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Hi all --

Am new to the site; forgive me if this or a related issue has been discussed already. I'm looking for some advice from someone who's been around the block with a used Subaru longer than I have.

As briefly as I can: I bought a 2003 Subaru Outback with 95K miles in August for $6800 on Long Island, NYC. (I live in Manhattan.) I took it to a mechanic prior to purchase -- he told me it had an oil leak from the valve cover gaskets, not a big deal ($150, he said). So I went through with the purchase. But his assessment turned out to be very selective. The car was rumbling big-time; he had assured me it was "just these old cars where everything's mechanical not electronic" but in fact my exhaust pipe needed to be patched up ($150) and a new CV axle put in ($230). (Shows you how experienced I was before purchase -- I am new to car ownership and am learning as I go.) And the oil leak, according to two other mechanics, turns out to be from the head gaskets, not the valve covers ($2000-2500). Add to this a persistent squeak at low speed that started days after I bought the car (one Subaru dealer incorrectly diagnosed it as the sway bar links ($140), and another is now saying it's the rear arm bushings ($575). This latter Subaru dealer has of course discovered some new issues (worn and leaking shocks and mounts in the back, $600) as well.)

This is starting to feel like a nightmare. Those of you who've been at this longer than I have, I wanted to ask you what you would do. Make some of the repairs and THEN sell it? Cut your losses and sell this vehicle, and if so, what is customary for how much to discount? Because these mechanics, they all say different things, and provide no guarantees that the work they do will actually fix the problem (which it didn't, in the case of the sway bar links). I am VERY wary of just tossing money at this car like a money pit, because it feels like it will never end; on the other hand I know Subarus last forever if you just take care of them. But does taking care of a 10-year-old Subaru mean plowing $4K into it on a regular basis?

I would be grateful for any and all guidance. Thanks so much.
 

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post your city and hopefully someone can suggest a shop for you.

A decent mechanic should be able to sorta do 'triage' with what you need to do immediately, what you can live with if you're careful and what you should save up for.

any 10 year old car will have issues - maybe not quite this many, but that's sometimes the luck of the draw.
 

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Never trust a mechanic who jumps right to a HG repair without solid proof that is really whats needed.

My money is on valve cover gaskets given the age of the car.
 

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I took it to a mechanic prior to purchase -- he told me it had an oil leak from the valve cover gaskets, not a big deal ($150, he said)... ...The car was rumbling big-time; he had assured me it was "just these old cars where everything's mechanical not electronic"... And the oil leak, according to two other mechanics, turns out to be from the head gaskets, not the valve covers ($2000-2500).
So, if I get this correctly, your first mechanic misdiagnosed the oil leak and told you that 'everything's mechanical' in an '03 Subaru. Maybe he was smoking something good that day and forgot he wasn't talking about an '83 Subaru. The last carbureted vehicle sold in the US was in 1994, and ignition systems have been electronic since the 80s. I see that no less than 2 mechanics diagnosed your leak as a head gasket, which should be more trustworthy.

By the way, this squeak you hear in the back may not be in the suspension at all. Have you checked the bumpers for the hatch? They can cause a squeak.

If you didn't before you got the car, checking sites like this one for a given car is wise, as you'll know the unique issues a model develops. That better prepares you for making an informed purchase, and in this case would tell you that after head gaskets, rear shocks (struts), and a few other details your Outback is probably good for another 100-200k miles. If you had known about the head gasket issue on that particular car, you might not have spent $6800 on it. $4800 would've been a bit more fair for a car someone likely knew needed head gasket work.
 

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i will to try and give you a little guidance. My experience is that I have owned 7 subarus. The last one I bought 5 months ago was a 95 that I had to replace the front shocks, ball joints,and tie rod boots, among other things, so don't feel too bad about not appreciating all that can go wrong with used cars.

First, the 00-09 subarus have had a lot of head gasket leaks so it's not unlikely that yours' is leaking. My 02 developed a HG lead at 91k for example. I personally would not accept anyone else's evaluation. I would buy ramps, put on old clothes and climb underneath. Of course, when the dealership said that the HG was leaking, that was you clue to say "show me" which would negate the need to climb underneath. When at any repair place, the phrase "show me" should be automatic and frequent! This being said, you can leak a lot of oil before you have to replace the HG's. Check the oil level frequently and you will probably discover that the leak is not very consequential. Annoying, yes! Repair when it get real bad.

Second, you can have pretty bad rear shocks before you have a driving problem. Mine on the 95 are bad, but I can live with them. Just be aware that when you go over a railroad track, that you will bounce a little bit.

