Nervous about a Subaru purchase (or, Forester vs. Ford Ranger)

Hi all,

After spending a month or so looking around at used cars in my area, I’ve settled on a few that I’m interested in. One is a 1-owner 2008 Subaru Forester with 119k miles, new timing belt, new brakes, and a 1 year warrantee that covers all major repairs (including head gaskets). It’s just under $10G’s. It’s fun to drive, loaded with all the amenities, and is even a color that I like. All of this is of course good.

The only thing about this one is that I’ve become a bit nervous about Subaru’s in general after spending some time reading this forum, other Subaru specific forums, and owner reviews on sites like kbb and edmunds. The head gasket issues seem to be unpredictable and capricious. I see a lot of horror stories about these cars and it leaves me wondering whether or not it’s really a wise move when what I’m ultimately seeking is reliability.

Another ride I’m interested in is a 2010 Ford Ranger with 90k miles, base model with less moving parts to potentially break. I have no problems with keeping on top of the proper maintenance for either car, but it seems as though the Ranger may be a safer bet and less expensive to maintain. I don’t need a truck per se, but I do like the old school compact truck style. Either car will mainly be used for just getting around town in an area with little snow (Atlanta GA) and occasionally going up to the mountains of North GA/North Carolina where we will encounter some unpaved forest access roads in the mountains to get to trailheads for hiking.

What do you guys think?

I think either would be a good choice. Subie may have addressed that head gasket complaint in a re-design, haven’t seen many complaints here recently, at least on newer models. Is there a difference in compression ratios between the Ford and Subie, that might give you a clue. Higher compressions are more likely to spring a leak in the head gasket. On the Ford, there an issue with some of their engines, bigger ones mostly, about the spark plugs. They had a two piece design, then I think had a recall and had a new one-piece plug installed. If the two-piece plug broke off, it made for a really expensive problem for the owner. So make sure that doesn’t affect the Ranger you are looking at. But overall I think you’d be equally happy with either choice. Choose on price and the options you like.

It’s always a good idea to double check what Consumers Reports says about the make/model/year too, before writing a check.


Ford had 2 separate spark plug issues in the last several years, all on their Triton V8 and V10

On some of the old 2 valve Tritons, the plugs would blow out. I’m not going to discuss the reasons, because we’ve been through this again and again

On some of the 3 valve Tritons, Ford used a mile-long 2-piece plug. And yes, it would sometimes break during removal. I can’t swear to it, but carbon buildup has something to do with the problem. But they only used that plug for 4-5 years, before going back to a slightly more conventional plug

Unfortunately, as far as I know, there was no recall for either problem

The Ranger definitely is unaffected by this problem, because I don’t believe it ever had a factory V8

They’re such vastly different vehicles it’s difficult to make a recommendation on what suits you best. The Ranger is simpler mechanically and therefore will be cheaper to repair and maintain; all things equal of course in regards to condition.

I’m assuming, right or wrong, the Ranger is a 2WD and that gets into the issue of how often you think you may need more than 2 wheels providing the grunt. AWD does come with a higher price tag.

I’d go with the Ranger unless you really need the subaru’s AWD, which seems unlikely given your general lack of snow.

But the Subaru will probably be OK, so if that’s what you really want, go ahead and do it.

As much as I prefer Subarus over Fords, new because of where one might “need” AWD, I would recommend the Ranger over the Subaru AWD used, assuming neither had outstanding issues and both passed an inspection by a mechanic you trust. There are no guarantees and obviously, use and maintenance become the primary issues. It’s obvious that you don’t “need” a truck or AWD as you have said.

With your goals of inexpensive to buy and reliability, I would include other makes and model cars so you have a better chance of getting the best bang for the buck. Perhaps a newer, Hyundai Santa Fe with fewer miles in two wheel drive…which are very cheap but reasonably reliable, could be included. The biggest reason is, if you don’t need a truck, a poor riding compact truck that is much less efficient, archaic ally designed vehicle will wear on you and not be worth the sacrifice for comfort, ride and handling on a newer design that IS actually cheaper and even more reliable. Older compact SUVs, even in fwd, would be best suited for your needs.

While I am the very contented owner of my third Subaru, I have always purchased them as new cars, and to be very honest with you, I think that I would be hesitant to buy one as a used car.

Yes, the head gasket problems appear to be behind them, but with a used car you are always going to be the victim of lax maintenance or improper use by the previous owner(s), and what specifically would concern me in regard to a used Subaru (or other AWD vehicle) is the possibility that the previous owner(s) may have…
failed to rotate the tires on a consistent basis
may have replaced just one tire after a puncture
may have replaced tires in pairs, rather than all 4 at the same time

The AWD mechanism of these cars can only withstand running with mismatched tires for a somewhat limited timespan. “Mismatched” refers to any situation where all 4 tires are not of the same brand, size, and amount of tread depth. If this used Forester was ever run with mismatched tires, there is a potential time bomb waiting to go off in the next owner’s wallet, and unfortunately there is no way of telling what previous owner(s) may have done wrong in regard to the tires.

Hi Everyone, thanks for the quick feedback!

I don’t really require an AWD vehicle, but I’m sure I would find it useful here and there…such as the odd snow day that we do have, as well as getting some use out of it on unpaved mountain roads. This of course would be one weekend every several months, so it certainly isn’t required.

