2020 Subaru Outback, 2020 Subaru Forester
Denis Flierl's picture

Why Subaru Scores Low The Last 5 Years In J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study

Subaru falls short again in the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and top-selling models like Outback do not get any individual awards. Why does Subaru always score so low?

The Subaru Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek do not get any individual awards, and Subaru scores poorly again in the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. But that’s not anything new because the Japanese automaker has not scored well the past four years and now this makes five years in-a-row. Why does Subaru always score well below the industry average in this study?

The study measures the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of their three-year-old vehicles. The 2020 study measures problems in 2017 model-year vehicles.

2020 Subaru Outback
The Subaru brand scores low the last 5 years in J.D. Power study

In 2016, Subaru scored a total VDS ranking of 166 (Problems per 100 Vehicles), in 2017, the Japanese automaker ranked 164 PP100 well below the industry average of 156. In 2018, Subaru slipped into the bottom quarter of all automakers with a 167 PP100 while the overall industry average improved 9 percent to 142.

This year, Subaru improves with a score of PP154 but is number 10 from the bottom. The industry average improves from 2018 and is PP134 (problems per 100), but no Subaru vehicles were in the top three models in their individual segments. Subaru does seem to improve according to the study but why are they ranked in the bottom 10?
Watch this video report discussing the benefits of keeping your old Subaru Outback vs buying the 2020 model and click to subscribe to Torque News for daily automotive news analysis.

2020 Subaru Outback, 2020 Subaru Forester
Top-selling Subaru Outback, Forester, and Crosstrek score poorly according to Power

Keep in mind you’re getting information on things that were true with cars people bought new in 2017. Since then the Subaru Outback, Forester and Crosstrek have all received major makeovers. But it still doesn’t make sense that Subaru continually scores low (23rd) in this study and high in other studies like Consumer Reports (subscription required) where they rank number 7 among all automakers. CR singles out the all-new Ascent family hauler as a car with some new-model problems or Subaru would have scored higher.

The groups of owners of those surveyed are very different between J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. J.D. Power surveys those who've owned a vehicle for three years, while CR's survey of 400,000 owners of 640,000 vehicles places no restriction on the length of ownership. Those surveyed are CR subscribers, who are likely even pickier and discriminating regarding consumer goods.

Is the J.D. Power VDS study showing the correct picture?

A report a few years ago from Autoblog’s Consumer Editor, Jeremy Korzeniewski may help shed more light on it. The problem, as Jeremy pointed out, is one of methodology: When he wrote his article, there was no weighting assigned to the problems reported in the survey, and this still appears to be the case.

Therefore, a problem with in-vehicle technology (infotainment) or a loose piece of trim is deemed as serious as a blown engine or leaky transmission (infotainment still accounts for more problems than any other category in the 2020 study). Jeremy's point is, if the categories of problems were weighted, you'd see a different picture with Subaru’s J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study score.

What are the most dependable brands according to J.D. Power?

Among all vehicle nameplates, Genesis ranks highest in overall vehicle dependability among all brands, with a score of 89 PP100. Lexus ranks second in vehicle dependability with a score of 100 PP100. Buick follows Lexus with 103 PP100, Porsche (104 PP100) ranks fourth.

Three of the top four automakers are all luxury brands and Buick is marketed as a premium automobile brand, selling luxury vehicles positioned above GM’s mainstream models. There are likely human feelings and biases that are in play in surveys like J.D. Power’s VDS. If you bought an expensive Genesis, Lexus or Porsche you're probably going to say, and believe, that the car you paid dearly for is worth every penny.

There are many sources for automotive information, so do your homework and cross-reference your information. This annual study hasn’t hurt sales of the popular 2020 Outback wagon, Forester SUV and Crosstrek subcompact SUV all-wheel-drive vehicles. The Subaru brand scores high in brand loyalty, and they’ve also been rated with the highest residual values in the industry.

You Might Also Like: Subaru Officially Joins Toyota Group, What It Means For New Outback And Forester Models

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!

Leave your comments below, share the article with friends and tweet it out to your followers!

Photo credit: Subaru USA

Subscribe to Torque News on YouTube.

Follow Torque News on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.


