- Subaru Outback (2010-2014 models) sunroof leaks are most likely cause by blocked front drain tubes
- Learn where drain tubes are located, method to clean them and implement maintenance routine to prevent from happening again
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Temporary Fix
- Sunroof Assembly and Parts
- What Causes a Leaking Roof on Subaru Outback
- Materials and Tools
- Step-by-Step Drain Tube Cleaning Instructions
- Related Posts
- Reference Links
Although I usually park my Outback in the garage, I was fixing my leaf blower so it was left in my driveway overnight.
It rained steadily overnight so when I opened the door in the morning, I was surprised to find a partially wet driver’s seat (near the door). Looking up, I noticed a large wet spot on the ceiling by the A-pillar.
[ INSERT IMAGE HERE ]
My heart sank because my immediate thought was that either my windshield or sunroof was compromised and I was potentially looking at thousands of dollars in repair cost after just spending a good chunk of money for my 60k service.
After getting a $400+ quote to diagnose and fix this leaky issue, I decided to I was able to troubleshoot and fix the problem myself.
UPDATE: One year after the initial fix, I had a downpour overnight and my Subaru left with an half inch of standing water in the driver’s seat so I expanded on the original cleaning steps for a deep clean. I have not had any more issues since that time.
If your Subaru Outback is still under warranty, please note that Subaru of America (SOA) has issued a technical service bulletin (TSB) to solve this problem. You can find the link at the end of this post under the Reference Links section.
We were short on time so we decided to place a small towel underneath the dripping spot and while we did errands. If I wasn’t so angry at the time (water dripped on my legs at one point), I would say it was comical!
In most cases, the “leak” is caused by a partially or completely plugged drain hose. During heavy rain, the water starts to pool inside the channel below the air deflector before ultimately breaching to the interior ceiling.
I guess water had pooled in the sunroof channel area because whenever we made turns, water started to drip on the opposite side.
That meant if we made a left turn, water would drip from the passenger side A-pillar. If I had to make a sudden stop, the roof leak would drip from both A-pillars as well as the center overhead console.
If you have been experiencing a minor leak and you know there is a thunderstorm around the corner, I recommend one of the following preventative steps:
- Choice # 1 – The obvious choice is to park your Outback inside your garage, carport or parking garage
- Choice # 2 – Slicing open a large trash bag (so that you end up with a large sheet), drape it over the sunroof, then either tape it down or place something like a moving blanket. Moving blanket will absorb water and keep the trash bag in place to prevent water penetration.
- Choice # 3 – Apply 3M Scotch Blue Exterior Painter’s Poly-Tape around the sunroof perimeter
Preventing a leak with 3M Blue Tape
Since the original post, 3M discontinued this particular tape. You can try either Scotch Exterior Surface Painters Tape in Yellow or 3M Clear Repair Tape
Before you apply the tape, use Windex to thoroughly clean the area to allow for good adhesion. Also, in order for maximum water resistance, apply the tape in the following order:
- Rear (A)
- Sides (B and C)
- Front (D)
Believe it or not, this solution lasted for awhile before I finally got around to cleaning my drain tubes.
Yes, it is pretty ugly to drive around with it but during heavy rain, it managed to keep the water out. I even took my Outback to a car wash and the tape survived!
Just note that if you leave it in place beyond several weeks, tape will get brittle and break apart during the removal process.
After my second sunroof leak, I applied the tape and left it on for over 6 months so I ended up spending hours removing the tape and glue residue!
Water Stain Removal
The ceiling fabric material is designed to resist stains from the surface but these are soaking stains so you have to work quickly:
- Step # 1 – Press the affected area with dry towels to remove as much water as possible
- Step # 2 – Allow the area to air dry for 30 minutes
- Step # 3 – Use Clorox wipes lightly scrub the area (do not scrub vigorously)
- Step # 4 – Use dry towels to life off any Clorox residue
At the end of the day, you want to permanently fix this leaking issue so it does not turn into a bigger issue (i.e. problems with electrical components, mold, etc.)
