(ED: After this past Sunday’s COAL on a problematic 2003 Forester, the timing of this submission is a new version of the CC Effect™. Except this time the author is buying a used one.)
When I get my cars serviced at my mechanics shop, an 8 minute walk from my front door, one of the mandatory dialogues between the shop’s owner Paul and myself is to quickly review every car in the lot and hear what it’s in for. I just can’t help myself. Goes something like this: “What’s up with that Escape?” “Needs an alternator”. “How about that Jeep?” “Misfire”. “That Corolla”? “Exhaust leak”. The list can run 10-12 vehicles or more and he tolerates the distraction politely and well.
Back of Yard Derelicts
At any given time on Paul’s lot, there are some some lost causes. Faced with an unaffordable repair estimate, a customer will often leave them as they decide what to do – fix or scrap. Sometimes this can become many months and sometimes phone calls aren’t returned when customers are asked “what do you want to do with this car”. Right now, there are at least 4-5 basket cases there. Among them, green Subaru Outback with a blown motor, a Nissan Versa with a blown transmission, a not-so-bad looking Chevy Van , and a very unloved looking 2002 Subaru Forester . Paul doesn’t much like being a storage facility but it sort of comes with the territory.
I asked what the story was with the Forester. As it turns out , it was owned by a local woman who brought in the car after the Police ordered it removed. He quoted her a price to fix it- nothing catastrophic, but a laundry list of basic maintenance she likely ignored for years that added up to a price she could not afford. This was last summer . Paul ended up calling the Police to have a wellness check on the woman, who finally called him back and asked him to sell it on her behalf. While he does not like getting into the car sales business, he said he would ask around.
From 20 feet away, it looked rough. One tire was completely flat, the others in various states of underinflation. All dry rotted. Clear coat protection peeling. But upon close inspection, though it was dirty and jammed with a variety of personal contents and garbage…it was actually …not bad, not bad at all. There was no visible rust. My mind started percolating. My youngest, Shane, just turned 17, is going to need a car soon. He is in drivers training, a process delayed by COVID. He’s been permitted since last fall.
Some parents these days are into cheap leases for their new drivers over a used car, handing over the keys the day they get their license. There is a valid case for this: better safety and reliability versus rolling the dice on a used car. I get it. But I’m afraid there ain’t no damn way I’m giving a 16 year old a new car, or even an almost new one. I didn’t grow up that way, and I’m just not wired to do that for my kid.
And speaking of Shane’s driving, well, that’s not going so well. I’ve never been as scared in my life as I’ve been driving with Shane. OK, maybe that is a slight bit of exaggeration. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to sum it up there is this general state of driver unawareness . The way you remind him to check his blind spot and he says “yeah” and glances over for .02 seconds, not really looking. The way he drifts toward the right shoulder every time and needs reminding to correct. The way he completes turns just a tad too fast, with his signature whip turn that sometimes chirps the tires that makes everyone lean over in the car ..”whoaaaah”. The way we get close to a car in front of us and you say to yourself “I think he’s going to slow down…or is he?” Normally supremely confident, he’s not taken to driving. I think he will, eventually. Bottom line, he just needs a lot more seasoning and he’s not ready. I don’t want him to get hurt, or hurt anyone by action, or inaction, while driving. I owe the motoring world that.
But I thought, this little gem might be a great car for him. If the price is right. And the price was right. Paul told me the owner refused a previous offer of $750.00. I decided to offer her $1,000.00 but would go to $1,250.00. The offer was made over email by Paul. She countered at $1,050.00. Done. Good Lord, what have I done. Buyers remorse set in immediately.
I’ve always been a closet Subaru fan and I think these early 2000 cars might just have been Peak Subaru before they became the mainstream brand they are now. They were a niche brand back then..80% women buyers for some models. A much narrower model range. No three row crossovers. Known and popular for it’s all-AWD lineup, passenger safety , utility, durability and general outdoorsy quirkiness and of course the WRX and STI. They have steadily grown and increased their market share, even during the Great Recession. They are an automotive success story, to be sure.
Cleaned up nice!
I told Paul to take his time with the Subaru as I was not in a rush. Work on high priority work for his clients who need to get on the road and squeeze mine in when he has capacity. Six weeks passed until she came home. Shane and I vacuumed it, wiped down the interior, aired it out, and so on. So here is the tally, so far:
- Purchase Price :$1,050.00 plus 6% sales tax= $1,113.00
- Tires, Kelly Edge (cheap, but not too cheap) $ 489.92
- Battery, brakes/pads/rotors all around, wiper blades, serpentine belt, oil change, Freon/AC charge, oil/fluids and lube , front wheel stud, general check up and labor: $1,393.22
- Title transfer, new plates and registration: $206.00
$3,202.14 for a decent , relatively low mileage car, in this market? I think I could of done worse.
