Keep or Sell 2002 Subaru Forester


Our car, at $80K miles, is having troubles. We’re trying to decide if we should sell it and lease a new Subaru, then buy it at the end of the lease, or keep this one, gambling that it will hold up after this round of repairs.


So what repairs are needed? How much will you need to spend to keep it? Will the lease company fix whatever is wrong when you turn it in and bill you for it?

Leases are almost always a bad idea, unless you can charge off ALL of the lease expenses in your taxes as a business expense.


Replaced o2 sensor, serp belt, brakes, heat shield keeps collecting pebbles and rattling, about to get catalytic convertor fixed under 80K emissions warranty, clock’s broken, tire air pressure seems to be all over the map, sometimes shimmies over 70 mph (even when air is all good), sometimes not, and needs tires, and is very noisy. Thing is, I love the car. But at 79K with some left on the loan (bought used), do I gamble that this is just a round of repairs that, once handled, will be the end of it for awhile - since it’s a Subaru? Then when loan’s over, I have miles and miles free and clear. Or, do I have a rare Subaru lemon…and get a low payment lease on a new one, save cash for a while, and buy it after lease is up.

uhg. Car decisions stink.


I can’t tell you what to do in this situation, but will only point out that a lot of what you’re complaining about is not the car’s fault.
Belts, brakes, tire pressure and worn tires, along with this pebbles in the heat shield business is not a car problem. None of this makes the car a Lemon.

Maybe the shimmying is caused by badly worn tires due to failure to maintain the correct tire pressure. I do not understand the part about tire pressure being all over the map.
The clock does not work so check the fuses.
As to an O2 sensor and converter failure that could be caused by an engine performance problem; such as not changing spark plugs, dirty air filter, or a combination of a dozen things. The converter is covered so no problem there.


Knowing Subaru’s penchant for longevity, I’d say fix the stuff that’s wrong now and drive IT while saving for the down payment on a new one. Like ok said, it’s all small stuff except the warrantied converter.

Be sure to buy four tires all alike at the same time as mixing sizes can be detrimental to your AWD system.


My advice is to fix all these nits, it sounds like a new set of tires might solve several of them, and keep driving this car. Pay it off as soon as possible and then start putting the equivalent of a lease payment in the bank. When you save enough cash to write a check for your next car, consider buying what you can afford. Never, ever lease a car. Only borrow money to buy cars if absolutely necessary, then buy the cheapest car that will meet your needs.


Hey Craig, why are so against leasing. Curious.
Tire pressure is checked regularly & sometime one will lose air over and over then stop for months, and is not always the same one. Replacing tires shortly.

What we can afford isn’t the issue, it’s what makes sense economically. Though it’s quite true that a loan will always be less economical.

I wonder if perhaps some of this is from the previous owners’ cartaking habits? (We’re good maintainers.)

Anyhow - thanks all.


I am curious how a loan would be less economical. Do you mean in the monthly payment out of your household budget?


A loan is less economical than a car paid for in cash due to interest, to Craig’s point.


Lease vs buy and cash vs loan have been discussed here a number of times. Leases are good if you plan to trade in every 1 to 2 years, and/or your business can pick up most of the tab (as deductible expenses). Loans are bad simply because, unlike real property (current sub-prime crisis excepted), a car depreciates rapidly, and there’s no point in voluntarily paying interest on something that’s going to soon be worthless.


I agree with Craig’s points.

I’d like to add that I’ve seen people lease rather than buy in order to get “more car” for their monthly payment. This is absolute total folly. Unless, of course, you know you only have 6 months left to live. If you must make payments, then you should get only what meets your needs and do it on a loan rather than a lease.


I agree leasing will get you “more car” for a lower monthly payment and will avoid a significant down payment. However, you are paying a premium in total cost to get these “advantages.” By leasing a car for a couple/few years you are paying for the most expensive part of the car’s life (initial depreciation). If you chose to purchase the car at the end of the lease, your total cost will be significantly higher than having bought the car originally (even with a loan). The lease company is a middleman, and they are making money on the deal. The best deal is always to pay cash, and you will never be upside-down on a car if you own it outright. The next best deal is the smallest possible loan to minimize cost and risk.

Also, leasing is more risky than buying because it can be very difficult to get out of a lease. With a loan, you can always sell the car and take the loss (even if you are upside-down on a loan), but you are pretty much committed to the terms of a lease for the duration of the term. There are plenty of horror stories of folks who cannot get out of a lease, there is a whole cottage industry to help folks find someone to “assume” their leases.


