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My Subaru Crosstrek's Rear Gate Problem

Suddenly the rear gate of my car wouldn't open
John Fuhring

A week ago my 2013 Subaru Crosstrek's rear hatch (also called the rear gate) wouldn't open.  I pressed and pressed on the rubber bar switch, but nothing.  I kind of panicked because a guy really needs to get in to the back and going over the rear seats really isn't practical.  I don't know where I put my manual and I was in too big a hurry to go look for it, so -- thank you Internet -- I looked it up on line.  I had to search and search, but finally I found the Subaru's owner's manual online and was able to finally find the section whereby one can open the rear hatch manually.

     Opening the car's rear hatch manually is not easy and you need a thin metal rod or a thin screwdriver to do it and it must be done while leaning over the rear seats.  Doing this maneuver is not something you would want to do every time the rear hatch needs opening, but at least it gives you a start at finding out and then fixing what's wrong.  Finding out what was wrong was, at first a bit of a mystery because the wires are under things.  To tell the truth, I took panels off and fooled around and made much more work for myself trying to find ways of testing things.  I even took out the electrical latching mechanism, but once it was out, there I was looking at it with a dumb expression on my face.  

     It is funny how an idea gets into one's brain and then dominates all other thoughts.  Somehow I got it into my mind that it was the electric latching mechanism that was at fault although it was in excellent physical condition and indeed it looked brand new.  Well, I looked up the part and found it wasn't cheap and besides I'd have to wait a couple of weeks for it to come in.  Rather than send away for a new mechanism right away, I put it back in the door and then drove my car all around and did my chores.  Taking a long walk or a drive and getting your mind off the immediate problem so your mind is free to explore is an important part of  "The Knack" and I thought I share that secret with you, but you must not tell anybody.  There have been times when, completely out of the blue without even consciously thinking about it, a solution to a very complex and very vexing problem will "suddenly" come to me as I said, completely out of the blue.  Obviously there are processes in one's mind that work below the surface with one's full intelligence and when those unconscious processes pop out fully formed, like Athena came out of Zeus' brow fully armed, well, it can be rather spooky.

     While out driving I started to formulate troubleshooting steps to prove where the fault lies and determine if it was indeed a bad latching mechanism or maybe something else.  Finally it dawned on me what the most likely cause was.  I don't know why I didn't think of this first, but that old problem with a mistaken idea taking precedence over all other thoughts prevented me from seeing what should have been obvious.  So what is a part with low reliability, that fails most often in these kinds of situations and is very easy to test for?  Of course, it is the switch located right above the rear license plate.  Oh lord, why didn't I think of that to begin with?  Well one reason was because I made the mistake of looking up the problem on the Internet and reading tons of comments (all wrong) regarding the same problem other people had with their Subaru rear hatches.  Nobody mentioned a bad switch, but everybody ended up taking their cars to the dealer for about $500.

     To test my bad switch hypothesis, I started to press the switch hard and many times for a minute or two and finally the rear gate popped open.  I had the panels off on the inside and I had identified the switch wire so I broke the connection to it and then shorted the wires on the opposite connector together and sure enough, I could hear a 'click' every time.  Yes indeed, it was the cussed switch.  

     The rubber coated switch easily pops out of its rectangular hole and you have these two green wires it dangles from.  The switch is unusually long and narrow and is a cheap, cheesy thing made in China.  I searched all over the Internet to find anything remotely like it, but couldn't.  However, I could send away for a complete assembly with rubber grommet, wire, connector and all for a bunch of money and more wasted time.  So what is a guy to do under the circumstances?

     The first thing I did was to cut the green wires as close to the bad switch as possible.  I then stripped the ends and sure enough, as soon as I touched them together the door unlatched, but having to touch together bare wire ends is not very elegant so I needed a more permanent solution.  Getting an exact replacement long and narrow pop in switch was out of the question, so a standard push button would be what I needed.  There isn't enough room or any way to tighten a nut on a conventional push button switch with a threaded back so a push in mounting type would be necessary.  I went down to my city's well stocked electronics store and looked through dozens and dozens of switch types, but could find nothing.  Finally it dawned on me where I'd seen a round push in type switch and that was on my front doorbell.  

     I went down to the local hardware store and for about $3.50 they had just what I was looking for only it was one of those "lighted" switches that wouldn't work as-is.  I unbent the little tabs in the back and took the backshell off and sure enough there was this little bulb in there.  I removed the bulb and then put the backshell on and bent the tabs so the switch was together snugly.  I screwed down the wires onto the doorbell switch and it worked perfectly only it was dangling out the rectangular hole and that just wouldn't do.  The doorbell switch needed its own round hole.

     Fortunately there is lots of room in that space and the material is a thick plastic that is easy to drill into.  To the right of the old switch's hole (so I'd have plenty of wire) I started a pilot hole and then I drilled a hole with the biggest bit I have.  To enlarge the hole, I took the largest screw tap I have, put it in my electric drill and "cut threads" into the plastic then backed it out in reverse.  While still in reverse I used the tap as a cutting tool and started enlarging the hole.  When the hole was large enough I changed directions again and started cutting more efficiently until I judged that I was starting to get near my switch's ideal hole size.  I carefully removed more material while trying the fit over and over until the switch would just barely go in.  

     When I knew I had the right size hole, I put the wires through the hole I had just made, screwed down the wires on the back of the doorbell switch and then popped the whole thing tightly into the hole.  To complete the job, I popped the old switch back in its empty hole and now everything is good and finished looking, although it is on an underside panel and you normally don't see anything.

     So, what do I think of using a switch that isn't water proof back there?  Well I really won't have to worry about that until next winter and besides, it is under a projection above the license plate that really doesn't get dirty or wet back there.  Besides that, it will be used quite often and that should keep the contacts clean.  Finally, if it fails, it is easily and cheaply replaced and, at my leisure, I will keep my eye open for a pop in push button switch that is a bit more rugged than a doorbell.  Right now I'm thinking that I got three years out of the old rubber coated switch and I should get at least that out of my new switch and for $3.50, who cares, after all, my front doorbell switch has been on the house for nearly 60 years and it still works.

     If this story has a moral, the moral is that one shouldn't panic and make assumptions about expensive parts until after the cheap and easily replaced parts are tested first.  A long time ago I learned that the place to start is the component that is least reliable and  most prone to failure and one that has a limited life and more often than not, it is a simple switch.  In this case, I would have been smart and would have saved hours of work and concern if I had simply popped out the little rectangular switch and taken safety pins to penetrate the insulation on the wires to complete the circuit without using the switch.  I could then have immediately gone to installing another switch, as I finally did, without wasting so much time and energy.


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