Sunroof Assembly and Parts
<1> Glass lid
<2> Weather strip
<3> Lid cover
<5> Drain tube
<6> Motor assembly
<7> Frame assembly
<9> Drain plate
<10> Stopper rubber
<11> Link assembly
<12> Lid bracket
What Causes a Leaking Roof on Subaru Outback
As far as I can tell, there are four drain tubes for 2010 Subaru Outback.
However, two rear drain tubes are NOT accessible without removing the sunroof and interior trim work.
Because two front drain tubes are most susceptible to being clogged, cleaning them seems to resolve the leaking issue.
Apparently, all fourth generation Subaru Outback vehicles (2009-2014) that came with sunroofs have two drain holes near the front and two in the rear.
Much like rain a gutter system on a house, the channel between the two drain holes direct water to either side (foam piece in the middle acts as a divider to shorten the traveling distance) to expel water down the hose.
The problem is that dirt and pollen tend to cake around this area over a period of time so unless you are mindful to keep it clean, some of those dirt/pollen combo pieces can and will break off from the surface, float down and ultimately block these drain holes or hoses.
Materials and Tools
- Several pipe cleaners (thin-wire, plain variety like this one – no glitters!)
- Cotton Swabs with long handles
- Spool of weedwhacker string (the starting tip should be melted to eliminate any sharp edges)
- Clorox/Lysol wipes
- Step ladder
- Several cups of hot water (not boiling)
Step-by-Step Drain Tube Cleaning Instructions
Fixing a leaking roof on Subaru Outback can seem daunting with many repair videos showing you taking off bunch of interior trim pieces before removing the headliner to begin troubleshooting the problem.
STOP: There are lots of YouTube videos inserting wires into the drain tube or using a compressor. I don’t recommend either methods as you will most likely:
- Nick or puncture the drain hose
- Compressed air will lodge of piece of debris so hard that it will be difficult to remove
But before you go to the extreme of removing bunch of interior pieces, try these instructions to see if you can clear your clogged sunroof drip holes
Much like in surgery, you want to remove all debris around these drain holes BEFORE actually attempting to clear them.
The reason for this is so that we do not break off these caked particles and accidentally clog our drain holes.
Also, you may note the the use of Clorox/Lysol wipes instead of using Windex + paper towel combo. Because there are lots of sharp edges, I did not want to take a chance of paper towel ripping and causing problems.
I also found these wipe sheets to be highly durable and effective at leaning dirt
Clean caked debris around the sunroof perimeter
- STEP # 1 – Park your vehicle on a flat surface with plenty of space to open front doors wide
- STEP # 2 – Open the sunroof and turn off the car
- STEP # 3 – Recline front seats flat (or setup a step ladder)
- STEP # 4 – Using a Clorox ripe, clean the underside of the wind deflector as well as the sunroof perimeter; wind deflector is in the down position when the sunroof is closed which means it comes in contact with draining water quite often. Just look at the amount of dirt that was removed from the underside (see below):
- STEP # 5 – Clean any debris off from the water channel
Remove debris around the drain tube holes
- STEP # 6 – Examine the area near the drain hole with a flash light; you don’t want to accidentally push in debris into the hole
- STEP # 7 – Please note that the drain holes are tucked in tight so you will most likely have a difficult locating them. If you cannot visually locate them, take some close-up photos with your camera/phone to see if you can get a closer look.
- STEP # 8 – Wind deflector should be remained in the upright position to gain better access to the drain holes
- STEP # 9 – Moisten some cotton swabs and remove debris around the hole
Cleaning the Drain Tubes with a Pipe Cleaner
A drain hole by the rain collection point tends to collect grime inside the hole so we will gently scrub them off using a pipe cleaner.
- STEP # 10 – Pipe cleaners have sharp ends that can puncture the hose; make a 180 degree bend on one end so to eliminate the sharp edge
- end is not sharp
- STEP # 11 – Please note that drain plastic hoses can become brittle as they get older so you want to be careful when inserting the pipe cleaner (i.e. not just shove it in)
- STEP # 10 – Take a pipe cleaner and bend the tip over by about 1/4″. Then using your finger tips, crimp it down so that the end is flat. This will ensure that the sharp wire end does not poke the plastic hose.