The last oil change shows 2012 at 59,000 miles End it has 60,800 miles now. That means in nine years it traveled barely 1,400 miles, barely moving. One can only speculate the previous owners situation and why it wasn’t driven much. Theory one is lady simply never left her house. Theory two , and one that is much more sinister and one I hope is not true…odometer was rolled back. The old girl is not going to tell us all her secrets. Wish I would of noticed this little tidbit before forking over $1,050 over Venmo. Gulp.
An audio time capsule!
It also had a six CD changer with six compact discs the previous owner didn’t remove, as well as a tape deck. I may own 3 total tapes from the old days. All but one we’re burned CD copies or mix CDs. Let’s just say that the owner of the CDs and myself wouldn’t have much common ground and the music front, but to each his own. “Love Metal Him” and “Music” are metal mixes. The only thing I remotely knew was Beastie Boys “License to Ill’ which noted “no track 13”. Pity. On “Favorite Mix 1” , two songs that I’ve got a check out sometime include track 12 “Shake That Ass” and 13 “Mama Got Ass’. And a Nelly CD from about 10 years back.
Entering the car, no key fob , no proximity sensor. Just a long super skinny key. Taking some getting used to. Inside: hard surfaces and mouse fur fabrics and not great fit and finish. And no tech, no safety nannies, no audio ports, no USB, no steering wheel audio controls…nothing. And to be honest, I find all of this quite refreshing. Everything you need, nothing you don’t. Also I can appreciate the unabashedly delightfully fake wood trim throughout. Buttons and knobs actuate and click in an very old school way with lots of clicks and firm detents. I think this was a fairly high spec trim level for a Forrester. Power everything, but no moonroof. I would’ve preferred crank windows and a manual tranny – that would have been only too perfect.
I’m working the kinks out and driving it as my daily driver for the near future. It cleaned up pretty well, I’d say. Probably not much I can do on the paint, but that’s OK. After a recharge, the air blows nice and cold, an honest to goodness shocker. Acceleration is slow, handling is vague, and the boxer engine sounds like an old sewing machine and very agricultural. Are these old Subaru boxers supposed to sound like this? Or does this mean a mechanical implosion is imminent? Don’t know.
I have a sense that the old girl is really happy to be on the road again. Just a feeling. The dull driving characteristics are just what Shane needs. A quick blast on the highway, cruise works, and hummed along and tracked straight at 75. After the first week I’m noticing a pretty strong smell coming out from the motor on and off. And not a good smell. Could be just some stuff caked on the engine from sitting for so long and Paul’s guys said you can’t help but spill some oil on the manifold by virtue of where the filter is. No visible leaks in the driveway- so far.
Oh, but there is a dark cloud here. I know nothing about Subaru’s so I did zero research. While these cars have a fervently loyal fan base, maybe I was wrong to assume this made in Japan car had Toyota or Honda quality. I guess there would be so some risks for a $1050 car, right? While people tell me this could be a 200,000 mile car, no problem, its widely known that this engine is prone to head gasket failure at higher miles. Apparently this flaw in their motors wasn’t really solved until 2013. Will this end up being the find of the century and serve our family for a couple of years with relatively trouble free service or will it grenade and I’m selling it for parts in short order? Time will tell.
Tidy old bomb but 60,000 miles 100,000kms is cambelt time on Jappas, it may just keep going and not break some do some dont, I see For Esters popping up cheap fairly regularly but usually with plenty of kms clicked up and a laundry list of problems.
Are Subarus popular in your area? I’m pretty surprised that Paul didn’t do the timing belt and water pump on a twenty year old Subaru. Normally, the temptation with Subarus is to wait to do the belt when the head gaskets fail around 100,000 miles, but that’s on cars that average over ten thousand miles a year rather than three. Don’t feel bad about not getting a post-2013 Subaru. They traded the timing belt and reseal services for a plethora of other problems; from gluttonous oil consumption to routine cam position sensor and oxygen sensor failures.
Depending on where you live, you might try flipping the car for five or six grand. They’re popular in my hometown, and there are always people looking to get in over their heads by buying a freshly fixed up Outback or Forester that had languished behind an auto shop after bankrupting its previous owner. You bought this one right to flip, since it didn’t actually need the major engine work that commonly finishes off their owners. Paying $1,050 instead of $150 saved you three grand if you turn around and sell it. My friend’s shop acquires so many Subarus for no more than $200 from customers who have given up that two guys have a separate business that buys, reconditions, and flips the ones that he doesn’t have time for. I’ve seen a few people sell one for scrap value and then come back a few days later and buy a different one that another customer had forfeited. Sometimes the price of the next one would be determined by running an estimate for the retail price of the work the car needed to be drivable and inspectable. When that happened, I’d wonder why they didn’t just spend the five grand fixing up their old Subaru.
