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1999 Forester
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Discussion Starter #1
A friend of mine was considering buying an AWD vehicle located far away and it brought up an old question that I would like an answer to. Before I knew anything about Subarus, I bought my 99 Forester with automatic transmission from a guy that lived far from me. The car was extremely cheap and I planned to beat the hell out of it until it died. I had read that I should not tow any AWD vehicles with two wheels off the ground, but a tow dolly was easy. The owner told me over the phone not to worry about it because he had been a Subaru mechanic and he knew a trick. His 'trick' turned out to to be removing the AWD fuse and leaving it on the dolly in neutral. He assured me that it was perfectly fine and I ended up towing the car over 700 miles like that on the interstate. After going through the car, I discovered that the supposed Subaru mechanic wasn't much of a mechanic or handyman at all, so I wondered about his AWD advice. In any case, I bought it with 120,000 miles on the odometer and it has over 180,000 on it now. I've never had any problem with the transmission, even though I ripped the transmission pan off the car on a rocky mountain road at one point. I utilize the AWD system extensively and it has never failed. I even used it to tow a truck from central Colorado to eastern Tennessee using a tow bar, due to less-than-ideal circumstances. I was glad I had installed a transmission cooler at that point. Given all of the incredible abuse my car has survived, I'm wondering if the towing advice I've always heard is accurate. Can anyone comment on why my perfectly running Forester should have been ruined by towing it 700+ miles on the rear wheels?
 

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98 Fozzie
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170 Posts
You electronically disabled the AWD effectively making it a FWD car capable of being used on a tow dolly. Older models and manuals transmission Subies do not have that option; nor do almost every other AWD vehicle I know of.
 

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2008 LL Bean (4EAT)
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4,909 Posts
... His 'trick' turned out to to be removing the AWD fuse and leaving it on the dolly in neutral. ... I ended up towing the car over 700 miles like that on the interstate... I've never had any problem with the transmission... Can anyone comment on why my perfectly running Forester should have been ruined by towing it 700+ miles on the rear wheels?
He would have inserted a fuse, and the fuse would have to be powered (engine on) to hold open the solenoid that engages the rear drive. So you apparently towed with the rear drive engaged and turning the transmission. Either your 1999 was different from the current models, or the warning is false. I am not about to try it.
 

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1999 Forester
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58 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
sorry, I meant to say that he inserted the solenoid fuse fuse. I'm not sure why he told me he was a Subaru mechanic. After looking at a few of his bits of handy-work that I discovered later, I wouldn't trust him to change the oil.

Knowing what I know now, or at least having heard other people warn me, I wouldn't attempt the 2wd towing situation again. However, I'm curious about the warnings and my evidence seems to point to it not being accurate of every AWD in every situation. I've heard numerous times that towing an AWD car (no specifics given) with two wheels on/off the ground for even a few miles will surely ruin the "fill-in-the-blank" without exception. If the car (in this case a 1999 Forester) can be left in FWD, is that still possible to damage the car? If so, why? I feel as though this is a general warning and that there are situations with certain years and models where this is perfectly acceptable.

Judging from the experience that I stumbled into, without any prior knowledge or special precautions, it seems like the warnings are unwarranted or that there are exceptions. I don't think anyone could do much more to invalidate the 100% damage myth than what I accomplished by accident. If nothing was ruined after 700+ miles at 60+ mph and the car has racked up 60,000 miles since without incident, then it's hard for me to imagine there is any real danger in towing a similar model with the same drive-train several miles back to a house. If in order to cause any damage, in this type of situation, it has to be towed 10,000 miles or something ridiculous, then the warning is of little utility.

I guess the meat of my question is, are there situations where this is essentially OK? The evidence seems to say 'yes'.
 

