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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Is an 07-09 a bad choice for "low maintenance"? Spot HG fail? Buyer's guide?

Hi, I'm shopping for a low maintenance used car for my father-in-law with a budget of $8k max. A stick shift, 4 cylinder Outback wagon sounded great. The forum suggests that their head gaskets fail every 75k mi and all the ones for sale are probably leaking. I need this car to last him maybe 8 years and 70k miles with minimal expensive problems.

Can anyone explain how I can visually check an 07-09 Outback for leaking head gasket? Please post a picture with arrows showing the places I should look. Let's assume the seller has cleaned all around the head, so how long must I drive it to make it leak?

Is there an updated buyer's guide for 3rd gen Outbacks? I read the 2014 buyer's guide (won't let me link to it). What age and mileage related issues have become well known since then?

I'd love to get him an Outback, but can't afford to rebuild the head gasket, suspension, or AWD. Thanks for your input.
 

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Onyx, 2008 LL Bean 3.0R and 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
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New Hampshire is the place to have a Subaru. I'd look for one with serious maintenance records. Not just the CarFax. Typical head gasket leak for those cars is external and can be spotted at the bottom of the engine near the rear (closest to the firewall). An internal leak can be spotted by - look for bubbles in the coolant reservoir, lots of white smoke out the tail pipe at start up (not just the winter steam), "pudding" looking goop on the dip stick or oil filler cap, a sweet syrup smell in the exhaust and any person who swears they had it fixed but cannot produce any receipts or records of the work. I had a 2000 with and external leak for 231,000 miles and it just weeped a little. I let it go because the car was a beater.

If father-in-law doesn't mind paying for hi-octane gas, the H6 (6 cyl) is much more reliable and paired with the automatic 5 speed transmission, much more fun to drive. It has a few fairly easy to repair bugs, like the occasional bad wheel bearing or serpentine belt pulley bearing. The mileage is nearly identical to the 4 cyl as well. Up in the great white north, every 5th car is a Subaru, so you should have good pickings, but look very closely in the wheel wells for rust, since you live in the salt belt.

Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I found a 2007 4 cylinder manual with 33k miles at a used car lot near me. What kind of problems should I look for on that one? If head gaskets leak after 75k miles, than is this one ok since it's so far under that, or has its age caused the gasket to fail? I'm going to drive it tomorrow so I'll take any information you can share before then. Thanks.
 

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Any 07-09 is going to be up in the mileage to where it needs some suspension TLC. Buy one that’s already done. Better yet, buy an H6 model (as noted) and you need not worry about pesky headgaskets or timing belts or clutches. The AWD in the 07-09 H6 cars is vastly superior to what you’d get on a 5spd 4cyl anyways. Mileage is nearly the same. Buy your premium at Costco and it all evens out.
 

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2008 OB Limited 2.5i, Portland OR USA
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The key here is to have someone competent and knowledgeable around Subarus perform a pre-purchase inspection of whatever you propose purchasing. At the age and price point you're looking at, you're not going to find anything perfect, but you can find something that has a reasonable chance of hitting 8 more years and 70K miles. It will need ongoing maintenance and TLC to do this, and if the person doing the inspection is trusted and capable, and they give the OK, they should also be used to get things sorted out from the outset. Then you have them maintain it long term.
 

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Maybe your approach should be to look for a $6k car and do a $2k HG job on it (or less with some judicious shopping).

A 9-11 year old car from out west may be OK, but one that age from a "road-salty" state will need some close inspection for rust too. By now, most of these cars would have had or are in desperate need of a new timing belt with all the fixin's, new suspension rubber parts and well maintained fluid changes for another 70k life. If that was done, then a nicely maintained Gen3 OB could very well last another 70k miles. I'm certainly hoping to keep mine for at least that much longer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for all the feedback! I will be sure to review any car's service records for the items you mentioned, and avoid cars without records.

Since the H6 is more reliable, please help me learn more about them:
Did the H6 come in manual?
Does it require 91 or 93 octane? Can it get away with 89?
What's the estimated price to replace its head gasket (I've read it's a nightmare)?
How can I or a technician tell if the HG is leaking?
Are all H6 the LLBean edition?

My father-in-law is old school and on a tight budget, so he'll want a manual that takes 89 octane gas. It will require some "old dog, new tricks" work to get him into an H6. But if I can find one, I think it will meet his needs. Thanks.
 

