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Best & Worst Years of Subaru Outback – Graphs & Owner Surveys

The best years for a second-hand Subaru Outback come from 2021, 2016-2019, and 2014 model years. Unfortunately, these are outnumbered by the worst years of the Subaru Outback. Stay away from these Outback model years: 2001-2004, 2005-2009, 2010-2013, 2015, and 2020.

Subaru Outback standing in the middle of the Namib desert

Originally sold as the Subaru Legacy Outback in the 1990s, the Outback became a stand-alone nameplate with the launch of the second generation for the 2000 model year. The Outback helped turbocharge Subaru’s sales in the U.S. as car buyers shifted towards SUVs. And while many consider the Outback to be nothing more than a gussied-up station wagon, its increased ground clearance and rugged-looking exterior have helped drive more buyers to this Japanese brand. 

The demand for the Subaru Outback extends into the used car market, as not every shopper wants a new and bulky SUV. Subaru enjoys a good overall reputation for reliability, but the numbers tell a very different story when it comes to the Outback. 

Some model years are shining examples of dependability, while others are the exact opposite. We’ll do a deep dive into the data that separates the best and worst years of the Subaru Outback. You’ll also want to review this information if you’ve already got an Outback in the garage. 

Our analysis is based on Subaru Outbacks with an installed FIXD sensor, which produces the FIXD Reliability Score. In addition, a FIXD survey of Outback owners creates an Owner Reliability Score. These responses explore reliability perceptions, repair and maintenance costs, ownership experiences, and other key insights. 

We’ll then examine how the FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores for each Outback model year stack up against published data for safety testing, fuel economy, and resale values.   

You can catch a summary of the results in this chart, followed by more details. 

Best Years Why? Worst Years Why?

Perfect engine and owner reliability scores, few recalls, and no reports of expensive repairs

>> See 2021 Subaru Outback for sale


Low engine reliability ratings, high chances of costly engine repairs, and serious recall issues

>> See 2001-2004 Subaru Outback for sale


High engine and owner reliability ratings, exceptional safety scores, and low chance of pricey repairs

>> See 2016-2019 Subaru Outback for sale


First year of the third-generation (2005), many recalls, and strong risk of expensive engine repairs

>> See 2005-2009 Subaru Outback for sale


High owner reliability score, impressive safety testing, and zero reports of expensive powertrain repairs

>> See 2014 Subaru Outback for sale


First year of the fourth generation (2010), numerous reports of costly engine work, and high numbers of check engine lights

>> See 2010-2013 Subaru Outback for sale


First year of the sixth generation and elevated risk of expensive engine repairs

>> See 2020 Subaru Outback for sale


First year of the fifth generation and mediocre engine reliability scores

>> See 2015 Subaru Outback for sale

Subaru Outback Engine Reliability Score, Safety Ratings & MPG Year by Year

Rankings for the best and worst Subaru Outback model years are determined by a review of:

The specifics are explained below. 

If you’re in the market for a car, take a look at our article on the USA’s most reliable and cheapest to repair vehicles. Don’t get stuck with a lemon; use our data to help you shop.

Engine Reliability Score – Over The Years

Subaru Outback Reliability Score

The graph reveals two indexes we use to assess engine reliability.

  • FIXD Reliability Score (green): This rating results from the number of check engine lights detected in Subaru Outbacks with an installed FIXD sensor.
  • Owner Reliability Score (gray): This ranking calculates how suitable Outback owners believe their cars can handle trips of different lengths. An Outback that can only make a quick point A to point B trip receives the lowest rating. Meanwhile, Outbacks that are ready for long-distance travel receive the highest score. 

Both scores use a 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) scale; 5 is average.

The two rankings seldom match. The FIXD Reliability Score reflects the frequency of check engine lights, a hard number easily measured. On the other hand, the Owner Reliability Score is subjective and ranks individual beliefs about reliability. And people tend to be loyal to their cars. In other words, they’ll rate their vehicles higher than the data might otherwise prove. Those with older cars usually understand that check engine lights are a fact of life. 

