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Old 05-02-2008, 07:52 PM   #1
Draco-REX
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Default Weird Electrical Problem...

Ok, I was wondering if anyone would like to try to wrap their brains around this issue I'm having.

The car is a 2003 Subaru WRX.

Problem: Yesterday, I met some friends for lunch. Up until that point the car was working perfectly, not even a hint of any sort of electrical issue. No stuttering or oddball behavior. When I went back to my car after lunch, I couldn't start it.

Here's the oddness. The key does nothing. The car has power, and whatever detects the key in the ignition starts dinging. However there is no response to turning the key. No accessories power up, nothing ignition related (fuel pump, windows, status lights on dash, etc.) powers up either. The car behaves exactly as if all I did was slide the key into the slot and never turned it.


What I've done:
Checked fuses. Any fuses ignition related check out. Plus this doesn't explain the lack of accessories. Other items that don't require the key work fine (parking lights, interior lights, etc.)

Pulled the igntion switch. I was getting some odd results with my multimeter when I checked the ignition switch. So I pulled it and double checked. The results were inconsistent. Sometimes the switch would connect the proper leads, other times it wouldn't. And some times I'd see cross-talk between the IGN and ACC curcuit. So, thinking that was my problem, I cut the switch from its harness and tried to "hotwire" the car directly. No good, same exact behaviour; No Accessories, no ignition, no starter.

So I'm at my wits end. If I can't get this at least diagnosed by Monday, I'm going to have to take it to a shop. And considering it's electrical, I'll probably have to take it to a dealership.

So any ideas would be a great help.

Thank you
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Old 05-02-2008, 08:09 PM   #2
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very odd. does the clock turn on? is the odometer on? have you disconnected the (-) battery, stepped on the brakes, waited thirty minutes, and reconnected the battery?

has the vehicle ever been stolen(tampered with) or modified(mods to the ecu, ignition, or wiring)?
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Old 05-02-2008, 08:34 PM   #3
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very odd. does the clock turn on? is the odometer on? have you disconnected the (-) battery, stepped on the brakes, waited thirty minutes, and reconnected the battery?

has the vehicle ever been stolen(tampered with) or modified(mods to the ecu, ignition, or wiring)?
ODO is on, clock doesn't turn on since it's connected to the ACC switch. I tried disconnecting the batt with no success. I've also had the batt disconnected for long periods while I was poking around with the ignition switch.

It hasn't been stolen to my knowledge, but I've only had it since Jan. I've tapped into the VSS wire, and made an ABS cutoff switch wired through the ABS IGN fuse (which I removed and put the fuse back when I discovered the problem.) Only other electrical mods are Aux lighting, but that is tapped into the lighting system at the lights, and did the foglight mod. Fogs and parking lights turn on fine when I hit the column switch.

It's literally like the harness to the ignition switch is cut, but as far back as I can follow it with my fingers, it feels intact.
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Old 05-02-2008, 08:54 PM   #4
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so you've obviously checked the fuses !and wires! on the abs cutoff...


maybe the ignition got tired of having the abs cutoff switch on it and some leak or short somewhere fried it? I honestly have no idea let's hope someone else has some insight.
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Old 05-03-2008, 01:48 AM   #5
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It sounds like there is a problem in the main power buss to the accessories. It is a good thing you have a meter to check with as it will help you a lot in finding the trouble.

The first place to check for trouble is the battery connections. Clean the connections and posts with a battery post cleaning brush. If the problem is still there then check in the main power panel under the hood. There is a main fuse in there, 80 amp I think, so check to see it has voltage on both sides of it it. If the main fuse isn't getting voltage then check the main power lead between the battery and the main fuse panel for a problem. Check the other fuses in there also. Don't just look at them, measure the voltage on both sides of the fuse while the ignition is ON. Make sure there is 12 volts on both sides of the fuses.
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Old 05-03-2008, 11:22 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cougar4 View Post
It sounds like there is a problem in the main power buss to the accessories. It is a good thing you have a meter to check with as it will help you a lot in finding the trouble.

