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2003 subaru forester manual with 85K miles

We’ve used this mainly for towing a small camper but now mechanic is saying we’ve got to replace struts ($900) and can expect other issues to come up with a car this old. He said we can expect to keep pouring money into it bit by bit as things start to fall apart.

We’re wondering whether it makes more sense to repair or replace it since we’ll probably be using the camper for another couple of years. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

A $900 repair bill on a 13+ year old vehicle used for towing is no big deal, IMHO.
Sounds like this is the first sizeable repair you’ve had to do, which is very good if you’ve had it those 13 years.
If the rest of the car is in well cared for shape it makes financial sense to keep it as long the repair bills over time are less than a car note.
If you’ve got more money than time deal with an old car then buy new.
I would keep it until you’re done with the camper.
Then your next vehicle choice will not be limited to one that can tow.

So what’s the matter with the struts? Is there irregular tire wear or is the car bouncing going down the roadway?

Strut failure at low miles on a Subaru is very rare is why I ask.

Have you had the head gaskets replaced? It’s pretty common on your car.

Get a second opinion. Car repair is a business transaction, so use good business practices.

Is this mechanic in question a dealership mechanic? The reason I ask is that if so, then (s)he has a vested interest in steering you into the showroom. The mechanic would get a little commission on the sale (small but every little bit helps).

Yes, you will have some trouble with this vehicle, but it will still be far less expensive than buying a new vehicle. You may need new struts if you have been towing a camper into off road areas much, but you might not. That is why you should get a second opinion.

But you can expect to be doing another timing belt change (the second is about due) and you may need new head gaskets in the near future if you haven’t had them replaced already. BTW, If you are not loosing any coolant, You should go to your nearest Subaru dealer and get the cooling system conditioner added to your cooling system. It will help extend the life of your current head gaskets.

If your current coolant is more than three years old, have the dealer drain and refill your cooling system (absolutely NO FLUSH) with Subaru’s new coolant and add the conditioner.

In addition, brakes, tires, battery, etc may also be needed at anytime, you will need to look at that stuff for yourself. But if you need everything listed, thats still less than 30% of the cost of a new car, and it will then last as long as a new car would before it would reach the same stage. Thats a good ROI (return on investment).

A 2003 Subie Forrester w/85 K miles – provided it has had the routine maintenance done – still has a lot of usable life left. That’d be my guess anyway. It’s just a internet guess you understand, I’ve never actually seen your vehicle of course. But going forward, you should anticipate more frequent trips to the shop – compared to when it was newer – to repair stuff as it wears out and stops working. Brakes, cooling system, suspension system, ignition system, transmission, etc. And you’ll still be having to take care of the ongoing routine maintenance too.

The answer to your question depends on how you view the costs vs the benefits of owning a car of this vintage and mileage, compared to a newer model

Some of the costs to you of keeping your Subie

  • Less reliable, more likely to suffer a breakdown on the highway, which could be unsafe
  • More of your time and personal energy devoted to taking it to the repair shop
  • Not able to use it when it is in the shop
  • $$ cost of needed repairs

Some of the benefits of keeping your Subie

  • No new car payment
  • No new car down payment, keep that money in your bank account instead
  • Lower insurance premiums compared to a new car
  • Lower registration taxes
  • Your Subie probably displays some minor annoyances, but at least you know what they are. With a new car you won’t know until after you buy it.

IMHO Keith has given you excellent advice. I can only add that all the things he’s mentioned, including the struts if it turns out you really need them, are just regular maintenance and normal wear.

And I too wonder what reason he gave you to justify new struts… WHY did he say you need them? If it’s just because of the age and/or mileage, that’s not a good enough reason. If you have irregular tire wear, knocking sounds you can’t solve, wandering on the highway, increased wind sensitivity, or continuous bouncing after going over bumps, those are signs that the struts may be shot, but if everything is normal that’s a sign that the mechanic may be looking for revenue.

The car is 13 years old. Yep, budget for more repairs.

By my type of driving the car is a puppy with only 85k miles on it and maintained properly there’s no reason it shouldn’t hit 300k miles.

