Fuel Smell Alert! on Cold Days-Subaru Models

January 25, 2011

If you’ve noticed that since the weather has become colder you are getting an obvious raw fuel smell coming through the vents of your Subaru you’re not alone.  SUBARU RECALL NO. WVK-21 for 2002-2003 Subaru WRX Models resolves a fuel leak from the fuel line under the intake manifold during cold weather condition. The fuel leaks out onto the top of the engine block from the fuel line creating a possible fire hazard.  If you have one of these models and have experienced this symptom, call you local dealer with your V.I.N. so they can check if the recall applies. If so, they can repair it free of charge. You should mention that you are experiencing the fuel smell symptom during your inquiry.

Other Subaru models are affected too. We’ve seen similar issues of fuel leaking from fuel lines under the intake manifold during cold conditions on numerous other Subaru models including the Outback and Forester. There is no current recall or service bulletin at this time that I’m aware of. If you experience this symptom. Bring it to your local Subaru specialist to diagnose and repair the issue right away.

Cheers,

Mike Corbin

Independent Subaru Expert

If you ever experience this symptom have it checked as soon as possible. We’ve seen some that just seep a drop or two but we’ve also seen a couple that were actually pooling fuel on top of the engine.

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Mike Corbin

About Mike Corbin

Smart Service is a Subaru service repair and maintenance shop operated independently of Subaru of America or Fuji Heavy Industries. We are a family run business that combine high quality Subaru care, personal friendly atmosphere and a cost savings over the Subaru dealer. We have been supporting the Subaru community since 1999. Follow Mike on Google+.

50 Responses to “Fuel Smell Alert! on Cold Days-Subaru Models”

  1. I just had my 2002 WRX done at Skagit Ford Subaru. I’ve noticed a fuel smell during cold snaps since I got it in 2004 but it quickly went away. This winter it was different, the gasoline odor was overpowering and lasted quite a while and wasn’t just in the morning. I had to have the windows cracked to flush out the cabin. Not good.

    Likely won’t know if the problem has been fixed till next winter at this point.

  2. Hi Bruce,
    If they replaced the fuel line (hard pipe) under the intake and the fuel hoses connecting to it, you likely won’t experience the problem again. Unfortunately you won’t know until the next cold snap unless you stay overnight at the pass.

    Take care,
    Mike

  3. I’m awaiting a call back from my Subaru dealer regarding this raw fuel smell. I’ve experienced it for 2 years now and have had it. It’s getting worse every day. I love my car and want to keep it, but also want to be safe too. Thanks for the advice!

  4. I hope they find it for you. We’ve found that on many of the models, over the years that the fuel lines seep when very cold and can necessitate either tightening of clamps or replacing the fuel hose depending on the circumstances.

    Good Luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Shoreline, Wa

  5. Hi Mike, I just bought a 2013 Forester. 71 kms on it and had to tow it for service. VERY strong fuel smell OUTSIDE the vehicle when parked and also on start up. Have you heard of this or have you any idea what might be the cause? The local Subaru Dealership here has no idea, they can’t find any problem. I suggested they park it in their garage overnight, then they can’t miss the smell. Thanks so much

  6. Hi Joanne,

    I have not heard of this issue with a Forester that new. I would check under the hood with the car not running to see if there is any fuel smell. Also, as the season becomes colder, the car does use more fuel during warmup and in many cases it can make the exhaust smell much stronger of fuel.

    I think you need to determine if it’s from under the hood or the exhaust. If it’s under the hood than it is a serious concern that should be dealt with right away.

    If it is out the exhaust, then monitor it to see if the smell goes away once the car is warm. If the latter is the case it may be perfectly normal.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

  7. I too have experienced a raw gas smell in my 2002 Subaru Outback, for at least three years now. This year is the worst. My dealer is checking for any recalls, but did not believe there were any. Why not? I can’t afford a large mechanic bill, it sounds as if it is obviously a known problem. Let’s go, Subaru! I love my car otherwise!

  8. I too have the gas smell in car this winter. I have had this car for 10 yrs and never had this problem before. It is really cold today. Wondering if it is dangerous to drive, got to go to work and no other car. There seems to be no answer to whether it is dangerous.

  9. Hi Liz,
    If it is fuel leaking then it would be dangerous to drive until the problem is repaired.

    Usually you’ll find the leak at a fuel line clamp.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    206-417-0880

  10. I have a 2001 Subaru Outback that stinks to high heaven of raw gasoline every time I start it up in very cold weather. Thank you for all the information I was able to get on this site!

  11. Just another issue in a long line of Subaru issues I’ve been having in the last year. Strong fuel smell on startup in cold weather in my 03 Legacy. I love how this car drives in the winter but I’m not sure I can afford it anymore and I’m not impressed with the new models. I guess it’s back to the shop for me.

