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buying a '97 Legacy Outback - Update: "verbal agreement" but questions persist...


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#1 chilly b

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 02:41 PM

UPDATED, SEE BELOW...

Hi all -

Recovering former Saab loyalist, contemplating entering the unknown world of Subarus. Found a 1997 Legacy Outback with 128,000 miles. Owner asking $5500. Ad only says that the car runs great, is dependable and that the owner "took good care of it (regular oil changes, etc)". Obviously, I need to know more.

But, before I contact the owner, I want to find out what questions I should ask (beyond the obvious questions about major accidents, current mechanical problems, etc). A quick search of this forum indicated that I might want to know if/when the timing belt or water pump were replaced and if the oil pump's been resealed. What other questions should I be asking?

A number of posts mentioned a head gasket issue with this model year. What do I need to be concerned about regarding the head gasket and what questions should I ask the current owner regarding it?

Finally, assuming there are no major problems, is $5500 a fair price for the car?

I plan to contact the owner within the next day or so, so any quick and informative responses would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

UPDATE:

After email exchange with the owner, here's what I know:

1. Head gaskets replaced last year with the newest Subaru HGs. Not HG problem at the time, just preventative maintenance while the mechanic was in the engine replacing a fan that had been installed incorrectly during previous scheduled maintenance.
2. Water pump replaced last year.
3. Automatic transmission but no problems so far.
4. Brakes replaced last fall.
5. New all-weather tires put on last fall.
6. Owner says car is due for a timing belt change.
7. Also, says spark plug/wire replacement should be coming up soon.
8. Carfax reports that car was originally purchased in NJ as a corporate lease vehicle. About 50,000 miles put on the car before being sold to current California owner in Aug 2000. Carfax report is clean.

So...based on this new info, is $5500 still a fair price?

What additional questions should I be asking?

Thank you all SO much for your help with this!

#2 grossgary

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 03:18 PM

i dont know anyone that would spend 1,000 dollars on something that has no sign of failure???? i'm not very trusting of people i don't know, so i find that hard to believe.

working on "a fan" has nothing to do with headgaskets, another reason i'm skeptical. i'd ask to see receipts of that work and then call the mechanic myself and ask him why (and if) they were replaced. not that they have alot to gain by lying about something like that, but still sounds weird to me.

sounds like they know something as there were different "updated" head gaskets, though that isn't all that uncommon (can you say dodge neon...iron block, aluminum heads?).

$5,500 doesn't sound bad. they go for 3,000....4,000 max on ebay. i'd rather get one for 3,000 and put a new motor in it or get a rebuilt motor from ccr than go all the way up to $5,500 on one unless it was really nice and i was very confident of the maintenance/condition (particularly those dang gaskets). i got my 97 outback for $3,500 with 67,000 miles, but it needs paint and has a rebuilt title.

i'd start pricing a timing belt change and add that to your planned costs immediately, you don't want a t-belt failure on one of these motors.

#3 Olnick

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 03:42 PM

UPDATED, SEE BELOW...

1. Head gaskets replaced last year with the newest Subaru HGs. Not HG problem at the time, just preventative maintenance while the mechanic was in the engine replacing a fan that had been installed incorrectly during previous scheduled maintenance.
2. Water pump replaced last year.
6. Owner says car is due for a timing belt change.


Frankly, sounds is little odd to me--a $1500 to $2000 head gasket job as preventative maintenance. Either he is extremely thorough, has money to burn or may not be sharing the whole story. At any rate, the car has a new HG--but I would ask him for proof.

Replacing the water pump at that mileage is good preventative maintenance, but why didn't he have the timing belt replaced and the oil pump checked at the same time? Seems like a no-brainer.

Suggest you test drive and check for the infamous torque bind since it's an automatic.

Price looks okay for your area by Kelley Blue Book, $1000 too high by Edmunds.

Might be a wise investment to have it checked out by an independent mechanic before jumping in. Then if it seems okay offer substantially less than asking price.

Good luck.

#4 drewd

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 04:38 PM

I'd knock off a thousand clams (at least) plus the cost of the timing belt replacement...take it for a long test drive and if everything is good, i'd buy it.

#5 chilly b

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 07:30 PM

Thanks for the replies, everyone. Regarding the replacement HG as "preventive maintenance", I may have misspoke. Rather than my paraphrasing it, here's the exact reply I got from the owner:

"We've had a head gasket replacement done by [...], a shop that has been recommended to us by many Subaru owners (they're expensive :-) but very professional and very thorough with their repairs.) What they discover happened is that during regular maintenance done somewhere else, someone mounted a fan reverse and that cause a bit of heating -- to be on the safe side before a long two weeks trip in NoCal last year, we had the head gaskets replaced and the fan fixed (the repair was recommended by [the repair shop].)

