Subaru Outback: Slips from Drive to Manual/1st gear on its own

acr2011acr2011 Member Posts: 4
I drive a 2011 Outback (automatic). A few months ago the strangest thing happened: From a stop sign, I turned left and as I accelerated, the engine revved really loudly. I took my foot off the gas, moved the gear shift from "Drive" quickly to "Manual" and back -- and it reset. It has happened many times since, and I noticed that when it occurs, the display goes from “D” to “1” or even “2”. Every time I reset it the same way and it drives fine from that point.

Subaru has serviced the car 5+ times for this issue and they have no idea what’s happening – and tell me they’ve never heard of this before. They've re-set the computer (which shows no issue) and driven it themselves for weeks (of course it doesn't happen when they have it!). At first they suggested that I was accidentally hitting the paddle shifters, but I hold the bottom of the wheel when I drive – nowhere near the shifters.

Hopefully my very non-technical description makes sense and sounds familiar to someone out there! Any ideas???


  • dcm61dcm61 Member Posts: 1,567
    Is it possible that you are accidentally hitting the paddle shifter on the steering wheel?

    Are you wearing gloves when this usually happens?

    Note that the paddle shifters work regardless of whether the gear selector is in normal drive mode or manual mode.
  • acr2011acr2011 Member Posts: 4
    Thanks for the reply. I am confident that I am NOT hitting the paddle shifters. Ever since this became a problem - after 7 months of no issues at all - I have been very aware of keeping my hands away from that part of the steering wheel (I hold the bottom).

    FYI, I have used the shifters intentionally from drive mode as you note, and am aware of the amount of pressure needed to make these work. Unfortunately, this is not the culprit!
  • xwesxxwesx Member Posts: 16,271
    Does this only happen when you are stopped and attempt a left turn? That, by itself, seems a little odd, but I can see it maybe happening simply when stopped in drive (such as at a light). The difference between automatic and "manumatic" mode is nothing more than an electronic selector, so it is quite possible that there is a loose or poor connection that is simply bridging to the wrong contact under your console. I would think such an obvious possibility would be something the shop techs at your local dealership would check.

    Have you tried slapping a paddle to select the next gear when this happens? I wonder if that would clear it back to normal mode or leave you in manual.
    2018 Subaru Crosstrek, 2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2013 Subaru Forester, 1969 Chevrolet C20, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250
  • acr2011acr2011 Member Posts: 4
    I think the left turn element is just a coincidence. a temporary band-aid, good idea to try using the paddle shifters to reset. I'll keep that in mind.

    My bigger issue, though, is that it makes me feel unsafe driving the car --- a relatively NEW car, at that! Thankfully, I've been able to react quickly enough so that the car(s) behind me haven't hit me. But I can easily see how this could become an accident, if the driver behind me thinks I'm accelerating normally and the car does the opposite.

    Has anyone else experienced this? (and I reeeeally appreciate the suggestions!)
  • vtara16vtara16 Member Posts: 1
    I have the EXACT same problem and it ALWAYS happens after I make a left hand turn. I am so glad that I have found you! :) Have you had any luck with dealership? Any suggestions?

    My 2011 Subaru Outback is at the dealership again for the second time since January. The first time that this occurred I called my dealership. They had my car in the shop for 4 days, they did all sorts of "tests" on it and they turned up nothing. I did call the 800 customer support line just so that my problem was reported to them.

    The support line did tell me the next time that this occurs, pull over immediately and call the dealership for a tow. They said not to drive the car more than 5 miles because it would clear the "records" of what occurred with the transmission.

    Yesterday, March 27, 2012 it happened again. After I had made a left hand turn at a light, the car went from manually driving at 40 to 2nd gear. Talk about a safety issue! I pulled over immediatly and called the subaru dealership. They sent a tow right away. They gave me a rental and are keeping my car for a week. Their service manager is going to drive it every day to see if it will happen again. I told them that it would not happen and wouldn't until about 3 months from now! grrrrrr.

    They did tell me that the 2011 Premium model is having the same issues, but this is the first time that they have ever heard of it happening in my model. BS!

