2018 Subaru Outback Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Steering, Fuel and Electrical issues among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners


2018 Subaru Outback

While the 2018 Subaru Outback still has the traits aficionados love – versatility, ability and value – it also has some reliability issues. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, the 2018 Outback’s main problem areas are the electrical, fuel/propulsion and steering systems.

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Problems with the Infotainment System

The 2018 Subaru Outback is available with a sophisticated touch-screen infotainment system. Referred to as STARLINK, the multimedia center provides access to features such as the audio system, navigation and backup camera.

Unfortunately, some consumers have found the STARLINK system to be problematic. Owners complain of the display going blank (black), leaving the multimedia center – including the backup camera – inoperative.

“The central display console where backup camera is went to black suddenly and will not turn on. This is a safety concern,” writes one owner on the NHTSA website.

Another consumer says, “The screen has gone black and side lights blink, unable to use any item controlled by the screen. Appears the warning system for a vehicle stopping too closely is not working as well.”

A recall (NHTSA Campaign Number 18V935000) has been issued to address problems with the touchscreen display. According tothe document, faulty audio system software is to blame. Dealers will reprogram the head unit free of charge on affected vehicles.

The recall states: “The recall began on February 5, 2019. Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-844-373-6614. Subaru’s number for this recall is WTZ-85”

Here are some actual complaints logged with the NHTSA about the 2018 Subaru Outback Infotainment Problems:

IN 2018 A NEW LAW WENT INTO EFFECT REQUIRING ALL NEW CARS CONE WITH REAR BACKUP CAMERAS. THE SUBARU STARLINK INFOTAINMENT SYSTEM THAT IS ON ALL NEW SUBARUS ARE DEFECTIVE, BUGGY, AND SUBARU HAS NO PERMANENT FIX. IT RENDERS THE REAR CAMERA UNOPERABLE, REPLACEMENTS ARE ON BACKORDER AND SUBARU MAKES OWNERS CONTINUE TO DRIVE THEIR CARD WHEN IT IS UNSAFE AND NOT FOLLOWING THE NEW LAW FOR 2018 CARS. I WANT SUBARU TO FIX THIS SAFETY ISSUE AND PROVIDE AFFECTED OWNERS WITH LOANER CARS WHILE WAITING FOR A FIX/REPLACEMENT.

ENTIRE CENTER RADIO CLUSTER HAS FAILED. CAR WAS PARKED IN A GARAGE AND GOT INTO THE CAR AND STARTED CAR AND ENTIRE UNIT WAS BLACK. THIS IMPACTS RADIO, HANDS FREE CELLULAR PHONE USE, NAVIGATION, BACK UP CAMERA AND WARNING SYSTEM, VEHICLE NOTIFICATIONS, STAR LINK PROGRAM. THIS MAY SOUND JUST LIKE A MINOR THING BUT THIS HAS SIGNIFICANT SAFE OPERATION IMPACTS IN REGARDS TO TRAFFIC AND DRIVING, CELL PHONE USE AND NAVIGATION OF THE VEHICLE.

I WAS DRIVING AND THE ENTIRE DISPLAY WENT BLANK! THIS RENDERS ALL ELECTRONIC FEATURES CONTROLLED BY THE SCREEN INOPERABLE AND ALSO VIOLATES FEDERAL LAW MANDATING BACKUP CAMERAS ON 2018 OR NEWER CARS. THOUGH TECHNICALLY MY VEHICLE IS STILL EQUIPPED WITH IT, IT DOESN’T MATTER BECAUSE THE DISPLAY IS COMPLETELY DEAD. THIS IS SUCH A COMMON PROBLEM THE PART IS BACKORDERED FOR AT LEAST A MONTH, IN THE MEANTIME I WILL DRIVING A CAR WITHOUT AN IMPORTANT SAFETY FEATURE.