I would seriously consider selling the car while it is working well and looking so good. The three thousand dollar expense of doing a reseal and addressing whatever happens when the timing belt idler pulley shears off of the factory water pump housing usually wipes out older Subaru owners because they were never able to save any money while replacing rear wheel bearings, driver’s door power window switch panels, half shafts that manage to fail ten times as frequently as anyone else’s while doing half as much work, control arms that rust to bits on cars that see snow once a year, and paying for shop time to chase mold-causing interior water leaks. You have an excellent opportunity to make a profit and avoid heartache, at least provided you live in a college town.
What’s with manufacturers cheaping-out on head gaskets? First, it was Bob Eaton at Chrysler with the Neon. And then Subaru? Subaru used to have a rock-solid reputation that was sort of like getting an AWD Toyota on the cheap and were just as hard to find on used car lots because they lasted forever and no one ever gave them up.
But, today? Not so much, and it seems like flipping this one (boy, it sure looks good cleaned up but that unknown smell…) for a small profit would be good plan before something major inevitably lets go.
My understanding of the HG issues with the EJ25 is that Subaru bored out the perfectly reliable EJ20/EJ22, there was simply not enough material on the open deck design to robustly seal for the long term. Closed deck EJ20s (the turbo WRX motor) does not have this issue.
Seems Subaru’s are fairly popular here, overwhelmingly women owned save for WRX/BRZ, owned younger guys with good jobs (engineers,IT) who can afford the insurance.
The shop is not Subaru specialists that’s for sure but have worked on them. But there were no noticeable leaks during inspection. A flip was a consideration but I would feel awful if I sold it potentially to a buyer who needed this as his/her daily driver and got hit immediately with a heavy repair and couldn’t afford it. I knew going in this was not a risk-free purchase. If I can get my kid through the next two school years with it with very little drama then I think I would be doing OK. I’ve got a referral to a guy who is the foremost authority in old Subarus apparently in SE Michigan if needed. ‘Can pull a motor in 30 minutes”.
My friend who is a Subaru expert in that almost every car he sees that needs internal engine work is a Subaru can also pull an engine in 30 minutes. Subaru experts get more practice pulling engines than all the other mechanics in the country combined. If you’re worried about your conscious, keep in mind that whoever you don’t sell this Subaru to will find another one to buy.
Yeah, I owned a 2002 Subaru Forester. I also had that smell coming from the engine compartment that you described. Turned out to be a major oil leak. kiwibryce is correct, it might be time to replace the timing belt soon. Here’s my COAL on our Forester. The comments have a lot of information about this generation of Forester:
“I didn’t grow up that way, and I’m just not wired to do that for my kid.”
God bless you, sir! Maturity is about experience, and how will they mature if they don’t get the experience? When it comes to cars, there is only one way to gain that experience, and that is the hard way – as we have learned in innumerable COAL posts here on CC (and in our own car-owning successes and failures).
Some day they will progress to the point where they will drive a new or late model car that they never have to think about. When they do, they will appreciate it. Plus, your youngster will thank you some day when he has solid material to tell the generation that follows about how rough guys his age had it. 🙂
My kids are all 10+ years out of high school so maybe that explains my shock that modern parents are leasing new cars for their new drivers. Is this really true? Could there possibly be worse idea?
IDK, at $200 a month for three years for Jettas/Elantra/ChooseASmallSedan this may all end up cheaper than a twenty year old Subaru or Honda with a potential Takata Air Bag bomb that not everyone has the time, knowledge, space, or inclination to fix themselves at assuredly the least convenient possible time per Murphy’s Law; according to many respondents here the Subie may well need some significant attention, all avoided with a lease. And if there’s an accident it gets fixed and returned to the manufacturer with no worries about diminished value as it might with a private resale. There are certainly plus points to the idea depending on the individual situation.
I would like to run insurance numbers first. Instead of a $5k car you don’t carry collision coverage on, you have a $25k car that will result in a big claim with the first wreck. And a lease has to be clean and straight when you turn it in, so you may end up with $5k in non-critical body repairs you would otherwise have just ignored on a cheaper keeper. Which is out of pocket if you don’t run it through insurance.
My daughter drove our old Crown Vic through a shallow ditch and into some brush, scraping a stop sign lightly down the whole side of the car and bending the front bumper a touch skyward.. I replaced a busted mirror and left the rest, so no repair and no insurance claim. The kid got reminded of her accident (which was totally her fault) every day and that was her last (under my roof). With a lease we would have had both, which would have gotten really fun when the policy renewed. Or else probably $6k in repairs (body shops cost A LOT these days). If you have multiple young drivers the insurance or repairs can be a bigger expense than the car.