The first place to check for trouble is the battery connections. Clean the connections and posts with a battery post cleaning brush. If the problem is still there then check in the main power panel under the hood. There is a main fuse in there, 80 amp I think, so check to see it has voltage on both sides of it it. If the main fuse isn't getting voltage then check the main power lead between the battery and the main fuse panel for a problem. Check the other fuses in there also. Don't just look at them, measure the voltage on both sides of the fuse while the ignition is ON. Make sure there is 12 volts on both sides of the fuses.
I can certainly start there, but if I was having trouble at those locations I dont' think I'd have lights, dings, and the security system wouldn't work.
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Old 05-03-2008, 02:52 PM   #7
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I would replace the ignition switch because you obtained inconsistent readings from it and it's a wear item.

There is an interrup relay. There is an starter interlock relay. There is a clutch switch.

The clutch switch provides the ground for the starter interlock relay.

The interlock relay allows power to flow to the starter, if it's working and/or if the clutch switch is working.

The interlock relay is located in the relay block to the right of the fuse block, under the dash. It's the 4th position up from bottom.

The interrupt relay exists if the car has a factory security system.

Also, you can get from a parts store a mini-relay for a 2001 Ford Focus headlight/foglight and use it in place of the Subaru mini-relays, so you don't have to go to the dealer.

The interrupt relay is tied to the security control module (engine control module in the STI). If I'm correct, the interrup relay also cuts out the accessories when you are engaging the starter.

The interrupt relay is located up under the dash, toward the center of the vehicle. There is a single power wire that is split to feed the main power and the relay coil power (WB - White / Black Stripe), relay coil ground (RB - Red / Black Stripe) and power to the interlock relay (WR - White / Red Stripe Mon)

The above assumes a manual shift, not automatic, drive.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by Big-E; 05-03-2008 at 06:27 PM.
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Old 05-03-2008, 03:11 PM   #8
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Ok, lets see if the ignition switch is working as it should be before we look at those other areas. See if fuse #13 in the dash fuse panel gets voltage when you turn the key to ON. If you do have voltage there then the ignition switch is working ok in the ON position. If you don't see any voltage there then check the white wire on the hot side of the switch for voltage.
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Old 05-04-2008, 12:00 AM   #9
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Ok, I've found the problem, but not HOW.. Gotta dig more.

When I was checking the ignition switch I assumed that one of the leads was Ground. And when I checked it against the body it checked out as a ground. So I didn't question that.

But I've been thinking about this (really, I can't stop ) and I realized that if the common wire was a ground, then how in the hell is anything going to get power?? So I got the wiring diagrams and began tracing..

Bingo, that ground isn't a ground! I traced the wiring in the diagrams back and found the fuse for that line. I pulled the fuse (SBF-4) in the engine compartment and, as someone suggested, it was blown but didn't look like it. So it probably blew when that wire grounded out.

Now, I have to find out where that wire goes and how it possibly got grounded. I checked that wire at the ignition switch (now just loose ends) against the chassis with my multimeter and the connection was still there. So the issues is AFTER the fuse.

Now to narrow it down further...

This makes me wonder if there is a chafing issue other impreza owners might need to check into...
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Old 05-04-2008, 02:03 PM   #10
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Jr is working!!

Believe it or not, it turned out to be that fuse. This has been a pretty educational experience. :P But what's weird is that the fuse didn't blow. It fatigued! But I have a spare just in case, but Jr runs and all the accessories work. So I'm happy.

I simultaneously feel dumb and happy about going through all that. I have a much greater understandng of my car's wiring, and really, with the information I had at the time, I felt I made the right decisions. What I didn't do, is do the diagnostics in the right order.

And in my defense, the fuse was labeled SBF-4. :P
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Old 05-04-2008, 02:20 PM   #11
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Thanks for the feedback D-R and glad you got it fixed. The SBF stands for slow blow fuse I think. I thought that just replacing the fuse may fix this. If it occurs again then there may be an intermittent problem tied to the ignition circuit.

