Twin_Cam
Twin_Cam UltraDork
7/25/12 12:06 p.m.

The new car search has begun. My wife's car is rapidly turning into something resembling a car that parts just fall off of, that coupled with A/C that never worked, she'll be driving more miles than she used to in coming years, and some dude in a Honda Element wanted to play 25 mph bumper cars in traffic, and has smashed the rear bumper to hell, and probably tweaked the frame. I also need a larger vehicle for transporting my upright bass every so often.

The criteria were manual, station wagon, acceptable MPG, reliable, and available for under $4K. That leaves Saturns, Focuses (Foci?), Subarus, the occasional Accord or Camry, and really old Volvos.

We've decided that Subarus are the best out of that bunch. Bigger than Saturn and Foci wagons, cheaper to fix and more plentiful that the Yotas/Hondas, and not as rusty as the Volvos. We're willing to deal with the MPG hit because of the AWD, but it will allow for excellent Scandinavian flick practices in the snow.

We test drove this one: http://harrisburg.craigslist.org/cto/3141140936.html earlier today. It was great, except that the clutch felt a little tired, and there was a strange, intermittent whirring/whining sound from somewhere in the back of the car, and I'm really scared it's the diff or something. We're going to look at a slightly newer ('02), lower mileage one this weekend. I also never knew only .6 more liters of displacement over my Saturn gets you so much more torque!

So what are the known problems of these cars? Do they break often? How hard is it really to change the spark plugs? Etc etc. Thank you GRM braintrust in advance.

ValuePack
ValuePack Dork
7/25/12 12:40 p.m.

Head gaskets are the #1 thing to look for on these, but seeing as they were just done, it should be good for another 100k+. The #2 thing to watch for on old Subies is bad rear wheel bearings, ie, the whirring you hear in the back. Also check for a split boot on the front pass side inner CV, heat from the cat eats them. Rust is an issue, predominantly in front fenders, rear wheel wells, rear strut towers, and the rockers. Everything else is regular old car stuff.

Handsome car, and more dynamic than the '02 you're going to look at. I daily a '95 Outback rat, and love it to death.

stumpmj
stumpmj Dork
7/25/12 12:41 p.m.

I had a regular legacy wagon. It made those whirring noises every 30-50k miles which meant it was time for a new trasnission (I was told the output shaft bearing was bad both times). After the second one under extended warranty I sold it.

m4ff3w
m4ff3w UltraDork
7/25/12 1:28 p.m.

We had a '99. It was a great car.

It vibrated quite a bit at idle - it was annoying but I could never figure out what caused it.

sachilles
sachilles Dork
7/25/12 1:30 p.m.

Spark plugs aren't hard to change on the non turbo ones. It is far easier if you remove the wiper fluid reservoir and the airbox, which is a couple of nuts. Not as easy as an inline four, but still not anything to worry about. Always look for rust. Rear wheel wells are a good indicator. If you see rust there, best to move on to the next one. You'll likely buy a new alternator at some point. It's an easy change and they are relatively inexpensive. Most everything else are wear items. Just like any car, some repairs are easier than others. Seats swap in from other models, so there is a good chance if you don't like the seats, they have one in another model that will fit you fine. They do have the lower end torque, but on the high end they suffer. Gear ration makes a big difference with them. www.cars101.com has good year by year info on the different subie models to give you a better idea of which model years might suit your personal preference.

sachilles
sachilles Dork
7/25/12 1:31 p.m.
m4ff3w wrote: We had a '99. It was a great car. It vibrated quite a bit at idle - it was annoying but I could never figure out what caused it.

They all do that it seems. Struck me as odd the first time. I don't notice anymore.

m4ff3w
m4ff3w UltraDork
7/25/12 1:41 p.m.

Come to Texas and buy one. The resale on them is way cheap compared to any place that gets snow on the ground.

