All Wheel Drive Auto: Independent Seattle Subaru Service


Subaru Service Kirkland: Why are Subaru Owners so attached to the fluids in their Subaru sometimes?  

Part of being a good Subaru shop is to spot trends or problems with Subaru’s, and try to address those problems with our customers before it becomes a larger issue.  This is something that won’t ever happen at a dealer service department, because they just don’t have the time or inclination to offer any real help.

One of the trends that has been going on since the introduction of the 2010 Outback is that, somehow the CVT fluid must be good for the life of the car?  That’s just not the case at all; and part of the reason some owners with CVT transmissions are having problems. The owner’s manual states the fluid is to be inspected, corrected or replaced as needed.  That’s what the “I” means if you look at the fine print at the bottom of the page in your maintenance booklet.

If you look in the warranty and maintenance booklet for any Subaru since say 2004, you will see a whole lot of “I” for Inspect in place of what used to just say “R” for replace.  What that leaves is a situation that’s uncomfortable for whomever is the one doing the service work on your Subaru. First of all it’s not a simple process to do the inspection. There is no dipstick to check the fluid, and if it’s dirty or low its time consuming to correct, and at the dealer level a CVT fluid service is ridiculously overpriced to the point where the service advisors don’t even want to bring it up. To properly check the level of the fluid on a CVT equipped Subaru the vehicle must be up to the proper temperature, and the Subaru Select Monitor or now also known as the DSTi  hooked up to the the vehicle.

Now comes a good Independent Subaru shop informing the customer that the CVT fluid should really be serviced, and almost at every instance the driver is confused (which is understandable), the statement almost the same every time “the Subaru dealer says it never needs to be done” or “in the manual it doesn’t say to change it”.  Both statements are false but we understand how we got here.

Currently at a Subaru dealership they are so busy taking care of warranty concerns, non warranty repairs and other maintenance services they don’t have the time to deal with real questions or items that should be done as preventive maintenance that take to long.  In order to service the CVT fluid the Subaru Select Monitor must be hooked up to the Subaru as well as putting the car on the rack. The entire procedure can take over an hour and in the flat rate world of a Subaru Dealership anything that takes an hour should be billed out for 3 hours if the customer is paying for it.  

Next is the power steering fluid, which again has no clearly defined service interval and again as such it’s always to be inspected at the major service intervals. In the manual it says “I” in the book and never “R” for replace as such at the Dealer level it’s again the forgotten fluid.  Power steering fluid is definitely not a lifetime fluid and really by the time your Subaru has 60,000 miles on it it needs to be replaced, and most likely every 30,000 there after given component wear affecting the fluid much more so as the Subaru ages.

We almost never used to replace rack and pinions on Subaru’s for leaks, and now it’s commonplace. The reason? Not enough service intervals for the fluid, the fluid carries tiny particles of metal as the rack and pump wear, the fluid becomes burnt with engine temperature, contaminated with moisture and loses its lubrication properties over time further compounding the issue.

When we estimate a 30k or 60k service we follow the same guidelines the dealer does, we have to or it would look like we were much more expensive.  We rely on our techs doing a good job of inspecting the vehicle and our advisors presenting factual findings to the customer. But it’s tough sometimes, and we totally understand that you are in for a service, and hate hearing that what we should really be doing to your Subaru is just going to cost more. What we really want you to avoid however; are the expensive repairs that come along with deferred maintenance. The dealer wants to sell you another car and start the cycle over.

On later models, it’s now more difficult to talk to owners about coolant, brake, and differential fluid; and while it’s true there have been improvements to coolant recently, it’s not so good now that it going to last the life of your Subaru.

I will always believe that your Subaru ownership experience is always, only going to be as good as who you let service your Subaru. We and any good Independent shop, want you to enjoy and keep your Subaru; until it’s life cycle determines the time to let it go, or you have a change in your life that dictates you need to make a change in vehicles, such as a larger family for example.  What we have observed over the last 10 years or so is that the extended or forgotten fluid intervals are starting to increase the number of repairs resulting in more unhappy drivers and we want to help you avoid that.