When working on this kind of trouble it is a good idea to check the main power sources first, using the proper test equipment, to verify things are working as they should be. Had you verified the power situation first using a meter before digging into things it would have saved you a lot of time. Visually, things can look ok but really they are bad. I have been there myself working on things.
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Old 05-04-2008, 02:47 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cougar4 View Post
Thanks for the feedback D-R and glad you got it fixed. The SBF stands for slow blow fuse I think. I thought that just replacing the fuse may fix this. If it occurs again then there may be an intermittent problem tied to the ignition circuit.

When working on this kind of trouble it is a good idea to check the main power sources first, using the proper test equipment, to verify things are working as they should be. Had you verified the power situation first using a meter before digging into things it would have saved you a lot of time. Visually, things can look ok but really they are bad. I have been there myself working on things.
I popped the fuse open and the break was on one of the "legs" of the element, not the ball of solder in the middle. Around the break there was no blackening or apparent melting. Is this common? Or is it likely fatigue as theorized above?

Just had a thought. SBF = slow blow fuse? The replacement fuse looks different. It has a copper element with a thin section at the top, not the ball of solder like the original fuse. That would make it a fast blowing fuse, right? So I should probably get a SBF before I do any real driving in the car then, huh?
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Old 05-04-2008, 04:19 PM   #13
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It does sound like the break was due to faulty fuse. Not a real common problem but it does happen. I doubt you will have any trouble with the replacement fuse, even if it isn't the same type as the original. You have a backup in case it does go so keep it handy in the car just in case it is needed.
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Old 05-04-2008, 05:30 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cougar4 View Post
It does sound like the break was due to faulty fuse. Not a real common problem but it does happen. I doubt you will have any trouble with the replacement fuse, even if it isn't the same type as the original. You have a backup in case it does go so keep it handy in the car just in case it is needed.
Thanks. Luckilly it's not my only car. So I'll try to get a direct replacement. I'm just happy I won't miss the RallyCross this Saturday.
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Old 07-18-2008, 07:45 PM   #15
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Thank goodness for this thread. I just blew the same fuse while I was working on installing a custom intercooler sprayer setup. I checked NASIOC, and then quickly checked the SBF4 which was blown. Thanks guys!
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Old 07-19-2008, 12:00 PM   #16
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Glad it helped you out.
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Old 07-25-2008, 04:58 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cougar4 View Post
It sounds like there is a problem in the main power buss to the accessories. It is a good thing you have a meter to check with as it will help you a lot in finding the trouble.

The first place to check for trouble is the battery connections. Clean the connections and posts with a battery post cleaning brush. If the problem is still there then check in the main power panel under the hood. There is a main fuse in there, 80 amp I think, so check to see it has voltage on both sides of it it. If the main fuse isn't getting voltage then check the main power lead between the battery and the main fuse panel for a problem. Check the other fuses in there also. Don't just look at them, measure the voltage on both sides of the fuse while the ignition is ON. Make sure there is 12 volts on both sides of the fuses.
Draco, I'm having a similar problem, and ironically, the day before this weekend's rallycross!

I measured the #13 fuse. Nothing on either side.
I checked other fuses in the panel inside the car, and ~5.5 volts on one side, 0 on the other.
I checked the 80 amp fuse in the engine compartment, ~12 volts on one side, 0v on the other.

And sometimes... there is a ~12v reading off the alternator case (and the lead). Other times, it flickers between 0 and 1, and sometimes it's 0.

I have yet to test the white wire on the ignition... going to do that now...
I feel like I'm running in circles, electrical issues are far from my forte.

Any pointers as to what else to test?
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Old 07-25-2008, 05:10 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by I Like It Sideways View Post
I measured the #13 fuse. Nothing on either side.
I checked other fuses in the panel inside the car, and ~5.5 volts on one side, 0 on the other.
I checked the 80 amp fuse in the engine compartment, ~12 volts on one side, 0v on the other.
You want to check fuses for continuity/resistance, not voltage drop across them. They should either read as a short (have continuity) or read very close to 0 Ohms.

