2004 Subaru Forrester

Although I don’t post much, I am a frequent visitor to these forums. I know there are some knowledgeable people on here and I believe some Subaru experts.

I am looking to purchase a 2004 Forrester. It is the X trim level with manual transmission. It has newer tires/brakes, CV joints.

The problem is that it is high mileage, 104K. Since it is a 2004, it’s likely mostly highway and that is what the seller claims.

I know that it’s due for a timing belt. I’m not very familiar with Subarus and am looking to defer to the experts here.

What are some trouble spots with this model? Were the head gaskets fixed by 2004?

The price is good and I’m mechanically inclined so would perform most, if not all of the maintenance.

I appreciate any feedback.

Yes, the cylinder head issue was resolved by 2004 on the Forester, as well as the Legacy and Outback. The timing belt would need to be replaced right away, as it is due at 104k, and you certainly don’t want to risk destruction of your engine. The water pump should be replaced at the same time, as replacement of the water pump requires removal of the timing belt. If I recall correctly, there are also some oil pump seals that are accessed once the timing belt is removed, so I would suggest replacing those also.

Hopefully, the vehicle comes with service records (unfortunately, most used cars do not, thus making them a potential mine-field of problems!) If you can’t get the service records, you have to assume that the transmission, the cooling system, the spark plugs, the fuel filter, and the air filter need attention. Also, Subaru specifies replacement of the brake fluid–definitely at 60k, and possibly even by 30k, so expect to be changing the brake fluid also.

The one thing that would concern me about that vehicle is that the CV joints have already been replaced. My older Outback, a '97 model, still has its original CV joints, and it has accumulated well over 160k in its 11 year life-span. If someone already had to replace the CV joints in a 4 year-old vehicle, I would suspect that many of those “highway miles” were on very bad roads and/or that the vehicle was abused. Give this issue some thought.

Good point on the CV joints. I doubt this car has been off roaded. I’ll pursue this.

I actually haven’t asked about service records and was assuming they were non-existent.
I figured I had the summer to get everything up to date.

The timing belt thing worries me as well.
On the timing belt, I found some instructions online and the replacement seems intimidating. Much more so than my Focus. I’m not sure I would be comfortable doing it. Also, I live in a small town without a Subaru dealer and wonder if my local mechanics would be qualified. There aren’t a lot of Subarus in town. Any thoughts on this? I could take it to a dealer 30 miles away but that is a hassle.

another recent post brought up the salient point that (im not referring to this car here) even though the car was in need of a timing belt, you should make sure it wasn’t replaced recently to “hide” something… like a broken timing belt, and possible valve damage.

although i am not sure if this is an interference engine or nor, that would be in the back of my mind.

You are correct about the Subaru timing belt being more intimidating than most. After all, it is at least twice as long as most, and the added complexity of the H-engine does make this job one for someone who knows exactly what he is doing on that exact engine.

Even though I am a big fan of Subarus, when they are worked on by someone who is not familiar with them, there can be problems. Even something as simple as an oil change can be a disaster, due to the identical oil drain plug and transmission drain plug being only inches away from each other.

Just imagine how many Subarus have had engines and transmissions ruined by the kiddies at Jiffy Lube because of quirks like the identical, closely spaced drain plugs. Do not have this vehicle worked on by someone who does not regularly work on Subarus. Otherwise, you invite many problems.

As to the CV joint, the owner will likely lie to you about the probable abuse to which the vehicle has been subjected. I think that this is a deal to walk away from, given the history of the vehicle and the lack of competent Subaru mechanics in your neck of the woods.

Thanks for the feedback.

I’m not sure I’m ready to walk away from this. I have yet to even meet the seller.

As far as lack of Subaru mechanics, I agree on the timing belt point but I’m comfortable doing or learning to do most other repairs. I have no problem purchasing specialized tools either.

cappy, it is an interference engine. If the belt was replaced and there are problems, it should be readily apparent.

I’ll probably at least go look at it and post any questions I may have.

Again, thanks.

Forester and CV Joints or axles are common. My mother and sis-in law bother had their replaced in the 100-150k range.