By on November 29, 2019

2017 Subaru Outback - Image: Subaru

Citizen Kanine writes:

Is there a good (single?) place to search and discover what year car models updated their drivetrain or added some feature I might want?

I’m looking at a couple of used car options, probably recent cars coming off leases, and am wondering if model year 2016 or 2017 (for example) are significantly different for a Subaru Outback or a Mazda CX-5. All cars change a bit, every year but some stuff I care about (the Skyactiv suspension) and others (new paint colors or the move from 8 speakers to 10) not as much.

I know this information is not impossible to find, but the flood of info and changes for the most recent year can bury the details on models just a few years old. Or maybe I am just using weak GoogleFu.

Sajeev answers:

I often use three sources (here, here, here) for make/model research here at TTAC. After randomly poking around for changes on Kia’s Optima, all three did good.

Shockingly, regarding your potential Subaru Outback, only one resource has pertinent information. And now I am terrified to look up the Mazda CX-5!

From what I’ve seen with print materials via Automotive Literary Mecca, the most granular, year-by-year information lives within dealer training manuals. Not easy to acquire if you live outside of Metro Detroit, I know. Who knows, sometimes dealerships have this stuff lying around for years: never hurts to ask!

So check out my three sources, dig into model-specific forums and — wait for it — ask the Best and Brightest for their opinion!

[Image: Subaru]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: One Website for Year-by-Year Changes?...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    The respective forums post that very question from time to time. No where else would get ownership experiences than the forums people like to talk about their cars.

    No review for a week or longterm for a year will tell you every nuance about the car than actual owners talking about the car. But comparison tests to bring out niggles that journalist like to hate on.

    The YouTube reviews can bring out unedited comments on said model that you won’t see in print. Audio podcast will do the same.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Model Specific forums are a great resource and quite specific if the problem is common. I’ve been saved many times by reading up on the car I am/was considering.

      Not all issues will happen to you. I never had a Vanos problem with my BMW, for example but did use four expansion tanks…we all play mass production roulette no matter what we do-I did have multiple alternators, a common issue, in my GM, and knew that there was a catalyst recall on my MDX but that my car was about ten serial numbers away from it. Plot twist, I got a bad set anyway.

      You also learn about the owner base…some forums get very granular in repairs, part number fixes/TSB, and others are “uhhhh call the dealer”.

      Find the enthusiast forum for your proposed car. If there isn’t any, that is a sign as well.

  • avatar
    NTGD

    One source – Wikipedia! No seriously, combined with an O.E. media or newsrooom site. Some of the model pages are very detailed with year to year and some wiki editor really likes cars because a fair amount is pretty accurate. The media sites for make have a good archived of press kits that detail what is new from year to year (Mazda US & Canada and Subaru USA both have good archives). Wikipedia can give a year or two to zone in on and you can use the media sites to confirm. You could go year by year on the media site but unless you already have an idea of when the type of change you are looking for took place that can get tedious.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      ^^This, Wikipedia is a great source of basic car facts. Enter the car you’re interested in and Wikipedia is always the first thing that comes up on a google search. It will give you all the model changes, what was changed, different engines etc. all on one page. Also, it will talk about any major issues the car may have experienced. I find Wikipedia is a great starting point for any kind of research and, yeah, I know they’re not always right, but they mostly are

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “Enter the car you’re interested in and Wikipedia is always the first thing that comes up on a google search.”

        Maybe in 2009. Enter anything at all in a Google search and the first thing that comes up is a page of paid ad links, followed by the sites with the most up to date SEO, and wikipedia and similar relevant results will start on about page three.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    try the press websites maintained by the carmakers. Ex. kiamedia.com media.ford.com press.bmwgroup.com/usa

    Almost always they have an archive of specs and news releases from prior years (up to a certain point)

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    nhtsa.gov/vehicle/2016/MAZDA/CX-5/SUV/FWD#manufacturerCommunications

    397 factory communications, 293 complaints and 4 recall.

    Great fun for the entire family, but the LED running lights seem go out about the time the warranty expires and if so, $1,200 per side. It’s unclear if it’s a forced option, but sometimes it’s good to get the base model and upgrade with aftermarket accessories, such as BlueTooth, Nav, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      mike, mike, wake up!!!!

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        I sorta understand the Subaru thing, but Mazda? I meant “daytime” running lights, but aside from the Miata, what’s the attraction? Cheap leases? Do any of them last past 300K miles? Would you recommend one?

        They do OK as far as “complaints” go, but you should see 2016 4wd crew cab F-150 complaints. Oh boy. I guess my over all gripe is against most new vehicles, especially hard loaded, vs extended ownership. It’s becoming clear the best time buy them is a decade old or more, sticking to the extremely mainstream.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    All the advice here is good. I myself write articles for CarGurus.com, and we pretty much do every car model, every year, highlighting those changes (or pointing out when there are none, really). But it’s in paragraph format, so you’ll have to read the whole thing, rather than getting a concise list.

    Also, beware of running mid-year changes, which some automakers (ahem, BMW) love to do. They may not be conveyed online very well, but the people in the forums usually know what’s what.

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