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Subaru Fuel Smell & A Quick Tip

 

I wanted to take a few minutes and get some information up about a potential fuel smell in your Subaru that only seems to occur when it is cold out side.

There are 2 very typical, minor but very strong smelling fuel leaks we see lots and often this time of year.

The first pertains to the 2002 to 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX, Subaru first had a TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) and updated fuel line components and then a full fledged recall to address the leak, but if you bought your WRX used you may be unaware of the Recall.  In the event you feel you have an affected model you should contact an authorized Subaru repair Facility and find out if your vehicle falls under the recall.

The Recall  is #WVK-21.

The Second Model is the 2000 to 2004 Legacy and Outback, there are a couple of problem areas, but the most common is the fuel line at the front of the engine on the passenger side, behind the bracket that the power steering lines attach to, there is a 3 to 4 inch rubber fuel line that as the temperature outside drops the rubber line contracts away from the stainless steel clamp and you now have a fuel leak until the hose warms up and expands back into the clamp, you can carefully access the clamp and tighten the clamp, but I do suggest replacing the fuel line as it is a better repair, we have learned  the hard way that the lines that are re-clamped typically leak again, as it was a sign of a bigger problem with the fuel line starting to become compromised, and we are not talking about a big repair, but we are talking about a fuel leak.

Another quick point any time you buy a used Later model car, regardless of where or who you buy it from, YOU need to take the initiative to grab the VIN # and call your local dealership service department and have them run that VIN number to see if there are any open recalls.  Sometimes the system is slow, by the time you receive a recall notice you may have paid for a repair at a general repair shop that doesn’t care if your Wheel bearings are under recall/warranty.  Its ultimately your job to stay informed about your vehicle.

Thanks For Reading

Justin

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Comments (53)

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  1. Mark says:

    Justin:

    Great info. Just had a below 10 night here in Chicago and gas smell returned. Solved by tightening clamps as I have done before. Want to fix correctly this time. What should I tell my dealer to do (not always up to date like you are). Just replace rubber line, or is there more involved? Thanks

  2. Steven B says:

    Hi

    I just posted a response/scenario/question on the “head Gasket” thread (I guess will be #1037), but then I found this thread which may be more related. I have a 2000 Outback with very bad fuel smell during the winter.

    Can you explain exactly what fuel lines to change (maybe a picture with arrows to the right hoses), and whether we should use aftermarket hoses or trust more Subaru ones? What kind of clamps should replace the existing ones, or can the existing ones be trusted with the new lines?

    I want to know what to tell my mechanic as they have obviously had no idea what to do to permanently fix this issue for the past 6 years. Unfortunately, I can’t come to your shop, as I am in Quebec.

    Thanks!

  3. Steven B says:

    Sorry, just thought of follow-up questions:

    What is wrong with the 2000 Outback fuel line that it needs to be changed? Is it the grade of the hose, or the length, or the clamps? How do we ensure that changing the hose is going to make a difference permanently?

    Thanks!

  4. Justin Stobb says:

    Steven,

    The fuel line is made from rubber and the clamps stainless steel they have different expansion and contraction rates. We often see that the hose has contracted away from the clamp and a few turns of the fastener stops the leak. But the line should be inspected for cracking and if cracked replaced.

    The rubber fuel lines are in extreme conditions, subject to heat and fuel which depending on what type of fuel is used can affect how long the line lasts.

    Fuel lines should be inspect4ed every year and replaced as needed, a 10 year old car is at the point where they may be needed.

    Hope this helps

    Justin

  5. Sam says:

    Justine,

    Thanks for the great information. As requested by Steven too, would you please put a picture where the clamp is located, with some sort of identification, for novices like myself. I have a similar problem in my 2001 Outback.

    Thanks much!

  6. Scott says:

    I am having this issue with my 2005 2.5XT Outback. You say it only affects 2000-2004? Do I have the same rubber fuel line fittings?

    • Justin Stobb says:

      The 05 Subaru Outback Xt does in fact have a fuel line that needs to have the clamp tightened on the drivers side under the intake manifold.

      The clamp is upside down meaning you cant put a tool ( Phillips) on it to tighten it.

      What we have had to do was turn the screw with a pair of pliers( backwards) ..