I sold our nearly perfect '99 that had 170k with timing belts/headgaskets done at the dealer at 155k for 3200 (a bit more than I paid for it) a few years back. In the PacNW similar cars were advertised constantly for 6k.

sachilles
sachilles Dork
7/25/12 1:53 p.m.

Likely to be a heck of a lot less rust on it too.

m4ff3w
m4ff3w UltraDork
7/25/12 1:57 p.m.
sachilles wrote: Likely to be a heck of a lot less rust on it too.

Cars less than 20 years old rust? My Fiat has rust - but it's a 77. The only cars I've ever had with rust were 81 and older Fiats.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin SuperDork
7/25/12 2:00 p.m.

It doesn't have much more TQ. than your Saturn. It only dynos about 10lb-ft higher, and less HP. As someone who owned a 2.5RS and several Saturns, the Saturn is a quicker car than the Outback or a 02+ 2.5RS for sure.

That said, what to look for: Headgaskets, wheel bearings, transmissions. If its a "Wednesday car", nothing will be an issue. If its a "Monday car", lots of things will fail, multiple times. Oh yes, and lots of rust.

Don't expect great mileage. Most average around 23mpg.

On the plus side, AWD is fun. Decent towing capacity, and a fair amount of space.

NGTD
NGTD Dork
7/25/12 2:02 p.m.
sachilles wrote: Spark plugs aren't hard to change on the non turbo ones. It is far easier if you remove the wiper fluid reservoir and the airbox, which is a couple of nuts. Not as easy as an inline four, but still not anything to worry about. Always look for rust. Rear wheel wells are a good indicator. If you see rust there, best to move on to the next one. You'll likely buy a new alternator at some point. It's an easy change and they are relatively inexpensive. Most everything else are wear items. Just like any car, some repairs are easier than others. Seats swap in from other models, so there is a good chance if you don't like the seats, they have one in another model that will fit you fine. They do have the lower end torque, but on the high end they suffer. Gear ration makes a big difference with them. www.cars101.com has good year by year info on the different subie models to give you a better idea of which model years might suit your personal preference.

I beg to differ on the spark plugs - my 97 Outback with the DOHC motor was a 4 hour endurance test to do 4 plugs. Blood was shed - mine! The front cylinders are an absolute PITA - no combination of extensions, u-joints or anything seemed to work. 99 Outback would still be DOHC. Foresters moved to a different motor in 99 but not Outbacks.

Gear Ratio - Outbacks run a 4.11:1 - Mine was turning about 3200 rpm at 120 km/h (75 mph). Regular Legacy has a 3:90:1, but I think a lot of that was to make up tire size. Outbacks run a P205/70/15 and Legacys at the time quite often had a smaller tire (some 14's).

Many of them ran fine once the HG's were fixed. Mine was still going strong at 400k kms when I sold it.

sachilles
sachilles Dork
7/25/12 2:07 p.m.

:shrug: Did you leave all the other stuff in place? I can see that making things miserable. What did you shed blood on?

fornetti14
fornetti14 HalfDork
7/25/12 3:32 p.m.

Spartk plugs hard? LOL 4 bolts and you have all the stuff out of the way. It takes me about an hour to do a full compression check on them.

Stick with the '00-'04 Phase II single cam motor. Most have had their head gaskets done - just make sure there is paperwork. I never had a wheel bearing go out on my '00 (all the way to 235,000 miles).

Great cars and I've owned several. Find a Limited Outback with the dual sun roofs.
There are several for sale in my local area from $4k-$6k with about 120k-150k in mileage. Buy one now and sell it this winter for $2k more.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 UltraDork
7/25/12 3:42 p.m.

