Used Honda or Subaru?

I have a choice between two cars, the one I own, and the one my parents are offering to sell to me.

My current car is a 1997 Subaru Imprezza Outback Sport, 160,000 miles, bought used last year with a 3 year powertrain warranty. This car runs great, drives great, has some minor rust, and has had some work done recently; alternator, struts, and power-steering rack replaced. The other option is a 2003 Honda Element, 100,000 miles, driven by my mother for the last few years, no rust, no problems.

My question is, which car is the smartest choice? I am looking for reliable transportation, and will be moving to California from Maine for grad school next fall. My worry is that, without a warranty, the Element will end up costing me more to maintain. Also, I am concerned about MPG. While I prefer the way the Subaru handles, my parents are very anxious that I take their ‘more reliable’ car and sell my own.

Any suggestions???


The Honda is newer and has fewer miles than the Subaru. In my experience, Hondas require fewer repairs than Subarus. The power train warranty on the Subaru isn’t going to last all that long and won’t cover other expensive items. Take the Honda. It should last you through graduate school and then some. After you finish your education and get a good paying job, you can buy something more exciting for a principal car and keep the Honda as a beater.

Agreed with Kendahl; take the Honda. JMHO, but I think the Honda is a superior vehicle when compared to the Subaru even if the mileage was the same on both of them.

I would suggest that you keep the Honda. 100k for a Honda is nothing at all. As long as you keep doing your scheduled maintanence it can easily last you another 100k.
Does the Suburu have AWD. You would not need that in California.
Say hello to the Governator for us.

I own a Honda and a Subaru. The Honda has been MUCH less expensive to maintain. I’m amazed that someone gave you a 3-year powertrain warranty on a Subaru with so many miles. Or did the charge you for it? In that case it makes perfect sense. Read the warranty; it won’t cover much.

The Element will not handle like your Impreza, and may not get the best gas mileage on the planet, but it will probably cost you less money over the next few years than the Subaru.

You haven’t said anything about money. You might be able to drive your Impreza to CA, and then find a newer car at a better deal than you’ve been offered for the Element. There are so many variables here it’s hard to say. I can’t believe these are your ONLY choices.

If I had to choose which I wanted to DRIVE, I’d say the Impreza. If I had to choose which I wanted to rely on, I’d say the Element. But there are so many other vehicles from which to choose. And then you will have to deal with CARB, the California Air Resources Bureau. I have no idea whether or not your Impreza or your mom’s Element will pass the CARB smog test.

I suggest you move to CA, then try to find a suitable vehicle.

Yes, the Subaru does have AWD. Good point.
Sounds like the Honda is in the lead with votes. Does anyone know what repair problems I am likely to run into with it in the next few years??

Money is an issue here…
This is the reason I bought a used Subaru last year to begin with. At that time it only had 130,000 miles and seemed like a great starter car.
My parents are willing to cut me a deal on the Honda Element, and as a Drama major, I can’t afford to be too picky. But, ideally I would like to
keep one of these cars for the next 3-4 years, then buy something new.

Both Honda and Subaru have reps for being long-lasting cars - just wanted to make sure I’m making the right choice!

Brakes, Front end service, shocks, New tires etc… Look in the owners manual, it will tell you what needs to be done at what intervals. Regarding California smog test, I wiould look around ( on the web ) for a facility on the east coast that would perform a test to the same specifications, that may give you a good headsup if it can be done.
At 100k, you need a complete tune up on the vehicle also, new plugs, plug wire set, replace all fluids, fuel filter etc… I dont know if this vehicle has a timing belt, if it does it needs to be replaced too.

As previous posterss correctly pointed out, the Element is much more reliable, and a simpler vehicle. Tom and Ray’s current poster talkes about the “hidden extra costs” of owning an AWD vehicle. Your Subaru at this mileage is an accident waiting to happen, and if your read the fine print on the extended warranty, many items will NOT BE COVERED!

We belong to a mountain hiking club, and one of the members has an Element. It is about as robust as you can get. If you don’t need 4 wheel drive, go to 2 wheel drive; it’s much cheaper and the gas mileage is better too. We assume your mother did not abuse the Element, and regurlarly maintained it.

The least expensive choice is keeping the hopefully paid for Subaru. The Subaru will get a bit better fuel mileage especially on the highway so AWD is non-issue with MPG. Its not a brick moving through the wind.

Given you performed a some work on it I would not worry too much. Grad school is only one - two years and I think the car will easily last this time period for you and may be under a powertrain warranty.

Personally I would save your money and set a bit aside for your own warranty company (eg pay for repairs with money in bank). You will be far ahead financially keeping the Subaru.

The most signficant issue with Subaru that occurs is the head gasket blows at a high rate in the 2.5L engine. However luckily the Subaru Impreza uses a smaller 2.2L that is quite durable and rarely has this failure. My family has Subaru’s w/2.2L including an Impreza and other Legacy into the 200k range without significant issues.

My family(live in New England) owns 10 Subaru’s and many in the past, they take them to 200k+ typically without serious issues.

Since you know the history of the Honda Element and it is 6 years newer, I think the Honda is the better choice. As a graduate student, your time is valuable and you don’t want a car that you have to worry about.

You may want to check to see whether or not you need a car. If you live near, or on campus and the public transportation is good, the hassle of a car may not be worth it.