would think my brand new 2009 car should work as well as my 1994 Honda with a bent antenna or the used Civic sitting on the same lot.

Do you have any idea if the external antenna will interfere with the use of the overhead rack?

Suggest you go to an independent audio place asking what they can do for you and warrant their work for you. If thats not your thing buy another radio at a big box store and have them install it for you. Don’t work ----take it back and get the orginal re-installed.
Had an antenna installed in the windshield of a 1970’s auto when the idea first appeared. I had very similiar problem as you are experiencing. Manufacture changed out the windshield and all okay afterwards. That window exchange is my last suggestion as its possible to open the area to leaks if not done correctly.

How is the radio reception when the car is parked with the engine off? I suspect there is a problem either in the antenna or in the cable between the antenna and the radio. The fact that you get a crackling sound when going over a bump indicates that the problem is either in the antenna or in the cable from the antenna. It sounds as though the cable is shorting to the chassis when wet becuase you get no reception in the rain. FM stations may have a background hiss when the signal is not strong (this has to do with the signal to noise ratio), but static as one gets on an old AM radio that is near magnetic interference and the stations cutting in and out shouldn’t happen.

It would be rare to find a mechanic at a dealer who has expertise in audio systems. The dealer, though, should be willing to absorb the cost of taking your car to an audio shop for diagnosis.

The dealer currently has my car and I have a loaner but when the salesman and I went around to the other Outbacks on his lot (and then to the used Civic) we turned on the radios and the Outbacks definitely had static without the car running. The service department had my car for three hours and said they checked it out and it was fine – or at least it was no worse than the other Outbacks on the lot (they recommended I change to listening to AM rock to alleviate the problem). I did not try any AM stations so I do not know how they are received. I will ask the dealer if he is willing to absorb the cost of having it diagnosed and repaired at an audio shop.

When I first took the car back – since it didn’t work at all in the rain, I thought the dealer would suggest a window exchange. Instead they suggested I change my listening preferences. Should I escalate this to Subaru corporate rather than working only with the dealer?

Yes, you should escalate this to the corporate level, and I am really surprised that nobody has suggested this course of action. Just remember to be polite and controlled–yet firm and persistent–when stating that you expect your brand new Subaru to have decent radio reception.

Ignore the suggestions that you fix this on your own dime. This is a warranty issue as far as I can determine.

The argument the dealer has given me is that since every Subaru Outback has this problem and AM rock station listeners don’t care, I shouldn’t care either. In other words, the problem isn’t the Subaru it is my taste in classical and jazz music. I have never been in a situation like this before. The dealer is willing to put an external antenna on the car but I do not think that will completely solve the problem and I am worried it will interfere with using the roof rack. Should I ask to escalate the problem before deciding on the solution? The joke here of course is that I am not really a sophisticated audiophile – I just want the radio to work as well as my 1994 Honda Accord with the bent antenna (but no static).

Ask him if you could try his suggested antenna with a temporary mounting. If it works, then you could define where and how you want it mounted.

A car antenna just plugs into the back of the radio with a jack, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. The dealer should be willing to work with you on this.

That was my line,I got my radio theory and basic AC/DC and digital circuit training at ITT,went to work for a Big 3 radio warranty business,when I went to GM we did all audio system work in house (my Dealers rule was anything we can do in house we will,no sublet)No component level repair.GM does offer audio system training to techs.
The worst was conversion vans that got poor TV reception,what did they think?

You state that going over a bump creates more static. That may actually be an encouraging thing. It may mean there is a loose connection in the antenna circuit. Hopefully the service department will check into that and you should ask them to do that.

If this is really a problem with all the new Outbacks then a TSB may need to be done by the company to fix this problem. That will take a while to do, if that even happens.

If the dealer can’t help you with this matter I suggest you take the car to a shop that specializes in car audio systems. See if they can add a RF amp in the antenna circuit. It may fix this problem an it would be a seemless answer to the problem. I would first make sure that there isn’t anything else that can be done to fix the current antenna circuit and the problem is due to a bad antenna design. If a antenna amp doesn’t help with this then another antenna will need to be installed. The shop should be able to make something work and not cause a problem with the roof rack.

You can (or the Dealer can) get credit for the radio they take out of your car,this can offset the cost of getting a aftermarket radio installed in your car (after you verify that antenna mods do not satisfy your very reasonal request)

Our aftermarket acessory salesman would have it on his list to ask people if they wanted the “stock” radio or something different.“Fit kits” can make the install look very nice. Run this idea by them.

The service department had the car for three hours and said it was fine despite the fact that it cannot receive FM and does not work in the rain. They claim the wiring is fine.I called the first day I had the car and reported the problem so I think the dealership should handle it.

I did find other people on the net complaining about this problem and apparently Subaru is changing to outside antenna in the future. It is not a problem for AM listeners or people who prefer their own CDs – it definitely prevents listening to Car Talk though or any other AM station.

It sounds like the dealer isn’t going to help you further with this issue since it appears that is just they are built and it is a poor design. I suggest you follow the advice I posted in my previous post if you want to get this resolved, though it is going to cost you some money to do that sorry to say. I hope this problem doesn’t sour your opinion on the car. If you haven’t owned one of thses cars before you will see what I mean. Especially if driven in the snow.

No I think they really have to do something. A four day old 2009 car should have a working FM radio and one that works in the rain. The dealer didn’t say they wouldn’t do anything. I stuck around another four hours and the dealer did say they would put on an outside antenna – I am just concerned that this won’t completely solve the problem and because it didn’t work at all in the rain there may be more severe problems in the windshield – like say the rear window defroster…It sounds as if I should escalate this corporate beforehand though.