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Need help deciding on what to look for

I’m looking for another vehicle as mine was totaled. I have $8000 in cash and could probably work up another $1K. We wanted to get a minivan as we have two children, and a reasonably sized dog that were cramped in the back of our sedan. Problem is, trying to find a minivan with less than 100K miles on it in our price range is about as close to impossible as it can get. I would get a station wagon in a heart beat, but the body style is all but dead. We really don’t want an SUV as they are really in to that gasoline stuff. We put miles on our vehicles fast due to living in a rural area. I’m stumped, and having a hell of a time finding anything that seems doable. Open to suggestions and thoughts. I have the rental car until Monday, and will be borrowing an older farm van after that, but it’s reliability is okay at best. Thanks for any thoughts.

A minivan or a small crossover is your best bet. You have to shop for a brand that most don’t like, so not Toyota or Honda. Think Dodge/Chevy/Kia or Hyundai. Try and buy from a private party with a precheck by a mechanic. With that budget, I would put $1500 aside for repairs…

If fuel economy is a factor, take a look on “wagons, still alive” like Mazda 5 and Mazda 6, Subaru Outback ?

The OP needs to go to Barnes & Noble, or another venue that has a very large selection of magazines, and buy a copy of the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers Guide. This totally objective source will provide the information (including vehicle features, historical reliability, and everything else that one should know about various models–before plunging into the shark pool known as The Used Car Marketplace.

I stumbled across a Mazda 5 earlier this week. Checked it out, but even with the rear seats folded down it would have been just enough room for the dog. I’ll have to see if I can find the Mazda 6. I’ll also start looking for less popular brands. The Hyundai and kia are hard to find here. The Dodge and Chrysler are easy enough but no more affordable than the Honda and Toyota.

A small SUV like the Subaru Forester will do you well. Gas mileage would be about 30 mpg. Or the outback.

I’d keep at least $1000 aside for repairs.

I had looked at subarus, and I like them, but I am hesitant given the head gasket issues.

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given your budget, what Subaru years would you be able to get in your area?

problem is not present in new FB engine, but probably you would not look for that new cars, although this engine appeared on Forrester earlier than on Outback. It is quite easy to recognize: it has timing chain design, not belt, so the area does not have a black plastic cover there

for prior generation EJ engine, it really depends a lot on if prior owner cared for car or not, especially flushing cooling system at 60K interval with long-live coolant and $5 additive you have to get from dealer.
changing oil regularly is another factor, but not as critical as having coolant serviced regularly.
you can get more details in 2-part article here:

If you consider going this route, stay away from late-90’ / early 00’ models with 2.5 liter engine: these indeed had issues due to Subaru decision to make pistons overly lightweight… tell-tell sign is slight bang of pistons on cylinder walls at very cold weather, like below 10F, which disappears after 1-2 minutes as it warms up, had it on '03 I had, not on '01. I had 5 (five) Subarus before :slight_smile: That problem existed on ‘98-03’ generation and Subaru was alway denying it is a problem, AFAIK cars still lasted well into 150-200K miles even with such pistons if not neglected.

In my area with my budget, I’d be looking at 05-07 models. Mostly outback or legacy wagons with just under 100K on the. I found a really nice looking legacy wagon, but it’s the 2.5L turbo, and from the sounds of things the turbos have even more problems, that turbo though… zoom zoom

edit Also found an 08 outback with 103K. It’s over budget by $400 but the dealer has had it a while.

If you are lucky enough to be able to find one of the relatively rare Outbacks with a six-cylinder engine, you should be aware that those engines have no head gasket issues, or piston slap issues, and they have a timing chain instead of a timing belt. Additionally, that engine provides very brisk acceleration, while giving up only ~1 mpg–as compared to the standard four cylinder.

I had a 2001 Outback with the 3 liter six, and it needed zero repairs over the 10 years that I owned it. It was so reliable that I replaced it with a 2011 Outback with the 3.6 liter six. (Zoom, zoom!) So far, after almost 7 years of driving it, I am even more satisfied with it than I was with the '01 model.

I would not buy their turbo model

not only it is less reliable, but people tend to buy them to race them

My last Outback was 2007 one, 2.5, very nice car, engine problems were pretty much worked out from mid-00’s, 2008 is last year of this line.

