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Car buying dilemma - used Subaru, used Honda ... Help!

I’m posting this again - hoping for replies. I’ve been looking for a smallish awd vehicle - forever it seems! At first, thought I wanted a 2003 - 2008 range Subaru Forester S, manual Trans - but discovered the seats are really uncomfortable for me and the clutch is a long reach for me. Then looked at 2006 - 2008 Subaru Outback Limiteds. Wanted a 2007 but they are hard to find for some reason. Subies for sale in those years (what I can barely afford) have anywhere from 75k to over 130k - possibly meaning expensive repairs (timing belts, water pump, head gaskets, wheel bearings, etc). I’ve read lots of bad stories about the repair record in older Subies, so am getting a bit wary. I could deal with the sportshift in the auto Limiteds, but have noticed they seem to upshift at the wrong time. I just found a 2006 Ltd with manual trans, @71K, but then heard that isn’t the greatest year - seem to be a lot of issues, which is why I originally looked for a 2007.

So now I am back looking at Honda CRVs, but want a manual in a CRV. Found a 2002 but with 138k for @$6,000. Also have found a 2002 for @$9,000 and a 2004 for a @$10,500. I’m not in love with the Honda seats - a bit uncomfortable, feels like sitting on a piece of cardboard. I could probably have the seats padded. I really did want heated seats since I drive a lot in the winter, but I’ve read that heated seats can’t be put in certain year CRVs because it would interfere with the side (?) airbags.

So … I’m looking for advice - once again. Something tells me that I will feel more comfortable in the Subie, but may also be looking at less reliability because of age and mileage. The Honda price is attractive, but older and more mileage, and Honda CRVs have their issues, too. Then there’s the gas mileage on awds.

I like Mazdas, but can’t afford a new awd Mazda 5 or even an adequate Mazda 3, and I like the Ford Focus hatch. I’ve heard both the Mazdas and Focus are lousy in snow. which of the Subies/CRVs would be the best bet, or should I be looking at other cars/models? Help!!!

I am admittedly biased towards Subaru. My wife introduced me to the brand twenty years ago. My wife’s 'roo ran for 230,000 miles before she totalled it (just three months after I rebuilt the engine!) My 'roo has over 255,000 miles and is still running strong. The things do have their quirks, but if you treat them right, they run darn near forever. The reason you can’t seem to find too many used Subarus? Because owners like me drive them until they absolutely can’t run any more.

I’m very partial towards Subarus but there are years you want to stay away from, unless they’ve had the head gaskets replaced successfully.

Do be wary of Subies between around 99 to 02, especially the 2.5 Liter DOHC (Dual Over Head Cam) engine. Those were known to have head gasket problems because of a material/design defect. The 2.2 Liter SOHC is said to have less issues with the blown head gaskets but I’ve had to replace an engine like that so I’m not sure how true that is.
The 1.8 liter SOHC (Single Over Head Cam) engine, like the ones they used in the most Imprezas in those years, are okay.
All other years are okay.

Hondas are great cars too, tho.
We’ve had an Acura (same as a honda) since the 90s. Great reliable cars.

Thanks so much for your replies, KLM Instructor and RemcoW. I’d heard that used Subs can have problems esp if the previous owners did not maintain them well, i.e., tires, etc affecting awd. And that the clutch can be weak (the car I am looking at has a manual trans.) I think the 2006 has a DOHC, but supposedly the head gasket problem was ‘solved’ by that year, though I’ve also been told that at 105k, along with the timing belt and water pump, the head gaskets should be replaced. I’m not sure what I’m looking at with a 2002 Honda - I’ve heard the catalytic converter might be an issue.

Does the Subie have all the service records? If so and it is evident it has been maintained well, I’d say that could be a contender if the price is right.

Just remember that there’s always risk buying a second hand car.
Whichever car you decide on, see if you can get it inspected by a mechanic that knows the make before you commit. It may cost you an hour labor (so probably around $120) but it is better to find out what’s wrong before you actually pay for it.

Subarus are great cars in the hands of knowledgeable and concientious owners. If you don’t fall in that category, avoid them. They require special attention and as other posters point out, and they will give many years of service. Even Consumer Reports says they are good.

However, buying a used one needs very careful research. You need all the maintenance record complete in order to have any confidence.

Unless a good mechanic says all is well and the maintenance record is complete, stay away from it.

Thanks. The Subie is at a dealer’s that sells new vehicles; it was a trade-in. The Honda is at a dealer that sells only older but high quality used vehicles. Both dealers have decent reputations.

