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13 Unexpected Transmission Problems Of The Subaru Outback

13 Unexpected Transmission Problems Of The Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback is not your everyday wagon. Not only does it offer the usability of a wagon, but it also features Subaru’s incredible Full-Time AWD system and increased ground clearance. The purpose of this blog, however, is to dig deep into potential transmission problems of the Outback. Here is a quick overview:

Lineartronic CVT units made before 2020 suffer from serious problems (stuttering, hesitation, sudden acceleration, jerking) that could lead to premature transmission failure and high repair costs. Manual and standard automatic transmissions in the 4th generation Outback are much more reliable.

If you are anything like us, you are not easily satisfied with quick recaps. As we continue, we analyze all transmission options of the last three generation Outbacks by reviewing all the NHTSA owners’ complaints, potential recalls, and technical service bulletins. If you are in the market for an Outback, don’t miss this one; keep reading!

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Common Subaru Outback Transmission Problems

To get a clear view of transmission problems, we will divide the main part of the article into different generations of the Outback, name the transmissions used in a particular generation, and then list their problems. If you want a more extensive article about the general problems of the Subaru Outback, click that link.

Sixth generation – BT (2020-Present)

The sixth-generation Outback features the exact ground clearance and taillights as the Subaru Forester. Just like the Forester, it also features a single transmission option:

  • 8-Speed Simulated Lineartronic CVT

You might ask yourself what “simulated” means in a seamless CVT transmission. The seamless shifting of a CVT is not something people like about the CVT experience. Simulated Lineartronic CVT does precisely that, it simulates gear shifts to provide a more familiar experience.

8-Speed Simulated Lineartronic CVT Problems

8-speed Lineartronic CVT

We started our research by examining all the NHTSA owners’ complaints concerning the transmission. We quickly found out two things: there were simply not a lot of complaints, and secondly, most complaints were regarding Subaru’s slow response to their transmission recall.

The transmission in the 6th generation Outback was the subject to the NHTSA Campaign Number: 22V485000 and 21V955000. Both recall campaigns addressed the same problem. Due to a programming error in the transmission control unit (TCU), the clutch might engage before the drive chain is completely clamped.

This could lead to catastrophic transmission damage and sudden loss of power. Because this poses a significant safety concern, Subaru recalled all the affected 2019-2021 model year Outbacks for reprogramming the TCU and a visual chain guide inspection.

If any signs or saved diagnostic trouble codes indicate the chain belt is slipping, the transmission will be replaced free of charge.

A small number of cases that report premature transmission failure were filed before the announcement of this recall. 

Subaru also released several technical service bulletins regarding this CVT transmission. Most of them cover topics that provide instruction to service technicians, but there are 2 TSBs that we think are necessary to mention.

TSB number 16-132-20R provides the diagnostic procedure and a questionnaire to understand better the reports of chain belt slipping on the TR580 and TR690 model CVT transmissions used in the 2018-2022 model year Outback. 

Subaru released this TSB to address the reports of abnormal sounds, unusual vibration, and slipping of the CVT unit. This guide provides instructions to the service technicians to better understand when a new CVT assembly or a new TCM is needed.

While it is true that this CVT unit is not without problems, it is great to see the immediate response from Subaru when their buyers report issues.

Fifth generation – BS (2015-2020)

With the 2015 model year, Subaru released the more “beefed-up” looking Outback. With improved chassis stiffness and more off-road capabilities, the 5th-generation Outback with the following transmission options:

  • TR580 Lineartronic CVT Automatic Transmission
  • 6-Speed Manual Transmission (only available with specific engines in CA, UK, and AU)

Despite being the second generation to feature the Lineartronic CVT, Subaru hasn’t identified all the CVT-related problems. Here is what we found out.

TR580 Lineartronic CVT Automatic Transmission

Based on our previous experience, we knew there was controversy around the CVT transmission in the 2015 Outback. After reviewing all the NHTSA owners’ complaints, we immediately understood why there was controversy in the first place.

Several owners report jerking, sudden unexpected acceleration, loss of power, transmission oil leaks, stuttering, and even complete transmission failure with no prior warnings. 

An owner of a 2016 Outback filed the following complaints:

“…while driving on the highway, the transmission in my 2016 Subaru Outback started making a loud grinding sound and violently halted the car to a stop…,  …this transmission only had 67,000 miles on it and is actually the second transmission that car has had. In 2018 the transmission had to be replaced after 68,000 miles.”

NHTSA ID Number: 11354486

To address these widespread problems, Subaru felt it was unnecessary to issue a recall campaign. Instead, they issued an extension of the powertrain warranty coverage for the CVT. This included 2015 2.5L and 2016 3.6L Outbacks. The warranty was extended from the original five years or 60,000 miles to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). 

Apart from a single CVT-related technical service bulletin that provides diagnostic instructions for service technicians, Subaru did very little to help the owners of the affected vehicles.

If you are in the market for a 5th-generation Outback, take it for a test drive and ensure that everything is in perfect working order.

Fourth Generation – BR/BM (2010-2015)

Fourth-generation Outback was the first to feature the Lineartronic CVT transmission. However, that was not the only transmission available:

  • TR690 Lineartronic CVT
  • 5-Speed Automatic
  • 6-Speed Manual

The CVT was only paired with the 2.5i petrol engine in North America. The stronger, 2.5GT version was fitted with either the 5-speed automatic or the 6-speed manual transmission. The 3.6R version, on the other hand, only came equipped with the 5-speed automatic.