What do you make of the warranty offered? Of course I’d rather just not get a car that will require significant work in the first year. I also wonder if the warranty thing is a bait and switch kind of situation in the first place. This is the warranty guarantor:

Another option is a 2000 outback with 118k miles, has had the head gasket replaced and cylinder heads serviced (I’m guessing this was needed after a blown HG?) and the timing belt has been changed. Has the same warranty, drives very solid–feels great. It’s something like $6500 which feel a bit steep, but if the thing is reliable and won’t cost an arm and a leg to keep on the road…

Both VDC and I own AWD/4wd cars. Though we both enjoy them, I think we are in agreement that if you don’t really think you “require one” don’t buy one if you can’t spend much money and need to buy a higher mileage car ( over 100k)You are buying more potential problems which will eliminate any savings you think you might get buying a cheaper car. That includes all Subarus ! My personal limit is cars above $15k with low mileage (20 to 30k) before I have considered a used AWD cars. Why, probably because the units are too new to require service and I want to see it’s original set of tires. If they have been replaced, I walk away !

My Sister is the queen of 10yr old used Subarus (Imprezzas, Foresters) with 160K miles and less than $4k each. She puts aside about $1k for repairs, and gets 2-4 years out of them. She and her Husband do simple to moderate repairs themselves, and shops for more complicated stuff.

So far across 3 of them, they rarely brake down, never have AWD issues, so far no engine trouble. If I recall correctly the last one eventually had transmission trouble so she took it to auction.

Maybe she’s lucky, but she certainly doesn’t have all the trouble people here claim they have with Subarus… My whole family tends to find them far more reliable than the GM products we used to buy FWIW. The AWD is also quite useful if you do go off road at all, or ever deal with snow and hills. Regularly helps in the southern tier of NY.

I would recommend a good going over by a trusted mechanic, no matter what car brand. Find out if there’s any issues, and if not, I certainly would feel OK about getting the Subaru.

FWIW my 1999 Outback had significant ($3-4k) automatic transmission work around 60k. It never left me stranded or failed, and it went south gradually & would have been easy to diagnose - if it kicks you in the pants instead of offering smooth acceleration, and if it hesitates to engage when you first shift into Reverse or Drive, then it’s working on going bad. I’m at 150k now and I’m kinda starting to get the kick in the pants again, so maybe it’ll need re-doing in the next 10-20k. The only other big ticket repair was an oil leak that went on for years & was obvious too from visible oil residue on the underside of the car. It wasn’t obvious where it was coming from, but it was obvious that there was an oil leak from somewhere. Nothing ever failed, I just got tired of the burning oil smell so I had the dealer figure it out & clean it all off to make the problem go away and it did.

I consider it a very reliable car. I think the only time I’ve gotten stuck is when the battery has run down.

As for that warranty, what do the asterisks mean by “air conditioning*” and “seals and gaskets*”? Read the terms and understand whether you have to take the car to the same dealer for service or if you can use other service providers. Also note what is not covered - our current extended warranty on our VW didn’t cover spark plugs and I think engine coils were not covered last time we had it in.

I’ve definitely had these warranties pay off before (major transmission work on a Merkur XR4Ti), but the conventional wisdom is that usually they don’t pay off & might not be worth paying a premium. If you have a good mechanic you trust who says the car is sound & it looks like it has been well-maintained, then the warranty will probably not save you any major repair costs.

I’ve never had AWD issues, but I’ve kept matching tires on my Outback all the time. BUT it was PAINFUL to replace all 4 tires when I got an unfixable flat on one tire & they all had to match.

Lives in Atlanta Georgia ? When was the last time anyone had to drive in deep snow which would necessitate AWD. Just keep a set of cable chains in the trunk for that once in a lifetime need for Traction. Stay with fwd or rwd and have good rain tires.

As an owner of a 2007 Forester, I wouldn’t recommend a 2008. The 2.5L engine continued to have head gasket problems that might finally have been fixed with the chain drive OHC new version of the engine.

Ranger and Subaru, not exactly in the same category . That said a 14 year old AWD drive just sounds like asking for large repair bills. In this area Rangers are pulling outrageous prices so if you like it and are comfortable with the price that is all that matters. No matter what you pay for a vehicle someone will say you paid too much so I never tell them what I paid.

"So far across 3 of them, they rarely brake down"

She must be involved in a lot of collisions.


It sounds to me like you’re looking at used cars at dealers based on the warranty and mainly - PRICES! They sound way high to me. I got my 2003 f150 v6 for $4300 with 115k miles.

Search craigslist, and once you find some real good candidates take them to a mechanic for a once over. (Will cost you roughly $80).

Im sorry but no car is worth 10k with 120,000 miles.

In Atlanta, I’d get the Ranger. It likely has the 4 cyc engine, but if it happens to have the V6 it would be a peppy fun little pickup. Rangers are pretty reliable in general, simple mechanicals and brakes, and just about any shop can fix it up.

Subaru’s are more specialized, and there are just more complicated systems in the car that require more of a mechanic and more money for labor and parts.

Dagosa, you make a good point there. This is a simple fact–I don’t need AWD. What I DO need though is something that is going to be cheap to keep on the road. So now I’m leaning away from Subarus in general.

Fender1325, you make a good point too. That’s a lot of money for a car that’s well along in it’s lifespan.

My situation pretty much entirely boils down to what UncleTurbo is saying. What I want is something reliable, relatively simple, and that my old school mechanic can work on with no real headaches. I have a great general mechanic who I’d hate to lose by needing to go to a specialized shop.

Thanks everyone, this has helped my thought process…I’m pretty well ruling out Sub’s for this go-round.

As a general comment, I would never buy AWD or 4 wd just to give me more traction without replacing tires for that particular use too. Hence, because I don’t feel it’s worthwhile having special tires in Georgia except for emergency cables in the trunk, why buy AWD. They can create more problems for a seldom user then they solve without lots of winter driving experience by going too fast and in repairs if they are old.