Used Forester, Outback, CRV or RAV4!?

*edit: I am fully aware that meeting all of these criteria will not be possible. I am curious to hear from owners of said models to see how they rank on the criteria below, so that I may have a more informed way of comparing and contrasting while determining where to compromise. Specifically, would a Subaru Outback or Forester with 100-150 thousand miles and a replaced headgasket likely last another 100,000 miles or so, or does it really depends on how bad things got when the original head gasket issues came up? Other than the HG issues, ate they otherwise fairly reliable? Could a tall person sleep in a Forester? Are the CRVs or RAV4s just as good for snow/mud/Off road adventures, should we choose to just stick with tenting? If anybody could share actual experiences, rather than advice around changing our lifestyle/percieved expectations, that would be most helpful. Thank you!

Looking to buy a used car for around $4000, to replace my crappy Hyundai and enable more of the lifestyle I want. I am looking for something to use for regular errands, weekly commutes, plus a few extended camping trips per year, on which I hopefully won’t have to spend too much on gas, but will be able to get to very remote places. I also live on a dirt road in VT, and need something super reliable for snow/ice/mud/rocky back roads, especially as I have my kid with me almost everywhere I go. So far, I’ve been looking at these models:

Maybe 4runner
Maybe Pilot

I can’t seem to decide between being able to potentially sleep in the back of a Subaru, which would be amazing for the kind of extended camping/traveling we do in the summer, and the reliability factor of the CRV/RAV4s. I am on a low income, so frequent car repairs would be a major stress, and I know with my budget I’ll already be gambling with whatever I choose. The 4runners and Pilots are intriguing, but I’ve never had such low gas mileage before, and that could be a financial stress as well/limit travel options. Up until now I’ve had an Echo, a Camry, and now an Elantra. Any insights/suggestions/advice for weighing all of these factors would be so helpful!! I need to find something fast, too, so it’s a bit hard to organize my decision making process/sit with it as I’d normally like to.

Here’s my list of potentially contradictory priorities:

WD or AWD-Good in snow, mud, off-roads
High ground clearance
Driver’s seat accommodates good body mechanics for tall person
Reliable, doesn’t require much maintanance
Good gas mileage-not less than 20mpg, preferably more like 25-30
Ability to tow/carry decent load weight
Able to sleep one 5’10" adult and one small child as needed
Cargo space for gear for extended trips
Roof racks
Mileage below 100,000, 150,000 max
If Subaru, new head gaskets
2005 or newer
Maintenance records available

I guess I just want to have my cake and eat it too! :slight_smile:

I’d say you want the impossible :slightly_smiling_face:

Now if you’re willing to make some compromises, the RAV4 or CRV would fulfill many of your criteria


It sounds like you already know what you want, the problem apparently is your income.
Our society tells young women that they can have it all and without a husband. It does not however provide a way for them to afford a way for them to meet the financial and time demands of raising a child and finding a job flexible enough to let you have some of the time off to cope with the small emergencies of child raising. And if you find such a job they seldom pay great wages.
I know a lot of young women like that and you all have my sympathy.

I am looking for a car for my teen now. Have the CRV and RAV on my list. Want to keep it around 100K Miles and newer than 2007. Here in Southern CA, I am looking to spend around $8 or more and so far most of the cars I have found have had some issues that I have passed. Your budget is on the low side, which means you will/might suffer in repair bills later.
If you get lucky, you can find a family friend, co-worker who wants to trade in such a car and offer them a but more than the dealer.

I will agree with @oldtimer-11 fully and add that if your income is that limited perhaps those extended camping trips each year should be moved from the " must have " column to the " nice to have" column.

We have both a CRV ('14) and a RAV4 ('16) - we love both, but do not meet some of your criteria. Neither are particularly large and do not have high ground clearance.
Based on the research I did in my area when I got the RAV a year and a half ago, a car meeting most of the criteria you’re looking for would be at least twice as much as you’re willing to spend.
Be prepared to do some adjusting of your criteria.

Do you know if the ground clearance on those is better than with an outback/Forester? Or are you comparing them to larger SUVs? I am definitely prepared to compromise on my list of preferences, the question is in which direction! Hence the reason for this post :slight_smile:

Do not buy a low price ($4000 is low price for these) Subaru, if reliability is of any concern.

Someone who is on a low budget has no business even looking at an all wheel drive high mileage vehicle . Taking a 4000.00 used vehicle off decent roads is not advisable either.

The Rav 4 will meet most of your requirements. I don’t know about the driver’s seat - everyone’s body is different, and you’ll just have to go sit in it to see if it’s comfortable for you. Same for the sleeping - really no vehicle is going to be comfortable for sleeping in since the demise of the bench seat, unless you move to something like a minivan or better yet a conversion van with the fold down bed in the back. Personally, I would just pack a small tent and an air mattress and call it a day no matter what car I was driving.

I also don’t know what you define as “decent” tow rating, so I can’t comment much to that.

If by “good” off road you’re just referring to your dirt road, any of the vehicles you listed will do fine on that road. If the snow gets deep, you might think about getting a spare set of wheels with winter tires on them.

The thing I don’t like about Subarus is that even the 4’s are boxer engines, which means there are two head gaskets to blow instead of just one, which adds expense and also doubles the potential failure points.

Thank you, this is very helpful! By off-road I mean old logging roads in National Forest… I have a reputation for driving little sedans on roads they really shouldn’t be on-being able to get to very remote places is one of the bigger priorities. Thanks again for your input!

Is this mainly due to the head gasket issue, or more generally speaking?

Head gaskets, and the potential that the AWD system has been damaged at some point by using non-matching tires. Subarus seem to be more sensitive to that than others.

A Chevy S 10 or a Ford Ranger with a camper shell makes more sense than any of the vehicles listed. Decent fuel usage , some ground clearance and with the extended cab storage is decent.

Won’t hit the mileage or reliability targets with those, though. Especially since they’re getting old.

Yeah, any of 'em can handle that, provided you’re not trying to drive over obstacles like trees blocking the logging road.

I don’t know compared to the Forester; neither ground clearance nor Subarus were high on my priority list when getting my last car. I do know that I have to jack up both vehicles to change the oil - that’s my ground clearance test, so to speak.