The Subaru Outback is a capable midsize SUV that offers great comfort and has one of the best off-road capabilities. Still, if you’re planning on buying this car, there are quite a few recurrent problems in this car you ought to know of. Let’s start off with a short answer.
2009 – 2014 Subaru Outback had problems with recurrent battery failure and excessive oil consumption. The 2015-19 models faced problems such as cracked windshields, unreliable transmission, headlight problems, and brake issues. The sixth 2016-present models had head gasket failure, ignition system issues, and oil consumption problems.
This short answer is only the tip of the iceberg. In the subsequent paragraphs, we will elaborate on each of these problems – which model years are most affected by them, their causes, symptoms, and solutions. These problems are from 2009 onwards and cover the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations.
1. Recurrent Battery Failures
Several Subaru Outback owners have reported that their car batteries are prone to frequent drains, and end up giving up the ghost in the middle of the road. This problem is common in 2015 and older models of Subaru Outbacks and has been the subject of a class action lawsuit.
The common symptoms of this issue include the car not starting, dead batteries, no sound or lights when turned on, and a sluggish start. These symptoms indicate that your Outback’s battery is on the verge of a breakdown.
It has been found that the true cause of this issue does not lie with the battery. The batteries are fine on their own – the problem lies with them draining repeatedly. The culprit behind this issue is a faulty CAN (Control Area Network).
CAN is software that synchronizes all of the electrical components of a car. Due to a software glitch, the CAN software doesn’t let the battery turn off even when the car is not moving. This means that your battery is continuously working, even when your car is turned off.
Consequently, your car continues to draw charge from your Outback’s battery even when it has practically no use for it, leading to a drained battery. By the time the owner gets back to their car, there is not enough battery left in the system to turn it on.
Several Subaru Outback users, after falling prey to this problem, ended up getting new batteries. Unfortunately, new batteries won’t do you much good since the problem lies with the CAN software. These batteries are not designed to undergo continuous power drains and thus will give in sooner or later.
Temporary solutions to this problem include jump-starting the car or getting trickle chargers. The only plausible long-term solution to this issue is to get your software patched from a nearby dealership. If this does not solve the problem, your only bet is to wait for something to happen on the lawsuit front, which at this moment seems unlikely.
2. Ignition System Problems & Poor Fuel Quality
There have been around 5 recalls related to a faulty ignition system in Subaru Outback with NHTSA Recall No. : 19V-297. The main problem includes the ignition switch turning off all of a sudden. These problems are common in the fourth-generation (2010-2014) Subaru Outback.
This problem will manifest itself by making your car turn off unexpectedly. Apart from this, you’re likely to experience engine misfiring, engine hesitation while accelerating, and poor fuel economy. Several Outback users have also reported that their Outback will show the P0420 code when their ignition system is showing signs of trouble.
According to the recall, the ignition issues are caused by a mechanical key ignition switch containing a ball spring – which is prone to long-term wear and fatigue failure. The recall should get this issue fixed free of cost.
However, there are also other issues that might be at play here. Several sensors, such as MAF (Mass Air Fuel sensor), MAP (Manifold Absolute Pressure), Oxygen O2, and other sensors, can run into trouble and return the P0420 code. These issues usually result in a poor air-fuel mixture, leading to below-par fuel quality.
If you are facing issues with your Outback’s ignition system, we suggest you take your car to a nearby dealership for a proper diagnosis. If the sensor issues are causing this problem, you can expect a repair bill of around $200-$300.
3. Unreliable Lineartronic CVT
The Lineartronic CVTs, which are available in model year 2015-onwards, are known to cause trouble and are unreliable in general. What’s more perplexing is that these CVT problems occur normally after the car has been driven through 40,000-50,000 miles, just eluding the 36,000 miles CVT warranty.
The most common CVT-related issues include increased shudders while accelerating and shakes while shifting, among others. Delayed acceleration is another tell-tale sign of CVT trouble.
