If you have a Subaru check engine light flashing, you’ve got problems. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true. The flashing light means your Subaru’s engine is likely misfiring and you need to fix it as soon as possible.
When your check engine light flashes, it’s a more urgent signal than when your check engine light stays continuously lit. If you want to learn about what it means when a check engine light stays lit, check out this article.
Let’s get into what it means and what you need to do when you have a Subaru check engine light flashing.
Can I drive my Subaru with its check engine light flashing?
Can you? Yes.
Should you? No!
Here’s why… The longer you drive, the more likely you will be to cause more damage to your car.
And since your problem is most likely a misfire, fuel isn’t being properly ignited in your Subaru’s engine. This unspent fuel can pass into the exhaust system where it can (and will!) damage your catalytic converter.
What is a catalytic converter? And why should I worry about damaging it?
Your catalytic converter is basically a filter in your car’s exhaust system. The exhaust from your car passes through the catalytic converter and is made less toxic before it is expelled into the air.
There are all kinds of chemical reactions going on inside of a catalytic converter when exhaust passes through it. If you want to geek out on the science behind how a catalytic converter works, here’s a good article over on the NAPA Know How blog.
Is it expensive to fix my Subaru’s catalytic converter?
Yes. It is expensive to fix your Subaru’s catalytic converter. A catalytic converter is a very expensive part because it contains costly metals like platinum and palladium. These metals are part of the chemical reaction that reduces harmful exhaust emissions. At the time of writing this article, platinum costs about $1,200 per ounce and palladium costs about $2,800 per ounce!
Depending on what model Subaru you drive, a new catalytic converter can cost somewhere between $500 and $2,000!
Do I need to stop driving right away when I see my Subaru check engine light flashing?
You should stop your car as soon as you safely can. I’m not a big fan of stopping on a highway or busy road. People drive like assholes these days. So it’s best to be safe! You should get off the next exit and look for a safe place to stop.
But what if I’m just a few miles from home?
If you’re a short distance away from home, you will likely be OK if you drive your car directly there.
But if you’re hours away from home, it’s probably best if you call a tow truck. Time to use that AAA towing protection you’ve been paying for!
So why is my Subaru’s engine misfiring?
Generally there are three reasons why an engine will misfire. Let’s take a look at each reason in order from most common (and least expensive to fix) to least common (and most expensive to fix).
An ignition problem is the most common reason for engine misfires. The problem can be as simple as a bad spark plug. Spark plugs do wear out and need to be replaced. Replacing spark plugs is a pretty easy job and can generally be completed in about an hour and won’t be too expensive if a mechanic does the job for you.
Sources of other possible ignition problems could be a bad spark plug wire or a bad ignition coil. As with bad spark plugs, these other problems are fairly easy fixes.
Fuel system problem
The next reason for an engine misfire is a fuel system problem. Your fuel and air mixture may be wrong.There are a few reasons why this is happening.
Your fuel injectors might be clogged. Some people suggest using a fuel injector cleaner to fix a clog. But I disagree with this. I personally don’t think fuel injector cleaner is the fix-all elixir that some people claim it to be. Read more about my thoughts on fuel injector cleaner here.
The other thing you need to keep in mind is that in order for fuel injector cleaner to work, you’ll need to pour it into a tank of gas and drive your car several hundred miles. And you really shouldn’t be driving your car when the check engine light is flashing.
Other sources of fuel system problems include a clogged fuel filter and a bad fuel pump. These fuel system problems can take a little more time and effort to fix than an ignition problem and therefore will likely cost a bit more to repair.
Compression problems are the most expensive problems to repair. Possible reasons for this happening are a blown head gasket, bad valves, or even a cracked piston…. All problems that will be expensive to repair. But keep in mind, these are less common issues, especially if you’ve been good about properly maintaining your Subaru’s engine.
If your Subaru’s check engine light is flashing, it is almost always caused by a misfire. If this is happening to your car, get it to a repair shop as soon as possible. If you ignore the alert, you can cause potential damage to your Subaru that could snowball and turn into a several thousand dollar repair job.