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2008 LL Bean (4EAT)
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... I've heard numerous times that towing an AWD car (no specifics given) with two wheels on/off the ground for even a few miles will surely ruin the "fill-in-the-blank" without exception... nothing was ruined after 700+ miles at 60+ mph and the car has racked up 60,000 miles since without incident, then it's hard for me to imagine there is any real danger... my question is, are there situations where this is essentially OK? The evidence seems to say 'yes'.
Yes. Page 9-13 of the 2008 Owners Manual says:
Towing with all wheels on the
ground.
CAUTION
... For vehicles with automatic
transmission, the traveling speed
must be limited to less than 20
mph (30 km/h) and the traveling
distance to less than 31 miles (50
km). For greater speeds and
distances, transport your vehicle
on a flat-bed truck.
 

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1999 Forester
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58 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Yes. Page 9-13 of the 2008 Owners Manual says:[/QUOTE]

That's exactly my point and question. There is a generalized warning that doesn't explain what these tactics are trying to prevent. It doesn't give any explanation of what the danger is in traveling above 20mph or 31 miles, which is important to know. It reminds me of old warnings not to swim within an hour of eating a sandwich or not to swallow gum because it will stay in your stomach for 7 years. We've all heard them, but there's no validity. I suspect it's a needlessly-cautious warning by Subaru, similar to warnings on flashlights instructing you to never point them at someone's face. I understand the warning, but I'm sure most of us have had a flashlight pointed at us at one point and lived to tell the tale.

In any case, in a specific situation with a single vehicle trial, the warning was clearly unwarranted. If the car drives perfectly fine 60,000 miles later and it suffered no noticeable damage after being towed 700+ miles at 60mph with the front wheels on a dolly and the rear wheels on the ground, then there's something inaccurate about the warning. A few people have told me (long since this towing situation) that they wouldn't try it, but none has had any reasoning or real world data to explain why.
 

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2008 Forester AE
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If the car drives perfectly fine 60,000 miles later and it suffered no noticeable damage after being towed 700+ miles at 60mph with the front wheels on a dolly and the rear wheels on the ground, then there's something inaccurate about the warning.
a couple of things, imho :icon_wink:
car drives perfectly fine and it suffered no noticeable damage according to who? have you had your transmission opened up and checked out? center diff looked at? or are you going with the if I can't tell it's broken it must be ok method? if that works for you great, but what if @65K later the wheels fall off? (so to speak)

A few people have told me (long since this towing situation) that they wouldn't try it, but none has had any reasoning or real world data to explain why.
I wouldn't try it with my car either, your car maybe :biggrin: I don't plan on jumping out of planes but some people do.. it's about what you are comfortable with. try searching this forum on towing and the center diff, then take a look over at NASIOC with the same search, there are a lot of 'real world data' cases involving replacement due to towing.

maybe you lucked out? maybe you fried the diff and haven't noticed yet?
most likely it's somewhere in between..

mike
 

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1999 Forester
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Discussion Starter #9
Mike (Vicali), thanks for the input and discussion. I didn't mean to come off as too pompous or provocative, but I wanted to stir up a few real-world experiences.

My transmission was actually checked out at 160,000 miles. I was playing rally driver on a rural mountain logging road in colorado when I ran through some unexpectedly deep ruts and dislodged the transmission pan. A local mechanic with a lot of Subaru experience took a few pieces apart to see if I broke anything in the transmission or drivetrain. He said it looked surprisingly good, considering what I had done.

I do preventative maintenance and I've made a few modifications, but considering all of the hard use and abuse I have caused to my Forester, the transmission should have gone out long ago. I towed the car 1/3 of the way across the USA on a tow dolly with two wheels off the ground. I packed it full of everything I own and then towed a truck (full of equipment) 1000 miles across the country, including the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. I used it to tow a small van over the Smoky Mountains. I have taken it off-roading numerous times through the mountains. It still runs and drives well with over 180,000 miles on it. If it has any damage that I have missed which I am not aware of and never will be aware of, then I'm OK with that. I'm surprised it has lasted this long.
 
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