So while the two indexes may not align, we look for similar patterns. That’s something particularly noticeable, starting with the 2011 and later Outbacks. You’ll see comparable peaks and valleys. For example, some earlier model years (2004-2005) also show parallels. This is a version to usually avoid if both ratings are low for a specific model year.  

Upward trends are also observed for a possible best-year recommendation. However, high incidences of engine or transmission repairs almost always overwrite the FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores, no matter how good they are. Many serious recalls or terrible safety testing have the same effect. 

Review the Subaru Check Engine Light article to find out the most common causes of check engine lights in Outbacks and other popular Subarus. 

NHTSA Safety Score – Over The Years

Subaru Outback NHTSA Safety Rating

Subaru touts safety in its marketing, and NHTSA testing backs this up. The Outback averages an impressive 4.7 (out of 5) among all the years we surveyed (2002-2021)there’s insufficient data for the 2001 model year), the green line. In addition, this Subaru consistently outperforms all other vehicles that NHTSA assesses (gray line). 

The dip in scores for the 2011-2012 model years resulted from a change in NHTSA’s testing procedures. However, the Outback and other vehicles bounced back after a couple of years. And at no point did the Outback drop below the 4.2 from 2011. It’s unusual to see such strong ratings from the early years of the 21st century, yet the Subaru Outback delivers.

Safety sells when it comes to family haulers, and Subaru recognized this early on—arguably, carving out this niche along with Volvo. 

Among all survey respondents, 41% drive their Outbacks for family transportation duty, and another 27% rely on their cars for “lots of driving” (traveling and commuting). 

Safety also plays a role in keeping insurance costs low, something to remember while car shopping. 

If you live in one of the states listed below, we can show you the cheapest vehicles to insure in yours.

What Used Cars Are the Cheapest To Insure In:
North Carolina
New York

MPG – Over The Years

Subaru Outback Average MPG

The Outback won’t win any blue ribbons for fuel economy, but an average of 23.4 MPG (2005-2021, there’s insufficient data for the 2001-2004 model years) isn’t terrible for a vehicle of this size and bulk (all-wheel drive adds weight). In fairness, Subaru offered an optional and less efficient six-cylinder engine in the Outback for many years, reflected in the average.

Because most other automakers gave up on wagons years ago, there isn’t a spot-on competitor to the Subaru Outback. However, it’s frequently cross-shopped against compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V

A comparison among all three vehicles shows that the Outback lags in fuel economy, even in more recent years. So, if squeezing every mile out of a gallon of gas is a priority, then the Outback isn’t the best option.

  Subaru Outback Toyota RAV4 Honda CR-V
2006 21 MPG 22 MPG 27 MPG
2012 22 MPG 23 MPG 30 MPG
2019 25 MPG 29 MPG 32 MPG

Current Market Value of All Subaru Outback Years & Cost Per Year to Repair and Maintain Each

Subaru Outback Market Value Vs Cost of Repairs

High costs for upkeep and repairs hurt a car’s resale value. And the data doesn’t appear to show this is an issue for the Subaru Outback. 

For the most part, the KBB market value (green line) steadily increases with each most recent year, as it should. Similarly, the average annual outlay for Outback repairs and maintenance (gray line) should be somewhat even across the years. Which it is, for the most part. 

The one exception is the 2012 model year. KBB valuation dips, coinciding with a spike in average yearly upkeep costs of $1,150 (the third-most expensive Outback to own). The 2003 and 2004 model years are the costliest for repairs and maintenance, $1,167 and $1,333, respectively. Curiously, the resale value for these editions doesn’t appear to be impacted by the high repair costs. 

Among all surveyed Outbacks, owners spent an average of $706 in 2022 to keep their cars on the road. This amount is higher than a $573 average for mid-sized SUVs and $652 for all vehicle models, according to RepairPal. In the best and worst years analysis, we’ll expand on Outback maintenance costs. 

