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Need advice - keep it or sell it?

I currently own a 1996 Subaru Outback - I bought it new 15 years ago, and it has only 92,000 miles on it. (I don’t drive a lot.) But, as is the case with all things, it isn’t as young as it used to be; it has started having a few issues (will need a new catalytic converter soon), has a little rust - you get the idea. I think it will last for quite awhile longer, particularly if I keep taking good care of it. But, I’ve started to look at new cars, with fancy interiors and better safety features… what would you do?

Part two to this question - if I do decide to buy a new car, I’m trying to decide between a new Outback (2.5L Limited) (not so sure I like the new design and there are reports about rusting exhaust systems…), the Hyundai Sonata (2.5L limited), or the Ford Fusion (SEL)?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Great post! I have a 2000 Outback, same situation. I’m keeping it: I love my Outback, even though it doesn’t get much use. For some inexplicable reason, I’m particularly attached to this vehicle. For mine, it needed the head gasket replaced, an unfortunate and expensive situation common to my model year. I decided to spend the money because there’s really nothing else wrong with the car and it’ll be good for another 10 years.

I’m no expert, but when my 1990 Geo Prizm broke down last year – the transmission was shot – I asked everyone what I should do. And then I bought another car, and let the Geo sit for a year before donating it to a school’s auto program, because I loved it so much I couldn’t let go.

One year later, my other car sold to someone who wanted to join me in the money pit (it was an old Volvo), and I bought a new-to-me Chevy Prizm. I loved it! For two weeks! Until I realized it was burning oil like there was no tomorrow…which there might not be, for this car.

All that is to say that if you’ve got something good going with the car you have, and you’ve had it checked from stem to stern by a mechanic who will tell you like it is – and that mechanic says it’s still in good shape – I’d vote for keeping it.

But if you decide to sell it anyway, I might be in the market for a new car again soon…

(Also, make sure that the cat burning out isn’t due to a problem with oil burning in the engine, or bigger problems that might be heading in your direction. Sometimes, I hear, cats wear out – but neither of the cats I’ve had to replace died natural deaths, of old, non-oil-related age…so just be sure.)

If you can afford it, I think it’s time. Rust has started and won’t stop unless you start treating it. If dependability is important, buy a new one and don’t worry anymore about the exhaust systems then on any other car.

I recently sold my '96 Legacy station wagon at ~145K miles because it had started to become very expensive to maintain. And it was getting rusty. I think I kept it a year longer than I should have.

If you haven’t already replaced it, the timing belt should be replaced ASAP. That will cost a few hundred dollars, but it’s absolutely necessary if you intend to keep the car.

You have low mileage for a '96. You could probably get at least a few more years out of this car for not too much money.

If you really want a new car, however, now is the time.

100% depends on your personal financial situation. A newer car will be safer and more reliable. Your old car has the two best options on a vehicle “paid for” and “running”.

Thanks everyone - you have all articulated the issues that are affecting my decision, or lack thereof. Crispix, I am waiting for the head gasket problem to appear in my car as well - it has the same 2.5L engine that was subject to that problem. I’ve already replaced the transfer duty solenoid, so that was another expensive repair. The timing belt has been changed, so at least I don’t have to worry about that for awhile. I guess I’ll have to decide if I want to keep paying for larger repairs, a normal consequence of age, or take a chance on the unknown (but hopefully under warranty). Part of the difficulty for me with this decision is that my last two cars have been Subarus (I had the other one for 10 years before I sold it because I fell in love with this one), but the new Subarus don’t seem to be as reliable or as interesting (to me anyway) as the ones I’ve had in the past.

There are very few occasions where running a car into the ground and repairing it over and over again isn’t the best financial policy. But at some point, I feel asking your self questions like; Can I afford a new car ?. Do I feel safe in the car I have ? Does the car I have meet my needs ?
These are the relevant types of questions as keeping and repairing is most always cheaper.

The huge exception is rust…it never sleeps and can make your car worthless regardless of the mechanical repairs you are willing to make. I have always felt that a clean, rust free car puts you the owner in the “drivers seat” when deciding to sell a car. NO ONE need ever have a car that rusts during the first 20 years of it’s life. If you do let it, you have lost the opportunity to ask the relevant questions about keeping it. That decision may now be out of your hands.

I feel paying as much attention to rust prevention as oil changes is the smartest thing you can do. If you live in an area where it’s not a concern, your decisions are easier to make. You’ll always have value to work with.

Rust is definitely a concern here - Maryland. I don’t think it is possible to prevent it entirely - I don’t have a garage to keep the car warm and dry during the winter. If you have suggestions for how to address the rust that is starting on the rear wheel fenders, please share. I suspect that this rust has actually started from the underside which means cutting out little holes…how to repair that? Maybe I should talk to a good body shop. We can afford a new car, the safety issue is as good as it can be for a car of its generation - I keep it in the best mechanical condition I can and drive defensively.

Yes you can prevent it in areas you can get to. The majority of preventable rust starts on the interior where the inner and outer body panels are welded together. Where fender liner joins outer fender, lower rocker panel, door and trunk or tail gate and rear quarter panels. Exposed areas are easily kept clean and rust free, those areas are not and must be treated with motor oil or linseed oil once every year or two. It’s a fifteen minute job and you can google techniques. I use a 1 quart garden sprayer with two quarts of oil or much less with practice per treatment with a couple “glugs” of gasoline to thin it. It will never rust in treated areas and basically you spray where ever you can find access, till oil drains out of all water drain Holes. Exposed underneath areas can be painted with red grease. It sounds much messier than it is and when using news papers spread under car, it’s environmentally friendly. Ask most body shop people or classic car clubs…they know about it and many practice it themselves in high rust areas.

My cars are kept outside in Maine in the rust belt. They are washed just 3 or 4 times a year at a car wash and only waxed by machine. I do touch up all nicks. They NEVER rust. Prospective buyers of my 10 to 15 year old used cars are told what I did and few ever walk away. They know they are getting a good rust free deal.

Once your car rusts, no dealer and many buyers won’t even consider your car. Rust free, your car is a keeper for someone. From an economic stand point, body condition is at least as important ( I feel more) as the number of times you change your oil.