Subaru has an impressive track record for quality automobiles. They've been producing vehicles since 1953 and they've definitely carved out a niche for themselves as a favorite for a certain segment of drivers. Their boxer style engines are actually preferred by a number of drivers. As reliable as many Subaru models have been over the years, and Subaru is typically known for producing some quality automobiles at reasonable prices, there have definitely been some issues with Subaru’s engines. Some Subarus have had serious issues with their head gaskets, and Subaru has also had to recall a number of models because of engine problems. Let's take a look at which Subarus have been subject to some serious concerns, and which ones you should definitely avoid if you're in the market for a new vehicle.
Subaru Head Gasket Problems
Despite Subaru’s track record for reliable vehicles, their 2.5 L engine has become almost infamous in the automobile industry for having problems. Specifically, these engines have been susceptible to leaking head gaskets and it was such an ongoing issue that it almost became a joke amongst mechanics. The issue cropped up in the 1990s and simply wouldn't go away. Generally speaking, when an automaker becomes aware of a problem, especially one in the engine, it might last for a few model years until they get the problem worked out. For whatever reason, Subaru is just not able to overcome this issue and kept it going for far longer than it should have.
Repairing the head gasket in your engine is not a cheap job by any means. You're looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200 to get this fixed. When it became as notorious as this issue did for various Subaru models featuring the 2.5 litre engine, that was a clear-cut problem.
Head gasket issues were present in Subaru models, in particular the Subaru Impreza from 1999 until 2011, the Subaru Legacy From 2000 until 2009, the Subaru Outback from 2002 to 2011, and the Subaru Baja from 2003 until 2005. Subaru Foresters made between 1999 and 2010 also suffered this issue.
Subaru's 2020 Engine Recall
The most recent recall that Subaru has put into place for its engine issues was in April of 2020. 188,000 vehicles were recalled over risk of the engine stalling. This covered the 2019 Subaru Ascent, the Subaru Impreza, the Subaru Legacy, and the Subaru Outback. the problem related to a faulty fuel-pump.
At the time, Subaru said they were unaware of any crashes or injuries that were related to the issue, and they were trying to get ahead of it before something worse happened. The problem did bring with it the increased risk of a crash if it happened while you were driving, and if it occurred while the vehicle was parked it could render it unable to start.
Subaru's First 2019 Engine Recall
In October of 2019 the Subaru recalled over 400,000 vehicles in the US. The recall was to fix problems with the engine computer and a problem with debris that could fall into the motor. The first recall the issue was for 466,000 Impreza is made from the year 2017 through 2019 as well as cross tracks from 2018 and 2019.
According to the recall, the engine computer has the potential to keep powering the ignition coil even after the motor was shut off. That could lead to a short circuit and blown fuses. The fix that they proposed was for dealers to update the software and replace both the coils and front exhaust pipes if it was necessary.
There was an additional recall that covered 205,000 Subaru Imprezas that were made from 2017 through the 2019 model year as well as 2018 Subaru Crosstrek. In this case the aluminum positive crankcase ventilation valve had the potential to simply fall apart. If that happened every could enter the engine and lead to serious damage including power locks. For this fix, dealers were advised to replace the valves if it was necessary and if the valve had already broken and the parts had vanished somewhere inside, then the entire engine was to be replaced.
This obviously presented a serious safety risk. If the engine were to lose power while you were driving on the highway for instance, then the risk of a crash would be severe.
Subaru’s Second 2019 Engine Recall
Just under two months after Subaru’s first recall, Subaru issued a second recall that affected Subaru Foresters and Subaru Crosstreks. Over 760,000 Vehicles worldwide were subject to this recall. It effective 2013 to 2018 Foresters as well as Crosstreks made in the same year range. They were recalled due to faulty rear suspension and also engine valves that had the potential to fail.
The valves had a durability issue that could lead to engine stalling. By the time of the recall there were already 375 cases reported related to either this is pension or engine defects.
Subaru's 2018 Engine Recall
In 2018 Subaru recalled a number of Foresters, Crosstreks, Imprezas, and BRZ Sports Coupes that were designed from 2008 until 2013. These vehicles all suffered a flaw in the design of valve springs in their 2.0 litre boxer engines. This particular recall affected vehicles in Canada, Australia, Europe, and parts of Asia. It did not affect American vehicles, but the precedent has definitely been set that Subaru has had some serious concerns with their engines.
Subaru Engine Class Action Lawsuit
In 2019 a class action lawsuit was filed against both Toyota and Subaru for issues with catastrophic engine failure stemming from the valve spring recall. According to the lawsuit, the fix that Subaru offered for the valve spring in order to prevent the engine failure actually ended up causing more problems than the initial valve spring failure did. It was even claimed that the risk of engine failure increased after the fix and in some cases led to cars catching on fire. It was said that this also affected 2013 Subaru Crosstrek models as well as Subaru Imprezas from 2012 through 2014.
