I?ve been looking for a good deal on a used reliable Subaru Outback in good condition after not needing to own a car for several years living and working in a major NE metropolitan area. My wife and I will be using the car on the West Coast in the Silicon Valley area, for 5 min to 1 hour drives locally, and for weekend road trips including winter ski trips to the mountains (Lake Tahoe is 4 hours away). We need a car ready by the time we?re local in Silicon Valley around June 15, so I’ve got to find one now, get it inspected and do the repairs/maintenance before we?re there (by having the seller bring the car in to the garage of my choice as part of the purchase).
I just found a 2000 Subaru Outback Ltd Wagon and had it inspected. Below are the model specs, and below that are the results of the Subaru authorized dealer inspection I had done. It?s been quite a few years for me since I had to buy and keep a car, so really need your advice.
Would you buy the car for $6400 based on the inspection results below? The car is about $1600 below blue book for a good condition car with this mileage for the Bay Area. Cosmetically the car is in in excellent shape inside and out - one small dent in the bumper. And how much you think the repairs should cost at a good independent garage?
2000 Subaru Outback Legacy AWD Ltd Wagon
Engine: 4-Cyl. 2.5 Liter
Trans.: Automatic (4 speed)
Transmission replaced at 89,000 miles
Power Door Locks & Dual Power Mirrors
Keyless Entry System
AM/FM Cassette Sterio w/Weather Band
Single Compact Disc
Dual Front Air Bags
Front Side Air Bags
Leather Trimmed Upholstery
Power Seats (heated)
Dual Moon Roofs
16 inch Alloy Wheels with Splash Guards
Windshield Wiper De-Icer
Halogen Fog Lights
12V Power Outlet (Front & Cargo Area)
Security System Upgrade Kit
The 2000 Subaru Outback Ltd checked out OK in a thorough inspection by the best Subaru authorized garage in the area (not cheap, but good reputation). Below is what was found in inspection and what the garage recommended. One of the most important things, cylinder compression, tested very well.
1) The tires are mismatched and not to spec ? tires must be replaced ? even though they have most of tread on them, current tires are 2 sets of two ? not matched for tread or exact size and this can stress drive train. According to Subaru specs, there can be no more than 2/32 in. variance in tire size and wear, and tire tread must match. Cost per tire for the 2 tires I priced $95-105; Total cost four tires = $380-420
Several minor leaks:
2) Cylinder head gaskets are leaking
3) Rear main seal is leaking
4) Oil pump leaking
To access 2-4 with the least amount of labor, the engine must be removed. Without taking out the engine, the cost of repairing items 2-4 would be $2700-3000 because of the extra labor time required to access these separately (for example, the rear main seal by removing the transmission, the oil pump by accessing through the radiator). By taking out the engine and reducing labor, the total cost of repairing the oil leaks in 2-4 = $1500
Concern: Edmunds poster said Subarus with the 2.5 litre engine from that era are known for having head gasket issues that sometimes require a new motor due to damage to the block. This is of course in more extreme cases. However, the leaks are not large now - they should be addressed soon, but the car drives very well - and the leaks are probably common for a car that old - remember that it’s a 2000 model year. A poster on Edmunds said that ?while the compression test provides a vote of confidence, I would be more interested in the results of a cylinder leak-down test than a straight compression test (it can get at head gasket issues). If the gaskets are leaking internally, then that gets into the oil (which should be noticeable as the oil is milky in color), that can also mean inadequate lubrication and damaged internal bearings. Motor replacement (rebuilding, buying a rebuilt motor etc) is about $5k (but would include repairing all of the other maladies listed as well).?
5) Fuel system flush - $99 ? must be performed on high mileage cars (I think a $4 bottle of fuel system solvent is just as good as the shop job).
6) Power steering flush - $109 ? must be performed on high mileage cars; They checked the steering fluid and it was discolored and very dirty, indicating it hasn?t been changed.
Once the engine is removed, the following items could require repair (other repairs may be discovered, but these are most likely based on today?s inspection):
7) Cleaning and resurfacing cylinder heads - given the mileage, the most likely cause of the cylinder head leaking is the cylinder heads being over tolerance, which requires sending them for cleaning and resurfacing ? $200
8) Timing belt likely needs replacing - if not replaced last 60-90,000 miles = $80
9) Spark plug wires and spark plugs replacement: $120-200 ($120 regular, $200 platinum)
I’d run away from this vehicle, but maybe that’s just me. Too many problems, too many unknowns, too expensive for its condition.
I think I would take a pass on this one.
Here is my reasoning:
-Miss matched tires run on this vehicle for any length of time can cause serious ware to the AWD system causing a very expensive repair
-Head gasket leaks: not only an expensive repair on its own but the water and coolant mixing with the oil will burn up internal components quickly.
