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What should I look at when buying a 04-09 outback?

Take it to a good mechanic and have him check everything.

Look for one with the fairly-rare six cylinder engine. You will only give up 1-2 mpg, and you will get a much quieter, FAR more powerful engine. (Nobody ever says, “I wish that I had less power”!)

Some four cylinder Outbacks have had head gasket “issues”, but the sixes do not have that problem. Additionally, all of the sixes have a timing chain, whereas the more common fours used a timing belt up until–I think–2012.

Good ideas above. I’ll add that Consumer Reports Used Car Guide will have a chart how those cars are rated for reliability by owner experience, model year by year, and system by system. You might have to go to a library which has older issues of that annual guide to reach all the way back to 2004.

With any car, see how ratty the rotors look. If the edges are rusted and swollen, you might be getting close to your next brake job. The cheapest brake job is the one that happened a year before you bought the car. Be sure all four tires are the same. If one is different, forget buying the car. AWD doesn’t like that. Then, what they said.

Yes, that is an extremely important point.
The OP should make sure that all 4 tires are of the same make, model, and size, and that they have the same amount of wear all around.

When misinformed/cheap owners of AWD vehicles fail to rotate the tires on schedule (every 5k or every 7.5k miles), then uneven tire wear is often the result. Eventually, they may wind-up replacing the tires two at a time, instead of buying all 4 tires at the same time. Those bad decisions will result in damage to the Center Viscous Coupler.

I see outbacks with the 3.0 6cyl motor and the 3.6 6 cyl motor for sale. any difference between the two? I think the listing says 3.0R?

When the Outback’s six cylinder engine was first introduced (circa 2000?), it displaced 3 liters.
Later, when the Outback was increased in size (2010, IIRC), the engine’s displacement was increased to 3.6 liters. In both cases, the engines utilize a timing chain and have no history of head gasket problems.

So, depending on the model year, it may be possible to find one with the 3 liter engine or with the 3.6 liter engine, but they did not exist in the same model years. In any event, the six cylinder engine is far superior to the four cylinder engine in all respects–except for gas mileage.

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Seat comfort, for some, including myself, has been an issue.

IMHO the most important thing to look at is the detailed report from the independent mechanic you had give the car a thorough going-over. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: