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9 Unusual Transmission Problems Of A Subaru Legacy

9 Unusual Transmission Problems Of A Subaru Legacy

The Subaru Legacy has been a staple of Subaru’s vehicle offering since 1989, and the Legacy is still building its legacy today. In this blog, we are taking a closer look at Legacy’s transmissions and their reliability. Here is a quick summary.

Subaru Legacy with a CVT transmission made before 2020, Both the TR580 and the TR690, suffered from serious problems (stuttering, hesitation, sudden acceleration, jerking) that could lead to premature failure of the transmission and high repair costs.  Manual and standard automatic transmissions are much more reliable.

If you are in the market for a Subaru Legacy, we dig deep into each of the summarized problems we listed above. We do that by reading through 100s of NHTSA owners’ complaints, owners’ forum threads, recalls, and Subaru’s technical service bulletins. Keep reading!

If you want to have a complete understanding of all problems you can run into with a Subaru Legacy, read this article in which we created a full outline!

Common Subaru Legacy Transmission Problems

We will review the past three generations of the Legacy. This section will be divided by generation and transmission type. We will then list all the problems of each transmission.

Seventh Generation – BW (2020 – Present)

The latest generation, Legacy, the seventh generation, simplified things in terms of transmission offerings. It only features the following option:

  • Simulated 8-speed Lineartronic CVT

The ‘Simulated’ part in the name of that transmission indicates that despite the continuous shifting of a CVT, the transmission tries to imitate gear shifts. This brings a more pleasant driving feel to the driver, and it’s something that many seek in an otherwise “odd” feeling of CVT smoothness.

Simulated 8-speed Lineartronic CVT

Subaru Lineartronic CVT
TR690, Source

Right off the bat, we noticed that there are just 3 NHTSA owners’ complaints concerning this CVT transmission. This is partly because it is a reasonably new car, but we suspect it’s also because Subaru has improved its CVT technology in the past decade.

One of those three owners’ complaints is in connection to the NHTSA Recall Campaign Numbers: 22V485000 and 21V955000. These two campaigns addressed the potential break of the drive chain. 

The clutch may engage before the drive chain is completely clamped due to a transmission control unit (TCU) programming error. As you can imagine, this could lead to catastrophic transmission damage, sudden power loss, and potential accident. 

Due to the seriousness of the issue, Subaru quickly recalled specific 2019-2021 model year Legacy and offered the owners a reprogramming of the TCU and a visual inspection of the drive chain. If any signs of damage or diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) indicate damage, the transmission will also be replaced free of charge.

Subaru also released several technical service bulletins (TSBs) related to this CVT unit. Most of them contain information relevant to service technicians; however, there are a few we think are relevant to the reliability of this transmission.

TSB number 16-132-20R addresses the alleged CVT chain belt slipping condition on the TR580 and TR690 model CVT transmissions used in the 2018-2022 model year Legacy. This handles certain owners’ complaints about hearing abnormal sounds or feeling unusual vibrations while driving.

This TSB provides information for service technicians on how to diagnose these symptoms properly and how to proceed with repairs. Technicians must also replicate the apparent symptoms before conducting an analysis or replacing the CVT assembly or TCU.

Other two mention-worthy TSBs include the TSB number 16-131-20R and the TSB number 16-133-21. The first of the two addresses numerous DTCs and the procedures service technicians have to make for a correct problem diagnosis. 

This improves reliability and improves the speed of repairs, which is always a welcome thing. The second of the two TSBs announced the availability of new, more durable CVT oil pan bolts.

Despite the initial problems to be expected, Subaru handles each situation with TSBs and recalls as soon as they emerge.

Sixth Generation – BN/BS (2014 – 2019)

The sleek-looking sixth-generation Legacy improved the somewhat criticized looks of the previous generation. In terms of transmissions, the palette shrunk, and these are the only two available transmissions:

  • TR580 Lineartronic CVT Automatic Transmission
  • 6-Speed Manual Transmission (only in Canada)

This was the second iteration of a CVT transmission in the Legacy family. Let’s see how it fared.

