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Wiring Harness for Subaru Outbacks

I was recently stopped by the cops for driving without any lights on a dark rainy night in my 2007 Subaru Outback. It was a complete surprise to me because the dashboard was fully lit and the little green light that indicates your headlights are on was shining brightly. When I signaled a turn, the signal light on the dash flashed. Turns out I had no headlights, no driving lights, no high beams and no turn signals. And the back windshield wiper didn’t work. I was able to avoid a ticket by convincing the cops that I had no clue the lights weren’t working (I rarely drive at night) but they made me park the car and I had to call someone to pick me up. The next day I retreived it and took it to the dealer. I expected it to be the fuses but it turned out multiple wires were broken in the wiring harness and it cost $500 to fix. The dealer said they probably broke because I opened and shut the tailgate too often! He said when you bend wires back and forth, they break. He said it was a common problem. To me this is ridiculous and something I had never heard of. Is it possible to open and close your tailgate too often? How come this didn’t happen with my previous Outback that I had for 7 years? Is this common to all cars with a hatchback or is it a Subaru issue? Will make me think twice about buying a third Outback.

My guess is your wiring was not correctly placed at getgo.

We have the similar 2005 Legacy wagon and not a single issue with this. Electrical problems are rarity with Subaru. With respect to electrical issues they are top tier alongside Honda and Toyota.

There are 10 Subaru’s currently in my family including in-laws with 80k-250k, no electrical problems to speak of.


I never had any electrical problems of any sort with either my '97 Outback or my '02 Outback, so I tend to think that this was a freakish problem that you suffered. Your '07 Outback is essentially an updated version of the '02 Outback, as that chassis design was used from '01-'09–so my '02 and your '07 almost surely used the same design wiring harness.

As Andrew said, the harness was likely not installed correctly (inadequate strain relief) when the car was built, or–it was damaged in an accident. Was the car ever involved in a collision?

This is garbage - my 1996 Outback has never had an issue like this, and I have used the tailgate a lot. I think andrew_j is correct - they goofed. Before this, I had a 1985 Subaru Wagon - again, no issues with the hatchback and electrical. And before that, I had a Pinto wagon - again, no issues with electrical and the hatchback.

The wires do break sometimes at the tailgate but usually the car is a little older when that happens. It is also fairly common for wires to break in door jams due to flexing there, but not very often in Subarus as far as I know. As the others stated already the electrical systems are pretty well designed and don’t have a lot of trouble for most folks. Alternators can be an issue at times.

@VDC the 2005-2009 Outback/Legacy was redesigned and is a different design and full redesign. It shares mechanical bits with previous generation but not the rest.

No, the car has never been in an accident and never had any other work done to the tailgate. And I had no problem with my 2000 Outback. The dealer said it had happened to his Outback as well and that it was “common” but the part was not in stock in any dealerships in Minnesota and had to be overnighted in. Also I should mention that the rear windshield wiper actually stopped working in December. They told me then it was a wire harness issue but for $500 I decided to hold off for awhile since the part was not in stock anywhere then either. He seemed to imply that not fixing the broken wire for the wiper somehow triggered all these other wires to eventually break, but I can’t picture how.

I would suspect the biggest issue that caused the trouble may be with the cold winters. The wire insulation will be stiff and more susceptible to damage then when it is flexed. If you are fairly handy you could fix the trouble yourself by splicing in some newer and better wires at the stress points.

Something just doesn’t sound right to me. If the wire harness has no physical damage, then there must have been a problem at the factory, a damaged harness was installed or it was damaged during build up. We’re talking about a 2007 car. There hasn’t been enough years go by for the harness wires to be “wore out” or the insulation to be affected by any weather conditions. The manufacturers of both the wire and the car have figured out by now how to make the wires last more than a few years (even with constant flexing, opening and closing, etc.) I suspect there was a problem with this harness before the car was put on the road back in 2007.

I would go with Cougar here. Winters up there are brutal, and just opening a door can sometimes sound like you’re trying to rip it off the hinges. If you regularly open and close the hatch when it’s frozen solid then that could have caused wire damage. Also, as he said, it’s most likely you’ve got less than six inches of wiring that’s actually failing, and there are probably 4 or 5 wires there. You can get some spools of the same color wires to make life easier.


Wires can indeed break with the opening and closing of the tailgate. Same with opening doors, or a rear hatchback or trunk lid. All can eventually break wires. This is more likely to happen the more the tailgate is opened and closed, and would be worse in very cold weather. I think the wiring harness on new cars is constructed separately from building the car. They build it on a big table somewhere, likely not even where the car is built. At some point in the car’s construction, when the body has been painted but before all the bolt-ons are installed, the wiring harness is threaded in to all the nooks and crany’s so as to route the connectors to where they have to go. Knowing how the wiring harness is constructed is useful sometimes, as when you are looking for a connector – say C203 – you know all the C200’s are usually in the same part of the car. You won’t find C203 in the engine compartment if all the other 200 #'d electrical parts on the wiring harness are in the trunk area.