When shopping for a used Subaru Outback, it’s important to keep in mind that not all vehicles are cared for equally. To protect yourself from lemons, take along a FIXD Sensor on your test drive. FIXD connects to a free app on your smartphone to tell you more about the vehicle you’re checking out, including check engine lights and other hidden issues that the owner or dealership may be attempting to hide. Click here to learn more and get FIXD for only $19.99 (regular price $59).

Important Features Timeline

2001: A more powerful six-cylinder engine is added, including for the L.L. Bean edition

2002: More trims are available with the six-cylinder engine

2003: The Outback gets a refreshed front end; all trims have a CD player

2004: A 35th anniversary Outback H6-3.0 wagon is available

2005: First year of the third-generation Outback

2006: Navigation is an available option

2007: A starter 2.5i Basic wagon joins the lineup; all trims get an MP3 input jack

2008: The Outback sedan is dropped; all versions get minor exterior updates

2009: All trims get stability control; the L.L. Bean edition is dropped

2010: The debut of the fourth-generation Outback

2011: A rearview camera is optional; the top trim gets satellite radio

2012: The Premium trim gets an iPod connector and Bluetooth phone interface

2013: Adaptive cruise control and an advanced safety system are available

2014: Heated front seats are standard on the 2.5i Premium editions

2015: The all-new fifth-generation Outback is launched

2016: No major changes; options include app connectivity

2017: The Touring trim is added to the lineup; optional driver aids include rear automatic braking and automatic high beams

2018: The exterior and center console are refreshed; Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is added

2019: EyeSight driver aids are standard on all Outbacks

2020: The redesigned sixth-generation Outback rolled out

2021: Steering-responsive LED headlights are standard on all trims

Best Years of the Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback all-wheel drive on the mountain roads.

FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores, NHTSA safety testing and recall information, and EPA fuel economy data help determine the best years of the Subaru Outback. The most common diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) are also in the mix.

2021 Subaru Outback

FIXD Reliability Score: 10/10

Owner Reliability Score: 10/10

KBB Value: $25,297

Fuel Economy: 28 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $313

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.7/5

The sixth-generation Outback shares little with its earliest predecessors besides a name and similar layout. Today’s Outback is a refined machine bristling with the latest technology. So, it’s unsurprising to find the 2021 model year on our list of the best Outback examples. However, 2020, the first year of the sixth generation, doesn’t make the cut, which is explained later.

A perfect rating (10 out of 10) for the FIXD Reliability Score and the Owner Reliability Score is just one reason the 2021 Outback is a winner. Meager maintenance costs are another. 

Surveyed owners report spending an average of only $313 in 2022 to keep their 2021 Outbacks on the road. Admittedly, expensive wear-and-tear work involving the tires and brake pads has kicked in yet, but isn’t that the point of buying a newer car?

Further, there are no reports of expensive ($500+) engine or transmission repairs for the 2021 Subaru Outback. That may not seem likely with such a new vehicle, but it’s the main reason why the 2020 Outback sits on the worst years list. 

A 4.7 (out of 5) in NHTSA safety testing is another reason to praise the 2021 Outback. If this Subaru has any shortfalls, it’s not performing well with fuel economy. As discussed, competing crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V need fewer stops at the gas pump. The 2021 Outback’s 28 MPG is acceptable but not stellar. 

A review of the FIXD sensor data shows only a handful of DTC error codes and none pointing to a pattern or particular trouble area. This could change, but for now, the 2021 Outback gets a clean bill of health regarding check engine lights.

As of this writing, there are only two recalls for the 2021 Outback, and each involves only a few hundred units, indicating isolated problems. It’s always a good idea to check for recalls via the NHTSA website before buying any vehicle. 

