Subaru Forester: 11 Most Common Problems (Explained)

The Forester made its US debut back in ’97 and is one of the highest-selling vehicles in the country.

They’re ideal for adventurous families and offer lots of practicality and comfort both on and off-road.

If you’re considering buying one, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with its most common pitfalls, which we’ll cover in this article.

1. Windshield Cracking

According to Car Problem Zoo, a site dedicated to owner feedback, the most commonly reported problem on the Forester is windshield cracking.

A well-known Subaru problem, drivers have reported spontaneous cracks and chips in their windshields appearing out of nowhere.

The cracks start out small and then keep expanding.

The real kicker with this issue is Subaru has been reluctant to fix this under warranty.

This problem is most common on model years 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Solution

If your windshield cracks the only solution is to have it replaced asap. You should really push to have this covered under warranty, always ask to speak to senior management if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere with the person your dealing with.

2. High Oil Consumption

On a similar owner feedback site, CarComplaints.com the #1 worst complaint is due to excessive oil consumption. It’s deemed the worst problem due to the high cost of repairs and the low mileage it usually occurs at.

According to Car Complaints, this problem typically occurs around the 30K miles mark and has a repair cost of around $2000.

Burning a quart of oil every 1,000 miles is far from normal, although Subaru has tried to argue it’s within “normal specifications”.

High oil consumption has left owners having to top off their oil reserves multiple times between every 5,000 miles oil change.

This problem was reported on models as early as 2011 all the way up to 2015.

There have been recalls for this issue, if you think you may have been affected run a VIN check on your Forester.

Solution

High oil consumption on a Forester will require an engine replacement or at the very least major engine work.

3. Stalling

Stalling issues have been commonly reported for the Forester across multiple model years.

Many of these incidents are likely related to the excessive oil consumption we previously mentioned, however by no means all of them.

Owners have reported the vehicles stalling multiple times and losing all power – sometimes whilst driving at high speeds, here’s one owner’s account:

“I was driving on the interstate going 75 mph and my car suddenly acted like I was on ice and shut down. Tons of traffic behind me and I was in the passing lane with no place to go. I stepped on the accelerator pedal not believing what was happening and NOTHING!! It could have been a fatal accident for me and many others had I not been able to get off the road.”

The Forester has a history of these problems and there have been recalls.

Solution

This issue is sometimes caused when the tumble generators on the air intake manifold fail and also by worn-out fuel lines, in which case these will need to be replaced.

Tumble generators are designed to better mix the air/fuel by making the incoming air turbulent.

However, the cause of this will be model year specific and you should always check for recalls.

4. Passenger Airbag Not Working

For Forester models from around 2015 to 2018, there have been numerous complaints related to the passenger airbag.

Common symptoms include:

  • Passenger airbag turns off
  • Airbag / SRS notification light indicates that the airbag is ‘OFF’.
  • Display screen indicating “PASSENGER AIRBAG OFF”
  • Car does not accurately sense when a passenger is in the seat

In some instances, Subaru has been slow to address this problem on owners’ vehicles and exceeded a reasonable amount of time to have it fixed, this could be due to a huge backlog of airbag recalls.

Solution

All airbag-related issues should be left to the dealership to resolve, playing around with your airbags will void your warranty and is dangerous to do so.

5. Cracked Oxygen Sensor

On Repair Pal, the most commonly reported problem for the Forester is a failed front oxygen sensor.

In most cases, the oxygen sensor develops a crack and the check engine light comes on.

The O2 sensor lets the car’s computer know if the fuel mix is lean (too much oxygen) or burning rich (not enough oxygen). Knowing the ratio of fuel to air allows the engine to make any necessary adjustments to ensure things run smoothly.

Subaru has recalled various models to replace sensors that may fail.

Solution

Take your Forester into the dealership and see if they’ll fix it for free.

If you suspect this may be the problem and you’re mechanically inclined, you can always try running a diagnostics check with an OBD2 scanner and then googling the error code.

Once you’ve confirmed the issues you’ll need to replace the sensor, although in some cases the idle control valve will also need replacing.

Related: How Long Do Subaru Foresters Last?

6. Catalytic Converter Failure

The 2nd most commonly reported problem on Repair Pal for the Forester is in relation to the catalytic converter – a device incorporated in the exhaust system containing a catalyst for turning pollutant gases into less harmful ones.

Specifically, the problem is that the efficiency of the catalytic converter is low, which means high levels of pollutants are being discharged.

This problem is usually accompanied by a check engine light.

In some states where a smog test is required, the Forester could well fail the test because of this.

This has been a problem on models from 2000 all the way up to 2014.

Solution

Although this won’t necessarily affect the operation of your car, the environment will thank you for taking your car into the dealership.

In most cases you’ll need a new catalytic converter which can cost upwards of $1000 although it can also be replaced under warranty.

7. Head Gasket Failure

Head gasket failure is a common complaint on Forester models from ’98 – 2011.

Due to this problem, Subaru extended the warranty on a number of vehicles when they became aware of how widespread the issue was.

In a car engine, a head gasket provides the seal between the engine block and cylinder head. Its designed to seal the combustion gases within the cylinders and to prevent coolant or engine oil leaking into the cylinders.

Solution

If the head gasket goes, then it will have to be replaced. According to Repair Pal this can cost between $1,800 and $2,000.

8. Battery Always Dying

This issue is much more common on newer Forester models, from around 2019.

For a car with such a great reputation, it is an unnecessary problem.

A flat battery will and has left owners stranded and the replacing of batteries can get expensive.

One owner had this to say:

“Had to wait with the dogs in the park in the Heat. When the tow truck guy came, he said try it again and it turned over. He laughed and said it happens a lot with Subaru.”

Solution

You’ll have to jumpstart the vehicle or call roadside assistance. One Subaru dealership advised their customer to use a trickle charger and drive the car at least 30 minutes every 5 days although this is far from ideal.

Replacing the battery is a short-term solution and ultimately a more reliable battery system is needed.

9. Tailgate Not Working

The tailgate not opening problem has been reported on newer Forester models and older models alike, although it is more common on newer models.

In some scenarios owners are unable to open the rear hatch when the car is turned on.

In other cases, owners report hearing three beeps and no matter what they do, the hatch just won’t open.

Solution

Make sure you unlock the car – if the doors were locked when it was running, the rear gate will be locked too, and it won’t open. Try hitting the unlock button to unlock all the doors.

One Forester owner shared this tip:

“I searched the manual (which is hard to follow) and found ‘Initialization of rear gate’ in the Rear gate section of the manual. (page 148 in my manual). #1. Keep pressing the rear gate opener button until it is unlocked and lift up the rear gate…..”

Failing that you could try removing the cable from the 12V battery for 30 seconds to reset the electrics.

10. Shuddering, jerking and vibrations

Shuddering and vibrations was most commonly reported on the 2012 – 2017 Foresters however it has been reported on other model years too.

Subaru are aware of this issue and has extended the warranty on affected vehicles, although they haven’t been massively helpful with all their customers judging by owner feedback.

The shuddering problem can take many forms, such as:

  • Hesitation at different speeds
  • Lunges forward on the freeway
  • Random shutters and/or jerks
  • Surging forward while parking or taking off
  • Shudders when accelerating
  • Bucking at low speeds
  • Shakes when idling
  • Shakes when braking

These problems have mostly been linked to the CVT (continuously variable transmission) and online you can find no shortage of disgruntled customers.

Solution

There are recalls for this issue and also software updates too.

Some dealerships have reportedly tried telling customers “it’s just the way the car drives” which is unacceptable.

11. Beeping

Not the most serious issue but certainly one of the more annoying and mysterious ones.

Owners have been left scratching their heads as to why their Forester keeps beeping.

Solution

There are various causes behind this one but it is usually caused by navigation alerts.

We go into a lot more detail about the common causes in this article here.

Subaru Forester Model Years With the Most Problems

To get a better idea of which Subaru Forester has the most problems the fairest way is to compare models based on the number of vehicles sold in relation to the number of reported problems.

For example, newer cars will have fewer complaints simply because they’ve been around for less time.

We’re using Car Complaints PPMY index which means Problems Reported Per Thousand Vehicles Per Year.

Based on this index, the most problematic years are:

  1. 2019 – 1.25 PPMY
  2. 2020 – 1.08 PPMY
  3. 2017 – 0.53 PPMY

And the least problematic years are:

  1. 2002 – 0.10 PPMY
  2. 2001, 2005, 2007 – 0.12 PPMY
  3. 2006 – 0.13 PPMY
Subaru Forester
Model Year
ProblemsSales PPMY Index
20227
202186176,2750.49
2020411190,3941.08
2019670179,2571.25
2018409202,7610.50
2017515194,9760.53
2016397156,3610.42
2015687224,2720.44
2014475146,4830.41
20137842,7740.20
201212664,1380.20
201118174,8020.22
2010287112,5170.21
200922088,7590.19
20086030,4060.14
20077743,9850.12
200611255,1650.13
200510151,5470.12
200426763,3230.23
200323566,7700.19
200210955,7640.10
200116864,0510.12
20009029,9960.14
199915646,5670.15
1998137