Anyway, properly routing the wiring harness and using proper strain reliefs should prevent wire breakage even if you open and close the trunk a lot, so perhaps something was amiss when the car was first built. Anyway, wire breakage could well explain why the tail-lights didn’t work; but I don’t understand why failed wiring in the back of the vehicle would cause the headlights not to work. The headlights are usually on their own circuit, have their own fuse, and are not in the same wiring harness as the tail-lights b/c they are at the front of the car, not the back. The switch that turns the headlights on also turns the tail-lights on, so that being in common might explain why both were affected I suppose. Inspection of the wiring diagram would clarify if a broken or shorted wire in the tailgate section could affect the headlights. I think your dealer is more or less giving it to you straight – perhaps just not explaining all the various details of what they had to do to fix it. The person who told you may not even know what the technicians actually did.

Yes, wires can break from constant bending and this can occur in driver and passenger side doors also.

However, I don’t consider what you went through to be normal and I would take the comment from the dealer about this being a common problem with a grain of salt.

I think what happened with your car was just one of those flukes that can occur with any car.
It would be interesting to know exactly what was done to justify 500 dollars for a few broken wires.

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I don’t want to beat this issue to death but I will mention that I bought the car brand new, it has all it’s scheduled maintenance and while Minnesota winters can be brutal it is parked each night in a semi-heated attached garage so it is not sitting outside. I don’t have the invoice with me but the estimate was roughly $80 for the wiring harness, $20 for overnight shipping and $400 for labor since they had to take out the liner in the ceiling and spend 6 hours+ reinstalling things. I too don’t know why the headlights are affected by the rear wiring harness but everything on the stalk on the left hand side of the steering wheel was out. The only lights that worked were the yellow lights in the front corners. It has 67,000 miles on it so out of warranty. Hopefully if it was a bad wiring harness from the time it was built, or it was installed incorrectly, having a whole new one will make a difference.

Broken wires in the bridge to the rear hatch can’t cause problems to the headlights. There was something else causing that trouble.

No cars are perfect and Subarus are better than most, I feel. Which is why I have owned them since I bought my first one in 1982. I have also owned a new van. After driving it on the highway for about an hour I came to a stop at a stoplight. When I tried to proceed the van would hardly move so I pulled over and called for a tow truck. Long story short I got my van back after being in the shop for two weeks and with a new transmission in it. Only 1,500 miles on the odometer. If this is the first problem you have had with the car I would say you did pretty well over most other vehicle owners.

A happy ending to this story. After sending in copies of my paperwork and reviewing my case, the corporate offices of Subaru USA have decided to reimburse me for the cost of the new wiring harness. Even though the car was out of warranty they agreed that the wires to so many items should not have broken in just 4 years under normal use. So a big shoutout to them for doing the right thing and letting me know there is no limit to the number of times I can open and close my hatchback. My faith in Subaru has been restored.

Thank you for the follow up. That reaffirmed my belief that wires don’t break after 4 years with normal use, I don’t care where you live. I lived in South Dakota in the 70’s and never saw any wire insulation break on the cars I messed with, and that was technology 40 years older than what we have today. And it got pretty cold up there. I have come across the copper stranded wire itself break inside the insulation, with no visual indication of an open in the circuit. Once was a wire inside a harness threaded through the front forks of a motorcycle, but that was after 25 years of flexing. It does make for a bugger to troubleshoot without a VOM on the side of the highway. It’s all good times.

Glad it worked out. Subaru typically does a good job keeping most customers happy who frequent the dealer.

I’m curious Andrew about your comment in regards to Subaru keeping most customers happy who frequent the dealer. My experiences with SOA have been far different from that scenario.

In regards to this particular problem, it’s not going to cost SOA anywhere near 500 bucks to cover their benevolence. The person who will likely get stuck is the mechanic who did the diagnosis and work.
They will probably come in and backflag him and that term means that it will come out of his paycheck. He will be punished just like it was a mistake on his part.

Parts: 80 dollar harness, actual dealer cost 35 say so SOA will pay 35 + 25%.
Labor: From my experiences SOA will pay .5 an hour labor rate X a discounted shop rate.

There’s also a bit of naivete when someone posts about having a head gasket job (or any other job) done and SOA says they “will go half on it”.
Going half means the customer is footing the entire bill, they just don’t know it.

As an owner of a 2005 Outback, I can definitely confirm there are electrical issues with the wiring harness for the rear tailgate door. If you open and close the door a lot, which I do as I use the car to transport dogs to and from the dog park, then there is a failure point for the wires where they transition from the main body to the door. They did not use the correct type of wires to handle being flexed frequently by using the door a lot. I pulled my harness and replaced that section of wires in it on all the wires that looked bad or had broken already, about half the wires. I wish I had just replaced them all as I am now once again having issues with the ones I did not replace at the time.

as I have a 15 forester, I will keep an eye on this.