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Since its debut in the ’90s, the Subaru Outback SUV has seen its fair share of criticism. Some model years are adored by drivers, and some are significantly less popular. But as long as you avoid the years with major issues, things seemed to go well for the Subaru Outback. There are certainly a few years to avoid, but people seem generally quite satisfied with the model. However, an issue with one particular model year has led to expensive repairs and fuming customers.

Does the Subaru Outback have transmission problems?

RepairPal gave the 2011 Subaru Outback a four out of five in both reliability and owner satisfaction. And over the decade since the 2011 Outback debut, those ratings have seemed to hold up. The one pesky issue with the 2011 model is its transmission – namely, that it has the potential to fail catastrophically. Transmission problems make up the second-highest complaint category on the 2011 Outback Car Complaints page.

Transmission failure can manifest itself in anything from a slow start-up at a stoplight to a full-on freeway shut-off. From the reactions quoted below, it’s clear that drivers are terrified of this issue with the 2011 model.

In recent years, Subaru owners have joined Tesla and Toyota owners in suing the manufacturer for an unexpected acceleration issue. While this began popping up in 2015 and did affect Outback models, it appears to be completely separate from the 2011 transmission problems. 

Some Subaru Outback problems can be fixed

The “transmission failure” complaint carries a severity rating of 9.8 on Car Complaints, and with good reason. Once it’s gone out, the car simply doesn’t run. Some of the more vocal complaints from 2011 Outback owners include frustration with the transmission and some complaints of shaking while accelerating.

The Subaru Outback has an annual repair cost of around $646 on average, which is pretty good for such an old vehicle. Beyond the other two issues, the Outback can also suffer from a head gasket issue. It has a high rate of failure on the 2011 model specifically, so be on the lookout.

There are also many complaints about the lights, mostly with the headlights burning out prematurely. While this isn’t as severe of an issue, replacing the headlights can be time-consuming and annoying.

The bottom line on the 2011 Subaru Outback’s transmission failures

The transmission failure issue in the 2011 model is both dangerous and expensive. Many customers’ warranties expired just before the transmission failed, leaving them with a hefty repair bill on a car they might not even be done paying off.

The above comments reported bills of up to $10,000 to replace the transmission, which is on the high end, but even cheaper repairs can be thousands of dollars. The average amount listed on Car Complaints is $4,200, and it has a tendency to occur just past 100,000 miles (when many extended warranties lapse).

Despite the dismal 2013 version of the Subaru Outback, it appears that the company has learned from its mistakes in the early 2010s. The uncontrolled acceleration is another issue, but it’s too early to tell if it occurs on the model years from 2020 and beyond. Even if you’re a fan of the Outback, it may be wise to choose a different model if you’re looking at cars from eight to nine years ago. In 2020 and 2021, many of the Outbacks still on the market will be hitting 100,000 miles for the first time and at risk for expensive transmission failure.