1997 Subaru Outback

Hi - i’m thinking of buying a 1997 Subaru Outback with 133,000 miles. The timimg belt, water pump, belts and hoses were replaced at 109k, struts at 119k, front brakes at 123k, tune up at 125k, rear brakes at 127, alternator at 129k. It has a new battery. The seller wants $4,000 for it. Any thoughts on the 97? Sound like a fair price? Anything I should be aware of in terms of maintenance?

Thanks for your help.

A weak spot on this car is the head gaskets. If replaced typically they do not blow again. However if never replaced don’t be surprised with a $1500 or so repair.

The only other item that crops up if automatic transmission only is the AWD clutch pack wears out. This typically lasts but if owner was lax or niave to to the strict rule of keeping matched tires in wear/circumference it fails early. It is another expensive item to replace.

Seems a little high for a 13-year-old car. The current owner is trying to recoup his recent maintenance costs.

Head gasket issues plague these cars, but that’s the only real trouble spot.

Check the tires closely. They must be the same brand, size, and have the same amount of wear. If not, walk away. Subarus are very sensitive to differences in tire size and wear. If all four tires don’t match closely the AWD system can be damaged, and that’s an expensive repair.

Andrew and mcparadise have summarized it very well.

The known defect in these cars is indeed the head gaskets. If the current owner has receipts proving the other maintenance and repair items, then he should also have receipts to prove that the head gaskets were replaced. If he/she cannot prove that the head gaskets were replaced, then you have to assume that they are either ready to blow or that they are already breached.

Since prompt replacement of the head gaskets is necessary in order to avoid engine damage, I would suggest walking away from this “deal” unless it can be proven that this work was already done. Typically, the head gaskets fail sometime around 100k miles, or shortly afterward.

I had one of these cars, and it was incredibly reliable. The only repair needed in the first 100k miles was the alternator, which Subaru covered, gratis, even though this failure took place at around 85k miles. After I sold it to my brother, it needed the head gasket job at ~110k miles. At around 140k miles, he replaced a trailing arm in the suspension. Those were the only repairs in the life of the car. It is still running reliably with its third owner, I am told.

However, despite this exemplary record, you should still be wary of the head gasket situation, as it happens to all of these cars after 100k or so.

Thank you! This is very helpful. So, if the head gasket has been repaired and the tires are the same do you think it would be a good purchase (I would like them to knock a bit off the price)?

We’re looking for a reliable used car with AWD around $5,000.

I really apprecite your help.

They are generally reliable cars, assuming the correct maintenance has been done. I’m driving a '96 Legacy station wagon with ~130K miles on it and I’m not planning to get rid of it any time soon.

The engine in my car is the 2.2 liter, as opposed to the 2.5 in the '97 Outback. The 2.2 doesn’t have as many head gasket issues as the 2.5.

Since you have records of recent maintenance, I would assume there would also be records of the head gasket replacement if it had been done, so I have to assume it hasn’t come up yet.

Not every car has a head gasket problem, but it’s common. Even if the head gaskets fail, once they’re fixed they shouldn’t be a problem.

If you buy the car, remember; NEVER let it overheat. If it seems to be heating up, shut it off. It shouldn’t be a problem since the water pump, etc, has been replaced. I’m assuming a new thermostat and radiator cap went along with the hoses, etc.

The only thing that should make it overheat now would be leaking head gaskets.

Kelly Blue Book says the seller is right on with the price. This is a private seller, right?

Yes, it’s a private seller. I’ll ask for all the records. Plus, I’m taking it to a mechanic and will ask him to pay particular attention to the issues you’ve raised. Again, thank you so much for your advice.