The 2021 Outback’s KBB market value average ($25,297) reflects private-party transactions; retail pricing may be higher.  Second-hand 2021 Outbacks sell for $25,000 to $36,000 at dealers. High-mileage examples may cost less, and prices may vary depending on how in-demand all-wheel drive is in a particular market. 

A Note About The 2022-2023 Subaru Outback: The newest Outbacks may deserve a place on our best years list. However, there isn’t sufficient information about repairs, maintenance, and other ownership experiences. Until these details are available, we’ll hold off on deciding a verdict for the 2022-2023 Outback.

2016-2019 Subaru Outback

FIXD Reliability Score: 8-9/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9-10/10

KBB Value: $13,262-$21,550

Fuel Economy: 25 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $333-$825

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 92%-100%

Safety Rating: 4.8/5

For the most part, the fifth-generation Outback is a solid entry on our best year list. The first year (2015) gets a thumbs down (covered later). Otherwise, the 2016-2019 model years are great choices for used Outbacks.

There’s a lot of confidence in FIXD Reliability Scores of 8 or 9. And owners thought even higher, giving this group of Outbacks a 9 or 10 for an Owner Reliability Score. Another reason to like the 2016-2019 Outbacks is lower annual upkeep costs. Across these four years, owners spent an average of $496 to keep their Subarus in running condition. That’s well below the $706 average for all 21st-century Outbacks. 

Surveys show that those with a 2018 Outback spent $825 last year, but a dive into the data shows some of this expense involves brake repairs for some owners. It’s inevitable for every car and doesn’t indicate reliability issues.

We should mention that because these Outbacks aren’t new, the occasional powertrain repair can arise. Less than 8% of surveyed 2017 Outback owners had to spend at least $500 on engine work, and a similar number of those with a 2018 edition needed costly transmission servicing. Ideally, this shouldn’t happen with newer vehicles, but no car is perfect. If anything, these repairs serve as a reminder to always have a used car inspected by a mechanic before buying. 

While the 2016-2019 editions don’t have an overwhelming number of error codes, there are a few check engine light causes to be aware of. 

At the top of the list is code P0455, a leak in the evaporative emission control (EVAP) system. The good news is that the fix usually involves tightening the gas cap. If that remedy doesn’t take care of things, you’ll need to move to other solutions, like a new gas gap ($20-$60) or EVAP line ($50-$100). Sometimes, replacing a valve ($150-$200) or the EVAP charcoal canister ($200-$600) is required.

Owners may also have to deal with P0420, a bad catalytic converter. In truth, this shouldn’t be an issue with vehicles less than a decade old, but the FIXD app data says differently. At its simplest, the problem only needs an exhaust system leak sealed ($100-$200) or a new oxygen sensor ($275-$500). Replacing the catalytic converter runs $400 to $2,400. Be sure that any pre-purchase inspection includes a pressure test of the catalytic converter. 

This group of Outbacks is also prone to code P2004; the intake manifold runner control (IMRC) for bank #1 of the engine is stuck open. This issue can affect performance and is potentially serious and should be looked at immediately. Diagnostic work runs from $75 to $150 per hour. Repairs could require a new IMRC actuator or fixing the intake manifold or associated wiring. 

Recalls are part of modern car ownership, but at least they’re not overwhelming for these Outbacks. The 2016 and 2017 model years have four recalls each, while the 2018 and 2019 editions have three.

It’s also worth mentioning that with an average NHTSA safety score of 4.8, the 2016-2019 model years are among the best-performing Outbacks in government crash tests. 

Dealer pricing for 2016-2019 Outbacks varies from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on year, condition, mileage, and equipment. And careful shopping may yield better deals. These Subarus are the sweet spot among used Outbacks. You can get a well-equipped model that’s relatively new for far below $20,000, which is reasonable given the volatile used car market. 

2014 Subaru Outback

FIXD Reliability Score: 5/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9/10

KBB Value: $12,001

Fuel Economy: 23 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $607

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.8/5

If the budget is tight, your best hope for a used Subaru Outback rests with the 2014 model year. But you’ll still need to cough up $15,000 to $18,000 for one, not on its last legs. Sadly, all older Outbacks don’t pass muster and are covered below in the worst years section.

