05 Legacy wagon, grandma owned w/15k

Hi everyone,

I’m in the market for a used car and I’ve been looking and looking. My old cars have all been Volvo’s, my current is a 95 960 wagon w/200k. So I’m getting to old to deal with the joys of playing mechanic and moved back to Philly and don’t have a garage anymore. I also don’t think I want a newer Volvo based on the higher maintenance costs (and price) of a newer V70 etc…

So I chose Subaru. The Legacy wagon (I don’t off road so no outback). I just like wagons.

I’ve been learning about Subaru’s, what questions to ask about mileage and what’s been done etc.

My question, I found an 05 Legacy wagon that’s 160 miles away. Private seller. Grandma owned and she passed. The car has 15000 miles and the price isn’t much higher than I can find a 50-75k wagon for in the 05-07 model years.

What problems am I looking at? What questions do I need to ask?

I’ve never looked into a car in this situation before. If there’s going to be all sorts of goofy problems I won’t bother and keep looking into sub-100k cars or just over 100k and use timing belt and such as bargaining chips.

Thanks everyone, any help is greatly appreciated.

My last grandma owned car turned out to be a money pit for her lack of maintainence despite the low mileage. a looong list of little things that she just never did , nor mentioned to her brother who would take it for service …IF…she remembered to tell him
Though we drove it out to NM from OH, the engine locked up a month in.

So, do your homework on the vehicle first. low mileage can easily mean low or no maintainence

You can be young and vibrant though and still be grandparents. Well, relatively young anyway, compared to ancient. Agree with Ken.

The car should be reliable IF it was maintained in accord with elapsed time, instead of on the basis of odometer mileage.

This 9-10 year old car should have had the timing belt replaced during its 8th year, no matter how few miles were accumulated. If you can’t verify that this was done, then that belt is essentially a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in your wallet when the engine sustains extensive internal damage about a millisecond after the belt snaps.

If the timing belt was never replaced, I would suggest that you either pass this one by, or that you ask for a discount of ~$500 on the price, in order that you could immediately have the timing belt, serpentine belt, water pump, and all belt tensioners replaced.

How about oil changes?
If Granny typically used the car only for low-speed local driving errands, and if she didn’t have the oil changed twice a year, then the engine is likely clogged with damaging oil sludge. If you can’t verify that the oil was changed at least 18 times, I suggest that you pass this one by.

How about the transmission?
If it has an automatic trans, the trans fluid should have been changed at least twice–preferably 3 times. If not, then the transmission could become a very expensive headache for the next owner.

Brakes? Coolant?
The brake fluid and the coolant should both have been changed 3 times so far. Failure to do those vital bits of maintenance can easily lead to leakage (and failure) of the brake hydraulic system, and to rust and corrosion in the radiator and the engine’s coolant passages.

Low odometer mileage is good, but only if the car was maintained on the basis of elapsed time.
Do not take anyone’s word for maintenance. Unless there is a thick folder of service invoices that you can examine, this car may have had very little maintenance over its lifetime, and that could be a very expensive scenario for you to experience as the second owner.

I have always had very good luck with grandparent cars. In all the cases where I bought a grandparent car, the vehicle had been maintained by a long time trusted mechanic that they had used since nineteen oh my gosh. They grew up when cars really required a lot of maintenance like 2 month oil changes and annual tune ups.

ok. lets cut to the chase. how much do they want for it? $5k? $10k? could you spend that money on a newer car with more miles that would be more reliable? dont know

If it has the 2.5 L four, there’s a fair chance the head gaskets will be a problem by the time you reach 100k or so.

Thanks VDCdriver, I thought of a few of those issues but not nearly all of them. It’s basically a whole day just to go look at it so having as much knowledge as possible for the phone interview will help. I’m assuming since the car is in the middle of nowhere it was driven for short trips. Either the family doesn’t want a wagon, or there’s something wrong with it.

As far as new goes, we’re replacing my travel/commuting/art show stuff hauler first then in another year or so replacing my wife’s 01 Accord with another much newer and zippier sedan.

Thanks for the input everyone.

“I have always had very good luck with grandparent cars. In all the cases where I bought a grandparent car, the vehicle had been maintained by a long time trusted mechanic that they had used since nineteen oh my gosh. They grew up when cars really required a lot of maintenance like 2 month oil changes and annual tune ups.”