I would say that our car did not exhibit the head gasket problems that seems to plague some of the 2.5 liter engine (from what I gather, it really is a hit or miss.) A further note on that: my understanding of the situation is that the original head gasket seal was not the best Subaru could come up with. It appears that when head gaskets need fixing, the new Subaru parts that are used are the one that should have gone into the engine in the first place -- but Subaru never admitted to anything. We went skiing almost all week-ends this season and we haven't had any problem with the car."

So, that what the owner says about it. Does that explanation make more sense regarding the replacement of the head gaskets? Or is there still something fishy I should probe more on?

Thanks!

#6 mattocs

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 08:19 PM

I'd offer less because its due for a timing belt. Show up with like $4000 cash and see what they say...go up a little from that. I am not saying the car isn't worth more, but just a suggestion to get it a little cheaper for you.

#7 Olnick

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 08:22 PM

-- to be on the safe side before a long two weeks trip in NoCal last year, we had the head gaskets replaced and the fan fixed (the repair was recommended by [the repair shop].)


Still sounds like a major (read expensive) repair job "just to be on the safe side." I'd go to that repair shop and ask for their input on the vehicle--it's a legitimate thing to do. And I'd still suggest having it checked out by an independent mechanic . . . you might sleep better!!!

Good luck with a difficult decision.

#8 jwc41

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Posted 21 August 2005 - 10:37 PM

I'd find out from the owner if it was registered on the "My Subaru" site maintained by SofA. If so, ask him/her to get into it so you can see the data. All work done by a dealer is supposed to be posted automatically. The owner can input maintainence and repair data too. Your review of the data online couldn't hurt, and may reveal answers to issues raised by others here.

#9 stevetone

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Posted 22 August 2005 - 04:59 AM

Is it even possible to mount a fan backwards? A backwards-facing fan would cause A LOT of overheating at idle, wouldn't it? And it would be apparent immediately after the shop mounted the fan incorrectly.

And what "regular maintenance" requires the removal of the fan in the first place?

Sounds fishy to me...

#10 grossgary

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Posted 22 August 2005 - 06:06 AM

you would remove the fan for timing belts, which is routine for a car with 100,000+ miles. the timing belts must have been done once and the fan would have to come out. but i'm not sure how it was mounted in reverse, don't think that could happen either. i would guess the owner probably doesn't really remember the exact reason or explained it perfect, just that there was an error involving the fan. that's why they paid someone else to do it, because they don't know much or don't want to worry about it themself.

it's all subjective guesswork and speculation for us, if you know the mechanic or garage that worked on it...which it appears you have that information then you could ask them. i wouldn't personally rely too much on an independent mechanic. they can be mildly helpful but if you're getting a good deal on a good car i don't think an *inspection* will tell you much unless they are going to do a compression check or oil analysis or something that's very critical and beneficial. but if you pay some shop you don't know well to *inspect* a car i don't think you get very much really. but i can inspect cars myself so if you know very little about cars then it may be a better option for you.

that explanation by the owner does make more sense. a improperly installed fan will cause varying degrees of overheating. most cars have 2 fans...so it would depend which one. often, one is mostly a/c dependent. also depends what kind of driving and how the car is used. if you're driving highway speeds alot and the fans don't work you could easily not notice anything abnormal and not know the fan isn't working right. if you're idling in rush hour traffic with the a/c on you'll definitely notice something. but even still these motors are quite resilient at running hot if you're not paying attention to the gauge. in other words it will keep running even if you don't notice how hot it's getting.

check to see the color of the ATF as well, it needs to be nice and pink in color. if not you need it changed and it should have been changed at least once by now.

#11 chilly b

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Posted 22 August 2005 - 09:45 PM

Thanks for the continued input. Very helpful!

Here's the owner's further explanation of why the head gaskets were replaced last year (following overheating, poss. due to a reversed fan):

"The overheating led to early leakage, we got the car in the shop with the HGs on their last leg. The technician showed me the amount of eating from the inside they took and showed some of the early leaks. At the time, it was their explanation for the overheating. When they finished with the headgasket, their realize the car was still running hot, until someone noticed that a fan wasn't blowing in the right direction. They fixed it and the problem was gone."

