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Hey all, I joined the forums here a couple years back after purchasing a 2001 OB wagon from Autoworld of Fremont. It died less than a year later. Honestly after another year of reflection I can see that I expected a lot out of a very old car and ended up feeling burned. I wanted to post my story here and see what people think, since I know a lot of folks here are into the old subies. Am I an idiot? Did I do something wrong? Are old cars inherently a crap shoot? Am I being too hard on Chris? Are repair shops, tow services and junkyards all in cahoots?

If you’re not familiar with Autoworld, they are a fairly well known and positively reviewed used car lot in Fremont, CA. They offer a “service plan” where you can text Chris any time to ask questions and supposedly get good deals on spare parts and repairs. I was naive when I bought this car and I still am in many ways, but felt that I was taken advantage of by multiple parties. Im in the market for a used car again and really want to avoid the type of experience I had before. Considering buying a subie again, but I’m reluctant. I originally wrote up my story for a review of Autoworld but it was far too long for yelp lol. If anyone is interested in reading my story I’d be curious what you think about where I went wrong and/or how trustworthy the used car industry really is. What can I learn going forward?

Here goes...

Bought a 2001 Subaru OB H4 with about 195,000 miles on it, let the sales lady convince us the miles on the car didn’t matter much and that the head gaskets had SURELY been replaced by now. And if they hadn’t, they’ll probably NEVER have a problem, right? She also tried to tell me there was no appreciable difference in ground clearance between an OB wagon and a legacy wagon, all this should have been an early red flag as it makes it seem like you don’t even know what you’re selling. There is a difference and you should be able to point me in the right direction when I know exactly what I’m looking for. Should have asked more questions or just walked away, but they were pushy and I was overly excited to buy a car I could afford. Immediately after purchase I became anxious about the state of the car’s internals. I thought having the “service plan” would help with that and give me the knowledge I needed to maintain the car as best as possible, which is what was going to make the car affordable instead of just a bad investment. Instead, Chris made me feel stupid for asking simple questions, trying to learn more, and wanting to do preventive maintenance.

Later on when the car mysteriously started overheating, he made it seem like it was my fault just for driving the car. I took it to a nearby Subaru shop (SOS in Berkeley) that Chris vouched for where they told me the problem was blown head gaskets. When they opened the engine of course they found a bunch of rusted out bolts and a host of other problems. This all added up to somewhere around $3000 of work, seemed about market rate. After all that was done, the needle on the temp gauge was still sitting just slightly above the center line and I was getting nervous, with an important road trip coming up at the end of the summer. I asked the shop to take another look, they told me the radiator was heating unevenly and probably I shouldn’t worry about it but I could pay them to replace with a brand new radiator if I want. Ok.... so I asked Chris for a referral to take advantage of those sweet discounted parts offered in the service plan. For those of you who say he did “free work” for you, this was the exact opposite of my experience. I paid for the parts to flush and replace the radiator, at slightly less than market rate, and got something like 15% off the repair work at the shop he referred me to. My point is, it was still expensive and for all the supposed Subaru experts who had looked at the car, I was surprisingly still unsure of whether or not that expense actually helped the car live longer.

Couple of weeks later I’m on my road trip. Things seem to be going OK but the engine is struggling occasionally even on downhills. Uh oh. Check engine light comes on in the middle of nowhere outside flagstaff so we find a place to stay for the night and the next day get the code checked at an auto zone. The code comes back as a loose/faulty gas cap and we breathe a sigh of relief, but the light doesn’t go off after replacing the cap. Should have taken it to a real shop at that point, but had already spent about 3500 on repairs in the last couple of months so I really wanted to believe it was just the gas cap. A few days later the car died dramatically, leaving us stranded on the side of highway 80 about 90 miles east of Elko, NV. Luckily there was cell service and I had bought AAA with decent tow coverage, AND the tow truck driver was nice enough to keep looking for us when there was a miscommunication about exactly where we were. Some people are nice.

