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Should I replace a 2002 Outback with low miles?

HI! I need some advice about whether to replace an older car strictly for safety reasons. We purchased a 2002 Subaru Outback in 2010 for our daughters to have a car to drive back and forth to high school. At the time of purchase it had 22,000 miles on it (a 90 year old couple owned it, never drove it, traded it in for a brand new Outback and we bought their trade in from the Subaru dealer). It now has 55,000 miles on it and our daughter has it at college, which is about a half hour from home. Beginning in May, she will be interning about 5 hours from home and will be making that drive frequently. The car has been well maintained, has newer tires and the head gasket problem was addressed shortly after we purchased it. My husband and I have been arguing about whether we need to upgrade the car for more advanced safety features or stick with a car that is running well with a known history and low miles. Our daughter loves the car and doesn’t want to trade it in. Any input would be appreciated!

Go with this.

There are a few new safety items now mandated in newer cars but the big ones are IN your '02 - airbags - and likely in, like ABS. Stability control is useful (mandated 2011) as is tire pressure monitoring (mandated 2007) but not needed if she checks the tire pressure regularly.


i think she would like a newer outback if she drove one.
a newer car could be safer. a 2010 vs a 2002?
reliability? maintenance history? lower miles? lots of variables.
statistics may show a newer car has better crash numbers. or not

There is your answer. Just check for any scheduled service that it might be time for.


I agree. For peace of mind have a thorough safety inspection completed with emphasis on existing safety features. I consider the newest safety features such as collision avoidance and lane departure warning valuable for less than focused drivers. The daughter has been driving the vehicle for 8 years so is quite familiar with it’s operation. The driver is the most effective safety feature. Does she have a good driving record (especially no citations for cell phone use)? My only other concern would be the 5 hour (300 mile?) drives. Does she have experience with long drives? Fatigue can be a factor. I would recommend a good emergency kit and AAA card for those.


The most important piece of safety equipment in any car isn’t installed at the factory–it is the person driving it! Any model produced within the past 25 years is as safe as anything sold new today, PROVIDED you exercise common sense, such as always wearing your seat belts, paying attention to the road, and traffic conditions, and not allowing distractions such as cellphone use while driving.

I would just keep this car maintained, and have your daughter continue driving it until it breaks down or rusts to pieces. With only 55,000 miles, it sounds like she could get another 10-20 years out of it, thus saving many tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses. Just make sure to change the timing belt if that hasn’t been done. This is an interference engine, and will be destroyed if the belt fails while it is running.

Thanks, everyone! The consensus seems to be stick with what she has. She is a very safe driver, always wears seat belts and stays off her phone. Getting a thorough check is a good idea and we will do that.

Also remember that the likelihood she will be in an accident is very low anyway. She should be fine.

The biggest enemy of an older car is rust. If the Outback isn’t rusted, and a safety inspection should reveal this issue, the Outback should be o.k.
I went through a situation similar to your situation back in 1993. I had a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon that I purchased as a new car in 1978. However, by 1993 the car had about 200,000 miles on the odometer. I had let my son take the car to college the year before when he was a freshman and his college was 50 miles from home. The next year, 1993, he went on an internship that was 375 miles away and involved driving a busy interstate. My son argued that the old Oldsmobile was fine and that he and the old Oldsmobile “understood each other”. I put him in a 1988 Ford Taurus because I felt more secure.

You mentioned that you bought the car in 2010, and the head gasket issue was taken care of around that time, which was about 8 years ago, by my reckoning

Which means it’s probably about time for another complete timing belt job, assuming this car has one