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LAST UPDATED: August 28, 2020

Common Subaru CVT Problems To Look Out For

Be weary of these issues in Subarus with CVT transmissions.

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PUBLISHED ON August 28, 2020

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You’re likely aware of Subaru’s world-renowned symmetrical all-wheel drive and boxer engines. Along with Subaru’s safety, they’re the stars of the company’s advertisements. Subaru, though, has a third drivetrain technology that has proliferated throughout its lineup and goes hand-in-hand with its engine and AWD: Lineartronic CVT. 

CVT is short for continuously variable transmission. Rather than using gears seen in traditional automatic transmissions, Subaru’s CVT uses two fluctuating hydraulically actuated pulleys and a chain link (some other manufacturers use belts). The chain link is connected to both the input shaft and the output shaft, and as the pulleys change, so do the drive ratios. Without set gear steps, the device benefits the driver with a smoother driving experience and improved fuel efficiency. 

Alas, just because they’re less complicated than automatic gearboxes due to the lack of complex gears does not mean they are free of problems. The Drive’s informational team has been digging through forums, recalls, and consumer complaints to get a sense of what issues you need to be aware of when buying or driving a Subaru with a CVT. Let’s dive into our findings.

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How Reliable are Subaru CVTs?

Throughout the past decade, hundreds of customers have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about several problems relating to Subaru’s CVTs. Although Subaru doesn’t correlate the two, the company announced warranty extensions for several 2010-2018 CVT-equipped Subarus from 5 years/60,000 miles to 10 years/100,000 miles. The extended warranties apply to the Crosstrek, Legacy, Outback, Forester, Impreza, and WRX. 

Common Subaru CVT Problems to Look Out For

If you notice these symptoms while driving your Subaru, the problem could be sourced to the CVT. Here are some of the most common Subaru CVT problems: 

Stalling

Several customers have mentioned that their vehicles came to jarring stops or stalled during driving without the ability to restart the vehicle. 

Customer Complaint

A frustrated customer complained to the NHTSA with the note, “Transmission failure. It is a known issue with models with their original CVT transmission, but rather than issue a recall, they’re extending warranties and fixing as they break. This left me with no power on a state highway that had speed limits of 75 mph. … I was going about 70 mph in the center lane of a three-lane highway when suddenly, my car jerked and then wouldn’t accelerate.” 

Shudders, Shakes, and Bumps

If a CVT belt or pulley is malfunctioning, it could create the sensation of the car shuddering or shaking. 

Customer Complaint

An owner of a 2012 Subaru Outback stated to the NHTSA, “Vehicle shudders and stalls when braking hard. It will not stall on a gradual stop but will stall in any situation when stopping quickly. … Resulting stall means loss of power brakes and steering. Have to shift into park and restart the vehicle.”

Hesitation

If your vehicle pauses or hesitates when you press the gas, the CVT could be malfunctioning. 

Customer Complaint

One owner of a 2015 Subaru Outback filed a complaint with the NHTSA saying, “Intermittently, the car does not respond when the accelerator is depressed. I am told by the dealership that this is a common problem with the CVT transmission. This is a major safety issue, as I have almost been hit on several occasions when turning left or merging into traffic. If the accelerator is depressed more and more, the car finally lurches forward and the brakes have to be slammed on.”

Fluid Seepage

Several complaints about fluid seeping out of the CVT housing resulted in Subaru issuing Technical Service Bulletins related to CVT clamps and CVT seals. According to the investigation, the likely source of the seepage is the sealant used on the CVT’s oil pump chain cover and the input shaft oil seal.

Common Subaru CVT Repair Costs:  

If the vehicle is within 10 years old, most of these problems should be covered under Subaru’s extended warranty. But if you’re out of coverage, or you’ve put a bunch of miles on your Subaru, some of the minor repairs cost roughly $1,000-2,500. If your CVT has tanked, a new unit costs roughly $7,000-8,000, while used CVT replacements cost about $1,000-3,000.

CVT automatic transmission bottom view
DepositPhotos

CVT automatic transmission bottom view

EXTENDED WARRANTY COVERAGE MORE … FOR LESS

Endurance

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Going with a factory extended warranty is a good option for basic protection, but you can get more and save more with Endurance, ranked the top extended warranty provider by Consumer Advocates, Consumer Affairs, and Retirement Living.

Get a Free Quote

Save $350 with coupon code: DRIVE350

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CarShield

CarShield — USA’s #1 Auto Protection Provider

CarShield pays claims directly to a US or Canadian ASE-Certified® repair facility of your choice. Our contracts have low or no deductibles to prevent stress to your wallet at a critical time. Never worry about being stranded somewhere after a breakdown. All of our vehicle repair contracts include towing services to transport you and your vehicle to a safe repair facility.

Get a Free Quote

<br>

Carchex

Nationwide coverage for cars new and old

CARCHEX has something for everyone. Have an old car? No problem. Live in California? Not an issue. CARCHEX 's plethora of warranty plans includes options for cars up to twenty years old with up to 250,000 miles, regardless of any existing or expired warranties. Click below or call 1-877-207-3304 for a free quote.

Get a Free Quote

Close up detail of car engine
DepositPhotos

A Subaru engine

FAQs on Subaru CVTs

You have the questions, we have the answers. 

How long do Subaru CVTs last?

Several complaints suggest a Subaru CVT could have problems within 10 years of ownership.

Will Subaru get rid of CVTs?

Not likely. If anything, the company will continue to improve its CVT construction and design and expand upon its application to new models.

Should I Buy a Subaru With a CVT?

Choosing to buy a vehicle with a CVT is a point of preference. If you don’t expect any sort of enthusiasm or excitement out of your vehicle, a CVT will be great for fuel mileage and many prefer the absence of jerky gear shifts felt from traditional automatics or manual transmissions. However, history, and the above complaints, have shown select 2010-2018 Subarus are prone to CVT problems.

How Often Should Subaru CVT Oil Be Changed? 

According to the 2020 Subaru Outback owner’s manual, “It is unnecessary to check the continuously variable transmission fluid level. However, if necessary, consult your Subaru dealer for inspection.”

More Information

The Drive has put together additional resources you can use to educate yourself on Subaru’s CVT Problems:

2018 Subaru Technical Service Bulletin

Subaru.com

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Better Business Bureau (BBB)