TR690 Lineartronic CVT Problems

The TR690 CVT unit is prone to slipping, shuddering, hesitation, squealing, stuttering, and erratic behavior. This is supported by numerous NHTSA owners’ complaints and owner’s forum threads. Several owners also report complete transmission failure. 

The most common problem, however, is related to the torque converter. An owner of 2010 Outback complaints:

As others have reported – when deaccelerating rapidly vehicle shakes and completely stalls. Took to specialty shop and reported failed torque converter. repairs totaled $2200. Car only with 80,000 miles.

NHTSA ID Number: 11296759

This issue was addressed in the TSB number 16-90-13R. Before introducing a countermeasure torque converter assembly, CVT-equipped 2011-2012 Outback experienced very low engine RPM when coming to a stop. The condition is similar to coming to a stop in a manual transmission-equipped vehicle without depressing the clutch pedal.

Based on this TSB, the vehicles that experienced these issues and were made before 2013 received the updated torque converter and, in rare instances, a new valve body assembly if the problem persisted. 

Furthermore, Subaru released the TSB number 16-95-15R to address the reported chain belt slipping problems, TSB  number 16-85-12 to address the failure of the secondary pressure sensor diagnostics, and TSB number 16-119-19 to announce the renewed control valve assembly that prevents false detection of DTC P0481 or illumination of the AT Temperature light.

Subaru also released updates to the transmission control unit to improve the operation of the CVT and investigation results that revealed the source of CVT fluid seepage.

CVT transmission on 2010-2015 model year Outbacks was also included in the before-mentioned extension of the powertrain warranty coverage for the CVT. The warranty was extended from the original five years or 60,000 miles to 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). 

If you are in the market for a 2010 model year Outback, read the following recall and make sure it was addressed. Cracked cooler hoses can lead to complete loss of coolant and eventual overheating and failure of the CVT unit.

5-Speed Automatic Transmission Problems

The 5-speed standard hydraulic automatic transmission is a proven design that makes it much more reliable compared to the CVT unit.

When reading through NHTSA owners’ complaints, we quickly noticed that most complaints connected to the CVT transmission, and almost none mentioned the standard 5-speed transmission.

A common problem with this transmission is harsh downshifting from 3-2 downshift while slowing to 12-14 mph and then accelerating. Subaru addressed this problem with a TCM update in the TSB number 11-104-11.

At the release of this generation Outback, Subaru also quickly addressed the intermittent stalling condition and oil temperature warning light illumination. Furthermore, they also released a TSB instructing the technicians to correctly inspect the AT fluid cooler hose connections.

Specific 2014 model year Outback 3.6R’s made between June 12, 2013, and  June 28, 2013, came out of the factory with a potentially loose parking rod inside this automatic transmission (NHTSA campaign number: 13V336000). This made it impossible to move the shift lever out of the “park,” preventing the owner from using the vehicle. 

This problem also prevented the engagement of the parking pawl, which could lead to a roll-away of the vehicle. 

If you are in the market for an Outback with this transmission, make sure it shifts smoothly, with no hesitation or harsh movements. You should also inspect the service history to ensure that all the regular maintenance has been taken care of.

6-Speed Manual Transmission Problems

There are no problems with the 6-speed manual transmission that we have encountered. If you are buying a manual transmission Outback, make sure the clutch is not slipping, and there is no vibration from the flywheel assembly.

Other Problems Related To The Powertrain

During our research, we have encountered other mention-worthy recalls regarding the powertrain:

  • NHTSA campaign number: 15V794000

    Certain 2016 model year Outbacks made between October 24, 2015, to November 16, 2015, came 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, leading to a fuel leak and possibly a fire. Subaru inspected, tightened, and replaced the securing nuts if necessary.
  • NHTSA campaign number: 15V502000

    Certain 2015 and 2016 model year Outbacks, made between July 3, 2015, and July 27, 2015, are prone to forming oil leaks due to a deformed seal cap on the propeller shaft joke. If the transmission oil leaks onto a hot exhaust pipe, it could lead to a fire.

    Subaru replaced the propeller shaft free of charge.

If you are ever in the market for an Outback, make sure there are no weird noises, vibrations, or oil leaks coming from the various AWD components. We recommend getting the vehicle inspected by a professional before you finalize the purchase.

How Long Does A Subaru Outback Transmission Last?

The last generation Lineartronic in the 6th generation Outback should have no problems lasting at least 200,000 – 250,000 miles. Subaru is solving each of the problems with regular TSB releases.

We can’t, however, say the same for the TR580 and TR690 CVT transmissions in the 5th and 4th generation Outback. Both transmissions suffered from serious problems, and there are numerous reports of premature failure. Our estimate of their lifespan is 100,000 – 150,000 miles at best.

Other transmissions, both manual and standard automatic transmissions that we mentioned, should have no problems lasting anywhere from 200,000 – 300,000 miles with regular maintenance.

How Much Does A Subaru Outback Transmission Cost?

  • Pre-Owned CVT units (4th and 5th generation Outback): 1400$ – 2500$
  • New CVT units (all generations): 5000$ – 7000$
  • Refurbished valve bodies (all generations and automatic transmission variants): 200$ – 400$

All prices above are sourced on eBay. We want to note that it is very hard to find an independent shop that would rebuild Subaru transmissions because Subaru does not offer a network of replacement transmission internal parts.

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