Subaru is well-known for its all-wheel drive vehicles, and many outdoor enthusiasts are highly committed to the brand. The company also ranks very high in most safety ratings, and many people choose a Subaru vehicle for this reason. Subaru first introduced the CVT transmission back in 1989, and these transmissions are in millions of vehicles on the road.
The Subaru CVT transmission has a few advantages over traditional automatic transmissions, but the CVT also has a few problems. Subaru has stuck with the CVT for over 30 years, and it’s not likely to be going away any time soon. So, what are some of the common problems of the CVT? We will discuss the common issues in detail and give you some information on how much they cost to fix.
Common Subaru CVT Problems
So, just what kinds of problems might you experience with Subaru’s continuously variable transmission? Some issues are fairly minor, while others make it difficult to drive. Some CVT transmission problems might even put you in a dangerous situation on the road. Here are the most common issues that you might see with your Subaru CVT.
— Shaking & Shuddering
We will discuss in more detail how the CVT transmission works later in this article. However, you should know that the transmission uses chains and pulleys instead of traditional gear sets. Some manufacturers use belts; however, Subaru uses chains. Problems with the chains or pulleys can create a shaking or shuddering of the vehicle while driving. As the transmission operates, a wobbly pulley or damaged chain can cause the car to shake.
In some cases, the shaking may be worse under hard braking conditions. As the transmission attempts to slow down, the shuddering caused by a bad pulley will be more pronounced. Some drivers even reported the problem was so bad that their car would stall when coming to a hard stop. Of course, stalling means the loss of power braking and power steering, so this creates a dangerous combination. Some drivers also reported violent shaking when going uphill as well.
As mentioned in the previous section, some Subaru owners have reported problems with their CVT that result in stalling. One situation that can cause this is a hard stop. While most owners reported that a gradual stop did not cause their vehicles to stall, a hard stop resulted in their engine stalling. The stall caused the vehicle to lose power steering and power braking, so the drivers were put in a dangerous situation. To make matters worse, many drivers reported that their vehicle would not restart after the stall. They were left stranded and needed to get their car towed to the dealership to have the problem fixed.
In addition to stalling during a hard stop, others have reported stalls during normal driving. Even if the vehicle did not stall completely, many owners reported that their vehicle would not accelerate beyond a certain speed. The car will sometimes put itself into “limp home” mode to restrict power and speed to a certain level. As you can imagine, failure to accelerate beyond a slow speed is a major CVT issue that creates problems for drivers.
— Fluid Seepage
You probably already know that automatic transmissions require automatic transmission fluid to keep internal parts cool and lubricated. CVT transmissions are no different, but not just any automatic transmission fluid will do. CVTs require special CVT fluid to provide the proper lubrication. Unfortunately, fluid leakage is one of several transmission issues reported by Subaru owners. Some owners have reported seeing a reddish or pink puddle underneath their vehicle that turned out to be transmission fluid.
The cause of the fluid leaks appears to be bad seals, clamps, and sealants used in the transmission. In fact, two technical service bulletins (TSBs) have been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) related to the fluid leaks. In one case, the sealant used on the CVT’s oil pump chain cover was faulty. A faulty seal on the input shaft was the cause of the second TSB. While neither of these issues typically qualified the owners for a warranty extension, the TSBs are a sign that Subaru recognized the problem and notified their dealerships on how to fix it. When the repair is made, you will need to go ahead and perform a transmission fluid change as well.
— Warning Light
Some Subaru owners have reported a warning light before experiencing transmission failure. The warning light is often associated with one of the other problems on this list. Drivers will often see the transmission warning light illuminate while experiencing shuddering or shaking. Similarly, the warning light may come on as the vehicle stalls. An auto repair shop or your dealership can read the trouble codes associated with the light to get a better idea of what is causing the problem.
Ironically enough, the warning light does not always come on when there is a problem. For example, many drivers who reported transmission fluid leaks stated that they never received a warning light for the low fluid condition. You would expect that a warning light would alert you to the fact that the CVT fluid was getting low, but the light never came on in many of these cases.
— Knocking & Jerking
CVT transmissions are designed to be smoother than traditional automatic transmissions, but that is not always the case. Loud noises from your vehicle are never a good thing, and these transmissions can sometimes make a loud clunking or knocking sound. Many drivers have reported a loud clunk, followed by a strong jerking of the vehicle. While the cause of this issue is not always the same, it is often found to be a result of a broken belt or chain in the drivetrain of the transmission. Most owners reported serious transmission problems after the loud clunk or knocking sound, with many reporting total transmission failure.
Imagine pressing the accelerator, and your car does nothing. Unfortunately, that is what many Subaru owners have experienced with their CVT transmission. This problem appears to be quite common, and the issue ranges from a slight hesitation to the vehicle not moving at all. Some owners report that the vehicle hesitates after they press the gas pedal. The car will eventually move, but it does not respond immediately to the accelerator.
Others report that their vehicle has a much bigger hesitation. While some owners only experienced a slight hesitation, others reported that their vehicle would not move after pressing the accelerator. The hesitation can range from less than a second to several seconds. Again, this could create a very dangerous situation when driving in traffic.
What Is A CVT & How Does It Work?
You might be wondering how a CVT works and how it differs from a traditional automatic transmission. Think for a moment about a manual transmission. You choose manually between different gears to select the proper gear ratio for your speed and engine RPMs. You press the clutch pedal to disengage the transmission while you shift between gears. A traditional automatic transmission works much the same way, except the transmission makes the decision and performs the shifting on its own. Most automatic transmissions still have gear sets inside, and the transmission shifts between these gears as you drive.