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Thanks for all the feedback! I will be sure to review any car's service records for the items you mentioned, and avoid cars without records.

Since the H6 is more reliable, please help me learn more about them:
Did the H6 come in manual?
Does it require 91 or 93 octane? Can it get away with 89?
What's the estimated price to replace its head gasket (I've read it's a nightmare)?
How can I or a technician tell if the HG is leaking?

My father-in-law is old school and on a tight budget, so he'll want a manual that takes 89 octane gas. It will require some "old dog, new tricks" work to get him into an H6. But if I can find one, I think it will meet his needs. Thanks.
H6 did not come in manual in the US/Canada. it came with the great 5speed automatic which can be happily shifted like a manual all day. (ultra rare that someone has swapped in a manual to a H6 in the US. ...happens just rare).

H6 of 2001-2009 take high octane. will run a little crappy on less, and might get a little dirty on the o2 sensors.

people drop in JDM used H6 if one has a head gasket problem. (these are cheap vs. doing the long hard job that may not turn out, ...vs. the 10 hours of easy work on a typical naturally aspirated H4).

2001-2009 H6 typically blow exhaust gases into the coolant bottle when hot if they have a head gasket leak.

2000-2009 H4s usually leak oil externally from their head gaskets until they are fixed in a quality way.

if you want to save some money: buy a H4 that is listed as leaking oil and needs head gaskets really cheap, and have the work done in a quality way. or get a bench fixed engine from somebody that only does that. (such people exist up there around new england, one lists on craigslist in Vermont typically).

they typical goal in the north east is to find rust free garage kept / washed cars, vs. fighting with any local rust.

nothing fun about hammering away at rusty parts underneath, on a car that may have great paint, but was parked on a slushy driveway all its life. (so make sure you bring some cardboard and look for rust on the things that hang down, ...some will have more then others).

did you consider bringing up a rust free car from the south?

_____

avoid all though of a subaru with a turbo. = such are for enthusiasts, and they blow up on the side of the road even under the best conditions.
 

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I found a 2007 4 cylinder manual with 33k miles at a used car lot near me. What kind of problems should I look for on that one? If head gaskets leak after 75k miles, than is this one ok since it's so far under that, or has its age caused the gasket to fail? I'm going to drive it tomorrow so I'll take any information you can share before then. Thanks.

Look for rust on this one. At 33K miles, there are lots of good miles left on the drivetrain. You could get 70K out of it IMO. However, with the age and Northern temp swings and corrosion, you may need to replace some suspension parts in it during the next 8 years. You won't have to do that for the next few years IMO though. That is primarily going to be shocks, rear lower front control arms, and proper alignment, depending on the loads that will be carried in the snow. You don't need to rebuild the entire suspension, based on the use case you list. Let us know if you want to know what parts to use for that, as searching this board for answers can be sometimes be confusing or difficult to get a quick answer.


You are also going to have be looking at new front axle boots in the next 70K. Not too expensive, depending on how you do the work. Let us know if you want details on the maintenance for that.


If you keep up with the cooling system maintenance, the head gaskets should go to 105K. It can be driven with them leaking (it's a slow external leak), if you keep an eye on the coolant and the oil levels. Most don't leak significantly until 100K. Not driving it hard (lots of high revs) IMO increases the time it takes to start leaking. I would change the coolant when you get it. Use Subaru coolant and conditioner. That will likely extend the life of the head gaskets. If you change the coolant when you get it, it should last 8+ years and to 100K+ miles, so you should not have to do it again.


An 07 is going to be past the 105 months or 105K miles recommended change for the timing belt. At 33K miles, you could just swap the belt, and leave everything else alone (assuming mechanic says it's all in good shape). That is pretty cheap. (As opposed to replacing everything you usually do when doing a timing belt - belt, tensioner, pulleys, water pump). Replace with the OEM belt.


Some of the cars prior to 07 had issues with the clutch throwout bearing,. Check that there is no noise or strange feeling from the clutch. I think they may have fixed this in 07+.


All of this assumes he just drives the car for 8 years, and then sells it at 105K, when the full timing belt kit, HG's and probably clutch will need to be done.