Thanks for reading,


-Justin Stobb

 All Wheel Drive Auto

“Helping you with your Subaru”




10 Responses

  1. Hi Justin. I’ve been following your blog for years now. I’ve learned a lot about my Subarus from you – thanks a bunch. I presently have a 2011 Outback with the CVT with 142k miles right now. I commute from Shelton to DuPont (33 miles one way) and work evenings so the vehicle is strictly seeing real moving highway miles as opposed to slow-moving rush hour gridlock. I did have the torque converter replaced under that extended warranty for the faulty bearing design on the TC. I know the service entailed 4 qts of CVT fluid being replaced, but I haven’t had the fluid touched beyond this. I’ve tried getting the 3 Subaru indies in the south sound to do a fluid change and none of them will touch the CVT. Of course all the south sound dealers maintain it’s lifetime fluid as you acknowledged. Tacoma, Bremerton, Olympia..I even called up Carter in Ballard and Rairdon’s just to see what they’d say. I test drove a few 2019 Subarus and noticed drivability, performance and general ambient in-cabin power train noise seemed to be identical to my vehicle. I actually preferred the handling and responsiveness of my car oddly enough, but the 2011 Outback does have the TR690 CVT which is used in the newer turbo and 3.6r vehicles so perhaps it’s a stronger unit than the TR580 cvt? My CVT is extremely quiet and only slightly audible in December or January when it’s colder out. Anyhow, I’m assuming you would recommend I have the fluid inspected?

    1. Hi Brett,

      I had an Advisor from one of the dealers you mentioned work for me for a little while, and from his perspective the biggest reason they didn’t do CVT service is the Techs didn’t want to, as it’s to time consuming and because its not automatically included in the service package, they do not want to wait for an advisor to upsell.

      We suggest checking and or servicing your CVT around 100k.

      Hope that helps


  2. Hi Justin, I’d love to see a post about traditional Automatic Transmission fluids and ATF filter changes.

    My 2005 Subaru Baja Turbo with the speed shifter calls for Dextron 3, but I can’t figure out which modern day Dextron equivalent ATF I should we be using now or which version/letter of Dextron 3 was used from the factory. Also, the service manual says not to change the filter unless damaged which seems silly to me.

    1. Hi Steve,

      The 2005 Baja uses an E4AT transmission that requires GL5 in the front diff and Dextron III in the transmission. Pre 2005 Subaru didn’t really have a you must use this brand Dextron thing like they have done with the Synthetic fluid part # SOA868V9242.

      As far as the filter, Subaru does not really have a mileage interval for the filter, I would suggest by 100k. The spin on external filter is what I am talking about now.

      Hope that helps


  3. Do you have any general recommendations for when the CVT fluid should be changed?Have a 2014 Legacy with 56k miles and a 2018 Outback with 16k miles. Both see a mix of city/highway driving, with the Outback skewed more toward the highway end as it’s our roadtrip car. I do all other recommended maintenance on time according to warranty/maintenance book.

    1. Hey Brian,

      We feel it should be changed by 90k or sooner based on the condition of the fluid, but because there is not a dipstick it’s not easy to check the condition of the fluid. So finding someone to do that for you might be a task.

      We have seen CVT Fluid at 60k be pretty nasty, and we have also drained stuff out at 90k that was still in good condition on a visual basis.

      Hope that helps


  4. So Justin my 2010 Forested has 53k. I’ve used full synthetic from the beginning. I had the coolant changed to long life with the conditioner of course at 46k because I’ve been worried like everyone else here about the head gasket failing. Should I be concerned? If so, then any advice would be awesome and appreciated. Thanks for your education to both myself and the rest of us.

    1. Hello Dave,

      The 2010 Forester had Subaru Super coolant (Blue in color) installed from the factory. Hope that’s what went back in? We do not suggest the conditioner is put in the 2005 and newer models for the most part, we are aware some dealers still do it, but it’s a mistake in my opinion and repeated use will clog the radiator as in reality its just stop leak, it doesn’t condition a thing. The 2005 to 2010 Forester might develop an external oil leak from the head gasket, and putting stop leak in the cooling system just isn’t going to help with that. Best advice I can give you is to change the oil lots and often regardless of what you use. Not allowing the oil to become contaminated in the year Forester you have is the best way to avoid or at least prolong the time the head gaskets will last.

      Hope that helps

  5. Thanks Justin!!,
    You are the best Subaru shop in the area and I keep referring and using the information you publish
    To work on my own Subaru. This helps me out a lot, I appreciate the information, keep up the great work!

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