Have a 14 and 20 outback, both purchased new and not one problem with either.
A friend of mine who manages a BMW dealership told me that JD Power ratings depend on how much the rated company spends on JD Power "services". Their ratings aren't worth spit but they have the best marketing department in the business. As soon as I see someone quoting JD Power on anything I just turn the page. Consumer Reports doesn't depend on bribery. They do not take goods or money from providers of rated goods. Why do JD Power ratings differ so much for so long from Consumer Reports? Maybe Subaru doesn't pay JDP protection money. BTW, ask Subaru owners you come across in the real world about their experience & satisfaction. I did for a year before I bought mine. Couldn't find anyone with a bad word to say about them.
I have a 2006 Subaru Forester and it will be my last Subaru. Just had to spend $4000 for head gasket job and exhaust leak.
That's why you find a trusted mechanic or learn how to do it yourself. Ive done headgaskets on Subaru's now and it's really not to bad. And you can get a whole kit for less then $400
We own 2015 Subaru Crsstrek premium and for the last 5 years, Zero problem. Great car and exactly what we need for transportation and carry our bikes to anywhere literally.
We own 2015 Subaru Crsstrek premium and for the last 5 years, Zero problems. Great car and exactly what we need for transportation and carry our bikes to anywhere literally.
I have a 2010 Outback 3.6R. Head gaskets failed at 78,000 miles. Subaru of America did participate with some $ towards the repair. Had to pull the engine. Still very disappointed with the fact that the horizontal engine has been produced for who knows how long and they STILL have head gasket issues. Love the car and the power but will not be buying another. Reason: no 6 cylinder available, Subaru stopped offering the Turbo 4, and I do not want a CVT transmission. I do not like the lack of instant response with the CVT. Subaru’s motto used to be something like: Inexpensive, and built to stay that way. Those days appear to be over.
I live in Tahoe and subaru is the most over rated car on the road out here. But the owners are so loyal when there cars break down the owners are almost proud there car is in the shop.
My 2018 Forrester Is my first SUV. It is problem FREE. It has 24k and gets great gas mileage. Other than an immediate replacement of the tires when new - something I always do - I am not a fan of low end Yokohama tires! Instead, I purchased Michelin Defender tires that handle well in a variety of driving conditions! Just a few pearls of wisdom!
Subaru has a known and acknowledged issue with expensive head gasket repairs. The Consumer Reports data shows a high rate of major engine problems for years after Subaru claims they resolved the problem, yet year after year Consumer Reports rates them highly for reliability anyway. When the dealer said our 2010 Forester would imminently need a head gasket repair worth more than half the value of the car, we took both our Subarus in and went back to Honda. Y'll can keep them and knock JD Power as much as you'd like. And it really makes me question what methodology Consumer Reports is applying, as well, when Honda has no engine problems but a higher rate of display / electronic problems so they get graded lower.
Our fourth subaru...my wife could have been a poster child fo vehicle safety as she walked away from 3 accidents that totalled her cars...but this one drinks oil. Dealer says a quart every 1000 miles is acceptable...funny how my Toyota does not have that problem.
Consumers loves the reliability of most of the Subaru line and so do I. Had my first Forester for 10 years without a problem. On my 2nd one now and 2 years in not a single issue. Love this car!
Clearly Subrau isn't buying the JD Power recommendation! My old 2013 Outback was as reliable as a vehicle can be! I changed the oil, put gas in it and bought tires. That is all I remember doing in 40,000 miles. My 2018 is doing just about as well, the only thing is the battery doesn't do well in Sub-Zero weather when it sits for a long time outside. As far as the collision advoidence, even though the industry doesn't give it credit for being as good as it is. There is a coyote running around today that should be dead. My Outback braked so close I bet the tail brushed the headlight. With an of my older cars that coyote would be dead!
My 2012 outback 2.5 runs like a new car only has 78675 miles , one recall for the passenger airbag . All I can say is that this is one very well made car . I will most likely buy another outback but it looks like it will be years from now as I have said it's just like new inside and outside.
I have heard from owners that Subaru’s use oil. Given this age of the “maintenance free” vehicle in most peoples eyes, that can be a problem. I am from the old school and still routinely check my oil level. Many, especially the young do not. That combined with extended oil change intervals is a recipe for disaster. My friend has an Impreza and drives until the low oil pressure light comes on. Even then she doesn’t act immediately.
