How To Repair
  2017 2018 Subaru Outback Premium 4-cylinder 2.5L

© 2020 Brian Mork


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Introduction

This web page contains a narrative log and pictorial essay to maintain a fifth-generation (2015-2019) 2018 Subaru Outback with the 2.5L FB25 engine.  (...and a 2017 Outback that is nearly identical.  After about 18 months of ownership, the 2018 was totalled by another driver as my wife sat at a stop sign.  We purchased a 2017 with about 40,000 less miles.  Because they're nearly identical, I'm keeping them both on this same web page.)

See my other pages about the 1989 Dodge B250 Ram Van with 5.2L engine with 154,000 miles, or the
230,000 mile 1994 Suburu Legacy with 2.2L, 154,000 mile 2003 VW Jetta wagon 1.9L diesel, and 220,000 mile 2002 Toyota Camry.

I always appreciate your link back to this page so Google thinks what I say is important!

Before you start work on a car project that may take several weeks, consider canceling insurance or doing "storage" insurance. My insurer used to provide a "storage" option that provides only comprehensive coverage and drops the cost of a newer vehicle from $52.50/mo down to $5.00/mo.  More recently, they've changed the definition of "storage" to mean "state mandated minimum insurance," and for the Dodge van in this article that change drops cost from from $27.17/mo to $6.70/mo. Or, if you can handle the risk, you could remove ALL coverage including comprensive and save a boatload of money.

Purchase

Keys for 2018 model
Luggage Rack
Trailer Hitch for 2018 model
Keys for 2017 model
Trailer Hitch for 2017 model

Testimonies

4/13/20 LT wrote, "Awesome!"

Purchase

When I realized my newest car was 15 years old, I started shopping for a 2-3 year old car.  Subaru has a pretty good Certified Pre-Owned program and I enjoyed owning one of the early station wagon models of the Legacy way back when.  That option has morphed into the Subaru Outback.  We ended up goign through at least 5 dealers before we found one with what we wanted at a price point we could afford.  

December 2019 - Keys

The Subaru CPO ensures we got two remote-head keys (no fobs because it's a key-start ignition).  We'd like another key for backup. We have 4-button remote-head keys, stamped "G" on the key stem.   The tiny sticker says FCC: CWTB1G077, IC: 1788F-FB1G077, Model: TB1G077. Most notably, this is not the CWTWB1U811 key that works on Outbacks/Legacies older than 2018 for which blanks are available all over Amazon and eBay.

There are three types of keys for the 2018 Outback/Legacy with normal key ignition (not push-button start).
  1. Metal key with a 4-button remote-head keys.  Price ranges $150-$210 plus $30-$35 to pair to the car.  It's rather easy to open the plastic head to replace batteries; the entire RF module can be trivially removed.
  2. Metal key with RFID transponder embedded in the top of the key so it can work in the ignition.  Price ranges from $30-$60 and another $30-$35 to pair to the car.  You can get blanks for $7 from one vendor if you show you're a locksmith or auto mechanic company.  This type of key is useful if you are okay using the mechanical car locks and the lock/unlock button on the driver door instead of an RF remote to do the doors and a panic button.
  3. Metal key with no electronics can unlock the door (and tailgate?) only.  $3 cut and no cost to pair to the car.  However, using it to open the car door sets off the alarm if the car alarm is enabled.  If you try to use a metal-only key in the ignition, the auto-theft system of your car will be activated and you'll have to pull the battery negative terminal for a while (?) or use a computer DTC reader (?) to reset the dashboard warning light.  A metal key with no electronics would be good to get into your car and grab another transponder key or remote key you have hidden in the car.
2018 key innards

Ace Hardware said they were able to cut a mechanical key using an ILCO #B110 or #P1114 key blank or #TOY43R blank, out the door for $2.49 but they were not on my commute route home, so I stopped at Home Depot to check what they can do.

Home Depot had some fancy new laser key scanning machine.  Their machine scanned my key and determined that it was a blank number #B29 from their supply carousel .  With my key removed from the machine, the scan data was used by the machine to cut the new key with the original not even in the machine.  I think there's a way for them to scan the key and send the data file to you by email, too.  That way you could at any time, give your "virtual key data" to someone to go to their local Home Depot and have a key cut for your lock.  $2.19 was an acceptable price for a mechanical-only, non-transponder key.

