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First Time Car Buyer - Subaru or Honda


I’m looking into buying my first vehicle in the under $8000 range. I’m looking for a car that gets reasonable gas mileage that will last for at least the next five years while I go to grad school. I have an active lifestyle, and, ideally, I want a car with cargo space and the potential for hauling. I’ve always been advised to stick with Japanese cars, so I’ve been considering the Subaru Outback wagon and the Honda CR-V. In my price range, though, these cars in my area tend to be 10-15 years old have upwards of 130,000 miles on them. Is it wise to purchase a old car with so many miles, or am I looking into money traps?

Thanks for the advice!

I’d avoid old Subarus. I’d get the newest fwd CR-v or Rav4 you can find in your price range.

Consumer Reports puts out an annual issue with the reliability ratings of used cars. You should check that out as one source of guidance.

If they’ve been maintained properly, neither car should be a money pit, although you do want to keep some cash in reserve for repairs. The Honda is likely to be the better of the two, though.

Before you buy, make sure to get a pre-purchase inspection by your mechanic. That’s usually money well spent.

Of the two the CRV is more likely to hold up with less costs. Any car of this age and mileage will need repairs, so you need to budget accordingly.

The CRV will hold up, but lots of old parts can wear out. Fluids in the CRV are very important, don’t rely on quickie oil change places that use generic fluids. In particular on the CRV the auto transmission fluid, transfer case fluid, differential fluid, and coolant should all be Honda brand fluids.

Old Subaru’s can have more significant problems. Head gasket issues and drive train issues from mismatched tires are frequent problems with old Subaru’s and are expensive problems.

You can often find a bargain by going for an unpopular but reliable vehicle. This can get you a ride that is newer and with a lot less miles than a Honda or Toyota. A 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe fits your price and is reliable. A 2006 Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe are also in your price range, as i a 2008 Kia Rio wagon. You will have to buy a 2004 or earlier CR-V to be less than $8000. The CR-V may well be over 100,000 miles if it is a 2004, while the 2008 Rio wagon is likely half that mileage. Hondas are great cars, and mine has run exceptionally well since I bought it new. But I wouldn’t buy a used one because they are just too expensive. Look at the Rio wagon and see if it suits your needs.

An $8000 used CRV that’s been maintained should be fine. Just avoid the early/mid 2000 model years that had bad AC compressors. When the compressor self-destructs it contaminates the entire AC system with metal shards, so the entire AC system, not just the compressor, must be replaced, at a cost of several thousand dollars.

Any used car is a roll of the dice no matter the make and low miles cars are not excluded from the gamble either.
It all depends on how the vehicle was driven and maintained.

Ask the sellers and not one of them will tell you they drove the crap out of it and will assert it was religiously maintained in most cases.
A thorough pre-purchase inspection and doing your homework can aid in getting a good, solid car but even a thorough inspection is no guarantee of a problem free ride.

Subaru and Honda BOTH have reputations for quality and long, reliable life-spans that tend to exceed the facts in the real world…

“I have an active lifestyle, and, ideally, I want a car with cargo space and the potential for hauling.”

How about a Ranger or Mazda P/U (same vehicle) or even a Crown Vic…You will get a lot more vehicle for your eight grand…

Ford Escape or Mazda Tribute

I’m going to agree with some of the previous posts - you’re limiting yourself too much with just Honda or Subaru.

Why not a Toyota Rav4? Why not a Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, or Mazda Tribute? Why not a Hyundai or Kia? With the exception of the Rav4, any of those will come with a price discount that in all likelihood will greatly exceed any cost savings on repairs…

One common error is to put gas mileage on a pedestal, The correct calculation will look for total costs per year, for your usage. Not just gas, but actual depreciation; repairs; insurance; maintenance.

Of course, if you drive 20,000+ miles a year, gas will be a major cost. But, you have not indicated how many miles you will drive a year. If you will commute 70 miles a day to grad school, gas mileage becomes very important. If you will live on campus or nearby, and drive modest mileage, gas mileage becomes less important.

Someone pointed out recently that for relatively low mileage drivers, a well maintained Crown Victoria could provide lowest cost per mile/year, since they are often maintained flawlessly by the seniors who own them. Allegedly easy to maintain and repair.

Thus, it depends upon your actual expected use and distance driven per year, not just gas mileage.

An example is the Prius. Clearly, it gets great gas mileage. But, for low mileage drivers, they will be very unlikely to recoup the high purchase price in gas savings.

I have a Subaru Forester and I love it, so guess what I think, right? I needed either 4WD or AWD because of driving in the mountains in winter. I agree with the others though: Find a well-maintained car. That’s really important when shopping for a used car.