- STEP # 10 – You also do not want the end tip to look like a candy cane (“hook”) so that it won’t snag something when being pulled out.Open the sunroof and turn off the car
- STEP # 10 – Gently insert the pipe cleaner into the drain hose while slowly rotating it to get a good scrubbing action
- STEP # 10 – The pipe cleaner will encounter resistance at around 5 to 6 inch mark (there is a sharp bend at this point) so stop at this point. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PUSH THROUGH. Again, while rotating the pipe cleaner, gently pull it out.
- STEP # 10 – When I pulled out my cleaner, I noticed a lot of small debris, including what appears to be a parts of a dried out spider legs!
Verify that Drain Holes Are Unclogged
- STEP # 10 – Pour about a 1/4 cup of of hot (not boiling) water near the drain hole
- STEP # 10 – You should observe water draining relatively quickly
- STEP # 10 – You should verify that driver’s side weep hole is discharging water (steady at first then drips)
- STEP # 10 – Repeat same procedures for the passenger side
Using a weedwhacker trimmer string to clear out the drain hose
If you observe a slow drain, you may have to resort to inserting a weedwhacker string to push out any debris inside the hose.
This should be used as a last resort because there is a risk that pushing debris can clog your hose completely.
As stated previously, please AVOID using any type of wires when cleaning the hose as plastic hoses tend to get brittle as they age and using a wire may damage the hose.
- STEP # 10 – Using a lighter, apply direct heat to melt the end of a trimmer string; the string will not melt in a nice “bubble” so when it is still hot, you will have to manually shape the end with your fingers
- STEP # 10 – Gently guide the string into the drain hole and push it inside the hose
- STEP # 10 – You will need to feed until you cannot push any longer (about 4 feet)
- STEP # 10 – Extract the line and re-test with hot water to verify that the hose is clear
Two things to keep in mind when inserting a weedwhacker trimmer line into the drain hose:
- Because the end of a drain hose has a 90 degree adapter, you will not be able to push the line all the way out through the weep hole
- You may observe water dripping from below the chassis instead of a weep hole; this may indicate a blockage by your weep hole or broken connection between the hose and weep hole. As long as water drips out from chassis at a decent rate, no need to try to clear the weep hole
Once both drain holes are clear, close the sunroof and pour about 3 glasses water on each side of the sunroof. Once surface water has drained away, open up the sunroof and visually inspect the area
The only part that should be wet are the rain channel between drain holes and of course, drain holes.
If you see water pooling anywhere else (i.e. marked “potential problem” in the picture above), the seal around the sunroof door might be failing. The seal replacement is a more in-depth project so I am going to keep a close eye on the leak for now.
Moving forward, I plan on cleaning my sunroof about every 3 months to avoid this leaking problem in the future.
I am happy report that I have had no further roof leaks for my Subaru Outback since the repair (and feel free darn good about saving some serious cash too!)
As far as removing the water stains are concerned, gently run the area with a Clorox sheet (the same one I used to clean the outside dirt) and let it dry out.
Hope you found this article to be helpful. Please leave me a comment about your experience!
Thanks and good luck!
- How to Replace the battery for 2010 Subaru Outback Key fob
- How to Replace Brake and Reverse Incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs on a 2010 Subaru Outback
- How Do My New LED Brake lights and backup lights Look at Night on my 2010 Subaru Outback
- Subaru.oemdtc.com – Water Leak from the Map Light Area – 2010-2013 Subaru Legacy & Outback
- SubaruOutback.org – 2010 Subaru Outback With a Leaking sunroof
- Subaru Part wholesale – Sunroof Diagram
- NHTSA – Subaru of America Technical Service Bulletin (PDF link)
17 thoughts on “How To Fix Leaking Roof on Subaru Outback”
2013 Subaru Outback water leak . Followed information and found discharge holes. Used Weed eater line,.155 in diameter. Drivers side took line with no problem. Passenger side took, but had to really work at it.