Of course, opening the car door with a metal-only key sets off the alarm if the car is armed, and it won't work in the ignition because it doesn't have a paired RFID transponder.  But it's still useful to store a few of these at work/home/friend's house and then keep an RF transponder ignition key hidden inside the car (grab it and shove it into the ignition to stop the alarm).  It's a lot cheaper to take the mechanical keys on a hiking trip, too, so that if you lose one it's no big price loss.  You could even hide a mechanical key on the outside of the car and it would still be hard for someone to steal your car since they don't know where the transponder ignition key is hidden inside the car.

You could use the mechanical key without causing an alarm if you deactivate the alarm (2018 manual page 2-30).  Alarm status can be toggled by sitting in the car, all doors and tailgate closed and ignition on.  Press and hold the door unlock button, open the door within 1 second, and then keep holding the switch for a total of more than 10 seconds.  See the alarm status change by seeing "ALOFF" or "ALON" on the odometer screen.

Here are my price surveys so far of the 3 kinds of keys you can buy:

Mechanical Keys (metal only)

Transponder Keys (RFID embedded in the plastic key head so it can open/start the car without causing alarm)

Remote Keys (easily removed remote RF transmitter module and also the RFID embedded in the plastic head)

April 2020 - Luggage Rack

Update September 2020 - after a few months of carrying things around, a few observations...
Original post:

With the coronovirus threat keeping me trapped at home for several days, I decided to do a project that's been in my mind for a while. The luggage rack on my prior (smaller) Jetta Wagon was larger than the Outback rack.  It ran fore/aft on both sides with openings to tie down 2x2 cross member wood pieces and the load.  So it was good for carrying a canoe, or full 4x8 sheels of house siding.

The Subaru Outback basic and premium models have flip-out cross members.
Have you noticed that if you leave the cross-members flipped out and you drive through the rain, then (and only then) there is a signficantly loud wind whistle that occurs?  Anyhow, the fore/aft parts have no holes or gaps in them, so there is no way to loop a rope around them.  When a 4x8 panel is layed on the luggage rack, everything is covered so there's no way to secure the load! 

Fore and aft stability is also an issue. My home-made jetta cross members were up to 60" apart (because I could position them wherever I wanted on the length of the racks).  The Outback cross-members are fixed at 30" apart front-to-back, so any load is a lot more "tippy" front-to-back. 
The rear cross-member pivot can be unscrewed and the entire rear cross-member moved back a few inches.  That gives better support a few more inches apart, but still there's no way to tie down a wide load that coveres the entire rack.

Looks like I'd design wooden cross members that give a flat lay-down surface.  I think I can lay home-made cross-members  across the existing fore/aft rails, and secure them into the hard-point pockets using J-bolts.  This should give me 38" of span fore/aft and arbitrary width to get out beyond a 4' wide panel.  Cost is about $10.

Click on any picture to see a close-up view.


Shows the support board with a double-wide saw kerf 9/16" deep.  Also shows guides marks to drill two 5/16" J-bolt holes.

After the support boards have saw kerfs, test fit them in position and center the cross-beam support board.

Mark where the support boards go on one side of the cross-beam board.  The picture was taken on the rear left support.  Notice there is zero clearance above the plastic fairing of the factory luggage rack. I used a vertical 1/8" spacer board in the final design.

This picture was taken on the front right support.  Notice there is about 1/4" of clearance above the plastic fairing of the factory luggage rack.

This picture shows the support board bottom side, where the two J-bolt holes have been connected together with a channel same depth as the saw kerf.  Because the J-bolts have round corners (not square), the channel-to-hole edge is rounded a bit so that the J-bolt does not stick out at all when inserted.  The bolt in the picture is a 2" straight 5/16" bolt.  I hammer tapped into the hole to make a drill mark on the cross-member board.

