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When Should I say goodbye to my Subaru?

This question actually comes up a lot, not just in terms of an older Subaru that you already own but also what older Subaru’s are still okay to buy.

I recent discussion I had with a customer prompted me to try and help explain the difference between a Subaru you should own and drive as a daily commuter and one that is really turned itself into an enthusiasts car. You shouldn’t really try to make an enthusiasts car a daily driver, well not unless you are the one working on it and your boss doesn’t mind you missing work cause your car is down.  The reality is that as cars age it can become really difficult to source parts for an older Subaru. When I say parts I mean OE Subaru or the true equivalent.

No I am not telling you that if you are lucky enough to own a 1996 Impreza with a 2.2l and a 5 speed manual you should get rid of it, far from it. What I do want to suggest however that you must be prepared for down time if you own that car and something like a wiper motor stops working, because you can’t get one from Subaru anymore and it might take a couple of aftermarket remans to find one that works properly.  

What am I calling an older Subaru?  

For the purpose of this article here are the current Subarus as of 02/28/2019 that are difficult to source parts for.  The list will probably have grown by the time you have read this I might add but here it is.

1990-1994 Legacy

Great Engine, very problematic E4AT Automatic Transmissions.  The list of stuff we can’t get any longer is now pages long. I am not talking about maintenance parts mind you I am talking things that are not safety related that Subaru stopped making years ago such as window switches, fuel pumps, control modules, you know just the minor stuff that keeps it from being a planter box.

Any year SVX

Yes, I still own one and yes currently still looking for some parts to drive it again. No I don’t know why I still own it. Just a sucker for an over engineered, under powered ugly duckling I guess.  In all seriousness, finding parts for an SVX anymore is a huge challenge. The engines do make for a great swap into Vanagons I might add, and if you have one of these cars in good shape they are actually nice to drive.


Early years of the first Gen Subaru Impreza (1993-1996 especially difficult sometimes)

So I am going to state there is a lot of grey area with the Impreza, as they are all over the place from 1993-2001 we had the 1.8l (not to be confused with the 1.8l in the Loyal, XT etc) the 2.2l, the 2.5l RS and there are parts for these cars if you can source JDM stuff, but that’s just not something the average person can or should try and do.  Through the years if a customer asks me what I think is the most reliable Subaru I will generally defer to the 1995-1996 Impreza with a 5 speed,like this one I bought for my son.

It’s now in the hands of one of his friends, and this car is a great example of an enthusiasts car. Yes this is the same car pictured above.


Any year Loyal, GL, Dl.

A 1992 model came in for a pre-purchase inspection, the interaction with the customer prompted this post.  This is an enthusiasts car only at this point, it’s just not conceivable to pay a shop to make major repairs on a Loyal anymore, they were great cars in their time, but their time was in the 80’s and 90’s.


Any year XT or XT6 (not to be confused with an Outback or Forester XT) Oh the Spaceship on wheels with the one wiper and a cockpit for a dash.  I have owned a few of these, they are actually very cool cars, just impossible to find parts for, unless they are sourced out of Japan.


Any year Justy, just no

The Brat, what can I say, any car with rear jump seats deserves to stick around, but in order to do so you probably have to swap in a different drive train like this one below running a EJ2.2l out of a Legacy.

If you own one of these Subaru models, I am not telling you to sell it or give it away, I am stating however patience is needed when owning one. If you are in the market for a used Subaru and one of these has caught your eye you should only buy it if you are going to be the one servicing and repairing it.

Thanks for reading

-Justin

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25 Responses to When Should I say goodbye to my Subaru?

  1. Andy Gilbreath March 4, 2019 at 7:01 am #

    HI Justin,

    I have a 2001 Outback with 190,000 miles on the 2.5 engine. It recently developed a knocking sound when cold for about 10 minutes. Then once its good and warmed up the noise is gone.
    Does this sound like piston slap? The engine has been well maintained and the oil changed every 3000 miles its entire life.
    Thanks,
    Andy

    • Justin Stobb March 4, 2019 at 7:43 am #

      Hi Andy,

      It’s difficult to say without hearing it, but that is generally the symptom of piston slap, a hollow light knock that goes away as it warms up and is more noticeable in colder weather.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

    • SteveNC April 18, 2019 at 2:20 pm #

      I had an ATV with piston slap, the noise occurred often when the engine was under load. When the piston slap started it also began to burn oil at a rate of about a half quart an hour. If I were in your shoes I would do a compression test. You might just have a bunch of carbon buildup or noisy valves.