However, let’s get back to why the 2014 Outback is a worthy consideration. A FIXD Reliability Score of 5 doesn’t seem encouraging, but an Owner Reliability Score of 9 certainly is. However, we have to look beyond these measurements to see why this Subaru shines.

Mainly, this involves no reports of costly drivetrain repairs last year. That’s especially notable for a decade-old vehicle. In addition, the typical owner spent $607 to keep their 2014 Outback running. That’s about $100 below the average for all surveyed Outbacks. Brakes are the only frequently cited repair.

At the same time, check engine light incidents are modest. The most frequent code is for P0420, a faulty catalytic converter. 

Yet, there are some occurrences of P0700, malfunctioning transmission control module (TCM). This has the potential to be severe, so owners should address this issue right away. With luck, the correction only requires topping off the transmission fluid ($50-$200). However, expect to pay up to $500 if there’s a bad wiring harness or $750 to $808 to swap out the TCM.

Don’t be overly disturbed by the ten recalls issued for the 2014 Outback; most of these notices revolve around the infamous Takata airbag issue. 

Meanwhile, an NHTSA safety score of 4.8 continues the Outback’s tradition of strong performance in government crash tests. 

The Worst Years of the Subaru Outback 

Blue Subaru Outback car moving on the street.

Subaru fans will be disappointed to learn that more the 70% of the Outback model years we’ve analyzed aren’t worth buying. Low engine reliability scores and high repair costs are just some reasons to focus shopping efforts elsewhere.

2001-2004 Subaru Outback

FIXD Reliability Score: 1-5/10

Owner Reliability Score: 5-7/10

KBB Value: $1,829-$2,900

Fuel Economy: N/A

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $250-$1,333

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 50%-75%

Safety Rating: 4.7/5

Mid-grade Owner Reliability Scores (5-7) may seem acceptable, but poor FIXD Reliability Scores often accompany them. That’s the case with the 2001-2004 Outback model years. The 2002-2003 editions rank 1 for engine reliability (the FIXD Reliability Score), and the 2004 Outback isn’t much better with a 2. 

But looking beyond the abundance of check engine lights is the jaw-dropping frequency of engine repairs. Almost one in four owners (23.4%) of these Outbacks spent at least $500 in 2022 on engine work. That’s unacceptably high.

Meanwhile, keeping the 2003-2004 model years on the road is costly. These owners spent $1,167 (2003) and $1,333 (2004) on upkeep, making them the most expensive to maintain. 

Recalls are also worrisome. The 2003 Outback has 15 recalls. After taking out the notices covering airbag issues, we still have seven recalls, including a fuel pump leak and defective cruise control. There are 11 recalls for the 2004 Outback (including eight for the airbags). 

At least recalls are lower for the earlier years: four for the 2001 edition and five for the 2002 Outback. One type of recall that applies to the 2001-2003 model years is particularly troubling; it covers subframe corrosion in the rear suspension area. 

Further, the 2001-2004 Outbacks have their share of trouble codes, including hundreds of incidents of P0420 (a malfunctioning catalytic converter). A frequent cause of check engine lights is code P0442, a problem with the EVAP system (repairs are similar to code P0455).

Owners of these Outbacks may also encounter code P0302, a warning about engine misfires. Often, new spark plugs ($66-$250) or spark plug wires ($180-$240) will solve the problem. But, there are a host of other remedies: fixing a vacuum leak ($100-$200), replacing fuel injectors ($1,500-$1,900), or installing a new fuel pump ($1,300-$1,700).  

The group of Outbacks also has a dubious reputation for defective head gaskets. It’s a problem well-known to mechanics and diehard Subaru fans. In fact, the issue continued through the 2009 model year. If you’re not worried about trouble codes and surveys citing engine troubles, a bad head gasket should be a cause for concern. On older Outbacks, such repairs cost more than the car is worth. 

