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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm in the market to buy my first Outback, and hope you all might have some thoughts on what to look for. Moving out of NYC after being carless for 5 years, and have a ~$2000 budget. I've found a car in Connecticut that's priced well at $1700, but needs a few things.



The Good:
  • New headlamp assemblies
  • New tires
  • Both oxygen sensors replaced
  • Power steering pump replaced
  • Entire steering rack replaced last year
  • Cooling system flushed and filled
  • Cooling system treated with block sealer
  • Previous owner claimed head gasket was changed at 150k, brakes and rotors done at same time
  • FULL OEM TOW PACKAGE including wiring harness (works), ball, and hitch
  • Yakima rack installed

The Bad:
  • Inoperative AC Compressor
  • Inoperative climate control fan
  • Check engine light on, indicates bad catalytic converter

Any thoughts? The car looks great, rust free, only a couple very minor dents, and it appears to be well maintained, but the inop climate control system and catalytic converter worry me. If anyone has had similar repairs, I'd be interested to find out how much you paid to fix them so I can get some idea.

Thanks in advance!
 

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good deal if the headgaskets aren't blown.

A/C compressor - probably just low on refrigerant. The compressor won't come on if the system is not properly charged. i have a DIY thread on here how to fix your A/C for $5, read that thread and follow the directions, very simple.

Worst case scenario - if your compressor is bad (very unlikely), they fail so rarely and are so easy to replace that buying a used compressor is a perfectly good option. $25 - $50 for a used one, easy job, done. remove belt, 4 or so bolts hold the compressor to the engine, 2 bolts for the a/c lines and one electrical connector, easy job.

Check engine light - if it's a P0420 code then there's a $5 fix for that also, very common issue and replacing the catalytic converter is plain dumb.

Fan may just need the blower motor resistor, they fail sometimes. Even if it's the blower motor or controller those rarely fail and are cheap used. Should be a simple fix, those systems dont' fail that often.

The A/C and check engine light I could fix for probably $50 or less, $100 or less worst case scenario (compressor needs replaced).

of course if you're paying a mechanic then who knows what you'll pay - you are at the whims of them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks grossgary! I'll search around for the A/C thread and the P0420 thread. Happy to do all this work myself, short of an engine or tranny teardown.
 

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2003 Outback, 5 MT, 134K, HG changed.
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I'm not sure what NY emissions laws require, but is a smog check required when a car of this age is bought and registered? If it is, that bad cat might prevent your car from passing and open up a whole can of worms in fixing costs. Did the owner do his due diligence and get it smogged?

Bad AC or engine aside, you may not be able to even register the car if the cat is indeed failing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Yup, that's my concern Storklin. NY does require a smog check for cars less than 26 years old, and in New York City it's the high enhanced test (on a dyno.) That said, I can get an In-Transit registration to bring the car back to New York, good for 30 days, and have an additional 10 days after I register it in NYS before it has to get an inspection. I'm sure I can find a shop back home that'll pass it, if it can't be fixed before then.

It may all be a moot point though, as the car is two hours away, and I can't get him to give me the VIN over email to do a CarFax check. :rolleyes:
 

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good point. it would be a good idea to be acquainted with NY emissions laws. in MD, WV, and GA this would not be an issue and i doubt it's an issue in NY unless you live in NYC.

I'm not sure what NY emissions laws .
most states pose little issues with passing emissions even if they have the testing. CA is an anomaly in that regard.

you may not be able to even register the car if the cat is indeed failing.
the cat is not failing, Subaru converters last a long time and nearly all 1980's Subaru converters would pass an emissions test. they generally are lost to rust before the internal components are no longer viable. the cat would have to be severely abused (very rare) to have failed. the 0420 check engine light code does not mean the converter failed, though that is often what is repaired unfortunately. it is (2005+ MY recalls aside which are a different issue) likely related to a small leak or heat related issue due to loss of heat shielding or something similar. so the "new" converter may fix the issue simply because a $5 gasket or heat shield also get replaced with the new converter. the tolerances for the 0420 code are impractical.

they try to limit vehicle pollution...yet the byproduct is an increase in unnecessary exhaust system component replacement - causing higher energy costs, more demand for exhaust parts (which require foundries, production, delivery, etc). quite silly. the intent is less emissions but if the byproduct is more parts production and energy use elsehwere...there may be no net gain at all or possibly a loss. research is needed but for those with experience it's quite obvious it may not be working as intended.

anyway - point is - if the $5 fix is a viable option in your state - do it. the parts are sold on ebay ready to install.
 

