Subaru Forester transmission problem

My 2000 Forester with about 87,000 miles can happily go all day in reverse but on first start up, forward drive does not engage right away. It started out as a five or ten second delay and now takes about 30-40 seconds, and I’m afraid it will get nothing but worse. Once going, no problem with the gears until I try to go again after stopping the engine. I’ve heard this is a common problem with Subaru. Does anyone know what causes this and a fix? I love the features of the car but don’t want to replace or rebuild the transmission if it will just happen again.

Do you have an automatic transmission? Has the transmission fluid ever been changed? Have you looked at the fluid (clear and light or dark, dirty and smelling like something burned?

Please note: My comment about fluid change is not a recommendation to change the fluid and everything will be OK. I will leave that for someone with better knowledge of your transmission like transman. I am suggesting that often people fail to change the fluid and when a problem starts to show up, they change the fluid only to have it fail not long after and then they blame the fluid change.

In reality the whole problem might have been avoided if they had changed the fluid at say 30 or 40 thousand miles. In my opinion the manufacturers have been remiss in recent years by removing transmission fluid changes from the recommended maintenance list and making it more difficult to change.

Since you did not give us the maintenance history of this vehicle, we need to ask you a question or two regarding its maintenance.

Was the transmission fluid changed–as per the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule–at 2.5 years or 30,000 miles (whichever comes first) and again at 5 years or 60,000 miles? If not, then you can blame yourself for the problems that you are currently experiencing with this transmission. In fact, it was due for another transmission fluid change at the 7.5 year interval, even though you have not yet reached the next mileage interval of 90,000 miles.

You also did not tell us if you recently checked the transmission fluid, and if so, what the level and the color of that fluid is. While I hope that I am wrong, I suspect that the fluid may now be brown in color, rather than the normal red color, and this would indicate that damage has already taken place to the transmission.

So, please check the fluid and report back to us on your findings. The correct procedure for checking the fluid can be found in your Owner’s Manual. When you come back to report on your findings, please also give us the maintenance history of the car.

If the transmission has not been previously serviced properly, then you might want to have an independent transmission shop take a crack at dropping the transmission pan, changing the transmission filter and flushing the trans. However, don’t expect miracles, as a transmission that has not been serviced for 9 years can fail no matter what is done to it at this point.

I can tell you that, if the transmission was not serviced according to “the book” (the one sitting in your glove compartment), this is about the correct mileage for you to be experiencing transmission failure.

My old '97 Outback–which is now in the possession of a relative–has something over 170k on the odometer, and its transmission is still functioning as it was designed. The same can be said for my current '02 Outback which has about 93k on the odometer. What they have in common is that their maintenance has been done according to “the book”.

So, as to whether this is a common problem with Subarus, I can tell you that it is not.
However, transmission failure is a common problem with all makes of vehicles if their fluid is not changed at the intervals that I mentioned above. On this site, we frequently get questions exactly like yours, regarding virtually every make of car, and I can tell you that transmission failure typically occurs anywhere from 90k to 120k on those vehicles that have not been maintained properly.

Three transmission fluid changes would have cost you, in total, a few hundred dollars. If you need a new or overhauled transmission due to lack of maintenance, it will cost you a few thousand dollars. I think that this difference puts the economics of proper maintenance in perspective.

My first question and stupid one is have you checked the transmission fluid level? Look in owners manual how and if you don’t have one go to for a manual in electronic format(pdf) for your car.

Subaru’s have a okay record with transmissions automatic or manual so it won’t happen again if rebuilt/replaced.

Thanks for all the information. Actually my maintenance record has been “by the book.” The last time I had my transmission flushed was late December '06 for my 60,000 service. Yesterday, I took my car to my mechanic who quickly checked it out for me in my presence. Currently the fluid is a translucent pink with no odor or brown undertones and is at the full mark. I don’t know if the Forester has the same transmission as the Outback, but a Web search found quite a few others that have experienced the same problem as I’m having with their Foresters, and one with as few as 36,000 miles on the car. My mechanic suspects that it is a worn piston seal on the forward clutch pack which, at the very least means rebuilding the transmission. I am having difficulty finding someone to recommend that, since there is a high risk other problems may be found or created with the taking apart that could drive up the cost beyond that of replacement. Even the Subaru dealer would just put in a “new” one, so I have a feeling my best option would be to bite the economic bullet and replace the transmission for around $4,000.

Ignore all the BS about maintenance history and low fluid. The Subaru transmission are know for seal shrinkage with age. You can try some of those seal treatment that swell the seals but my advise is to trade it! I bought a Forester thinking it would be a high mileage vehicle, I was wrong. And yes it has been very well taken care of. I had same trans problems at 80,000 mile, blown head gasket, and now another trans problem yet to be identified.

My sister is having the same problem with her 2001 Forester. It began at just over 60K and has continued intermittently since then. She continues to do the trans fush and change filter and fluid every time it occurs but the jolt she gets when it engages is very disturbing. I have been quite surprised to see how common this problem is and even more surprised by Subaru’s lack of responsiveness to something that clearly is a design or material flaw. Even though it fails after warranty, I have seen many other manufacturers make good on something this significant especially for a company that touts their dependability and reliability. While it is an expensive repair, the good will lost by the company’s lack of response is more costly. Even a shared cost for repair would have meaning to most owners.

There is a product from Trans-X called Slip-Stop & Leak Fix that has helped a lot of folks clear this kind of problem when added to the transmission fluid. You might try it and see if it works for you also. I think it will.

My inlaws neglect their 2001 Forester except for 5k oil changes no other maintenance except acute repairs(as needed) when it break down once in a while. They also keep four decent matched tires on it.

It has 210k and nothing major with engine or transmission.