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Old 06-11-2011, 11:52 AM   #1
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Subaru continuously variable transmission

(Standard disclosure: I did some searching in the forum but did not find this subject. If there are any such discussions please point me to them.)

I am starting to research for a new tow vehicle. At this point my favorite option is a Subaru Outback. I have a '98 Impreza that has been a very good car.

My first inclinations were to get the 6 cylinder to have plenty of power. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is intriguing to me, available only with the 4 cylinder engine.

Has anyone on the forum used one and towed with one? Does it work well with a trailer? In theory, the CVT would use the power from the small engine more efficiently, making it fell like a more powerful engine. Does this seem to be true? when towing? Is the CVT rugged enough to last a long time while towing?

Any experiences and thoughts are most appreciated.
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Old 06-11-2011, 01:36 PM   #2
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Here is a link to a good site for more information about the Outback on towing for starters:
Towing 3000 lbs with the Outback - Subaru Outback - Subaru Outback Forums

A small percentage of the newer generation Outback have had steering shake issues that you should be aware of. You can also read about it at the same website.

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Old 06-11-2011, 04:02 PM   #3
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That is a very special and unique transmission.

I would look in the owners manual to see what it states concerning the tow issue. You may have to go to a dealer to view the manual. You may also be able to look at a manual at CarMax for a used one.
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Old 06-20-2011, 02:53 PM   #4
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I have always been an advocate of being cautious of new technology. CVT works on the same principle as a golf cart transmission only larger. You might deduce that they are only being used on small cars with small engines for a reason.
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Old 06-20-2011, 03:51 PM   #5
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If the advisor held himself out as an expert, or received pay for the advice, I could see that happening. Otherwise... pretty unlikely.

I see a difference between ignoring tow capacity rating vs ignoring tire rating. In the former, people are seeing that the same vehicle is rated very differently in various countries, apparently in an arbitrary manner. Also, not all tow ratings are based on safety limitations; sometimes the limitations are mechanical (transmission longevity concerns, for example). In the latter, the tire's rating is uniform in all locales and is accepted at face value as a legitimate limit for safe operation.

I recommend ignoring any arbitrary rules in life. And I'm not worried about getting sued for saying so.
Many people that view this site have little or no towing experience, someone without experience may think that those posting about exceeding limits are experts when they claim there is no difference between US and European cars.

Lots of people ignore tire or towing ratings and drive above 65 mph or tow more weight than the rating without having problems. They are taking the risk if they do that, however, it is entirely another story if they start recommending that others, who they do not even know, take the risk, and convince them by claiming that it is safe.

I do not believe that the towing limits are set "in various countries, apparently in an arbitrary manner".

Here is a link to a discussion of some differences in towing ability between US (2700 tow capacity) and European (4400 tow capacity) Subaru Outback that seem to be identical cars. Look at posts #9 and #12.
Towing 3000 lbs with the Outback - Subaru Outback - Subaru Outback Forums
Unless someone checked very carefully they would not notice the difference in shocks or 0.8" lower spring mounts and who knows what else that could make a big difference in an emergency situation. Post 12 also points out that European trailers have suspension differences as well.

I don't think anyone would decide against buying a car because the tow capacity was higher than they needed, but many would decide not to buy it if the tow capacity was lower than needed, so it does not make sense to me that a manufacturer would assign an arbitrary tow capacity. The higher the tow capacity, the more cars they will sell.
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Old 06-20-2011, 04:01 PM   #6
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I could not agree more Andy. That is why I did not buy a Subaru Outback. I loved the car and the CVT transmission, BUT, the 200 lb limitation on the 4 cyl as well as V-6 requirement for 3000 lbs plus no one could figure out how to install a brake controller at the dealer. This tells me, Subaru is not trying to capture the rv towing customer. I got no response from Subaru on this issue. So, I bought a vehicle with factory tow, 500 lb t/w and 5000 lbs capacity. I'm not as pleased as I would be driving a Subie but I'm safer in my Jeep.
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Old 06-20-2011, 05:37 PM   #7
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Herb, You are exactly right.

The belt has metal spacers embedded in it and just like a golf cart, should you put to much strain on it, it could ruin either the belt or the pulley assembly.