Problems with the Fuel System

Running out of gas can ruin your day – especially if it happens someplace dangerous (e.g., on the freeway). That’s why a recall has been released for select 2018 Outback models. According to the document, some cars have a gas gauge that displays more fuel than what’s actually in the tank. As a result, drivers are more likely to run out of gas. Dealers will reprogram the combination meter free of charge to fix the problem.

“Fuel software programming defect – fuel warning light does not illuminate nor read properly below 50 miles. I had 30 miles left in the tank, parked the car and after work (approx. 8 hours) I went to start the car and it would not start,” an owner says on the NHTSA website. “Had to utilize roadside assistance – thank goodness this didn’t happen while the vehicle was in motion or on the highway. This is unacceptable. Brand new car runs worse than my 1988 Honda CRX.”

Another owner complains, “Gas indicator says I have more gas than I do. When empty it still registers gas.”

The recall (NHTSA Campaign Number 18V773000) used to address the problem began February 20, 2019. According to the document: “Owners may contact Subaru customer service at 1-844-373-6614. Subaru’s number for this recall is WTW-82.”

Here are some actual complaints logged with the NHTSA about the 2018 Subaru Outback Fuel Gauge Problems:

FUEL SOFTWARE PROGRAMMING DEFECT – FUEL WARNING LIGHT DOES NOT ILLUMINATE NOR READ PROPERLY BELOW 50 MILES. I HAD 30 MILES LEFT IN THE TANK, PARKED THE CAR AND AFTER WORK (APPROX. 8 HOURS) I WENT TO START THE CAR AND IT WOULD NOT START. HAD TO UTILIZE ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE – THANK GOODNESS THIS DIDN’T HAPPEN WHILE THE VEHICLE WAS IN MOTION OR ON THE HIGHWAY. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. 

RAN OUT OF FUEL EVEN THOUGH THE GAUGE HAD ORIGINALLY SAID 30 MILES TO EMPTY. THEN GAUGE WENT FROM 30 TO —- AND THEN STALLED ALL WITHIN A FEW MILES WHILE ON THE HIGHWAY DURING RUSH HOUR

DASHBOARD TOLD ME I HAD 20 MILES WORTH OF FUEL LEFT WHEN SUDDENLY THE INDICATOR CHANGED TO A DASH AND THE CAR RAN OUT OF GAS. OCCURRED WHILE DRIVING 50 MPH ON A BUSY EXPRESSWAY, THANKFULLY IN THE SLOW LANE.

Problems with the Steering

Like most late model vehicles, the 2018 Outback has electric power steering (EPS). The system uses an electronically-controlled rack and pinion to provide steering assist. EPS works in conjunction with the available Lane Keep Assist system to nudge the car back into its lane, should the driver veer to one side or another. On paper, the advanced steering system on the Outback sounds great. Yet some drivers complain of erratic steering behavior from the vehicle, accompanied by a feeling of “hydroplaning”.

“Subaru Lane Assist steering issue. When you have Lane Assist on, the car will try and steer from one lane to another on its own. This happens when you are on the freeway and started after 10,000 miles was on the car,” says an owner on the NHTSA website.

Another complaint reads: “Vehicle loses control at 50 mph and higher speeds. Steering feels very loose and like the vehicle is hydroplaning on dry services. On occasion, it feels like the vehicle was hit by a gust of wind and floats. Vehicle feels very insecure on highway driving conditions. It’s scary!”

Subaru has encountered steering-related issues before. In 2016, a recall was issued for 48,500 Outback and Legacy cars (built between 2016-2017) for steering concerns. But currently, the NHTSA hasn’t listed any recalls for the 2018 Outback on its website.

