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Are Subarus Expensive to Maintain?

BY: Alex Perrone
A Subaru, with two kayaks, drivers through a washed out dirt road

Since debuting in the U.S. in 1968, Subaru has steadily built a reputation for offering compact and capable cars. Among the first automakers to offer front-wheel drive (and later all-wheel drive), the company created a loyal following in snow country, which expanded nationwide over the past half-century.

Today, near-standard all-wheel drive and engines with horizontally opposed cylinders (often called a boxer design) help this 70-year-old business stand apart from other car makers. With such a trusted heritage for getting owners through inclement weather, you may wonder if Subaru’s standing for capability comes with higher maintenance and repair bills down the road.

With this in mind, we’ll examine Subaru’s real-world upkeep costs. Whether you’re researching the best compact crossovers or already have a Subaru in the driveway, understanding projected ownership costs can help determine if a Subaru fits your needs and budget.

According to RepairPal, Subaru has a reliability rating of 3.5 out of 5.0, which puts it squarely in the middle (14th) of 32 car brands. Let’s see how this mid-tier ranking impacts ownership costs.

The Cost of Routine Maintenance for Subarus

Expenses for Subaru routine maintenance and unscheduled repairs are in line with some industry averages. RepairPal reports that the typical Subaru owner spends $617 yearly to keep their car on the road. This amount compares to $652 among all vehicles.

However, examining Subaru’s maintenance costs against other Japanese brands reveals something different. RepairPal data shows that Toyota owners spend $441, while Honda owners shell out $428. Meanwhile, those with a Nissan in the garage pay an average of $500. Clearly, owning a Subaru comes at a premium.

Like other modern vehicles, Subarus have manufacturer-recommended maintenance intervals, usually every 15,000, 30,000, 60,000, and 90,000 miles. Service activities like inspections, fluid checks, oil changes, tire rotations, and replacements for filters, belts, spark plugs, and brake pads don’t necessarily cost more for a Subaru, but they may. Depending on the service interval and labor rates, owners can expect to pay $150-$350 for this type of maintenance.

Remember that the wider dimensions of the boxer engine can make access to some components more difficult. The extra time involved with some work (like replacing the spark plugs) can lead to higher shop bills.

Further, a Subaru’s higher expenses can be tied to its all-wheel drive (AWD) system — an extra set of drive wheels costs more to maintain. In particular, tires are a significant part of a Subaru’s extra outlay. Tires wear out sooner with an AWD vehicle, and unlike front-wheel-drive cars, all four tires must be replaced at the same time.

Common Repairs and Associated Costs for Subaru Models

Subarus, like all automobiles, aren’t immune from repairs. Eventually, every owner will face an unexpected repair. Here are some typical non-maintenance-related issues that a Subaru owner may encounter over their vehicle’s lifespan:

  • Oxygen sensor replacement: $362-$412
  • Wheel bearing replacement: $279-$363
  • Front brake caliper replacement: $733-$874
  • Alternator replacement: $638-$821
  • Radiator replacement: $1,041-$1,209
  • CV axle replacement: $1,039-$1,186

These amounts are based on RepairPal estimates, varying by Subaru model, repair shop, and region.

Specifics on the Subaru Outback and Forester

While seeing a repair bill for a few hundred or even a thousand dollars may not seem too bad, costs involving major systems can quickly add up. Let’s examine what significant repair expenses could look like for two of Subaru’s most popular models, the Outback and Forester.



  • Camshaft replacement: $1,448-$1,683
  • Cylinder head replacement: $3,575-$3,928
  • Transmission replacement: $5,266-$5,469

Again, actual repair costs can vary. Different approaches to the same repair can also affect the bottom line. For instance, the Outback and Forester use the same transmissions, but you can see that replacing the gearbox costs significantly more than rebuilding it. Subaru’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) is notoriously expensive to work on or replace.

The Infamous Head Gasket Issue in Subarus

No discussion of Subaru repair costs is complete without addressing the infamous head gasket issue. The problem predominantly affected the 2.5L EJ25 engines in several popular models, including the Forester, Outback, Impreza, and Legacy built from 1999-2011.

A head gasket is a vital engine component that seals the cylinder head to the engine block. This action ensures proper cylinder compression while preventing oil and coolant leakage. In affected Subarus, the head gaskets were prone to failure. The subsequent leaks caused overheating, sometimes leading to catastrophic engine failure.

The widespread issue can be tied to two factors. The EJ25’s box (flat-four) configuration, while providing a lower center of gravity and improved handling, is more susceptible to leaks. Further, Subaru used poor-quality gasket material, leading to premature wear and failure. Put these two elements together, and you have a perfect storm for a significant reliability issue and very pricey repair ($1,915-$2,220).

A Subuaru with a bad head gasket shows signs, including overheating, white smoke from the exhaust, a milky residue in the oil, loss of engine power, and visible oil or coolant leaks. By 2012, the company had switched to better-quality head gaskets and introduced changes to engine architecture.

The head gasket problem has been a notable blemish on Subaru’s reputation. Prospective buyers of older Subarus should be aware of this issue and have any vulnerable car under consideration undergo a pre-purchase inspection.

Subaru Parts: Availability and Price Considerations

While there aren’t as many Subarus on the road as Toyotas, Fords, and Chevys, Subaris are still everywhere, especially in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and Northeast. Given this popularity and the company’s decades-long presence in the U.S., parts availability isn’t generally an issue.

OEM (original equipment manufacturer) components can be sourced from Subaru dealers and auto supply retailers. This provides owners with numerous options that minimize wait times and repair delays. Those who stretch their dollars can find abundant choices for third-party compatible parts. This approach is ideal for maintenance items like brake pads, belts, and filters.

Expect to pay more for Subaru parts at dealerships. However, you may be able to find OEM components for less at national chains like AutoZone or O’Reilly Auto Parts. Numerous online discount operations specialize in Subaru parts and materials. Shop around to find the best deal. However, always do your homework to ensure you buy the correct Subaru component.

Don’t hesitate to turn to online forums for advice, as Subaru has a vibrant, enthusiastic community. You’ll find this approach especially helpful when looking to add performance upgrades.

Understanding the Depreciation Connection

While depreciation doesn’t have a direct out-of-pocket impact on car ownership, it does play a role in the long term. The greater a car’s value later on, the more you’ll get at trade-in time. In turn, higher valuations are supported by regular maintenance and prompt repairs.

Staying on top of upkeep is especially vital with Subaru because this brand has a stronger-than-average resale value. According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), a new car can lose up to 20% after its first year. At the end of five years, some vehicles may be worth less than half their original value.

In contrast, Subaru gets top scores for high residual value rates, reports CarEdge. The vehicle research site ranks the automaker first for retained value after three, five, and seven years of ownership.

CarEdge summarizes Subaru’s depreciation (or lack thereof): “Subarus have consistently held their value better than virtually all other car lines over the years and are a clear choice for those looking for long-term value.” For example, CarEdge estimates that a 2022 Subaru has an average five-year depreciation rate of 21.35%, which some new cars encounter after one year.

Yet, Subaru’s low depreciation rates are meaningless if maintenance and repairs aren’t performed. Poor upkeep negatively affects resale value.

Long-Term Ownership: Weighing Costs vs. Benefits

After taking the complete picture of Subaru maintenance, repairs, parts, and depreciation, let’s recap what owners and prospective owners must consider.

  • Above-average maintenance and repair costs are something that Subaru owners have to contend with. Those with a Subaru can expect to spend 50% more than on a comparable Toyota or Honda, whether it’s due to more complicated engine access or more expensive tire changes.
  • Although Subaru sells a fraction of vehicles compared to major automakers (like Toyota, Ford, and General Motors), this modest popularity doesn’t diminish the availability of parts. OEM and aftermarket components are easy to come by, and a thriving marketplace can help keep costs in check.
  • Besides capable foul-weather performance, arguably the greatest advantage to owning a Subaru is strong resale value. A well-maintained Subaru holds on to its value better than most vehicles, helping an owner’s bank account when the time comes to sell or trade in the car.

Balancing Maintenance Costs with Subaru’s Longevity

Keeping a Subaru on the road as long as possible means accepting higher-than-normal maintenance and repair expenses. There’s no way of getting around this. At the same time, owners of older models (1999-2011) must be alert to the notorious head gasket issue. There may be no way around a $2,000 repair bill, but at least it’s better than coping with an engine failure.

The trade-off for these extra expenses is a vehicle that holds value and can last many years and miles. A review of marketplace sites like AutoTrader and KBB reveal numerous Subarus that are 10-15 years old with 150,000-200,000 miles. That’s not to say you’ll want to buy one of these, but it hints at Subaru’s longevity.

Protect Your Subaru with an Extended Car Warranty

Adding an extended warranty, more accurately called a vehicle service contract (VSC), is one way to ensure the longevity of your Subaru or any other used car. An extended warranty provides peace of mind against breakdowns and the cost of surprise repair bills.

Endurance offers many auto protection options, including powertrain coverage (for the engine, transmission, and drive axles). And if a specific coverage plan doesn’t work for you, we can customize it to your needs and budget.

Learn more about peace of mind from Endurance! Call (800) 253-8203 to speak with a plan advisor or request a FREE quote. Instant coverage and pricing information are also available on our online store.

Read the Endurance blog for insightful articles about car repairs, DIY maintenance, auto reviews, and more.

Subaru FAQs

Why are Subarus so expensive to fix?

Subarus are more expensive to fix due to a unique boxer engine design and all-wheel-drive system, making access to some components more challenging and increasing labor costs. Additionally, the need for simultaneous tire replacements in AWD vehicles adds to the overall maintenance expense.

Is a Subaru a reliable car?

Yes, a Subaru is considered a reliable car. It has a reliability rating of 3.5 out of 5.0, placing it in the middle of the pack (14th out of 32 car brands), according to RepairPal.

Is Subaru more reliable than Toyota?

Subaru is generally considered less reliable than Toyota. RepairPal data shows that Subaru owners spend more on maintenance and repairs annually compared to Toyota owners, indicating that Toyotas may be more reliable and less costly to maintain over time. Interestingly, Toyota owns about 20% of Subaru.

How much does it cost to maintain a Subaru for a year?

A Subaru’s typical annual maintenance cost is about $617, slightly lower than the industry average for all vehicles but higher than other Japanese brands like Toyota and Honda.

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