Put water down passenger side, and still had leak. Pulled grab handle and looked inside. I found where the trimer line went to. It was all twisted up.. I looked close, and could not find a drain hose. I went to other side and checked it out. No drain hose either. Found “C” shaped holders that might have held the hose. I am going to tape the sunroof up so no more water can get in. I hated that damn sunroof any way..
This was extremely clear and helpful.
The problem and solution were exactly as you had outlined.
My 2012 Outback had sprung a roof leak in heavy weather, but now all is fixed
Many thanks for your guidance
This was well done. With my first leak, dealer easily cleaned and advised I have them blow out the drains whenever in for service for pm. I forgot to do so and next time leak, I cleaned myself. Question: the Subaru roof diagram showed four drains total, with two at the back. Such are impossible to find from above. Can you describe where to find the drain discharge points so I can send a string line in from below.
My Subaru is currently sitting in a pile of snow (got around 27 inches) so I will try to get that answer for you after I dig out the car!
Great article Kevin.
My 2013 outback has been leaking off and on this winter, exactly where you said it would. It has been driving me crazy because it only seems to happen after a snowfall and a quick thaw afterwards.
After reading everything I suspect the drain lines might be blushed at the fender exits as ice from the wheels accumulates there all the time.
Thanks for your kind words!
You have saved me! I have had this problem with a 2012 on and off and no one has been able to figure out why. Followed all of the steps carefully and am now leak free. I really appreciate all of the time you spent putting this together. It was so easy to follow due to your detailed instructions and photos.
Thanks a million!
Thank you for your kind words!
It’s awesome to hear that you were able to solve your leaking problem. With all its worts, we love our Subaru!
Oh, this was brilliant! Passenger front of my 2014 Subaru OB was very wet after heavy rain yesterday, but couldn’t see where the sunroof seal was loose or had cracked—was driving me crazy. Who knew there were drains in the sunroof gutter?! Turns out both of mine failed the cup-of-water test and were clogged (I even found a rotting acorn sitting next to the right drain).
15 min of dirt and grime removal, followed by pipe cleaner plunges in both drains, and ample hot water flushes mixed with a little Windex (produces a pleasant gurgling sound when the drains open), and now I’m good to go.
Water Leak on a 2013 Subaru Outback. Car sitting a friend’s 2013 Subaru Outback. Sunroof window probably never opened by the owner. Water by the gallons in a driving rain dripped down on the passenger side seat flowed down into the rear passenger side footwell , deceiving where the problem was. Grandson fixed passenger side drain with a piece of weed whacker line . Closed the window and dumped a bucket of water and both sides. flowed perfectly . Saved bookooo dollars in repair bill. thanks for your pictures. They pinpointed the problem .
Ed Gabel E Stroudsburg, PA 7/10/21
Thanks so much for the pictures. I had mine cleaned out at the dealer a few years ago and was not willing to pay for that again. But I could not find the drain even looking at the Subaru service bulletin. I used your image and was finally able to see the dang thing. Did a bunch of cleanup and ran a weedwhacker cord through it and I’m back in business!
Thank you for the extremely easy to understand instructions. It appears to have worked!
Thank you so much! My sister and I were able to use this to fix my 2014 Outback!
I wish I had seen this before my lines became corroded and now the sunroof won’t open. Estimate for repair is $3000 to replace motor and harness. I used to pride my self in keeping my car in good shape. Now I am paying the price for lack of maintenance on my part. I will use your information in the future. Thank you.
Yikes, sorry to hear that Peggy.
If you don’t use your sunroof or willing to give it up, you may want to consider applying a car wrap on the roof.
You can match the color pretty close or go with a transparent film. This way, you can prevent future leaks and not worry about your sunroof.
If you do it yourself, the film and tools will cost you around $100 bucks but it is not easy to apply and make it look good.
You can contact a local tinting place to do it for you (should cost less than $200).
I did what you suggested, and it worked.
Thank you for sharing
Thank you for your feedback. Just make sure to periodically clean them out so they don’t get clogged.