  12. I have 2002 Subaru outback sport and my mother has a 2002 legacy and both our cars smell of pure fuel on cold days but it isn’t just when it is warming up it is while driving slightly and pours into the car while idling. Already talked to someone at our local dealer with no recall and a mechanic friend said it is something with clamps and hoses that shrink and expand due to the extreme cold. I really wish this problem would go away it really makes me reconsider Subaru again but we love the cars.

  13. Hi Carrie,

    The problem you are experiencing happens on more than just Subarus. The hoses get old and hard and the cold weather makes them shrink and once in a while they leak. I think if you have a qualified mechanic either replace the fuel hoses that are deemed to be leaking when cold or at least just tighten all of their clamps you should have the problem solved.

    Take care,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert in Seattle

  14. I just purchased a 2006 Subaru Forester a few weeks ago and since the weather has started getting cold, I started getting this strong gasoline smell when i start it up. It actually happened today when taking my daughter to school. It’s strong enough to give me a headache. Thank goodness I found this post. My husband is calling the dealership today to get this fixed.

  15. I’m having this problem right now with my 04 forester. I took it to dealer twice now and they cant see were the leak but they can smell the fumes. They’re going to charge me an estimate of $800 bux to take it apart and fix it. I’m currently on hold and contemplating to fix it myself.

  16. 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.

  17. Hi Mark,
    If the leaks are under the intake manifold which in some cases they are it can be pretty involved to get the manifold off to access the hoses. $800 does sound a bit steep even if it’s a turbo model. If it is a turbo, unless you’re very mechanically experienced I’d leave it to the pros.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, WA

  18. Glad to hear it. Keep an eye on things and when you have some more time (and the weather is warmer) you may want to replace the hoses.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, WA

  19. I have a 2001 Legacy L and I too have the strong fuel smell in Cabin in -20~30C weathers.

    I am not a mechanic, but I have worked on various cars before.

    Considering it’s the H4 non-turbo motor, it looked like the things that needed replacing are the hose & clamps.

    Is it too difficult/dangerous to do the repair on my own??

    Thanks!

  20. Hi Dan,

    I supposed you could do it on your own but I’d suggest having a professional do it if you can afford it. It will give peace of mind that it was done right and it puts liability on the shop if it doesn’t go right.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    Seattle, Wa
    http://www.smart-service.com

  21. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for all the good information on your blog. I live in Oakland, California and bought a used 2002 WRX Impreza from someone in Southern California in early September 2013. In the last month or so we’ve noticed the type of fuel smell described in the above postings. Of course, we don’t live in one of the “cold weather” states mentioned in the Subaru recall for the fuel hose. Recently it has been very cold here and the odor seems more pronounced. Are you aware of these problems in milder climates like Northern California?

    Thanks very much.

  22. Yes, we’re in Seattle and we see it here regularly. It seems to start becoming more pronounced when the temps start getting below 40F.

    I would call your local Subaru dealer with your VIN # to see if there’s a chance it’s covered by their warranty extension for that particular issue.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    http://www.smart-service.com

    Independent Subaru Repair
    Seattle and Vicinity

  23. I have a 2002 WRX and it happenned to me several years ago. It just happened again this week and they are charging me $600 because the recall only applies in the NOrth???? Given that I haven’t heard of this happening to other car models isn’t this a Subaru glitch?

  24. Hi Rita, I haven’t heard anything about it only applying to the North. I would call the 1-800-subaru3 customer service number to confirm it. I’ve had people denied due to time and mileage but never heard the reason you got.

    When you call Subaru make sure you have your VIN # handy.

    Take care,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru in Seattle
    206-417-0880

  25. I have a 2004 Subaru Baja turbo and i smell gas , my husband found a small line leaking gas , i call Subaru they said there is no recalls on this ! but there seems to be a lot of problems with the same hose in ALL the Subaru’s !!!!

  26. Hi Gloria,
    You are correct that there are currently no recalls or warranty extensions. I have to assume that the Subaru dealers are probably seeing this as often as we do or possibly more since they operate at a much higher volume. Maybe if enough people complain to them they will.

    Take care,

    Mike

    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Seattle, WA 98155
    http://www.smart-service.com

  27. 2001 Outback (4 cyl, 240k miles) experiencing the problem. Cold winter, single digit days, just filled up last night and had a hard time driving home with odor, especially while at a stop light. Had the rear windows open and the heat up the whole drive.

    Checked this morning and still smells after starting up.

  28. Same issues as described above: 2003 Subaru Outback. We’re in Philly; and the issue does correlate to temp: the colder it is, the worse it is. Can manage if we don’t run the defroster. Ugh. A mechanic has it now; we couldn’t see anything: no wet hoses or loose clamps. I’m surprised that such a strong smell—when you open the hood it’s almost overpowering—can come from vapor or small drops. Maybe he’ll see something when it’s on the lift?

