Used Car & Mileage -- Especially a Subaru!

Hi folks,

So, My 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix gave out on me last week. I hated the thing, so I’m looking to trade it in for something new(ish). I’m only 23, so my mother – unfortunately – has to help me out with financing… meaning whatever I like I’ll have to pitch to her.

Now, I live in the country. It’s 15-20 miles to /anything/ - one way. So the car needs to be pretty good on gas. Preferable, but not a deal-breaker is all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Winters in the Appalachians can get a smidge icy, and I work halfway up a mountain. I would also like the car to moderately cute… unlike my Grand Prix!

Thus far, the favorite is a 2003 Subaru Outback. It’s in my price range, and it’s not an “old lady” car. The problem? It has 168,000 miles. Ma’s boyfriend is telling her that it’ll have maybe 40k left. My opinion (and the opinion of my fiance’s family) is that a Subaru is built to make 250-300k, no problem if it’s maintained.

The runner-up is a Kia Rio, 2005. I have to admit, the main thing going for this one is that it’s the prettiest shade of blue. It has 113,000 miles. I’ve heard that Kias have improved over the years, but I don’t know anything about Rios (aside from being tiny).

Meanwhile, my mom and her boyfriend want me to get a 2003 VW Beetle convertible. I have to admit, I’d be pretty cute in it. However, I’ve heard that they have horrible electrical problems, especially in the convertibles. Is there any truth to that? It’s also not highly practical for going up and down a mountain daily. And… well, I also don’t think the soon-to-be-hubby would like to be seen in a seafoam green, convertible bug…

Thoughts? Is the boyfriend crazy for pushing the Bug over the Outback? Or am I crazy for even bothering to look at a car with over 150,000 miles? Any recommendations for other makes/models in a $6-8k price range?

I’d avoid Subarus 2005 and older if they have the 2.5l 4 cylinder - they’re prone to (expensive) head gasket problems. The Beetle convertible is also an expensive car to keep up, I’d avoid it, too. Of the 3 the Kia sounds best for a low-budget purchase. You might check out, put in your budget and see what pops up near you.

Any car over 150,000 miles is going to be a crap shoot unless you know its history. A well maintained vehicle can last 300,000 miles and more, a neglected or beat-on vehicle can have serious problems in 100,000 miles.

The single best thing you can do is have your choices gone over thoroughly by a reputable independantly owned and operated shop.

Can’t tell from here ig eithor or both of you are crazy, but it’s irrelevant. I’d give the samne advice to anyone, crazy or sane.

Ahh, I’d heard about the head gasket problem, but I wasn’t sure how wide-spread it was – or how expensive. I’m going Wednesday to take a look at the Kia & Subaru and also have a car-savvy relative look under the hoods. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to expand my search radius, but I might have to, eh?

Agree; on your budget you need an inexpensive but reliable small car. Hyundai Accent, Mazda Protege, Kia Rio, or a lower mileage Chevy Cobalt would fit the bill. In any case, have qualified mechanic check it out before you buy.

Agree, that in general, avoid any Volkswagen, Volvo, older Ford Focus, Subarus, and small Chevy 4x4s.

Especially, don’t listen to your mom’s boyfriend.

You’ve got the right idea, but there’s a whole lot more that can be seen with the car on a lift. There’s only so much that even a car-saavy person can see from under the hood.

This’ll seem like a stupid question, then – how do I go about getting a mechanic to look it over? I’ve heard of it being done, but no one in my family ever has. Do I meander down to the shop on a test-drive? Ask the dealer to take it down?

  1. Go for the Kia Rio, based on lower miles. Specifically ask when the timing belt got changed at what mileage and the last service (should be 90K for whatever was specified in the maintenance guide). If no one knows, then consider the price or walk. Another strategy, particularly if you are dealing with a dealer, is to negotiate a 90K or 120K service as part of the deal, particularly if you choose to pay full asking price. I
  2. Identify a trusted mechanic, find out when he can do the inspection (plan on an hour plus in the shop) and then call the seller to make an appointment to pick up in time to make the mechanic’s timeline. You need to drive and stay during the inspection. This will cost you for the mechanic’s time. Tell him you want a good pre-purchase inspection.

An '03 Subaru with those miles is heading into expensive to repair and frequent repair territory. Forget the VW convertible, likely more repairs even than the Subaru. Don’t know much about the Kia Rio, but they aren’t mentioned frequently on this site which is a good sign.

Forget AWD or 4WD. These systems can get expensive to maintain and repair in older used cars. Stick to FWD and get winter tires for whatever car you decide upon. FWD with winter tires should make a good snow car.

I have an '06 Rio myself and am very happy with it BUT I don’t see it handling icy mountain roads terribly well. Its FWD with a low clearance. Mine slips around a bit when accelerating on wet roads but could due in part to tire wear and/or my driving style. It also gets blown all over creation when I drive near a truck on the freeway. Mine is a manual which has been great for going uphill but I test drove an auto which was completely useless. It does do well on gas.

We got rid of our 01’ Outback last year at around 215K I think. It had problems including (but not limited to) a grievous shifting issue (auto trans), ineffective cat (failed smog inspection) and frequent stalling. I was not terribly pleased with that car in general, even when it was new. Personally, I would likely not buy a 168K anything but definitely not a 168K Outback. Please note, it is not the super sporty zooming around the jungle fun car that the crocodile dundee commercials made it out to be. Maybe personal preference, but I didn’t find it terribly wonderful to drive.

I would NOT ask the dealer to have a mechanic look at it for you. Thats a conflict-of-interest situation. Google up some trusted independent mechanics in your area and just ask them how much they charge to do an inspection. If the dealer lets you take the car off the lot by yourself, I’d drive the car there myself and listen carefully to what the mechanic says.

When weighing prices, I’d call your insurance company to ask how much it costs to insure each car you’re considering. Your jaw will drop when you hear some of the differences in premium. Its something many people overlook before buying a car but if you’re on a budget, it can be prohibitively expensive to insure certain makes.

Good luck! :slight_smile:

And expect to pay the mechanic to inspect the car, so only do this if it’s a very attractive car.

Thanks everyone. I’ll have to give the Rio a second look, based on the opinions here. I was going to go tomorrow to have the Subaru checked out, but I might just surprise everyone with that prettiest-of-blues Rio. ^_~ I’ve gotten a mechanic lined up that could inspect it, so I just have to get my nerve up to tell the dealer I’m getting it checked out!

…after I test drive it and see about financing/insurance, of course.`

If you must finance a 100K mile used car, That’s not a good start towards independence…

"If you must finance a 100K mile used car, That’s not a good start towards independence… "

No, that’s not ideal, but “It’s 15-20 miles to /anything/ - one way” and “I work halfway up a mountain” suggests to me that a personal car is non-negotiable in her case. Losing your job because you lack transportation options isn’t a good start towards financial independence either.

And I’m pretty sure the poster wanted automotive advice, not criticism of personal finances. That’s what her family is for :slight_smile:

If you feel you must get an awd or 4 wd vehicle and high mileage, avoid awd and get a part time 4 wd compact pick up or older Suzuki part time 4 wd. These systems aren’t designed to run all the time and in a truck with over 100 k, it may not have but 1k or even less on the transfer case and front differential. It’s a reasonable approach and an older Tacoma 4 cyl would fit the bill.

It takes a " special" person to put up with the poor handling and rough ride of a compact 4wd pick up whose economy will be in the low 20s at best. But, I had that type vehicle for commuting for 30 years and liked all it had to offer in it’s “go anywhere ability”, and put up with it’s limitations. In your situation…20 miles from no where, that’s just what I would drive. I do now ( though not that far) and I continue to have these type vehicles.

“Any car over 150,000 miles is going to be a crap shoot unless you know its history. A well maintained vehicle can last 300,000 miles and more, a neglected or beat-on vehicle can have serious problems in 100,000 miles.”

That says it all.  The care the car has had is far more important than the make, or total miles.  Be sure to have any car you get checked by a local independent mechanic before you buy.  If buying a new car it is not necessary, but any used car should be checked by someone who knows what they are doing.

Here’s some advice on this always-controversial, no-one-knows-for-sure subject (buying a high-mileage car with a reputation for dependability, or any used car at all).

Bottom line: I agree with Joseph and mountainbike. Luck forms a big part of the pie chart, and don’t get too mad at the mechanic who inspects it, and erroneously says “hey, this one looks pretty good.” Mousse’s advice is excellent – check with your insurance company, and also with your state MVD to price out the often-surprising sales and annual use taxes.

You never know. Ten years ago we bought a cheap, used, nondescript Ranger pickup and have put over ten years and 100K miles on it with less non-routine maintenance on it than a single car payment (I consider “routine” maintenance to be anything recommended by the factory, or with reasonable wear and tear, such as tires every 40K or so). We liked the color and the utility, it’s been good enough, and we surely couldn’t have done better with a new car.

On the other hand, years ago, we bought into the Mercedes-diesels-run-forever hypothesis and bought one “like new” with 125K. It ran like a clock for about 25K and then the troubles began. Before long the average monthly repair and maintenance costs were in the ballpark of the payments for a new car, and we sold it (with disclosure and complete repair records, which was a thick folder) to another Mercedes-diesels-run-forever cognoscenti who said he knew what he was doing. We paid the price for an education, and also got to know our mechanic’s favorite kind of cookies.

In short: Caveat emptor but IMHO, buy one you enjoy driving, but don’t get too attached to it, and carry around a good cell phone and some extra cash. Good luck on your choice!