      I first discovered this about a month ago when the temps dropped here and I smelled gas in my own XT. It takes about 15 minutes to resolve once your are set up correctly with the right tools

      Hope that helps

      Justin

      • eurotech2 says:

        I’m a technician working for Eurotech. Recently, I began working on a 2005 Subaru Forester XT with this same issue. I have a couple of quick comments to add to this forum. First of all, there’s nothing simple about this fix. Replacing those fuel lines is a bear! All of the hose clamps are installed upside down, not just one or two…ALL OF THEM. The turbo inlet duct runs between the fuel rails and the upper intake manifold and it is very rigid and stubborn. You had better have 6 hands to line all the fuel lines, intake bolts and all the other crap that gets in the way, up. Secondly, I’m disappointed that the official repair to this problem is replacing it with more rubber hose. The physics of cold weather and rubber will be the same, regardless of how new or old the rubber is and it will eventually happen again. At the end of the day, it ends up being the technician that is blamed for the fuel line leaking again down the road. My advice, DO NOT DO THIS JOB ON YOUR OWN, pay a qualified technician…because it’s a pain in the ass.

  7. [...] Great mechanic in our area has a discussion post on this subject. Same as 5gear said, check fuel lines. My mech says (i'll link post) but basically, he's noting that some models have this leak at the fuel clamp location SPECIFICALLY in colder weather but the odor diminishes after warming up w/ driving. See if this sounds like yours: Subaru Fuel Smell & A Quick Tip – Seattle Subaru Repair [...]

  8. cr says:

    2 Subaru places in Colorado want $300 to tighten the bands under the manifold. I have a 2005 xt that smells like gas at around 20 degrees. It is sad that Subaru won’t “man up” to this problem. There should be a class action suit.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      It would be better to replace the small rubber fuel line under the manifold rather than just tighten the clamps.

      Not enough cars are affected For Subaru to issue a recall, and same goes for class action.

      I have A 2005 XT as well and have replaced the lines at 91k. I didnt think that was to bad for a Turbo model running higher fuel pressure.

      Justin

      • Mark Kantor says:

        I have a 2004 forester xt. Since 60k I’ve had to replace the fuel lines twice at 1200$ and 800$. I had called Subaru customer service the first time. Their answer was “there is not protocol for this.” They would not say anything else. My gas leak the first time was actually pouring gas out at the leak site. I just wonder how many people must die for a car company to have a recall.
        This is definitely a design defect that Subaru has know about for over 12 years but refuses to either change the design in the new cars and fix them in the old. I have owned 13 subdues in my household sive 1996. I cannot buy another one from a company like this that has so little regard
        for life. I loved my forester xt and will keep it until lit dies – I will not own another! I hope everyone who has a Subaru with a leak posts a comment.
        Mark. Kantor

        • Justin Stobb says:

          Hi Mark,

          So this post is not about a huge or gross fuel leak, which is what it sounds like you had, which can occur on any car. Why not list what was done? Pretty vague to say you had a fuel leak somewhere twice and paid $800 and $1200 to have it repaired and just doesn’t help anyone.

          To try and help you understand how the new car and warranty of works.

          If you call SOA without fist going to a Subaru Dealer and having the condition diagnosed, there is no protocol, if you go to a Subaru Dealership and have it diagnosed, you are than advised it’s not covered under the 5 year 60k powertrain warranty because it’s out of warranty, you can always ask for some help but there is no guarantee they will help, especially if it’s not a typical issue, or caused by corrosion due to the elements, which I can only speculate because your post is a vague rant. At which point is it your car and not Subaru’s is the question? I agree fuel leaks are serious, but all car companies set a reasonable warranty period, you could have purchased a longer warranty if you chose to and not had the out of pocket expense, but I am unclear if a fuel leak on a ten year old car is making you upset or paying for it?

          In the shop we see a few every winter for some minor fuel line related smells most repaired for under $100, and a few from the East coast with rusted away fuel filler tubes (Which actually occurs because the owner never cleans the debris out of the inner fender liners after the season) the mud holds moisture and rots the pipe away slowly over time. But without knowing where the leaks were its all just a guess on my part. Some Turbo models can be a little more to repair if it’s under the intake manifold I will point out however.