This relates to the 2018 recall we mentioned that covered 400,000 vehicles related to a valve spring failure.
Despite being one of the most popular models that Subaru produces, the Forester has also had some serious engine problems over the years. The 2011 Subaru Forester was plagued with issues of excessive oil consumption. Some drivers were having to replace a quart of oil every 1000 miles or so.
The 2015 Subaru Forester had excessive problems with the engine that also related to the excessive oil consumption problem as well as issues with unintended acceleration or the engine simply stalling out and dying while people were driving.
2014 was also problematic with engine issues again related to oil consumption and problems with the engine dying right in the middle of driving.
The 2013 Subaru Outback was the worst model year in terms of engine issues. Just like the Forester, the Outback suffered issues with the excessive oil consumption. Subaru exacerbated this problem for many drivers by essentially ignoring it and saying it was part of the normal operating procedure for the vehicle. According to Subaru it was well within parameters for this much oil to be consumed.
In addition to the 2013 model year, 2014 and 2006 were both more problematic than normal in terms of engine issues. Drivers reported not just excessive oil consumption issues but also hesitation while accelerating and unusual noises coming from their engine as well.
All things being equal, the Subaru Impreza didn't have a ton of issues with the engine compared to the Forester of the Outback, but they were still a couple of problematic model years. 2012 is arguably the worst year for the Subaru Impreza’s engine. As you may have guessed, the most common issue drivers reported was excessive oil consumption. There were also some problems with unintended acceleration for this model year.
Keeping in line with the recall we mentioned earlier, the 2008 Subaru Impreza mostly had issues with leaking head gaskets.
The Subaru Legacy was not overly encumbered by problems with the engine throughout its life. The most problematic year for the Subaru Legacy's engine was 2015. That's not to say there were a lot of issues reported, but there were some again related to the issue of excessive oil consumption. A burning smell and problems with the engine simply not starting we're also not uncommon complaints for the 2015 Subaru Legacy model year.
One of the bright spots in the Subaru lineup is their sporty BRZ Coupe. Although some were subject to the recalls we mentioned earlier, in general very few drivers have ever reported any problems with their BRZ engine. In fact, if you go to Carcomplaints.com you'll find that there have been no complaints lodged at all related to the engine of the Subaru BRZ. Something to keep in mind if you're looking for a sportier Subaru to park in your driveway.
The Subaru Crosstrek has been another relatively problem-free model for the Subaru lineup. It's also worth noting however that the Crosstrek is a technically new model in their lineup as it was previously known as the XV Crosstrek.
The 2013 XV Crosstrek did have some reported issues with the engine again mostly centered around the excessive oil usage issue that other Subarus have been known for. This ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 miles for most drivers having to add more oil. You can imagine how bothersome that would be over the course of a year if you had to continually add oil at that rate.
The Subaru Ascent is another extremely new vehicle in Subaru's lineup. As such, with only two model years under its belt, the Ascent has not racked up very many issues with his engine performance at all. In fact, CarComplaints has no complaints related to the Subaru Ascent on file at least as far as engine problems go. So that's something to consider.
The Bottom Line
It's become clear in recent years that Subaru has had some issues with quality control as far as their engines are concerned. The excessive oil consumption issue has popped up for so many Subaru models and has gone on for such a long period of time that it can't be considered the kind of problem that's a statistical anomaly or a rarity in the industry. There is a clear problem with some of the older Subaru models on the road.
In terms of newer models, Subaru has still had a few problems as we've seen with some of the recalls that it has issued. Models as late as 2019 had to be brought in for repairs due to issues with their engines. If it's not excessive oil consumption, it’s problems with failing valves.
For these reasons it's definitely worth making sure you know what you're getting into if you're interested in picking up a new or used Subaru. If it's one of the models that has been subject to a recall, then you definitely want to get it checked out by a trusted mechanic before you invest any of your money in it. As for you or models, there's no way to know for sure if it's going to be a problem until later so it's something of a calculated risk you might want to look at.
In general, Subaru does make a lot of great vehicles and they have proven themselves to be more than reliable for a lot of drivers. Many of these recalls have only been put in place because a very limited number of cars experienced problems and Subaru took an overly cautious approach to getting them fixed. That said, you can't deny the evidence that has been presented on CarComplaints of so many drivers experiencing long-standing issues.
Just make sure you're aware of all the problems before you agree to anything in terms of purchasing a new or used Subaru. There's always a chance any car could have problems with it, but when you know ahead of time the risks as you do with a Subaru, then that you may be able to help mitigate these problems in the long run.