    • Fatima May 21, 2019 at 11:37 am #

      Hi Justin,

      So glad I found your site. My 2001 Subaru Forester L crapped out on me sev’l weeks ago. The car will not “catch” a spark.

      So far, I’ve replaced the cam shaft, crank shaft, TPS, ignition coil, and all spark plugs; car still will not start. Car is in good shape otherwise.

      At this point, I’m ready to sell the car for what I can. I love this vehicle, but I’ve already put too much $$ in it.

      Any diagnosis or info you can give based on my note here is much appreciated.

      Many thanks,
      Fatima

      • Justin Stobb June 3, 2019 at 1:36 pm #

        Hi Fatima,

        Sorry to hear about the Forester. That’s the problem without a clear professional diagnoses, you end up buying parts you didn’t need to.

        Without diagnosing the car I would also be guessing, even if its an educated one. To get to that point I would need much more information. Its probably best to have a Diagnoses done locally to you, and thats my best advice and to do so prior to giving up on the car.

        Hope that helps

        -Justin

    • Pauline mulholland September 27, 2019 at 12:14 pm #

      Hello wish I spoken to u first purchased a 2014 xv in 2017 or 18 previous owner put very high mileage 264000 on it the car came with lack of matinence we did cv joints steering rods new radiator of course new battery higher voltage has a on off switch when stopping at lights this car had power in the beginning running well since we had it has been regularly serviced came with no service book or manual book something tells me that this car has been in a accident in its earlier years we have just had it’s service done filters etc the car has been sluggish loss of power emissions lights have shown recently and still are after service the mechanic did a diagnostic and nothing showed up then said tappets cover oil maybe leaking cost 700 bucks but there is no signs of oil leak or any noises from the engine just sluggish at times esp accelerating or hill climb once warmed up it’s okay is it best to change mechanics or did we purchase a lemon very high mileage I have owned a subaru 1992 inpreza that was mint so unsure what’s going on with this subby

  2. Stuart Whittaker March 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm #

    Mr. Stobb,

    I have driven my 2000 2.5rs hard for the last 14 years, now it is my sons. It is now on it’s third 4eat. This last transmission was suspect when sourced a long way from home. It was doing great after install, now any attempt to drive at all it feels like the driveshaft (2nd one) is about to come though the floor. The carrier bearing and u joints seem okay. Any ideas? Center differential? Viscous coupler?

    Thank you

    • Justin Stobb March 12, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

      Hey Stuart,

      I would be hard pressed to advise you on a noise or sensation I cant feel. Since its an E4AT it uses transfer clutches and not a Viscous Coupler. You could put a fuse in the spot marked AWD under hood on the strut tower and see if the issue subsides at all, this would electronically disable the AWD. If it does you know the AWD needs to be diagnosed if not well you will know it’s not the electrical controls for the AWD. It could however still have a stuck Transfer Clutch Solenoid or its not in the Transfer Clutch area at all.

      This is where the job of diagnosing a car relies on a skilled tech that is familiar with Subaru.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  3. Kurtis March 12, 2019 at 10:27 pm #

    Hello Justin

    I recently acquired a 2005 Legacy GT in fairly nice condition, granted it was rough to get home. At first the guy said the TGVs were bad, so I checked the sensors and actuators, took care of that, changed plugs, ignition coils, fuel pump, and even found a nice used transmission (5eat) to swap. Long story short, it’s running much smoother, and I couldn’t be happier with it’s progress, but I keep having a phantom P0021 and it’s alternate on the other side, with a rough idle. And then a clunky shift that was there before and after the transmission swap (drive shaft swapped too). I’ve checked the VVT and pulled the banjo bolts just to verify no clogging. Also, its claimed to have an “STI” turbo, but I can’t be sure. Any direction you could give me, I thought maybe all my problems were related somehow and try my luck with your insight.