          To my knowledge there have been no deaths as a result of a fuel leak on a 2004 Forester XT, there is also no recall or campaign that I am aware of.

          “This is definitely a design defect that Subaru has know about for over 12 years”

          So you understand #WVK-21 is a recall to the 2002 and 2003 WRX where Subaru redesigned the fuel line right?

          I get that your upset, and you are entitled to do so, but lets put it into perspective please.

          I am not sure we would all be better off in a GM with a faulty Ignition switch where people did die, even though the defect was acknowledged, or how about a Toyota with acceleration issues or the fact they couldn’t keep a floor mat from killing people. I personally feel better about an older car aging and having some issues, rather than a new car that leaves me without it or tries to kill me, feels much more like a design flaw over something that happens many years later, doesn’t it?

          All cars have their issues and as they age need repairs, if you live in a harsh climate a ten year old car definitely will. Sorry the Forester has let you down and I truly hope what ever you buy next, treats you better. At 30k for most new cars, it had better right?

          -Justin

  9. Jason P says:

    Thanks!!
    I missed the one up by the power steering pump.
    Great info!!

  10. Stan says:

    Justin,

    Thank you very much for the info! Our ’01 Legacy started leaking fuel couple days ago, and the culprit was the rubber line on the passenger side, behind that bracket. Exactly as you said.

    I started the car, let it run for ~5 min, and the wet rubber hose was pretty easy to spot. I tightened the clamps for now, but will order new parts as soon as possible.

    In case someone needs to see where the problem is, I posted couple photos here: http://legacygt.com/forums/showthread.php/gas-smell-inside-cabin-151908.html?p=4229774#post4229774

  11. James Holloway says:

    Very helpful info and advice. Thanks. One dealer tried to convince me to replace the metal fuel line rod on the firewall at the top of the engine compartment, to the tune of $1500. I said, no thanks.
    Was seriously thinking about trading in my Legacy, so I hope this rubber fuel line replacement does the trick.
    Thanks again.
    James H.

  12. Erica T says:

    Really helpful information, minus 20 nights and strong fuel smell in 2003 Outback, thanks for the tips, Erica T

  13. Paul says:

    I had the problem 2 years ago and it came back with the cold weather in the NE. Notes: Drive the car and check the fuel lines as soon as you return. Gas evaporates quickly. The factory clamps only get so-so tight. Polite way of saying they suck. I replaced mine with the Stainless Steel Hose Repair Clamp 1/4″ x 5/8″ (Home Depot_Plumbing aisle or check their website to see which ones). Tighten, but don’t crush the metal fuel line. The hose I found leaking,(about 4 inches long)was under the driver side intake manifold, below the spark plug wires. All others were dry. Wife is happy now and what is better than that….

    • Tom says:

      Very helpful info. Had very strong gas smell in 2003 Forester last week in 15? temps. Mechanic suspected gas tank leak at top of tank, but smell has since gone and no trace of leaks visible on tank. Replacing tank would have been $1000+ and not fixed problem maybe. How many fuel line hoses are there and which should be replaced? Would leak only be at manifold or could it be at fuel pump? I am at 156k miles and don’t think fuel lines have ever been replaced.

      Thanks much.

      Tom

  14. lisa says:

    This is to crazy im having the same problem with my 2002 subaru outback. Its my 2 one and this problem just started it never happened with my other Subaru when it is below 20° the gas smell is beyond crazy. Im going to keep my fingers crossed and try some these suggestions.Please wih me luck

    Thank you
    lisa

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Lisa,

      A common thing is that the fuel line clamps need to be tightened.

      -Justin

      • Bryan says:

        I have been reading all these blogs and have tightened clamps and I lifted the access compartment in my 99 legacy outback and I see or smell no gas on top of the tank…… Is there anything else or tricky spots that could be leaky????? The smell is so strong!! Please help with suggestions

  15. RicS says:

    With the recent cold (-12 today here in Colorado Springs), I noticed twice this week the STRONG fuel smell driving into work. I have a 2002 Outback Wagon w/128k+. What’s strange is that I used to live in Alaska with much colder temps and never had this issue. Of course that was a few years ago.
    Going to give the clamps a turn and call my dealer. Thanks for the postings. They’ve been a GREAT help.