Here are some actual complaints logged with the NHTSA about the 2018 Subaru Outback Steering Problems:

DRIVING OUR NEW 2018 OUTBACK WE EXPERIENCE PERIODIC STEERING IRREGULARITIES THAT ARE FLAT SCARY. ESPECIALLY AT 65MPS AND ABOVE THE CAR SEEMS TO SELF CORRECT .BY EXAMPLE A LANE CHANGE THE CAR STARTS TO ‘FLOAT” AND OVER COMPENSATES ON DIRECTIONAL CHANGE. TROUBLING ALSO IS THE EXPERIENCE OF STABILITY AT TIMES AS IF DRIVING IN HIGH WINDS-WHEN THERE IS NO WIND. WHEN WE TURN “OFF” DRIVING ASSISTANCE LANE SYSTEM-STILL SAME PROBLEMS. WHEELS SEEM TO HAVE A ‘MIND OF THEIR OWN” AND WERE NOT ALWAYS IN CONTROL. TOOK THE CAR INTO DEALERSHIP- THERE SERVICE PERSON SAID THEY HAD ALSO HAD THE EXPERIENCE(S)..BUT WE JUST NEED TO GET USE TO. NOT ACCEPTABLE!

2018 OUTBACK HAS A PROBLEM WHILE DRIVING ON HIGHWAYS AND SPEEDS OVER 60 THE VEHICLE DRIFTS OR SWAYS DANGEROUSLY LEFT AND RIGHT OUT OF CONTROL AS IF SOMETHING IS PUSHING OR PUSHING THE VEHICLE LEFT AND RIGHT, I DON’T KNOW IF THE HIGHWAY VIBRATION WITH SPEEDS EXCEEDING 60 IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE SWAY OR ITS A WHEEL BALANCING PROBLEM.

VEHICLE LOSES CONTROL AT 50 MPH AND HIGHER SPEEDS. STEERING FEELS VERY LOOSE AND LIKE VEHICLE IS HYDROPLANING ON DRY SURFACES. ON OCCASION IT FEELS LIKE THE VEHICLE WAS HIT BY A GUST OF WIND AND FLOATS. VEHICLE FEELS VERY INSECURE ON HIGHWAY DRIVING CONDITIONS. IT’S SCARY!

TENSION AND CONTROL DISAPPEARS IN THE STEERING, SO LOOSE IT FEELS LIKE YOU COULD SPIN THE WHEEL LIKE A TOP. LASTS A SECOND OR SO THEN CONTROL RETURNS. HAPPENS IN MULTIPLE DRIVING CONDITIONS. NOTICED IT FIRST DAY WE HAD THE CAR, DEALER SAID HE NOTICED IT TOO, AND WE JUST NEEDED TO BREAK THE CAR IN. WHEN DRIVING ON THE HIGHWAY IN HIGH WINDS, CAR FEELS OUT OF CONTROL, LIKE DRIVING ON SLICK ICE. NEVER HAD TO GET OFF A HIGHWAY BEFORE OUT OF FEAR AND I’VE BEEN DRIVING 40 YEARS. DEALER COULD NOT REPLICATE, TOLD ME TO CALL SUBARU CORPORATE, WHO SENT ME BACK TO DEALER. CAR IS BACK IN THE SHOP. I AM SO AFRAID TO DRIVE THIS CAR IT ONLY HAS 2700 MILES ON IT AFTER 18 MONTHS..

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5 COMMENTS
  • Kim B

    Oh my Gosh ! I can to this site because lately my 2018 Subaru Outback has been scaring me with the steering seems to start loosing control ! I have now read that my problem car has others saying the same thing. It is scary! It feels like it with either go off the road or into oncoming traffic. My Outback is a 2018 with 34,000 miles. This problem just started about a week ago. I do not feel safe driving it.

