Subaru Outback 2010-2014 common problems and fixes, fuel economy, driving experience, photos

Overall rating:4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
September 17, 2017
Subaru Outback 2012
2012 Subaru Outback. Photo: Subaru of America.

Pick a spot on the map, pack it up and go! Standard all-wheel drive, roomy cargo area and standard roof rack system with swing-in crossbars make the Outback perfect for biking, kayaking or camping. Comfortable spacious interior, pleasant ride and decent highway fuel economy is another plus for people who like to travel far.

The 2010-2014 Outback comes with a non-turbo 2.5L 4-cylinder or 3.6L 6-cylinder horizontally-opposed "boxer" engine. The 2.5L models come with a rare manual transmission or a continuously-variable automatic (CVT). The 3.6L Outback has a conventional 5-speed automatic transmission. No turbocharged engine is offered. Is a used Subaru Outback a good choice? How is the long-term reliability? What are the common complaints? What to look for? We not only test drove the vehicle, but researched common complains, TSBs, safety and reliability ratings and owner reviews. Let's see what we found.

Subaru Outback 2012 interior
Subaru Outback interior. Click for larger view
Subaru Outback 2012
Subaru Outback cargo compartment

Interior: The interior is roomy and refined. The rear seat space is much improved compared to the previous generation; three adults can easily fit. Driver's seat is comfortable, the steering tilts and telescopes. Available features include: black or beige leather, Rear Seat Entertainment Unit, USB, Bluetooth, Navigation and rear-view camera.

Fuel Economy: The 2012 AWD Subaru Outback 2.5L automatic is rated at 21/28 mpg city/hwy. For comparison, the 2012 AWD Toyota RAV4 with a 4-cylinder engine gets 21/27 mpg, while the 2012 Honda CR-V AWD is rated at 22/29 mpg. The 2013 AWD Mazda CX-5 leads this group with 25/30 mpg. The 6-cylinder 2012 AWD Outback gets 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.

Handling and ride: The handling is not sporty, but comfortable in city driving and on the highway. The ride quality is impressive, bumps and potholes are well absorbed by the suspension. The interior is quiet, visibility is great all-around. The 2.5L 4-cylinder engine is not super fast from the stop, but has enough power for daily commute. Driving on unpaved roads is easy and 8.7 inches of ground clearance help going over bigger bumps and potholes. The Outback curb to curb turning circle is listed at 36.8 ft.

Subaru Outback NHTSA crash tests
Overall rating Frontal crash Side crash Rollover
2011 Outback 4 Star 4 Star 4 Star 4 Star
2012 Outback 4 Star 4 Star 4 Star 4 Star
2013 Outback 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star 4 Star
2014 Outback 5 Star 5 Star 5 Star 4 Star

Safety: The 2010 Outback got perfect 5 stars out of 5 for front and side crash protection, and 4 stars for rollover resistance from the NHTSA. Starting from 2011, the NHTSA performs different, more stringent tests. See the results in the table. Vehicle stability control is standard. The EyeSight driver assistance system is available from 2013. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and vehicle lane departure warning. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded 2010-2014 Subaru Outback with the Top Safety Pick rating.

Timing belt or chain: The 2010-2012 Outback with the SOHC 2.5L 4-cylinder engine (Model EJ253) has a timing belt. Subaru calls it Camshaft drive belt. According to the maintenance schedule for the 2011 Outback, it's recommended to be inspected every 30,000 miles and replaced at 105,000 miles. Replacing a timing belt and related hardware cost from $500 to $850 in a repair shop.
The 2013-2014 Outback comes with a DOHC 2.5L engine (Model FB25B) that has a timing chain instead of a belt. The 3.6L H6 engine model EZ36D also has a timing chain.

Cargo carrying: The rear 60/40 split seats fold almost flat. The cargo volume is 34.3 cu. ft. with seatbacks raised and 71.3 cu. ft. with seats folded. The cargo cover can be stored inside the spare tire storage compartment. With some additional hardware, the Outback roof rack can be outfitted to carry two kayaks or a bike. This thread of the subaruoutback.org forum shows several examples.

2014 Subaru Outback owner's manual: towing capacity
2014 Subaru Outback owner's manual: towing capacity. Click for larger photo

Towing capacity: The owner's manual for the 2014 Subaru Outback lists the maximum gross trailer weight at 3,000 lbs for the 3.6 L models, and 2,700 lbs for all models other than 3.6 L. See the 2014 Outback owner's manual page screenshot. Check for more detail on the page 8-18 of the owner's manual in the "Driving Tips" chapter. You can access a pdf. copy of an owner's manual at Subaru US website under "Vehicle Resources".