All told, they are great cars, but I don't consider them low maintenance (or cheap maintenance) any more. But they are AWD, and that takes more maintenance. If that 33K is not rusty, and the HGs are not leaking, and it has goo service history, and assuming the use case you list above, that might be a good candidate. Most of these have a lot more than 33K on them by now, which makes the maintenance issue much more expensive.
 

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An 07 is going to be past the 105 months or 105K miles recommended change for the timing belt. At 33K miles, you could just swap the belt, and leave everything else alone (assuming mechanic says it's all in good shape). That is pretty cheap. (As opposed to replacing everything you usually do when doing a timing belt - belt, tensioner, pulleys, water pump).


All of this assumes he just drives the car for 8 years, and then sells it at 105K, when the full timing belt kit, HG's and probably clutch will need to be done.

.
a couple years ago there was a guy around greater boston with 5 subarus in his driveway for sale at any given time. he was buying them specifically with less then 105,000 miles so he could type " does not need a timing belt job,...yet" however.



105,000 miles, or 105 months...whatever comes first.

as per
Subaru maintenance schedules and new car break-in period- 2000 through 2009, links for 2010, 2011...

(so that is 8 years, 9 months,...and a 2007 car is like 11-12 years old now).


with a used subaru H4 I would be out to swap the timing belt kit, just after purchase if it were not recently done with a receipt for OEM parts or Aisin. or other Japanese branded things.

I still see ads for small used car dealers touting "brand new gates timing belt kits" on their subarus for sale. today I would think such may last only 30,000 miles if they are really chinese junk.

____
 

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I should add, that replacing just the timing belt and coolant, at a dealer, is probably a less than $500 job, including parts and labor ($300?). That's not very expensive, and then you are good to go until 105K.


I am not sure if you can really see the HG leak very well with the car on the ground and the belly pan installed. Maybe others can chime in here. I forget where the spot to look is.


During inspection, check the front axle boots, especially the inners, for tears or signs of grease slinging off of them onto the exhaust / suspension. Also grab the rear suspension, lower front control arms and tug on them hard for signs of play. Also check the bushings in those control arms for cracks. Also check the bottom of each shock, on the shock body, below the boot, for signs of leaking fluid.


Negotiate down on the price to cover some of this stuff if needed, and do the work. Would be a good car in budget, assuming no issues as listed above and 33K. Run a Carfax before purchase to confirm mileage and possibly maintenance history. Carfax will show where it was purchased, and you can call the dealer to get service records if they have them. If it was independently serviced, and the shop did not enter it into the computer, the maintenance won't be on the Carfax. Neither will mileage entries for the service. Probably worth buying the Carfax that gives you 3 VIN checks instead of 1. It's only $20-ish more, and then you can check more cars if the 33K model is not what you want.


Shocks (KYB), rebuilt OEM axles, rear lower front control arms, and alignment, plus labor, is probably going to be less than $1000 over the next 8 years. Not sure what your idea of inexpensive maintenance is, but that is not bad. If he's not driving the car hard, you might not even have to do these things before 105K.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks guys, this is great info. I will try to get that 33k mi manual to the local dealership for pre-purchase inspection tomorrow. Do you have any tips for determining how much rust is too much? On the underside, I expect to see light surface rust on any steel parts, so I wrap on them with my knuckle to be sure the rust isn't too deep. And on the body, I look for bubbles. I'll put my hands in the wheel wells to poke around for flaking bits.

I've never been on such a tight budget before, having to buy such an old car. But I work on my 2000 Volvo and 2002 Benz, so I know what it takes to keep an old car running. Thanks again for the input.
 

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Thanks guys, this is great info. I will try to get that 33k mi manual to the local dealership for pre-purchase inspection tomorrow. Do you have any tips for determining how much rust is too much? On the underside, I expect to see light surface rust on any steel parts, so I wrap on them with my knuckle to be sure the rust isn't too deep. And on the body, I look for bubbles. I'll put my hands in the wheel wells to poke around for flaking bits.

I've never been on such a tight budget before, having to buy such an old car. But I work on my 2000 Volvo and 2002 Benz, so I know what it takes to keep an old car running. Thanks again for the input.

You should be able to tell by looking. Light surface rust will appear as just that. Don't worry too much about dark spotting on the exhaust. They all do that. Heavy corrosion on bolt heads and other parts is clearly that. I'll see if I can find some pics. Pre-purchase inspection at a dealer or good indy Suby shop, on a lift so they can inspect the underside well, is a good idea. This should reveal any major issues. Have them check the parts that have been listed in this thread. Those are the main one's that are a problem.