Quote:
And sometimes... there is a ~12v reading off the alternator case (and the lead). Other times, it flickers between 0 and 1, and sometimes it's 0.
Unless you're describing something wrong, this is VERY VERY suspicious. The case of the alt should be at ground. Measuring between the hot stud on the alt and the alt case should return 13.8V or so when the car is running and something above 12V if the car is off. Measuring between the hot stud and the positive terminal of the battery should be 0V. Measuring between the negative terminal of the battery and the case of the alt should be 0V. Measuring between the case of the alt and the positive terminal of the battery should be exactly the same as between the hot stud and the case.
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Old 07-25-2008, 05:27 PM   #19
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Thanks for the help Ty.

If I measure from the neg terminal of the battery to the alt case, I'll sometimes get ~12v. Other times I'll get 0.

But does that explain why everything dims/dies when I turn the key to the "on" position?
When I do turn it to the "on" position, there will also sometimes be a buzzing noise from the dash, same as when a battery is dead, or so I think.

I measured from the white wire on the ignition to ground, ~5v drop.
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Old 07-25-2008, 05:38 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by I Like It Sideways View Post
If I measure from the neg terminal of the battery to the alt case, I'll sometimes get ~12v. Other times I'll get 0.
This is your problem. Fix this, and the car will be happy. It should always be 0V. If you every get something other than 0V, there's a short somewhere. Probably internal to either the battery or the alt. Remove both, take them to an autoparts store for testing.
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Old 07-25-2008, 08:28 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by williaty View Post
This is your problem. Fix this, and the car will be happy. It should always be 0V. If you every get something other than 0V, there's a short somewhere. Probably internal to either the battery or the alt. Remove both, take them to an autoparts store for testing.
Actually it is an open or resistive connection instead of a short. The ground wire should be bonded to the engine from the negative battery post and a good wire connection will have no voltage drop since there isn't any resistance in the line for voltage to drop across. This is a direct connection and not really what a short means. A short is a direct connection between two points that are not supposed to be tied together. This could be a power supply connection or other points in a circuit.

If you haven't cleaned the battery post connections already then you need to do that. That just may be the trouble.

To OP:

It does appear that the main ground wire has a fault somehow. After you correct that see if you still have a voltage drop in the ignition area. If you do then there is another problem there. Hopefully the ground wire is the only trouble.

Last edited by Cougar4; 07-25-2008 at 08:41 PM.
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Old 07-25-2008, 08:39 PM   #22
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I think it's the starter. I removed the starter, and now all accessories work.
When I would try to turn the motor over, the starter would click, and everything would shut off. Sticky solenoid?

Can anyone verify this guess?
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Old 07-25-2008, 08:47 PM   #23
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I don't think so. It sounds like you need to clean the battery connections. The starter is trying to draw a large load when it is turned on. If there is some resistance in the power connections to the starter the voltage will get dropped across it rather than the very low resistance of the starter motor. Again, if you haven't cleaned your battery connections you need to do that.
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Old 07-25-2008, 10:02 PM   #24
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I did so.

Starter removed/disconnected, accessories work.
Start connected, turn key to start position, everything dies.
And it stays like that. Even with the key in the off position.

Thanks for the helpful information though. Everything I've read here has been good.
I'll have to pick back up next week. Nothing is more frustrating than not having a car ready to race.
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Old 07-26-2008, 01:03 AM   #25
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Alright. Battery connections are clean. Are you still seeing 12 volts across the main ground lead to engine ground when you try to start the car. If so, you need to replace the ground lead. Also check the wire to the starter the same way, if you see voltage across the lead when trying to start the car it is bad.

Since you say that everything dies when trying to start, then the problem is either with the main ground or the power lead to the accessories panel under the hood. After reading your post again you stated that the 80 amp fuse had voltage on one side but not on the other. Obviously something is wrong there, voltage has to be on both sides of a good fuse. You either didn't make a good contact to the connection or the fuse is bad. Since most things won't work if that fuse is bad that means something is not making sense. I would first verify that the main ground is good then start check ing the voltage in the main panel under the hood while the trouble is occurring. Try to find where voltage isn't getting to and use the engine ground for your reference. Also make sure the grounding from the battery to the chassis is making good connection. That is very important also.
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