  16. michael G says:

    2002 Forester has had a long history of smell of gas in cold weather starts (below 10°F). Dealer looked at it a few years ago and tightened clamps and it sort of was fixed but seemed like it still was a problem. But yesterday it started smelling again. Today (-12°F) it was so bad I could barely drive the card.

    Searched The Google and saw references to tightening clamps. Did that after it had been in the garage. I tightened clamps on the driver side of the engine compartment. But decided to pull the car out of the garage and let it sit in the cold for an hour. Started the car and looked around — saw fuel dripping from two hose on the passenger side of the compartment nearer to the front of the car. Tightened those and it seems to have taken care of the problem. Just needed a phillips screwdriver.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Michael,

      It would be best to replace the fuel line as sometimes tightening is only temporary.

      -Justin

      • TB says:

        Justin, this is a great thread. Thanks for your help. I have a 2005 OB XT 5-spd and the raw gas smell just started for the first time. The freeze has just settled in here in Chicago. This is a first time for this issue in our OB. Hasn’t occurred during other winters, so maybe some of the rubber fuel lines are bad now and need to be replaced.

        I looked under the hood last night and saw dampness in only one place: down on the “floor” of the engine compartment (on the plastic weather cover) on the passenger side, around/under where the oil filter is. So I went under the car and removed the little plastic oil filter access flap and I was staring right at the leak. But I couldn’t see a clamp or fuel line anywhere. Any ideas as to where my leak might be coming from, or how I could find the right clamp to tighten?

        Thanks.

        • Justin Stobb says:

          The typical place we see on the Turbo models such as the 2005 XT is one of the fuel lines under the intake manifold. That doesn’t really correlate with what you are posting however, I suppose it could be leaking down the engine, but if its that severe it needs to be addressed before driving it at all.

          Have you truly verified the fluid you are seeing is fuel?

          Justin

          • TB says:

            Thanks Justin. I guess I didn’t truly verify if it was gas. I didn’t have a lot of time last night AND it was like 0 degrees. Going to look at it tonight, while the engine is running.

            If it’s truly under the intake, does that mean I have to remove the intake to get at it?

          • Justin Stobb says:

            Yes if the fuel leak is in fact one of the lines under the intake manifold it would require removal of the intake manifold to resolve.

            -Justin

  17. Matt says:

    2001 OBW with the exact same issue. Thanks for the thoughts and advice, Justin – this has been a really helpful blog post.

  18. Kitty says:

    My 2004 Subaru Baja Turbo has had this problem for the past 3 winters. Winters ONLY! Shouldn’t this be a recall problem? I’ve been breathing in noxious fumes for 3 winters now. How much is tightening the clamps going to cost me? I don’t think this should be our problem to be paying for the repair. I’ve been surfing the web and this Subaru fuel leak seems to be the norm. Help!

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Kitty,

      Do you mean to say that every year for the last three years you have ignored a fuel smell and possible fuel leak rather than allow someone to look at it and suggest a resolution? I understand the only during the winter thing but its like saying your roof only leaks when it rains.

      The car is 10 years old and may occasionally need some repairs.

      I wouldn’t suggest waiting for the fuel leak to catch on fire before reacting to it, id take the matter a little more seriously. Just my opinion.

      -Justin

  19. Cindy says:

    Wow my daughter has had this same problem for a few. Years, every time we take it in they cannot find anything, I have not put it together with the cold. However it started again yesterday.

    Reading the posts looks like dealerships don’t cover so guess we will take to our neighborhood mechanic. Glad I saw your post.

    Cindy

  20. Judy says:

    I have a 2001 Subaru outback with the same problem. The smell is very strong the colder it is. I found this very helpful because when I told my mechanic, all he said was that it was a common problem with this kind of car. He said he had a man that swore he had a leak but they couldn’t find anything. I will write all this info. down and ask him to replace this fuel line. Does anyone know who much it costs approximately to repair and it is just this one fuel line that is the problem.
    Judy

  21. Alexander says:

    same problem

    I have a 2002 subaru outback H6 3.0 (v6) automatic llbean edition

    I live in Cleveland Ohio and problem started when it got COLD

    the fuel leak is just like you said, at the clamp

    however on my engine (v6 edition) it is on the DRIVERS SIDE (H6-3.0), on top of what appears to be the fuel filter.