On the other hand, a CVT has no gears inside. Instead, it uses two cone-shaped pulleys that are attached by either a belt or chain. These pulleys move, thus adjusting their width as you drive. The width of the pulley at any given time determines your current gear ratio, i.e., how much power gets to the wheels. Since these pulleys are constantly moving and changing, there is really an infinite number of gear ratios possible. For this reason, these transmissions are called “continuously variable.”
Several automakers, such as Nissan, Honda, and Kia, utilize a CVT in some of their vehicle models because these transmissions can provide several benefits. First, they provide a smoother ride and better fuel economy than a traditional automatic transmission. Next, the CVT is smaller and has fewer moving parts. This leads to weight reduction in the vehicle, and fewer moving parts should mean that the transmission will have fewer problems than other types of transmissions. While a CVT still includes a valve body to circulate fluid through the transmission, the CVT does not have clutches, gears, and bands like most automatic transmissions.
Subaru CVT Reliability
It might seem like the Subaru CVT is not reliable based on the problems mentioned in this article. However, when you take a look at the overall picture, that is not the case. The problems mentioned in this article mostly occur in Subaru models across an approximate five-year span — from 2010 to 2015. Subaru has made many improvements to its Lineartronic CVT in the past few years, including updated software and design improvements.
Subscribers of Consumer Reports likely know that the publication provides vehicle ratings and even looks specifically at transmission reliability. The most popular Subaru models scored a 4 out of 5 for transmission reliability. While you might read about Subaru transmission problems on some car forums, the new Subaru CVTs are quite reliable. If you purchase a new Outback, Crosstrek, Legacy, Forester, or Impreza, you can rest easy knowing that the transmission is not likely to have any major issues.
Subaru Models & Years Affected By CVT Problems
As we previously mentioned, most of the CVT problems have occurred in model years across an approximate five-year span. Most issues have been reported in models from 2010 to 2015. There have been far fewer issues reported in 2016 and newer models. Here are the models with the most problems reported.
- 2010 to 2015 – 2.5L Subaru Legacy
- 2010 to 2015 – 2.5L Subaru Outback
- 2015 – 3.6L Subaru Legacy
- 2015 – 3.6L Subaru Outback
- 2015 – 2.0L Turbo WRX
- 2012 to 2015 – 2.0L Subaru Impreza
- 2013 to 2015 – 2.0L Subaru Crosstrek
- 2014 to 2015 – 2.0L Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
- 2014 to 2015 – 2.5L Subaru Forester
- 2014 to 2015 – 2.5L Subaru Forester Turbo
Subaru recognized that there were significant problems with the CVT transmissions during these years. The problem was so bad that Subaru decided to offer owners an extended warranty on their vehicles to cover transmission problems. Subaru’s traditional powertrain factory warranty covers a vehicle for five years or 60,000 miles. However, the warranty extension now provides owners with ten years of coverage or 100,000 miles. The extended warranty applies to 2012 through 2017 year models, and it affects about 1.5 million Subaru vehicles.
Average Cost To Repair A Subaru CVT
You probably already know that transmission repair costs are not cheap. Automatic transmissions can cost thousands of dollars to repair, and the CVT is no different. Repairing a CVT problem is likely to cost you at least $1,000 — even for a minor problem. These transmissions are complex pieces of machinery, and they require expert mechanics to make the repairs. Repairs for minor problems can range anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. If you experience total transmission failure, the repair costs will be much higher.
If you have to replace the CVT in your Subaru, you can expect to pay anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 for the replacement. You should hope that your vehicle is covered by Subaru’s extended warranty! If not, you will be faced with an expensive repair bill to get your car back on the road.
The Bottom Line
Subaru has been using the CVT transmission in some of its vehicles for over 30 years. These transmissions have a completely different design than traditional automatic transmissions, and they can provide some great benefits. However, the Subaru CVT experienced big problems for a few years. Owners reported everything from fluid leaks to vehicle stalls. In most cases, the repairs were quite extensive, with many owners needing a complete replacement. If you have issues with your Subaru CVT, you might be covered by their extended warranty. However, if you’re not covered, you will probably be facing a big repair bill.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Subaru move away from CVT?
Subaru has been using the CVT in their vehicles for over 30 years, so it is not likely that they will move away from the CVT any time soon. The CVT provides several benefits over traditional automatic transmissions, such as reduced weight, fewer internal parts, and increased fuel economy. Although Subaru has had problems with their CVT for a few years, today’s CVT transmissions are very reliable. Given these reasons, they will likely continue using the CVT for many years.
How long do Subaru CVT transmissions last?
The Subaru CVT transmissions can last well over 100,000 miles when properly maintained. Some CVT transmissions have exceeded 200,000 miles without any problems as long as regular transmission fluid flushes are performed. However, if you own a 2012 to 2015 year model, you are more likely to experience problems. Some drivers in this year range reported total transmission failure in as few as 40,000 miles. Subaru has greatly improved the CVT in recent years, and the newer CVT transmissions are likely to last for quite some time without any issues.
What are the advantages of a Subaru CVT transmission?
The Subaru CVT transmission has several advantages. First, it provides a smoother ride than a traditional automatic transmission. Since the CVT does not shift gears, the ride quality is nearly impossible to beat. Instead, the CVT continuously varies the final gear ratio, and it does so very smoothly. The CVT also offers improved fuel economy and fewer internal parts. Since the CVT has fewer parts and is a smaller unit than a traditional transmission, it weighs less and uses less space in the vehicle.
What is the difference between a CVT and a regular transmission?
The biggest difference between a CVT and a regular automatic transmission is the fact that a CVT does not have gear sets. Instead of shifting between gears like a regular transmission, the CVT uses a combination of pulleys and belts or chains to continuously vary the final gear ratio based on speed and engine output. Most CVT transmissions do not use a torque converter either. Instead, they use a start clutch that transfers power from the engine to the transmission.