2020 Subaru Outback Problems and Top Complaints – Is Your Car A Lemon?

Windshield cracking, electrical system, engine, and forward collision avoidance issues are among the top complaints received by the NHTSA from vehicle owners

Updated on Author: Brian Jones | Reviewer: Sergei Lemberg

The 2020 Subaru Outback is an SUV model that started as a station wagon back in 1994. Since its inception, American families have flocked to the Outback for its versatility and space, but the 2020 lineup appears to be a disappointment. Besides being hailed by the company as having “go-everywhere capability,” this Subaru SUV suffers from windshields that crack for no apparent reason, defective batteries, and engines with multiple problems including accelerating spontaneously.

Click on other model year to view more problems: 2019   2021   2022   2023   2024

Summary

Ever-increasing complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that this SUV has a plethora of problems, many of which appear to be unsolvable. Hundreds of owners (52% of all complaints) have faulty windshields that the automaker refuses to replace under warranty. Many have had to replace their windshields multiple times — either via insurance claims or out of their own pockets.

In terms of numbers, the other most common problems relate to the electrical system (30%). Battery drain and battery failure top the issues here. Engine and forward collision avoidance are also high on the list (more than 10% between them).

But, as with all NHTSA complaints, many are filed by owners in more than one category and some of these mention other components and systems. These include (from the highest to lowest number of complaints) the powertrain, lane departure, structure, vehicle speed control, exterior lighting, brakes, steering, fuel/propulsion system, backover prevention, airbags, electronic stability control, latches, locks and linkages, suspension, wheels, equipment, gasoline fuel system, and seat belts.

2020 Subaru Outback Complaint Summary

Complaint CategoryNumber of Complaints
Visibility/wiper
306
306
Electrical System
241
241
Unknown Or Other
137
137
Visibility:windshield
61
61
Engine
41
41
Power Train
33
33
Forward Collision Avoidance: Warnings
24
24
Forward Collision Avoidance: Automatic Emergency Braking
20
20
Vehicle Speed Control
17
17
Exterior Lighting
15
15

Recalls

There are also six recalls that affect the 2020 Subaru Outback. They all also affect the Legacy, and all but one only affect these two vehicle models:

  • 118,723 Outback and Legacy owners have been warned that airbags might not deploy during a crash, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Two recalls affect a total of 198,437 Outback and Legacy vehicles that have a programming error in the transmission control unit, which may allow the clutch to engage before the drive chain is completely clamped.
  • 175,968 Subaru vehicles, including the Outback and Legacy, have been warned that the low-pressure fuel pump inside the fuel tank may fail. This can cause their engines to stall while driving, increasing the risk of a crash.
  • 7,741 Outback and Legacy vehicles have over-the-air software updates that may have timed out without completing the installation, corrupting the data, and causing the rearview camera display to shut off intermittently.
  • 3,467 Outback and Legacy vehicles have a brake pedal mounting bracket that may have a missing or insufficiently tightened bolt. This can reduce braking performance and increase the risk of a crash.

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Windshield Cracking

Automotive glass was designed to help occupants see what’s around them and provide protection from the elements. But, with a 2020 Subaru Outback, owners have to worry about the windshield spontaneously cracking, which affects visibility and safety. Hundreds of complaints provide evidence of this, and many state Subaru does not cover windshields under warranty.

An owner from Maryland describes what happened when the windshield was hit on the passenger side by debris. It wasn’t chipped, “but the crack started developing quickly and reached to the middle of the windshield.” The crack then got wider, as if the “glass is pulling itself apart. The crack is growing in length every day and following some random path.” The owner went to a dealership stating it was a major safety and quality concern. “They refused to even look at it and said I am on my own because Subaru does not provide any warranty for their windshields.”

Another major issue is the cost owners have to incur for multiple windshield replacements — especially since so many of them have to replace their windshields multiple times. An owner who complained to the NHTSA about the issue after replacing a third windshield states that the first crack was caused by “a rock chip.” It was resin repaired, but the defroster blowing on a cool morning resulted in the windshield cracking below the first crack. “The replacement windshield cracked for no reason other than it was cold during a December night and was replaced in April. That windshield cracked spontaneously while driving in the rain one month after installation.” Subaru insurance (not warranty) covered these, but now the owner has “met the maximum allowed for windshield replacement.”

Specific Complaints

An owner from California filed a complaint after having four cracked windshields in less than two years. “I’ve never cracked a windshield in ANY other car I’ve owned in the last 20 years! The windshields do not seem to be strong enough to accommodate the flex of the frame of the vehicle. I hear the car flex over rough roads or speed bumps.” The complaint continues, “I was calm at first, but now am outraged! I cannot afford a new windshield every six months, especially at $1,000 a piece!”

