WTF? Got a letter from Subaru saying the CVT transmission may fail

I am currently driving my third Outback, and I have never had any transmission problems, even up to 130k miles.

My first Outback is still being driven by a young distant relative, and despite her apparent aversion to regular maintenance, that car is still going strong with well over 180k miles on the odometer. Perhaps my practice of changing the fluid and filter every 30k miles provided her with an extremely durable transmission.

I’m actually scratching my head about buying one when I get ready to dump my Altima and attaching “6th” free badge of ownership on the back.

Heck, I was happy with my 5 Subarus, why not to get 6th? :slight_smile:

Yes, I’ve changed the spin-on filters and to me it’s no big deal.

Almost every failed Subaru automatic I’ve seen failed due to someone mistakenly draining the final drive while attempting a motor oil change.

There has been a few that failed (long time ago) due to some shaky seals which allowed loss of final drive oil into the automatic compartment. Same thing as the botched motor oil change scenario; just much slower.

Subaru also had a spell of manual transmission issues regarding gear gnash which was caused by poor synchronizer ring manufacturing.

All in all, the vast majority outlast the car. As VDCdriver correctly mentions; servicing the transmission every 30k miles will do wonders for longevity.

Funny about those synchros gnashing - I was working at a Honda dealer in the mid-70s when first Civics and Accords were flying out the door with the motto “We Keep it Simple.” The synchros were terrible and manual transmissions got rebuilt constantly. 20 years later a friend bought a new high trim level Accord with a 6 speed and guess what from the start you could hear gnashing on downshifts.

I used to have 2003 Outback with manual, this problem was present on 65K miles or so when I bough it.

I routinely used a nano-ceramic additive on my “new old cars” having this type of problem, and it made it substantially better until I sold that car at around 100K miles.

What I never liked in this and other (bought new!) Subarus with manual transmission is the excessive lash in the final drive, leading to the jerks when you are coasting and go from the slight acceleration to letting car just coast: it would be like somebody kicks the car in the back. I had that effect in both 2003 Outback and 2007 Impreza I bought new.

I bought a new 2018 Crosstrek to give my dually a rest driving 18 miles to work each day. It has 10k and has had the trans replaced twice!! Leaked antifreeze at first and now this. I told them I did not want that lemmon back. They said they would get with Subaru and promised to take care of me. Driving a loaded Outback for now. Maybe they will let me keep it. Not likely.

What do you mean? My 2018 crosstrek with <10k has only been replaced twice over the previous month. Prior to that it was a mysterious coolant leak. The first trans repair bill that would be charged back was $8,800. I do have a 1up bike rack and regularly carry two mountain bikes. Might be the issue.

If a Lemon Law action is going to be pursued, it must be initiated by the car’s owner, not by a dealership.

Unless those bikes are made of neutronium or have large sails attached to them, absolutely not.

If they were able to fix the problems (temporarily) and the car wasn’t in the shop for an inordinate amount of time (check your state laws for its definition), the lemon law probably won’t apply. I’m guessing the dealer is trying to get some sort of goodwill relief for you from Subaru.

My 2014 Forester’s CVT ate itself after ~ 115,000 miles. The dealer suggested we call Subaru corporate, and they “generously” offered $3,000 off the TEN THOUSAND DOLLAR price tag of a factory replacement transmission.

I found a local mechanic who sourced a transmission from a wrecked 2014 Forester, and that all cost just under $3,000. I was feeling pretty smug until that replacement transmission digested itself after just a couple of hundred miles.

We will be avoiding Subaru from now on.

You went from one extreme (very high priced dealer transmission) to the other (very low priced used tranny from junkyard). The third and probably the BEST option would have been to either get a remanufactured tranny or have yours rebuilt.


My understanding (from brief research) is there is no “rebuilding” of these; apparently when they go, they chew up so much of themselves that there isn’t enough left to salvage. I also suspect the “factory” units are, in fact, pieced together from used transmissions (i.e., huge labor component in that outrageous price).

