What to Look Out for When Buying a Used Subaru Outback


You probably only have to take a quick glance at the Subaru Outback to realize that this is a vehicle that almost defies definition. Some would say it’s a compact crossover SUV, but it’s grown into more of a midsize model as the years have gone by and there’s a lot more to this unique model than many of its supposed rivals in the compact crossover class. There’s plenty to say about the Outback, so here’s what to look out for when buying a used Subaru Outback.

2015 Subaru Outback

How long has the Subaru Outback been in production?

Production of the Subaru Outback got underway in 1994 and continues to this day. The Outback is now built at Subaru’s Lafayette manufacturing facility alongside the Subaru Legacy.

How many generations of Subaru Outback are there?

There have now been six generations of the Subaru Outback here in America, but it’s a very different vehicle today from the first version that appeared way back in 1994. The earliest versions of the Outback were effectively station wagons built on the same platform as the Subaru Legacy, but over the years this Subaru has developed into a sort of crossover/SUV/wagon amalgamation.

First-generation Subaru Outback (1994-1998)

The first-generation Outback was only around for about four years but a lot of changes and development went on during that relatively short period. These are now very long in the tooth and the only reason I’d expect anyone to want one is if they’re a Subaru enthusiast or they only have a couple of hundred dollars to spend on a used vehicle.

Second-generation Subaru Outback (1999-2003)

These second-generation versions of the Outback were longer and wider than the first generation, and although they went into production in 1999 they were actually for the 2000 model year in North America. This generation looks more like we’d expect a Subaru to look, and in 2000, a six-cylinder 3.0-liter engine was introduced for the first time to add to the existing 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit.

Third-generation Subaru Outback (2003-2009)

Although the third generation of the Outback went into production in 2003, it didn’t arrive in America until 2004 as a 2005 model year. The exterior styling was a big improvement once again, but it got another interior and exterior redesign for the 2006 model year. Towards the end of this generation, the sedan version of the Outback that had only been produced for the American market was dropped after the 2007 model year.

Fourth-generation Subaru Outback (2009-2014)

The Outback grew in size once again with the introduction of the fourth generation that arrived for the 2010 model year in America. The overall length may have reduced, but it was now 2.0 inches wider and 4.1 inches taller than its predecessor, and the wheelbase also increased by 2.8 inches. Subaru did what it does for the 2013 model year by coming up with a refreshed look for the Outback, and I’d suggest that the fourth-generation is as old as you ought to go.

Fifth-generation Subaru Outback (2014-2019)

The fifth-generation Outback is probably the sweet spot for used buyers right now as it has modern(ish) exterior styling and includes many of the features and systems we now consider essential with modern vehicles. It’s not exactly what anyone would call drop-dead gorgeous, but it does have a unique look and appeal that can be a refreshing change from the hordes of homogenous crossovers that litter our roads today.

Sixth-generation Subaru Outback (2020-present)

The sixth-generation Outback appeared at the New York International Auto Show in April 2019 and landed in showrooms a little while later as a 2020 model year. This model boasts a comfortable ride, a spacious interior, decent fuel economy and plenty of interesting technology. It’s a hugely capable vehicle that suits a wide variety of different applications, as long as you can live with those looks, of course.

Is the Subaru Outback a good car?

The Subaru Outback is a very good car because it can fulfill a wide variety of different roles and that means it can appeal to a very wide variety of different buyers. There’s plenty of room inside its flexible interior for both passengers and cargo, it comes packed with standard features at every trim level, every version is standard all-wheel-drive, and the whole package is pretty tremendous value for money.

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How popular is the Subaru Outback?

The Subaru Outback has been proving increasingly popular with US consumers and far more are sold now than in the vehicle’s early days. US sales of the Outback hovered around the 60,000 per-year mark throughout the early 2000s, but they took a big leap in 2010 to 93,148 and Subaru now sells around 180,000 Outback models every year in the US.  

Is Subaru Outback a good used car?

The Subaru Outback is a very good used car despite early versions not being as spacious as later models, and that’s because what they lack in space and comfort they more than make up for when it comes to capability, versatility and all-round value for money.

Does the Subaru Outback have a lot of problems?

In general, the Subaru Outback is regarded as a very reliable vehicle but even the most reliable vehicles have their problems. With the Outback, its Achilles Heel used to be its 2.5-liter engine, which became synonymous with head gasket problems in the 1990s and 2000s. getting a leaking head gasket fixed isn’t a cheap job because it requires a lot of labor, so if you buy a used Outback that turns out to have this problem it’s going to set you back somewhere in the region of $1,000-41,200 to get it sorted.

Which used Subaru Outback model years should you avoid?

Because of their head gasket problems, you should probably avoid Subaru Outback models between and including the 2002 and 2011 model years. Of course, if the service history shows the problem has been corrected then you’re fine to buy one of these model years without too much to worry about.

Does the Subaru Outback last long?

