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1997 Subaru Legacy Outback ... is the dealershi taking us to the cleaners?

My daughter was gifted a 1997 Subaru Legacy Outback in 2008 from her grandparents. She’s barely rolling 60,000 miles on it this week, so she took it into a dealership this morning for the service.

I just got a $1,700 laundry list of work that “needs” to be done on the car … some of which I contend should have been included in the factory recommended service to being with.

I need to figure out how to approach this, and figure out what REALLY needs to be addressed, and where they are just blowing smoke.

They say the rear brake pads need to be replace and rotors resurfaced … $199.95

The rear diffrential cover is leaking, replaced gasket … $190.00

Should already be included, but they are quoting:

Drive belts replaced … $160

Lube, oil & filter service … $36

Coolant system flush … $129.95

Fuel filter … $75

Spark plugs … $165

Brake fluid flush … $119.95

Rotate & balance tires … $44.95

Other stuff I’m questioning if it should be included, and if not can it wait?

Plug wires … $165

Front differential service … $69.95

Rear differential service … $69.95

Transmission flush … $149.95

Four wheel alignment … $89.95

Air filter … $20.00

Any feedback would be GREATLY appreciated!!

Yes, it’s entirely possible the car could need every bit of that if none of it has been done in recent memory; or it’s ever been done.

To throw gasoline onto the fire I don’t see a timing belt/water pump/tensioners on this list of stuff. Add well into the 3 digits for that.

If things like the timing belt, brake fluid changes, etc. have never been done then it sounds like the grandparents were very lax on the maintenance. Your daughter now owns a neglected 13 year old car and at some point someone has to pay the piper.

The prices do seem to be high, but that is typical of dealerships in almost every case.

That being said, I am a bit mystifed by your statement, “some of which I contend should have been included in the factory recommended service to being with”.

Everything that you have listed is part of the factory-recommended service, at least at soem point. Are you hung up on the fact that the car has only ~60k miles on the odometer? In reality, a car that is 13 years old is ready for the maintenance services that are listed for 160,000 miles, on the basis of elapsed time.

As but one example of how elapsed time is just as important as odometer mileage, the car’s timing belt was supposed to have been replaced by 2004, or at the very latest, by 2005–on the basis of elapsed time. I would suggest that you immediately find out if the timing belt has been replaced, because if it has not, the engine could–quite literally–self-destruct the next time that it is started. That would make your concerns about these maintenance charges very minor by comparison.

Just how well has this car been maintained by grandma and grandpa?
If it has not been serviced according to elapsed time, then it is actually a “ticking time bomb” that is about to explode in your wallet.

Please give us some details about its maintenance, beyond a statement like “it has been well-maintained”.

And, just remember that a competent independepent mechanic can service the car for far less than the dealership would charge.

I would suggest taking the Legacy to a good independent mechanic. Dealerships are large places with high overhead and tend to have high repair bills. If this vehicle was properly maintained it should not need all the maintenance listed. On the other hand…it is a 14 year old vehicle. You will at least save money if all this maintenance is required if you take this vehicle to a good mechanic. Always avoid the dealership if you possibly can.

Don’t take a car that old to a dealer, ever. Unless something is being repaired under warranty. Take that list of stuff to a good family-owned shop and he [mechanic] will probably cross out half that stuff. And the stuff that does need to be done will cost you 30% - 40% less than what the dealer is quoting you.

Click & clack did a study on this a while back and found that independent mechanics are pretty much consistently cheaper than the dealer.

If none of that stuff has been done in recent memory or ever been done then it needs all of it.

Click and Clack did a study and found that ind. mechanics are consistently cheaper than dealers? Wow. Who woulda thunk that.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the overhead of a dealer is many times greater than what an independent shop has to face.
As far as I know independent shops don’t have to fund a warranty clerk or do warranty repairs (always a money loser), fund pricy trips to service schools all over the country, purchase a huge number of factory specialty tools, along with several dozen other things on that lengthy list.

The analogy I always use is this one. Compare the cost of getting your yard mowed by the 14 year old kid next door or dialing up a lawn service company. The 14 year old may do it for 20 bucks but if the lawn service company does it for 20 they won’t be doing it for very long.

Thank you for your response … the car was meticulously maintained by grandma and grandpa doing every scheduled maintenance as well as anything else needed along the way (they also gifted all of the maintenance records with the car) … they had an independent Subaru mechanic that did all their work and never went to a dealership … we’re having a problem finding an independent mechanic in our area.

Timing belt isn’t required yet for the 2.5L engine, and apparently looks fine.


Let me second and agree with everything that has been said above.
Since you say that you have ALL maintenance records, please post here exactly what (as well as time AND mileage) was done to it. We cannot give further advice without knowing ALL the facts.
What REALLY concerns me is that you say “Timing belt isn’t required yet for the 2.5L engine, and apparently looks fine”. If this belt has never been changed, you’re simply living with a time bomb, as VDC put it. And on top of that you show that you do not fully grasp the concept of “xx miles OR xx months WHICHEVER comes first”. Mileage alone, is not the sole predictor of how worn an item is. Please review the owners manual again.

“Timing belt isn’t required yet for the 2.5L engine, and apparently looks fine.”

Hmmm…If this is the original timing belt (you did not include this detail, unfortunately), it is GROSSLY overdue for replacement. It was due for replacement in 2004, or at the latest, in 2005–on the basis of elapsed time.

Please clarify this issue for us.

Minimal work IMHO is changing transmission fluid if automatic. Change oil and air filter and leave the balance for another day. The belts may be needed if not in great condition. The timing belt I would wait if looks okay. In 96/97 they were non-interference motors in 2.5L.

This car is already 13 years old, I would not go crazy on maintenance.

Whoa! I agree with Andrew on this one. Go with the lube oil and filter. Trans fluid change (not flush) (but not at the dealer, go to a trusted independant mechanic, not a chain). It looks to me like they are not only taking you to the cleaners, they are sending a chauffeur to pick you up and deliver you to the front door of the cleaners. Four wheel alignment? Drive belts? Spark plugs? Brake fluid flush? That’s just plain crazy. At just 60K miles? I would never step foot in that dealer store again, and tell all your friends that they tried to take advantage of your daughter.