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Dave M

Looking to buy an Outback. What are some common issues to look out for?

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My 20 year old son is looking for a new (to him) car. An Outback would fit his lifestyle well but funds are limited, so we're looking at older cars.  We've found a 2002 that seems to be in good condition, and we've found ones all the way up to 2009 that are within our price range.  What are common problems that we should look out for in these model years?  What issues tend to crop up, especially after 100,000 miles?  The 2002 drove well but had a vibration coming from underneath when the car was in "Drive", but not moving. No vibration in "Park". It felt like it was coming from the driveline but the dealer said it was probably just worn exhaust hangers causing the vibration.  I'm not sure I buy that.  Any insight?

Thanks,

Dave

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it seems counter-intuitive but is a known fact - aftermarket axles will cause that vibration you noticed. perhaps extremely worn original axles will but, typical rebuilts from a parts store definitely do. may not be cause for alarm - other than parts store axles have a poor reputation for longevity. MANY folks would run used OEM over typical rebuilts.

 

the older ANY car is, the less important it's brand/model become and the MORE important is its prior care and present condition.

if you have the time, shop very carefully - try to get a one-owner with documented, proper maintenance/repairs - have a prepurchase inspection done at a subaru-friendly shop. Indeed, finding a mechanic first can be helpful. In addition to asking about the cost of an inspection, he may know of a customer that is planning to sell.

subarus are often abused as they are passed along to 2nd-3rd-4th owners. Easy to cheap-out on repairs and get confused about fluids, run with mismatched tires, etc.

the 'sticky' threads at the top of these 2 forums mention some common problems;

Gen2; https://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/110-gen-2-2000-2004/

Gen3; https://www.subaruoutback.org/forums/109-gen-3-2005-2009/

 

you might also consider a Forester and maybe a Crosstrek

Edited by 1 Lucky Texan
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Yea, very few "common" issues on the '00-'04 cars (by far my favorite Subaru). 4-cylinder cars are notorious for Head Gasket leaks, but unlike the stereotypical head gasket failure, these almost always manifest as an oil leak. Annoying, but as long as you check the oil regularly and don't let it run out, they'll run a long time (I had an '03 that was leaking when I bought it, and I fixed it right before selling it about 40k miles later).

6-cylinder cars have an issue with the serpentine belt pullies that can fail with little warning. Replace them preventatively.

 

Depending on trim, Subaru started phasing in immobilizers into the '05-'09 cars. If that's the case, keep in mind a duplicate key is $150-200, and if you loose the last one, it's a HUGE project (make sure you always have a spare). Turbos were an option in this vintage, these are much more finicky about maintenance, I don't recommend them for daily use. Wiring into the tailgate is fairly common to fatigue were it bends between the gate/body. If it has any issues with the rear wiper, lock, or lights in the tailgate, there's a decent chance it needs repair there. Individual breaks can be traced and repaired, but it's about $80 for a new harness to reset the clock.

 

 

But far more important is general maintenance. Fluids, matching tires, stuff like that. I normally look for low-mileage, neglected cars for cheap. Last year I bought a '00 with about 320k miles on it from an acquaintance who I know takes good care of his cars. It has been eye-opening how much fewer problems it has...

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Quoted for truth:

Quote

 

try to get a one-owner with documented, proper maintenance/repairs

- Do Not take a dealer's/salesperson word. It means nothing after the sale. If the car needs a fix that they state they'll  remedy it must be in writing in the PO (and good luck w/that).

- 200-2004 4-cylinder - Any model really..  The 2005-2009 models have many more 'gotchas' - do your homework. NO USED SUBARU TURBOS. period. period.

- Ensure HG were done; complete Timing belt kit and water pump- usually the pulleys fail, not the belt.

- Get it inspected b4 you buy - preferably @ a Subaru non-dealer shop.

 - I'm a bigger fan of the '96-'98 Legacy / Impreza wagons/hatches with 2.2. But they are getting old and Subaru has officially (as of last year?) stopped supplying parts so fixing them could be a challenge.

