Subaru outback automatic transmission

My 2009 subaru outback (automatic) started slipping backward when I moved my foot from the brake to the gas at red lights. I have to use my emergency brake to prevent slipping into the car behind me. I now have 5500 miles and the problem has gotten worse. The Subaru daler says this is normal on steep hills. The grade where I first noticed the slipping is only 18 degrees. I have owned automatics for 30 years and never had to use my emergency brake before on hills. I think this is dangerous. What do you recommend? (I have contacted Subaru customer service but somehow seem locked behind the opinion of the dealer)

Newer automatics do this. It’s normal. Older automatics put much more drag on the engine, which is why they didn’t drift backwards. They also wasted a lot more fuel. I have two vehicles (one is a Subaru) with automatic transmissions and they both drift back on hills even when they’re in DRIVE.

How long does it take to lift your foot off the brake pedal and press the gas pedal? It shouldn’t take long enough for your car to drift into the vehicle behind it. People who drive cars with manual transmissions do this all the time without drifting into anyone.

If you can’t move your foot fast enough you’ll have to rely on the parking brake I suppose.

It’s time to adapt to your new car.

hmm – I had two other people drive my car and they both couldn’t move their feet fast enough either (and two of us are dancers). My Honda never did this nor an array of cars that I rented (ford, honda, toyota, hyundi). So is it the four wheel drive or some other feature that makes this particular car slip – normally?

It’s not the AWD. How far is the car drifting? My guess is it’s only a few inches but seems farther because you’re not used to it.

Here’s another thing you can do: When the car comes to a stop, put your left foot on the brake pedal. That will prevent the car from drifting. Remove your left foot from the brake pedal as you begin to press the gas pedal with your right foot.

No dancing required.

And no more drifting, either.

It basically rolls until I stop it from rolling – and I really have to hit the gas to stop it (or use the emergency brake). You said all new cars do this but no other new car (and I rented a lot of them) did this. Mostly I am wondering if this is normal for Subaru if I am have the wrong car for a city like SF. You also mention that manuals do this but my understanding in the new manuals have a hill hugger feature so they no longer do this. I didn’t buy a manual for precisely this reason. Eighteen degree incline is nothing in SF. I feel like if I have to drive with two feet maybe I would be better off with a manual with the hill hugger feature? I really never noticed this with either hondas or toyotas – you say it happens with all the 2009 models?

Yes, it does happen with all recent model cars, not just 2009 models, and not just with Subarus. This is one of the mechanical changes that allow manufacturers to eke out a tiny bit better gas mileage. You know–a little here, a little there…

Truthfully, I don’t think that a manual transmission car is very practical for a very hilly place like SF, but if you do decide that you want a manual transmission car, be sure to get a Subaru, as all manual transmission Subies come with Hill Holder (which is their trademarked name for this feature).

I want to point out that if you attempt to “hold” your car on a grade by applying the gas, you will be placing undue strain on the transmission. McParadise’s suggestion–to use both feet when driving in this type of situation is a good one. I used that technique when I used to drive my friend’s '01 Honda Accord and I use it now when I drive his '08 Toyota RAV-4, both of which exhibit this normal behavior for a modern automatic transmission.

I’ll have a hard time dumping this car as I just bought it new. I have to say, I am surprised as I did rent for over a year and drove a variety of 2008 and 2009 cars and none of them rolled backward like this subaru nor required a two-footed approach – so I remain surprised. I guess I could go test drive a new honda and see if I have the same experience. Also I didn’t say I used the gas to hold the hill but I use the gas of course to go forward. What I meant is that I have to really hit it to reverse the downward roll – actually I find it all very dangerous as here there are cars in front of you and cars behind you and I really miss smoothly pulling out of a stop with the ease one has with a car that holds the hill.

Manual transmission Subarus have a “hill holder” feature, but I’m not sure other brands have it. I spend a lot of time in Pittsburgh, which is not as hilly as SF, perhaps, but there are plenty of hills. Every time I’m stopped on a hill my car will drift back if I take my foot off the brake.

Neither my automatic Subaru (1996, this is not a new phenomenon) nor my manual Acura (1997) drifts far enough to cause concern, however. It doesn’t take much gas to get the car going forward, and if I want to be sure the Subaru doesn’t drift at all I use my left foot on the brake to hold the car absolutely still. Works every time, no matter how steep the hill.