  • Gavin R

    Jerry S, Could you explain what X mode is, for those not familiar? Is it something like hill assist or another type of traction enhancement?
    To everyone on here, I’m really grateful for your effort in writing about these problems. These are seriously bad issues and you’re being “handled” by the dealer to shut up and go away. This goes against everything everyone believes about the company and their Outbacks and is probably why they get away with this but it’s completely unacceptable to be told to drive an unsafe car. Not just unsafe to you, but these problems can, and someday will, cause many deaths in a single crash initiated by the parking brake, the steering or the transmission delay on a 2017 or 2018 Outback. The parking brake issue AND the transmission delay sound like they were made for squishing 2 to 4 year olds. The need for a new transmission after a few thousand miles? I’ve read the wiring is insulated with soy based plastic. My car has been destroyed by rats, it’s not a Subaru, but rats chew wires ANYWAY and it totals them. To make insulation out of soy for a car is just dumb. Rats destroy cars like they know exactly what will kill them and confuse dumb mechanics who can only solve problems by the replacement of a factory part with another of the same part. My car is stuck in the shop for 3 months and they tell me now the hood won’t show closed, even when the switch is jumpered. They said “We can’t fix your car.” They can’t even fix a wire with a switch in it? That’s the shortest of dozens of preposterous things they’ve told me. The first was that my VVT Actuators were bad. I told them (Because I already knew) “There are no VVT actuator failure codes, nor are there any VVT wiring failure codes. And you blame it all on the VVT actuators and tell me you can’t fix my car.” This time because they’re discontinued, meaning their are none in stock, probably because every mechanic wants the $6,000 to replace them on my rare engine. Seriously, I’ve taken it to many shops and they all told me this. “But there are timing errors.” That’s because the engine cuts out randomly. You can’t keep time if you’re cutting on and off at random. AND THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE ME until I pointed out there were no FAILURE codes. Then, ….well, my point is that auto mechanics have deteriorated into something worse than people who can only read a scanner. Worse, I say, because they can’t even do that right. And this is the best garage I’ve ever found. I had my car towed there from 50 miles away just to bring it to a guy that used to be smart. It’s like a pandemic of Alzheimer’s among service managers. So, my point is that the cars are too complex to be built properly these days, the mechanics can’t diagnose properly, service managers will lie to you guaranteed, and we pay for it in the end. Instead of goofy gadgetry, Why can’t a car manufacturer design a car that isn’t newfangled, but works reliably, and is easy to diagnose and fix if it should fail? People aren’t saying “I can’t wait for lane departure warnings and weird technology that can disable the entire car, leaving it too complex to be fixed”, we’re saying, “I can wait to get a car that doesn’t break down all the time.” Want a stereo? Buy one of your choice. Want a navigator? Buy one of your choice. An emergency brake has worked for 100 years manually. How ridiculous to risk making that electrical and capable of bricking your car? I test drove a new Lexus that had a broken electric park brake. If Lexus can’t make it work, just pull the darn lever! Don’t they ever think that if it works, don’t fix it? I wouldn’t mind it if cars went decades without any changes at all, unless it made it simpler, quieter, more reliable and easier to fix. In particular, Subaru hangs its hat on reliability. If they tarnish that, they’re just Chevrolet or Audi. Take Volvos, for example. The 240 lasted 17 years and not much changed. Darn good car. Now? Nothing but problems just like every other car and cars have become way too expensive now. Great, bad cars that cost more because they make dumb promises.
    We the people, need a way to communicate what we want directly to car makers so they don’t go EXPERIMENTING with our lives and fortunes. Hopefully they won’t do as much if we all tell them to stop. I’d suggest to them, less complexity, in 2 words. You don’t need a gas tank meter that requires programming, right? Or a steering wheel with a position that’s electrically adjusted. It’s easy to do manually, as are so many things. Each of these electric motors are incredibly complex because they’ve got to track position by counting revolutions it something and storing this somewhere. So it’s not just a few motors but there’s a control module for it too, and buttons that need someplace to go and relays and fuses and a connection to the car’s computer so you know when it’s failed. If it turns on the check engine light, you can’t even pass inspection and your car’s a goner. Anyone could name off dozens of dumb ideas that are in today’s cars that only add cost and problems. It’s time to trim them back down and build a reliable car again. You can’t enjoy a car that’s in the shop—a shop that calms you with bad news on top of more bad news and the costs…. let’s keep that in the margin for now as another “not enjoyable”. If that’s not enough, every time I get my car back from any shop, there’s something they broke. It’s not necessarily their fault given that even in the cars we own, we can’t figure out how certain things are even supposed to work or why we needed that, and how to maintain it so it doesn’t fail. It’s way outta hand. A reliable car is best for everyone. Had they not wasted so much time on goofy new technology, they could have designed the transmission and engine right. See what I mean? I had a ’76 Honda civic hatchback. It was a lemon, but the CVT transmission was flawless. It’s honestly the only part of the car I didn’t have to replace. Well, I replaced it with the engine because they came together. Anyway it worked perfectly in 1976. That car had no frills except an automatic transmission. It was set perfectly to the power characteristics of the engine. It’s not a bad idea to go back to. I never understood why people were putting 9 speeds in cars when I had a car with 1 and it always set the engine in its optimal power band, regardless of speed, and most efficient band when cruising along. So, What’s Subaru’s excuse for the engagement delays and stuff. Ok, I was rambling several pages ago.
    I think we need a way to communicate what we really want and need in a car to car manufacturers and actually have it mean something to them. It seems like we’re just test subjects for goofy ideas that we pay for and then pay to refine and work out the bugs. And we didn’t even want the dumb widget or function to begin with. It’s just attached to a car we thought we wanted. We need a way to tell car manufacturers that a car is worth more if it is less complex, and less expensive, which is a tough argument, you see? That’s why we need some way to make the point that it’s better for them too. Make a car more luxurious by making it quieter etc, Electric motors do not equal luxury. They’re very complex and don’t increase the value of a car. They make the car heavy, if nothing else. This decreases efficiency and reliability. Electric door locks? I’ll buy it. Windows? Yep. Seats? Well….so long as they can’t make the car undrivable if they fail. Sunroofs always leak, given time. This ruins leather and electric seat motors. Get rid of sun roofs. Beyond this it gets easier to sort out. But whatever our votes are, we need an effective way to communicate these to car makers to improve reliability. We’re not paying this much money for a science experiment.