After the support board has two holes and a J-bolt channel, and the cross-member board has a through-hole, assemble on the hard-point mount of the car.  I designed the shaft of the J-bolt on the inboard side of metal hard point bracket thinking I could get my fingers under to install the bolt better.

With one side test assembled (but without any nut on the J-bolt) position the other side. This is a critical distance that is difficult to measure accurately a ruler.  Don't bother. Use a straight 2" 5/16" bolt and lightly hammer on the top cross-member board to make a mark where the hole should go. 

This picture shows the test shim I tried on the back cross-member.  In the end design, I cut a shim the same size as the support board from old 1/8" paneling and sandwiched it between the two boards.

The 3" J-bolts stick out the top of the wood just enough to scratch whatever is resting on them.  I removed 4 threads with a grinder from each of the J-bolts.  Do this with the nut screwed on the bolt so when you take the nut off, it cleans up the threads.

I glued and screwed the two pieces of wood together.  This is how the rack assembles onto the car with the J-bolt.  Any glue joint misallignment was smoothed out with a wood plane after the glue dried.

Two coats of paint finishes the rack.  Thinking about it afterwards, I would have used polyurethane so that the paint would not rub off on the plastic manufacturer racks.


Turns out simple 2x4's are enough to make this rack.  Buy a 10' board (about $5), cut it in half and you'll have just short of 5' racks that extend out 6" on either side of a 4x8 load.   You'll need some little 6" sections of 2x4 which you probably already have.  Buy four 5/16" J-bolts that are 3" long.  It will set you back about $5.  These may be over-kill.  I was really tempted to do this with 1/4" J-bolts and would like to hear from anybody who does so.  I used four 1/4" bolts to hold down a truck-bed topper on a different vehicle for years so I think they would be fine. 

Cut the 2x4 boards to 5' long.  Strip them to be 3" wide instead of 3.5".  This width fits nicely in the pockets provided on the manufacture luggage rack.  The racks come out a bit heavy and over-sturdy.  I think you could cut it down to 2" width and do fine with a bit less weight and bulk.  I previously used two 2"x2" boards to hold a 100 lb canoe. I went with the wider 3" width simply so the boards would have a "wider foot" where they sit down on the hard point.  I suppose you could use 3" feet supports and a 2" wide cross-member.

Also make four ~5" long support boards, and put a 1/4" wide waw kerf centered 2-3/8" from the outboard edge.  Make the kerf a minimum of 9/16" deep to just clear the metal bracket hard points on the car.  Mark which end of the board is the outboard side because they are not necessarily reversable depending on exactly how long you cut them.  After these cuts, test fit the four pieces on the manufacturer hard points.  The bottom flat portion of the wood should test-fit down onto the hard point mounts without any wobble. There should be a little clearance above the metal car bracket so the wood sits on the bottom, not on the bracket in the kerf.

For the 5/16" J-bolts, mark drill guides 1" apart spanning the kerf.  Center them on the width of the board.  After making the holes, use the drill to also make a little channel between the two holes down to the depth of the saw kerf. A router bit would be best, but a drill works fine with a little patience.  Round the interior edges and make sure the J-bolts sit into the channel without sticking out all all.

Set the support boards up on the car and center one of the 5' cross-members on the supports.  Mark the support location on one side of the car.  Remove the wood from the car and flip upside down.  Position the support piece correctly according to your marks and use an unrelated 2" 5/16" straight bolt to hammer a mark through the support bolt hole and into the bottom of the cross-member board.  At this point, I commited to putting the shaft of the J-bolt on the inboard hole.  I think you could also do it on the outboard hole but it seemed I could get my fingers under the rack and hold the J-bolt better with the shaft on the inboard side.

After drilling a hole through the cross-member, loosely assemble the rack on the car.  Use the same straight bolt through the other support piece to poke up and make a mark in the cross-member board on the opposite end.  Drill the second hole in the cross-member board. Test fit everything.  The 3" bolts should be about flush with the top of the cross-member board.