I agree that there are some positives to a cheap lease, but there are pitfalls too.
Interestingly, she did the same thing but worse with her 98 Civic as a young adult. She has been willing to keep driving it with a flattened passenger side until she can afford something nicer (which will be any time). No insurance claim on her record yet, and no body shop bills. Just a cheap reliable old car that got cheaper.
Collision is the cheapest part of my insurance. Liability is the biggest and not hugely different depending on an old or new car. That “first big wreck” is quite likely to involve someone else’s car as well, so no matter what the kid is driving, there’ll be a claim. My policy also for whatever reason automatically rates the kid on the cheapest car, so she’s causing my old truck to cost more to insure than the Tesla or the Jeep, even though she drives the Jeep (and the insurance co is fine with that in writing) and is allowed to drive any of them.
The one incident she’s been in that involved others caused damage to the other car, not hers and resulted in exactly that, us paying the damage out of pocket as it was less to do it that way than to run it through the insurance and cause the premiums to increase. I’ll note that it would have been avoided entirely if she’d been in a more modern car with automatic emergency braking, which if not standard is almost always less additional cost as an option than our out of pocket expense was for this one (so far) occurrence. So that can really go both ways too.
My wife’s biggest struggle is how safe the car is, she’s adamantly opposed to anything pre-mid-and-preferably-at-least-late 2000s for our next driver. She remembers being rear-ended by the F150 and knows that if we cheaped out in that regard and something serious happened to the kid due to it it’d be a problem. I.e. she’s far less worried about OUR kid and far more worried about everyone else’s kids and adults out there. No, she’s not willing to just buy a Tahoe and spring for an extra airbag package but realizes that generally a newer car is better in that regard than an older car (comparing a 1998 Jetta to a 2021 Jetta for example).
Full coverage insurance was definitely a notable part of my (otherwise very low) TCO calculations on the 2012 Civic sedan that I had for a while as my first “adult” car when I entered the workforce. I ultimately simply grew bored with that very competent, efficient, but noisy sedan.
Jim makes a very good point, that for many people, from a purely practical, objective perspective, landing one of those sweet zero down $200/mo deals on a brand new car that will (hopefully) not need anything beyond regular maintenance is an entirely rational and reasonable choice. But I put myself firmly into JPC’s camp of “you gotta get your licks in.” Of course I have the advantage of having the mechanical aptitude (and desire) in seeing my son navigate his way through cheap/old first car ownership, with my guiding hand and safety there net in the background. I do think there is value in a youngster learning that part of adulthood, or if nothing else learning to appreciate how nice a new car is that much more.
“mechanical aptitude (and desire)”
Those are the two big intrinsic ones, and then there’s also the externalities of time and space required. People living in a city or particular developments don’t always have the working space and plenty of parents with work and multiple kids simply don’t have the time to wrench on a car. You’re likely not replacing head gaskets on a Forester in the winter if you live in a high-rise or only have a one-car garage that’s full and have two other kids you’re helping to drive around while working a full time job to pay the mortgage. Just not going to happen. Oil changes and tire rotations are something else entirely as they can usually be whipped out anywhere before anyone notices and get the kid started on being able to do basic field diagnosis and problem solving.
Note I’m not saying leasing IS the way to go for everyone, just not that every person has the same opportunity to realistically and easily do otherwise and as such there is nothing wrong or shameful about the choice.
I think the other possible route if one isn’t a serious DIYer, is to have a good and fair/affordable independent mechanic. With some patience and taking a prospective car to their place for a PPI, I think it’s entirely possible to buy something like an older Corolla/Camry/Civic/Accord/3800 GM/Panther Ford and be ahead overall on ownership costs versus a new lease even with some repairs, but of course it’s not without a bit of risk. And even in this scenario, you and hopefully your young driver would have enough knowledge to keep an eye on vital fluids, know to take the car in if the check engine light goes on or it starts to make noises/smells. But these older cars are undeniably not as safe as a new leased 2021 with the current battery of airbags etc. The equation is affected too by where you live. Salt belt? That much more to worry about on an old car (rusty brake lines, structural issues like we saw with the rusted control arm on the 03 Forester). State with emissions testing? Minor but harmless evap-codes could leave you with a big (unavoidable) repair bill. In a state like NY you’d be getting the double whammy and the two are often inter-related (rusty filler neck leads to evap leak codes like on my ’99 Forester right now).
In the good old days of 5,000 lb land yachts that got 6 MPG on a good day with a tailwind, new drivers were often treated to a free car of this caliber. Their size made them safe if the new driver got into an accident and the low mileage insured that joyriding would be kept to a minimum. Of course, there were also a lot of downside to the big beasts. How times have changed.
