Our Curbside Classic: 2000 Subaru Forester – The True Cost Of Ownership, So Far

So how much exactly does it cost to drive a new car for twelve years and 150,000 miles? The IRS mileage deduction for 2011 is 55.5¢ per mile. A couple of years back, Edmunds quoted a TCO (True Cost of Ownership) for  a 2000 Forester kept for five years and driven 75k miles to be 50¢ per mile. I’m a bit of a cheapskate, so I was hoping to do a bit better. Now that we’re arriving at that twelve year/150k mileage milestone, I thought I’d get out my little notebook I keep in the glove box, and see just what it’s cost us so far. Care to guess?

Disclaimer: I do write down down the maintenance and repairs I’ve done or had done, but I’m not so anal as to keep every receipt for every fill up or case of oil. So I’ve done a bit of rounding and averaging, but nothing that should throw things off too much.

Depreciation:  $15,000 ($18,000 purchase price new (no sales tax), less current street value of $3,000) I’m being conservative, as I see these on craigslist for quite a bit more, as they’re very popular here. But then it does have piston slap, which might turn off a prospective buyer, at least in the winter. I wouldn’t feel right about not disclosing that.

Insurance: $3960  After about five years, I dropped down to liability/uninsured motorist only. That’s been running about $240 per year.

Registration: $388   Oregon is pretty cheap. Used to be $26/yr, now it’s $43/yr

Gasoline: $13,500  Based on 24 mpg average (lots of city driving), and using the average annual price of gas for each of the years driven. Also, it was driven mor ein earlier years than more recent ones. Not perfect but close enough. Cheapest: 98¢ per gallon, January 2002, Long Beach, CA. I told my kids “you’ll never see it that cheap again” I was right.

Maintenance: $1440  (Total)

Maintenance Subtotals:  Tires: $716 three sets of Michelins from Costco, $330 (fourth tire free sale) for first set, $216 second set, $170 third set (second and third set adjusted for not meeting 88k tread wear guarantee) Keep those Costco tire receipts!  The Forester chews up tires rather quickly for some reason. Oil changes and filters: ≈$330  Fifteen DIY @ $12; five farmed out @ $30.  Air filters (4), and two sets of plugs, and one set of plug wires: ≈$100. Wiper blade refills and head light bulbs: ≈$100 Brakes: ≈$125 Three sets of front pads and one set of front rotors (DIY install, and very easy at that)  Auto trans fluid flush/replace $70.

Professional Repairs: $1250  2x rear wheel bearings replaced: $360; Timing belt and water pump at 100k miles: $550; Two front axle shafts replaced (broken boots): $340

Total Costs: $35,538   Or 24¢ per mile. Not bad.

Of course it’s possible to drive cheaper, mainly by avoiding the big depreciation hit. I should tally up what my ’66 Ford has cost me over twenty-five years. But the Subaru had qualities that were fairly unique at the time, and I spend enough time keeping our old houses and other old vehicles running, so hunting for used cars was not on the radar. We wanted something new, and I tend to be a buy and hold kind of guy.

Needless to say, our Forester has been a very reliable vehicle, and hardly a pampered one. I’ve done only the most minimal amount of maintenance I thought was necessary (7k miles between oil changes avg). Coolant is still original. Rear (drum) brake shoes are too.

Like so many Subarus of this vintage, it developed piston slap right about the time the warranty expired, at about 80-90k miles. It sounds like a diesel on cold mornings, and then it goes away once the engine warms up. The explanation is that Subaru used too short of a piston skirt in an effort to reduce engine friction, which allows the piston to wobble in a cold cylinder. Runs just fine otherwise. And this motor has never needed a drop of oil between (long) oil change intervals; I long stopped checking the level.

The automatic transmission started having a one or two second delay when first going from reverse to drive, after backing out of the driveway (cold). That was also at around 90k miles. I had a transmission fluid change, but it made no difference. It hasn’t gotten any worse or otherwise changed. Otherwise, the four speed automatic is as stupid as it was from day one, in terms of downshifts. Nothing serious, just a bit annoying.

This has mostly been Stephanie’s car; totally so since I got my Xb five years ago. I took it for a drive recently, and it still feels very solid: no noticeable squeaks or groans. The interior has mostly worn quite well. I did have to replace her cassette/radio, having been worn out by all her books on tape ($10 junkyard). And the interior clock died some years back.

The Forester has never let us down. Compared to the ’85 Cherokee it replaced, the difference is phenomenal. Stephanie still loves it, which is a good thing, as it may stay around for a while longer. How much is a good question, but now that the depreciation is essentially used up, it may only get cheaper to drive. Hopefully, anyway.