If you can find an '09 model with an automatic that holds a steep hill without needing the brakes applied, perhaps that’s the car for you. ALL of the late model automatic cars I’ve driven exhibit this behavior.

To be clear – I rented a lot of cars (all 2008 or 2009 and all automatics) and drove them in SF – none would roll back like this one. I of course have my foot on the brake while I wait for the light to turn green but I never had to apply the emergency or drive two-footed to maneuver the SF streets with any of the rentals.

I’ll go test drive a Honda out of curiosity but unfortunately I own this car so changing at this point is difficult.

One question – this car rolls backward down a hill while in drive as long as there is a hill – just keeps rolling, so when you say yours never rolled far enough to be a problem, do you mean yours just slipped only a few inches (feet)? We have very steep hills here and cars pull in close behind at red lights. I really have to gas it or use the emergency to get going forward…

Here’s the bottom line: All Subaru Outback Automatics roll back on hills. The new 2010 will have a special button to engage to prevent this from happening but 2009 and earlier are in my opinion dangerous in cities such as SF where the front horizon when you’re waiting at red light might easily be only the your front hood 9more than 25 degrees). The roll on a 15 degree hill is about 6 to 9 inches but on the 30+ grade hills in SF, there is a definite need to use the emergency brake since the roll back is substantially more and faster. It is like driving a manual instead of an automatic which is not what I desired. I took a 2009 Honda Accord out on 18 degree hills just to test it and no slip at all. I think the Subaru is just too heavy for its transmission.

So, I have to conclude that you did not test-drive this car in the environment where you normally drive, prior to buying it.

Whether someone is talking about engine output, the performance of the transmission, seat comfort, ride characteristics, the performance of the A/C, the ambient noise level, or any other aspect of the car, buying a car without test-driving the same model–in your normal driving environment–prior to purchase, is not a wise thing to do.

If you had performed your due diligence prior to purchase, you would not be experiencing Buyer’s Remorse at this point. I’m sorry, but this has to be said.

You are right – in a way. I bought it in South San Jose (where the hills are much less steep) and test drove on the freeway, on hills, in the rain, in traffic, etc. I did tell the sales staff that I frequently was in SF and discussed how the AWD was going to be wonderful on the hills in the rain. I did not have the opportunity to drive 60 miles north to test drive it in stop and go SF traffic. I’ve owned or rented so many automatic transmission cars and never had even one slip on a hill in SF that I didn’t think there was such a thing as automatic transmissions slipping as a part of the design – so I didn’t think to test for it. You are still right though it was a test I overlooked.

Since you have an automatic, you can use the left foot on the brake. I know that it is hard to re-learn how to drive, but some suggest left foot braking is acutally safer since it reduces the reaction time for braking in an emergency. Sorry to hear you have buyer’s remorse because of this issue.

I wonder if your Outback is fitted with a new type of auto transmission called CVT. These transmissions use a different type clutch/torque converter setup and perhaps that is why it feels like it is “freewheeling” backward on you when you are on a steep hill.

Most cars are still using cnventional auto transmissions and perhaps you are used to one system and now have to get used to a new type of auto transmission. I’ve only driven one rental car with a CVT transmission and it seemed like the car needed more gas to engage the transmission when starting off from a stoplight. This was in flat Florida, so I never encountered any SF hills. Having visited SF I know the hills you have there are whoopers.

No I drove it with the Subaru service department. We also took a brand new car out and we all agree that the OUTBACK slips – a little on 15 degree hills, a lot on 25++ hills. They are the ones who told me that the new 2010 models will have this special override button that you can click on so the car doesn’t roll back into the car behind. The car simply rolls backward – easy to manage on slight slopes, a bit scary on say Nob Hill in SF.

If you have the “Lineartronic” auto transmission it is a CVT type of transmission.

IIRC, the CVT transmission was not part of the specification for the '09 Outback.
However, all 4-cylinder automatic transmission Subarus of the '10 vintage will have a CVT. The 6-cylinder models will all come with a “conventional” 5-speed automatic.

So, to the best of my knowledge, this '09 Outback does not have a CVT.