2005-2009 Subaru Outback

2005  Grey estate car Subaru Legacy Outback in a city street.

FIXD Reliability Score: 1-5/10

Owner Reliability Score: 8-9/10

KBB Value: $3,538-$4,985

Fuel Economy: 20-21 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $361-$1,063

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 33%-100%

Safety Rating: 4.8-5/5

Unfortunately, every model year among the third-generation Outback is problematic. 

We’ll start with the 2005 edition. Not only does it have a FIXD Reliability Score of 1, but this model year has the dubious distinction of having the second-most number of check engine lights (as detected by installed FIXD sensors) than any other Outback (2010 is the worst). 

We’ll also mention it’s good advice to avoid the first model year of an all-new design (the 2005 version is the first edition of the third generation). Avoiding these first-year gremlins saves money and headaches. 

We’ll stop picking on the 2005 Outback and move on. The 2006 and 2009 model years stand out, but not in a good way. Owners of these versions spent at least $1,000 last year to keep their Outbacks in working order. That’s 30% above average. 

Costly engine repairs also go hand-in-hand with ownership of a 2006-2009 Outback. Surveys uncovered that almost one out of every five owners (18%) spent at least $500 for engine work. 

And remember that all the Outbacks in this group are vulnerable to bad head gaskets. 

2005-2009 Outbacks are plagued with check engine lights for code P0420 (a faulty catalytic converter). Numerous error messages also relate to engine misfires: P0301, P0302, P0303, and P0304. As mentioned, repairs can involve replacing the spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel injectors, or the fuel pump or sealing a vacuum leak. 

The 2009 Outback has 14 recalls, the most of any model year from this generation. There are nine notices for the 2005 and 2008 model years, while there are eight for the 2007 edition. The 2006 Outback has seven recalls. The majority of these recalls continue to involve troublesome airbags. 

2010-2013 Subaru Outback

FIXD Reliability Score: 5-6/10

Owner Reliability Score: 7-8/10

KBB Value: $5,590-$6,945

Fuel Economy: 22-23 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $650-$1,150

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 50%-86%

Safety Rating: 4.2-4.8/5

The only saving grace for the fourth-generation Outback is the 2014 model year, which made our best years list. That leaves the 2010-2013 versions, which get a thumbs down.

Interestingly, this group is unique because while it has respectable Owner Reliability Scores (7-8) and average FIXD Reliability Scores (5-6), it still isn’t good enough to get on the best year’s list. Why?

The reason is obvious for the 2010 edition; it’s the first year of the fourth-generation Outback. And this model year has more check engine lights than any other 21st-century Outback. In the meantime, 25% of surveyed 2010 Outback owners spent $500 or more on engine repairs. It’s also the same for those with a 2012 Outback. Owners of the 2011 and 2013 editions also faced similar expenses, although at reduced levels. 

Unsurprisingly, FIXD sensors report thousands of error codes for the 2010-2013 Outbacks. The biggest offender is a familiar warning message, code P0420 (a troublesome catalytic converter). Misfire-related codes (P0301, P0302, P0304, P0305, and P0306) are also commonplace. 

Code P0400, a malfunctioning engine exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve, is a frequent problem for the 2010-2011 Outback. Replacing the EGR valve costs $332 to $413.

There are an eye-popping number of recalls for these Outbacks, and airbag issues continue to play a role in these notices. The 2010 Outback has 18 recalls, while there are 16 for the 2011 and 2012 editions. Recalls dropped to 12 for the 2013 model year

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback in the city street

FIXD Reliability Score: 10/10

Owner Reliability Score: 10/10

KBB Value: $22,889

Fuel Economy: 28 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $833

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 86%

Safety Rating: 4.8/5

Seeing perfect (10 out of 10) FIXD Reliability and Owner Reliability Scores for the 2020 Outback might give this vehicle winner status. However, this Subaru has two strikes against it. 