I enjoyed reading about your son’s driving. My oldest daughter is 14, and is as excited to start driving as I was when I was her age. Interestingly, she has significant learning disabilities at school and with communicating, but enjoys hands-on things and has an excellent sense of direction. I think she’ll be a good driver. I’m actually more confident in her potential driving abilities than those of her younger sister, who is more absent-minded in a real-world sense. I can see my youngest driving like Shane. We’ll see.
As far as cars, we already have three cars, and adding a fourth would make my head explode, but if we were to get a car for the kids someday, I can see it being a car similar to this Subaru. My wife and I have talked about possibly getting something like a used Kia Soul if the should arise. I think you made a decent choice here – after all, any used car in the low-cost category is going to be somewhat of a risk, and this one doesn’t seem any riskier than a typical $3,000 car. Good luck!
A bit less risky.
I agree, and in fact just a few weeks ago there was a similar LeSabre for sale at an estate sale around here. My wife and I both liked it from a potential kids’ car perspective (but again, a 4th car would drive me nuts).
Another allure of the Kia Soul is that it’s not hard to find one with a manual transmission, which my kids actually want to learn. But I do realize that’s somewhat of a lost cause. And I do like those Buicks.
Very funny you posted this ad. One of my sons friends Joey has a gold 03 LeSabre, quintessential old mans car. The venerable 3800, 67K miles, leather interior, paid $3700 for it. Real nice and Joey keeps it spotless. I have a customer who’s aged mother has a similar vehicle but not in as nice shape and with a tad more miles. Unfortunately, she was not ready to sell otherwise I would of snapped it up. These old LeSabres are pretty nice cars for what they are.
A ton of them and other W and H body options here in the Midwest, COVID pricing bumped them up along with everything else but still entirely possible to find a decent runner in the $2k range, a nicer one for $3-4k. The key around here is finding out that isn’t too far along in terms of rust. Beyond the unsightly rocker rot that afflicts all of them, it ‘s more so the subframe mounts and fuel and brake lines to keep an eye on. I enjoyed my ’91 Park Avenue ownership quite a bit, though in my case it was very much a fixer-upper when acquired for $400. Sold for $1800, then the guy I sold it to (told me he bought it for his son) is now trying to flip it for $2800, unsuccessfully for a month now despite the addition of chrome 20 inch wheels and a stereo system.
Subarus are great first cars, but as everyone has noted here, this generation is going to face a countdown to head gasket failure somewhere between 80-100k, most likely. You can factor that in to cost savings off of your purchase price, or you can flip this car and get a Honda or Toyota.
The three Subarus I owned (all Outbacks of similar vintage) were generally good cars. But the last one that I bought (an ’05) had a similar backstory to the featured one: Purchased from a working mom who had not kept it up well – she claimed all services were done by a “family friend”. Cosmetically, it looked good, but it had wallowy suspension, a constantly recurring check engine light for the catalytic converter (without replacing it, the car would eventually fail smog), and the head gaskets were probably going to fail, like clockwork, right at 100k miles, which the car was just about at.
I did a rational calculus and bailed on the car, selling it to the smog technician who failed it. I was not about to dump in another grand for a new catalytic converter setup.
That last experience soured me on the brand. I still have fond memories of my first Subaru (a ’95), but my wife and I now daily drive more reliable Hondas that I service myself.
There’s no guarantee that a Toyota or Honda or anything at the same price point with very likely mega-mileage is going to be perfect going forward either. If your mechanic seems reasonably confident and you trust him to be looking out for you rather than his own boat, then stick with the car. With a new teen driver, there’s every chance that a minor fender bender will do the car in before anything mechanical does, unfortunately. And if it needs a repair or two you’re still ahead even if you sell it. A recent head gasket replacement would be a very advertisable feature if it comes to that.
As far as the smell goes, drive it up on a set of ramps (or the curb) and crawl under it with a flashlight, see if it is oil weeping from somewhere and getting on something. Clean it up and see if it repeats a month later.
“the boxer engine sounds like an old sewing machine and very agricultural. Are these old Subaru boxers supposed to sound like this?”
Yes, yes they are. My dad had a 1998 Outback. He loved the thing but it was anything but refined.
As others have noted, timing belt and water pump should be done, Pronto.
We’re reaching some kind of Subaru hivemind here with the ’03 COAL, my own acquisition of a ’99 for $300 in much rattier shape than that, now this post! IMO you stole that thing for $1050, in today’s market especially.
Very clean looking car aside from the pooched clearcoat on the roof. With that low mileage, I know you don’t want to hear this but I strongly suggest replacing the timing belt, as it has likely aged out. Or atleast partially remove the belt cover and take a look at the condition to see if its dry rotted/cracked at all. Another, much cheaper piece of mind is to add the OE Subaru coolant conditioner, it’s all of $5 on amazon.