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If you do a carfax check and grab the unlimited for 10$ more you should run my Vin for me I would like to see my history lol...
 

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maryland does the dyno test too - but it's simple. simply put the $5 part in i'm talking about and you're done, no check engine light, roll it on the ramps, they test it and you're done.

so funny that these cars that have a check engine light (so they won't even test them) .....will *pass* an emissions test.

with the check engine light on - they won't pass it. they want you to pay hundreds/thousands to repair it.

but if you put the O2 extender in for $5 - it'll make the check engine light go out and it'll pass their emissions testing. what a waste for all the folks dumping gobs of money and time into exhaust repair....and an entire exhaust industry producing more units, etc.

i can understand it for other check engine liht codes since they indicate how the engine is running - but the 0420 code involves a sensor that is not used for air fuel ratio mixtures at all, it has no bearing on engine performance.
 

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Remove the check engine bulb search for changing the lights on the instrument panel idk if its legal.... but you could replace a bulb and bump it lol...
 

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Remove the check engine bulb search for changing the lights on the instrument panel idk if its legal.... but you could replace a bulb and bump it lol...
in the more test happy states they run the OBDII tests themselves, they don't care about the light bulb. they check the codes and make sure it hasn't been recently reset - if it has they tell you to come back later.

and i think it's the same amount of time to remove/replace the bulb as it is to install the part mentioned above that would make the light go out.
 

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Well in Vermont a lot of places won't check the codes unless the lights on less work for them lol ... we have quite a few places that are like auto body shops that are inspection stations that won't make much money from you having an issue... but anyways mine came per inspected when it was sold to me... by the guy who sold it so I could just go back to there and get it inspected in February
 

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...

most states pose little issues with passing emissions even if they have the testing. CA is an anomaly in that regard.

the cat is not failing, Subaru converters last a long time and nearly all 1980's Subaru converters would pass an emissions test. they generally are lost to rust before the internal components are no longer viable. the cat would have to be severely abused (very rare) to have failed. the 0420 check engine light code does not mean the converter failed, though that is often what is repaired unfortunately. it is (2005+ MY recalls aside which are a different issue) likely related to a small leak or heat related issue due to loss of heat shielding or something similar. so the "new" converter may fix the issue simply because a $5 gasket or heat shield also get replaced with the new converter. the tolerances for the 0420 code are impractical.

they try to limit vehicle pollution...yet the byproduct is an increase in unnecessary exhaust system component replacement - causing higher energy costs, more demand for exhaust parts (which require foundries, production, delivery, etc). quite silly. the intent is less emissions but if the byproduct is more parts production and energy use elsehwere...there may be no net gain at all or possibly a loss. research is needed but for those with experience it's quite obvious it may not be working as intended.

anyway - point is - if the $5 fix is a viable option in your state - do it. the parts are sold on ebay ready to install.
Yeah, living in CA means tighter emission controls are beat into everyone's subconscious. But you would be surprised what does pass testing and gets on the roads out here. Because rust isn't an issue in CA, cars from every era are still seen out on the freeways. Old pickups, Chevy Caprices, or those lifted 80's vans are all still out here. Also anyone who frequents the Pismo Beach sand dune rallies, where lifted diesels with smoke stacks are the crowd favourites. Then there are copious amounts of hybrid cars. They're all out here. The spectrum of self expression is incredible. But yeah, if the OBDII is storing codes, that will certainly be a deal breaker here for smog tests.

Getting back to OP's subject, are you talking about the little exhaust doughnut gasket (item #3) as the possible culprit? As seen here:
http://opposedforces.com/parts/legacy/us_b12/type_22/exhaust_system/exhaust/illustration_1/

It would be great if that's the fix he needs.

[edit: corrected the link]
 

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Also, I would consider the seller's unwillingness in giving you the VIN number as a complete deal breaker. Makes you wonder if he's trying to hide something. I had to let go of several outbacks that I thought were "perfect" for me, except my instincts told me something just wasn't right.

Of course, the one I ended up buying had its head gaskets go out on me, so what do I know about instincts :p.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'm not sure if he's unwilling, or just lazy. Either way, I'm not spending five hours and $50 to go check out an Outback without doing a CarFax check first.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I had to let go of several outbacks that I thought were "perfect" for me, except my instincts told me something just wasn't right.
I know the feeling. I saw this ad for a 2002 Legacy Wagon for $1999 on Craigslist, and something didn't feel right.

