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LAST UPDATED:  March 16, 2021

Subaru Outback Reliability

The hearty wagon shows mixed results on the dependability front

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PUBLISHED ON March 16, 2021

Subaru

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Subaru fans are a breed of their own. Few other car companies inspire the level of dedication and excitement that Subaru does, which is a product of the automaker’s willingness to listen to its customers and build vehicles that align with their wants, needs, and lifestyles. 

Despite the hordes of dedicated customers (and their pets), Subaru’s vehicles aren’t without their issues. In fact, the brand is known for its quirky cars that can sometimes develop truly annoying and expensive problems. 

The Drive’s editors have gathered reliability information from several model years of the Subaru Outback to illustrate this point. One of us actually owns an Outback and can vouch for some of the issues you’ll see here. 

Let’s take a closer look at Subaru Outback reliability.

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What Makes a Reliable Brand?

Reliability depends on a host of variables, but the two biggest structural supports are the development and manufacturing of a vehicle. When auto manufacturers spend the time and money developing a car and its manufacturing line, a car tends to last longer. Hastily designed, poorly manufactured, and cheaply constructed materials will all reduce a car’s longevity and reliability.

There’s also a work ethic variable that cannot be ignored. Honda and Toyota’s cultures of reliability-over-all embody that ethic and have thus kept each’s legendary reliability in the minds of consumers for decades. Lexus spent 15 years creating the perfect paint, for goodness’ sake. Add longer-than-normal warranties and good customer service, and it’s easy to see why these Japanese companies have enjoyed their strong standings for so long.

Yet, once a car leaves the dealership lot, outside factors impact a car’s durability.

What Impacts a Car’s Reliability?

Short answer: you. The longer answer is that a car’s reliability and longevity are inextricably tied to how you take care of your vehicle, your maintenance schedule (if you have one), your conservative or brash driving habits, and whether or not you live in climates where extreme weather could affect the car’s construction.

Preemptive maintenance like regular oil changes, fluid flushes, tire rotation, and fuel system cleaners, along with keeping the exterior and underside of your car clean, will all increase the life expectancy of your car. Keeping it out of the harsh desert or tropical sun, as well as away from the rust-inducing salted roadways of winter, will also extend its life.

And lastly, keeping the Mario Andretti driving antics to a minimum will keep your brakes, engine, tires, and chassis under-stressed and happy for far longer compared to hitting every trip to the grocery store like it’s the Indy 500. 

Subaru Outback Specs

Vehicle Type: Station wagon

Doors: Five, including hatchback

Engine options: 182-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder or 260-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder

Total internal combustion range: Up to 33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined

Is The Subaru Outback Reliable?

As detailed above, reliability is generally something that depends on the person, the car, and the situation, so we can’t make a definitive statement that the Subaru Outback is reliable or unreliable. 

To better assess its reliability, however, we’ve assembled several data points from numerous sources to present you with as much information as possible. Let’s start with common problems, as told by comments listed in the Outback National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) archives.

The Subaru Outback NHTSA History

As collected by the NHTSA, these are the Subaru Outback issues throughout the years.

2021

Recall: CVT Select Lever Cable Nut Not Tightened Properly

Complaints: 15

2020

Recall: Loose or Missing Brake Pedal Mounting Bracket Bolt, Rearview Camera May Shut Down/FMVSS 111

Complaints: 323

2019

Recall: Fuel Pump May Become Inoperative/Engine Stall, Improperly Applied Spot Welds 

Complaints: 399

2018

Recall: Camera Image May Not Display/FMVSS 111, Incorrect Fuel Range Display May Cause Stall

Complaints: 438

2017

Recall: Airbag Control Module Incompatible With Airbag, Improperly Aligned Knee Guard Bracket, Loose Bolts May Affect Braking and Handling, Loss of Steering Ability

Complaints: 463

2016

Recall: Airbag Control Module Incompatible With Airbag, Loss of Steering Ability, Drive Shaft May Detach From Differential, Transmission Oil Leak

Complaints: 346

2013

Recall: Loss of Steering Ability, Electronic Stability Control System/FMVSS 126, Transmission Oil Leak, Collision Mitigation Braking May Not Function, Trailer Hitch Assembly May Be Incorrectly Torqued

Complaints: 356

Common Subaru Outback Problems and Repair Costs

As with other car brands, not all Subaru models are built to the same exacting standards as the reliable vehicles mentioned above. Here’s a quick rundown of problematic Subaru offerings, including the issues, customer complaints, and repair costs that will help you make the best decision when purchasing your next car.