Got it towed to Elko where the mechanic grimaced at me a lot and promptly told us they’d found metal in the oil and the engine was cooked. The only option was to pay them a nominal fee to have it towed and “crushed into a cube”. We confirmed this by calling every used car lot, tow service and junk yard in town. We could have paid to have it towed to the junkyard where they would have purchased the car for less than the cost of the tow in order to “crush in into a cube”, but that would have net cost us more than the fee to have the shop deal with it (is this an intentional scheme? Kind of seems like it). Chris said he’d buy it back if we could get it to Fremont (HA!) at which point he would presumably throw a bandaid on it and sell it to some other poor sap for $5000 again.

We had to rent a car last minute to drive the rest of the way from Elko back to the SF Bay Area, which added to the overall expense. I’m grateful that my Outback took me the places it did, and I learned a lot about cars along the way, but I would say the service at autoworld leaves much to be desired. Get yourself a better deal from a private seller or pay a little more for a more reliable car elsewhere. I’m finally back in the market for a used car and I will definitely be steering clear of autoworld.
 

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You bought a 17 year old car with 200k miles....gee, what could go wrong.

What went wrong was YOU did not do enough homework prior to buying a vehicle that old with that many miles.
 

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Basically autoworld have not looked after you as a customer and I think you are right in not returning to them again.

Buying an older car with high milage is always a gamble but if you are handy and do things like check all the fluids you can get a fairly good idea of the “health” of the car.

Never believe the head gaskets have been replaced unless you have seen the invoice for the work. Even with proof it does not mean they will not fail again (depending on quality of work done)

I am not sure why the last workshop told you the engine was cooked and the car was junk. A good workshop would at the least source you a replacement motor and install it (although this may not be the wisest choice at that stage)

Sorry to hear of your experience and all sales yards are thankfully not like autoworld (but always be cautious)

Seagrass
 

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I am an Auto World customer. Chris helps his customers after the sale—I know of no other used car lot that does this—, but he can't perform magic. In many ways, he has a very mechanic's-eye view of cars. Old "junk" cars aren't really junk. They're just broken machines and you can replace parts and make them just the way they were before, sometimes better.

The car you were told was only worth crushing into a cube is exactly the kind of car he buys all the time. Often they go at auction with cosmetic damage for as little as $150. He gambles his money, replaces things with junkyard parts, and tries to find a home for the car.

You aren't getting a warranty, but if something small goes wrong early in the process, he will make it right on the house. But make no mistake. You're buying a used car. If you don't want to do a pre-purchase inspection, you are taking that chance. And when things inevitably go wrong in a big way or well after the purchase, all you really get is a 10-20% break on the price, and a network of people who work together on cars just like yours all day every day. These are good things, but it doesn't really change the fact that you might need to come up with a few thousand dollars.

The shop in Elko took everybody else's view of old cars: "it needs a lot of work and it's too old to be worth it". The truth is, I just solved this problem in my own car. Assuming you didn't spring for a timing belt like I did, you could have had this car back on the road for $2,250 if your problem had occurred near home.

I know it stings, but you simply cannot get that $3500 back. It's gone. What you can do is put a fresh engine in this car and, if you like the car otherwise, then you have a fine car. Yes, that's what Chris would do after buying your car back. And it's what I just did.

If you have a bigger budget and want to reduce the chance of these hassles, buy a newer car. But in any case, get a pre-purchase inspection. The $75 may not prove to you that you've bought a great car, but it will let you know up front what the risks are.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for your replies, especially the more thoughtful and detailed ones. To z28dug’s comment, I think I tried to acknowledge that I was a bit naive and misguided. I did actually do a good deal of research before, much of it on this forum, so I do think I tried my best in that regard but ultimately my impatience got the best of me. In reality it seems that I couldn’t actually afford a car at that point in my life and that older cars are a gamble unless you can drop the cash to put in a new engine should things go south. I guess you’re putting in a vote for “I’m an idiot”, which is fair enough, but it would be inaccurate to say I hadn’t done research. Thanks for your perspective though. As a first time car buyer I’ll say it’s extremely difficult to get useful info wading through all the divergent perspectives people have online. If you want to believe something, it’s easy to convince yourself through selective advice-taking.