Another owner from California states that the windshield cracked after “sitting in the garage for two days.” And another says, “The front windshield has cracked twice now with no point of impact. This week marks the second of these spontaneous cracks in six weeks. Both times, the crack appeared first thing in the morning after not being driven all night.”

An owner from Michigan wrote to complain that he was getting his fourth or fifth windshield. “There is something wrong With these windshields.” Whilst one was hit by a “small pebble,”  “All the rest happened for no apparent reason.”

“Along with the ongoing class action lawsuits about the Subaru Outback lower windshields, we have had a crack in our lower windshield that popped up (less than) 30 seconds after the smallest stone hit the windshield. We’ve had the same small stones hit our windshield on our other cars for decades and never had a crack (around 9-12 inches in length) come up like this,” says an owner from Colorado.

An owner from Texas states that the “Windshield cracked while using the defroster. This is a 2020 Outback. I had the same problem on a 2019 Outback that went through three windshields in less than a year. These windshields are defective.”

Electrical

Electrical system problems are varied. But battery issues are paramount. Numerous owners report battery failures, even when batteries are replaced. Many describe “battery drain,” which is recognized to be a major issue. While there are less than half the number of complaints than those lodged about windshield cracks, there are still hundreds of complaints from all over the U.S.

Many owners have replaced batteries more than once. For example, an owner from Michigan states that the second battery won’t hold a charge. “It drains overnight / without use. I can assure you that I am not leaving any lights on.”

An owner from California has had to replace the battery three times because the car drains the battery without being used. “I have had to be jumped on multiple occasions. The car is a 2020 and this seems unusual.”

Dud Batteries

An owner from Texas states that he has had to return my 2020 Subaru Outback to the dealer five or six times with a dead battery that has trouble recharging and maintaining a charge. “Each time this occurs, I have to have the car towed to the nearest dealer for extensive (like days) testing. Under some magic circumstance, the battery is either returned-recharged or replaced. I have had to return my car with a dead battery to my dealer four or five times. Each time it is the same, “Yes, your car battery is warranted (first for 3 years, now for 10 years),” but the reliability of the car’s battery is never resolved.”

The catch is he will void the 10-year warranty on the engine if he changes the battery himself, so has to take it to a dealer every time. In essence, “My car has a defective battery or a parasitic leak that the manufacturer (Subaru) acknowledges but selectively addresses.”

An owner from Ohio reports that a complete loss of electrical power left them stranded in very cold weather. “We were finally able to get one door open only to find nothing else in the car would work. We contacted Subaru roadside assistance and they dispatched a lift car and a tow truck to our location. The tow truck driver determined the battery had a complete failure. He told us this was a very common problem they see on Subaru cars.” The owner asked if this battery failure was common on new Subaru vehicles. “He said more than 90% of their roadside assistance calls are related to this issue of early battery failure.”

Other Electrical Problems

There are multiple other electrical problems, and these complaints talk about a couple of them.

An owner from Minnesota states that having taken the vehicle in twice for battery repair/replacement, the issue is still not resolved and there is an EyeSight Driver Assist malfunction. The service manager suggested sunlight was hitting the sensors. But it was happening in the evening too. Additionally, the check engine warning indicator signified that other malfunctions caused EyeSight, cruise control, and other critical electronic systems to deactivate. “More importantly, the Subaru Service Center informed me that there is a life-threatening risk associated with the underlying cause of this Check Engine light appearing, and, consequently, they would not permit me to drive the car from the Service Center until necessary repairs and part replacements were made. I have been waiting over two months for the automobile to be repaired and returned to me.

An owner from Washington states that the automatic lifting of the rear trunk opens as it should. But it will start to close on you out of nowhere without pushing the close button. “It is terrifying because it doesn’t sense a body there. The screen in the center console also will become inaccessible and blackout making it impossible to use the touch screen. The USB ports connecting to (an) iPhone will disconnect making Bluetooth unavailable.” This, he states, is extremely difficult when needing GPS or when driving on a freeway.

Engine Problems

Engine problems are also varied, but faulty thermo control valves TCV) and unintended acceleration are two issues that stand out.

Faulty Thermo Control Valves

These valves are part of the engine cooling system, so failure can result in engine failure.

An owner from Pennsylvania tells how the failure of the TCV “disabled many or most of the safety features on the car in addition to crippling the heat output in the cabin.” Additionally, the complaint states that “depending on which way the valve sticks, it could overheat the car and ruin the engine, or worse.” This particular car is less than four years old and the repair estimate is close to $1,900.

An owner from Virginia states that the valve, which is made from composite plastic, “is placed under both heat and pressure. While it controls the antifreeze to the heater core in the passenger compartment, it is also attached under cover to metal fittings.” The “control valve cracked and began to leak antifreeze on top of the engine.” This meant there was no cooling. So, to protect the engine the car had to be serviced immediately. Furthermore, this fault shuts down the EyeSight system and all the safety features it controls. “I had the defective part replaced and its replacement is not made of composite plastic but, rather, and more appropriately, metal. It is my belief that the selection of the original part was a design defect ignoring the potential for differential expansion of the parts when exposed to such temperatures. Failure was inevitable.”

