What Are The Top Complaints About The Subaru Outback

Despite the Subaru Outback being a relatively trustworthy vehicle, the crossover car/SUV still does have some pretty major caveats that owners should be aware of.

Made by Fuji industries under the Subaru brand name and also known as the Subaru Legacy, the Outback has been around enough years to iron out most of the kinks, but there are still twenty reasons why buyers may not want to purchase this vehicle. On the plus side, The Outback has a kick-ass symmetrical AWD system that outperforms anything else on the car market when the snow and ice comes down and that handling may be enough to counter the many problems listed below. Most of the points below refer to the new sixth generation Subaru Outback 2020 model, but many of them also apply to the previous Outback models including the fifth generation (2015 – 2019) and the fourth Subaru Outback generation (2009 – 2014)

The lineage for the Outback is a strong on, but with a new design and updated tech, the new Subaru Outback 2020 may have some flaws that have manifested in the line of one of the most popular practical crossover SUV’s on the market.

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The Very Worst Fault With The Subaru Outback Is:

1 – Difficulty in Replacing the Headlight Bulbs

It is an insanely difficult task to replace headlight bulbs in the Subaru Outback. When attempting to replace the main-beam headlight bulbs, the car must be jacked up and the front wheels must be removed. Then, the wheel arch panels must be removed to gain access to the back of the headlights just to replace a broken bulb. This is a sad but true statement about the Subaru Outback and it is a common lament by Subaru owners and Subaru mechanics the world over. When they discover how much labor must go into performing such a simple task of replacing a bulb, owners are shocked. The problem speaks to a fundamental design flaw that Fuji industries cannot seem to resolve and ends up costing Outback owners a small fortune in labor costs every time a bulb blows. Even worse, an Outback owner cannot do this themselves unless they have half a day available to spend messing around with a jack and an impact driver.

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2 – Headlight Bulb Burnouts

Somewhat connected to first problem, the Subaru Outback also has a problem with the ‘auto’ light setting, which compounds the bulb replacement access problem above by burning out the headlights prematurely. Whenever daylight gets a little dim (like driving through a tunnel, or in the shade), the headlights instantly come on and then off again as soon as light improves. Most cars avoid immediate response on this, but the Outback will keep rapidly flicking the lights off and then back on when light changes, until the bulbs finally burn out and then it is time for the wheels to come off for a full bulb replacement. The poor headlights are an Achilles Heel for the Subaru Outback.

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3 – Subaru Outbacks Often Require Proprietary Parts

Just like Mercedes and BMW’s, many of the Subaru car parts are proprietary, making them quite expensive and rare to find. This can cause delivery delays and price gouging when urgent fixes are needed. Subaru vehicles often require special tools for mechanics to work on them, meaning that not every garage can undertake work on the Subaru Outback. E.G. proprietary wheel bearings that fail after 60K miles and the non standard ratchet required for the Boxer engine cylinder head are examples where the Outback makes repairs more difficult than they need to be.

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4 – Windshield Real Estate Occupied By Unusable Technology

Despite being a great safety feature, the Subaru driver assist ‘eyesight’ system takes up a large amount of real estate in the car windshield and interferes with an owners use of their own dash cam, radar, navigator, EZ Pass and any other windshield mounted items that an owner may want to use. The Eyesight system also can get in the way of the drivers view of the road, but it does provide some benefits to the driver, with a increase in overall safety.

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5 – Fuji Industries Not a Good Corporate Citizen

Subaru does not have a good record into owning up to past mistakes and it has taken a number of consumer lawsuits to force them to fix dangerous problems with past Subaru Outbacks see: http://www.subarucomplaints.com

Subaru LED Rear Lights

6 – Lack of LED Lighting

LED brake lights are still not standard on the Subaru Outback. Studies show that quick-response LED brake light bulbs can provide an extra 25 feet of braking distance for cars behind, often making all the difference from a safety perspective. LED brake lights save lives but Subaru has yet to receive that memo.

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7 – Difficult To Upgrade Vehicle With Add-Ons

If Subaru owners attempt to add their own LED bulbs to the Subaru Outback, all manner of error lights will appear on the dashboard as the on-board computer is expecting to see the electrical resistance of an incandescent bulb and now thinks that the old-style light has blown and will notify the driver by flashing all sorts of error lights on the dashboard and then switching off cruise control or traction control to boot.

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8 – Turbos Usher In New Age Of Unreliability

With the introduction of the turbo for the more powerful Outback models, the reliability of the top version of the Subaru Outback just went downhill, fast. Turbos often will break when they are needed the most and this failure will render the car inoperable. Adding a turbo to a vehicle design is an engineers way of getting more horsepower and better efficiency out of a smaller engine, but its introduction brings significantly less reliability over time. That may be fine on the Subaru WRX model, but not on the old faithful Subaru Outback that has been known to be a longstanding workhorse and now may have jumped the shark.

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9 – Cargo Space Getting Smaller

In the 2020 model, the rear cargo space just went down by 3 cu ft, but leg room went up by the same amount. Go figure, longer legs and less luggage.

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10 – No Memory Seats

Memory seats are still not an option, even on the top of the line model. For anyone that shares a car with another, this feature has been outstanding on the Subaru Outback for quite some time.