With respect to the Subaru, I would do the repairs and keep the car for 4-5 more years, while carefully maintaining it. With respect to buying vs leasing, if you can’t afford to buy the car you can’t really afford to lease it either. Like the sub-prime homeowners, you should not buy thigns you relly can’t afford. Consumer Reports did a detailed analyis on the subject, and concluded that:

  1. If your job demands a new car every 3 years and you get a car allowance, you should lease, unless you want to give the car to your family at the end of the 3 years.
  2. If you have a business, and can write the leasing costs off to it, leasing has a tax advantage. Most companies lease these days since the administration is easier and it frees up capital.

In my own case, I have a business, but since I want to keep the car for a long time, it is more advantageous for me to buy.


The car is getting to the age where you can expect things to need repair. The clock problem is a very common trouble and can be easily fixed by resoldering a resistor on the clock circuit board. One of the resistors gets so hot it melts the solder on the sides of it. The tire trouble will hopefully go away with a new set of tires. The exhaust issue may mean there is a problem with the fuel burning properly. Hopefully the new O2 sensor will fix that.

The car should have many more miles of driving left in it. One thing to think about is, the Forester was improved in '03 and so you may want to look into a newer model though you seem to be happy with this one, so why change.

I have always thought that leasing a car really costs more in the long run than getting a loan for it. Maybe I’m wrong on that. The buyout on a lease is pretty high I think and you may need a loan to do that. I don’t mind getting a loan for a vehicle since it lets me afford to get a new car when I need one. Not many folks can put out the cash needed for a new car these days. Since I like to keep my vehicles for a long time I usually get most of the options available for it so I won’t miss something later on and want another vehicle. A good thing about a car loan is it will help you build good credit when the payments are made on time. With a new car obviously there is the warranty and you can also get an extended warranty so that means basically no repair bills for some time except for normal wear items. Instead of repair bills you have loan payments and a newer car usually. I keep my vehicles for 10 to 15 years usually so the costs of ownership are lower, averaged out over time. Owning a car since new means there is no question of the past history on it though there are lots of good used cars out there that will save you money over a new one. Having an extended warranty on a Subaru may not be really needed but it could help at some point as they can have problems the same as any other vehicle.

I like the Subarus also and currently have a '01 LL Bean Outback. I have been a Soob owner since 1983 and it was my first new car purchase. They are great cars I think and can be pretty low cost to maintain. Too bad we can’t get a new car today for the same price I paid for the one in '83.


OK, I’ve read what others have said and your response about what “troubles” you are having. Most of those are just normal maintenance type things. Any car will need new tires eventually. Brakes and belts need to get replaced because they wear out. This is normal. The cost of fixing these things is going to be trivial compared to even one year of lease/loan payments, let alone 3 to 5 years worth.

The shimmy and tire pressure stuff is probably due to the tires and/or wheels. When you get new tires tell them you’ve had problems with losing air pressure and please clean the bead seating part of the wheels. Also, replace the valve stems. Those can get leaky after a while. The new valve stems might cost you and extra $5 per wheel or so, but worth it. Check noise ratings for specific tires on website. When the new tires are put on have a good alignment shop check the alignment and make sure to fix any suspension problems they find. This will make the new tires last longer and prevent a lot of noise and vibration issues. Once done, this should feel like a new car and last for a long time. I’d be willing to bet you can replace the clock for less than $100, though that is just a guess. Probably a DIY job.

Finally, let me reiterate what others have said. A lease is a sucker bet. No matter what, you lose. Why do you think they are so heavily promoted? Loans are next worse. It is virtually always cheaper to keep and fix what you have than to buy new. And the things you need to fix are really minor.


Cool tire replacement advise - thx much; glad to have it. So the tires could be part of my noisy interior? Or just because it’s the type of car I’ve choosen to like. Seems most Soobs are noisy. Drives me nuts (no pun intended) how loud it is.


Well, Subarus are not as quiet as some other cars. But tire noise can be a big component of that noise. I don’t know what tires it has on now, but definitely some tires are noisier than others. Your car will never be the whisper quiet of a full-size Mercedes, but no sense making it worse with noisy tires.

There are some techniques to make a car quieter. You can add undercoating and some sound deadening material to areas where there is a lot of sheet metal (floor pan, trunk lid, hood, etc). Inside the doors is the hard area to deal with. You can spray undercoat on the outside door panel, but you have to be careful not to gum up the window mechanism and locks.