    Thanks
    Kurtis

    • Justin Stobb March 19, 2019 at 10:27 am #

      Hey Kurtis,

      So right off of the bat if it had an STI Turbo that would be a VF 52 in place of a 39 or 40 found stock on the Leg GT/Outback XT platform. That would mean it would have to have a “tune” which would be remapping of the software that controls the engine in order to run properly. So unless it has an open source tune, or an access port with a custom tune uploaded that’s probably not an accurate statement.

      As far as the P0021, there are many possibilities. What needs to happen is to look at and graph scan tool data to see whats actually going on with both sides of a AVCS system. There really just isn’t any other way to go about this. Once the data is observed, testing of the solenoids and oil pressure switches is typically the next step. Other things that occur is excessive engine wear, failed cam sprockets wiring, ECM issues and the list goes on, next step is testing.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

      • Kurtis Cox March 21, 2019 at 4:47 pm #

        I was worried about that with a tune and the turbo, and it sounds like the most plausible cause. I’ll start at the turbo and work my way through the steps you suggest. I thank you for your time. ????

        Kurtis

  4. Barbara March 20, 2019 at 1:18 am #

    Hi Justin,
    Wished I had found your site years ago. I bought a 2005 outback new and now with 222k I’m in a love/hate relationship. Love how it has performed in the Minnesota winters but have hated it for the repairs I have gone thru. Just last week had I had the front suspension worked on due to bushing going bad. I had a questions, a week before I took it in, My engine started sounding rough and felt sluggish, loud mumming noise. I lost mileage by appx. 26.7 to 21.9. The mechanic that worked on my car cleaned the mass airflow, Mileage came back up but the noise is still there. Tonight when I got home 19 miles from work. I shut the car down and started the car back up, before turning the engine off I open my car door. I heard sputtering, soft pop from just under my seat. Car has still a sluggish feeling to it. I am going in for an alignment and will have the oil changed thought I could smell gas when I checking my oil. November had the tranny pan replaced due to rust. Concerned could I have damaged anything else due to not having the bushing done right away? Or just replace the mass airflow sensor …..or could something deeper into the emission.
    FYI -CEL has been lit up since 40k was told gas cap over and over. During my second HC at dealer 168k they started talking Calt. Convertor possible??????

    • Justin Stobb March 21, 2019 at 3:08 pm #

      Hey Barbara,

      So there’s a lot going on in your post.

      Let me try and help. For the bushing and the engine noise they would not be related. For the check engine light, the gas cap thing is non factual, if it was true a shop would sell you a gas cap, install it and the light would go off. The Convertor is likely, and if allowed to go on to long it can become restricted and cause problems. That might be what you have going on, but I just cant say that’s factual without testing it myself. There are also of course other possibilities including the mass air flow should be replaced as sometimes cleaning is really only temporary.

      The best advice I have is take it to a good Independent Subaru shop and let them perform a proper diagnoses, I know there has to be one in MN, when I was there visiting my brother in law last year I saw lots of Subaru’s there.

      I hope that helps

      -Justin

  5. Erin Rearden March 24, 2019 at 5:50 pm #

    You guys worked on my 99 Outback when I lived in WA. Now I’m in Ohio and I think the end is near. It’s a manual transmission, 135k miles and the diagnosis is a bad viscous coupler. It’s doing all the usual things: getting worse after driving it for a while, clunking on turns, feeling jumpy at times. I would need a new transmission which I’m not going to do, obviously. I’ve heard really conflicting things about how long I can keep driving it. A mechanic said I could can keep driving until it gets really bad and then online research says that I will die in a fiery crash instantly. (Ok, maybe not that serious, but they implied it was unsafe.) It’s been happening for about two months.

    • Justin Stobb April 10, 2019 at 12:58 pm #

      Hey Erin,

      Sorry to hear about that, the coupler can still be found for your car I will point out, but it is an expensive repair.

      -Justin

  6. John March 26, 2019 at 4:23 am #

    Hi Justin

    I’m looking to buy my first car and its a 2009 Subaru Legacy. I’ve been looking at other vehicles, but my gaze always shifts back to this one. I’ve heard many great things about Subaru, but am just a little nervous in purchasing because its an older car. Its got 90,000 miles on it, and its had 3 owners each owning it for 3 years. The CarFax report looks like its been maintained throughout the years. Is there anything I should be aware of if/when I buy it? After reading a bunch of your other post hearing your thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Justin Stobb April 10, 2019 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi John,

      A 2009 Subaru Legacy would be a great choice. I would still strongly suggest a Pre Purchase inspection however, paying close attention to any potential fluid leaks from the head gaskets. 90k is actually very low mileage for a Subaru its got a long way to go still.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  7. rob chan March 31, 2019 at 9:58 pm #

    Now when you say 1990-2004 Legacy, does that include the legacy outback in those years too?

