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Used Vehicle Purchasing Issues: Horror Story!

So we were in the market for a used vehicle. We looked pretty extensively online and finally found an '05 Forester and for a fair price.

We test drove the vehicle and even took it to the local Subaru dealership to get a pre-purchase inspection done before we decided to pull the trigger. Afterwards they mentioned that there was some minor rust on the sub frame and that most Subarus this old tend to have some anyways. We were also assured that it wasn’t to bad and looked like a good purchase. With that we went ahead and bought the vehicle.

A few days after the purchase we found that coolant was spraying from the radiator so we took it to our local mechanic to get an estimate. When he got it up on the lift he found that the “minor rust” had/ was actually completely rusted through the sub frame and created a large hole.

Afterwards he told us that it never should of pass the Virginia state inspection to begin with (which it had been passed only 3 weeks prior: a 09/30 sticker is on the windshield).

When we purchased the vehicle we did in fact have to sign the “AS IS contract” but this feels an awful lot like fraud. The VA state inspector, the used car dealership and the Subaru dealership all had oppurtunities to not allow something like this through.

I thought I had done everything I could possible do (minus being a mechanic myself) on my part to make a safe purchase.

Now we have a $8k loan hanging over our heads for the next 5 years and a car that isn’t safe to drive, possibly indefinitely. Anyone have any suggestions on what I could do? Perhaps there was something else I should of done?

Thanks and sorry for the long post!

Not trying to pile on but when told there was slight rust I would have stopped there. Seeing slight rust means there is a lot of rust you can’t see.
A lawyer might help but could cost more than it is worth,so I would talk to the place calmly and see what options they have. Maybe they will share in the sub frame repair.

In NH, because used car sales are enough of a problem that without such a law the courts would be clogged with them, all such sales are by law “as-us” unless otherwise specified in writing or fraud can be proven (very difficult).

definitely speak with a lawyer, but have realistic expectations. You may not have any recourse. recourse against the dealer who “cleared” the purchase would probably be limited to the amount he charged you. Only you, with the advice of a lawyer, can decide your best course of action.

One thing you can do to help reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of this scenario is that when you get a car checked over, tell the shop up front that you’ll want to be shown firsthand any problems they find. Bring a small LED flashlight. That way you can poke, prod, and check these things out yourself, and if you have any doubts back away from the purchase. You could even bring a wooden rod to poke with. There is no part on a car that I can think of that you can hurt by poking it, unless it’s already cancerous. A mechanic would use a screwdriver, but that might make the guy showing you nervous.

You did everything right. Sadly, sometimes even then bad results happen.
Sincere best of luck with this.


I would go back to the dealership and see what they say. Maybe pay $500 and return the car if they are nice.

Nowadays, a bad yelp review or the threat of it seems to be somewhat of a concern for businesses. So I would throw that around. Maybe call the local news media-at this point you don’t have much to loose. The small claims court might be the way to go since at least the cost of filing a suit is not that much but I believe the limit to the damages should be $5K or less. But then again it is better than nothing.

I will also get another op on the rust. Maybe one spot is bad and the rest not so. Granted rust on a car is like cancer.

I’m not familiar with Virginia statutes on the sale of used cars and any warranty but in almost every case if the car is sold “AS IS” and you receive a copy of the “AS IS” form which you signed this means you are out of luck even if someone in the chain lied through their teeth. It should look like this.

You might check with the state of Virginia AG’s office and see if you have an out of some sort.

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Japanese cars are way overpriced used. You bought an 11 year old car for $8000 and took a 5 year loan! You did not explain why the coolant was spraying out of the radiator but these cars are notorious for blown head gaskets.
If you can get the dealer to take any reasonable amount of money to undo the deal it would be money well spent.

Sadly, I thought the Subaru technician would have warned me if it was a serious issue.

Not ever having to deal with this sort of issue before I didn’t know it was such a major issue. Now I know that any sort of mention of rust is a no go. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way I suppose.

Appreciate your input.

I actually mention that to the Subaru tech and was lead to believe that the XT which is the turbocharged version doesn’t have the head gasket issue. I don’t know what to believe anymore though.

The coolant leak seemed fairly minor but again I thought stuff like that would have been caught by the Subaru tech’s pre-purchase inspection.

Thanks for the heads up and suggestions.

I’m not terribly familiar with Subarus

But . . . subframes are often bolted onto the unibody

If that is the case, and the rest of the unibody is not too bad, the subframe could be replaced separately

It would definitely cost a lot of money, both labor and parts

My first choice . . . go back to the used car dealer, calmly explain the situation, and ask if they’ll take the car back and reverse the sale. If they offer to take the car back and let you have another, I would not agree to that. Since they already sold you one rusty car, I’d be concerned the next one would be in the same condition

My second choice . . . if the rest of the car is in good shape, ask the used car dealer to pay for the repairs

My third choice . . . pay for the repairs out of pocket and view this as a life experience

My fourth choice . . . contact a lawyer or small claims court

Considering you’re not a gearhead, I’d say you did pretty much all you could. You win some, you lose some

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My first inclination is to tell you to get a second opinion. We cant see the rust on the frame so none of us can make a judgment about it. You might try a body shop for an opinion and quote to fix if needed.

Just curious why you took it to a Subaru dealer for an inspection instead of your local mechanic in the first place. If you have a lot of faith and trust in your local guy, then use him for everything.

Did you buy it from the Subaru dealer? Or from somebody else? Individual or company?

Had a friend who had bad head gaskets in his, and for a small upgrade was able to get the head gaskets for a turbo model which he was told by Subaru was a better gasket. Anecdotal for sure. put does lend credence.

You did all the right stuff and as I see it, 2 of people said it is ok, and I do not get the connection between the coolant leak and the rust. Double check with the Subaru inspection for their opinion on the rust issue

Problem is our mechanic was an hour away from the dealer that sold us a vehicle. We figured the next best thing would be an actual Subaru technician.

Looks like the fix is going to be about $1200 for the parts and labor + an alignment.

We’re just hoping that is the end of it and we have a car for at least the rest of the loan.

We purchased it from a used car dealer, not an actual Subaru dealer.

Probably the last time we do that.

Though researching issues like that one I am having it looks like it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen stories involving Carmax and other major brand dealer outfits having similar outcomes.

Looks like I picked the wrong profession/ hobby!

Sorry if I wasn’t clear in what I had mentioned concerning the radiator leak.

What I was trying to say was that we had taken it in because we noticed the leak just get a quote and see if it need to be fix or just replaced. When our mechanic put the car up on the lift to investigating the leak noticed the sub frame rust damage as well.

Thanks for the suggestions.

I have replaced front subframes on two different vehicles (I live in the snowbelt of NY). My 99 Accord was about $900 and my 04 Sienna set me back about a grand. The Sienna ended up needing new control arms as well, which added another $500. If all that is wrong (aside from the radiator) is a sub-frame then the car is salvageable. Both of my sub-frame repairs have lasted many years.

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You could just as well have a bad experience buying from a private party, or buying a used car from a Subaru dealer, for example

I’ve bought used cars from individual sellers, used car dealers, and new car dealers

No big problems so far

Not all used car dealers are crooks. Unless there are other reasons to exchange the Subaru for another car, I would recommend to consider it. The dealer may have relied on the state inspection and not know anything about a serious rust problem (of course, on the other hand he and the inspector could have worked together). Keep in mind, it’s an “as is” sale and the OP has literally no chance of making the dealer take the car back. An exchange would show to me that the dealer wants to make “good” and keep the seller happy.

You clearly have different opinions, and you’ve stated your reasons

Thanks for that

But I’m not budging