  • Jerry S

    2018 outback , while using x-mode going down a small hill the right front makes a weird electronic noise . Is this a problem with all 2018 subaru outbacks using X-Mode

  • Elizabeth V

    I’ve had problems with the radio and CD player. I’ve taken it to Subaru service department on at least two times and its in the shop now. While I’m driving the sould comoletely shuts down. The eadio is onbut the sound shuts down. It doesn’t happen all the time so of course when I take it to their service dept. It doesn’t happen. I had a 2015 Subaru Outback and that radio had to be replaced. Now my 2018 Subaru Outback is giving the same issues and they refuse to replace it. Please help my warranty will end on Jan 2021.

  • Sharon

    I purchased a Suburu Outback on October 31, 2017. It is a 2018 model.
    The first issue was that every once in a while it wouldn’t start. We have been stranded more than once.
    The car dealership changed the battery, that didn’t work. It was in Bill Bryan Suburu in Leesburg Fl. for weeks at a time.
    They did give us a loaner each time. They never came to a conclusion.
    Along with not starting, we told them that sometimes the GPS system goes black and doesn’t come back until we stop and start the car again.
    Again, no resolve of that.
    The latest issue is that it needs a transmission. This car is only 2 years old! Even Suburu corporate, with whom I have 2 case numbers was very shocked when I told them that it needs a new transmission.
    They stated that the transmission has to come from overseas, and it will take at least a month to get it. Again we got a loaner car, but one that we can not drive out of state. Suburu has agreed to pay for a rental car for our upcoming driving trip to Chicago.
    I DON’T WANT THIS CAR ANYMORE! I never know the next thing that will go wrong.
    Everyone else I know with a Suburu cannot believe the issues that this car has had. Suburu corporate said that it didn’t meet the requirements for the Florida Lemon Law, but I want to know what recourse I have.
    Thank you for reading my rant.

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