Disassemble the parts and use a 1" spade bit to counter sink the top of the cross-member holes so that a washer and nut sit slightly below the surface.  This prevents loads from getting gouged.  Also use a hacksaw/grinder to remove 3 or 4 threads from the J-bolt to ensure it does not stick out above the cross-member board.  [
see Sept 2020 update above]

Because there is less vertical clearance on the back, for the rear cross-member, you might have to cut some 1/8" spacers out of paneling or other wood the same size as the support pieces, and the J-bolts will be just a little longer.  Drill a hole for the J-bolt and when you do a final assembly, sandwich the spacer between the two boards.

Assemble the hardware on the vehicle and tighted with the J-bolt nuts.  If everythign fits fine, diassemble and reassemble with glue betweent the wood pieces.  Pre-drill two new screw holes and use deck-screws to hold the support pieces to the cross-member supports.  Remove the J-bolts and remove the racks and finish them with polyurethane or paint them your favorite color.

This homemade rack allows 6" wings to stick out the side to wrap rope or bungee cords around.  Also the front of the load can be secured with ropes down around the front of the hood and secured with metal caribiners or quick links to the tie-down loops sticking out the bottom of the car, just inside and to the front of the front wheels.  To secure the back of a load, you can make tie-downs with strap loops secured around or through a short section of old hose. Feed the strap out the tailgate and trap the hose inside the car. 
 

May 2020 - Trailer Hitch

When I acquired the Outback, I started looking for a trailer hitch.  I stayed away from the 2” hitch receivers.  They beg hooking on too big of a trailer and the 1.25” receivers were more than enough to tow the Subaru Outback limit.
 
I didn’t choose an end-mount design (remove the bumper, 8 horizontal bolts, and put the bumper back on).  I think they’re as strong or stronger (bolts are typically designed for tensile strength, not shear strength) but I didn’t want to shoe-horn an extra ¼” of metal into the existing plastic bumper, and I didn’t like cutting the plastic bumper to make room for the hitch.  IMHO, the Subaru has enough clearance for the hitch to poke out below the bumper, not through it.

This left me with the Draw-Tite 36493 and Curt 12136.  The Reese 6669 is the same as the Draw-Tite.  I chose the Draw-Tite.  I liked the further span of the mount bolts of the Draw-Tite mount.  There are two holes in your Subaru from the factory.  Draw-Tite has you drill a new one between them for access.  The Curt hitch enlargens one of the existing holes for access and then drills a new hole between them for the mount bolts.

Instructions say all the work is done below the car.  Instead, I pulled out the cargo area floor and trays so I could see down into the frame rails, too.  Each of the underneath holes has a corresponding hole up into the cargo area.  FYI, as you pull up the foam side panels, they’re held on with button clips.  Peeking under the foam, all the white part stays with the car, and only the black button and stem pull out. Sadly, I tried to pry up the white part from underneath the foam and broke one of the white fittings when I tore it out of the metal sub-floor.

Getting top access to the frame rails was worth it.  Somehow you have to get the bolts and square washers into the frame. Turns out rather than drill another hole between the two factory holes in the bottom, I simply enlarged the top forward holes. Although, finite element analysis by my recently graduated cousin shows me this was a mistake structurally.  I should have just drilled the additional hole (see plots below).  I did a circle on the first side, but then found I could nibble/file out a much smaller hole for the hardware to fit through, shaping it like a half moon. Fishing the bolts through the box frame was still an easy reach going from the front hole to the back.


Click on any picture to see a close-up view.


Tools to make the access hole - a nibbler and round file.  Notice the square edge "wings" on the hole.  That's what the nibbler does. To get access to these holes, you have to unclip 2 difficult foam clips on each side. See the narrative.
I tried making a half-moon instead of a full circle hole.  Worked fine.

After using the nibbler and large round file, I finished the hole with a chain saw sharpening file to get nice smooth edge top and bottom.

I vacuumed all the metal pieces from inside the hole where the bolts will clamp down.

Painted inside and outside of hole with some heavy rust preventive paint.

Looking down the enlarged top holes, the holes in the bottom of the frame box were visible.  Below them, the muffler shield was visible.  I stuck a sharpie down the hole and marked the little blue circle to indicate where the hitch bolt will be.

This is how the left side muffer shield will fit on under the hitch installation. Hitch mounts to frame first, then the heat shield moslty covers the new hitch.