I do have to respectfully disagree with the comment about mechanics steering customers into trading in and getting a commission for doing so.
After working for 5 dealers and knowing a number of guys who work for other dealers I’ve never seen or even heard of such a thing.

I’m not saying that it can’t or hasn’t happened but it’s certainly not the norm.

This is a low milage car, with only 6-7k miles per year. That means the maintenance schedule is time based instead of mileage based. So the question you have to ask yourself is: Did I follow all the maintenance requirements?

For example, oil should have been changed every 7.5 months.

Timing belt change interval is 8.75 years. Which means it should have been changed in 2012 at the latest. This should be done soon, and that is a $1000 (rough guess) cost.

As a reality check, the average US driver spends about $1200 per year in maintenance, repairs and tires. So a $900 expense on a low mileage car with lots of life left in it is a no brainer!

If the engine is not neglected, the car will run another 10 years or more , as pointed out.

As my wife often says: “Age only matters if you’re wine or cheese!”

@ok4450, my bad (a little). I said mechanic but I meant “service advisor”. My daughters best friends husband is a “service advisor” and he does get a commission on every up sell service and that includes steering a customer into the showroom that results in a sale. The last part may be a private deal between one salesman and him, I’m not sure.

BTW, the only actual mechanical work he is certified to do is mounting tires.

Thank you all so much for your comments and suggestions. We’ll keep the Forester at least through the summer so my DH can tow the camper and live in it while he volunteers as the campground host at a Northern California national park.

Then we’ll revisit this question again & will use your advice on what we should be thinking about in making a decision. The Forester is cosmetically in good condition (apart from the 4" hole in the bumper that our painter made with his power hose machine yesterday). Otherwise, I love this vehicle except when stuck in traffic on the freeways in Los Angeles with a stick shift!

Thanks again for the time you took in responding to my question!

@keith, that’s a nasty conflict of interest if a service advisor steers people into the sales department.

The best thing the service department can do is stay clean out of any sales department transaction if someone decides to trade a car in because of a problem.

While it had nothing to do with the service desk, at a dealer where I worked someone had a very clean VW diesel towed in for a no-start condition. The preliminary comment by the service writer to the customer was that “it might be a failed engine” as the customer had mentioned a knocking noise.

Before we had time to push the car in and check it out he traded it in for a new car and motored off. The sales dept. said they had no interest in a knocking VW diesel so they offered it up for sale at a scrap metal price.
A fellow mechanic bought that showroom clean car for 200 bucks with intentions of building the engine.

A few days later he got an opportunity to bring it into the shop and check it out. The “knocking” was a starter motor chatter due to a weak battery and the no-start was a blown 1 dollar glow plug fuse.
There was nothing ethically wrong in this case but I could certainly see how it easily could be.

I agree that it is a conflict of interest, but how often do we see posters who bring their car in for service and it is suggested that it is time to trade because it is going to be too expensive to keep?

I’m in agreement with you there. One of the dealers I worked at once put on one of those 5 o’clock on evening service clinics. People could bring their cars in and free of charge could have the car completely gone over, computer check, etc, etc, and even an alignment check. We mechanics were paid hourly for doing this and the stated intent was to help drum up some work for the service department by pointing out problems. It did not work that way.

Someone would bring their car in and head to the waiting room while the car was gone over. Once there the sales people were swooping in there and without even knowing what shape the car was in were trying to steer them into a new car.
They were telling people whose cars only had 20-30k miles on them that “there’s no sense in spending any money on a problem used car or worrying about repairs…” blah, blah, blah.
The odds of a 20-30k miles car needing much of anything were very, very small.

One lady brought a car in with only about 12k miles on it and they were trying to convince her the end was near.

Thankfully this debacle ended in 3 or 4 hours and we got to go home.

Something similar happened to me once

I had a 2-year old car, and the shift lever was sticking

Sure, I thought about freeing it up myself, but the car was still under new car warranty, so I decided to take it in, just in case it was something more serious

While I was waiting, a salesman approached me and told me I should trade in for a new car, before my “old” car became a problem. I looked him straight in the eyes and told him “At the moment, my only problem is YOU.” :naughty: