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Is Subaru Covering Up Outback Lighting Failures?

A lawsuit filed against Subaru says 2010-2011 Outback models are experiencing failures of exterior lighting. Is Subaru covering it up?

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A California woman has filed a lawsuit against Subaru of America for an ongoing headlight issue on her 2011 Subaru Outback. Kathleen O’Neill who filed the lawsuit, says she experienced numerous failures of exterior lighting, especially the headlights. Shortly after purchasing the vehicle, a headlight failed and a Subaru dealer replaced the headlight, but the problem continued. After nine more headlight and other exterior lighting failures, she had enough.

What is the problem?

The lawsuit filed by Capstone Law APC, names the 2010-2011 Outback wagons as the Subaru vehicles with the lighting problems. The lawsuit says exterior lighting on the multi-purpose vehicle often fails because the lighting systems cause interference with other parts within the lighting assemblies. Too much voltage surges through the system and the lights fail. The problem seems to be made worse when the lights are put in automatic mode.

Is Subaru sweeping it under the rug?

Kathleen O’Neill claims Subaru has known about the lighting problems since 2008, when they changed the headlights on the popular vehicle because of lighting issues. The lawsuit says, Subaru made additional modifications to the switch assembly, fog lights and rear lights in 2010, but the problems continue. She says Subaru of America “refuses to inform consumers and continues to conceal the alleged defects.”

The lawsuit alleges the headlight and other lighting failures have existed from the time she bought the Outback and the same problems continue to occur because Subaru refuses to permanently address the real issue. O’Neill says the Japanese automaker puts a bandaid on the problem by replacing headlights and other exterior lights knowing they will continue to fail.

The Subaru Outback headlight lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division - Kathleen O'Neill, et al v. Subaru of America, Inc. Do you own a 2010 or 2011 Subaru Outback with this problem? Let us know.


Image source: Subaru

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Matt Kessler (not verified)    May 4, 2016 - 10:14AM

We have experienced same front headlight problems multiple times. The last change of both front lamps cost us almost $200. Despite changing to lower strength lamps with longer life spans we have still had to replace them frequently on our 2011 Outback. We have 80,000 miles and have had to change headlights at least 4 times compared to once on Mazda with 110,000 miles. This ought to be a class action federal lawsuit against Subaru!

John Wagner (not verified)    April 4, 2018 - 12:39PM

In reply to by Matt Kessler (not verified)

We have a 2013 Subaru Tribeca. The front lights go out every year. Dealer replaced them for free last time. Its a yearly repair issue. Light just went out a week ago. Dealer said no free replacement this time. It very hard to replace lights.
According to dealer its a common issue.

Ginger York (not verified)    March 25, 2020 - 11:17AM

In reply to by John Wagner (not verified)

2013 Subaru Legacy low beam headlights, marker lights, running lights, all except high beams keep blowing. We have replaced them numerous times. Water gets in the bottom light, possibly the cause.

Vera (not verified)    June 20, 2020 - 4:41PM

In reply to by John Wagner (not verified)

My 2011 Outback is a headlight nightmare. I hide when my husband has to change a headlight. We have changed them 2 to 3 times a year since we bought it. Ready to trade it in for something better

Phil schneider (not verified)    May 16, 2016 - 10:10PM

I have a 2012 Outback Limited with 60,000 miles on it and the only lights that have failed on it are the drivers side puddle lights. I have had no other problems and still have the original battery. I do dealer trade drives for a local Subaru dealer and I have driven a lot of new outbacks without any steering problems. I would recommend a Subaru to anyone.

R. Haskins (not verified)    August 21, 2016 - 9:49AM

My daughter has a 2010 Outback and she reports that a headlamp fails every 3-6 months since the vehicle was new. Latest is she received mail from Subaru stating that they will replace headlight bulbs for free for 10 years from date of original purchase, regardless of mileage. Takes about 1 hour of labor to change the bulb due to poor design on Subaru's part. Aug. 2016.

melinda (not verified)    January 23, 2020 - 2:22PM

In reply to by R. Haskins (not verified)

Was the letter in reply for the problem or did they notify her. I also am having trouble and I spoke to Subaru and they are denying any issue and refusing to acknowledge the problem. Thanks for any info..