    • Justin Stobb April 10, 2019 at 12:27 pm #

      Hey Rob,

      That was a typo should have read 1990 to 1994 Subaru Legacy, I have corrected it.

      Thanks

      -Justin

  8. Smitty April 24, 2019 at 2:32 pm #

    I”m looking at buying a 2005 automatic Baja Turbo with 225k miles for my 16 year old boy. It comes from a very reputable Subaru shop in business for 25 years. The shop bought it from a customer who was trying to replace the turbo himself and threw in the towel. The shop rebuilt the engine, put on a brand new turbo and rebuilt the transmission. They also give a 2 year/24k mile warranty on the engine. It runs well and the suspension was tighter than I expected. The exterior looks pretty good but interior is about what you would expect from a snow country 2005 vehicle. Is this going to become a money pit and have little things go out every couple of months? What would be a fair price?

    • Justin Stobb April 29, 2019 at 12:16 pm #

      Hey Smitty,

      My Wife drives the exact same car.

      Only real knock i can give you is the fuel economy is not going to be great, it doesn’t get much worse than a Turbo Subaru requiring premium fuel with an Automatic.

      I can’t however offer a suggestion on price, a Subaru in the NW is worth more than one in Texas. I don’t know your market, you should use a KBB and Nada as well as local adds for similar cars.

      As far as the money pit thing, only a prepurchase inspection will reveal what else the car needs now. In terms of what it will need in the future that’s pretty hard to predict at 225k I would be a little worried about the Auto trans, the E4AT mated to a Turbo was not known to go 300k in some cases, I would also imagine it probably needs suspension work, but I do not factually know any of those things, which again is why you need a pre-purchase inspection.

      Thanks for posting

      -Justin

  9. Natia Omarashvili April 26, 2019 at 11:46 am #

    Hi,
    I am thinking on buying 03 Subaru Baja with 200k for 4K the guy selling- told met that he is driving his kids with It and has worked on the car…it also looks kept alright.
    I am moving to country and need a smaller pick up.
    I have 09 Subaru Impreza, it has 55K mileage and I am thinking on trading in if I like the Baja.
    I would like to ask you all for any advise..
    thank you!
    Natia

    • Justin Stobb April 29, 2019 at 12:36 pm #

      Hello Natia,

      You need to have a pre purchase inspection. Trading a 2009 with 55k for a 03 Baha with 200k seems a little odd, but I am sure you have your reasons.

      I just wouldn’t want you have a bad buying experience so the car you are looking at needs to be really right. The only way you are going to know that is to have a professional near you look it over.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

  10. El October 13, 2019 at 2:22 am #

    Hi Justin.

    I have a 95′ legacy wagon (owned 10y) that has 200,000 miles. I like not having a car payment so idea of reaching 300,000m is appealing but there are a few issues with daily commuter.

    1) overheats climbing large hills
    2) sometimes loses power on highway
    3) sqeaky until she is warmed up
    4) wiper relay wont work on low settings
    5) pulled abs draining batt too much

    Also how/when do I know to need a new timing belt?

    I have been given advice to anticipate it’s demise and not put any money into it by fixing HG but that was from a car dealer friend who hasn’t inspected the car.

    I don’t mind spendy 1000-1500 to get the most from my legacy lol what do you think? Do you think I could get another 100,000m?

    Thanks for your expertise
    El

    • Justin Stobb October 14, 2019 at 9:59 am #

      Hello El,

      It still has a lot of life left but it does sound like it could have an internal HG issue developing.

      I don’t think $1000-$1500 gets it done either unless you doing the work your self. The tiing belt on a 1995 2,2l is an every 60k belt, if its a GT which would be rare and it has the 2.5l its 105k, but you did not specify which car you have.

      I would start by approaching it whole car and having a complete inspection done so you know the whole picture before you fix some things only to find out there are other needs. This really needs to be done by someone that really knows the car.

      Hope that helps

      -Justin

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