TR580 Lineartronic CVT Automatic Transmission

Just like in the same model year Outback, this transmission has caused quite the outrage amongst a significant number of owners. This was due to problems like stuttering, chain belt slipping, hesitation, delayed engagement, jerking, and even complete failures. 

An owner of a 2015 Legacy filed the following NHTSA complaints:

Since november of 2017 while driving the car it has intermittently jerked and shook excessively, bucking like a mad horse. Car was brought in to dealer for diagnosis. Dealer was not able to identify the cause. after several visits to dealer where i was assured the problem was fixed the same problem continued…

NHTSA ID Number: 11166624

To address these serious concerns, Subaru released many TSBs that help but do not solve the root cause of problems. 

For instance, they addressed that the same owners had trouble pulling out the key from the ignition when shifting to Park. This happened due to contamination of the park-range switch internal components. They released the 16-112-18R TSB and a warranty extension that announced the design change to the CVT shift lever components. 

Further on, TSB number 16-103-16R addressed the CVT fluid seepage, which has been reported to be seen on the transmission housing of the 2010-2019 model year Legacy’s. This TSB concluded that the likely sources of the seepage were the sealant used on the CVT’s oil pump chain cover and the input shaft oil seal.

Subaru has also announced a design change to the CVT torque converter assembly in response to a few reports of a squeaking-type sound heard while cranking the engine. This affected the 2015-2019 model year Legacy’s and was released in the TSB number 16-124-19.

Subaru decided that a recall campaign was unnecessary to address all other widespread issues. Instead, they extended the powertrain warranty coverage for the CVT units. This included the 2.5L Legacy made between 2010-2015 and the 2015 Legacy 3.6L. 

The warranty was increased from 5 years or 60,000 miles to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). However, it does not seem fair to have only included the first model year of this generation Legacy seeing how the problems continued in other model year vehicles.

6-Speed Manual Transmission

We haven’t detected any complaints, TSBs, common problems, or failures of the 6-speed manual transmission in this generation’s Legacy. 

Fifth Generation – BM/BR (2009 – 2013)

This is the last generation Legacy that offered a classic hydraulic automatic transmission. At the same time, it was also the first generation to feature a CVT transmission. Here is the entire transmission lineup of this generation in detail:

  • TR690 Lineartronic CVT
  • 5-speed 5EAT automatic
  • 6-speed TY856 manual

We would like to say that the first CVT in the Legacy family was fault-free. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. You might have realized this by taking note of the CVT warranty extension we mentioned earlier. Let’s dig into the details.

TR690 Lineartronic CVT Automatic Transmission

In many ways, the TR690 Lineartronic CVT transmission was seen as the first CVT that would not be causing the “typical” CVT transmission problems. By using a chain belt instead of an ordinary CVT belt, Subaru sought to improve the long-term reliability of these transmissions.

However, things did not go to plan. The TR690 was soon recognized as a problematic transmission by displaying symptoms like slipping, squealing, hesitation, shuddering, and overall erratic behavior.

But perhaps the most common problem is related to the torque converter. An owner of a 2010 Legacy filed the following NHTSA complaints:

The CVT Transmission has a known problem where the torque converter causes stalling. This issue is well documented on Subaru forums. I took my vehicle to Subaru about the problem and they said the fix for the stalling is to replace the Torque Converter…

NHTSA ID Number: 11471039

Many owners describe this issue as similar to the feeling of driving a manual transmission car and not pressing the clutch before you come to a complete stop. Subaru addressed this issue in the TSB number 16-90-13R.

Early 2010-2012 model year Legacy’s was fitted with an improved torque converter design, eliminating the very low engine RPMs when coming to a stop. Subaru did this by installing a countermeasure torque converter assembly. They also incorporated this design into all vehicles made after October 1, 2013.

Additionally, Subaru issued TSBs 16-95-15R and 16-85-12 to address problems with the secondary pressure sensor diagnostics and chain belt slipping, respectively, and 16-119-19 to announce a new control valve assembly that prevents the false detection of DTC P0481 or the illumination of the AT Temperature light.