The smell you’ve noticed I can almost guarantee is your head gaskets starting to weep oil externally. It leaks onto the exhaust manifolds and burns. If you’re already going to do the timing belt you may as well just get the headgaskets done. I figure round about $2000ish at most shops. Use Fel Pro’s or Six Star’s MLS gaskets.
As an expedient fix, you might try going up from the recommended 5W-30 to a High Mileage 10w-30 or even 10W-40, perfectly good and safe oil to run in a Subaru flat four.
Sounds like a good buy for a kid car. IMO check the belts and let him drive it till the
head gaskets go.
Sound advice IMO. As long as you really drill into the kid to keep a close eye on oil and coolant levels (a good habit to instill in general), these things can keep on trucking with externally leaking headgaskets for years.
I think that a Forester of that vintage would be a good first car. Good visibility, easy to park, not enough power to get in too much trouble, not flashy enough to encourage teen boy foolishness, and all wheel drive gives an extra margin of safety in rain and snow.
That car may be worth the investment in a timing belt and head gasket job. The timing belt is a moderately challenging home repair; kits are available that contain the belt, tensioner and idlers and water pump. The gasket replacement requires more advanced skills and a way to remove the engine, though some people do it with the engine in the car. Removing the engine allows you to take a look at the oil separator plate and rear main seal, which may be responsible for oil leakage in an older engine. If you want a more complete refresh, consider having the heads serviced at a machine shop. If you have to pay a professional for all this it would probably put you upside down financially in the short run. On the other hand, perhaps the satisfaction of keeping an old car going is worth it to you.
I am a reasonably proficient home mechanic and have done these jobs on two Subarus. The first time through is quite a challenge, and I have had trouble with damaged threads in the aluminum block, but I learned a lot and am glad that I did it. My 2007 Outback is over 300 K miles, with very few visits to the shop.
A word of (hopefully welcome) advice about those tires. I have the same ones (cheap but not too cheap as you noted) on my car, and they are not very good in snow. If that is a factor where you live, I suggest investing in winter tires. I picked up used rims and tires for easy seasonal swapping. Good luck with the car. I hope your son enjoys it as he burnishes his skills.
I too applaud you on avoiding the lease a new car for the kid thing. “I’m not wired for that” is my feeling too. That stock photo you use of the girl in the car with the bow on it looks typical of my kids’ high school and there’s something about it that honestly disgusts me. Almost as much as I’m scared by the other common parental trend in my area…which is to put their freshly minted drivers in ginormous SUVs (either family hand-me-downs or new cars) because “it’s safer”. Only maybe safer for the kid. The rest of the world can live in terror of someone learning to newly feel their way down the road (and around parking lots) driving something the size of a small barn.
But, what does Shane actually think of the car? Does he enjoy it enough to drive it enough to get the experience he needs?
About the Subaru thing…I am constantly mystified by the disconnect between these cars’ reputation and the almost opposite experience of nearly every owner I’ve spoken to/heard from. The number of crazy failures (e.g., rusted through rear springs on cars with less than 60K miles) seems only equaled by the number of owners that love them like crazy. At least here in New England. It’s a real head-scratcher for me.
I think Subarus have (or develop) personality which gets them a long way. My mom has a base ’08 Outback bought new with around now around 130k (140?) miles on it, she maintains it and hasn’t had any major issues that Subaru didn’t just cover outright (Catalytic converter recall mainly).
She came from a Focus ZX3, also bought new, a far better car dynamically and while she liked it, she’s far more connected with the Outback. She’s no speed racer, can’t hear the engine, and is amazed at what it gets her through (she drives on fire roads and large snow in the winter to get to her hikes with friends).
Once you’ve had one for a while and you click with it, a Subaru, especially the slightly older ones like these, just become part of the family and seem to have soul, which is kind of lacking in many of its erstwhile competitors. You don’t always begrudge them their repairs if you’ve had it since new, just like if your kid breaks his wrist skateboarding you just suck it up and do what it takes to make sure he gets better…(ask me how I know!) without blaming him for the cost.
I think it is a similar phenomenon to European marques (Audi/VW, Volvo, Saab) where the driving experience and “je-ne-sais-quoi” bone deep likability and quirkiness of the older cars that instills that fierce loyalty, in spite of the issues. I know I felt it immediately after dragging my ’99 home. I just couldn’t bring myself to strip it down and turn it into track fodder. Sitting in it reminded me of my ’90 Civic wagon, those classic Japanese ergonomics and interior construction, huge greenhouse, and a weird “industrial” vibe both under the hood and elsewhere. Makes me think of a tractor or something (in a good way), I can’t quite describe it. Then there’s the “worn in boots” aspect of them as well for long term owners, I think. Maybe re-soled, comfy, familiar old boots with a lot of good memories tied to them.
