Did you know that 2005-2009 Subaru Outbacks came standard with a cat o’ nine tails? I didn’t either but it turns out they did and not only that it’s a part that commonly goes bad and causes many problems. If, like me, you own such a vehicle and experience any of the following problems then you probably have a faulty cat o’ nine that needs to be replaced:
- Lift gate doesn’t lock/unlock
- Rear wiper/washer doesn’t work
- Passenger side tail lights or brake lights don’t work
- Rear defroster doesn’t work
- Reverse lights don’t work
Ok, ok I can feel your disappointment at the realization that the cat o’ nine thing isn’t going any further. Of course the real part I’m referring to is a wiring harness, but dang if that thing doesn’t bear a striking resemblance to an implement of torture:
If you just can’t let the cat o’ nine thing go then there is a very frugal option on Amazon but it only has 3 stars so caveat emptor.
Damn, I’m probably going to get all sorts of pop up ads now at the most inopportune times, oh well.
Hey, that reminds me of the time my dad showed up unannounced at my college apartment and inquired about an item hanging on our living room wall:
Dad: “What is that?”
Me: “Well, it appears to be a large funnel with about a 3.5 foot section of clear tubing attached. At the other end of the tubing it looks like there is a shut-off valve affixed with duct tape. Other than that I know nothing about it. It belongs to my roommate.”
Dad: “Un-huh, let’s go.”
Now back to the main point of this story. . .
About a month ago I noticed that the rear lift gate on our 2009 Subaru Outback was no longer locking when I clicked the lock button on the key. Hmmmm.
When this started happening I remembered that the same issue had been dealt with once before according to the service records provided by the previous owner. Double hmmmm.
Fortunately, or not, I had discovered evidence of the previous repair not long after I bought the car. After a night of heavy rain I opened the rear lift gate and found that a nice-sized puddle had developed on the passenger side of my cargo area. Not good.
I traced the source of the leak to an ill-fitting wiring boot at the top of the passenger side of the rear cargo opening.
You know why the wiring boot was ill-fitting? Because some !#!E%Q!@#%Q!# who worked on this before me decided to slice open the boot and split the base of the boot in half. The base of the boot is the part that fits into the car’s sheet metal and, you know, keeps water from getting inside the car. You know why they decided to slice open the boot? So they could get to the broken wires inside the boot that were preventing the lift gate from locking and unlocking.
I was kind of pissed when I initially discovered the slit boot and water leak issue. The previous owner should’ve mentioned those things to me. They wouldn’t have been deal-breakers. Maybe he just forgot about it? Or perhaps more likely he was just so stressed about his upcoming move to Uruguay that he didn’t want to do anything to mess up the sale of this car, which he definitely wasn’t taking to Uruguay.
Ah Uruguay. . . land of Jose “Pepe” Mujica the world’s most humble leader. I have to say I’m a bit envious of getting to move to Uruguay. Also land of Diego Forlan, which makes my wife a bit envious.
Anyways. . .
So what causes all these electrical problems associated with the wiring harness is the constant flexing of the wires as the lift gate is opened and closed over the years. Eventually the insulation around the wires starts to crack and then the flexing causes the copper wiring to fatigue and break and then stuff doesn’t work.
I learned through some internet sleuthing that this is a very common problem on 2005-2009 Outbacks. I also learned that replacing this wiring harness can be a very expensive proposition if you decide to go to your Subaru dealer. My local dealer quoted me about $700 for parts and labor. I saw people online saying they’d received quotes as high as $1,200.
None of that sounded good so I began to wonder if this was a repair I could accomplish myself.
Why So Expensive?
So why do dealers charge so much just to replace a wiring harness? The simple answer is because they can, but it’s also because of how much stuff has to be removed in order to even get at the wiring harness. To wit:
Enter the Most Boring Man on the Internet
The biggest challenge in taking on a job like this yourself is figuring out how to take all this crap apart without breaking everything. This is not an easy task because most everything you’re working with is made out of thin plastic.
Fortunately for me, and you if you have one of these cars, a kind soul has posted three videos to YouTube totaling more than 76 minutes of mind-
numbing blowing footage that explain in detail how to do this job:
- How to Remove the Rear Quarter Trim
- How to Remove the Rear Lift Gate Trim
- How to Replace the Rear Lift Gate Wiring Harness
Unfortunately for me, and you if you have one of these cars, this kind soul is the most boring man on the internet. All told it took me about 4 hours over two evenings to do this job, but I’m certain I could’ve done it in half that time if I had not kept falling asleep while watching these videos.
Make no mistake, these videos are thorough and everything is clear, but there needs to be something in here to keep us awake. Maybe throw in a prancing pony every now and then, or perhaps a cameo by a troupe of dancing monkeys? Hell, why not have a few Shriners in fezes zooming around on go karts in the background?
Here – I even have a couple of fezes I can loan you:
Of course this is all in jest (except the part about ponies and monkeys) I could not have done this job as well without the efforts of the most boring man on the internet. When I finished up everything went back in to place correctly, there were no broken pieces of plastic to show for my efforts, and all the miscellaneous clips and screws went back where they came from.
Thank you most boring man on the internet!
A Few More Shout Outs
Another thing I learned in between naps while watching videos by the world’s most boring man on the internet is that if you plan to take on jobs like this that involve removing interior pieces and parts then you need to get yourself a clip removal tool. These things are cheap and make this type of job much, much easier.
They also help you get better results when you put everything back together because your plastic clips haven’t been totally mangled like they would be if you just used your teeth or a flat-head screw driver or some combination thereof.
Gotta give it up to my peeps at Heuberger Subaru Parts in Colorado Springs, CO. I ordered my
cat o’ nine wiring harness from them – part no 81812AG03C for those keeping score at home – and with shipping it came to $74.82. That is a lot less than $700 and even a lot lesser than $1,200.
Final shout out goes to my 12-year-old son who was a huge help with taking everything apart and putting it back together. And waking me up for the “exciting parts” of the videos.
Adding it All Up
The moral of this story is that you can do this stuff people. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, old or young, boring or exciting. The internet is a beautiful thing full of helpful people like the most boring man on the internet who have taken time out of their own lives to help out their fellow men and women.
Sure I could’ve taken the car to the dealer and had this problem fixed, but if I did that I would’ve missed out on a chance to work on a project with my son. I wouldn’t know as much about my car as I do now. And of course I would have less money if I had gone to the dealer.
So let’s tally that up. Going to the dealer would net me less time with my son, less knowledge, less money, and fewer naps. Um, no thank you.
All hail the most boring man on the internet.