There are several causes of Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT causing trouble for you. CVT belt or pulley not working properly, oil leaking into the transmission, worn out seals or sealants used in Subaru CVTs, and others. There are other CVT components that can break down as well, and if your Outback is showing the above-mentioned signs, we suggest you see your dealership.
There have been around 4 TSBs related to CVT problems as well. Owing to numerous complaints by owners, the warranty of the 5th and 6th generation Subaru Outback was extended to 100,000 miles or ten years (whichever comes first) by the manufacturers.
Depending upon the nature and extent of the problem, the fixing cost of a problematic CVT transmission can vary from $200 to a whopping $8,000 (in case of transmission failure).
4. Excessive Oil Consumption
Several owners of fourth-generation (2013-2014 models in particular) Subaru Outback have reported another problem that cost them some additional bucks – excessive oil consumption. Troubled owners reported that their Outback burned through 1 quart of oil in less than 1000 miles, which is a much higher oil consumption than what Subaru advertised.
This problem can have several causes, but the most common cause is a faulty short-block engine. A faulty short block assembly can cause your engine to leak oil. The second leading cause would be worn-out piston rings which will allow oil to escape and get burned inside the combustion chamber. High-pressure oil and the use of poor-quality oil are some other causes.
If your Outback is showing symptoms of excessive oil consumption, we suggest you take it to a nearby mechanic to pinpoint the actual cause. The dealership will run an oil consumption test, and according to this TSB, if the oil consumption is higher than 1000miles /1 quart of oil, Subaru will replace your car’s short block engine assembly free of cost.
If the issue is not with the short block engine, most likely, you’ll have to get it fixed yourself. Depending upon the extent of the problem, the fixing cost will vary. If the issue is with poor oil quality, changing the oil should fix the issue. However, if your Outback’s engine is damaged, it will cost you around $500-$1500 to get it fixed properly.
5. Cracked Windshields
Another common problem that several Subaru Outback users have reported is that their car’s windshields are susceptible to spontaneous cracking. The surprising aspect of this issue was that several Outbacks developed a crack in their windshield without getting hit by any rock or debris – owners reported that their Outback’s windshield developed a crack while resting in their garage overnight.
This problem is more common in 2015 and subsequent models and can cause grave consequences, such as the improper deployment of airbags or impending readjustment of EyeSight (which won’t be done free of cost).
The main causes of this problem include Subaru’s decision to switch to acoustic windshields, post-2015 models. These windshields have better sound-dampening properties than an average windshield but are also more prone to cracks, even after a minor impact.
Other causes include the de-icer of the car sticking to the windshield, causing it to develop cracks and low-quality glass used by the manufacturers.
Responding to the concerns of Outback owners, Subaru released the TSB 12-192-15R and has extended the warranty of these windshields up to 5,000 miles for 2015 Outbacks. The only solution to a cracked windshield is to get it replaced, which will set you back by around $489 to $1075.
6. Headlights Problems
Headlights are an essential feature of any car – the lack of which makes driving hazardous. Owners of 4th and 5th generation Subaru Outback faced another glaring issue in their Outbacks. The headlights are prone to early failure and are known to give up the ghost in broad daylight.
What happens is that the headlights in Outback (4th generation and onwards) come with DRL (Daytime Running Lights). This feature comes with Auto-mode as well.
The combination of these features means that your car will automatically turn on lights whenever it detects that it is too dark to drive. Consequently, your headlights will be on for a longer time, resulting in early burnout of these headlights.
Some of the other well-reported causes include problems with the headlight fuse, relay switch, or power spike – which can burn your car’s headlights by supplying excessive voltage.
Although there is a lawsuit that alleges that Subaru concealed the headlight problems of the Outback, it is not settled yet. Only time will tell whether this will result in a recall and compensation or not. Fixing this problem with your own money will cost you around $50-$100, and you can get an OEM replacement headlight.
7. Brake Issues
Imagine a life without brakes – driving would be both reckless and severely life-threatening. The fourth-generation Subaru Outback is known to exhibit several brake-related problems, such as brake locking, defective electronic parking brakes, service breaks warning lights, and hydraulic brake problems – resulting in accidents. There are 33 brake-related accidents mentioned in CarComplaints.