I’m not sure if the maintenance records are available for the Subie. I did see a CarFax but there wasn’t much on it except basic oil changes, and not quite as frequent as I would do them. But then, I change the oil in my car every 3k.

The Subie is quite a distance from me. I’ll check on the CarTalk site for a mechanic near the dealer. The Honda is at a dealer nearby and I think I
could find someone to check it out fairly easily.

Any comments about Subie clutches?

The clutch of my older Subaru had 120k miles on it and drove like it was new when I sold it. Can’t believe they got worse. Used cars with manual transmissions are so owner depended on how they are driven, I woud go with an automatic.

Yeah, dagosa, I know what you mean about drivers and clutches. :wink: I had read somewhere that Sub clutches were weak; good to hear that you got a lot of mileage on yours. I much prefer manual trans, and the automatics I’ve found either have a lot of mileage (so looking at the 105k expensive service) or are way out of my price range. Why did you sell your Sub if it was so great?

Hondas have a good repair record, and seem less ‘touchy’ than Subs, but then the Honda CRV is a 2002, and I’m wary when a car has 138k.

Champagne Taste On A Beer Budget ? I Think That’s The Biggest Part Of The Problem.

You’re looking at some old iron and some of the vehicles have lots of miles and some models are problematic. Buying a manual transmission used car and expecting the clutch to last is shot in the dark.

This reliability rating thing doesn’t help much on these old higher miles cars. Condition of the individual car is more important. Also, there probably isn’t a hill of beans of difference from one make to another.

I’d do one of two things if I were you. I’d be more open minded and look at cars that were less expensive when new or I’d save for a while and then shop.

As Remco says, "Just remember that there’s always risk buying a second hand car."
Get something a little newer with factory warranty coverage remaining.

Why do you need AWD ?
Why do you want a manual transmission ?
What’s your rationale ?


Even a used car with 30k miles on it can be a roll of the dice. Low miles doesn’t mean much if the oil was changed one time in that period or run chronically low on oil.
With the number of leased vehicles floating around this just makes a car purchase even dicier because many people who lease cars know they will be turning it back in and have no intention whatsoever of spending their money on maintenance. That’s for the next person to worry about.

As Remco said, spend some money on an inspection. A thorough inspection does not guarantee that you will end up with a problem free car but it does swing the odds a bit more into your favor.

Thanks for all that, CSA - and of course you are right about my “champagne taste!” My reason for wanting awd - my mother is elderly and lives on a a NH dirt road, not too bad in winter snow, but the spring ruts can be treacherous.I am there every week for several days, and need to be able to get there no matter the weather. I had an '89 Toyota All-Trac wagon, which was a great car - solid and reliable, but the body rusted before the engine gave out. My desire for manual is that I prefer to drive manual - I feel that I have better control. I also feel like I am more attentive and really driving. I do not have a car now; I have been renting newer cars - and boy, are they cheaply made! I don’t like automatics, but could deal with the slush-box sportshift in an Outback if I found one with under 85k. I’d like a few years before the 105k maintenance. I also need cargo space, so a sedan doesn’t work for me. I had looked at the Ford Focus hatchback - like the gas mileage, but the cargo space was a bit lacking for my needs.

Thanks, OK4450. You’re right about the oil changes and previous maintenance. Without records, buying used really is a crap shoot. I’ll have both cars inspected. I might look for something a bit newer that is ‘certified’ by the dealer, though I was hoping to avoid car payments.

Have you looked at a Ford Escape? Any FWD car will be decent in snow if you’ve got the proper tires on them; spring for an extra set of rims and get winter tires put on them.

Thanks, bscar2. No, I haven’t looked at a Ford Escape. They seemed a little big … and I wonder about their cost, but I will check them out. Thanks.

And, bscar2, I am beginning to wonder about fwd with snows - but it’s the deep ruts and mud that are an issue.

“why did you sell your Subaru if was so great”

We bought a pontoon boat and I had a little newer 4 cylinder truck as well as the Subaru. They don’t make many Subarus, none, that will tow 5000 lbs. Got a 4runner to replace Subaru.

The Escape isn’t all that big; just a slightly taller Focus hatchback

Maybe spend a little money on the road?A little judicious grading and aggregate will do wonders,its possible someone else may need to get to your Mother when you arent around,on the other hand if you can find an older model Jeep Wagon(Cherokee or whatever they are called) that a utility has for auction.sometimes you can find a manual and they are more reliable then you think-but dont expect much better then around 17 mpg-Kevin