I was well aware of the potential for HG issues and honestly putting in the money to fix that was OK with me at the time, I just expected it to live for more than a couple months after that. Having done some more reading on this recently it seems like the Subaru HG issues are often more a symptom of problems with the cooling system, so I’m kind of confused about why the shop would recommend I spend the cash to replace HGs and have no concern about issues with the cooling system, especially when the temp gauge still wasn’t sitting right and the radiator seemed wonky. I’m obviously no expert, but that seems like bad advice.

@Reel Outdoorsman, thanks for your take on Autoworld. It helps to put things in perspective. I’m curious about your take on leasing a newer car vs putting the money into an older car. As I mentioned, with the total costs associated with my OB, I could have leased a newer car for the year. So you put a new engine in your 2000 OB, how long do you expect it to last now? Just curious, thanks again for the input.
 

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I got my 17 year old car with the expectation that most of the wear items would have to be replaced (except the 3.0) and that has been the case. I have my reasons for not wanting a new car (tpms being the biggest one) but I also realized that even with $5k in general repairs the registration and insurance are low and the overall cost of ownership is still far less than a new car. Plus I like Gen2 styling.
 

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@Reel Outdoorsman, thanks for your take on Autoworld. It helps to put things in perspective. I’m curious about your take on leasing a newer car vs putting the money into an older car. As I mentioned, with the total costs associated with my OB, I could have leased a newer car for the year. So you put a new engine in your 2000 OB, how long do you expect it to last now? Just curious, thanks again for the input.
Happy to help. You have a good take on things, looking to learn from what happened before and take a more informed step this time.

Assuming you can come up with the cash, it almost always makes more economic sense to just keep fixing what you have. (The biggest exception to this is serious structural damage like rust, which we basically never see here in the Bay Area.) But again, the situation there is you can come up with the cash. If a surprise $3,000 repair bill would be a serious problem, you're not in a situation to come up with the cash.

To answer your question, I don't expect the outback to "stop lasting" unless I get in a horrible crash or parts become crazy hard/expensive to find. Since we basically have zero rust, I can either keep fixing it or give up and pay to get something different.

Be sure to really do the math on leasing. I bought my car for $4,000 in 2012. I do not have collision or comprehensive insurance on this car because I can afford to replace it if I destroy it. This is not really an option with a lease.

I am targeting 10¢/mile as my total expense of depreciation and major unexpected repairs (like this engine). I only need to get another 30,000 miles out of this car to be back to "even". As long as I keep oil in it this time, it seems really unlikely that it won't do that for me. If I did have to drop another $3k on head gaskets, then at that point it's hard to imagine this engine not giving me 60,000 total miles of service. There's really not too much else that can explode in my face. I haven't heard of any 4EAT failures behind stock NA engines, but if mine happened to do that, a junkyard replacement should be fine.

When I bought my car, I paid sales tax (let's call it 10%, close enough in CA). That's $400. If I'd bought the $5,000 car that I was shopping for, I would have been out $500 for sales tax. Instead I paid for repairs, and the labor portion is not subject to sales tax.

When I bought my car, the VLF portion of my registration was $26, and last year it was $8 thanks to CA's depreciation rules. If I'd bought the $5,000 car, it would have reset to $33. Most folks would pay $75 for each pre-purchase inspection until they find the right car. These might seem like small differences, but they all add up. It's more expensive than it appears to switch cars.
 

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I am an Auto World customer. Chris helps his customers after the sale—I know of no other used car lot that does this—, but he can't perform magic. In many ways, he has a very mechanic's-eye view of cars. Old "junk" cars aren't really junk. They're just broken machines and you can replace parts and make them just the way they were before, sometimes better.

