Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

2001 Kia Optima Sedan vs. 1999 Subaru Legacy Outback Wagon

I have the opportunity to purchase a 2001 Kia Optima LX 4cyl, 92,000 mi, check engine light remains on; price is $2250 but I think I can purchase it for $1500-1750. I have read forums and they concern me, but I am in need of a car and this one looks in good condition and feels good on the Interstate, etc.

I have been waiting for a coworker to purchase a new vehicle so I can purchase his '99 Subaru Wagon for $2500, 170,000+ miles, speedometer and odometer do not work, shakes at high speed (may be from need for alignment), rattling in back door. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to buy a new car, and the opportunity with the Kia presented itself.

Does anyone have experience with either of these vehicles who can offer feedback? Should I wait for the Subaru? I hear it’s a great car - the current owner wants to upgrade to a newer version of his Outback. I can’t find any positive reviews of used 2001 Kia Optima 4cyls…

I would be seriously hesitant to buy the Subaru. Subarus can be reliable if they’re well cared for, but they’re not cars that can be abused, particularly with regards to the AWD system. It sounds like your coworker has been neglecting his, and that high speed shake is extremely worrying. Even if it is just an alignment issue, driving a Subaru while misaligned can cause damage to the AWD. I would give that car a miss, especially since you ought to consider the effect on your professional relationship in the all-to-likely event that the car dies in the not too distant future.

The Kia sounds a little better. It’s obviously not the nicest car in the world, but Kia’s quality was starting to improve at that point and if it’s been well taken care of it should be reasonably reliable (this might be a good car to check in the Consumer Reports used car guide). Be sure to get the check engine light figured out before you buy too-- ideally the mechanic you take it to for a pre-purchase inspection can do this. If you’re going to risk not doing an inspection, you can at least get the stored codes read at many auto parts store.

Neither of these cars sounds like a spectacularly good deal (well, maybe the Kia if you really can get it for $1500 and the CEL isn’t anything serious), so don’t limit yourself to these two. There’s lots of used cars out there.

NEVER buy a vehicle with a Check Engine Light that’s on. It means the current owner has ignored a problem, or several problems. Why is the light on? If you don’t know, don’t buy.

In addition, the car needs a timing belt, which will cost you $500 or more, and it you don’t replace the belt and it breaks, the engine will suffer internal damage, costing even more.

The Subaru has several known problems. The mileage is not accurate. It could be well over 200K. The price is too high for the indicated mileage, and way off the chart for TMU (True Mileage Unknown). Forget this one.

In my opinion neither of these cars is a good bet. Surely there are other vehicles from which to choose.

I agree with mcparadise, as I usually do.

Used cars are like commuter buses. If you miss one, another one will be along shortly.
And, the good news is that many of the used cars on the market will not have the obvious problems that these two are already exhibiting. The problems that you are aware of are potentially expensive ones to resolve. And, then there may well be other issues that you are not aware of. Ergo–a money pit.

As mcp stated, the KIA’s CEL is a strong indicator of a car that has not been taken care of by its present owner. If you buy that KIA, a simple fix might work, but there is an equally strong chance that some significant problems exist–especially if the owner has ignored the CEL for an extended period of time. Also, since Hyundai has announced their intention to shut down the KIA company in the near future, the book value of this car will take a MAJOR hit, as it always does with “orphaned” vehicles.

The high-speed shake in the Subaru might be from an alignment problem, but it is more likely to be from badly worn front-end components. Even if the car simply has an alignment problem, that does not bode well for even wear on the tires, and Subarus do not tolerate unevenly worn tires (translation–replacement of the center viscous coupler/clutch pack to the tune of $700-800).

I would pass on both of these cars if I was in your situation.

Each of these cars is worth about $600. Maybe less. The Subaru WAS a “great car”. Eleven years ago.

I would avoid both of these vehicles, especially the Kia.

The only justification for not fixing a CEL IMO is if you know the reason for it being lit is extremely minor and you have a code scanner constantly connected to the thing to make sure no new codes appear. If you just think the problem is minor and ignore it and do not check for new codes all the time, you won’t know when something more major pops up. The only way you could get me to consider that car is if I knew the owner and knew that they weren’t avoiding major problems, and that the problem could be repaired for a small amount of $$$. Otherwise, you can do better on the used car market for that price.

As for the Subaru, those shakes at high speed could be cheap (tire balancing) or VERY expensive to fix. Without a working speedometer and odometer, that’s a serious issue, IMO.

For $1500-2500, there are all sorts of cars you can find - most are going to be old with a lot of miles, but you don’t have to settle for serious defects. Think scratches, dents, dings, a small, slow oil leak… things like that that won’t really require hefty repair bills…

If I had just $2500 to spend on a car, I’d cruise Ford Focus and Chevy Prism models on or about 2000 and higher. At least there’s less to go wrong than in a Subaru and parts may be more plentiful than a Kia. For that price, play the odds, plan on problems and feel lucky when they don’t occur. There are few great cars for $2500.
Bast of Luck