The 2020 model year marks the launch of the six-generation Outback. As we’ve advised, staying away from the first model year of an all-new design is smart car shopping. However, there’s an even greater concern, a history of costly powertrain troubles. These two words, “powertrain troubles,” should never be associated with a vehicle that is only a few years old. 

The surveys show that 12% of 2020 Outback owners spent $500 or more for engine repairs. And almost 9% encountered similar issues with the transmission. The level of serious troubles is much lower than other Outbacks on the worst years list, but these Outbacks have an average of only 50,000 miles.

The FIXD Reliability Score of 10 translates into a few check engine lights. However, FIXD sensor data shows several related codes for the 2020 Outback. P2689, P26A3, and P26A5 are all associated with a malfunctioning engine coolant bypass valve, which can affect the heat in the cabin.

As of June 2023, there are five recalls for the 2020 Subaru Outback.

2015 Subaru Outback

2015 Subaru Outback standing in the middle of the desert

FIXD Reliability Score: 7/10

Owner Reliability Score: 9/10

KBB Value: $11,941

Fuel Economy: 25 MPG

Average Annual Maintenance/Repair: $600

Average Likelihood of a $500+ Repair in 2022: 100%

Safety Rating: 4.8/5

If you’re wondering why a car with a decent FIXD Reliability Score (7) and strong Owner Reliability Score (9) is on the worst years list, it’s understandable. Further adding to the confusion are moderate average annual upkeep costs ($600) and an excellent NHTSA safety score (4.8). Also, there are no reports of costly powertrain repairs.

However, the 2015 model year is the first edition of the fifth-generation Outback.

And while this version appears to have escaped first-year gremlins, we still suggest being cautious given the Outback’s complicated history with new model debuts. Spending extra money on a 2016 or later edition will likely lead to a smoother ownership experience. 

For the record, the 2015 Outback has five recalls. There are also numerous check engine lights, including P0400, a bad EGR valve. Owners can also experience P0171, an improper fuel-air ratio (insufficient fuel or too much air). This usually is caused by a faulty mass airflow (MAF) sensor. Often, cleaning the MAF sensor ($20-$100) will take care of things. Further work might require sealing a vacuum or exhaust leak ($100-$200) or replacing the MAF sensor ($300). A new air fuel sensor or oxygen sensor ($200-$300) or a new fuel pump could also be part of the repair process.

The records show that P0137, low voltage for an oxygen sensor, is another common code to the 2015 Outback. Repairs are similar to what’s needed for other pollution-control systems: correcting a vacuum or exhaust leak or replacing an oxygen sensor.


What years of the Subaru Outback have engine and/or transmission problems?

Numerous Subaru Outback model years are prone to expensive engine troubles; these include 2001-2004, 2006-2009, 2010-2013, and 2020. The 2004, 2006, 2012, and 2020 Outbacks have a history of transmission problems.

What is considered high mileage for a Subaru Outback?

The numbers reveal an average of 116,621 miles of use among all surveyed Outbacks. This data point creates a good benchmark for when to attach a high-mileage label to these Subaru. For simplicity, we’ll call it 120,000 miles.

But high mileage doesn’t mean the end of an Outback’s usefulness. We can be confident in this determination because the surveys show that the Outback is clearly capable of racking up more miles. 

The 2001 model year has an average usage of 225,000 miles. And the 2006 Outback comes close to the 200,000-mile threshold (it has an average of 191,667 miles). Several model years have 150,000 miles or more: 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010. 

Outside of accidents and other mishaps, longevity is determined by the vehicle’s condition and how well it’s cared for. An Outback with 150,000 miles of mostly highway use that’s received diligent regular maintenance will likely have many more miles ahead. Compare that to a 100,000-mile Outback that’s seen nothing but city use and never received regular maintenance; it could already be struggling.

