Subaru Outback 2010-2014 problems, fuel economy, pros and cons

Updated: October 03, 2021
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.
Subaru Outback 2012 interior Subaru Outback interior.
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A comfortable spacious interior, pleasant ride and decent highway fuel economy is another plus for people who like to travel. Having a 8.7-inch ground clearance will help in mild off-roading.

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 model offers a rare manual or a continuously-variable automatic (CVT). Read also: Pros and cons of buying a car with a CVT transmission. The 3.6L Outback has a conventional 5-speed automatic transmission. No turbocharged engine is offered. Is a used Subaru Outback a good choice? Is it reliable? What are the common problems? We researched reported problems, TSBs, reliability ratings and owner reviews.

Reported Problems: Many owners have reported that the headlight bulbs fail often and are difficult to replace (the access is from the wheel well). Watch these videos on how to do it.
Several 2010, 2011 Outback owners mentioned a vibration in the steering wheel. There is a TSB to address this concern, but it involves quite extensive modification of some suspension and steering components (Google: TSB 05-48-10 2010~11MY Legacy and Outback).

One of the possible causes for the Check Engine light with the code P2096 in the 2010-2012 Outback is a bad rear O2 sensor, although the vehicle must be properly diagnosed to confirm this. Other possible causes include a bad or dirty mass airflow sensor, vacuum leak, dirty throttle body, exhaust leaks or issues with the sensor connector or wiring.
Subaru Outback 2012 2012 Subaru Outback.
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The catalytic converter can fail at higher mileage. The diagnosis can reveal the code P0420. The OEM part is expensive, but a local muffler shop might be able to install an aftermarket catalytic converter which is a lot cheaper.

Failed front struts are mentioned by several owners ($550-$780 to replace both front struts).

The top brake light may leak water; it will need to be resealed or replaced.

Loose exhaust heat shields may cause rattling at certain rpms. The common fix is to re-secure the shields, which is a very simple repair.

In the 2013-2014 2.5L Outback a 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. The new OEM puddle light kit is priced at $115-$140 online. The installation instructions are provided with the kit.

There have been a number of complaints about excessive oil consumption in the FB25 engine in the 2013-2014 Outback. Read this forum for more info. Google 'Engine Oil Consumption Subaru bulletin 02-157-14R'. Another issue in the same engine is hesitation on acceleration. One Subaru Outback owner mentioned that reprogramming the vehicle computer made the difference. This tread of the forum discusses the issue. When buying the 2013-2014 Outback with the FB25 engine, watch out for a short hesitation when accelerating from a stop or after coasting. A low engine oil level could also indicate excessive oil consumption.

There are a few reports of head gaskets leaking at higher mileage. Symptoms include overheating, dropping coolant level and coolant smell under the hood. Replacing head gaskets is costly ($1,000-$1,600). When buying a used Subaru Outback, it's important to carefully check for leaking head gaskets.

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

Cons: Sensitive to strong side winds, emergency handling is not the best, some pesky problems.

Overall: On the one hand, there are some problems that could be expensive to repair, but on the other hand, it's a nice comfortable spacious vehicle with a proven AWD system.
Subaru Outback 2012 2012 Subaru Outback.
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As of October 2021, Consumer Reports rates only the 2014 Outback as 'above average', while the 2010-2013 model years are rated 'average' for reliability. One of the drawbacks Consumer Reports mentions is that the tail of the car may slide out in emergency maneuvers. We drove the Outback and in normal city driving and on the highway it felt 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, watch out for signs of water leaks. Make sure the sunroof opens and closes without binding.
During the test drive, watch out for steering wheel vibration. Check steering wheel controls. Watch out for signs of CVT transmission problems. We found the service bulletin TSB 16-95-15 about diagnosing the slipping of the CVT chain, which is the most common problem in all CVT transmissions. According to the bulletin, examples of symptoms of a slipping CVT chain include: abnormal transmission operating sounds, a shudder or vibration sensation, lack of power, hesitation, engine rpm rise without increase in vehicle speed or in isolated cases, a Check Engine Lamp illumination (with engine misfire DTCs stored in the ECM memory). If you notice any of these symptoms, avoid the vehicle, as replacing the CVT transmission is an expensive repair.
Watch out for excessive oil consumption, especially in the 2013-2014 Outback 2.5L engine. If during a test drive, you notice blue smoke from the exhaust, or feel hesitation on acceleration, the vehicle should also be avoided. Before signing the contract, have the vehicle carefully inspected by an independent mechanic for CVT transmission issues, leaking head gaskets etc.

Read also:
What mileage is OK for a used car?
How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide
How to check an engine when buying a used car

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.

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 a 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 costs 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. You can access the pdf. copy of the owner's manual at Subaru US website under "Vehicle Resources." The maintenance schedule is included in the separate Warranty and Maintenance Booklet.

Engine oil capacity:
When replacing engine oil and 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.

Related reviews:
Subaru Outback 2005-2009
Mazda CX-5 2013-2016
Subaru Forester 2009-2013
Toyota RAV4 2006-2012
Nissan Rogue 2014-2020
Honda CR-V 2007-2011
Toyota RAV4 2013-2018

Subaru Technical Information System - access for a fee 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. DIY guides - variety of guides and DIY advice.