Competitors: Alternatives to a used Subaru Outback include Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Ford Escape. The class leader Honda CR-V is more expensive, but better on gas. It's very reliable and offers a roomy, versatile interior. A used Toyota RAV4 is also priced a bit higher; it's reliable and comfortable to drive. The 2013-plus Mazda CX-5 is better on gas and offers sportier handling; the reliability is above average. Used Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue are cheaper, but less reliable. Subaru Forester is a bit smaller and has a simpler interior, but otherwise is a very similar vehicle. The 2008-2013 Forester is available with a turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder engine.
Similar cars:

Pros: Standard all-wheel drive, reasonable fuel economy for 2.5L models, roomy interior, cargo space, standard flexible roof rack, good safety ratings, reliability.

Cons: Sensitive to strong side winds, emergency maneuver handling is not the best, some pesky problems (read on the next page).

Common problems: Several 2010, 2011 Outback owners mentioned steering wheel vibration. There is a TSB to address this concern, but it involves quite extensive modification of some suspension and steering components. Headlight bulbs go often and are difficult to replace (the access is from the wheel well). Failed front struts are mentioned by several owners ($550-$700 to replace both front struts). The top brake light may leak water, may need to be re-sealed or replaced. Loose exhaust heat shields may cause rattle at certain rpms. The common fix is to re-secure the shields. In 2013-2014 2.5L Outback the chirping noise under the hood may be caused by a faulty drive (serpentine) belt. An updated drive belt fixes the issue ($120-$200). In some cases, one of the belt pulleys may need to be replaced too.

Several owners reported problems with sunroof binding or not opening (closing) all the way. There are several TSBs on the sunroof issues. One of the TSBs for the 2010-2013 Outback recommends replacing sunroof cable assembly and brackets with an updated "Cable Repair Kit". Puddle lights go out often. A new OEM puddle light kit is priced at $115-$140 online. The installation instructions are provided with the kit. Another issue several owners mentioned is hesitation when driving from a stop in 2013, 2014 Outback. One owner mentioned that reprogramming the vehicle computer made the difference. This tread of the subaruoutback.org forum discusses the issue.

Overall: The Outback is not a bad choice for an all-wheel drive SUV or wagon. Despite all the issues mentioned above, Consumer Reports rates all model years from 2010 to 2014 Outback with 4 stars out of five for the reliability. Safety ratings and owner satisfaction are above average too. One of the drawbacks Consumer Reports mentions is that the tail of the car may slide out in emergency maneuvers. We drove the vehicle for a while, in normal city driving and on the highway, the Outback feels stable and secure.

What to look for when buying a used Subaru Outback: Check if the rear-view camera is working, several owners mentioned some problems with it.
If the vehicle has a sunroof, check for signs of water leaks. Make sure the sunroof opens and closes without binding. During a test drive on the highway, watch out for steering wheel vibration; there is a number of complaints about this issue. Check steering wheel controls. During a test drive, make sure the transmission is smooth, there is no jerks or shudder. We found a number of complaints at the NHTSA website related to oil consumption in 2013-2014 Outback 2.5L engine. If during a test drive, you notice a blue smoke from the exhaust, the vehicle should be avoided, as it's one of the signs of excessive oil consumption. Read more in the next "Maintenance" chapter.
Guides for used car buyers:

Maintenance: The Maintenance schedule for the 2014 Outback recommends changing engine oil every 7,500 miles, however in severe driving conditions including repeated short trips, extreme cold or repeated towing the oil must be changed every 3,750 miles or 6,000 km. A number of owners mentioned higher than normal oil consumption. This means that it's a good practice to check the engine oil level regularly and top it up if the level is low. Running the engine low on oil may cause problems. Read this guide how to check the oil level.

An air filter must be changed every 30,000 miles. You can buy an OEM engine air filter online for $17-$25. In the repair shop, the air filter replacement costs from $35 to $60.

Spark plugs must be replaced every 60,000 miles. Spark plug replacement costs from $260 to $400.
Front and rear differential fluid as well as transmission fluid are recommended to be inspected every 30,000 miles. Realistically, it means that you will probably need to replace them somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. Of course, if the vehicle is used for repeated trailer towing, differential and transmission fluids must be changed more often. For example, if the vehicle is used for towing, the 2014 Maintenance schedule recommends replacing the CVT fluid (CVTF) at 24,855 miles.

Engine oil capacity:
When replacing engine oil and oil filter:
2010-2012 Outback 2.5 L SOHC non-turbo: 4.4 US qt. or 4.2 liters
2013-2014 Outback 2.5 L DOHC non-turbo: 5.1 US qt. or 4.8 liters
2010-2014 Outback 3.6L DOHC non-turbo: 6.9 US qt. or 6.5 liters
Data, courtesy of Subaru Technical Information System.

Resources:
Subaru Technical Information System - you can buy a temporary subscription and get access to a factory service manual and technical service bulletins. It's a great help for DIY enthusiasts.
Subaru of America Vehicle Resources - Access owner's manuals online, Starlink FAQ, BlueConnect guides and more.
Check For Recalls NHTSA - check for recalls, safety ratings and search the complaint database.
Subaruoutback.org DIY guides - variety of guides and DIY advice.
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