Subaru has long been one of the sort of second-string automakers that people think of when they're looking for a new car. Obviously, everyone knows the big three automakers which are GM, Ford, and Chrysler. When it came to Japanese automakers, some of the bigger names were Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. But smaller manufacturers like Mazda and Subaru have more than proven their ability to make good quality vehicles that look great and perform well over the years. Still, Subaru has had some issues with a few other vehicles over the years, including some specific ones related to battery problems.
Subaru Battery Lawsuit
Despite its reputation for creating some affordable and reliable vehicles over the years, Subaru is not without its problems. In fact, in April of 2020, a lawsuit was filed alleging that the 2016 to 2020 Subaru Outback and the 2019-2020 Subaru Ascent SUVs were equipped with faulty batteries that simply could not hold a charge.
The class action lawsuit claims that these vehicles did not have the capacity to power the electrical components when the vehicles were no longer running. The original plaintiff in the lawsuit claims to have bought a 2017 Subaru Outback in the year 2016 and the battery ended up dying on her three different times in 2019.
According to the lawsuit there have been hundreds of other Subaru owners who have had similar problems with their battery dying repeatedly in the Subaru models. Some have had to have their battery jumped as much as six different times in a vehicle that was only made in 2018. The battery dying has occurred with very little provocation. Cars that have not been stored in freezing conditions, or with anything running. And in many cases, it was simply a matter of no one had been driving the car for a couple of days and then when they went back to it, it was simply not working any longer.
Part of the problem with this battery issue is that Subaru’s response has been not to acknowledge that there is a larger issue at play, instead they replace the dead batteries with new batteries and the problem continues. The lawsuit is requesting a recall to deal with the problem, rather than just Band-Aid fixes of new batteries which will again die down the road.
Given that there is a problem so significant it led to a class action lawsuit, you can imagine that battery issues have been prevalent across several model years of Subaru vehicles. Let's take a look at some of the most popular models that are on the road to see how they fare with these electrical problems.
As we mentioned, the Subaru Ascent is part of the class action lawsuit claiming battery problems. On CarComplaints.com, many drivers have listed leaving the tailgate open as a specific cause of the battery draining. There's no reason for that to happen, so you can see why it would be an issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has logged a number of complaints as well detailing battery issues with the Ascent. These typically happen at under 6,000 miles. As stated in the lawsuit, many of these drivers have the same story of a battery dying, and either replacing or jumping it and it dies again very soon thereafter.
The 2020 model year of the Subaru Ascent is apparently having the same issues even though the year isn't fully done Yet. The NHTSA has already logged several complaints dealing with the same problem.
The Subaru Forester has been in production since 1998 and is probably one of the most well-known and popular models. It's also had a number of issues over the years. The Forester was not included in the class action lawsuit relating to battery issues, but it has also had problems in the past.
The 2016 Subaru Forester has been cited by a number of drivers as having the same problems that these other Subaru vehicles have had. One complaint lodged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claimed that an owner had to deal with their battery dying over 10 times in the first two to three years of ownership. Every time they got the battery recharged, it would last only for a couple of months. After 3 years, Subaru was willing to replace the battery, but the same problem continued with the new battery.
2017 was even worse for the Subaru Forester in terms of battery problems. More drivers complained of these same problems including a weak battery, one that would not hold a charge, one that died frequently for apparently no reason.
The Subaru BRZ is essentially the same vehicle as the Toyota 86. This 2+2 sports car is actually a joint venture between the two manufacturers. It's sporty and performs well and, for the life of the vehicle so far, there has been just short of no complaints relating to battery problems whatsoever with this model. Overall, the Subaru BRZ is actually one of the most well-made models the company produces with not just a lack of battery problems, but a lack of almost any issues whatsoever. If you're in the market for a sports car, you could do a lot worse than a Subaru BRZ.
Subaru Crosstrek is a crossover SUV, and it has been fairly reliable in terms of how the battery performs during the entire lifespan of the vehicle. There have only been one or two cases across the entire run of this vehicle in which drivers have had issues with the battery losing a charge. It's not nearly on the scale as it has been with the Ascent and the Outback, so you could reliably say that there are not any significant issues with the Crosstrek battery.
There is also a Crosstrek Hybrid version that has been available since 2018. As you can imagine, this version of the vehicle would have more electrical problems than a straight gasoline version, but it's still fairly reliable overall. There have been complaints that the battery ceased to function in this hybrid version, but not with any significant numbers.