Subaru also published study findings that identified the cause of CVT fluid seepage along with changes to the transmission control unit to enhance the performance of the CVT.

The only reason that convinced Subaru to issue a CVT-related recall is the possibility of a cracked CVT fluid cooler hose. NHTSA campaign number 10V196000 explains that specific 2010 model year Legacy’s may come with poorly manufactured cooler hoses that could break and bleed out CVT fluid, leading to complete transmission failure.

This transmission was also included in the before-mentioned CVT warranty extension, which is a vague response to the numerous problems of this transmission. As soon as the extended warranty runs out, Subaru wishes you all the best!

5-speed 5EAT Automatic Transmission

5EAT transmission

The vast majority of powertrain complaints are in connection to the TR690 CVT transmission. The 5EAT standard automatic transmission did come with specific issues; however, it was still much more reliable.

This is what we found:

  • Harsh downshifting from 3rd to 2nd gear when slowing down to 12–14 mph and then accelerating is a common issue with this transmission. The TSB number 11-104-11 announced a TCM update that fixes this issue for the 2010-2013 models.
  • Subaru recalled the model year 2014 Legacy 3.6R vehicles manufactured June 12, 2013, through June 28, 2013, and equipped with 5-speed automatic transmissions.

    The reason for this was the possibility of detachment of the parking rod. This condition could lead to the vehicle rolling away in Park or preventing the vehicle from shifting out of Park. The affected vehicles received a new transmission free of charge.

There were other TSBs that addressed specific early release problems, which are not relevant if you are in the market for a Legacy today. This is a good transmission; in fact, it is highly reliable, but like all, it needs to be regularly serviced.

6-Speed TY856 Manual Transmission

There is not much to add about this transmission. It is considered highly reliable and will usually only cause problems once the gears become worn out. By the time that happens, your car will probably outlive you.

We’re joking; apart from isolated cases of clutch and flywheel failures, there really isn’t much to worry about here.

Other Problems Related To The Powertrain

There are 2 powertrain-related recalls that affect the 2015 and 2016 model year Legacy’s:

  • NHTSA campaign number: 15V502000

    These recalls affect both the 2015 and certain 2016 model year Legacy’s. Due to a deformed seal cap on the propeller shaft joke, there is a possibility of an oil leak. If the leaking transmission oil came into contact with a hot exhaust pipe, it could cause a fire.

    Subaru resolved this issue by replacing the propeller shaft for free.
  • NHTSA campaign number: 15V794000

    Certain 2016 Legacy vehicles came out of the factory with improperly tightened securing nuts that kept the drive shaft connected to the rear differential.

    If the driveshaft detached, it could strike the fuel tank. This might cause a fuel leak and even a fire. Subaru checked the securing nuts, tightened them, and, if necessary, replaced them.

Despite the good reputation of Subaru’s AWD system, we always recommend paying attention to the condition and the presence of any weird noises and vibrations that come from the AWD components. We recommend getting the vehicle inspected by a professional before you finalize the purchase.

How Long Does A Subaru Legacy Transmission Last?

Despite the initial wave of TSBs that address the issues of the last generation CVT transmission, we have the confidence to say that Subaru has addressed the major issues that were plaguing the early CVT transmission.

For this reason alone, we don’t see why the latest CVT unit in the 7th generation Legacy should not last at least 200,000 – 250,000 miles.

Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for the previous iterations of the CVT transmission Both the TR580 and the TR690 gearboxes suffered from serious issues that were not resolved by Subaru. They only fixed the problems as they appeared and appeared over and over.

From what we have seen and observed, the estimated lifespan of these transmissions is 100,000 – 150,000 miles at best.

With regular maintenance, the other transmissions—both standard automatic and manual—that we mentioned should have no trouble lasting somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 miles.

How Much Does A Subaru Legacy Transmission Cost?

  • Pre-Owned CVT units (5th and 6th generation Legacy): 1400$ – 2500$ (eBay)
  • New CVT units (all generations): 5000$ – 7000$ (Subaru)
  • Refurbished valve bodies (all generations and automatic transmission variants): 200$ – 400$ (eBay)

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