  29. OOhh same problem here 2002 Forester with a strong gas smell when running. I noticed a bit of a puddle under the car as well..but couldn’t get to check it due to the parking location.
    Are there any recalls fr this? Would a loose clamp cause a leak as well, or just the smell.
    The Subaru repair shop tends to be steep in their repair costs..and at times less than “conservative”….so i want to go there with as much knowledge as possible.
    Thanks so much
    Amy

  30. I have a 2002 WRX that I bought new in January 2003 and I may have been having this problem to at least a slight extent up to the present time, but it has now gotten very bad so I’ve just taken it to the dealership, which is where I’ve always gotten it serviced since I bought it. After seeing this posting, I asked them whether they ever did this work on my car according to the WVK-21 recall (or would do it now), and they said no because my VIN was not covered by this recall.

    How is it possible that my car’s fuel line system is different from that of others of the same two model years? Were they somehow made differently at different factories, or at some point in the 2002 model year? (And in case there’s any validity to the claim that the recall only applies to cars in the north, I’m in Massachusetts, where it’s been bitterly cold, which is what has made this problem so severe now.)

    Do you recommend I place a call to the Subaru customer service number to check this on my own? (I don’t know my VIN at the moment because my car is in for this service, but I can get it, of course.)

    Thanks for your help and advice.

  31. Columbia, MD. 2006 WRX 2.5 turbo with intense gas smell upon start up. This situation coincided with first sub-zero temps during recent Artic-chill, in early January. Not an inssue in previous winters due to warmer temps??

    This is clearly due to undersight by engineers and should not require casualties before recalled in all models with potential for similar issues. What is the best way for consumers to raise this issue in order for recall to occur?

  32. Hi Daren,
    I would advise you get it in for repair as soon as possible. You definately don’t want to leave a fuel leak unattended to.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  33. The Mechanic you have just needs to look a bit harder. Using flashlights and dental mirrors can be a big help since fuel can evaporate before you see a pool of it on the engine. They should look closely for any evidence of staining on the bottom side of the hose. You can also use a 4 gas analyzer to “sniff” around until you see the readings spike up.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  34. Hi Amy,
    The smell is due to a fuel leak. The fact you see some under the car may indicate yours is worse than most. I would get it to a professional shop as soon as possible to address the issue.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  35. Hi Ron,
    That is a question I just don’t have the answer too. I certainly would push a bit with Subaru customer service to see if you can still get some help since it is a safety issue.

    Cheers,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  36. Hi Kevin,
    I’m not sure how to answer that question. I’m not an expert on raising an issue to the point of recall but I think it would need to be supported by as many documented cases of fuel leaks as you can put together before agruing your point to the powers that be.

    Good luck, if it were to become a recall there would be a lot of happy people.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Your Independent Subaru Experts
    Seattle, Wa http://www.smart-service.com

  37. Hi All!

    2003 WRX in Missouri (owned since May 2004)

    Has anyone outside of the 16 states identified in the recall had success with getting Subaru to honor the repair? The smell was so strong yesterday I had it towed for repair.

    I had it towed to my usual mechanic before I knew of the recall and “warranty extension” – was anyone in the remaining 34 states notified of the “warranty extension”?

    I told my mechanic to go ahead and replace the hoses since it’s really up in the air if Subaru will even considering covering the repair through the dealership. Any advice or experience from anyone else who had this situation (repaired at another shop and try to get Subaru to reimburse) is appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Jackie K.

  38. Question for you… I have a 2003 forester and am experiencing the strong fuel smell upon startup and while driving in very cold weather. I am planning to take it in for repair, but my mechanic is booked up until next week. I realize it isn’t safe to drive while the fuel is leaking from the contracting hoses in cold weather, but is it ok to drive if the weather is warmer… we are supposed to be a bit warmer over the next few days and I have no other car to drive… I may be overly paranoid (or just ignorant), but if temps are higher there should be no contraction of the hoses and therefore no leaking, making it ok and safe to drive right? Is that correct?

    Thanks,
    sue

  39. I’ve got a 97 GX liberty, and just this last week I have been smelling petrol when I start up for a few seconds, looking at you’re comments, I guess its fuel hose, or might just need a tune-up, as it stalls at the lights when weather is cooler. I am in Adelaide South Australia.

  40. Hi, everyone:
    2003 Forester 2.5XS in Alberta, Canada (owned since Dec 2004).
    Same issue: we have been noticing very strong fuel smell for several months now (it’s almost always cold in Alberta). The car is currently at the Subaru dealership for repairs. Otherwise, it’s been the best car we’ve had and we still love it. Hopefully Subaru will notice these numerous complaints and will stay behind its reputation.
    Thank you, everyone!
    Ed

  41. 2001 Forester (with an engine replaced in 2010 due to the head gasket issue)

    I notice the fuel leaking starts whenever the car is left in temperatures colder than around 30 Fahrenheit. Once it starts leaking, though, it continues to leak even if the temperature outside gets warmer.

