Do I really need to spend over $968 on my 2003 Subaru Forester?

I own a 2003 Subaru Forester. Currently only have 21,674 miles on the car. I have a LOF every 6 months at the Subaru dealer. Earlier this month the service department told me that next time I come for a LOF, I need to have a major tuneup, plugs, air filter, fuel filter, PCV valve, transmission fluid exchange, coolant Flush, brake fluid flush, all wheel drive service, inspection of brakes,belts,hoses and steering. When I asked how much all this would cost, they itemized some of it as follows:

transmission flush, $233.00. All wheel drive service, $135.00. brake fluid flush, $140.00. coolant flush,$135.00

major tuneup, $325.00. FOR A TOTAL OF $968.00. They also told me if I had it done all at once they would reduce it to $875.00. My question to you car experts is, DO I REALLY NEED TO SPEND THIS MUCH ON MY CAR WITH VERY LOW MILEAGE, WHICH RUNS PERFECTLY? Since I bought the car in April of 2003, the only repair I have had is one new battery, and windshield wipers. The latter were never returned to me by the service department and I do not believe they needed replacement ! Any advice you could be kind enough to give me would be very much appreciated. Sincerely, Eva J. Driscoll in Fairfax, Virginia

Your owner’s manual, not the service department, determines what maintenance work is needed. What does it say?

“Since I bought the car in April of 2003, the only repair I have had is one new battery, and windshield wipers”

Unfortunately, you are confusing repairs and maintenance, which are two very different categories. Repairs, which are invariably much more expensive than maintenance, are the result of a lack of maintenance. If your recollections–that the only maintenance done to this car other than oil changes is a battery replacement and a couple of wiper blades–then the car is LONG overdue for many vital maintenance procedures.

Step #1: Open the glove compartment and take out the thin booklet titled 2003 Subaru Maintenance and Warranty Booklet.

In the maintenance section, please note all of the procedures listed for 7,500 miles/7.5 months, 15,000 miles/15 months, 30,000 miles/30 months, and 60,000 miles/60 months. Note also that these intervals are “whichever comes first”. Thus, your vehicle that has been in service for AT LEAST 5 years (60 months) is due or overdue for the 60,000 mile/60 months service.

Apparently, you skipped the 30k/30 months maintenance, which is the first major service, as well as the 60k/60 month service, and as a result you have undoubtedly caused unnecessary wear and tear on your engine, transmission, cooling system, and differential.

As just a couple of examples of what can occur as a result of this skipped maintenance, you have put a lot of extra strain on the fuel pump by making it push gasoline through a partially clogged fuel filter, and you have shortened the probable life of the transmission. While you can’t turn back the clock to undo this damage, at least you can limit further damage by having all necessary maintenance done a.s.a.p.

So, believe it or not, the dealership is not padding the list of what needs to be done–and you can confirm this by simply reading the materials that are sitting in your glove compartment. What needs to be done is not cheap, but it is far cheaper than repairs. Repairs may well be in your future as a result of the ignored maintenance, but at least you can forestall the repairs longer if you now play catch-up with all of the things that you have ignored.

That being said, an independent mechanic may well charge less than the dealership, so you have to make a decision as to where to have these maintenance services performed. The only thing that should not be up for debate is whether the maintenance needs to be done, and it is clear that the time for this maintenance is now–if you wish to avoid bigger repair bills.

Agree mostly with VC. You have a 6 year old car and the manual will no doubt call for most of the items listed.

In the absence of a manual, I would defintely go with the cooling system service, and transmission service, but would be sceptical about changing the brake fluid at only 21,000 miles. Likewise, today’s cars have spark plugs that last a very long time, but I agree that the ignition system should have a checkup.

Also the air filter definitely needs replacing, but fuel filters last a very long time; my Nissan is 15 years old and with over 120,000 miles, it still has the original filter.

So I would take it to a mechanic you can trust and give him the service manual outlining the items to be done. The all wheel drive service should most certainly be done, since this is a critical item on a Subaru, and repairs would be very expensive. I’m sure the total from an independent garage will be less than $875.