D. Glenn (not verified)    October 16, 2016 - 2:24PM

My wife bought a 2011 Outback in 2013. I have had to replace the headlights (primarily the low beams) about every 3-6 months. The last time I replaced them (both at the same time) the new bulbs were so dim that they really weren't useful for driving at night at all. I replaced the passenger side low beam 2 weeks ago and it went out last night on our way home from a trip out of town. They go out so frequently that we keep spares in the glove box, so I replaced it this morning. When I removed it, I noticed it wasn't actually burned out. After putting the new one in, I checked them (of course) and the new one didn't come on. I turned on the high beams and the driver side low beam stayed on, but the driver side high beam didn't come on. I checked the high beam bulb and it isn't burned out either. So now I have two bulbs that are not burned out but won't light up. On low beam, I have one very dim light and on high beam I have one bright light on the passenger side and one very dim light on the driver side. My wife is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts, so she drives to and from work in the dark. This is NOT a safe situation for her. Looks like she'll be driving my Ford until Subaru is forced to address this issue!

Bill Schloendorn (not verified)    January 23, 2020 - 4:57PM

In reply to by D. Glenn (not verified)

I have a 2010 Subaru Outback and the low-beams were dim from the day I purchased the car. I have replaced them with the Sylvania SilverStar Ultra bulbs, size H7 and the difference was remarkable. They provide great coverage and are bright and enable you to see the road clearly.

Ken Stumpf (not verified)    October 19, 2016 - 1:17AM

The problem also exists with the 2012 Outbacks, We have one (a late-model year 2012 not covered by their new extended warranty) with 84K miles and we are now on our 5th set of headlights.

Three times, both bulbs have burned out at the same time, leading me to think there is a circuitry problem when the lights are left in the Auto On position when the car is started.

Maybe they can amend the suit to include the 2012s (all of the Outbacks, not just the early-years Outbacks, which are covered by the warranty).

Josh (not verified)    October 24, 2016 - 8:14PM

Bought a 2012 outback and have gone through 2 headlights a daytime running light and both tail/brake lights. Also need a new cv joint at just under 75000 miles. Always get it serviced like I'm supposed to. I've been pretty disappointed with the money I'm putting into what they say is a reliable car. Also had an issue with the interior getting wet because of a plug in a vent or something.

Bunilda Orengo… (not verified)    November 3, 2016 - 10:02AM

Same Problem - I own a 2011 Outback purchased in 2013, 1 month after purchase the problem started. Today, same issue again. Once on vacation, both headlights expired. What a nightmare. We always loved Subaru, but this has been very disappointing. I have yet to receive my reimbursement for the recent headlight we replaced.

Dan Littlefield (not verified)    November 30, 2016 - 2:17PM

I'm having the same low beam headlight failure issues on my 2012 Legacy. I have replace 4 bulbs in about 4 months. The last failure caused the assembly on the passenger side to melt. Local Subaru service department says there is nothing they can do to help with the problem other than not charge me for the labor to replace the headlight assembly.

Bill Gehring (not verified)    December 1, 2016 - 5:18PM

I have a 2013 Outback with the identical problem. I've replaced the headlight bulbs numerous times. when I took the car to the dealer for the wiper recall, they informed me I had five bulbs out! Not the headlights this time....that failed again two days later. I could live with this problem if it weren't necessary to remove the wheel liner to replace the bulb, but it is and I'm not willing to crawl around at my age.

This is clearly a design flaw. This is my second Outback (no problems with an older one), but I doubt I'd buy another given this situation.

Jim Noe (not verified)    January 7, 2017 - 9:35PM

In reply to by Bill Gehring (not verified)

I have a 2013 and my right front headlight just went out for the 5th time tonight! I am fed up with Subaru......Not the car I thought it would be.....Many more issues , not the least of which the f'ing WY they chose to deal with the oil burning issue!

Darrell Poirier (not verified)    February 12, 2017 - 1:42PM

In reply to by Bill Gehring (not verified)

I bought a 2010 Subaru Outback brand new and continuously had head lights go out. I was a Subaru lover and that was my 5th Subaru. I recently traded it is for a Toyota because of these types of problems. I wrote Subaru several times, but it was > $500 in light repairs. I did get a notice from Subaru that they would replace the lights free of charge and reimburse me for the money I paid, but I traded it and won't go back to Subaru Outback until a new design change. I still have a 2013 Outback and the high beam lights are flaky in that model as well. Now neither high beam works and it's not fuses, light bulbs, or relays.. Still troubleshooting it. I may have to take it into the dealer and spend the $500 to figure it out. There may be a RAV4 replacement coming for this 2013 Outback as failed lights are not safe.