    Let me know what they are telling you. if you need to email me at [email protected]

  • kryptockryptoc Member Posts: 1
    Here's how this happened to me. A new 3.6R with 100mi. I was going 60 in the left lane up a steep, long hill in Colorado; cars all around. I tapped the left paddle for the first time to test the downshifting. The car IMMEDIATELY dropped into 1st gear! Revs through the roof; tapped the upshift--nothing. Very near serious accident as the car suddenly slowed, likely with no brake lights. Pulled over with lots of dashboard lights, including the flashing brake light. Towed in. Dealer mechanics hadn't heard of this before. Anyone have input on this?
  • coloradomom2coloradomom2 Member Posts: 1
    I have an automatic (CVT) Outback Premium 2012. Yesterday I was driving at 40mph, no acceleration or deceleration, going straight. The car just stopped, as if I went into first and hit the brakes. Almost got rear ended. When I pressed the gas, the car would not go and I noticed the drive gear was in manual. Called Subaru and they said I had probably accidentally moved gear shift. How could I have done that if I was not moving around in the car? They offered to look at it but since they had no idea what happened, it seems a waste of time. I'll see what happens.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Scary. Let them run their full diagnostics to see if they flag anything.
  • mcarver82mcarver82 Member Posts: 5
    Mine has done this exact thing twice in the past 2 days. First time thought I had accidentally knocked something, second time I knew. have owned for 9 months. PZEV version 2011 2.5. outback. Please post if you have a solution, scares me for being such a new car.
  • reallysoareallysoa Member Posts: 1
    Same downshifting problem here. Dealer will deny it and so will SOA. Which is better option-lemon law or repurchase/replace via SOA?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Are you able to duplicate the problem in front of a tech?

    I troubleshoot for a living and it's really tough when a customer has a problem but I'm not able to observe it, makes it much tougher.

    If you can duplicate the conditions where the problem occurs and the dealer can see it, that helps them fix it.
  • acr2011acr2011 Member Posts: 4
    Good news, MYSTERY SOLVED!!! I was the original poster, and should have posted this long ago... my apologies.

    I don't live far from SOA HQ, so one of their lead tech guys got involved to help figure this out. He came out to meet me one day over the summer for a test drive and to watch my driving position, technique (without telling me he was doing so). Super guy, very genuine in his wanting to figure this out. Kudos to Subaru of America.

    Long story short, here was his theory: I drive with my left leg at a near-90-degree-angle, and so without realizing it, occassionally when I would turn, the paddle shifters brushed my leg with enough force to kick them into gear, but not for me to really take note of the sensation against my leg. It happened even more during the winter with a heavier coat, when I really wouldn't feel it at all.

    I am relieved to share that ever since my test drive/discussion about his theory, I have NOT had the issue at all. As a side note, we just welcomed our first child, and I have no hesitations about having her in that car.

    SOA had received a handful of complaints about this same issue (side note: the Dealers' handling of this is another story -- they all seem to have had the same approach: deny anyone else has the issue and make it our fault...ugh.) Coincidentally, all were from women drivers; and it seems that women drivers drive with more of an upright left leg, which triggers the issue.

    ...I know this may sound a bit odd. But try it for a while - notice your leg position the next time in your car, and make a conscience effort to make sure it is not anywhere near the bottom of your steering wheel.
  • dcm61dcm61 Member Posts: 1,567
    Glad to hear that the mystery was solved.

    Hmmm, the very first reply to your original post (from me ;) ) ...

    Is it possible that you are accidentally hitting the paddle shifter on the steering wheel?

  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    edited March 2013
    Good catch.

    Maybe a more visible display when the paddles are used?

    Interesting that the "shift" is smooth enough that it isn't felt.
  • dcm61dcm61 Member Posts: 1,567
    Maybe a more visible display when the paddles are used?

    The in dash display changes from D to a number (1 to 6).
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    edited March 2013
    Yeah, but maybe it could flash a little brighter when you shift.