-The various other leaks, dirty fluids and early replaced transmission, to me, point to an overall lack of regular maintenance. Once again this may lead to further problems down the road. If these issues where not addressed by the owner, you can bet the timing belt wasn’t either.
Basically, it looks like they might be selling it cheap because they know there are many expensive repairs that must be done because of overall neglect of the vehicle. In the $6-7k price range (or more based on the issues listed) you can place yourself in a reliable, well maintained vehicle. If I were you I would broaden my search, look at other small SUV’s in that size range (RAV4, CRV, Escape come to mind).
Good luck and happy hunting.
Thanks jsutter, I really appreciate it. That’s why I’ve been working the forums for hours. I’m just starting to get the feeling that the car could turn into a money sink hole. And for $6400, it shouldn’t be. I’d prefer a Subaru Outback after doing research - is there any reason you’d direct me away from this model? If maintained well they tend to last and last. And it’s very good for my intended uses.
I was just saying that you should keep an open mind when looking for a new-to-you used car. There are a lot of people who get hung up on a certain brand of vehicle, thinking that it is fundamentally much better than any others. I can tell you that I have run “untrustworthy” vehicles well past what many of the aforementioned people thought possible. For example I ran a Chevy Blazer 200k only having to replace ball joints a few times and no other work that wasn’t regular maintenance. The key to a vehicle’s longevity is good maintenance, much more so than who made it. I sold the Blazer to a coworker of mine and it is still running strong.
The only thing I can say I don’t particularly like, is any vehicle with an AWD system. I am not a big fan of the whole keeping the tires exactly the same thing. But I have to say that that is a personal preference of mine. I do know two people with Outbacks (05 and 07) that both very much like them.
Head over to ultimatesubaru.org and get an idea of what is really required. Realize most people there fix their own cars but they will give you the skinny.
If it were me I would look at a 2005 Outback or Legacy wagon which is a significant nicer car devoid of all these problems including Head Gasket.
Having owned a '97 Outback (now driven by my brother) and an '02 Outback, I have to say that this particular vehicle has far too many problems at “only” 140,000 miles. The '97 Outback, which currently has about 160k on the odometer, has not had even half the problems that this one obviously has. And, there will inevitably be another expensive problem coming up soon as a result of the former owner having run the car with mismatched tires. In short, I believe that it will be a true “money pit”, given the known quantities.
I agree with those who said to RUN away from the deal.
Hi andrew j, thanks for the site - will check it out and post there.
- I thought the Outback was the Legacy Outback. What’s the difference between a 2005 Outback and a 2005 Legacy Wagon?
- Problem with the 2005 Outback or Legacy Wagon and beyond is added cost. I was looking for a relatively inexpensive car in good condition. About how much would a 2005 Outback or Legacy Wagon go for?
Thanks, I appreciate it, at this point I have to agree with you and everyone else. Going to look for models in better condition. Very thankful for all that I learned here and at Edmunds forums, which will come in handy now in finding an Outback in good condition and better evaluating inspection results.
Agree; run fast!!!
There are many other good vehicles on the market; you probably do not need an All Wheel Drive vehicle. I would settle for something that will hold a ski rack, your luggage and has a good air conditioner. You will put on a lot of miles in California; a Toyota Matrix 2 wheel drive would be a much better choice with gas prices rising rapidly.
That car sounds like a borderline heap; run. Maybe the reason the rear main seal is leaking is because the crankshaft main bearings are gone. This could have been caused by a previous head gasket problem (coolant diluted engine oil).
Way, way, way overpriced to boot.
A 2005 Outback or Legacy wagon run about $12k private sales with 40k miles(still under powertrain warranty till 60k). I own the 2005 Legacy GT(turbo) wagon and absolutely love it.
I ran already thanks to everyone’s input. And I’ve learned a ton about what to look for now. Very thankful for all your help. Just curious, did you think the car was overpriced because of the repairs, or generally overpriced for its model year? What do you think would have been a fair price for a 2000 Subaru Outback Ltd Wagon with 139,500 miles in cosmetically excellent condition and supposing good overall mechanical condition (which this car clearly wasn’t in)? I’m checking pricing now in 3 sources, KBB, Edmunds and NADA. Any advice you can offer on pricing would help. I’m looking in a 26 mile radius around Palo Alto, CA to cover most of Silicon Valley, and then narrowing to the few best choices to choose 1-2 to send to inspection.
Can you offer a checklist for process for narrowing down to best choices (esp anything not obvious that I could miss)?
Not to hijack this thread, but ok4450, can you explain more about the rear main seal possibly leaking because the crankshaft main bearings are gone?
Can you explain how this would cause the seal to leak, and how to tell if the crankshaft main bearings are gone without opening up the engine? Would a new seal just start leaking again if this was the case?
