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AWD? - 1998 Subaru legacy wagon

I am looking to buy a car and I have $2500-3000 to spend. So far, I have been looking for a Camry sedan or wagon or a corolla. So far in those categories I’m finding a lot of cars with a lot of miles on them (175K+) or people asking more than the car seems to be worth or cars with some big engine problem, etc. There are A LOT of Subaru legacy wagons available right now. I had ruled them out because based on my very limited knowledge, AWD vehicles are more expensive to repair and I’m not going to have a lot of money to pour into a car that is really expensive to repair. But because there are so many of them out there and many of them have low mileage and seem to be in good condition, I wanted to ask all of you what you think about buying an AWD vehicle…will it be expensive to repair? Should I wait around for a camry or corolla? One other point is that the Subarus in my price range are 98s and 99s where people are selling 92, 93 and 94 camry and corollas for 2800-3300…

Thank you for your help!!

I’d also be worried about the head gasket problem on Subarus with the 2.5l engine, it’s pretty common. Unless you need the awd, I’d look for a fwd vehicle. How about a Mazda? I would make sure it’s '96 or newer, easier to diagnose with OBD-II.

You want to be selling, not buying an old high-mileage Subaru. There is a reason why so many for sale. I had a 1997 Legacy that sucked a valve a couple of months after I bought it. The check engine light would light up like a Christmas tree. One data point is not a statistically valid sample, but Subarus are not as reliable as people think. The engines are difficult to work on – try changing the spark plugs! They need timing belts every 100k miles. I’d go for a RAV4 or a CRV instead.

Ask yourself why do you want AWD? Do you live in a winter climate up an unplowed country road? If you live in a city, get a 2WD vehicle and spend your money on four real winter tires.

AWD is nice to have if you live where it may snow. You see them a lot around here in New England for that reason. You do have to be mindful with subarus of the 98 - 02 vintage for having head gasket problems. The SOHC 1.8 engine does not seem to suffer from that problem but the 2.2 and 2.5 liter engines do, especially the DOHC engine you’d find in the Foresters and alike of that vintage. If it has been replaced, you’re good to go, though.

Not sure if there’s more expense in AWD but you do have to make sure all tires are all the same. So if you blow one tire out and you happened to get a 'deal from Costco or BJs and can’t find that exact tire, you may need to get another set of four.

They are very good cars. I like them a lot, having four in the family.

Our daughter inherited a saturn, I was surprised at durability and easy repairs, worth consideration.

An AWD car of any make will have more potential for problems, especially one with lots of miles and an older model that would fall into the $2000-3000 price range. I’d avoid AWD in this case. A second differential, transfer case, and more axles with CV joints on an AWD car are extra parts that can wear out and break. 4WD systems are a bit less complicated, but same logic applies to them too.

A FWD simple car is your best bet. Some early model Saturn cars really have held up well and are cheap to buy and maintain. Corolla and Camry are good used cars, but come at a premium price compared to same model year cars from other mfg’rs. Same is true of Honda’s. Avoid European cars like Audi, VW, Volvo, BMW, etc. which are expensive to repair and seem to require more frequent repairs when they are 10 years old and up.

Stick to a basic offering from Ford or GM to get the most car for your money.

Thank you to all of you for your advise. I have really only looked at honda and toyota up to this point. I will also start looking at Saturn. Are there particular Ford or GMs that you would suggest?

Ford Focus has been a solid car, but what size are you looking for? Ford Taurus, Chevy Caprice are pretty big cars that hold up well. Most models from Buick are solid and reliable even in as they get older.

How many good mechanic shops are convenient for you? Not all shops are set up to work on Toyota’s and Honda’s. Perhaps you should shop, you can do a lot of looking online, and see what kinds of cars appeal to you. Before you buy anything since the car is going to be older and with lots of miles you really need a mechanic to check out ANY car before you buy it.

In my Very humble opinion, if you only have about $3k to spend on a car, you can’t afford expensive repair jobs or higher gas consumption. That rules out any lux. options of bigger cars or cars with awd. Get a compact fwd car in the Focus, Corolla, Prism etc. line with as few options that can can go wrong as you can. That may mean driving a manual too. Air maybe, power windows and such, avoid. A power window that doesn’t work costs big money to fix and can make car undrive able… Older Sentras can be quite cheap and are decent cars too. Get a car that has sold well, as any mechanic that can’t work on a Older Corrolla or Civic, shouldn’t be trusted to work on anything else. That means, be careful about Hyundas and Suzukis…

Look for the best car from suggestions of CR that pops up and don’t look for any particular model or make. You can’t afford any wants, just needs. Sure, a Caprice or other v8 powered car or even a small v6 truck in decent condition may pop up, but putting $50 in for a refill is a far cry from $25 EVERYTIME you go to the pump. You have to be realistic about your financial situation. Look for cars without too much rust…a big safety item and the only thing you may have much control over.

When you own a real cheap car, the most important things you can do, is to develope a very close personal relationship with a good auto mechanic, get a used bike from Good Will and plan on taking public transportation when you can.

@dagosa I agree; on your budget you can only afford a simple econobox without all the extras that normally break and require expensive repairs. To me a Chevy Cobalt, Mazda Protege or Mazda 3, a Ford Focus all with low mileage are good bets.

Thanks Docnick and dogosa. Dagosa, you said to look for suggestions from CR…what’s CR?

Consumer Reports - It would be worth it to buy their car buyers guide, lots of information.