    I am going to drive to auto parts store and get a new fuel line, I think I can fix it myself if I take the engine cover off which looks easy.

    Thanks for info!

  22. elissa says:

    2005 Subaru Outback 3.0 R L.L. Bean Edition 180,000miles
    (
    I think the guys are missing a bigger problem under what is obvious, and being a girl, I need an old school motor-city thinker’s help..

    2 fuel-related problems in last 8 weeks and recall in the middle:
    problem #1: likely still be unresolved
    I was doing 80 on I-75 , the engine’s “push” faded just enough to feel but not slow down.. it didn’t sputter(like running out of gas) but I felt I couldn’t maintain speed/ push fuel to engine/ whatever that power flow is, it wasn’t there for a split second.
    1/4 mile later, same thing.. happened 3x by half a mile I was not able to maintain or produce any acceleration and had to pull over. car still running, just shy of a 1/4 tank.
    towed to local dealer not “my guy”. It sat for a long weekend
    dealer looked and said: not the pump, I ran of Gas? (see problem#2) “too little fuel in tank, pump couldn’t grab what it needed to maintain speed”

    Questions:
    but wouldn’t it have stopped running if it was out of gas?

    said everything check out? they added gas and it was fine-
    meantime,

    I had them do
    recall WQG-43 for corrosion

    problem #2 next week
    car sits in garage (unusual) for a few days during the big 22″/48h snow storm w a lo temp of -10F.. 1 cup worth of gas puddled below a seam line-just shy of the rr passenger door never smelled gas but car stay out side
    dealer says the “tank is rusted”..$1200.

    ok- no.
    I researched a bit, I see the corrosion issue with the filler necks and the shield build up..I live in michigan.. I get that.. there is a leak somewhere
    but…if the car was leaking gas over the long weekend before the dealer looked (seriously?) at fuel pump.. easy to assume “no gas duh” leak discovered AFTER other checked out

    specifically want to know if common corrosion/clamp-fitting issues would be able to drain last 1/5 tank of gas in 30′ cold?

    brake line recall was for element exposure from gap in shield.. wouldn’t that gap also expose my fuel “things” too?

    now what?

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Elissa,

      Not sure how much help I can be as I just don’t really understand all of you post.

      Low fuel level can be a bigger issue in cold weather, up or down hills or around corners, than be okay when flat?

      Gas that leaks out can and will evaporate over time.

      I live in the Seattle area and rust is not an issue, so I just cant answer what commonly rusts on your car as I just don’t experience that here.

      Lastly the fuel pump is housed in side of the Gas Tank.

      If the leak in the tank is at the bottom of the tank the limit to how much fuel can leak out is how much is in the tank, if the leak is at the top or somewhere on the side such as the seam the limit to how much fuel leaks out is the level at which the leak is occurring. Another words if its a leak at the half way point the fuel can leak out until the level is below the leak.

      Any fuel leak must be addressed before you drive it or its a fire and unsafe condition waiting to occur.

      -Justin

  23. Eileen says:

    Hi – am writing from Montreal area – I have a 2004 Forester (75,000 km). I had the full blown check up done by the dealer in the fall – other than new brakes, everything was fine. We had extremely cold weather (-30C) over the holidays – no problem with the car. We are back into the “deep freeze” once again, and as of yesterday I now have a horribly strong smell of gasoline in the car (the first time ever). I took it to Speedy Muffler – they checked it in every possible place, and there was nothing at all leaking, or any traces of anything (I also checked my garage floor, nothing). So I am in a “wait and see” mode (they even said sometimes it goes away), but if it worsens I will take it to the dealer – are there any updates regarding this ongoing problem with Subaru that you have heard of. Not looking forward to a $600 charge (more in Cdn$ !) Thanks in advance.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Eileen,

      Most likely its just going to need to have one or more fuel line clamps tightened up with that kind of mileage.

      One thing that I omitted from my original post was one of the reasons this happens is the Techs at the dealerships neglect to check and tighten these connections even though its part of a service you are paying for. Not in every case but I suspect that’s the deal here.