If you can’t find an independent mechanic you can trust, go with the dealer but copy the necessary items from the manual and highlight them to him that this is what you want done and no more. Then get a new price.

Good luck and please let us know what you end up having done.


The dealer’s list is 100% legitimate, including the fuel filter. I verified all of that with the mfr’s maintenance schedule for my '02 Outback VDC.

Subaru specifies every 30k for fuel filter replacement, brake fluid replacement, and transmission fluid change.

IMHO the answer to your question is an absolute NO. You do not need to spend over $968 on your car. Providing the car has been stored inside or in a realitivity clean environment and the fluids are not contaminated by high humidity, salt air vapor, etc you can skip the brake fluid flush. The transmission flush isn’t needed. If you want to replace the trans fluid and filter, you can get that done for less than half your quoted price. Skip the major tune up. Coolant flush? Nah. Not as long as there is still some color to it, and it doesn’t look black, dirty. All wheel service, nope. Brake flush, nope. Everyone might not agree, but that’s why that call it “opinion”. That is my opinion. I have many years experience as a mechanic and 4 years of college studying automotive technology where we dissassembled parts and found damage during different stages of wear and abuse and unless the car has been abused, you’ll be ok. You’ll eventually want to get those items taken care of over the course of the next several years, but you’re doing no harm by putting them off with only 21K miles on the car. Funny you didn’t mention the timing belt. If it has a belt and not a chain, the belt might have potential to dry rot eventually, and if the car has an interference engine, would do some damage if the belt breaks. That is the kind of preventative maintenance I’d be worried about. You’re already doing the single most important PM, the oil change. Find a reputable mechanic away from a dealer shop, and stick with him/her.

I would take issue with the term, “major tune up”. I don’t recall it by that name in my owner’s manual. Changing plugs and filters pretty much cover the tune up part, so I would ask them what else they are doing to cover the “major tune up” part.

Wiper blades generally show poor performance six months to a year into their use, so one set of blades in six years is not overkill.

The car dealer is attempting to rip you off. Unfortunately, it is ripping a lot of trusting people off. If you can’t trust your car dealer, who can you trust? Big bankers? Wall Street?
Go to an independent shop/mechanic. Allow them to perform fluid changes; but, NO FLUSHES. A good mechanic will save you about $600 on all of these services.

Thanks VC; I have a Toyota and a Nissan and the Toyota calls for much fewer items to service. I also realize that Subaru maintenance has to be done by the book.

what exactly is an LOF?
Did they also mention timing belt and water pump? I’m assuming this is belt driven and not chain driven. Those items are also replaced on a time based schedule as well.

All the service for 30k is what is prescribed by manual. However the price in my locale (Seacoast NH) is $400-$500 for that at a Subaru dealer.

Call some local independents. In my area they charge $300-$400 that work.

I would perform the work when you hit 30k miles.

Like some of the others here, I strongly recommend that you read your owners manual CAREFULLY. While all the fluids mentioned may be on the schedule, I’d suspect that it doesn’t call for a flush. Most manuals recommend fluid replacement, not flush. Removing the word flush greatly reduces the cost.

Flushing is usually only needed when the replacement schedule has been ignored too long. Even then they often don’t work because it is simply too late.

The brake fluid should be flushed because that is the best procedure for replacing it. It is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs water from its environment, whether the vehicle is driven or stored in a garage. If not flushed, it can shorten the life of some of the components.

The other fluids should be just drained and replaced. Flushing would be a complete waste of money and in the case of the transmission, it could even cause damage. But they all should be changed.

The vast majority of that stuff sounds legit to me. The car is near 7 years old with a measly 21k miles on it and this type of driving is rough on a vehicle.

Some of that stuff is debateable at best but most of those fluids needs to be changed and the filters are quite likely needed.
Belts are aged and at this point the timing belt is going on 7 years old. This means it’s due no matter the mileage.

It’s entirely possible the wiper blades needed replacement if they were a couple of years old when done. Many wiper blade inserts are generally pretty crummy and don’t last long.

Even weeding out a few debateable procedures I can see the bill legitimately being even higher than 900 dollars once the timing belt/water pump procedure is factored in.