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The 2000-2004 are great tanks for a kid to learn in.  In the rust belt, you should make sure rear sub frame is not rusty.  Wheel bearings, Head gaskets, timing  belt replacement are all good stuff to look for.  I sometimes find a cheap outback  with a broken timing belt for cheap.  Then  fix the heads, do the head gasket and timing belt, idlers, cam o rings etc rear main......you get the idea and while it is up drain and fill the tans with a new spin on trans filter.  

 

That way, you pay $250-500 for the car, but can afford to do all the rest of the things that will make it reliable.

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11 hours ago, 3Pin said:

The 2000-2004 are great tanks for a kid to learn in.  In the rust belt, you should make sure rear sub frame is not rusty.

Good point, '00-'01 had a recall to spray a coating on it for that, but now 15 years later (I think the "recall" spray on my '00 was performed in '03), they're getting pretty nasty. They changed the coating in '02, so they're much less susceptible, but still worth looking at. It's possible to replace, but not a small job, and worth considering when buying.

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I just got a 5 speed 2002 Outback in from a customer that's for sale. We put in a JDM short block and did the 642 gasket upgrade less than 3 years ago. New radiator and hoses, clutch, clutch hydraulics, and PS hoses. Older lady owned it and her husband took out the AC compressor, couldn't finish the job, battery died, and then it appears he tried to jump it with the cables reversed and blew the main fusible link. We fixed all that and put in a good AC compressor, new battery, and new terminals. Anyway she sold me the car after they got a divorce and it was "broken" so she bought a new Camry. Nothing wrong with it, not a stitch of rust on it anywhere (west coast - we don't get that). She invested $5000 in it over the last 3 years and it runs and drives perfectly. Usual wear for this age - needs new floor mats. The driver's side carpeting is a little torn up. Eventually might want a new drivers seat but it's pretty minor. It's dark blue. 

$3000

It's about $1500 to ship it to the east coast. 

Edit - SOLD. I never have them more than about a week. 

GD

Edited by GeneralDisorder
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Dave,  I like that you are from Mechanicsburg , PA. 

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55 minutes ago, 3Pin said:

Dave,  I like that you are from Mechanicsburg , PA. 

Are you from the area?

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On 5/21/2019 at 2:31 PM, Dave M said:

My 20 year old son is looking for a new (to him) car. An Outback would fit his lifestyle well but funds are limited, so we're looking at older cars.  We've found a 2002 that seems to be in good condition, and we've found ones all the way up to 2009 that are within our price range.  What are common problems that we should look out for in these model years?  What issues tend to crop up, especially after 100,000 miles?  The 2002 drove well but had a vibration coming from underneath when the car was in "Drive", but not moving. No vibration in "Park". It felt like it was coming from the driveline but the dealer said it was probably just worn exhaust hangers causing the vibration.  I'm not sure I buy that.  Any insight?

Thanks,

Dave

That vibration is due to aftermarket front axle(s).  Get a used Subaru axle ($25), reboot it with Subaru boots, and that won't happen.  Subaru axles last the life of the vehicle and should be rebooted, not replaced. 

00-09 4 cylinders all have potential external headgasket leaks. 
1. check for headgasket leaks underneath coolant and oil are possible.  Google image search to get an idea where they leak/where to look.
2. find one that's already been replaced with Subaru gaskets and resurfaced heads. 

All 00-09 are due for new Subaru timing belt and should get a lower coged timing idler pulley as well (most likely to fail).  If those fail they usually bend a lot of the valves, so best to ensure those are done. 

Other than that those are fairly predictable and make 200k without much fanfare.  All things being equal the 00-04's are better than 05-09's.  But living in the rust belt and being older makes it hard to make "all things being equal". 

Northeast = rust = remove and regrease all the caliper slide pins with Sil-Glyde or equivalent/better, check the exhaust for significant rust.

I've got a 2009 manual legacy - 130,000 miles, new Subaru headgaskets, resurfaced heads, timing gear, brakes, new tires, $5k. 

 

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38 minutes ago, idosubaru said:

That vibration is due to aftermarket front axle(s).  Get a used Subaru axle ($25), reboot it with Subaru boots, and that won't happen.  Subaru axles last the life of the vehicle and should be rebooted, not replaced. 

 

Would it be axles if we only feel the vibration when the car is stopped (not moving), and in drive? Shifting to Park makes the vibration go away. Don’t feel anything significant while the car is moving. Only stopped.