Look carefuly.  The heat shield holes must line up with the little holes of the hitch or the shield screws won't fit back into the car frame threaded nuts.  Check this AGAIN when the hitch is hanging and before its tightened.  I had to really pressure mine into position.  When snug, I checked that the shield bolts fit loosely through the holes with no binding. THEN I tightened the hitch bolts.

Instead of hacking off the forward inner corner, I nibbled and filed a nice roundish hole big enough to fit around the hitch mount nuts and washers.

The red color is rust preventative paint I added.  After drying, I fished the bolts through.  Look carefully and you'll see the wire coming from the interior-forward hole to the after-under hole.  There was easy 6-12" extra to poke out the hole. It was no problem to grab with a needle nose plier and pull the wire out.

This is the bolt sticking out the aft mount hole on the left side.  The muffer hangar is visible, too.  In a later picture, you can see how tight the fit is after the hitch is mounted.

On the right side of the car, there is lots of room!  Once all the bolts and fishwires are sticking out, you need another person to help lift the hitch into position withOUT pushing the bolts back, then with one hand unscrew the fish wire, put on a washer and nut.  On the front two bolts, you also need to insert a spacer washer between the car and the hitch.  (Or preposition it there with tape.)

The aft muffler hangar becomes a very tight fit after installing the hitch.

This is how the muffler shield goes back into position, showing the circle hole around the hitch bolt. BEFORE you tighten the hitch bolts, without the heat shield in place yet, make shure the two inner heat shield bolts fit easily through the hitch pre-made holes.

Right side installation. Having good longevity from a previous hitch installation, I again smeared the bolt joints with thick asphalt fence paint. I think no water will get in and rust.

FEA analysis of aft trailer weight on frame box before drilling the access hole. This is a qualitative analysis of a heavy weight on a thicker wall box frame.


Enlarge the existing top forward bolt holes to 1-1/8" access (like I did for this project) seems to cause more stress around the already stressed front hole (more yellow and red color).

Drill a new  top 1-1/8" hole for access between the holes. Drilling another hole would have left more safety margin (less yellow and red)!  Uh, yea.. this is what the instructions said but I thought I would be smarter.  Uh..  nope.

Prepare the Frame

Rather than using a step drill, I used a sheet metal nibbler tool to enlargen the existing forward hole until the square plates and bolt could fit through.  Then I smoothed the shape of the hole with a round file.  Then I deburred the top and bottom edges of the hole using a chainsaw sharpening file.  I vacuumed up all the metal pieces and filing, including from inside the box frame, using a short rubbery hose extension I made from an old drink bottle.  Lastly, I painted around the hole (inside and out) with some thick metal primer paint.

Before removing the muffler heat shield, I also stuck a Sharpie down the driver side front hole and marked through the bottom manufacturer hole on the muffler heat shield where it will overlap the hitch mount bolt.  That way, I was able to cut out a nice round hole in the heat shield rather than hack away an entire corner of the heat shield.

Prepare the Muffler Mount

I dropped the muffler and muffler heat shield and cut out the hole for the hitch mount nuts and washer.  Then I applied metal primer paint on all sides of the frame box and anywhere else I couldn’t reach once the hitch and muffler were back in place.  Then I took a short recess to let the paint dry.

Be sure to test fit the hitch in place and check the little hole alignments for the muffler heat shield screws to make sure the screws fit into the cutouts in the hitch without binding against the hitch. 


Assembly

I fished the bolts into place (but see notes below about taping washer in place first).  This means I wiggled the end of the fish wire into the access hole and out the hold where the bolt was to go.  It was easy to see and grab the end of the wire through the hole using needle nose pliers.  It looked like the square plates might fit cross-ways in the frame (I could see them through the top holes with a flashlight), but I suspected they were sitting on the corner edges of the box so I used a metal wire poker to spin them around until they sat flat on the inside of the frame box. Instructions show them cross-ways, but they just didn’t fit flat on the bottom of the frame box that way.