If I said to definitely NOT DO IT, we would have someone then post a picture of one pulling a freight train. Read the owners manual and ye shall find the answer.
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Old 06-20-2011, 05:41 PM   #8
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I tow with an 07 Outback 4 cyl. (it does not have the new CVT) and I would suggest that if I had not already owned the car prior to purchasing the trailer I would go for the 6 cyl. :-) Not that I am really unhappy with the 4 cyl as it has been doing a fine job of towing for 4 years now over thousands of miles. Its just that there are times that I do notice the lack of power and think more would be nice. Mostly when in serious mountain ranges.

The only real draw back (having a 4 cyl. really isnt what I would call a draw back) to the Outback is the limited tongue cap. I have an older scamp so being carefull about my stow I am able to keep my tongue weight down to or pretty close (within 20lbs) to where Subaru wants it to be. You may have a hard time doing that with a number of other fiberglass trailers. I would make sure I know the real tongue weight of my trailer with a battery, full propane tank on the tongue and all my gear in the trailer before I made the purchase. As far as wheel shake issue goes can't comment as I have never had the problem on this Outback. Actually have had no problems what so ever with this Outback or the one I had prior.
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Old 06-20-2011, 05:51 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Darwin Maring View Post
Herb, You are exactly right.

If I said to definitely NOT DO IT, we would have someone then post a picture of one pulling a freight train..
Oh how true! Although it will not be me that does it! Know all to well we have folks that suggest I am already pushing the cars safe tow limit by towing 300lbs under its tow cap.
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Old 06-20-2011, 06:49 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darwin Maring View Post
Herb, You are exactly right.

If I said to definitely NOT DO IT, we would have someone then post a picture of one pulling a freight train. Read the owners manual and ye shall find the answer.
Do you mean a picture like this?




Just had to do it. No, this isn't my Outback, and it's too old a model to have the CVT, and it wasn't really hitched to the 5th wheel, but I thought it looked like an interesting photo op since I tow my Scamp 16 with a regular automatic on my Outback.
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Old 06-30-2011, 09:56 AM   #11
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What NOT to Tow with .....

How about this ...

A 2000 Metro and a 17' Casita .... NO !

A 2002 PT Cruiser & 17' Casita .... Uh, NO

A 1984 Datsun 4 cylinder P/U and 17' Casita ....only to move it in the driveway.
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Old 06-30-2011, 10:13 AM   #12
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These tow just fine ....

Our Tahoe & 17' Casita and Joy's Jeep & 13' Scamp

Our Tahoe & 17' Casita and Phil's Dodge Dakota & 13' Casita

Our Avalanche & 17' Casita

Our SSR & 13' Casita
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IMG_0899.jpg   IMG_1835.jpg  

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Old 06-30-2011, 11:06 AM   #13
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Carol, You probably are pushing the LIFE of your Outback's...

...transmission and engine. My Subaru dealers, who've been great friends and mentors to me over the 15 years I've owned Outbacks, have been very frank in cautioning me to sell a 16' Scamp that I initially purchased (it was advertised as a 13' Scamp AND what did I know?!!!). Even though it was within the tow capacity (Barely) of my 4 cyl Outback, they said I would burn up the engine and wreck the transmission EARLIER than by towing a 13'er. There is no reason to put more wear and tear on your TOW VEHICLE, it's ahell of a lot more expensive than your trailer and YOU want it to last 'orever' (aka: at least 300,000 miles!).

Time always tells...as well as whether you're going up mountains or are always in Texas on the straight-away!
See you in two weeks...let's both drive safe...keep those Subaru's going as long as possible!
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Old 06-30-2011, 10:01 PM   #14
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Can't comment on the Subi. CVT, but our secondary tug is a 07 Nissan Murano with CVT. Tows like a dream; better than our 02 Taco, just not as much room for toys.
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Old 06-30-2011, 10:50 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by bbuehler View Post
...transmission and engine. My Subaru dealers, who've been great friends and mentors to me over the 15 years I've owned Outbacks, have been very frank in cautioning me to sell a 16' Scamp that I initially purchased (it was advertised as a 13' Scamp AND what did I know?!!!). Even though it was within the tow capacity (Barely) of my 4 cyl Outback, they said I would burn up the engine and wreck the transmission EARLIER than by towing a 13'er. There is no reason to put more wear and tear on your TOW VEHICLE, it's ahell of a lot more expensive than your trailer and YOU want it to last 'orever' (aka: at least 300,000 miles!).

