Is it worth it? "Free" 2000 Subaru Forester

Hi All,

   First and foremost I'll preface this post by saying that I have almost zero knowledge about cars. But reading old posts makes me think you guys might be perfect for answering this question.

   Within the past year my girlfriend and I have graduated college and moved to a major metropolitan area in California. Up till now we've pretty much not needed a car (so no, not LA). But we're finding that we'd like one for occasionally leaving the city for overnight trips such as camping, etc. 

    This is where you guys come in. My wonderful parents, located in Washington DC, have offered to give us the family's old 2000 manual trans Subaru Forester. It's in pretty beat up shape, after having 4 kids learn to drive on it, approximately 100,000 miles. When it was recently taken in to get inspected  by the dealership due to check engine light being perennially on, it showed with five codes:

Fuel level sensor is inaccurate – apparently doesn’t need to be fixed

Evap emissions – needs a new gas fill pipe, has rusted through so is letting gas vapor into the air

Catalytic converter needs to be replaced – doesn’t need to be done

Misfire on 2 of the cylinders - needs to get fixed

The dealer reported about $1000 for gas fill pipe and misfire repairs. Over $2500 to get everything fixed. The car is only worth about $2000.

   Now bear in mind that if we take this car, we are going to need to get it to pass California Smog inspection which I'm sure at this point it won't. We'll also need to drive the damn thing the 3000 miles from DC to CA. Furthermore, I'm not even sure if the car can even be registered in CA, given that it might be a 49 state car. The internet has been no help in learning even that fact.

  So here's the question. Is it worth it? To buy a similarly crappy car in California, according to craigslist, would be no cheaper than about $3k-4k. Is it even possible to get this thing in good enough shape to pass the California inspection? I really do love the old clunker and would be really happy to get it out here. It's pretty much sitting and rusting back home at this point. Let me know your thoughts and thanks a ton everyone!

I would pass. You are going to spend $2000 plus, even if you go to an independent mechanic in the DC area. I would look for a decent used car that passes California emissions. Doesn’t have to be a Subaru.

You also have a$500-$700 timing belt replacement due at 105K miles if it hasn’t already been done. The math just doesn’t add up to be favorable at this point.

This deal will be more trouble than it’s worth. I might look upon it more favorably if you could make some minor repairs yourself, but this is not the case. You will be at the mercy of mechanics.

It sounds like you don’t really need a car at this time. For your occasional out-of-town trips, a rental will serve you nicely. You can continue saving money until you are ready to purchase a decent used car. They are out there.

I agree with the previous responses.
Between the cost of the known repair issues, the cost of the timing belt replacement that is probably due, and the cost of the as-yet-unknown repair issues, this “free” vehicle is likely to cost the OP much more money than it is actually worth.

If you really need a car, buy whatever you can afford–in California.
And, be sure to check back with us regarding that prospective California purchase for further advice.

What car can you get for $2500? I would get a review to get it up to specs by an independent mechanic. for $100 analysis it could be a good deal, and it may cost way less than the estimate.

Even if you spend the money to get it fixed, there is nu guarantee that it will pass Cali smog testing. Driving it the California is a high risk that you don’t need to take. Maybe the 'rents can donate it.

Since you have almost zero mechanical skills my opinion is that you should pass on the car for several reasons.

The misfire could possibly be related to low compression on that cylinder (maybe due to lack of valve lash inspections) and this means engine work. This could be easily determined by running a compression test and whether the dealer diagnosed the misfire correctly could be up for debate.
There is no sense at all in spending one dime on the car unless any potential compression problem is verified in advance.

A timing belt/tensioners/water pump issue which if it has never been done is way past due and must be done now.

Offhand, it also sounds like the car has been seriously neglected and the sum total to make the car safe and roadworthy may be a lot higher than what you were quoted.

Find an independent Subaru mechanic and get an estimation.

My Subaru mechanic beats dealer prices and “opinions” by 40-60% typically.

Bringing a car into CA is risky. If it doesn’t pass the smog test what then? You can’t register it. You can’t sell it in CA and you really don’t want to spend the $$$ to ship it back to DC. Too risky, pass on this free deal. If it was virtually any other state instead of CA it might work out, but forget about it.

UMMM… re read your own post and make a financing decision? Your parents and in laws are kind. for the price for the repairs you get a better deal at warranty from a good dealer… and check around. Use the offer as a trade in. Get something all purpose and trade up that you can resell in CA.

I will just add that with a lit check engine light they will fail the CA smog test. So if you are going to fix it you have to fix it all the way.

Do your parents itemize?
If so they can donate the car to NPR and get a tax deduction.

Or almost any high school with an auto repair program. Kids can learn on a real car, as opposed to looking at a white board.