After getting the bolts to stick out the holes, don't remove the fish wire yet!  Lifting the hitch while lacing the fishtail wires through the hitch requires two people and blocks of wood.  It’s heavy to hold while you simultaneously remove the fishwire, and without bumping either bolt back into the hole, apply a washer and nut.  Do the back bolts first so you can let the hitch tilt down and then slide in the space washer for the front before applying the front mount washer and nut.  Either tape the front spacer washer in place ahead of time, or be really careful after you remove the front fish wire to not push the bolt too far back into the frame as you slide in the spacer washer into place between the hitch and the frame.

It was a bit messy for me because I also applied between the car and the hitch a smear of thick asphalt based paint/tar designed for farm country fence posts.  I hardens to a nice water proof sealant to keep water off the bolts and metal edges.  It is a bit harder than underbody rubbery stuff.  Worked good on my last hitch install 15 years ago, so I took the extra time here.

Loosely tighten all four bolts and * check the little hole alignments for the muffler heat shield screws * to make sure the screws fit in without binding against the hitch.  I had to really yank on the hitch to slide it 1/8" to line up the holes.  THEN tighten the four main mitch mount bolts. The little holes must be aligned with the frame holes for the muffler shield bolts because you can’t fit these screws back in later if the hitch holes and the threaded holes don't align!  No instructors nor any prior review mentioned this!  In my case, I had to heavily spread the arms of the hitch apart to get the holes to line up.

The rearmost muffler rubber mount was a bit of a tight fit because the hook arm is now blocked by a cut-out in the hitch mount – wish they made the cut-out just a little bit larger. Use WD-40.

One hitch reviewer at etrailer.com mentioned that the muffler shield screws were too short to reach up through the added hitch thickness.  On mine, after installing the shield, I looked down the forward left hole from the trunk area and I could see the muffler shield bolt sticking up through the welded on frame nut, so I'm pretty sure it's okay on my car.

July 2021 - Totaled the 2018 Outback

Sitting at a rural 2-lane road stop sign, another car came quickly at my wife from the 10 o'clock position.  Clipped the driver door, smashed deeply into the passenger door, and peeled the left rear wheel, tire, suspension and part of the frame from the back of the car.

It was a good car from 25,000 miles to 50,000 miles.  We went shopping for an identical replacement.  Instead of blue/black, we got red/ivory.  The 2107 Subaru Outback replacement is 1 year older but has only 10,000 miles on it, and has the fancy eyesight system (predictive lane control and braking with cruise control based on surrounding traffic).  Because they're nearly identical cars (2015-2019 model years), I'll just continue this web page thread.

November 2021 - Trailer Hitch again

I bought another Draw-Tite 36493 hitch from the same Craigslist person as 18 months ago, and mail ordered another Tekonsha Tekonsha 118467 trailer light controller.  I should have grabbed the light controller from the 2018 when it was totaled - it's really that easy to connect or disconnect.

On the 2017 model, the wiring harness stub in the car was tucked up under left trim board, but instead of being a few inches behind the passenger seat, it was more parallel to it and hard to get at.  I needed to remove the metal flip-open tie down bracket and root around in the little hold to cut the "blue tape" holding the wire loop and connector.  Once the tape was cut, I was able to wiggle my fingers up underneath the side-board trim and pull the connector out about 1" - enough to plug the connection and tuck everything back up under the side trim all.  I left the trailer wire dangling into the spare tire wheel well when not being used with a trailer.

Installing the hitch itself seemed repetative - didn't I do this once before?  I waited for a warm comfortable day.

December 2021 - Keys

I have a left over key from the 2018 car and wonder if I can use the RF section of the key.  The 2017 key head lists different numbers.  FCC: CWTWB1U811   IC: 1788D-FWB1U811.  I'll have to see if a commercial vendor can pair the 2018 RF remote transmitter to the 2017 car I now have.  Probably $30-$35. If nothing else, it would be like having a separate key fob.  That would get me in the door without a key or I could get in with a metal-only key and silence the alarm with the remote.

But to start the car, I have to satisfy the RFID sensor by the ignition key hole.  If I hold the 2018 RFID head near the ignition while using the 2017 metal key, I wonder if the RFID sensor will be happy.  I'll have to have someone pair the prior car RFID head with the new car. 

Additional Resources:

 

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