I also bought and have bought many subarus from Auto World.
My last subaru is an 03 LL Bean running great, picked it up with 198k on the odometer now at 221K runs good.

The image below is a car purchased from Autoworld by a friend of my daughters a 2001 LL Bean just turned 300k running good.

470852


Chris and his team are very customer oriented, my experience and many others has always been good. When problems were noted Chris was insistent of taking care of it through his net work or through his own small shop..

True Autoworld cars are what might be considered high mileage.
Chris and his team do inspect the cars, and make sure they are mechanically, safe and reliable while still meeting a good price point for a Subaru...

Clean Title and Smog on this 3 Owner CA car. 242,xxx miles BUT THIS OUTBACK HAS JUST BEEN OVERHAULED WITH FRESH LOW MILEAGE ENGINE INCLUDING HEAD GASKET AND TIMING BELT MAJOR SERVICE AT 226K!
https://www.autoworldoffremont.com/inventory.aspx?mk=Subaru

example of some of the work his team and dealership does on the cars they sell.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
@ThrewARod I’d be curious to hear more about why you prefer an older car, if you are willing to share. What’s the issue with tpms?

@windwalker That’s great that your daughters OB lasted til 300,000 miles. That’s exactly the kind of story that convinced me to buy the car I did. It seems to me, though, that if it didn’t cost an additional $8500 (this would have been total cost of recent repairs if we had decided to replace the engine at the rate the shop in Elko quoted) to keep the car going past 205,000 miles then you just got lucky, where as I had poor, if predictable, luck. If the engine had crapped out a year or even 6 months later than it did, maybe it would have seemed reasonable to throw another $5000 at it to keep it running up to 300,000. My understanding is that less than 1% of cars live past 200,000 without major repairs (aside from regular maintenance and replacement of wear items).

There’s lots of Subaru horror stories out there if you go looking. Like this one for example:

https://www.reddit.com/r/personalfinance/comments/6fqlhh
That’s gnarly enough to help me realize that things could have been worse! I guess this is what it means to end up with a “lemon” as they say.

@Reel Outdoorsman quick question about the $2250 figure you gave to replace the engine. The shop in Elko told us it would cost $5000 at least. My dad called around to some shops in Salt Lake City where he lives and they gave similar estimates. Are your numbers based on using the Autoworld repair network? Excuse my incredulity, but can you really replace/rebuild an engine for that cost? The timing belt on our car was actually one of the newest items having been recently replaced before we bought it, so we should have been able to get by without replacing that.
 

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@Reel Outdoorsman I did just find your thread about replacing your engine which had a breakdown of cost and everything. Not sure what to ask really, that price is just pretty far off from what we were told by multiple sources when our OB died.
 

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@Reel Outdoorsman I did just find your thread about replacing your engine which had a breakdown of cost and everything. Not sure what to ask really, that price is just pretty far off from what we were told by multiple sources when our OB died.
I believe the difference is that your price seems to be the price to rebuild your engine and Reel Outdoorsman's price is the price to swap out hist bad engine and replace it with a used engine.

You should be able to do a used engine swap for far less than what you have been quoted.
 

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There’s lots of Subaru horror stories out there if you go looking. Like this one for example:

Your post addressed a specific dealer with whom you've apparently had a bad experience.
It does not reflect my experience nor that of my daughters friend whose car is still running.
Nor the many people who've commented positively regarding their experience with this dealer.

Of course with any high mileage car one should have concerns and be aware as much as possible about the history of the car.. Even armed with this things can and do happen...Just as they happen to new cars listed on this site....

However what makes Autoworld very different to me is Chris and his team.

Also every Auto World Subaru comes with the Service Plan which provides free diagnosis and wholesale parts and labor prices in network for as long as you own the car.

Unlike a private party or pretty much any other dealership -- where once you hand them your money they don't want to hear from you -- I am personally accountable for your satisfaction with your Subaru and am always glad to help.