    Every winter I end up tightening the fuel lines I can see. This time I did that and still smell fuel. I think there’s a hose I can’t see. There used to be a good diagram on the web showing all the accessible ones. Now there are so many subaru leak repair pictures on the web I can’t find the one that had nice red arrows pointing to all the hose clamps.

    Also, how would I check the hose that is not visible from the top? (and where is it?)

  42. Hi Brian,

    I think in your case of a recurring fuel leak, I would remove the intake manifold completely and turn it upside down. There’s a couple of hoses underneath that you can’t get to without removing it. It will also allow you to inspect the hard metal fuel line to make sure a hairline crack or corrosion hasn’t developed. When you have it off, replace all fuel hoses. If the clamps are factory, they are good quality and can probably be reused if they are not damaged.

    Good luck finding the leak.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Seattle’s Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com
    206-417-0880

  43. Hi Sue,

    With any fuel leak, I would avoid driving the car if at all possible until you have it repaired. Although I have never seen it cause a problem on any Subaru we’ve had in our shop, there’s always a remote chance of igniting raw fuel on a hot engine.

    Good luck solving the leak.

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair
    Seattle, WA

  44. Hi Sue,
    I have a 2002 WRX and am experiencing these issues and I live in Missouri also. I just had my local Subaru Dealer find out what they could do for me. They contacted me later after the mechanic called Subaru stating that it was an extended warranty replacement but unfortunately the extended warranty expired April 2013 and was no longer covered. with some further investigation through site like Safercar.gov it appears to have been a 12 year extension for mine, so you could possibly research your model there to find out if yours expires this year in April or thereabouts.

  45. I just bought a 2000 Outback and noticed this problem this morning (-41C with windchill). Didnt smell like exhaust, definite gasoline smell like i spilled some in the cab of the vehicle.

    Checked for leaks around my parking spot but didnt see any. Smell seemed to go away though, but it was very strong when I first got in the vehicle, had it running for maybe 10-15 minutes.

  46. Hi Ryan,

    Your description is exactly what we hear when there is fuel leaking onto the engine from one of the fuel lines due to cold weather shrinking the hose.

    I would advise getting it repaired as soon as possible.

    Cheers,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service Your Independent Subaru Expert

  47. I too have been battling this fuel smell and after multiple trips to the dealership I just got a call for a $600 repair to replace the fuel hose. I love this car but this is becoming an expensive adventure, 2005 Subaru Legacy. Very frustrated with Subaru for not being more pro-active. We have three Subaru’s in our family and I just hope they do something about it or this may be the end of our lineage.

  48. Hi Rebecca,

    I’m glad to hear they found the fuel leak but sorry to hear it was so expensive. It never hurts to call the 1-800-SUBARU3 customer service hotline to see if they will be willing to chip in on your repair. It’s certainly worth a try.

    Good luck,
    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Repair in Seattle
    http://www.smart-service.com

  49. Glad to see I’m not the only one with this issue, but it’s driving me insane. My 2004 Subaru Forester XT has had this issue since about 2 years ago when I lived in SLC, UT. I took it into the local shop, who diagnosed it as noted here (fuel hoses under the IM) – cost me about $600 to get them replaced. The issue proceeded to return a few months later, at which point I returned to car to the shop for warranty on that original repair several times. They checked and checked, but were not able to find an additional issue, so just tightened everything down at no charge, which helped in the near term.

    After moving to Bellingham, WA, the issue cropped up again – took it into the Subaru dealer this time, as I was looking for some peace of mind and figured a Subaru dealer would be able to fix the problem. They ended up just tightening the connections again (which they charged me $120 for, including inspection), which helped until a few months later when it AGAIN cropped up. Now I have it in for an unrelated repair, and they noticed the smell on cold startup (mornings are getting chilly now) and are quoting me another $700+ to replace the lines AGAIN. At this point, I am livid that this issue will NOT go away no matter how many times I get the car looked at. My plan is to hold off on the repair and call Subaru of America to complain, and hope for some help from them, but otherwise, what the heck can I do at this point?? I’m really reluctant to spend big cash to get the thing repaired again, because I’m not confident the issue will go away.

  50. Hi Ryan,

    Since the problem keeps returning, you may want to see what type of fuel line was used. We specifically use Subaru fuel line because it’s cut to fit and really seems to hold up. I’ve seen generic fuel line that just doesn’t fit as well. Not to say that’s the case with yours but it’s the first thing I’d check in this recurring matter.

    Good luck,

    Mike Corbin
    Smart Service
    Independent Subaru Expert
    http://www.smart-service.com

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