Shuddering when braking, a mushy-feeling brake pedal, the onset of a ‘brake warning’ light, and an alarming odor from the brake pedal are some of the most common tell-tale signs that your car brakes need fixing.
The root cause of this problem is most likely a failed brake control module which results in a malfunctioning anti-lock system. Rear brake lines may also develop rust, causing the brakes to fail. Some Subaru Outback models also had defective hydraulic brakes that caused several problems for the owners.
There has been a recall (WUL-97R) to solve this problem, according to which certain 2020 models of Subaru Outback are eligible for a brake assembly replacement if their brake pedals have manufacturing faults.
If your Outback does not fall under this recall, you will have to pay the damages from your own pocket. Fixing brake-related issues can cost you anywhere from $200-$400, depending on the extent and cause of the problem.
8. Infotainment System Problems
As technology has progressed, automakers are making cars more flavorful – with new features and cutting-edge technology. One of them is the advanced infotainment system. The Outback comes with the most advanced infotainment system that Subaru offers. This race to inculcate the best features in newer models has unfortunately led to the installation of buggy software.
Starlink is the flagship infotainment system in Subaru Outback but has faced several issues. The sloppiness of this software makes the screen go blank, requiring a hard reset. The GPS starts to spin when engaged. In certain instances, it disables audio and radio control on its own.
Sometimes the back camera freezes or shuts down. The bugs in the software can also cause the battery to drain when the car engine is shut off.
To counter these issues, Subaru has released many software updates. According to the owners, it did little to no improvements. The only way to fix this is by replacing the entire head unit. The story gets more dreadful for the owners as the replacement is on backorder and can take up to 6-month to arrive.
Owners who are tired of waiting led a lawsuit against Subaru in 2018. A replacement of the head unit will cost $1816 with six months of waiting.
9. Steering Issues
For an AWD SUV such as Subaru, the steering should be top-notch. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Subaru Outback. The 2019 model Subaru Outback faced another predicament – steering issues.
Subaru owners have narrated their steering woes – saying that their steering feels wobbly and sometimes goes completely out of control. Users also reported that they faced difficulty keeping the car straight since the steering kept going out of control.
These issues arise due to the steering dampener. Several Subarus come with a steering dampener that is designed to reduce feedback from roads, meaning you won’t feel anything in your steering when you hit a bump or anything. However, this significantly reduces the steering quality, and you are likely to face steering issues. You can use a steering dampener lockdown to rectify this problem.
There has been a recall to rectify this issue. Subaru recalled 48,500 vehicles, including the Subaru Outback, that were at risk of total steering failure. If you have to solve this from your own pocket, a steering issue fix will cost you around $300-$500.
What Are The Worst Years For a Subaru Outback?
Subaru Outback is a capable off-road SUV that should last you for more than 300,000 miles if maintained adequately. It is one of the most dependable SUVs you’ll find on the market and has a capable AWD for smooth driving. However, this car is not without a good deal of problems.
Post-2009, the worst model years for Subaru Outback have to be 2013 and 2015. The fourth generation and a few models of the fifth generation faced the most safety problems, some of which warranted recalls from Subaru.
The 2013 Outback had defective piston rings, which caused excessive oil consumption, leading to a recall and a class action lawsuit. Head gasket failure, brake issues, fuel quality, and ignition system problems are some of the other factors making the 2013 model the worst Subaru outback to date.
The fifth and sixth generation Subaru (2015-19) & (2016-present) also faced a lot of problems, such as infotainment issues, unreliable CVT, and cracked windshields.
The best years of Subaru Outback (post-2009) would be 2020-21 years, which come with improved features and lesser problems. These cars will stay by your side for a long time!
His interests in cars, motorcycles, and machines led him to the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore where he is currently a mechanical engineering sophomore.
His future aims include the development of an energy-efficient prototype vehicle for the Shell Eco-Marathon competition and getting a Master’s Degree in Automotive Engineering from Germany.