Thanks, as always…
My opinion is the car was overpriced a bit anyway simply due to it is going on near 9 years old (production date was probably summer/fall of '99). The known mechanical issues along with the unknowns (there WILL be some, there always is) sounded like a bit much.
I’ve done a lot of car inspections for dealers to aid in their decision as to whether to keep a car or run it off to the auction. It was a methodical process I was trained in and has worked very well. It goes like this.
- Test drive car and pay special attention to the auto trans shifting or manual trans/clutch if equipped.
- If ok, then a compression test and oil pressure test of the engine is done along with listening carefully for any abnormal noises.
- If ok, then one puts the car on a rack where the underside can be inspected. The following areas are checked:
Any noticeable frame or body damage.
Suspension components and tires
Check for any leaks of any sort; engine oil, trans fluid, coolant, etc.
Then all belts, hoses, etc. are inspected followed by operation of all lighting systems, horn, wipers, heater/A/C
Body panel fit or any obvious body damage or damage to the strut towers, inspection of all glass/window operation, etc.
The process is a bit deeper than what I’ve listed but it’s really not horribly time consuming. A couple of hours should get just about everything (and if everything is done it’s really not that big a money maker for the mechanic).
Even with a thorough inspection there is no 100% guarantee that things won’t go wrong. The basic building blocks are good but some of that little stuff could become a problem.
I performed an inspection for someone one time on an older model Ford T-Bird and this car was near immaculate. I could find no problems at all except a pair of half worn tires on the rear and even those were not too bad. The people purchased the car and about 6 months later went out one morning to start it, a gas line leaked,and the resulting fire burnt the car from the windshield forward.
The gas lines appeared fine during the inspection and it was never determined if the gas line split, blew off, or had been tampered with by Jr., who it appears had been given a little freedom to tinker under the hood.
Hope that helps.
Jad, this is a test post. Tried answering your question twice and got error messages both times.
Back later tonight on this.
Thanks ok, I appreciate it! I hate how this board makes posts disappear sometimes.
Hello Jad, will try this again. It gave me yet another error message when posting.
The reason worn crank main bearings can cause a seal leak is that if the mains wear say .005 that may not sound like much but it means the crank is bouncing up and down in the bearings. Multiplied by thousands of times it can eventually cause the hardened rubber in an aged seal to stay deformed.
Also consider this. The rear main bearing takes most of the abuse due to the flywheel, clutch, or torque converter weight so the rear main may wear more than the others. Another factor here is that episodes of no/low oil, etc. can short the rear main bearing of lubricant since oil pressure generally enters the front of the engine an the rear main is the one fartherest from the system.
Another cause is excessive crankshaft end play. One of the main bearings has a thrust surface and when worn bad enough will allow the crank to move back and forth which is rough on a seal, especially an aged one.
Probably the most glaring example of the latter is the old VW Beetles. The material in the main bearings is harder than the magnesium engine blocks. Over time, and with hard driving, the clutch banging causes the crank to bang into the bearing thrust surface. The bearing then bangs into the bearing saddles in the block and what normally may be an .008 end play situation has become a .030 one; or even more.
In some severe cases this has even pushed the seal completely out of the block, leading to engine destruction when that puny 2+ quarts of oil is gone. Another lesser known fact is that this can affect clutch operation due to the flywheel/clutch moving back and forth so much. Adjusting a clutch may be near impossible and engagement can vary each time the clutch is used.
If you get a chance to examine some old Beetles try this. Engine off of course, grasp the crank pulley with both hands and pull firmly back. Now slam the pulley forward with both hand. A slight movement is normal. If the engine has an abnormally worn or beaten out engine block/thrust surface you will hear a light thunk, and in some cases a loud clunk sound. This means a total engine overhaul is needed and is why VW main bearings are not only offered in crank journal oversizes but also offered with thicker thrust surfaces.
If you ever decide to buy a Beetle this test is always step 1. It determine engine condition and how much the price should be negotiated. This can be done on any vehicle but some are more difficult due to design and access.
I hope I gave a coherent explanation of this anyway; and also hope it posts this time.
Great explanation, thanks for reposting that, OK.
Is there a way on other engines (say, a 4.6L V8 Northstar) to check for very worn crankshaft main bearings? I have a leaking rear main seal, the head gaskets were replaced (and heads machined) on this engine about 4000 miles ago, but I’m not sure when the oil leak started, it may have existed for a while. The head gaskets have been fine so far.
It’s a pretty bad oil leak and I’m having the seal (all the lower seals, actually) replaced as we speak so I’m a bit concerned about this seal getting thrashed if the bearings are to blame.
I’ve heard with Northstars, a bad HG won’t show in the oil (i.e. you won’t see the milky oil) and hopefully that means the coolant doesn’t dilute the oil, and wouldn’t trash the bearings? The engine runs perfectly and has tons of power.
Appreciate your input!