So... it looks like I originally misunderstood the explanation. There was an overheating problem, when the car was brought in to check on why, it was discovered that there was early leakage of the HGs and the "preventative maintenance" was to replace the head gaskets before they blew. That seems like a reasonable explanation to me. Sound good to you experienced Subaru owners?

Also, found out that the last smog check was in April 2004 (last time it was required for registration). But in California, sellers are required to provide evidence of current (within 90 days) smog certification, so I don't anticipate any issues here.

One other question regarding the head gaskets. Since they were replaced last year, is this something I'm going to need to even think about for a long while? I mean, if you replace the HGs after they've blown once, are you set or do these things blow multiple times?

Anything else I should be inquiring about?

I'm going to test drive the car on Thursday. Any additional input/thoughts before then would be most appreciated.

Thanks!

#12 Olnick

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Posted 23 August 2005 - 12:25 AM

Any additional input/thoughts before then would be most appreciated.


Yes. Don't drool . . . at least not in front of the seller.

#13 grossgary

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Posted 23 August 2005 - 06:05 AM

it is nice that they have been replaced as the newer gaskets are different and updated to prevent this from happening again.

head gaskets should not need to be replaced again if......

they were done properly the first time. on newer cars it's less of an issue because the bolts tend to come out nice and clean where older cars have more dirty holes and bolts that should not be used unless they are cleaned. the parts should have been properly checked before reinstalling the head gaskets - heads checked for warp or milled, bolts cleaned, block cleaned. on some vehicles the bolts are not supposed to be reused, those that do see early HG failure. i'm not familiar with these motors or if bolts should be reused or not, each motor is different.

the car isn't overheated. heat destroys headgaskets. they ran it hot after installing the new gaskets. could the new gaskets be damaged? don't know how long they ran it hot or how hot it got.

#14 chilly b

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Posted 26 August 2005 - 10:59 PM

Thanks for all the advice and input.

Saw the car yesterday and had it inspected this afternoon. Very minor cosmetic damage to one of the fenders. One of the fog lights is broken (cracked). The passenger side wind deflector is broken.

Engine-wise, as I said earlier, the head gaskets were replaced a year ago. Inspection showed that the transmission needs to be flushed, the coolant needs to be flushed/replaced and the fan belt is cracked. Timing belt doesn't appear to ever have been replaced. 120K service yet to be done (car has 128K miles on it).

Interior, car shows normal wear and tear for an eight-year old SUV-ish car that's been used for its intended purposes.

So, we settled on a price of $4500 and I am now a proud Subaru owner. I think it's a good deal. Blue Book (private party) on the car is $5155 in "fair" condition, which already takes into account the minor body damage, cracked light and wear and tear. The $650 decrease from Blue Book accomodates the immediate need to replace the timing belt and flush the transmission. The coolant will be flushed as part of the repair. I'll also have the fan belt replaced when the timing belt work is done. (May also replace the water pump, seals, oil pump seal, etc. at the same time).

The 120K service needs to be done but doesn't seem imminent so I'll probably wait a bit on that. I'll also hold off on fixing the cosmetic body damage and the fog light. The broken wind deflector I'll probably just remove unless I can find the part cheap somewhere.

OK. How did I do? Given all of the above, is $4500 a fair price for the car? (He was originally asking $5500.) Should I sleep well tonight or should I spend the rest of evening kicking myself around the room?

#15 Olnick

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 01:27 AM

I'd say you did all right. You can kick yourself around the room all night if you want, but when dawn is breaking get yourself a cup of coffee, grab a lawn chair and go sit out front so you can soak in your great new ride!

All the best!

#16 SuBrat84

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 01:52 AM

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Congrats and enjoy your new ride!

#17 Ryker

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 05:28 AM

Nicely put. :clap:

I'd say you did all right. You can kick yourself around the room all night if you want, but when dawn is breaking get yourself a cup of coffee, grab a lawn chair and go sit out front so you can soak in your great new ride!

All the best!



#18 q240z

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 07:57 AM

Good buy, chilly. It was kinda dopey that they didn't do the timing belt when they did the head gaskets, but you knocked 'em on the price so it's all good.

Now about that 2" lift kit, the nerf bars, and, of course, the Sylvania Silver Star headlights... ;-)

#19 Juan

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 10:21 PM

All work done by a dealer is supposed to be posted automatically.


Not true. I had my '97 repaired at the Subaru dealer and it spent three hours on the frame machine straightening it. $9,000 later they gave it back to me and NOTHING ever showed up on Subaru site. In fact, CARFAX didn't even turn up a dirty title.