I have mentioned that in my neck of the suburbs one of the most frequently seen
teen/college student vehicles are older Range Rovers. These are piloted with
reckless abandon. What could possibly go wrong when a speeding kid is texting
while swerving around twisty roads in a 5000lb fast brick?
Yes, they might just not see that soccer mom turned in her seat disciplining her two year old while holding a latte in her 6000lb Suburban and bearing down on them. Or the contractor with the 8″ liftkit on the F250 while towing a dump trailer and talking on the phone while smoking a cigarette with the other hand…That aluminum RR will crumple like a tin can! 🙂
I think he likes it. We went on a 50 mile trip last weekend to a graduation party so he got lots of wheel time. Any wheels is good wheels when your 17, right?
I agree with you about the disconnect in reputation vs reality on Subarus. I have a customer who had an 04 Forrester, He was extremely handy with cars, races Civics and Miatas. He took a base model like mine and put a turbocharger in it and lowered it with ground effects and racing suspension bits. Looked very cool, but he sold it. He said I got a good deal but he also said “Ha! I’m done with Subarus”. What does that tell you?
The picture on the car lot shows off the distance a green Subaru with a blown motor. There’s actually a second one that wound up at his place last week , also with a blown motor.
I connected my brother-in-law with a work colleague a few years back. She was selling her 2010 outback with 100,000 miles for 10 grand. Beautifully kept and dealer maintained. It’s a V-6, Said to be better than a boxer 4. It’s not been a complete disaster nor has it been trouble free. A recent $1800 repair bill though. Don’t have specifics.
Ok, I’ll be the one to say it.
Yes, old Subaru boxers are supposed to sound like that and yes, a mechanical implosion is imminent.
It sure did clean up really nicely.
My kids have all learned (or will learn) in clunkers. Its better that way.
(Whoops – this should have been a reply to Jon below!)
The description of your horror in driving with your son sends a forgotten shiver up my spine.
Four years ago, 16 y.o. stepson, a thoroughly confident person, a good kid – and a bloody awful learner-driver in EXACTLY the same ways you described. I put quite a bend in the toeboard of the Honda pushing non-existent brakes, let me tell you! I wonder if you too get the surly “don’t tell me, I know” response to gentle screams of suggested correction? I would get home from every trip wound up tighter than a fish’s backside – and that’s watertight – with jaw literally sore from clenching.
There is good news to tell you. In Australia, a kid has to get up 120 hours of supervised driving to go for a license test, and he did slowly better. Since being licensed, he’s driven a lot in the past three years, without any incident of any sort, a good sign for a male in those years. When I’ve been a passenger, he’s perfectly competent now.
In case you’re curious in my home state it’s 2 “stages” of Drivers Ed. A mix of classroom and instructor driving . Stage one requires 50 hours of verifiable (with app) supervised driving with a blend of daytime and night time experience. If it was 120 hours here to be honest that would not make me sad.
A decent used car is probably best all the way around for a kid’s first daily driver. I think it best because then it’s THEIR car, not the adults’. So it’s their gas tank, their tires, their brakes, their oil. The responsibility falls to them.
In addition to not having to worry about subjecting a new car to steep learning cur(b)s, having an older first car demands attention be paid. Awareness of leaks, wearing items and repairs is a good education.
My parents laid out the deal when we started high school: They would match us 50/50 on a decent used car of our choice and which they’d approve of, inclusive of new tires, exhaust and anything else mechanical that needing doing at that time. From that time forward, all expenses going forward were ours, including insurance.
It was a good exercise in budgeting and negotiating, too.
Interestingly when I got my Cougar it was only 20 months old. However, it wasn’t given to me as I paid monthly for it so it meant a lot to me.I drove it the second half of my junior year in high school to school which was 10 miles away. It only took me one trip, from the school down to a bowling alley 3 miles away, with three passengers for me to know they were too much distraction. I never carried passengers again other than a date. Since 1970 only two people have ridden in the back of that car since then.
Around here at the local highs schools (2) in town you will see kids driving 30K-50K cars to school. Mustangs, to large trucks, to SUVs. Absolutely staggering in my opinion. I’m glad I don’t know them.
I’d let Shane buy his first car. That might help with some of the inattentive driving and other antics. Being financially vested in a car goes a long way towards driving it resonsponsibly.
Sounds to me like a worthy candidate, and you’ve kept the costs down reasonably well. The only downer for me is the automatic transmission, but I like those Foresters a lot, they have almost all disappeared in my parts.
I still haven’t bought a student car yet. My 20 year old son did his last Accounting co-op remotely from our basement. He starts another this September in Toronto, so he will be driving my 2013 Focus. I’m still working from home so no big deal.
Cheap student car for a kid is a reasonably good deal for everyone, particularly in the US where costs are low.
Presently here used car prices are through the roof, even for really old crap. The kicker as always is insurance. I dread when I have to ensure him. I suspect it will be two grand a year just for him able to drive.
In a perfect world, if I could choose a car for him it would and older low spec Corolla with crank windows and a manual.
Fun part about those Subaru’s is it takes 12 minuets to remove the engine, and you don’t even need to remove the hood! I would do head gaskets by default every time I did the timing belts. But, I’m a professional tech. Your results may vary. Killer score you got there.
It does sound like fun. How long does it take to play 12 minuets? Having a live orchestra would really make it an event!
I’m a home mechanic, and because I’ve done it a few times might be able to get the engine out in 12 iterations of a long and slow minuet.
Taking it apart, waiting for the machine shop (if the heads need work; dropped valve guides are sometimes a problem), then getting it back together can take a while.
Getting it back in can involve a bit of dancing, not all of it graceful, with the engine dangling in the air as I push and pull, shove and cajole, left then right, from the top then the bottom, to get everything lined up just right. Then there’s the final dance, making sure everything is tightened down, in the right order, with no spare parts.
Back around 1990 a fellow mechanic owned a Subaru wagon. Oh that thing was a constant battle to keep it on the road. I have to remind my self of that every time I think about buying another car.
It really did clean up nice and its a good feeling to have very good tires on a loved ones car.
We bought our 2001 Forester in 2005. Like this, automatic, with not quite 90K on the odometer. It’s my daily driver now, since the Milano is insured with Hagerty and has become a garage queen. I drive the Subaru pretty much the same way, though, and it does that fairly well, though AWD and RWD are a tad different in the bends. It does tend to head into overheating on long uphills in hot weather, signaled by the A/C blowing warm … so I cut that off and suffer a bit of heat myself. BUT … it’s got almost 215,000 on it now, and shows no signs of falling apart. Suby Specialties in Monrovia has been our mainstay, and I’ve been hoping Mary, the current proprietor and mechanic, can keep it together.
I very much agree that Subaru has kinda lost me with new Foresters getting bigger and relative glass area getting smaller. If I replace this one it’ll be from around 2005, with a better transmission but still ample window area.
Foresters are still way glassier than any of the competition, and I don’t mean Camaros.
Oh, and speaking of glassiness, their sun roofs on at least the last two generations are at least twice the size of others as well. For some reason Outbacks only have normal size sun roofs.
Re: Tires and road-holding: I’m running Pirelli P7 All-Season tires on mine, and they’re both quiet and grippy. It does no car any good to under-tire them; I did fit dealer take-offs to my ’60 Falcon, but even those cheap radials improved the handling over the rim protectors it came with. Any car than offers a good chassis and plentiful power needs some good tires under it.
I can certainly relate to the temptation: Ooh! Ooh! I know about cars, too! My knowledge about cars, let me show you it! It’s so easy to run my mouth about brake cylinders or fuel injectors or whatever is at hand—viz Eddie Haskell at 14:28:
As I’ve grown up, I’ve learnt to keep a lid on it. And when I moved to a place where manners are relatively more of a thing, I had to get more attuned to the difference between genuine, heartfelt, personal politeness (the other person genuinely likes me and truly doesn’t mind if I take up some of their time with whatever it is I want to talk about) and pro forma professional politeness (the other person is busy, has lots of work to do to keep making money, and doesn’t really care to have an unnecessary conversation with me, but does so anyhow so I won’t think them rude and maybe take my business elsewhere). On the surface, the two can look and sound quite similar! While I was getting the hang of being less selfish in this manner, I found it helpful to keep in mind that if I abuse a service provider’s professional politeness by having pointless conversations, demanding information I don’t need to know, yukking it up about Ford alternators catching fire or whatever, I’m actually being a thief. Time is money, especially to the owner of a shop, and if I’m taking up more of their time than I need to…I’m stealing time = stealing money. So I deliberately choose not to do that any more.
I think you could have!
What do you wish you would have noticed? Just the low mileage reading, or some clue making you think the odo has been rolled back? That’s a lot harder to do (without leaving evidence) now than it was decades ago—not impossible, but the “hook up a drill motor and let ‘er spin” days are long gone.
Daniel: My chats about what’s on his lot seldom last more than a few minutes. I certainly don’t use it to boast about what I know about cars that’s for sure. I’ve been going to him for 21 years and really, he’s a family friend. Thanks for the advice though.
Advice…? Your story brought to mind my own conversations and trains of thought, and that’s what my comment was about.