Source: Car Problem Zoo

Subaru Forester Pros and Cons

If you’re considering a Subaru Forester as your next car you might be wondering what its strengths and weaknesses are…

Pros

  • Lots of cargo space
  • Comfortable layout
  • Smooth ride
  • Very practical
  • Good handling

Cons

  • Base models are lacking in features, luxuries and are quite basic
  • Slow acceleration
  • Base engine lacks oompf
  • Even some of the newer models look a bit outdated and have an underwhelming design

Related: 11 Subaru Forester Facts and Statistics You Should Know

Subaru Forester Reliability Compared to Similar Cars

Consumer Reports rankings detailed below is based on the model’s newest three years, the Subaru Forester scores a very respectable 80/100.

Make & ModelConsumer Reports
Reliability Score
Hyundai Tucson87
Honda CR-V80
Mazda CX-580
Subaru Forester80
Toyota RAV444
Ford Escape25

Source: Consumer Reports

Subaru Forester Used Value

We’ve taken a look on Car Gurus to gauge the resale value of a Subaru Forester, below are typical asking prices for each model year.

According to Car Edge, a  Subaru Forester will depreciate 40% after 5 years and have a 5 year resale value of $17,698.

Note: Used model prices will vary depending on trim level.

Model YearMileage (miles)Resale Price 
20224,389$34,588
20212,985$31,900
202036,776$26,988
201926,993$26,900
201826,714$25,977
201724,840$24,950
2016131,421$12,500
201553,160$19,379
2014123,362$11,995
201397,522$13,995
2012141,000$9,995
2011127,667$8,450
201087,051$6,995

Source: Car Gurus

Related: Where Are Subaru Foresters Made?

What Do Owners Like and Dislike About the Subaru Forester?

Based on owner feedback from the Kelley Blue Book site here are what real-life owners love and hate about the Subaru Forester.

Likes

  1. Safety
  2. Style
  3. Performance
  4. Visibility
  5. Amazing in winter conditions
  6. Design
  7. Nimble
  8. Rigid body

Dislikes

  1. Infotainment system
  2. Annoying stop/start feature
  3. Noisy
  4. Uncomfortable on bumpy roads
  5. Underpowered

Owners Reviews

“I am a loyal Subaru fan, and went from an Outback to a Forester. Love this car because it is comfortable with plenty of room and stylish. A plus is that it is a beast in the snow. Love the softer seats and so easy to clean. Wish Subaru would come out with a hybrid model for better gas mileage.”

Source: Kelley Blue Book

“Radio is good. Gas economy far from advertised especially city driving. Outside features are very nice except the looks. Long and narrow. Not very stable on the road if compare to my Mazda CX-5.”

Source: Kelley Blue Book

“Owned my Forester 2.5 years and it’s one of the best quality vehicles I have owned and I’ve owned a lot. Smooth ride and it’s like floating on a cloud.”

Source: Kelley Blue Book

“Love the car. Everything I hoped for, large doors, easy in an out. I’m 6’3″ and have lots of headroom in both front and rear seating, go figure! It sits high with lots of glass all the way around. Just a great car, no buyers remorse from me.”

Source: Edmunds

How Reliable Are Subaru Cars?

According to a recent report from Consumer Reports, Subaru are ranked the 7th most reliable car manufacturer out of 28 brands.

RankingBrandScore
1Lexus76
2Mazda75
3Toyota71
4Infiniti69
5Buick66
6Honda66
7Subaru66
8Acura64
9Nissan63
10Mini60
11Hyundai56
12Chrysler54
13Porsche52
14Chevy48
15Audi47
16Cadillac47
17BMW45
18Ford44
19Kia43
20Volvo42
21Ram40
22GMC37
23Mercedes-Benz34
24Volkswagen31
25Genesis30
26Jeep26
27Tesla25
28Lincoln18

Source: Consumer Reports

Related: Subaru Forester in Snow & Winter Driving

Sources

https://www.consumerreports.org/cars/subaru/forester/

https://caredge.com/subaru/forester/depreciation

https://www.cargurus.com/Cars/l-Used-Subaru-Forester-d374

https://www.kbb.com/subaru/forester/

https://www.edmunds.com/subaru/forester/

https://www.carcomplaints.com/Subaru/Forester/

https://www.carproblemzoo.com/subaru/forester/