Isaac grove (not verified)    December 1, 2016 - 11:08PM

I have a 2011 outback that I bought new. It has had bulb issues since I got it. I would replace them every 3 to 6 months. I had both of them go out at at the same time. I hit a deer at one point and after the car was fixed I didn't have any issues for a few years. I'm now starting to have light issues again.

I missed the letter about the extended warranty and have been changing it myself because I didn't want to spend the money for the dealer to do it. Light bulbs shouldn't be so difficult to change.

i just had my car in the shop when the dealership told me about the warranty. I'm glad Subaru will fix it for free. Those bulbs are expensive.

Natalie Shaffer (not verified)    December 9, 2016 - 10:49AM

I have a 2011 Subaru Outback, I have replaced every exterior bulb at least once, headlights every 3-6 months. Two weeks ago two bulbs were out, the dealer replaced them, now two more are out. Starting to shop for a different model car. I love my Subaru however dealing with taking it to dealer to have light bulbs replaced is too much. Still waiting for my check from Subaru from the extended recall ..... hopefully if everyone files claims for a refund they will finally see there is a major issue. Only thing I'm afraid if I trade it in that it will be worth less money.

Liz Hassinger (not verified)    December 16, 2016 - 10:53PM

I have a 2012 outback, with 63k on it, and have just paid to have the headlights and two tail lights, replaced, and this is my second time around....
I asked the service manager at my dealership about this today, and asked home if this is a recurrent problem in these cars, he denied that. Then mentioned that I thought there should be a lawsuit about this, he just changed the subject...I want to sign on to the suit!

Melinda Ihnen (not verified)    December 27, 2016 - 5:36PM

My 2011 Subaru Outback has 130,000+ miles and I have changed my tail lights a couple times and my headlights countless times. Please notify me about this lawsuit!

Mark Monahan (not verified)    December 28, 2016 - 1:29PM

I have a 2015 Legacy Premium and I have had to replace 5 low beam headlights in this past year, the dealer says nothing is wrong, then I asked why are they burning out if nothing is wrong. I told him I have a 2005 Honda accord and I have had to replace 1 headlight in the past 11 years, something isn't right at all. The service Mgr looked very sheepish after that conversation, I asked that they reimburse me the csot of the head lights, we'll see what happens

Jeannette H Auman (not verified)    January 6, 2017 - 8:37PM

We bought a used 2011 Outback with 11,000 miles on it. Now at 45,000 miles, we have replaced headlights several times. The last time we took the car in, we had to have 8 exterior lights replaced, at a cost of $350! Subaru then
had a recall of headlamps and we replaced them with LEDs a couple of months ago. One of them has already failed.

Elizabeth hassinger (not verified)    January 7, 2017 - 12:04AM

Sounds so much like my 2012!
I think there is a class action suit that includes 2011's. So you should check that out.
My service tech told me that the 2012's have the same issues, but no one has added it to a lawsuit yet, so... I had to pay for my repair:((. And like you, I brought it in for a headlight, and they told me that 3 different taillights were out!

Ashley Bittles (not verified)    January 18, 2017 - 10:29AM

I have a 2010 outback and I am replacing light bulbs every month. The driver's side has gone out twice and passenger side once and now I have a tail light out.

Joy Friese (not verified)    January 27, 2017 - 9:11AM

I have never had more bulb failures with a vehicle than I have with my 2011 Legacy sedan... I have actually lost count and it's not just the low beams. I guessing low beams I'm at about 6 failures in 69,000 miles. High beams, side markers and daytime running lights have all been an issue. Right now I have a day time running light, a low beam and a high beam out... all were new bulbs last year. My mechanic had to tear the bumper off to replace the bulbs so given the price of the bulbs vs the labor to change them we decided it was best to do them all. It almost seems as though replacing all front lights should be added to the annual maintenance guidelines. I love my car aside from the light issue and the cheap quality leather seats but due to the light issues and Subaru's refusal to admit and stand behind the problem I will be switching back to Honda.