Dead Battery

Repair Costs: $125-$200, according to CarComplaints.

Customer Complaint:

“The battery has drained down twice in the same week. The car is only 6 months old. Nothing plugged in. Very annoying. I had Subaru Roadside Assistance tow it 45 miles to the nearest dealer. We will see what happens. Clearly a defect in the 2019 Subaru Outback.”

“Towed in three times for dead battery. Dealer says I have to keep the engine running at all times when opening doors or listening to the radio. Dome lights and computer drain battery dead.”

Excessive Oil Consumption

Repair Costs: $10+, depending on the root cause, according to RepairPal. 

Customer Complaint:

“Oil usage is excessive! I've never had this problem with several Hondas and Toyotas in my past. Also, the requirement to use a new washer on the oil pan with each change makes me less inclined to ever buy this make again-what a gimmick! I have an extended warranty, but whatever happened to quality-Subaru seems to be perpetuating the same problem they have had in previous years leading to a class action suit-Fix it!”

Steering Issues

Repair Costs: No data, according to CarComplaints.

Customer Complaint:

“The car pulling to right. The dealer said it is because of the tire pressure. It is not, all the tire pressure is perfect. It is the wheel alignment out of the factory.”

JD Power Consumer Reliability Score

According to JD Power, this score, “Measures the level of defects, malfunctions and design flaws experienced by vehicle owners. Covers the entire vehicle from engine to infotainment system. A higher rating means fewer problems.” 

2020: 76/100

2019: 80/100

2018: 80/100

2017: 81/100

2016: 80/100

2015: 78/100

2014: 81/100

2013: 79/100

2012: 81/100

FAQs About the Subaru Outback

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: Is The Subaru Outback really That Reliable?

A: Subaru Outback models from the past ten years are generally considered to be more reliable than the average vehicle, despite some of the issues you’ve seen described in this post. Owners’ reported issues tend to be easy fixes, and Subaru has acknowledged the larger problems (or has been forced to in court), by issuing recalls or service bulletins. That said, it’s important to remember that the brand’s cars do commonly exhibit issues such as excessive oil consumption and battery drain.

Q: Is The Subaru Outback More Reliable Than A Toyota RAV4?

A: The Subaru Forester is more closely related to the RAV4 from a size and segment standpoint, but many people will still cross-shop the Outback with the Toyota. It may surprise you that RAV4s from the most recent model years are rated about the same as the Outback for reliability. This could be because the RAV4 family has been thoroughly overhauled with new hybrid and plug-in hybrid drivetrains in recent years, but no matter the cause, the Toyota’s predicted reliability is fairly close to the Outback’s.

Q: How Long Do Subaru Engines Last?

A: This is a tricky question. There’s nothing inherent to Subaru engines that makes them last longer than other brands. In general, a well-maintained and gently used Subaru engine should easily make 150,000 miles or more, and there are several examples online of people rolling to 300,000 and beyond.

Q: Is The Subaru Outback overrated?

A: Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny that the Outback has a well-defined purpose in life, and people that love the funky cars will tell you that there’s no better vehicle on the market. It’s a semi-rugged, spacious wagon with enough capability to take the family well off the beaten path. That said, all Subarus are quirky (not necessarily unreliable), and may not be for everyone. 

EXTENDED WARRANTY COVERAGE MORE … FOR LESS

Endurance

Save $350 on an Endurance warranty plan with coupon code: DRIVE350

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

EXTENDED WARRANTY COVERAGE MORE … FOR LESS

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

EXTENDED WARRANTY COVERAGE MORE … FOR LESS

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.

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