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I am considering buying a 2003 subaru outback

56,500 miles

I am considering buying a 2003 Subaru Outback with about 56,500 miles. It is being sold by a private seller. It has 4 cylinders and a manual transmission. The head gaskets were replaced at about 36,000 miles. The water pump and and timing belt have also been replaced. Also the battery ,tires and one rear axle boot. The gentleman selling the car has all the sales and service records. He was the only owner.
I have never bought a used car and am only considering this car because I need a 2nd vehicle. Given all the previous problems should I consider this vehicle a lemon, or a car where most of the problems have already been addressed?

sounds like a decent prospect in a used car. Why would you think it might be a “lemon”? Have the car inspected by a mechanic, one who works on a lot of Subaru’s preferred. Do checks to assess the current condition of the head gaskets in that inspection.

It is a 10 year old car so if you expect perfection, you won’t get it. The car likely has lots of miles and good years left in it. Look over the service records. In particular look for fluid changes; if the transmission fluid has never been changed, not good. Ask the inspecting mechanic to look over the service records and recommend which fluids need changing and how soon.

In used cars I’ve bought I pretty much change out every fluid in the car and start fresh. Most folks selling a car have skimped on service in some way so expect to pay for somethings like new spark plugs and fluid changes shortly after buying the car.

Offhand, sounds like a nice car for the age vs miles and the head gasket issue along with the timing belt job has been done.
It’s still a 10 year old car so do not think because an issue (s) crop up this means the car is a Lemon.

One thing left unsaid is the asking price and some sellers think because a vehicle has low miles this makes it worth a near new price.

I’d wonder why the headgaskets were replaced at only 36,000 miles. If the engine was overheated, it’s possible that you could be facing expensive work in the near future. It’s possible that the heads have been slightly warped.

I’m inclined to ‘pass’ on all 2005 and older Subarus with the 2.5l engine. It’s not clear to me that replacing the head gaskets fixes the underlying problem, whatever it is.

Thanks for the responses. I looked over the service records and things looked pretty on the up and up as far as fluids and servicing I will probably take another good hard look. According to what I saw in the records the man selling the car picked up on the expected blue smoke and temperature rise. I didn’t find anything about him reporting overheating. Having said that I didn’t look at every single one.
I don’t currently know any Subaru mechanic other than those at the dealership where he had the work done. What specifically should a mechanic be looking at that will tell me if there has been warping?
I worried that it was a “lemon” because at 37,000 or so miles it already had problems with the head gasket, water pump etc. If I quickly added up his bills he already has sunk $3,000 or more into this car without it being driven very much. I expect regular money to go into a used car, but don’t want to buy someone else’s headache

Timing belt and water pump replacement was likely based on time and not miles. 8 years is when most timing belts should be changed regardless of miles driven. Water pump replacement at the same time the timing belt is replaced is standard procedure. Nothing “lemony” about this work.

Thanks again. Here’s another question. I have been trying to research a fair price for this car. I have compared the NADA guides,Edmunds and Kelly Blue book. I put in the same information and get three totally different prices. The price between Kelly and NADA is $9,746 down to $7,650 with Edmunds in the middle. How should I judge what is Fair?

If you are interested in the car, have a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic. Make sure he knows that you want to buy the car so that he knows what the inspection entails. Once you have a list of the issues the car has, you can take the “clean” price and reduce it by whatever it needs. You need the top end price for a private sale from your references. I’d look for a similar car at local dealers in their internet site. Many dealers quote prices on line. This gives you a comparison between the prices you got from Edmunds, NADA and KBB. You should take a grand or so off the dealer price and assume that is the excellent condition price for a private sale. Don’t be the first one to mention a dollar figure; let the seller do it. If he asks what you would pay for a car like that, ask what he wants for it. If you’ve done your homework, you will know whether it is a good value or not. The get the inspection, and arrive at a top price you will pay.

Thanks again. That sounds like good advice!

And make sure the mechanic knows Subarus, not all do.

I like Edmunds values, they seem most real world in my opinion. These are averages and no two cars are exactly alike. The fair price is one that you a willing to pay and the buyer is willing to take. It sounds like you know the range of values for this car pretty well.

Run, don’t walk away from this deal. Much too much went wrong for the mileage. I have a 2005 Outback with 90.000k miles. A short list of the problems so far. Power steering at 32k [warranty], Co2 sensor at 40k $425.00, my nickel, rear wheel bearing at 89k [warranty], they wouldn’t replace the other side because it does not make noise. Suspension all around $1400 my nickel, remote door locks {not fixed} auto transmission shifts with a loud clunk when temp is below 40F. None of our other cars doesn’t even have anywhere close as many problems.

what do you mean “went wrong” Hans? Sounds to me like the owner took pretty good care of it.
Replacing the timing belt and water pump should have been changed by now regardless of miles. The gasket issue has been well known for some time now and the owner replaced them when he noticed there was a problem with it.
The only thing that would make me walk away from the deal would be mismatched tires.

Sorry bscar but after driving new cars about every two years for some 50 years and being involved in Motorsports I simply don’t believe that durability means replacing the headgasket and timing belt at 36k miles. My own experience with 2 Subarus bears that out.

“My own experience with 2 Subarus bears that out.”

And my experience with 3 Subarus has been totally different than yours!
Please note that I am not doubting that you bought a true lemon, and if I had had the same negative experience with Subaru that you had, I would also not be a repeat buyer.

In truth, your Subaru experience sounds almost as bad as my Volvo experience, and I would NEVER again consider a Volvo, so I can well understand your position.

I wouldn’t have bought my second Subaru if the first one had not been more reliable than all of my previous cars, including Dodge, Volvo, Chevy, VW, Ford, and Honda. I wouldn’t have bought the the third Subaru if the second one had not been even more reliable than the first one.

I guess that we have had very different experiences with the same make of car.

One could also argue that owning a vehicle for only 2 years at a time doesn’t ever really give one a sense of the true durability of a vehicle

One thing I am curious about in regards to Hans Schiessl’s comments regarding Subaru is the part about “being involved with Motorsports”.

Does this mean the Subarus are being used for something other than as a daily driver; as in any type of racing? Just wonderin’.

Funny, I’m hearing some reliability issues from owners of Subarus as reasons not to buy an older one. I respect their experience. But, these issues are yet to be about much in terms of the drive train which is the big concern of the “never owned an awd naysayers”. So, as a car, Subarus have their issues. As an awd car, they have the same, no more, no less.

Generally, any additional issues I have had with a Subaru, was because of the way I used it…taking it off road or driving through deep mudd is not hard on an Accord cause you can’t do it.

Btw, I have had two of them and found tem to be as reliable or better then any Ford, GM, Toyota or Honda I have owned. I don’t have one now cause they can’t tow enough and don’t have enough clearance. Other then that, my advice would to be as causious buying this car as any 2003 with the same mileage.