Although some people seem to agree with the OP that her car can continue to survive with no maintenance other than oil changes, I am glad to see that you are in agreement with me that the OP is slowly but surely beating her car to death.

The posters who seem to agree with the OP’s non-maintenance approach are ignoring two very important factors, namely the “elapsed time” factor in car maintenance and what is actually specified in the Subaru maintenance schedule regarding elapsed time–as opposed to odometer mileage.

While it is possible that this vehicle is used only rarely and then driven for…let’s say 75 miles…it is more likely that the vehicle is regularly driven for only a few miles and then shut down, thus truly defining “Severe Service”. Any vehicle should be serviced according the the elapsed time maintenance schedule if it racks up the miles slowly, but if the car is subjected to “Severe Service”, as I strongly suspect that this one is, the elapsed time factor is even more important.

When you consider that she skipped both the 30 month and the 60 month maintenance intervals, both of which call for replacement of the coolant, the fuel filter, the air filter, the spark plugs, transmission fluid, differential oil, and brake fluid, this car has been badly ignored. While “flushes”, rather than merely changing the various fluids could be considered to be “overkill”, in this case, the flushes may actually be appropriate. But, even if she were to skip the flushes and just have the various fluids changed, this vehicle is LONG overdue for maintenance. The only thing that she can skip for another couple of years is the timing belt, which is not due until the car is about 8.5 years old.

As you have frequently observed, many (if not most) of the problems that people have with their cars as they age are the result of lack of maintenance. This is a prime example of that situation, and I have a hard time agreeing with the people who seem to approve of her lack of maintenance simply because the vehicle has so few miles on it. This is just further evidence of why I don’t buy used cars.

It is an interesting case here. She does the right thing changing the oil every 6 months but really likely should be every four (Subaru severe interval).

The truth is if she continues driving it in this manner and low mileage it likely will make it another 5 years without serious issue. It will only have 40k+ miles. I think at 8 years she should change out the timing belt as the interval is 8yrs/105k on this vehicle. Some naive buyer next will think they get a gem with 41k miles/10 years old when she dumps it.

My inlaws have the same year Subaru Forester but manual tranny with 180k and basically no preventative maintenance(PM) besides quicky lubes who change the air filter on occasion. As they have incurred problems misfires (plugs and wires changed around 150k) they get fixed. They did timing belt at 100k miles along with water pump/coolant. They have incurred some issues along the way but nothing related to PM.

I think they fall into the third criteria of having no real issues: LUCK

My opinion is a combination of Luck, Preventative Maintenance and Driving style that contribute to longevity/reliability.

Agree that one has to be very suspicious when buying an older used car with few miles. The previous owner is ususally not a mean and cheap person; they just don’t drive enough and aside from oil changes, which everyone knows are needed, they simply are unaware of all the other items that need care. As pointed out many times, almost no one reads their owner’s manual.

My 91 year old mother-in-law drives a 1994 Pontiace Sunbird which my late father-in-law initially cared for. She takes it to her trusted mechanic spring and fall, even though she now only drives 3000 miles a year. I inspect the car every time I visit her and the engine runs great and all other items seem to have been inspected/serviced regularly. I would add that she is an exception to the rule; a person who actually over-maintains her car. Most seniors seem to be concerned with their health, grandchildren, bingo, soap operas and Hollywood scandals.

I’m in total agreement with you except for the part about the timing belt. Odds are that a belt will last 8.5 years but that interval would make me a bit nervous. Guess it’s because I’ve seen a number of them (various makes and models) snap long before 8 years; including one on a 3 year old, 50k miles Honda Civic that some very good friends of mine purchased just a couple of weeks before it gave up.
That led to them being stranded in Boise City, OK (look THAT up on a map!) with engine damage.

The first thing I thought of when I saw 21k miles on a half dozen year old Subaru was someone who drives it 2 miles here, 5 miles there, etc. with very little highway use. That type of driving is absolutely horrible on a car and is the type of driving one of my sister in law puts on her vehicles.
Very seldom does the engine on her vehicle even get warm enough for the thermostat to open.