Time always tells...as well as whether you're going up mountains or are always in Texas on the straight-away!
See you in two weeks...let's both drive safe...keep those Subaru's going as long as possible!
Yup it is a bit of a worry but I am in the 5th year of towing with this one and it hasnt had any issues at all. As you know I dont live in Texas! Actually live on the side of a ski hill.

Actually just had it in for a complete check over today before the trip and Im told it all good to go. I have actually had 2 Subaru's previously and I did have a small issue with my last Outback -it had a quirky transmission issue from day one -I never towed with it - Subaru never did sort what the issue was but I did read I was not the only one that had that complant with that model year. What ever it was Subaru did not see it as a serious problem (but I noted they did seem to fix it in the next model year) but I know I would not have felt comfortable towing with the old one due to that little issue. My service manager tows with his Outback and he doesnt seem worried about it- claims its all good. I agree though that towing will shorting its life but so far no sign of that. I do try and be nice to it on big hills though. :-) Have started to look around at other options and retire this one in the not to distrant future to city driving. Only problem is I really like the all round Subaru -great on the ski hills and good for parking in the city -loads of storage space - hard to find someting to switch to that covers it all. See you - at Bandon - drive safe!
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Old 09-05-2011, 05:43 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Herb Sutton
I have always been an advocate of being cautious of new technology. CVT works on the same principle as a golf cart transmission only larger. You might deduce that they are only being used on small cars with small engines for a reason.
Two things:

1) Subaru has been using CVT transmissions since 1987. This technology is not as new as many people think.

2) the outback is a midsize car. It is about 3,500 pounds and carries a 2,700 pound tow rating.

This may just be my opinion, but a 170 horsepower engine isn't exactly small. More horsepower and torque than any other car I have owned, including an S class Mercedes.
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Old 09-05-2011, 10:59 AM   #17
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Jesse, you correct CVT has been around for awhile and as I understand it there are many different versions of CVT. The Subaru's horsepower is also a big part of why it is a good tow for our small eggs.

Its important to note though that not all the Outback models have the same transmission. My 2007 Outback has the 5EAT Five Speed w/sport shift which they started using in 03 and its based on the JR507E transmission. The conventional automatic transmission was used only the Flat 5 engine, and the 6-speed manual transmission but it was not used on the 2.5i Limited. They did change in 2009 to a Lineartronic CVT for their 2.5 i flat 4 engines only - that transmission can be switched to manually controlled by the driver to select 6 different "virtual" gears, where the transmission will hold a particular ratio.
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Old 09-05-2011, 11:47 AM   #18
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Flat 5cyl ???
Virtual gears? I knew the new cars were getting closer every year to being video games with wheels.
If you wreck it how many "lives" do you get?
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Old 09-05-2011, 08:40 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Carol H
Jesse, you correct CVT has been around for awhile and as I understand it there are many different versions of CVT. The Subaru's horsepower is also a big part of why it is a good tow for our small eggs.

Its important to note though that not all the Outback models have the same transmission. My 2007 Outback has the 5EAT Five Speed w/sport shift which they started using in 03 and its based on the JR507E transmission. The conventional automatic transmission was used only the Flat 5 engine, and the 6-speed manual transmission but it was not used on the 2.5i Limited. They did change in 2009 to a Lineartronic CVT for their 2.5 i flat 4 engines only - that transmission can be switched to manually controlled by the driver to select 6 different "virtual" gears, where the transmission will hold a particular ratio.
It is a very nice transmission,,, though I don't have many miles on it yet. I haven't towed with it yet, but I have a class III Curt hitch on the way to me now.

These cars are meant to tow -- they are even prewired for trailer lights. I wish they were prewired for brakes, too... But it doesn't appear to be.
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Old 09-06-2011, 04:28 AM   #20
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It is a very nice transmission,,, though I don't have many miles on it yet. I haven't towed with it yet, but I have a class III Curt hitch on the way to me now.

These cars are meant to tow -- they are even prewired for trailer lights. I wish they were prewired for brakes, too... But it doesn't appear to be.
We are giving consideration to a Subaru as our next TV, so I have been poking around the Subaru forums. It appears finding a hole in the firewall for the controller wires is a bit of a challenge as is finding a place to mount the controller. Since towing anything over 1000 lbs requires brakes, you have to wonder why the wiring isn't there? Let us know how the install goes and good luck on the new TV. Raz
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