    Volvo had this idea for brake lights, to grab attention.
  • xwesxxwesx Member Posts: 16,271
    Hey, I know.... how about a simulated clutch pedal that you push at the same time you click the paddle shifter. That way the car knows you're actually intending to shift! :P
    2018 Subaru Crosstrek, 2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2013 Subaru Forester, 1969 Chevrolet C20, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250
  • ateixeiraateixeira Member Posts: 72,587
    Oh heck, just make 'em all sticks. ;)
  • subaruwomansubaruwoman Member Posts: 1
    Sorry, but this doesn't work for me...I was having the same problem with my 2011. Same car as you. My legs are nowhere near the paddle shifters whether I'm in a turn or not. It's happened over a dozen times, once on the highway going 55. How do you explain that. This car scared me so much I just traded it in. I KNOW for a fact that I was in no way touching the paddle shifters. Anyone else?
  • xwesxxwesx Member Posts: 16,271
    Whether you were or not, the point is that the car shouldn't shift like this unless it is safe to do so and intentional (on the part of the driver). I mean, that's the point of an automatic, right... less effort on the driver's part?

    If the car is doing this, then something needs to be modified to prevent it from happening.
    2018 Subaru Crosstrek, 2014 Audi Q7 TDI, 2013 Subaru Forester, 1969 Chevrolet C20, 1969 Ford Econoline 100, 1976 Ford F250
  • jsheedickjsheedick Member Posts: 2
    I've had this same thing happen to me twice. The first time is a little vague but I was making a slight left hand turn when my outback turned into manual mode and went into first gear. This last time was last week when I was stopped at a light and accelerating to turn left. So I took it to the dealership and they've never heard of anything and could not find the problem. I got excited when I read that someone found a solution where their leg was hitting the paddle shifters so we took our loaner car out for a spin and I tried my best to hit the paddles when turning left but could not duplicate. I'm suppose to pick up my car tomorrow but I'm still worried that something else could be going on. Its a little scary that I could slow down so much and someone could ram into me since they are not seeing brake lights. I don't know what else to do. I don't have time to take my car to the dealership everyday, which is why I purchased a brand new vehicle in the first place. Its annoying.
  • jsheedickjsheedick Member Posts: 2
    I also emailed a subaru tech online and he mentioned something about a steering roll connector or clock spring, something wrong in the wiring... I'm going to mention this to them tomorrow but they're just going to argue with me. I guess I could cause a scene, I mean it is 27k of my money I spent on the thing.
  • jeff666jeff666 Member Posts: 1
    Just passing on that I too experienced same thing while shifting from reverse to drive backing out of the drive way. Car started in 1st and did not shift up to second as expected when I noticed the 1st gear was activated. Has happened 3 times always while car was cold on cold mornings. Pretty sure I did not trigger the paddles.
    so far never happened while at highway speeds...
  • santafe87507santafe87507 Member Posts: 12
    This has happenef several times on the 13 outback. It wasn't about the paddle shifters. The slightest pressure on the gear shift moves it from drive to manual. Like if you accidentally place a purse or a bag of some sort near the gear shift . It just moves it to the left. It doesn't take much pressure. Very unsafe
  • subout2013subout2013 Member Posts: 1
    The gear shifting from Drive to Manual automatically happened to me last Wednesday. I was pulling into a parking spot at a restaurant and had come to a stop at a curb when my 2013 Outback suddenly accelerated. I automatically stepped on the brake, but the car didn't stop until it hit and hung up on an iron railing. Fortunately, in my path was landscaping with river rock and bushes, plus the pedestrian walk up to the restaurant, with the iron railings on either side ... and nobody around. I backed up into the parking spot, but was too scared to drive the car until I could have it check out. It's been towed to a body shop and, hopefully, will be looked at this coming week. VERY scary experience! I'm posting this in case others have the same experience. If Subaru won't admit to any defects, at least we know we're not going nuts--so thanks to you others who have posted similar experiences. (I bought the car new in May 2013, but since I work at home, the car has fewer than 30,000 miles on it. Prior to this, I've had no problems.)
Sign In or Register to comment.