That's why Auto World Subaru in Fremont is the largest volume and most reputable used Subaru dealership in the universe! With over 450 total reviews on www.yelp.com/biz/auto-world-fremont-fremont we average 4.97 out of 5 stars!

I've found this to be completely true and something, I've experienced with Chirs, which is why, when I buy cars I don't think twice about where, who, I will buy from or what I will buy....I like Subarus, Chris is a good guy who stands behind the product he sells.

Sorry to read your experience was different.
 

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Thanks for your replies, especially the more thoughtful and detailed ones. To z28dug’s comment, I think I tried to acknowledge that I was a bit naive and misguided. I did actually do a good deal of research before, much of it on this forum, so I do think I tried my best in that regard but ultimately my impatience got the best of me. In reality it seems that I couldn’t actually afford a car at that point in my life and that older cars are a gamble unless you can drop the cash to put in a new engine should things go south. I guess you’re putting in a vote for “I’m an idiot”, which is fair enough, but it would be inaccurate to say I hadn’t done research. Thanks for your perspective though. As a first time car buyer I’ll say it’s extremely difficult to get useful info wading through all the divergent perspectives people have online. If you want to believe something, it’s easy to convince yourself through selective advice-taking.

I was well aware of the potential for HG issues and honestly putting in the money to fix that was OK with me at the time, I just expected it to live for more than a couple months after that. Having done some more reading on this recently it seems like the Subaru HG issues are often more a symptom of problems with the cooling system, so I’m kind of confused about why the shop would recommend I spend the cash to replace HGs and have no concern about issues with the cooling system, especially when the temp gauge still wasn’t sitting right and the radiator seemed wonky. I’m obviously no expert, but that seems like bad advice.

@Reel Outdoorsman, thanks for your take on Autoworld. It helps to put things in perspective. I’m curious about your take on leasing a newer car vs putting the money into an older car. As I mentioned, with the total costs associated with my OB, I could have leased a newer car for the year. So you put a new engine in your 2000 OB, how long do you expect it to last now? Just curious, thanks again for the input.
Try private sales in the future even if you need a friend to help.

I try to buy from people rather than car lots. Car lots know nothing about the cars (and possibly cars at all and certainly little about partciular brands and models). They also have a higher percentage of(relatively comparable) vehicles with issues.

The only difference is i have to sift through 'poor sellers' instead of 'poor salesman'. But it's worth it because a "good salesman" still don't know !()%!()%!()% about the car they bought at auction or took in for trade and have driven a month...if at all. Once I get to a nice private seller - it's very refreshing.

I find buyers like....the Doctor finishing a rotation and flying across the country for good. A retired couple needing a different car. A family that just had their 4th baby and a Subaru won't cut it. Meet a really nice down to earth couple in front of their house with kids playing in the yard....yeah they're the type to screw me ove. A professional who had a side view mirror ripped off and just didn't want to deal with or trade it in like that. Bought two from forums members here who were just moving on.

I've bought 50 or so Subaru's and helped many others buy Subarus. So far every single Subaru that had headgasket issues within a matter of months came from dealer lots...not private sales. And I've walked from dealer lots where I saw probable headgasket signs...some salesman have even asked and then dramatically dropped the price when I reluctantly told them what I saw (i don't advertise what i'm doing or do this to negotiate)..i've always declined as i'm usually on lots with people, not for myself and i'd rather choose my project not stumble into a desperate one - even the $900 offer for an outback.

Anyway - my point is i've seen this unfold many many times and follow Subaru's (mine, or others) for long periods of times. Dealers cars are more suspectible to vehicles like this - partiuclarly in that age/price range you're looking at. The most likely 15 year old vehicle to get traded is one with issues, not one that's really nice.

5-10 year old cars are more in an area where people naturally move away from a car - warranty runs out, new models come out, hit a certain mileage...etc. Once you're beyond that the market starts to change....at least around here and from what I've seen.
 
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