The Outback is a Subaru, and Subaru is a brand with an enviable reputation for durability so the Outback will still be going strong after 200,000 miles. If you find a high-mileage Outback with a good service history you shouldn’t be put off by the mileage, as long as the price is right and reflects the amount of driving that car has done.

Do all Subaru Outback models have head gasket problems?

Although head gasket problems are relatively common in used Subaru Outback models equipped with the 2.5-liter turbo-four engine, not every Outback is bound to suffer from these issues. If you want a used Subaru outback but you also want to avoid head gasket problems, you can always choose a model with a six-cylinder engine and you’ll also benefit from all that extra power and performance too.

What year Subaru Outback is the best?

Any Subaru Outback from 2013 onwards is what you want if you’re looking for the best Outback model years. It’s easy to say about most vehicles that later models are the best, but there are tangible improvements with styling, technology and interior space from 2013 onwards that make these later models the best Outback models so far.

The 2009 Subaru Outback saw 95% of consumers tell the cars.com website that it deserved a score of 4.7 out of 5, but that was a rating of it as a new car compared to its rivals of the time. A 2009 model is getting a little long in the tooth these days, so I’d say any Outback from 2013 onwards is a pretty good bet.

What transmission does the Subaru Outback use?

CVT transmissions are synonymous with the Subaru Outback, and a new version introduced for the 2010 model year helped the Outback deliver class-leading fuel economy at the time as well as being nicer to drive than previous versions. Although you won’t find many of them around, there have been low-spec models with manual transmissions if that’s your thing and you can find one.

Is the Subaru Outback a safe car?

A used Subaru Outback is one of the safest family vehicles you can buy with top ratings from both agencies that carry out crash tests. If you take a 2014 Subaru Outback, for example, the fact it gets a full five-star rating for overall safety from the NHTSA and the coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS should tell you all you need to know. 2018 models come standard with eight airbags, a rearview camera, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, while higher trim levels are available with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of advanced safety tech.

EyeSight bundles together many important safety features such as automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors. Couple that to the already impressive list of standard features across the Outback family and it’s easy to see why the Subaru Outback is a hard act to beat when it comes to vehicle and passenger safety.

2020 Subaru Outback

Should you buy a Subaru Outback with over 200k miles?

As long as the car has a good service history and it’s priced to reflect that it’s done 200k miles then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy a Subaru Outback with that’s done that kind of mileage. Some people say you shouldn’t pay more for a 200k car than you’d be willing to pay every year for its replacement, but that’s unrealistic.

For example, I’ve just seen a Subaru Outback with 307,000 miles on it priced at $10,000, but it was only a 2015 model year. Would you really think a 2015 model year Outback should be priced at just a couple of thousand dollars as it might cost you that to maintain it for a year because it’s done 307,000 miles?   

How much should you pay for a used Subaru Outback?

The least you should pay for a used Subaru Outback is probably around $2,000 as anything costing less than that is probably about ready for the breaker’s, but you can pay as much as $45k for a high-spec 2020 model.

Here’s a table of the maximum and minimum used prices you should expect to pay for each Outback model year from 2009 onwards.

Model YearAverage Minimum Used PriceAverage Minimum Used Price
2009$6,500$11,998
2010$5,990$15,550
2011$4,700$17,998
2012$5,495$17,998
2013$6,500$20,500
2014$8,495$21,999
2015$10,995$24,998
2016$12,499$27,998
2017$15,967$31,998
2018$16,725$34,995
2019$18,937$36,769
2020$19,789$38,479

Is the Subaru Outback good on gas?

Fuel economy has never been a particular strength or weakness of the Subaru Outback even with its standard all-wheel-drive format. Even a 1994 Outback can get you 20 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined with the 2.2-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission.

Jump forward to 2009 and the fourth-generation Outback, and although the fuel economy isn’t any better than in 1994, it does have a bigger engine and more power. However, a 2019 Outback with the base 2.5-liter engine and automatic transmission is a lot more impressive with EPA fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined.

Is the Subaru Outback good off-road?

The Subaru Outback is as good off-road as it is on-road and it’s considerably more capable when the pavement runs out than just about any rival in its class you may shop it against. It’s not going to beat a Jeep Wrangler or a Land Rover Discovery in a race up a mountain, through the jungle, or across a desert, but it will take you in and out of places a CR-V or RAV4 wouldn’t consider going.

Should you buy a used Subaru Outback?

A Subaru Outback is a fantastic used car to buy as long as you value substance over style. It’s hard to think of anything the Outback doesn’t do well and it’s also great value for money. On the other hand, if you’re looking to buy a used car that will turn heads and get you admiring looks as you drive past then just about any alternative would do a better job.

The Subaru is an ugly duckling that’s not going to turn into a beautiful swan unless you trade it in for something else. I couldn’t live with the way the Outback looks, regardless of how good it is or what great value it might be. That’s just me though, and if all you want is a fabulous all-rounder you can rely on that’s safe, versatile, reliable and great value for money then the Outback could be your perfect used car.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and an automotive writer and journalist for the last 8 years

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