Ironically, the salvaged transmission was from a 2014 Forester with only 6,000 miles. The good news is that it came with a warranty, and the parts company’s insurance guy was out to the mechanic’s lot today to “see for himself” that the transmission broke. We will probably end up paying ~$850 (again) for the labor to install the replacement–then promptly trade in this lemon for anything-but-a-Subaru.

About my “Anything but a Subaru” comment

I get that cars don’t last forever, but Subaru has handled this whole situation very poorly. Instead of extending the warranty (largely a PR move, as others have noted), they should have issued a voluntary recall. Let’s just pretend that the cost of that is a few billion (likely much less, but I’m being generous). I wonder how many lives that would have saved? We were in a 70 mph zone on the interstate when our transmission ate itself the other day. We were able to limp over to the shoulder, but has everyone been this lucky?

I truly hope nobody has been injured by these catastrophic CVT failures. Assuming that, my takeaway is that Subaru could have done right by their customers, and the return on that investment would have been many-fold. They are losing my business not because of their engineering flaws, but because they have lost their way ethically, demonstrating clearly that we should not trust them.

My family’s lives were saved 15+ years ago in a Subaru (just like in those commercials Subaru used to run). We were inspired to buy my Forester because of that.

My family’s lives were endangered by our CVT failing catastrophically at highway speeds–from an engineering flaw publicly acknowledged, but not corrected, by Subaru. That’s it. They are done.

Hope you don’t mind walking. I don’t really think there is such a thing as an “ethical dealer”. But I do wish you the best of luck on your quest to find one.

Most dealers do not want to rebuild a transmission of any kind. They want to just replace. CVT’s can be rebuilt…even Subaru’s.

I know a couple local transmission shops that rebuild them.

1 Like

Exactly what happened to your transmission? Did it completely stop working? Make a lot of noise?

that’s interesting to see what’s inside

although it is [supposedly] produced by the same JATCO as Nissan’s, it has a “real chain” inside, not a “rubbery-segmenty-belt” Nissans have, looks more like Ford’s CVTs

Although JATCO builds virtually all of the automatic transmissions installed in Japanese cars, JATCO builds to the specifications of each auto manufacturer, hence differences from one manufacturer to another.

You wrote “only way they will replace your tranny, after this 1st change out, is if they smell burnt fluid.”

Well … easy enough: Just put a little fluid in a can, heat it up on the kitchen stovetop and judiciously introduce it in and/or at a seal in the tranny. :wink:

A bit off topic… and a bit of a newbie question:
There’s no dipstick for the tranny fluid. How the heck do I check it ?
(the dealer who sold me my Forester said the reason it has no dipstick is Subaru neither requires checking the level or nor expects it to need fluid in the life of the car. That could be BS.)

Similarly (this undoubtedly is in the manual out in the car) how does one add tranny fluid , and how often does Subaru say it should be changed?

I had a similar reaction to Lee_T. Rather than thinking “oh how nice that Subaru is going the extra mile to be nice to their customers” I thought “Shit! That means they’ve got serious reliability problems with the CVT and after 100K or 10 years I’m shit up the creek for $7000 to $9500 if mine fails!”

I expect a new modern automatic tranny given routine care and driven with TLC (as I do) to be good for typically 150 to 200+ thousand miles.

Since I’m retired and put on only 5000 miles per year I’m not so much personally worried about the 100,000 miles expiring on me, as the 10 years.
Mine is a 2015, so I have only 6 years left on coverage, so if mine were to fail even at only 50,000 miles it sound like Subaru would leave me swinging in the breeze. This is not a nice feeling and erodes my respect for Subaru.
What I well may end up doing is just before, or just after, mine comes out of its 10 year coverage (assuming the tranny doesn’t die before then) sell it and get something that doesn’t have this cloud of uncertainty and hi-dollar risk over it.

1 Like