2002 Subaru Legacy



As a friend of a friend pointed out, the wheels are off a Forester, and the badges on the rear hatch are in the wrong places. Probably an accident rebuild and/or salvage title.

Clicking on the images in the Craigslist post leads you to his Photobucket album:

Pictures by hyperboyy15 - Photobucket

Clearly he's flipping lots of cars. Googling "hyperboyy15" leads you to his MySpace page:

Dave Shahinian (Dave) on Myspace



Classy.

Googling the phone number in the listing + "Craigslist" shows that all of his listings say "like new", "perfect", "cash only", "1 owner", "no accidents", and "needs to go TODAY, bring plates and money". Most of them have been flagged for removal.

The sad thing is that he keeps posting, and I'm sure people keep buying. :rolleyes:
 

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Bravo, looks like you did your research. Now you won't be suckered into contributing to that guy's gym and fashion expenses. It's amazing how easy it is to track people down these days by the bread crumbs they leave on the net.

The other question I have is are you considering other cars besides an Outback? Is awd a requirement? If your initial budget is $2000, we can assume you'll be looking at the bottom of the barrel in used car selections. That being the case, I'd buy a used car based on what brands are readily serviced by a local private shop with a good reputation. There must be a reason the car is priced below $2k, so you might as well plan on making the repair experience as painless as possible.

Another option is to consider the next police auction for unclaimed impounded cars. It is a crap shoot. My friends have gotten 3 cars for very cheap that way, and they all turned out surprisingly reliable. A tip though: shop for it from a different police district that the one the car was taken from. One friend got his from the same town he lived at, and apparently the previous owner found it, and in his roth, he keyed the entire side of the car.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The other question I have is are you considering other cars besides an Outback? Is awd a requirement?
AWD is not a requirement. I have driven Subarus in the past, and nearly bought one for my first car 14 years ago, an Outback Sport. But...asked the dealer to run a CarFax, and it came up with an extra 85k of hidden mileage on the odometer. I offered them fair value based on actual mileage, but they refused to talk to me after that and shuffled it off to their shady use car dealership branch.

I reported it to the State Attorney General's office.

I'm also looking at used Lincoln Mark VIIIs. Totally different than a Subaru, to be sure, but they're typically ~80k miles, owned by old ladies who drive them to church, and they're rear wheel drive understressed V8s...aka bulletproof. Not to mention loaded with options.

Open to hear any suggestions, but a Gen1 or Gen2 Outback seems to be well within my budget, and they're appealing for a bunch of reasons. Tons of cargo space, AWD for Northeast winter driving, and reasonably reliable if properly maintained. I went to IKEA one time and bought a set of 9' tall closets in flat pack boxes. We'd rented an Outback from Zipcar, and hilariously...the boxes fit. Just leaned the front seat back, the right rear seat forward, and they stretched all the way from the dashboard to the rear hatch! I'm sold!

Another option is to consider the next police auction for unclaimed impounded cars. It is a crap shoot. My friends have gotten 3 cars for very cheap that way, and they all turned out surprisingly reliable. A tip though: shop for it from a different police district that the one the car was taken from. One friend got his from the same town he lived at, and apparently the previous owner found it, and in his roth, he keyed the entire side of the car.
Not a terrible idea, but as you say, a crapshoot. No worries of the previous owner finding it, we're moving out of state in a few weeks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Signed up for unlimited CarFax reports for the next month, and turns out I can run free reports based on license plate number (only 5 reports by VIN.) Ran the plate in opening post, and it comes up clean except for one accident reported by the 1st owner in 2005. Three owners, mileage is correct, clean title. Nothing that concerns me.

Still waiting for him to get back to me though! Clearly not going to see it tonight!
 

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I can give you the A/C compressor off my Outback since mine is disconnected, I know it works. Bring it to a Subrau dealership, and just be like "Can you go threw my car and see what I need and give me an estimate?" they most likely won't charge you, as they think you'll be back to have them do the work. If they find something major/that you can't afford don't buy it. $1,700 is a great price! Since you'll look at it in CT, join newenglandsubarus.com and make a new member post asking if someone can go look at it with you. Someone will be more then happy to go look at it with you. I'm "braap" on there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Oh great, thanks! You anywhere near Stamford? Emailed the owner again, asking for another day/time (he never replied about tonight), hopefully he writes back!
 
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