So…you don’t think that it is necessary for the OP to verify through maintenance records that it has indeed been well-maintained? If not, you are a lot more trusting than I am, keith.

As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify”.

Oh no, the OP must verify, I always did. But so far I have been lucky I guess. In all the cases where I bought the grandparent car, the kids were fairly affluent and had newer vehicles and did not want gramp’s or granny’s car.

I’m in a reverse situation now. My mother recently passed away and she has a very well maintained 96 Altima. None of us kids want it, we all have newer vehicles so we sold it. Kids ha, we range from 60 to 66.

My guess is it should be ok. The problems you should look for are things that happen due to time and lack of use. Rubber parts are all suspect for example. So check the coolant hoses, vacuum hoses, air intake boot, etc. And look under the car for tell-tell signs of fluid leaks due to failing seals. When you first start it, does it make a lot of squealing noises? Could be sign of rubber parts failing. When you first turn the steering wheel, again a squeal? Could be the power steering pump seals have gotten hard.

Oil can sludge up the inner working of the engine too. Remove the oil filler cap? Notice anything unusual, weird stains, lumps of stuff that looks like coal sticking to the metal parts, etc? You might be able to see the some of the cam gears peering into that hole. Are they nice, bright, and shiny? Or are they covered w/black gunk?

What about the electrical system? Do all the lights and turn signals work, in the car, and out, front & back? Do all the other electrical functions seem to work? Look at the dash lights with the key in “on” but the engine not started. Are the ones that are supposed to be on, on? And when the engine starts, do they all turn off in a matter of seconds?

Seldom used cars like this are less likely to become problematic the simpler they are. Does this car have a lot of optional equipment? That would be a cause for concern. A manual transmission is likely better than automatic for example. 2wd better than all wheel drive. etc.

Many of those problems will go away on their own w/use, but some won’t. Hard to tell which. So it’s best that the car not demonstrate any of them pre-purchase. Or as few as possible. Best of luck.

The timing belt is probably a given as to needing replacement but the yea or nay for me would be the asking price.

Take it to a mechanic versed in Subarus.

To the list that I previously provided to the OP, I want to add the necessity of confirming–through hard copies of maintenance invoices–that the tires were rotated on a consistent basis (every 5k miles or every 7.5k miles). Failure to do that will have led to damage to the center viscous coupler that is the heart of the AWD system, and–unfortunately–a mechanical inspection may not reveal that type of damage.

It’s got 15k miles. I bet $10 it has the original tires. Maybe it has new tires to make it sale able? Hard to determine if they were ever rotated than.

“Hard to determine if they were ever rotated than.”

If the OP demands to see the maintenance invoices, those documents should mention tire rotations, along with the dates and odometer mileage when the rotations were done. And, even if the tires were rotated, after 9-10 years, they need to be replaced, no matter how little wear is on them.

A former coworker bought a 2yr old truck w/60k miles. He only drove it 2 miles to work. He put 11k miles on it in 10 yrs. I looked at odometer on day he sold it to another friend. He used to fill it once a month with gas.

Look at it over the weekend and take it for a test drive. If you still like it, have it inspected by a mechanic you trust and the current owner does not know well. Subtract the cost of all needed repairs and maintenance from the cost a this car in clean condition. If the seller can’t show that things like the timing belt, drive belt, and tires have been replaced, add those to the list too. This tells you what a reasonable price for the car is.

I believe in being cautious with a used car but even as an 05, with 15K on it, it likely was always serviced at the dealer or at least the first four years. They wouldn’t have bought a new car and not taken it in for warranty checks and service.

If this Grandma is anything like my 85yo mother, you could be getting a good car. People of that generation grew up with cars that needed frequent maintenance, so many were in the habit of keeping good records. I’d worry more about the extra wear from all those short trips. Trips to the doctor and supermarket are often too short for the engine to get warmed up and have a chance to clear it’s throat (so to speak). My mom does only those short trips, but when one of the kids is visiting we try to take at least one longer drive in her car.

When you go to look at the car ask how it was driven (without giving away the right answer.) If you’re told Grandma only took very short trips, ask if anyone else ever drive it. The answer will give you some idea how much they know about cars. Many think the short trips are easy on a car, just because low mileage is supposed to be good.