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Questionable Reliability in Lineartronic CVTs

Subaru’s Lineartronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) was first made available in the 5th generation Legacy and Outback. Critics praised its design and Subaru’s own engineers claimed it would require no maintenance for the life of the vehicle. Yeah, about that …

Once the CVT started to fall out of its standard warranty, owners were met with increased hesitations, jarring shudders, and even the occasional stalls. Enough complaints were made that Subaru eventually agreed to extend the CVT warranty for 1.5 million vehicles. More on that in a bit.

Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT Reliability

The Lineartronic design uses two hydraulically operated pulleys connected by a metal chain. The metal was a nice touch because not only is it generally stronger, but it’s also believed to reduce the annoying noise associated with CVTs called CVT whine.

Subaru engineers made the bold claim that the CVT was “maintenance free” as pointed out in this 2009 article on The Car Connection:

The new CVT, which was designed completely in-house in Japan, requires no maintenance whatsoever for the life of the vehicle, say powertrain engineers.

Such bold claims rarely work out in retrospect, and this case is no different.

As it ages, the CVT brings along a jarring ride

As the CVT starts to fall out of its standard 5 year / 60,000 mile warranty, problems start popping up.

First, the transmission has a case of the shudders, particularly when slowing down.

Sometimes the shaking is coupled with hesitations and occasional stalls.

And while the engine is idling, some owners report the CVT knocks and jerks with so much force that they look back to make sure they weren’t just rear-ended.

There have been multiple Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) issued for Subaru’s CVT

Over the years, TSBs for the_Lineartronic_ have popped up alerting dealerships and mechanics of these problems.

  • TSB 16-90-13R – This TSB covered the 2010-2012 Legacy and Outback following customers experienced sensations similar to “coming to a stop in a manual transmission and failing to depress the clutch.”
  • TSB 16-103-16R – Covering all 2010-2015 models with TR690 CVTs, this TSB addressed leaking transmission fluid in the torque converter cases. The leaks were traced to failed gaskets in the CVT’s oil pump chain covers.
  • TSB 16-102-16 – Talks about secondary oil pressure sensor diagnostics in all models.
  • TSB 16-104-17 – Covers the 2015 Legacy and Outback following complaints of “bumping” from the transmissions at idle. Owners described it like getting rear-ended.

Subaru’s CVT Warranty Extension

In late November 2017, Subaru extended their CVT warranty for 1.5 million vehicles.

The automaker was quick to point out, however, this doesn’t admit a safety defect. It’s likely that a spike in out-of-warranty claims and online complaints helped drive this change, as well as the potential of future litigation if Subaru didn’t act soon.

The extension bumps coverage for the CVT up to 10 years/100,000 mile. However, it does not apply to salvaged or rebuilt CVTs. And, in order to qualify owners  must have their transmissions inspected or repaired before July 31, 2018.

Vehicles covered by the extended CVT warranty

Where This Problem is Likely to Occur

Model Gen Years PainRank
Impreza Gen 4 2012–2016 7.0
Forester Gen 4 2014–2018 15.22
Legacy Gen 5 2010–2014 3.94
Legacy Gen 6 2015–2018 4.46
Outback Gen 5 2010–2014 14.71
Outback Gen 6 2015–2018 16.02
WRX Gen 4 2015–2016 10.99

Story Timeline

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