Vehicles Affected: Roughly 48,500 model-year 2016 and 2017 Subaru Legacy sedans and Outback wagons built from Feb. 29, 2016 to May 6, 2016. Of that total, Subaru says about 22,000 are owned by customers, while another 26,500 are on dealer lots or elsewhere in the pipeline. In addition, some model-year 2015 Outbacks built on April 14, 2015 may be affected because they got the defective part as a repair, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Problem: Affected vehicles could have defective steering columns, with the result that "turning the steering wheel may have no effect on the direction of the wheels," NHTSA says. That, in turn, could lead to a crash.
The Fix: Dealers will inspect the column and replace it if necessary.
What Owners Should Do: Underlining the severity of the problem, Subaru says owners of affected cars should stop driving until their vehicle has been inspected. The recall begins immediately, Subaru spokesman Michael McHale told Cars.com. If you have an affected vehicle, call your local dealership now. You can also call Subaru customer service at 1-800-782-2783, call NHTSA at 1-888-327-4236 or see Subaru's webpage on the recall.
How do I tell when my car was built? Your car should have a sticker on the driver's doorjamb that gives the month of manufacture. Call your nearest Subaru dealer if that month is from February 2016 to May 2016, or April 2015 for 2015 Outbacks.
How does the problem manifest itself? It shows up through looseness in steering feel, McHale said. Only in a worst-case scenario would the steering wheel completely fail to give directional control. Still, because of the risk, you should stop driving your Legacy or Outback and have it inspected right away if it was built during the affected months.
How did the problem begin? A 2016 Subaru Outback owner complained of steering issues on May 3, according to documents posted by NHTSA. McHale said the owner "said they couldn't keep the car on [the] center" of the road. Subaru towed the Outback to a dealer and was able to replicate the problem. On May 9, Subaru issued a stop-sale order for affected cars and ordered a recall May 10.
Subaru blames an incorrect setting for a tool used to build the steering column, according to NHTSA documents. That could result in faulty machining of a steering-column shaft; in such cases, the shaft may not engage properly, which could allow the steering wheel to rotate freely.
How do I get my car to the dealer if I can't drive it? Subaru said your dealer will tow the car for free. If your car needs repairs, your dealer will give you a free loaner or rental car. It sounds like an ambitious undertaking for dealers to inspect 22,000 cars, but McHale noted that it only works out to about 30 customers per Subaru dealer.
Will dealers stop selling these cars? Yes, for the time being. Subaru will inspect all 48,500 cars affected — including those on dealer lots — and replace any defective steering columns.
"We're fixing cars on the dealer lots right now," McHale said. "If a car doesn't have it [the defect], it's available for sale. If a car has it, then we're fixing [it]."
McHale said that means shoppers should still find buyable cars, particularly ones that have been deemed defect-free after an inspection.
How long will the fix take? Only about an hour, McHale said, adding that the repair is "not that difficult" and the inspection "doesn't take that long."
The question is how long it will take Subaru to have enough replacement parts. McHale said he didn't have an answer for that yet.
"Obviously, we don't carry twice the number of steering columns that we need, but it depends on how many cars exhibit the failure," he said. "So we don't know that yet."