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How reliable is a Subaru Outback?
Nicholas Hinrichsen - Published: December 1, 2023
There is much more that impacts the cost of car ownership than just the sticker price or MSRP. When buying a car most people have an easy means to find the MPG or fuel economy, fuel costs, registration fees, and insurance premiums as part of their average car annual costs - how do you know how to find maintenance costs?
Most people know that certain brands have good cars that are reliable (Honda) and others are very unreliable (Land Rover). While these associations are often grounded in fact - there’s far more data we can use to determine which Hondas (e.g. the Honda Civic vs. Ridgeline) are reliable and which Land Rovers (e.g. the Evoque vs. Range Rover Sport) are unreliable.
How reliable is a Subaru Outback and what are the expected maintenance costs?
To look into your specific vehicle’s maintenance costs we’ve developed some aggregated data from RepairPal, Warranty companies, and long-term quality studies to determine both maintenance costs and the overall reliability of a Subaru Outback and compared its results across other makes and models. In this article we’ll examine:
How reliable overall is a Subaru Outback?
What is the overall maintenance cost of a Subaru Outback?
How frequently does a Subaru Outback require maintenance?
How likely is the Subaru Outback to have a severe repair issue?
What are different factors that impact maintenance cost?
How reliable is Subaru Outback over the long term and in the real world?
Some vehicles may appear to be a smart purchase due to low down payments and purchase prices, however you should do some research on exactly how much the car will cost you throughout each year. This article writes about the details of the true cost of maintenance of a Subaru Outback in order to answer these above questions to save you time and money.
Overall Reliability Ratings: Is The Subaru Outback Reliable?
Overall the Subaru Outback reliability is 53.3 and that makes it not very reliable. The chart below illustrates exactly how this ranks compared to some other cars, but the average overall rating is 57 as some comparison.
This data is based on a mix of examining the cost and frequency of maintenance, the warranty coverage, and by looking at long-term reliability by looking at how long these vehicles are typically kept on road. Keep in mind this comparison is amongst all cars, not just compact or subcompact cars in the same class as the Subaru Outback.
You might notice these figures differ substantially than those you might find in J.D. Power or Consumer Reports. Most publications look at reported issues in the first months of ownership to the dealership (such as JD Power), or ask for owners biased reviews over longer term cycles of their new vehicles. This study instead looks at real world repair costs and frequencies from repair shops and wholesale auction data.
Annual Maintenance Cost of a Subaru Outback
Overall - the Subaru Outback has yearly car maintenance costs total to $607 . The table below shows a complete ranking of how various cars rank in this overall system as some comparison. Given that the Subaru Outback has an average of $607 and that the average vehicle costs $651 annual --- the Outback is substantially cheaper to maintain.
How Frequently Does a Subaru Outback require maintenance?
To examine the frequency of major maintenance we examined how many times the vehicle needed major unscheduled maintenance over a 3 year span. This “major” maintenance item is an expensive system breakage (generally a part or a component with pricing over $1,000) that requires repair.
It should be noted that while we examine this data on a make model basis, driving habits, condition, and mileage obviously impact results. Each vehicle requires maintenance at different frequencies. Older vehicles may need more frequent services, while new cars can go longer without as much attention.
You can tell how long a vehicle can go without maintenance services by its frequency score. A frequency score tells us how many times per 3 year span a specific vehicle requires major maintenance. The score is presented over a 3 year span - so for example, if a car has a maintenance frequency score of 3, then this car requires major services every year. The closer the frequency score is to 0, the longer amount of time it can go without major maintenance services.
A Subaru Outback has a frequency score of 1.1099999999999999. This compares to an industrial average of 1.3, so on that implies the Subaru Outback is substantially better than average. The chart below gives a breakdown of all makes/models.
It’s worth pointing out that there are lots of reliable vehicles that may also require frequent, but affordable maintenance. Many domestic brands for example require higher maintenance visits, but at a cheaper overall cost (since labor and parts expense are typically cheaper for domestic brands). This doesn’t mean the car breaks less often, but does indicate that when the vehicle has issues its very easy to fix - which is arguably even more important.
Severity of Repair and how it impacts overall reliability for the Subaru Outback
Some repairs can be outliers as they cost way more than the average repair cost. To identify these “big deal” repairs where an engine, transmission, or major component needs replacing, RepairPal uses a severity score for their consumer reports and reliability rating.
You can use a vehicle’s severity score to determine how likely that specific make and model will have a major issue. Severity scores are given as percents, with a score closer to 100% showing the vehicle is very likely to need major repairs.
These scores are especially important for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), who enforces the safety standards to reduce vehicle-related accidents; vehicles in need of repair are a hazard to the driver and everyone else.
Specifically for the Subaru Outback, this vehicle has a severity score of 12%% compared to an average of 12% for all vehicle models.
Please note - severity score is a very good indicator of whether or not you might want to purchase an extended warranty. Extended warranties don’t make economic sense most of the time, but they do help avoid high-cost catastrophic events.
Long term reliability and the “Keep on Road” score of the Subaru Outback.
Although reliability encompasses many things, there is a score from Dashlight that seeks to give a good overall impression of an owners ability to “keep on the road”. This study looks at trade-in vehicles both in terms of overall mileage, and the number of reported “red light” issues for those trade-in and auction vehicles.