I hear the newer ones are better, but I was very disappointed in my 2001 Outback. I bought it around 2004 as a low-mileage used car, that presented itself as nearly new--cosmetically perfect. Ah, but beauty is only skin deep. The car was a wallowing pig, with excessive body roll and howling tires in routine cornering. The car was a 5-speed, but the clutch was "juddery" and the 2.5-liter, while not exactly anemic in terms of stated horsepower, was so overwhelmed by the mass of the car, that it seemed the only way to get up to speed was to pin the gas to the mat and wind out every gear. In short, the car was an absolute dog. And yes, the head gaskets failed, but at least Subaru had the decency to repair them under warranty. All in all, a horrible ownership experience that I would not wish on anyone.

Twin_Cam
Twin_Cam UltraDork
7/25/12 8:22 p.m.

Well, 12 hours after the test drive, my wife has declared she didn't like the way the Outback drove. Even though she said she liked it this morning

Soooo she now has her heart set on a Focus wagon. Better mileage and less moving drivetrain parts, anyway...and I never knew the Outbacks had so many problems. I always thought of them as nearly as reliable as Hondas and Toyotas.

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
7/26/12 6:03 a.m.

Subarus have only a few problems, but they are common problems. I've read a lot of negative stuff on here about them but my experiences with the 2 I've had really don't support some of the hysteria. I was going to suggest you browse the inventory at Mike Shaffer's in Marietta but it sounds like the wife may be off Subarus. You may want to try a non-Outback one as they are lower and should handle a bit better.

The only thing I know about Foci are the window regulators are designed to fail. Plan on stocking up on those.

Volvos are spacious wagons but replacement parts are expensive and a lot of them are turbos which require premium fuel. That negated them from contention for us.

Saturns are just too ugly and too old, and some of the parts are discontinued already. Lots of them in the junkyards though.

Have you looked at any Mazda wagons? The 6 should be close to your price range with higher miles on it, and the Protege 5 is a great car; it's like a Miata wagon!

It's a tough market, trying to find a stick shift wagon in that price range. I don't think the Accord or Camry wagons were ever sold with a manual trans. Saab makes a wonderful wagon you can't get parts for, unfortunately. Wagons have been supplanted by SUV's and "cute utes" like the CRV.

ProDarwin
ProDarwin SuperDork
7/26/12 7:02 a.m.
ddavidv wrote: Saturns are just too ugly and too old, and some of the parts are discontinued already. Lots of them in the junkyards though.

Ugly... yeah, the newer ones are. Mine didn't look bad, and well modded it cost less than any of the Subarus mentioned in this thread. Also by far the lightest option mentioned with the best gas mileage. The only discontinued part I have ever found for a Saturn is the fuel line.

I still miss mine

Old... well I'm pretty sure a 2002 Saturn isn't any older than a 2002 Outback :)

I like the Volvo option, I just recall the engine/trans choices being weird. Like when you found the engine you want, you can't get it with a manual. I have heard complaints about repairs, but also heard from many many people (quite a few on this forum) that they are absolutely rock-solid cars.

This reminds me I need to update this thread: http://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/grm/the-lightweight-sporty-wagon-thread/49162/page1/

szeis4cookie
szeis4cookie Reader
7/26/12 8:40 a.m.
Twin_Cam wrote: Soooo she now has her heart set on a Focus wagon. Better mileage and less moving drivetrain parts, anyway...and I never knew the Outbacks had so many problems. I always thought of them as nearly as reliable as Hondas and Toyotas.

The unicorn is a 2004 (or 2005, can't remember which of the two years it is) California emissions Focus wagon with stick shift. Rare, but they're out there. Check focaljet.com for leads.

Twin_Cam
Twin_Cam UltraDork
7/26/12 9:48 a.m.

Ddavid- I have looked for Protege 5s, they are unobtanium, and those who own them love them like Samuel Jackson likes cursing and refuse to sell them for anything less than $2K above book value. And you can find manual shift Camrys and Accords, but they have to be older, and they are (duh) super-rare.

Cookie- my wife has found an '05 5-door hatch (nearly a wagon) in MD for the same price as the Scoob we looked at. As long as my bass fits in the thing without taking serious finagling, I don't care what body style it is.

