Questionable Reliability in Subaru's Lineartronic CVTs

Posted on
Scott McCracken
#transmission #warranty #tsb

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

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Subaru generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at

  1. After some prodding, Subaru has decided to extend the warranty on their Lineartronic CVT.

    A Subaru transmission warranty extension has been issued for 2010-2015 Legacy and Outback, 2012-2015 Impreza, 2013-2015 Crosstrek, 2014-2015 Crosstrek Hybrid, 2014-2015 Forester and 2015 WRX vehicles, all equipped with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

    However, it’s a limited time offer. Inspections or repairs need to be completed by July 31, 2018.

    keep reading article "Subaru Extends Their CVT Warranty, but it’s a Limited Time Offer"

What Owners Say About This Problem

Experienced engine hesitation after a near stop, not a complete stop, but a near stop. At least 5 times I have had very near accidents since the engine will not respond for at least 3 seconds. Especially dangerous when entering traffic trying to make a left turn entry.

2014 Outback Owner in TX

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA