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Used Subaru Forester

Our son’s first choice is a Subaru Forester and looking at the cars in our price range, most of them have between 100k to 200k for mileage. What are the issues that we need to be cautious about when looking for cars with this type of mileage on 2000 to 2003 models. As a first starter car, is this realistic?

Head gaskets followed by auto transmission faults and my opinion is that there are better options for a first car.

If you buy one make sure the head gaskets have been taken care of, on those cars it’s not if, but when they go. Also make sure the timing belt has been done, and that all 4 tires (not rims) are the same (size and make).

I agree regarding head gasket issues, and I have two additional caveats:

The timing belt needs to be replaced every 105k miles, so you should only consider cars (of any make) that have documentation to prove that this was done on schedule.
As an AWD vehicle, the viscous coupler/center differential is subject to expensive damage if the car has been driven with mis-matched tires. Unfortunately, with a used car, you have no way of knowing if this has taken place in the past.

I am an extremely satisfied owner of my third Subaru, all of which were purchased new.
However, I would not buy a used Subaru unless I had access to all of its service records, and unless it has been inspected by a Subaru specialist.

All of that being said, I disagree with my friend OK4450 regarding transmission issues on a Subaru of the late '90s through the present. I have never had any transmission problems with any of my 3 Subarus, and my first one (vintage 1997) is still trucking along with a distant relative, with over 200k miles on the odometer and no transmission problems–ever. I am of the opinion that whatever transmission issues he experienced were most likely on models made a long time ago, with very different-design transmissions.

@ VDC driver,

Is is possible to know or find the damage with the viscous coupler/center differential with a inspection by a Subaru specialist?? what about mileage issues? What is normal mileage for a 2000- 2003?

In my opinion, only the presence of actual symptoms (binding of tires on sharp, slow turns, and/or strange noises from underneath the vehicle) is likely to tell you if the center diff/viscous coupler is in imminent danger of failure. Visual inspection will not tell you anything, and this component could already be damaged, but the symptoms might not show up until…next week…or next month.

Normal mileage?
If you are talking about odometer mileage, assume 12k to 15k miles per year as an average, and multiply by the number of years that the car has been on the road.
If you are talking about gas mileage, you can assume an overall mpg figure for these vehicles of 22-23, with highway mileage topping out at ~28-30 mpg.

I’m not a fan of old, cheap Subarus with the 2.5l engine (and we have an '07 Forester). Too many things that can go wrong, as folks have mentioned (head gaskets and awd system). Nothing else that would fit your needs?

I agree with the head gasket issues, especially on those years. It tends to be perceived as a bit of a craps shoot. Most people don’t have a problem but some do.
FWIW, We’ve had really good experiences with Subarus and I wouldn’t hesitate to get another one, even if it had higher miles.

I would suggest a Honda CR-V of that vintage instead. You do gave to be careful to avoid the model years that had AC compressor problems. I believe the bad compressors started in model year '01 or '02 but don’t remember exactly. And, you have to be aware of the valve adjustment issue that ruined some engines of that vintage. But, if you find a CRV of that vintage in good shape, it’s one that survived, and you just need to be sure to have the valves adjusted every 30k miles or so. But these are very reliable vehicles and can easily do 200k+ miles if maintained.

PS…the CRV is an AWD vehicle too, but has a different AWD mechanism than the Subaru that is not so susceptible to damage from mismatched tires.

The only prevalent issue is aforementioned head gaskets.

The automatic transmission is an extremely reliable unit and not know to have any significant issues.

I’m not saying that Subaru automatics are near junk; only that they can and do suffer problems and when those problems surface it gets expensive very quickly. A small sampling which may or may not be taken with a grain of salt:
http://www.faqs.org/car/subaru-legacy-2002/power-train/

The 4l60E and the GM 700R4 both have known faults but both units in my 2 son’s cars have been flawless at 250k miles and 300k miles respectively although the 300k one ended at that mileage when the car was wiped out by a Crown Vic.

You’re talking about a 10 year old car with X miles on it and all bets are off on the transmission no matter who makes the car. With Subaru you have an added glitch because the potential buyer never knows if the final drive has been damaged due to lack of oil from a botched engine oil change or because some lube guy caught the mistake and added a fluid of some type to the final drive. The latter of course may allow the situation to go on for a while before a major problem rears its head.

There’s also a few other things to consider with the Subaru and that’s the timing belt/water pump/tensioner issue, the inspection of valve lash and a compression test, keeping al of the tires the same size, and in regards to the head gaskets there are a few caveats with that assuming any HGs were replaced.
One is that the job was done properly.
Two is whether the gaskets were replaced because of weepage or because of overheating. That can make a huge difference.

I just think there are far simpler and cheaper cars that can be purchased and would be a better option unless there is some dire reason for needed AWD and so on.

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