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11 – Electric Windows Often Stick

The Subaru Outback still suffers from sticking windows, that will not roll down if the vehicle has been standing for a while and in some cases will stick after just a couple of hours. A quick elbow to the window temporarily solves the problem, but this fault could be devastating if the car is in an emergency and the vehicle passengers need to get out of the windows. If the vehicle is already underwater and there is no other way out, then the sticky windows can turn this vehicle into a death trap. Some Outback owners have take to regularly lubricating the window mechanisms with silicone lubricant, but even then the windows may still stick.

Subaru Outback Oil Leak
Subaru Outback Oil Leak

12 – Oil Problems With Leaking Head Gasket and Regular Oil Top Ups Required

The perennial problems with leaking engine oil on the Subaru Outback still have not been resolved in the newer Outback models, requiring the engine to be regularly topped up with appropriate oil. On many of their older Subaru Outback models, Fuji Industries recommends NOT to use synthetic oil, without any explanation to the reasons why. Industry techs have guessed that Synthetic oil may damage the poor quality head gasket even further, which would then lead to faster oil leakage and a reduction in engine power, ultimately resulting in engine failure. Oil problems on this vehicle are common and Fuji Industries have struggled to solve the issue over the many years that it has persisted.

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13 – Engine Oil Light Slow To Respond

For a car that already has many oil issues, it is surprising to find that after adding engine oil, it often takes over 15 minutes for the oil light to go out on the dash, even though the oil level is now actually full. This is because the car computer likes to take its time to re-assess the oil level and this action confuses many Outback owners who then add even more oil effectively putting too much oil in the vehicle, of which there is conversely, no warning light

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14 – Lack of Electric or Hybrid Version Available

The 2020 Subaru Outback still does not come in a hybrid or electric version. An all-electric version of this popular vehicle is still twenty years away for Fuji Industries, but a new partnership with Toyota may deliver earlier than date.

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15 – Never Buy The First Year of Any Model Car

The 2020 model is the sixth generation model of the Subaru Outback and savvy buyers know that should never buy the first year of any model car, unless they are going to lease the vehicle. At the end of the lease they can hand the car back with all its problems to the dealer and wash their hands of any problems that seem to manifest themselves in the first versions. If there are no problems with the car, lessees can then choose to just buy it for the pre-agreed amount on the lease, which means that they were able to avoid all the risk. Its a three year long test drive!

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16 – Lack of Outback Accessories Available

The choice of accessories for the Subaru Outback is significantly less than other comparable vehicles. For instance, no manufacturer makes a chrome bumper protector to protect the paint on the top of the bumper from being scratched when loading the vehicle. They do offer a black plastic version, but it is both expensive and downright ugly.

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17 – Takata Airbags Deploy Unexpectedly and Metal Parts Can Injure Occupants

The Takata airbag recall, which has affected the whole automotive industry, has also taken its toll upon the Subaru Outback, but with more impact than other car manufactures. The poorly designed Takata airbag, which was used by most auto manufactures for over ten years, is now well known for spontaneously deploying and the Outback has seen its fair share of injuries and accidents resulting from this unexpected explosion. What makes the Outback worse than other vehicles in its class is that the way the airbag explodes means that vehicle occupants can be injured by flying plastic and metal parts during the unexpected event. Despite this increased risk in injury, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) can still show that the risk of injury with having a defective airbag is still less than having no airbag at all, so it advises Outback owners not to disengage the airbags, despite the possibility of an unexpected injury. All Takata airbags must be removed by Subaru Outbacks.


Subaru Outback made in Japan

18 – North American Subaru Outback Is Not Made In Japan

The Subaru Outback is built at Subaru’s Lafayette, Ind. manufacturing facility and that plant has a great deal higher fault rate than other manufacturing plants around the world. The best Subaru Outbacks are built in Japan by Fuji Industries and have the very lowest initial and long term fault rate of all the Subaru vehicles manufactured across the globe. As you work your way around the world, the US factory has the highest fault rate of any Subaru factory.

19 – Timing Chain Driven Water Pump

If there ever was a prize for the dumbest idea to save on manufacturing costs, the introduction of a water pump driven by the timing chain has got to be it. Obviously a timing chain is a very good idea in itself and its replacement of the old plastic timing belt, that would often fail and cause the engine to blow up, is a great move forward. Introducing a water pump into the timing chain loop is indicative of a complete lack of good judgement. Not only does it make the replacement of a defective water pump extremely costly for owners, but it also increases the overall chance of a total engine failure by introducing the risk of water from the water pump getting into the engine, which is a very bad thing. This flawed design has been copied by a few other engine designers, and only then on some of their bigger engines, namely Nissan and Ford to name just two. This flawed design only exists on the 3.6 litre Subaru engine, but Subaru still continues to adopt the practice on its newer models.

Michael Rogers

Having never been a member of the 657 crew and still a frequent guest at the Jolly Sailor, Mike likes to travel back to his old stomping grounds once in a while. Rogers has been writing for twenty years about things that really don't matter for such publications as Good Housekeeping and The Radio Times. Married with two dogs and a cat, he will often be found at his desk looking for writing inspiration in the most random places, often in the waste paper basket for something he wrote last week.