Check out NJ class action suite on oil consumption. Subaru buit engines where oil could get past rings and increase "gas" mileage. They lost. Found out after I took wife's 2014 Forrester in 2d time to complaine. Local dealer wanted to keep car for 3 days to run testa and knew that this was a known problem. And charge me for 2 oil changes. So I now carry extra oil and add some when the warning light gomes on. Now I have a Buick Tourer after trading in a Chrysler van. Sub will be sold or traded this summer And repair shop managera at Subaru here will not šepak to me.
2018 Forester Manual Tranny. A/C was a joke, never got cool enough. Compressor would cycle on and off very fast to save mpg, but it was too much and the inside was too hot. Tinted windows too. Traded in.
Nope, not how that works at all, burning oil intentionally would DECREASE mileage due to poisoning of the air fuel ratio sensors and kill the converter.
Owned a 2013 Subaru Outback. Had to have 3 transmissions installed before 100,000 miles, then a ticking started in the engine and service personnel could not figure source. I will give Subaru credit for standing behind their product and issues. The transmissions were installed at no cost to me other than time/travel. Will never purchase a Subaru again.
I bought a new Subaru and the CVT failed at around 4k miles. They did eventually take responsibility for it, but it was a battle.
I have a 2018 Forester. Have continued to complain about a change in the Eyesight system that creates a random chime. Dealership customer service and North American customer service both have said that the system is operating correctly. No one wants to admit that there is a problem of distraction for the driver. Poor service and a company that ignores problems is not going to do well in the ratings.
JD Power does in fact weight the problem areas - in fact, they state outright that infotainment/electronics and trim misalignment are weighted lower than powertrain problems. However, what they do not reveal is the relative weighting between them nor do the break out the numbers of problems reported in each category. But they are only reporting the raw number of problem reports per 100 vehicles in the news releases. So, if the relative weighting is a "3-2-1" scheme and there are 100 reports per 100 vehicles of a 1-weighted infotainment problem and 1 report per 100 of a 3-rated transmission problem, the results are still going to be worse at the aggregate level *and* in the weighted score. If, on the other hand they have a more granular weighting scheme (1-10 or 1-100 point scale), and the "minor" things like loose trim or infotainment glitches are way at the bottom with major mechanicals way at the top, that might change a LOT of scores.
My 2018 with 15K on the clock has been a very good dependable car.0
My 2019 Crosstrek is the worse car I've ever owned and Subaru service is an insult.Have $1400 extra which causes loose steering and was told that's normal - don't use the features.Never buy from this company
I have had a Subaru Outback, 2015, 2017, 2 2018's, and a 2019. None has ever been anywhere near a service department except for scheduled routine service. I drive approximately 45K miles a year. I've never driven more reliable vehicles--5 in a row, and unless something changes markedly, I can't imagine even trialling any other manufacturer's vehicle.
JD power has also been known to be able to be bought, as in manufacturers can artificially by up their rating this has been well publicized by numerous articles.
I don't care what JD Power says, but I do know my own Subaru situation. My wife and I now drive our 3rd and 4th Subarus, a 2010 Outback and a 2017 Outback. I love the way they drive. But I've been very disappointed with the 2010, which has always been dealer-serviced and now has 129k miles. In 2019 I paid $2k for a new head gasket (dealer said it was leaking oil) and another $2k for some exhaust-sensor issue. That's on top of the $1k I paid a couple of years ago to have the rear-wheel bearings replaced. So $5k -- to date -- for things that should not have gone wrong on a car brand that is supposed to be the kind you drive for 300k+ miles. When I told my dealer's lead mechanic that I was surprised to have to be replacing the head gasket, he said "But now the car will go forever!", to which I replied "ANY car will last forever if you keep throwing enough money at it." So while we've been loyal Subaru customers for years, I'm starting to wonder if it's worth it. And should the CVT go and leave me with another massive repair bill...this relationship will be over.
Just look at how many Subaru products are still running strong after a decade or two compared to other makes. I spent 40+ years in Alaska and Subaru has no equal for daily and dependable use in adverse driving conditions.
JD Powers is financed by GM and affiliates. So of course Subaru will never win, because GM doesn’t have anything to compare it with!!
I Purchased a 2015 Subaru cross track XV for my company. This is the last Subaru I will ever own. Keep in mind that we always do recommend service, regular oil changes, regular tire rotations everything. The car has just now turned over 100,000 miles and it has had both rear wheel bearings replaced, blower motor resistor replaced, tons of rattles and squeaks and groans. It’s a real piece!