Subaru won't budge after huge clank

subaru
legacy

#1

My 1999 Subaru Legacy (with a manual transmission) has almost 200,000 miles on it, and has been almost entirely problem free. Until today.
As I drove up a steep hill (which I drive every day), the car didn’t feel quite right–as if it was struggling a bit. Then, after reaching the top and driving on for about 4 more blocks, I suddenly heard an extremely loud and heavy clank, at which point the car abruptly stopped. I could turn on the engine, but that was all. The car wouldn’t budge; in fact it could not even be pushed to the side of the road if it was put in neutral.
The tow truck driver thought it was probably the transmission, but he wasn’t sure and also said he had never encountered anything quite like this. Does anyone have any thoughts? I’m assuming this cannot possibly be anything but serious!


#2

Either the transmission broke or the differential. But something has obviously snapped. Since the front diff is a part of the transmission, you’re obviously looking at a transmission rebuild or replacement at the very least. Bad news, sorry I have to deliver it.


#3

Oh, I’m not sure it’s the transmission. At 200,000 miles anything could break, and it doesn’t have to be internal to the transmission to cause the car to not move. One of th wheel bearings or CV joints could have seized or broken. If this car has 4WD/AWD, it could be a problem with the rear differential or driveshaft. Once at the repair shop it shouldn’t take long to determine the problem. Let us know what they find.


#4

Thank you both so much for your responses! The car is still parked in front of my house, and I haven’t decided for sure whether to have it towed to a repair place and pay for the diagnosis, or just go ahead and donate it and move on (with it being this old, I don’t want to pay for any significant repair anyway).


#5

Offhand, sounds like a problem in the front differential. The drain plug on the transaxle could be removed and it could then be noted if chunks of metal come out.

Differential failure has been known to happen with automatics; not so much with manuals unless there’s a lack of gear oil problem due to leakage or someone screwing up the engine oil change. However, Murphy’s Law being what it is… :frowning:


#6

Wow–just the day before I had gotten an oil change at Jiffy Lube. And by the way, the items on the Service Checklist on my receipt include ‘replaced differential fluid level’ and ‘added front diff fluid level’.


#7

I had an early 60’s Ford Galaxy years ago, similar problem developed out of the blue, turned out to be the rear differential’s third member had seized up. I sold the car for $50 to a friend of mine who knew how to fix differentials, and he had it back on the road within a week. I know he couldn’t have spent much money to effect the repair, as he could barely afford the $50. I suspect the OP’s problem may not be as serious or expensive as it sounds.


#8

A little more info please, does it seem normal at start up in neutral? When you attempt to take off in first gear does it seem normal until you reach the kill point? I am asking because I am thinking hopefully your parking brake cable busted and locked the brakes, seems a viable option.


#9

Sorry but I’m not knowledgeable about cars, so I don’t know what you mean by the ‘kill point’. The engine starts up normally, but once I put it into first gear and apply gas, nothing happens. It just sits there.


#10

“just the day before I had gotten an oil change at Jiffy Lube”
"Checklist on my receipt include ‘replaced differential fluid level’ and ‘added front diff fluid level’. "

I think I know the root cause of your problem. Be sure your shop provides a detailed description of exactly what went wrong including photos as appropriate. You may be going after Jiffy Lube for reimbursement for the damages. JL often uses barely trained fluid changers and gives them less than adequate time to do the job right. Sometimes that means improper lubricants, drain plugs falling out, and even gear casements left empty.

I could be wrong about this. But my gut has that funny feeling…


#11

The reason I made the comment about a botched oil change is because the drain plug on a Subaru transmission (both automatic and manual) looks like the engine oil drain plug and is located very near the engine oil drain.

What has been known to happen is that someone inexperienced or not thinking may drain the transmission by mistake (manual) or the final drive (automatic). Either way, the ring and pinion gear suffers up to a point and eventually this leads to a loud clank and in almost all cases; total destruction of the transmission.

For what it’s worth, I’m an ex-Subaru mechanic and have seen this more than a few times. I’ve also been in the middle of some of the arguments between the car owner and the facility that made the mistake.

What you need to do right now is raise the hood and check the oil level in the transmission. On the passenger side of the vehicle and with the hood up you should see a short dipstick down low and near the front of the transmission. It’s kind of buried down there. Make sure the oil level is at the FULL mark. They do not even have to be completely empty for a transmission to get wiped out.
Being down a quart or two can do it although the reason for the failure may be different as compared to a transmission with all of the oil missing.

Usually if they’re pretty much empty there will be a whining noise that may be subtle at first and then develop into a howl. Sometimes they blow up before the howling point.


#12

Thank you everyone.

the same mountainbike: Yes, it is indeed an interesting coincidence, and thanks to your comment along with ok4450’s, I am now definitely leaning toward getting the car looked at.


#13

Definitely do. And have everything documented and photographed.
IMHO this is definitely not a coincidence.


#14

ok4450: Your assistance is fantastic, and much appreciated. I will let you know what I am able to see per your instructions.


#15

the same mountainbike: Yes, I definitely will.


#16

ok4450: By the way, you say “for what it’s worth, I’m an ex Subaru mechanic…”. Well, it’s worth a LOT! Again, I’ll report on what I’m able to see.


#17

Jiffy lube put manual gear oil in my daughters automatic transmission and had to pay to get the transmission changed.


#18

ok4450: Well, as I say, I am completely ignorant when it comes to cars, and I looked for the short dipstick (last night with a flashlight, and again this morning) but somehow could not seem to find it. This is a Legacy Brighton–is there anything else that would help me pinpoint the location?


#19

I’m having trouble posting a link but you might go to eBay and do a search on the following phrase.
That will lead to pics of a similar transmission. Note the cursor while on the pic will enlarge certain areas. The stick is that little yellow item and it’s located just inches above and sightly to the front of the axle shaft on the passenger side.

96 98 Subaru Legacy Outback MT 5-Speed Transmission 4WD JDM EJ25 Dohc TY752VSCAA


#20

OK, I’m pretty sure I found the dipstick you are referring to–the short yellow one. When I took it out initially it appeared that the (clear) fluid was only about half way up. Then I wiped it off, dipped it in again, and it was bone dry.