Juan

#20 Juan

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 10:47 PM

Chilly, you didn't mention if it had all the recall work done on it:

Alternator
Master brake cylinder (prone to failure at ten-degrees below freezing)

Differential boot replacement. Oil leaks on exhaust (so prevailent that the monkeys at Jiffy lube noticed it on mine before the recall came out.)

Auto tranny linkage: tendancy to slip into reverse without pressing 'thumb button' on lever.

Now, a few more words of advice: See that little toggle switch on top of the steering column wilth a 'P' on it? Well, don't ever turn it on. If you come out to your car one day and the battery is COMPLETELY dead, it's because you turned it on. Oh, and don't try to charge your batter y while it's in the car. Good chance you'll fry your computer and be looking at a flat-bed tow to get it to the repair shop - You can't tow it with ANY of the wheels touching the ground or it will fry your AWD.

Anyone else got advice?

Also, you've got a very good paper trail so keep the trail going. If you can find an original owners manual (and jacket) for your car before it is too hard to find, do it. If you can find dealership brochure for your make/model year,do it. In other words, start building for selling it down the road in a few years for WHAT YOU PAID FOR IT. It's possible. Shoot, even an original Consumer Report or Car And Driver with your Subie in it will get the juices flowing on the next person looking at your car.


Juan

#21 Ranger83

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 06:20 AM

i dont know anyone that would spend 1,000 dollars on something that has no sign of failure???? i'm not very trusting of people i don't know, so i find that hard to believe.

Look for the thread titled "Pre-emptive head gasket change" or something like that. I changed my head gskets on a 97 at 140,000 last Summer. I could see bubbles in the overflow tank which to me seemed like a precursor.

I thought the head gasket problem was overblown here. But for high mileage vehicles I became convinvced it was prudent preventative maintenance unless you planned to sell the car. I now have 161,000 miles on mine with no further problems.

IMHO anyone who reads this forum and owns a late 90's Subaru with a 2.5 who doesn't change the head gaskets or sell the car isn't very smart. But there are plenty of people who drive their cars into the ground. And thus there will continue to be "My OBW with 1xx,000 miles on it just spit the engine out. It's going to cost $3,000+ to repair it , what should I do" threads.

#22 Olnick

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Posted 31 August 2005 - 03:15 AM

I guess chilly b is really enjoying his new car!!!

#23 chilly b

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Posted 07 September 2005 - 04:00 PM

Hi again all -

Brief vacation but now back in town. I haven't yet officially "bought" the car. Just a verbal handshake so far. We exchange cash/vehicle next week once the seller's back in town.

Just want one last reality check before I part with my cash.

I'll be paying $4500 for the car and, as I mentioned earlier, the timing belt needs to be replaced. Here in Northern California, timing belt replacement is about $400 - $475. In the big scheme of things, not terrible. But here's the kicker. Every shop I've spoken with also strongly recommends that, while I'm having the timing belt replaced, I ALSO replace: water pump, fan belts, seals, thermostat, oil pump seals, tensioner, idlers, etc, raising the total cost of the service to... $1400! Sweet lord.

I suppose I ought not factor the total repair cost into the purchase price of the car (since the only thing that "needs" to be replaced is the timing belt) but give me a heads up. Does all this work really need to be done? Maybe the better question is, would I be an incredible fool to replace the timing belt and NOT do any of the other recommended work?

As I also mentioned, the car still needs the 120K service done ($400-$500) but I'll wait on that.

So, does all this extra expense turn my good purchase price into just an average (or perhaps even $hittty) deal?

I guess the larger question is, when buying a used car, to what extent should a buyer factor in preventative maintenance costs that may not be "necessary" but are "highly prudent"? In my case, the necesssary maintenance (timing belt) is only around $500 but the extra preventative services are an additional $1500! Help me think this one though. I'm having buyer's remorse before I've even bought the car.

Looking forward to your input. Thanks!

#24 stevetone

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Posted 07 September 2005 - 05:54 PM

"Does all this work really need to be done? Maybe the better question is, would I be an incredible fool to replace the timing belt and not do any of the other recommended work?"

Yes and yes, at least in my opinion. Afterwards, you'll be good for another 60,000 miles (or 105,000, if they use a "California" timing belt).

Happy motoring!

#25 chilly b

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Posted 07 September 2005 - 09:40 PM

"Afterwards, you'll be good for another 60,000 miles (or 105,000, if they use a "California" timing belt)."


What's this "California" timing belt you mention? Is this something I'll need to specifically ask be installed or is it automatic in California? But why in the world would California use different timing belts than the rest of the county? (or am I just missing the joke?)




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