103K miles is quite OK, if maintained right it MIGHT have another 100K to go OR MORE. [CORRECTED]

Check that transmission shifts smoothly and engine gets easily into ~6000 rpm as you floor it.
Outbacks have famous “diaper pad” on their under-the engine protection cover, it is capable soaking many quarts of oil and coolant, so even if it has no oil drips underneath, it does not mean it has no leaks.
I would get one wheel on the curb and checked with flashlight to see if bottom of the engine has fresh oil or coolant traces. This car has 8 inches clearance, so looking under it is quite easy. As you do so - check if you se any leaks from transmission and rear differential: it has to be all bone-dry. I was helping out my coworker with his wife’s Forrester recently: I could get a good look on all these components even without raising wheels on he curb, it has plenty of clearance. Outback is pretty much similar. If you like what you see there, under the hood check engine oil stick: not only oil has to be “see-through”, but stick itself has to be absolutely clean, no yellowish or [worse] brownish deposits at all; then check automatic transmission stick: should be clean, no burnt smell, drop of fluid on paper towel should be slightly reddish color, if yellowish - need to replace ATF, if brownish and smells burnt - go find another car; on the left side of the engine, down below it is a small stick for differentials oil: check for clean oil, normal level and absence of burnt smell and metal specks visible. Coolant is a little bit trciky: you do not want to open the cap if car was recently running (can get burns!), so check it on cold engine, EJ engines were getting “Subaru coolant additive” as a mandatory part of maintenance, which will introduce some clowdy specks floating around the cap, but no so many; at the least you should not see any oil traces or dirt, fluid might be slightly cloudy du to additive, but not dark or dirty.

3 of my 5 Subies were purchased well past their 60K warranty, having this ritual observed, I never regretted buying them used, new ones were not disappointment either :slight_smile:

How can you make a blanket statement like that. It would be more correct to say that after a used vehicle is given a satisfactory assessment by a mechanics inspection the vehicle could possibly give good service for some time.

One friend of mine lives in NJ and drives ~50 miles one-way, every day, then gets to ski time to time, so he puts a lot of miles on his ones. That’s pretty much his fault to introduce me to the brand and make an addict (until my back problem made me switch out).

So, his experience was with 2 of them.

One he totalled after some guy rear-ended him on highway, at 197K miles, it was still running strong.
Another one he used up to 200K, then had to switch for minivan as he’s got another kid in the family.

Maximum I ran on my Subies was 170K and 125K, on others switched earlier as I bought new ones.

I helped another friend of mine to buy an Outback of 98-03 line, do not recall year with 120K miles: his wife runs it for last 6 years now, somewhere in 170K+ now, still wants to hold it, although he does not take care of it as much as I imagine he should.

@VOLVO_V70, you are right, I should not make a BLANKET statement like this, let’s rephrase it as “it MIGHT have another 100K in it”, but at lest I had some observations, which contribute to this point

I think you should forget the Subaru idea, and concentrate on finding a minivan, as you initially mentioned

It will serve your needs better, IMO


Well, I went to check out the 08 Outback, it seemed fine mechanically, but the previous owner had the bottom quarter of the vehicle sprayed with rhino liner. Not the entire bottom, just the bottom quarter of the visible exterior of the car. It looked two tone in the pics, after seeing it was rhino liner, I just couldn’t do it. Not my taste. Had decided to call the day a wash and on the way home noticed a small car lot with a mini van. Pulled over to check it out. It was an 09 Kia Sedona with just under 100K miles. It was nice enough for the year, so had my mechanic check it out. He recommended a transmission flush, but had no other major things for it. Picked it up for $6k out the door. Then talked to a neighbor who knew I had been looking for a car, and he mentioned his great aunt had passed, and offered to let me check out her car. Picked up a 1991 Chevy Lumina with 80K! miles. She drove it to the store, doctors, and the salon. She kept records for all the work done. He asked for $1500. Still have money to deposit back in the bank, and I have a former grandma car to let the van and my truck avoid extra miles whenever possible. Neither one is my corolla, but I’m pretty stoked. Thanks for all the input.


Nowadays Kia products are good, reliable vehicles, but the Sedona of that era was a problem-plagued dog, and I would suggest that you avoid it like the plague. In fact, Consumer Reports has the '02-'11 Sedona on their list of used cars to avoid.

The problem areas for the '09 model include the electrical system and the brakes, with the really bad systems including the HVAC system, the audio system, and “body hardware”, which includes things like sunroof, windows, locks, sliding doors, seat controls, and seatbelts.

Edited to add:
Upon re-reading your post, it looks like you already bought it.
Good luck!

I wouldn’t give it much heed. Almost every great car I’ve ever owned has been on the used cars to avoid list. I consider it a badge of honor. These cars supposedly have a couple of percentage points (literally) higher frequency of repairs in certain areas of the car (Pssst… based on surveys)

I would be much more attuned to the condition of a used car, rather than some survey designed to make folks think there are major differences in cars. (Pssst… It sells magazines/books).

Honestly, it doesn’t worry me too much. I’m pretty sure I know who owned the van prior to me (one of the few benefits of living in the middle of nowhere). I’ll talk to them, they just bought a newer Kia Sedona, and I haven’t seen them in the older one. They won’t buy anything else.