No vehicle in Subaru’s entire lineup has had more complaints logged on CarComplaints.com than the Subaru Outback. The vehicle has been in production since the mid-1990s, so it does have quite the legacy to live up to, but by the mid 2010s, in particular starting in 2014 and then very much in 2015, the Outback suffered a lot of issues.
The electrical issues in the 2014 Outback were not as prominent as engine issues, though there were people who claimed that the battery died prematurely in that year.
2015 had far more electrical issues overall than 2014 did. A number of drivers complained of having a dead battery or the engine simply not being able to turn over. There are also issues with batteries not being able to keep charge.
Electrical issues were the number one problem with the 2016 model year of the Subaru Outback, again reflective of the same issues that happened before with the car simply not starting and the battery draining or not being able to hold a charge.
The 2017 Outback also has some issues with battery not charging, but they are fewer overall. It seems like the 2017 Subaru Outback was a fairly decent model year.
2018 is where issues really started to pick up steam and this is also included in the class action lawsuit against Subaru. Electrical problems were by far the main issue is with the Outback for this year. Across-the-board, there are very few other issues with the Outback for this year so if the battery works then this is a fairly reliable vehicle. The problem is the battery is the biggest issue and many drivers have already reported it as a problem.
2019 has proven to also be problematic with the battery in the Subaru Outback, though not nearly as bad as other years.
The compact Subaru Impreza is one of the older vehicles in Subaru’s lineup, dating all the way back to 1993. For the most part, the older models of the Subaru Impreza are free of any issues relating to batteries. It seems clear that something may have happened to how Subaru was manufacturing their vehicles in the later years, 2016 onward for instance, as these are where most of the battery problems lie. There have been several complaints from Impreza owners of poor battery performance in the 2018 model and the 2019 model as well.
The complaints were generally limited however, they're not nearly at the level but led to the lawsuits relating to the Outback or the Ascent. In general, there are not a lot of electrical issues with the Subaru Impreza so if you're interested in a compact car from Subaru, the Impreza is not likely to give you many battery issues overall regardless of what year you're looking at.
The Subaru WRX is essentially just a high-performance version of the Subaru Impreza. There have been some complaints relating to electrical issues with the Subaru WRX dating back to its 2015 model year with intermittent starting problems. The 2016 model year also had a few drivers complaining that the battery was not able to hold a charge and it died well before it should have.
In general, there have been a few problems relating to batteries that have been linked to the Subaru WRX. If you're in the market for a performance vehicle, then you will probably have some good luck with a WRX. The major issues for this vehicle seem to be related to transmission, and those again are not extremely prevalent so it's not something you need to worry about too badly.
The Bottom Line
Subaru can trace its roots all the way back to the year 1915. Back then it was neither called Subaru, nor did it make actual cars. Originally, Subaru was known as an aircraft research laboratory that became Fuji Heavy Industries. Through numerous restructurings and reorganizations, the company was split apart again and again to meet various government regulations that Japan had put into place. By the early 1950s, Subaru was born. Their first car was called the Subaru 1500 and only 20 of them were made back in 1954.
Fast forward to the future and Subaru sold over 680,000 vehicles in the US in 2018. Clearly things have changed, and Subaru has proven to be a very popular automaker. Their unique boxer style engines have made them popular with a subset of drivers, and the fact that their vehicles tend to be very affordable and many have exceptional off-road capability makes them a standout in the industry.
For all the popularity of Subaru aside, they definitely have had their fair share of problems. As we've seen, as it relates to that class action lawsuit, your big warning signs related to Subaru and their battery issues are for the Outback and the Ascent. There are a number of other Subaru models that are more reliable and also fairly similar as well. The Crosstrek, for instance, is an SUV that is proving to be very reliable and generally avoids most of the battery issues that have afflicted these other models.
Likewise, vehicles such as the BRZ, the Impreza, and the WRX have also been relatively problem-free when it comes to battery issues over the life of the vehicle. It's clearly a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to Subaru and how their batteries work. For whatever reason, the Outback and the Ascent have just had electrical issues in recent years, so it's probably in your best interest to not gamble on those models. While a lot of drivers have had no problems with him whatsoever, a lot of drivers have. There seems to be no way to predict which ones are going to have functioning batteries and electrical systems and which ones aren't.
If you're in the market for a new Subaru vehicle, there are still plenty of models that have excellent track records across the board so there's no reason to take a risk on a vehicle that could end up causing you repeated problems like the Outback and the Ascent have.