If I recall from reading previous posts, people said that once you start getting rust in the body panels of the rear wheel wells, it is becoming an issue. Check there, as these are protected by undercoating, and don't have plastic liners covering them like the front does.
 

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A couple last notes I didn't see mentioned yet...:

The H6 asks to be fed 91 Octane; since many stations don't offer the midgrades, it usually gets highest-grade 93.

And, the Outback wagons in the 2005-2009 years have been called out for poor rear-end highway stability in icy conditions - the behavior gets called "ghostwalking" in this forum, at least.
The first recommended solution is usually to get a bit more aggressive a rear alignment, with 100-200 extra pounds of weight in the back. The main thread is pretty huge, so I'm not remembering all the details, but I think a TSB was put out with revised alignment numbers and/or it was changed in the 2007+ models. I don't recall anyone stating it caused an accident, just alarming loss of confidence while it occurred.
That thread is stuck up here, and suggests a couple increasingly-aggressive remedies (alignment, fresh/firmer rear shocks, HD springs): http://www.subaruoutback.org/forums...stwalking-abnormal-winter-handling-fixes.html
 
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"ghostwalking"

Not sure that will be an issue on the car being considered, due to the low mileage. That is a huge thread, and might deter the original poster from purchase, for what may be a non-issue, or the perception of expensive fixes and upgrades that probably are not needed.


If the car passes inspection and is purchased, we can post a link to the revised 07+ alignment specs. Being that the car is an 07, those specs should already be in the shop computers? Either way, probably a good idea to get it aligned to the 07 specs after purchase. (No telling where it was adjusted by the previous owner).


If inspection reveals problems with shocks or rear lower front control arm bushings, those can be changed, after suitably negotiating the price down. Then get alignment.


The new consensus seems to be that ghostwalking will not be an issue of the suspension is maintained properly, and the car is aligned properly.
 

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I think the best way to sum it up is to say that if you can live with leaks and squeaks and some serious cabin wind noise, then the Gen 3 is probably a pretty good low-maintenance car.
 

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@airlia101

Do NOT let the "ghostwalking issue" steer you away from this car.

With a proper alignment, (and the car holding that alignment) the car will not GW. Adding a second alignment point (aftermarket bushing or link) will allow any car to be aligned properly. Some cars from the factory can not and compromises are made. In order to make sure the car holds the alignment, the front lower control arm bushings and the rear forward lateral links need to be within spec. GW issue a result of poor alignments and worn suspension components. The above can be corrected easily.

Proper traction is traction is the second 1/2. Properly inflated tires with adequate tread are absolutely necessary. keeping the speed down in high wind low traction situations is also a good idea.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks again. I've read a little bit about Ghost Walking and I'm not too worried about it. I'd make sure any 3rd gen I get received the updated Subaru spec tire pressure and alignment. If the rear springs are bad, I'd get the better replacement ones. Isn't it only a problem when the car has one or two people in the back, or when towing? Shouldn't be a problem for my father-in-law.
 

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Oops -
@airlia101

Do NOT let the "ghostwalking issue" steer you away from this car. /QUOTE]

Oops - No, I didn't mean to come off scaremongering! More of the opposite... if you notice this while driving it, know that it's pretty well-known now, and there are solutions. Thank you to traildogck and stripe for the reassurance, and glad to see you (Firefox) have done enough extra-credit homework :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Thanks again for all of your input. Ultimately, my father-in-law decided against the Outback. To introduce him to the wagon, I showed him the closest thing to his home (still 30 mins away), a 2012 with CVT (though we would have bought a manual gen 3 or 4). The extra height and oddly shaped rear trunk edge worked against my sales pitch that he could load his kayak on top by placing one end on the rear roof rail and pushing sliding it toward the front.

He's been driving pickup trucks for decades, so he bought a 2009 Chevy Colorado. In my opinion, it's so much less vehicle than an Outback but for the same price. It's probably for the better because the Outback's flat four engine looked so utterly foreign to me after years of working on inline 4, inline 5, and V6 engines; I wouldn't have been able to help him service it.

Whoever it was that said every fifth car in NH was a Subaru was so right. Now that I know more about them, I see them constantly. Take care, everyone.
 
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