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

December 21, 2019

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. Click for a larger view

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 complaints, TSBs, reliability ratings and owner reviews.

Subaru Outback 2012
2012 Subaru Outback. Photo: Subaru of America.



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.

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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.

Problems: 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).
We found TSB on CVT transmission chain slip issues: TSB 16-95-15.
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).
The catalytic converter can fail too at higher mileage. The OEM part is expensive, but a local muffler shop might be able to install an aftermarket catalytic converter which is a lot cheaper.
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-$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.
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.
Several owners mentioned hesitation when driving from a stop in the 2013, 2014 Outback. One owner mentioned that reprogramming the vehicle computer made the difference. This tread of the subaruoutback.org forum discusses the issue.
There have been a number of complaints about excessive oil consumption in the 2013-2014 Outback.

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 handling is not the best, some pesky problems

Overall: Consumer Reports rates the 2011 and 2014 model years above average, while the 2010 , 2012 and 2013 Outback are rated 'average' for reliability (as of December 2019).

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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.

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; reliability is above average. A 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:

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. Check steering wheel controls. During a test drive, make sure the transmission is smooth, there are 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 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.

Resources:
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.
Subaruoutback.org DIY guides - variety of guides and DIY advice.
By Samarins.com Staff