Subaru Forester Issues May Start with the Clutch

Dear Car Talk:

We have a 2009 Subaru Forester Limited with a stick shift. We had no problems until 171,000 miles. Back in February, it began to have trouble starting. I took it to our trusted garage, and it started fine for them. The battery was replaced, and we finally told them to try a new starter. No luck.

The problem is still happening. The repair shop had it for a month, and they continued to have no problem with it. Back home, same starter problem. When trying to start it, we either hear nothing at all, or sometimes a little noise, not like it is trying to do something. When it does start, it starts immediately.

Help! -- Connie

Hm. They had it for a month and couldn’t figure it out, and you want me to diagnose it through the newspaper? Have you tried Hints from Heloise?

It sounds electrical to me, Connie. Based on your description, I assume that, when it doesn’t start, there’s no current getting to your starter. The first thing I’d check would be the clutch interlock. On this car, you have to depress the clutch in order to start the car. That keeps you from driving through your garage door before you open it.

There’s a little switch connected to the clutch pedal mechanism that prevents electricity from going to the starter unless the clutch is fully depressed. That switch could be faulty. Or it could just be out of adjustment. Perhaps the big, hairy gorillas who work at the garage are stomping on the clutch so hard that they always engage the switch, but when you’re at home, you don’t push quite so hard, because you’re not an animal.

You might also check to make sure the floor mat isn’t bunched up behind the pedals. We’ve seen that interfere with the clutch interlock, too.

Next time it doesn’t start, while you’re holding the key to the start position, try really mashing down the clutch pedal, and see if you can break through those shag carpet disco floor mats you bought in the ’70s. Maybe buy a pair of size 12, steel toed hiking boots first.

If that doesn’t help, I would guess that there’s another connection that’s failing intermittently. So when it won’t start, while you hold the key to the start position, have someone else jiggle all of the relevant wires under the hood, one connection at a time.

Start at the battery and check both cables. Then try the cable at the starter that comes from the battery. Then the ground connection from the negative terminal. If you can get the car to start while jiggling a wire or moving a connector, you’ve found your problem.

Finally, I know they replaced the starter, but if they put in a rebuilt rather than a new starter, it’s possible you got another bad starter. But not very likely.

I think the clutch interlock is the most likely problem, and that’s certainly where I’d start. Good luck, Connie.

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