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14 minutes ago, Dave M said:

 

Would it be axles if we only feel the vibration when the car is stopped (not moving), and in drive? Shifting to Park makes the vibration go away. Don’t feel anything significant while the car is moving. Only stopped.

Yes this is axles. Get reman axles from the dealer. They are $198 each. You can do used and go through the reboot process but you'll only save about $100 per axle plus it's time consuming and messy. 

GD

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12 hours ago, Dave M said:

 

Would it be axles if we only feel the vibration when the car is stopped (not moving), and in drive? Shifting to Park makes the vibration go away. Don’t feel anything significant while the car is moving. Only stopped.

Yes, that's what you described before so the answer is the same - it's the axles.  They're sloppy and vibrate on the trans stub shafts when the trans is loaded in drive with the TC spinning.  aftermarket axles are trash and have a wide variety of issues, scrap them and get subaru.

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Dave, I am not from PA, but that is a cool name for a town.

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8 hours ago, 3Pin said:

Dave, I am not from PA, but that is a cool name for a town.

Ah, I've lived here so long the name has lost all meaning to me. Thanks to everyone for the replies. It does seem like axles are the culprit. The car we were originally looking at had been sold but we’re still looking at other Outbacks. Will keep all your advice in mind as we shop.

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On 5/25/2019 at 7:24 AM, Dave M said:

The car we were originally looking at had been sold but we’re still looking at other Outbacks. .

Consider going out of your way to look at the 2009 listed earlier in this thread for 5K. If your son is not into a manual transmission yet, Subarus are easy to learn on.  You could learn on the way home.  Manual's are more fun to drive and lower on maintenance costs.  Easier to take apart too.  Don't get overly sidetracked on minor issues like axles and miss a pending head gasket failure.

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1 hour ago, 89Ru said:

 Manual's are ... lower on maintenance costs. 

That depends on the auto. Manuals suffer from clutch replacements, fluid changes, rear input shaft bearing failures, and center diff failures. Really the 4EAT is a better trans. Lower maintenance cost, and smarter with a computer to assist traction. 

GD

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56 minutes ago, GeneralDisorder said:

Manuals suffer from clutch replacements, fluid changes, rear input shaft bearing failures, and center diff failures. Really the 4EAT is a better trans.

Ok have to agree here.  Have had less overall problems per 100k miles with my one 4EAT vs. numerous 5MT's.  Still it's only 100-200k miles per clutch but yes high labor to change, either pull the engine or drop the transmission.  Not sure how to avoid shaft bearing failure other than performing regular fluid changes and avoiding routine slamming into gear or routine shifting at too low rpm and abusing synchros.  Center diff failures can be avoided with good tire protocol (all matching and relatively same circumference).  

For shaft bearing failure or center diff failure, these will cost you a salvage yard transmission.  Too expensive to rebuild.  Still worth keeping the car imho.  

To rule out front axle and center diff problems during a used-car test drive:  Do low-speed figure-eight's in an empty parking lot and listen for wheels skipping or grabbing, or clunks from the drive train.

For auto trans, consider adding an in-line magnetic filter and an auxiliary cooling radiator to keep fluid cleaner and cooler.  

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Do a good test drive. Make sure no Check engine lights on, or the AT Temp light flashing, which is like a check engine light for the Auto Trans. Go over bumps and drive in various driving conditions, check for the car feeling loose or jumping around the suspension repairs are expensive. Uneven tire wear can indicate suspension, steering, and alignment issues. Drive slowly in a tight circle to check the AWD. It should be smooth with no jumping around.

Take a look at the general condition and check if regular maintenance has been done. Is the oil relatively clean, is the trans fluid been clean, is the coolant relatively clean in the overflow tank, is the engine leaking a lot, has regular maintenance been performed? These engines will last 300K if taken care of, but not if they are abused. Have the headgaskets been replaced by someone who knows what they're doing? In general the originals last about 150K, but that does vary quite a bit. Has it ever been overheated for an extended period of time? This is a little less common on the Phase 2 2.5 engines but I consider these engines throw aways if they have been severely overheated.

As previously mentioned the aftermarket CV Axles generally do not run well, the ones with the green housing are the originals and run much better and don't cause vibration at idle.

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