      -Justin

  24. Debbie says:

    2004 Legacy wagon with 153,000 miles. 2013, 20 degrees out. I had a fuel smell I never had before. Went to Subaru dealer. The fuel line clamps were tightened. No smell for over two. Temp dropped in the 20′s again. Smell came back. Went to Subaru again. Clamps are still tight. I was told that this is a common Subaru problem. It is in the 40′s now and the smell is gone.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hi Debbie,

      Its possible they missed on of the lines and some more clamp tightening is needed, but its also possible that one or more of the lines need to be replaced and that a simple re tightening of the clamps just wont do it in your case.

      -Justin

  25. Mike says:

    Jason,

    Thanks for post. I have a ’99 Legacy with visible gas on engine.

    I have replaced the rubber seals on one fuel injector. That seal is leaking worse, and may NOT have been the total culprit in the first place.

    My local dealer wants to replace all gas lines for about $700; seems excessive. Assuming I resolve the injector issue, what kind of replacement cost should I expect at a non-dealer mechanic?

    Thanks,

    Mike

    • Mike says:

      Justin sorry about name.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hi Mike,

      I am sorry but I have no idea how much someone else would charge you to work on your car.

      Unless you bring the car to me I cant tell you how much its going to cost you to fix it. All fuel lines would include the ones at the tank and that run through the body, which would be substantially more than $700 anywhere.

      -Justin

  26. philip says:

    have any ideas what maybe cuasing a strong fuel smell on my subaru b4 twin turbo 2001? usually smells out the car on a cold morning especially when air conditioning is on… during the day you can usually smell fuel on the outside of the car also… many thanks

  27. Ken says:

    I just encountered the dreaded fuel smell in my 2002 Legacy. I was test driving the car after trying ti fix an exhaust system rattle and noticed a distinct fresh gas odor both inisde the car and outside as well. I opened the hood and the smell was so strong it made me sick to my stomach. I looked around and immdiately saw the gas leak on the small rubber fuel line that connects two steel lines. It was lierally running out of the connection and laying on top of the hot manifold. I shut engine off, let it cool down and then went to google, and found quite a few sites complaining of fuel line leaks in Subarus. I tightened the clamp with a small phillips and the leak stopped fotunately for now. I did have two fuel lines fixed back about 6 months ago and this may have been one of them. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this from now on, as this obviously could end up being a disaster. What a lousy design by Subaru, and to then let the consumer deal with the maintenance bills without notice. Up until I ran into this major issue, I thought Subaru had a good car.

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hello Ken,

      Okay I get it, paying for a repair on a 12 year old car is out of line. Do you know that on other methods of transportation the fuel lines are replaced on a schedule? The issues isn’t the lines need to be replaced it’s that due to ownership cost reports 1/2 of what one will pay for over 300,000 miles is clearly left out by all manufactures.

      -Justin

  28. BAY says:

    My 2012 Subaru Outback started having the very strong gas odor inside the car and in the closed garage after I filled the tank and left it in my closed garage overnight. There were about 35k miles on the car when this started happening. It was June and not cold. It is now Sept. and I finally took it to my dealer. I had found that if I only filled the tank 3/4 I did not get the odor. When I filled it all the way, the odor came back. The dealer says it looks like mice have chewed on the fuel line(s). He said I can drive it with no worries because it is only “seeping”. He has ordered the fuel lines. He says the repair will be minimum of $500, or worst case it could be thousands if they have to remove my fuel tank!

    So my question is does this “mice chewing on the line” sound for real? And why do I only smell the odor when the tank is full? Since this is a newer OB and not a cold weather problem I have to post my question!

    BTW, I went to the dealer hoping the issue would be covered under warranty — they said no, it is not. I normally get all of my service and repair work done by my local, trusted mechanic.

    Advice, please?

    • Justin Stobb says:

      Hi Bay,

      Mice and other rodents do in fact wreak havoc on all sorts of vehicle systems and yes you can’t really expect a car company to warranty something chewed by a rodent, if you are concerned just ask to see the old parts, it should be very obvious that is what occurred.

      I am a little concerned about the waiting so long to take it in, and also waiting for repairs, fuel leaks even small ones are to be taken very seriously.

      Hope that helps

      Justin

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