Subaru Brake Problems

by James Highland
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Image by, courtesy of Alex Steffler

The widespread nature of brake problems in Subaru vehicles of all models and years has prompted considerable concern on the part of owners, dealers and government agencies. While braking issues on vehicles are not all necessarily dangerous, the potential for serious consequences is elevated in Subaru cars. Symptoms of any nature should be investigated thoroughly.


In 1999, Subaru issued a recall on brake parts specific to its Legacy line. The deficiencies increased the likelihood of a crash by slowing brake reaction. The problem primarily surfaced in cold weather and affected anti-lock brakes on these sport utility vehicles. A similar recall occurred in 2002, also affecting cold weather brake performance. In both instances, dealers replaced cylinders in all affected models, resolving the issue.


Bad brake rotors are a frequent problem in all Subaru models from many years. While rotor maintenance is a routine procedure in all vehicles, Subaru cars tend to require this much more often, sometimes every 15,000 miles. The rotor deterioration causes failed vehicle inspections, and they sometimes need full replacement. In some cases, the rotors are too damaged to easily remove. Further complications to the emergency brake may result directly from brake rotor maintenance.


While brake noises are not unusual in any vehicle, Subaru owners often find them a particularly elusive nuisance. Common methods for reducing brake squeak, such as replacing the pads, might not work. Instead, annoying sounds develop into serious conditions, including a grinding noise when braking that does not respond smoothly to pedals. Owners report that multiple visits to dealers don't always fix the noise, but a dealer can make sure it is not a dangerous condition.


Some Subaru brake systems develop a "spongy" reaction to the pedals, which results from hydraulic malfunction. This is a serious symptom, known as hydraulic bleeding, that can lead to total brake failure. Any experience resembling this should be investigated by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible. The issue might not be accompanied by noise, so always monitor changes in brake-pedal reaction to prevent consequences.


The long history of problems surrounding the braking systems on Subaru vehicles has resulted in numerous collisions and law suits over the years. A 1995 purchase of a Subaru Legacy eventually led to the U.S. District Court case Kruger v. Subaru, which formally documented the extensive symptoms of these malfunctions. The National Transportation Safety Board also has made safety recommendations based on Subaru brake problems as far back as 1985. Owners of any Subaru model should remain aware of any changes in brake performance.

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