And believe me, I've been doing plenty of cursing about how no one makes station wagons anymore, just stupid tall-body compact sedans with weight problems and awful incredibly fragile not really useful AWD systems, i.e. the RAV4, CR-V, Escape etc. I would rather drive a regular car in hot pink with flower decals all over it with a license plate that reads "FABULOUS" than drive a RAV4.

m4ff3w
m4ff3w UltraDork
7/26/12 10:08 a.m.
szeis4cookie wrote:
Twin_Cam wrote: Soooo she now has her heart set on a Focus wagon. Better mileage and less moving drivetrain parts, anyway...and I never knew the Outbacks had so many problems. I always thought of them as nearly as reliable as Hondas and Toyotas.
The unicorn is a 2004 (or 2005, can't remember which of the two years it is) California emissions Focus wagon with stick shift. Rare, but they're out there. Check focaljet.com for leads.
  1. The Duratec 23 is great.
sachilles
sachilles Dork
7/26/12 10:45 a.m.

How the heck do you change a starter on a focus. A friend of mine had his starter go, and it looked like a total pain to get at. There must be a trick.

NGTD
NGTD Dork
7/26/12 11:06 a.m.
sachilles wrote: :shrug: Did you leave all the other stuff in place? I can see that making things miserable. What did you shed blood on?

I moved WW fluid, battery, air intake, etc.

I have rather large hands.

I can't remember what I cut my hands on, but I do remember having at least 4 or 5 cuts after finishing the job.

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
7/26/12 4:28 p.m.
Twin_Cam wrote: And believe me, I've been doing plenty of cursing about how no one makes station wagons anymore, just stupid tall-body compact sedans with weight problems and awful incredibly fragile not really useful AWD systems, i.e. the RAV4, CR-V, Escape etc. I would rather drive a regular car in hot pink with flower decals all over it with a license plate that reads "FABULOUS" than drive a RAV4.

Replace 'upright bass' with '3 dogs weighing 50 lbs or more' and I feel your pain. Too many so-called wagons have sharply sloped rear windows which also cut into haulage space. The perfect wagon is, of course, the BMW 3 series. Because it is perfect, it is far too expensive for we GRMers.

The "ugly" Saturn I was referring to is the LW. I don't have anything against SL's other than they are kind of small. Also, remember I live in the land of auto body estimating where some Saturn body parts are NLA. Nothing you can't likely get at a junkyard, but it still gives pause if it is to be a daily driver and not a toy. The average person probably doesn't care that you can't get a wiring harness for a Vue, but it sure screws up my life when it happens.

octavious
octavious Reader
7/27/12 6:37 a.m.
Twin_Cam wrote: Well, 12 hours after the test drive, my wife has declared she didn't like the way the Outback drove. Even though she said she liked it this morning

Twin_Cam- did you look at the 6cyl Outbacks? They have more power than the 2.5s but don't give up too much on the gas end.

What year Outback did she drive? In my opinion, there is a big difference Gen2 2000-04 and the Gen3 05-09 Outbacks. Not just in the exterior looks department, but also in the way they feel and drive.

I liked the Focus wagon too, but we ended up with an Outback (Gen2) because we needed AWD. Ours has the 3.0 though, which does ok. Its not going to blow your doors off, but its got power when you need it. I get right at 23 MPG average with a 65% highway 35% city mix. I got 26 on a trip into NC for 4th of July, but that was at 80-85 MPH most of the trip and with the AC on. I've never seen the magical 30MPG even with a egg under the floor pedal and an Aunt Bea driving style. Everytime I see a 6cyl Outback guy say he gets 30MPG with his 3.0, it makes me wonder what kind of wacky tobaccy that hippie is smokin...

4g63t
4g63t HalfDork
7/28/12 5:06 p.m.

I'm a 6Cyl Outback guy and I've seen 19 at Most

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