Sudden Acceleration

Drivers must be in control of their vehicles. When it accelerates without any input from the driver, this can have major consequences — and people do get hurt. An owner from Pennsylvania had this experience and states that it was “very scary” when the “car accelerated on its own.” Even more scary was the fact that the dealership said they couldn’t find anything wrong with the car.

An owner from Illinois was turning into a parking space when the car suddenly surged forward and accelerated “without my input to the gas pedal. The brakes did not work, and there was no resistance from the brake pedal when I repeated to push it. The car continued to accelerate for about 80 feet as I focused on steering to avoid hitting other cars parked in the lot. The car ran over a curb, up a grassy area, and crashed into a row of trees. The airbag did not deploy. I sustained neck muscle strain/whiplash, and bruises to my chest and right knee.”

When the owner called the Subaru dealer service department, they maintained they had never heard of this and said “it had to have been my fault.” To add insult to injury, the owner was told that once the damage was repaired they could do a diagnostic report at his cost. But, of course, many other complaints tell the same story.

An owner from Oregon pulled into his driveway, stopped, and was going to back up to the front walkway. “Before I could shift into reverse the car started to accelerate forward. I slammed my foot onto the brakes which had no effect on the acceleration. The car stopped when the lower bumper hit and ran up onto a large boulder on the edge of the driveway.”

Forward Collision Avoidance

Like other Subaru models, the Outback has many different forward collision avoidance problems. As a Texas owner states, these include the EyeSight system inadvertently deactivating. This causes the power steering to fail and results in the vehicle going into limp mode.

The automatic emergency braking system can also be problematic. An owner from Florida describes how it engaged while driving at 20 mph on a community’s private roads. “After it came to a screeching halt, I had to put the car in Park and then in Drive so I could proceed the half mile to my house. If this had happened while driving @ 70 mph on I-95, I AM CONFIDENT THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN AN ACCIDENT. I am now afraid to drive my car. I wonder if and when it is going to happen again unexpectedly.” It was a “Very dangerous situation.”

The infotainment and other systems can also be a problem as these complaints state.

Infotainment and Other System Failure

An owner from North Carolina tells how the infotainment system would reboot, “causing the Bluetooth, LKAS, forward watching camera, emergency braking, and RAB to also stop working and reboot. This problem has occurred numerous times over the past several months. It happens without any predictability and I have not been able to find a common factor that triggers it.” The owner was told that it was a software issue but an update wasn’t available yet.

An owner from Minnesota describes how the Infotainment system went into “a continuous boot loop” where the screen went blank before the Subaru boot-up screen appeared. The menu would start to load, but then the process was repeated. “During this process, the EyeSight driver assistance system would produce an error saying all of its functions were disabled while the infotainment system was rebooting. Also, the display in (the) center of the dashboard that shows vehicle info was randomly showing scrambled text while the infotainment system rebooted. This has happened multiple times.” The complaint adds that it appears to happen when the vehicle has been on for several hours and is warm, making the issue difficult to reproduce.

Another owner tells how the Outback’s computer/radio/navigation system will randomly shut down while driving. “This has been occurring since approx 6500 miles. When this occurs all of the safety systems/HVAC/Rear Camera/Radio/Navigation systems will fail with the associated warning lights. The car now has approx 9,000 miles, (and) this appears to be random occurrences about every 200-250 miles.” The dealer stated that they were aware of the problem and that the owner should wait for the release of a software fix. That seems to be a common way out!

What You Can Do

If you think that your 2020 Subaru Outlook might be a lemon there are ways to find out. Lemon Law is willing to assess your problems free of charge and advise you. This is because the taw makes Subaru pay legal fees. Furthermore, every year, auto manufacturers buy back, replace or pay cash settlements to thousands of lemon owners and you could be one of them.

All you have to do is call the Lemberg Law Helpline or fill out a contact form and we’ll assess your problems free of charge. Let’s see what we can do to help you!

Brian Jones

About the Author:

Brian Jones spent more than 30 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Brian has become an authority in the industry, traveling across the country to consult for car dealerships and contributing his expertise as a writer for several major automotive publications. In his spare time, Brian enjoys working on pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports.

See more posts from Brian Jones
1 COMMENT
  • Mary C

    My 2020 outback has 53500 miles. The thermostat went out and had to be replaced in November 2022. All 4 tires wore out exactly the same from the inside. They looked good from outside edge when I would check them. The dealership did not tell me this was going on only that they needed to be replaced. They told me after I got new tires that this happens with the 2020 outbacks causing tires to wear out sooner than normal 10000 miles sooner than they should.

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