How to replace the front side marker bulb — in a 2010 Subaru Outback

© 2016 Peter Free

22 July 2016


The side theme here is

Do not underestimate the power of dumb engineering to complicate your day.


Getting to where the front side marker bulb is

The W5W bulbs at the front of the 2010 Outback are accessed through the car’s front wheel wells.

You need to partially remove the wheel well’s liner:


The Car Doctor, 2010-2013 Subaru Legacy Outback Low Beam Headlight Bulb Replacement, YouTube (20 May 2015)

1stingfan, How to change the light bulb in a Subaru Legacy and Outback. (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), YouTube (16 November 2016)


Regarding the liner removal process

If you have large hands and less than skinny arms, you should remove the wheel first. It makes an annoying process easier.

The liner is stiff enough that you have to hold it open as you work. The bulb replacement process is not a tribute to the practical intelligence of Subaru’s engineers.

You do not need to remove all the clips the hold the liner to the underside of the nose piece (“bumper”) of the car. I remove only those around the front side perimeter of the wheel well, going about half-way back. Also remove the clips that hold the front inside half of the liner to the inside of the wheel well.

Admittedly, you will have even more room, if you undo the liner’s attachment under the nose piece (front “bumper”). However, if you break these clips, the wheel well liner and nosepiece of the car are going to flap in the wind. That is why I leave them alone and only remove the lowest clip at the front outside corner.


There are two kinds of plastic clips holding the liner in

The more robust of the two types is used to hold the liner to the exterior of the body (nose and side). The less robust clips attach the liner to holes in the metal structures located nearer the engine inside the wheel well.

The robust larger clips consist of (i) a female receptacle with flanges and (ii) a male piece that pushes the flanges wide once inserted. When these work as they are apparently supposed to, you call lift the flat rim (like a nail head) of the male piece partially out from the liner. Then grasp the male part with pliers to pull it free. After that, the female part slips out with no effort.

Usually, however, I cannot get the male piece out by itself. Instead, the whole clip assembly comes out. Often with something on the clip getting mangled or broken.

The smaller, more fragile liner clips have a small Phillips screw head slots. Using a screwdriver, turn these counterclockwise. The head shaft will loosen and you can pull it slightly out from the female part of the clip. Then, pull the whole thing out with pliers. These clips often deform during the removal process. Some will still be useable. Others not.


Visualizing what you are working on — is not easy

Virtually everything you do with the Subaru's front bulbs, you will have to do blind. There is not room enough to see anything, when your arm or hand is inserted where it needs to be.

It helps to use a lamp or flashlight to pre-visualize the layout. Note the landmarks. Then feel your way to the appropriate places.

Subaru also unhelpfully put its bulbs on too short a wire leash. That means that one cannot pull the socket out far enough to comfortably hold it in both hands. Fumbling results. Especially when you are trying to avoid contaminating the new bulb.


Locating the front side marker light socket

The above videos address low beam bulb replacement. They show the white circular low beam bulb assembly cover. This will be your most convenient landmark.

The side marker socket sits slightly above and toward the outside of the car from the low beam bulb cover. On the driver’s side, the marker bulb socket is to the upper left of the low beam cover. On the passenger side, it sits to the upper right.

You can be sure that you have the right socket by comparing its location inside the car to the amber lens on the outside of the headlamp module.


The hitch — it is not obvious how to get to the marker bulb socket out

On my sample of the Outback, the side marker socket (and the assembly it is housed in) are made of black plastic. It is not immediately evident how to get the socket out of the main lamp module.

I guessed that turning the small rear-projecting flange on the socket counterclockwise would loosen it. That turned out to be true, but the socket flange is so small — and the surrounding clearances so tight — that my hand could not get enough of a grip on it to twist it.

Combination pliers will not fit over the flange. The lamp module has a curved plastic lip on its exterior side that runs too close to the socket for the pliers’ head to fit.

I had to use slim needle-nose pliers to get the socket out. If you have large hands, just getting them into position on the small flange, without squashing wires, is a bit of a challenge.

In maneuvering around, be sure not to cut or twist the bulb wires. On the driver’s side, you will also have to avoid damaging the larger electrical cable that runs across the back of the marker bulb socket.

Using needle nosed pliers, twist the side marker bulb socket flange left, counterclockwise. It should loosen. You can now pull out the assembly and remove the bulb. The W5W bulb pulls directly out.

Replace it with a new one and reverse the removal procedure. You will probably need to use the needle-nose pliers again to twist the socket clockwise back into the lamp module.

Check to see that the bulb works, before putting the wheel well liner back on.


Replacing the wheel well liner clips

I usually break some of these getting them out. If you do not have spares, use the remaining workable clips to secure those areas most likely to flap or vibrate in the wind.

If you are abroad (like I am), are not fluent in the language, and have an American specification Subaru with you, you can order replacement clips from Amazon dot com. Search for “Subaru clips” or “Subaru fasteners”.


Indirectly relevant comments — about low beam bulb replacement

Given that bulb replacement in Subarus of this age is more difficult than ideal, some knowledgeable sources recommend replacing all bulbs (of the same kind) when one among them burns out.

This seemingly mildly wasteful process arguably saves time, annoyance and sometimes labor costs. Provided, of course, that you subscribe to the hypothesis that identical bulb types have roughly the same life span from one side of the car to the other.

I haven’t done this yet, but I might the next time. These bulbs always seem to croak at inconvenient times. Like in a blizzard, soaking rain, or hours before the car is to be shipped abroad into the hands of a safety-conscious German bureaucracy.

Pertinent to extending bulb survival, I learned yesterday that the Subaru manual’s recommendation of an ordinary H7 bulb for the low beam is misleading. Ordinary H7 bulbs, say a lot of owners, burn out too quickly. Some owners report having to replace them every 4 months.

Justin Stobb (at All Wheel Drive Auto) recommends buying “long life” H7 bulbs instead. Read his perspective here. I have just ordered a pair.


Of course

I am pretty sure that when the new bulbs eventually burn out, it will on a long trip and snowing or uninterruptedly raining. Or perhaps a metaphorically few minutes before a mandatory vehicle inspection.

I will then envision Subaru’s engineers coming up with their — “we could do better than this but won’t” — designs. In the comfort of their air-conditioned, well-lighted offices.