A red-light issue is when there are major engine, transmission, or other powertrain issues that require substantial repairs. This index is good for a couple reasons shown in the 2 x 2 chart below:
Cost / Frequency to Repair
Low frequency of issues, and when they do occur they will likely be remedied so few cars will be traded in with issues
Although repairs are low in frequency, because they are very high cost its likely many trade-in cars will show these major issues
Although repairs are frequent, the low cost of repairs means few cars are traded in with issues
Highly likely cars will be traded in with a high frequency of major issues
So in essence this is a good estimate of how expensive it is to keep a car on the road reliably vs. getting a newer car. It's also a good metric to balance out the superior reliability of some brands (e.g. Lexus) with the cheaper cost to repair some domestic brands (e.g. Ford).
Overall the Subaru Outback has a long term quality rating of 36.6 compared to an average of 43 across Makes and Models we examined. Please note this is not compared amongst cars from the same bodystyle (e.g. hatchback) or class (e.g. subcompact) or size (e.g. small cars) but amongst all cars.
Factors That Impact Maintenance Cost
There are a number of things that impact the exact maintenance costs of your Subaru Outback. Generally these fit into a few main categories:
The region and driving conditions in which the car is used
The preventive maintenance the car receives
The exact trim levels, configuration, transmission, and options and packages on the vehicle
The region and driving conditions
Would you rather buy a delivery van from Boston or a one owner van from a Grandma in rural Southern California only driven to church? Usage has a lot to do with expected vehicle maintenance costs, and in general the harsher the driving conditions, the more maintenance required.
Warm temperate weather
Hwy cruising commutes
Smooth level roads
Extreme Heat or Cold
Stop and Go Traffic, short trips
Salted Roads (de-icing)
Pothole heavy hills
The Preventive and Routine Maintenance
Routine maintenance costs and requirements depend on your vehicle’s make and model. These routine maintenance costs will likely help you avoid the higher costs of unscheduled maintenance. Most of the time - you can explore your vehicle maintenance schedule located in the car owner’s manual in the glove compartment to find out which maintenance services your car requires and how often these services need to be done.
Thanks to modern computerization and mechanical improvements to the design of the engine, new vehicles require less upkeep than ever before. Nonetheless, as a general rule of thumb here’s some general maintenance expenses:
Basic maintenance factors include:
Oil Change: It is standard to change a vehicle’s engine oil every three months or between every 5,000 to 7,500 miles.
Tire rotation: Because a car’s front two tires bear most of the vehicle’s weight, a tire rotation is needed to spread this stress evenly on all tires. It is recommended to rotate your vehicle’s tires with every oil change.
It is recommended to get the following inspected each oil change
AAA auto insurance offers free multipoint inspections
Tire tread depth
In addition to these basic maintenance requirements, vehicles often require some wearable car part replacements that ultimately affect ride quality. As your car gets older in model years or if it is a used car, you might notice replacement costs starting to rise. For example, your Subaru Outback might also require replacements. Your average yearly cost of owning will also rise in effect to age. Also, more expensive cars are made of pricier parts, which can be more costly to replace. Replacement and car repair costs include but are not limited to:
Checks tires once a month for cracks or tears
You can also use the penny test to check the tread depth of your tires
The rubber in the blades is upgradeable over time
Recommended to be changed every 6 to 12 months
Stops dirt and debris from clouding your engine
Should be replaced every 20,000 to 60,000 miles
Brake pads: recommended to be changed every 30,000 to 50,000 miles
Engine transmission: check whether your reliable car has an automatic transmission or manual transmission (e.g. six-speed manual) or CVT (continuously variable transmission)
The exact trim levels, configuration, and options and packages on the vehicle
While we treated all [MAKE] [MODEL] the same in this article - sometimes maintenance costs vary quite highly depending on the exact trim level (e.g. LX, EX-L, EX on most Honda models), engine configured (e.g. the fuel efficient four-cylinder engine BMW is more reliable than the six cylinder turbo), standard features (e.g. airbags, sunroof, etc), as well as additional options (e.g. leather seats, heated steering wheel) and packages (e.g. technology package, utility package) the vehicle has (Toyota infotainment touchscreens in 2002-2004 were not highly reliable).
Although it's not a steadfast rule - the more moving parts, options and packages your vehicle has the more likely these items are to need repair. E.g. a vehicle equipped with Bluetooth, climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, touch screen infotainment system, and NHTSA/IIHS approved active safety features (blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning) has more items to break than a base-level Nissan Sentra with just a steering wheel and AM/FM radio. If you opt for the four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD), rather than front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive models this too is likely to cause additional complications.
In addition, for styling, trim levels for the higher horsepower sport models are more likely to be “pushing” the limits of their mechanical components than lower priced based models. The 2006-2010 BMW M5 as an example had notorious engine and transmission issues for a very advanced, highly complex V10 powertrain. The base model 5 series (more tuned for good epa gas mileage) was far more reliable.
Will having back seats increase your maintenance costs?
When deciding on the best car for you, it’s important to note the amount of legroom and overall cargo space available to you that will fit your lifestyle. Due to the technology and build of the larger vehicles now, maintenance costs to do not vary that much from SUVs to sedans. A sedan will usually have a lower CPM than most SUVs, mainly due to the higher cost of tires and brake repairs.
However, these prices do not deviate that much from one another to detract from the roomy vehicle with foldable rear seats you could have. If you’re a large family, a three-row car is definitely worth the maintenance costs, but if you’re short on a budget and don’t use your car much, only having a first row (Smart car) may work for you.
Refinance a Subaru Outback:
If you’re concerned about maintenance costs - there are other ways to save on your vehicle. WithClutch can also help you save time and money by refinancing your car loan.
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