Third, the squeak in the back. The best thing, with this and all difficult to diagnosis problems, is to drive until it's obvious what the problem is. In none of my subarus did I have a squeak in the back so I can't help much. But I've had a lot of difficult to diagnosis problems and I have always kept driving until it was severe. In your case, the squeak may never develop into anything. When the problem is severe, it's easy for the mechanic to find. When it's not severe, the mechanic can only guess and you pay for his guess.
 

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Not to add to your woes, but you know that thing is likely overdue for a new timing belt, right?

105k miles or 105 months, whichever comes first.... the last of the 2003s clocked out last year. Did you get any service records from previous owners?

Apart from that, I agree with mikec's comments above- and others too. Much of what you describe can simply be adapted to without immediate repair action. Search this site and read up on the head gasket deal and know what to do when they get worse.

Regardless of how you arrive at your next car... find a better mechanic for the pre-purchase inspection! It sounds like this was the real root of all your problems.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Many thanks to all of you for this great advice. If anyone happens to be familiar with the NY/NJ area and can recommend a trustworthy/Subaru-knowledgeable mechanic, I'd be much obliged.
 

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i will to try and give you a little guidance. My experience is that I have owned 7 subarus. The last one I bought 5 months ago was a 95 that I had to replace the front shocks, ball joints,and tie rod boots, among other things, so don't feel too bad about not appreciating all that can go wrong with used cars.

First, the 00-09 subarus have had a lot of head gasket leaks so it's not unlikely that yours' is leaking. My 02 developed a HG lead at 91k for example. I personally would not accept anyone else's evaluation. I would buy ramps, put on old clothes and climb underneath. Of course, when the dealership said that the HG was leaking, that was you clue to say "show me" which would negate the need to climb underneath. When at any repair place, the phrase "show me" should be automatic and frequent! This being said, you can leak a lot of oil before you have to replace the HG's. Check the oil level frequently and you will probably discover that the leak is not very consequential. Annoying, yes! Repair when it get real bad.

Second, you can have pretty bad rear shocks before you have a driving problem. Mine on the 95 are bad, but I can live with them. Just be aware that when you go over a railroad track, that you will bounce a little bit.

Third, the squeak in the back. The best thing, with this and all difficult to diagnosis problems, is to drive until it's obvious what the problem is. In none of my subarus did I have a squeak in the back so I can't help much. But I've had a lot of difficult to diagnosis problems and I have always kept driving until it was severe. In your case, the squeak may never develop into anything. When the problem is severe, it's easy for the mechanic to find. When it's not severe, the mechanic can only guess and you pay for his guess.
03's had a number of engine improvements and the HG issue addressed the 2000-2002's had the leaky external faulty HG issue. All cars can have HG issues for many different reasons.

READ THE HG biography written by the SEATTLE shop that wrote the book on SUBARU HG repairs and what contributes to them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Your comment is pretty much wrong and can't be backed up.
 

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Your comment is pretty much wrong and can't be backed up.
I'm not real sure which comment you are referring to here, that all seemed like decent weighted advice to me :confused:

But, veri: the "seattle subaru shop" sailor here refers to is called All Wheel Drive Auto, and I agree that their head gasket write-up (and general info) is fantastic:
Subaru Head Gasket Problems Explained. - Seattle Subaru Repair
and
Subaru Repair Seattle, Subaru Service Seattle - Seattle Subaru Repair
for starters ;)

Additionally, from what I recall about the 2.5L engine iterations, from '95-'99 the more common failure was an internal leak - that is, oil/coolant crossover. A bad, unfortunate fix-me-soon. From 2000 on (at least including my family's '05) an external leak would be more common - air/coolant aka dripping antifreeze. Also bad, but as long as you watch your coolant level this could be lived with for some time.

Finally, welcome to the forum! Wishing you good luck with whatever path you choose for this car!
 

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subiesailor

I think that rockhopjohn said it best here in a resent post:

Anyone who doesn't assume their head gaskets are going to go on a 4 cylinder Outback has not watched the head gasket failure log thread. As newer model years begin to reach the age/mileage where failure has occurred in the past, they fail. Right now we are at about the 2006-2007 model years, where we see failures.

Incidentally, on Justin Sobb's blog at All Wheel Drive, 30% of the recent posters have had HG leaks on 06 or 07 subarus.
 

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Verificationist,
Have gone through some of what you went through this summer with a 2003 outback. Head gasket was blown after I bought used car. The dealership at least was willing to make the 2500 repair for free or buy the car back. I let them buy it back and used the price to buy a 2005 imprezza for my daughter to drive. If the car was for me, I would have let them do repair. Anyway, there are two Jersey independent shops I know of. Welcome to AZP Installs and Precision Tuning Motorsports. All I can recommend is giving them a call and see what they can do.
 