This means that a qualified mechanic best determines high-mileage status and vehicle lifespan. Always get professional advice about any used car under consideration. 

What other vehicles should I consider?

The company offers other options if the Outback isn’t the ideal Subaru. The Ascent provides three rows of crossover versatility, while the smaller Subaru Forester has two rows. You can also go further down in size with the Subaru Impreza and Subaru Crosstrek, both five-door wagons with crossover vibes.

Shoppers frequently shop the Outback against compact crossovers, like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan.

What owners of the Subaru Outback like to use their cars for:

Frequent Use Categories: How Useful? (Out of 5 Stars)
Family Vehicle *****
Lots of Driving (travel/long commute) ***
Outdoor/Off-Road **
Hauling/Towing *
Office on Wheels *
Sport/Fast Driving *
Luxurious Driving *

A Note About Data and Information Sources

This article has many details about Subaru Outback reliability; here’s what we used for our assumptions and recommendations.

  • FIXD Reliability Score & Data: Engine reliability information is captured via the FIXD App

The FIXD Reliability Score is calculated using the number of DTCs per year, weighted by mileage. This is then turned into a scale of 1-10 for easy graphing. 

This is an objective score.

  • Owner Reliability Score & Data: This data is the result of surveying Subaru Outback owners who use FIXD. 

The Owner Reliability Score comes straight from the owners of the Subaru Outback.  

This is a subjective score.

To determine the Owner Reliability Score, we ask each car owner:

How reliable would you say your Subaru Outback is?

a. Just point A to point B driving

b. A Daily Commuter

c. Good for a 100-mile road trip

d. Good for a 500-mile road trip

e. I could take a cross-country road trip, no problem

From here, we translate their answers into the Owner Reliability Score:

a. = 2

b. = 4

c. = 6

d. = 8

e. = 10

Keep in mind owners may think their car is more or less reliable than it actually is. 

One potential problem is that people often buy the same make or model they are used to when they go car shopping, just a newer year.

Ford, for instance, has a number of consumer loyalty awards for the Ford F-Series, Ford Mustang, and Ford Expedition.

Car owners may be so loyal to the make or model they currently own that they would have trouble accurately comparing their cars’ reliability to others. 

It’s for this reason that we ask car owners a question that is relative to mileage rather than relative to other cars. 

Still, be mindful of the accuracy of these Owner Reliability Scores; people’s perceptions and unconscious blindspots can skew data. 

We suggest looking at both the FIXD Reliability Score and the Owner Reliability Score for this reason.

  • KBB Value: Average private-seller valuations as supplied by Kelley Blue Book (KBB), based on a Subaru Outback with typical mileage for that respective model year.
  • Fuel Economy: Mileage-per-gallon estimates according to the EPA MPG on Fueleconomy.gov
  • Annual Maintenance/Repair: Upkeep expenses as reported by surveyed Subaru Outback owners
  • Safety Rating: Crash test data collected and reported by NHTSA. We average all ratings for each year to come up with a simplified, average safety score. This makes it easier to look at on a graph.


  1. Subaru Outback model-specific information, edmunds.com (various dates). Retrieved June 29, 2023, from https://www.edmunds.com/
  2. Model-specific recall information as per the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Retrieved June 29, 2023, from https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls
David Goldberg

Dave Goldberg is an automotive journalist and lifelong car fanatic. He writes for numerous enthusiast and business outlets and is an ongoing contributor to HotCars.com, one of the most popular car culture websites. When he’s not writing or driving, Dave is either under a hood or asleep. His credentials include a BA in Journalism from The George Washington University.

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.


About the Author

David Goldberg

David Goldberg

Dave Goldberg is an automotive journalist and lifelong car fanatic. He writes for numerous enthusiast and business outlets and is an ongoing contributor to HotCars.com, one of the most popular car culture websites. When he’s not writing or driving, Dave is either under a hood or asleep. His credentials include a BA in Journalism from The George Washington University.

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