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Verificationist,
It sounds as if you bought my 2003 Subaru. All these Problems plus the water pump and timing belt were the reason that I sold my 2003 and bought my 2013.

I did not want to face the additional costs coming up, even though my cost would be much lower than yours, because my son is an ASE certified master mechanic and we have a full shop at home. The believe that Subarus are much more reliable than other cars are just a fairy tale, once they reach 100 000 miles they become a money trap like any other car.
Good luck with your adventure into the automobile world!
 

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Hi all --

Am new to the site; forgive me if this or a related issue has been discussed already. I'm looking for some advice from someone who's been around the block with a used Subaru longer than I have.

As briefly as I can: I bought a 2003 Subaru Outback with 95K miles in August for $6800 on Long Island, NYC. (I live in Manhattan.) I took it to a mechanic prior to purchase -- he told me it had an oil leak from the valve cover gaskets, not a big deal ($150, he said). So I went through with the purchase. But his assessment turned out to be very selective. The car was rumbling big-time; he had assured me it was "just these old cars where everything's mechanical not electronic" but in fact my exhaust pipe needed to be patched up ($150) and a new CV axle put in ($230). (Shows you how experienced I was before purchase -- I am new to car ownership and am learning as I go.) And the oil leak, according to two other mechanics, turns out to be from the head gaskets, not the valve covers ($2000-2500). Add to this a persistent squeak at low speed that started days after I bought the car (one Subaru dealer incorrectly diagnosed it as the sway bar links ($140), and another is now saying it's the rear arm bushings ($575). This latter Subaru dealer has of course discovered some new issues (worn and leaking shocks and mounts in the back, $600) as well.)

This is starting to feel like a nightmare. Those of you who've been at this longer than I have, I wanted to ask you what you would do. Make some of the repairs and THEN sell it? Cut your losses and sell this vehicle, and if so, what is customary for how much to discount? Because these mechanics, they all say different things, and provide no guarantees that the work they do will actually fix the problem (which it didn't, in the case of the sway bar links). I am VERY wary of just tossing money at this car like a money pit, because it feels like it will never end; on the other hand I know Subarus last forever if you just take care of them. But does taking care of a 10-year-old Subaru mean plowing $4K into it on a regular basis?

I would be grateful for any and all guidance. Thanks so much.
#1 Always verify. Also, when having a car inspected ask the mechanic if they have "guarantee" that the items listed are all that is wrong with the car. You'll get a raised eye brow and BS response most of the time. It's true no mechanic can find everything wrong but a misdiagnosis cost you a lot of money and that mechanic can not be trusted. A better mechanic might say something like "I can't guarantee but I can say that I'm 90% sure and I'll do any repairs on stuff I missed at cost." A great mechanic will make a guarantee.

Don't go back to the one you referenced. Either he is inexperienced or trying to take you for a ride. He screwed you and should have spent the time to do a proper diagnosis. In some states you could recover the $$$ you paid to have him check the car.

#2 If you need a head gasket AND a timing belt you are most likely better off getting a new engine. Odds are the old owner knew about all these problems and didn't do any maintenance opting to sell the car than fix any issues. Doing a search on this site you might have avoided this common pit fall. You can get used engines in the $700-$1000 range and most people can do the swap themselves in a weekend. If don't have tools get a friend to help you. You might be surprised how many people around you know how to swap an engine. It sounds like a hard big thing to do but it's not as difficult as some people imagine. Make sure the friend has done at least a few engine swaps. Other wise a shop is going to charge you at least $500 in labor and more likely $1000. Make sure you search the site here for all the parts you will need and companies that sell used engines. You may decide the expense and effort isn't worth it which is what the previous owner most likely did.

#3 Assuming that this is a car with minimal maintenance you probably need to change most of the fluids. This is where the decision to keep the car or sell it comes in. Are all the tires the same brand? Are they all the same size? If not, I'd sell the car. Lots of drive train issues can develop in the tranny and differentials due to tire mismatch. Full fluid changes and flushes run several $100 each at times but a few would already be covered with an engine swap.

It sounds like you tried to do the right thing by having a mechanic check the car. It's unfortunate that it sounds like you found a bad mechanic.
A lot of people say that cars "fall apart" at 100k. The turth is All cars fall apart if they are not maintained correctly. Maintenance costs $$$ and a lot of cheap people buy a new car thinking they can just drive it and not do maintence. Mechanics make $$$ when you need to fix stuff. Sometimes the repairs MUST happen, sometimes repairs are more of a personal preference. A good honest mechanic (like a doctor) can steer you in the right direction. Buying a used car is always a gamble because you don't know the history. If the car was maintained right you can drive it with minimal expense, if not then you get stuck making a lot of costly repairs. This happens all the time and all of us have been there.
 
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