Rebuilt '05 Subaru Outback w/ 200K worth $5,000?

regularduderegulardude Member Posts: 3
edited July 2014 in Subaru

Hi there,

I recently moved to Vermont, been looking to buy a Subaru, and happened to meet an independent mechanic who seems knowledgeable and honest.

He's rebuilding the motor on a 2005 Outback which is rust-free. He said the head gasket was leaking - but just a little bit. Could have been driven on for a while, but he's doing the repairs and replacing some other major parts in the motor which he seemed confident would give the car another 100,000 miles. Wish I knew what he was talking about when he explained all the work he's doing.

He's also taking care of any issues with the drivetrain and alignment. He said he's not sure whether he'll have to work on the rear alignment, but that he'd rather have the job done right and lose the sale over the $200 in extra repairs rather than let the car leave the shop with unresolved issues.

So I feel like I can trust this dude, and I'll be able to talk to him about maintenance and any future repairs. But 200,000 is a lot of miles. Is it reasonable to expect to get another 100K?

KBB says it'd be worth around $4,400 - but this isn't taking into account the new engine parts.

It'd be great to buy a used car that's already been gone through by a mechanic. I don't want to risk buying through Craigslist and ending up with a car with serious problems. Don't want to pay out the wazoo by going through a dealer. Feel like this my best bet. But I don't want to jump the gun and regret it later.

Opinions and things to consider?


  • qbrozenqbrozen Member Posts: 31,349

    Honestly, I completely expect a 2005 to be rust-free. I mean, I think those that are NOT rust free should be the exception. We're only talking 9 years.

    So I don't know what model you are talking about. I'll assume it is a base 4-cyl wagon. If everything is truly as described, I think it is worth it. He should be taking care of all the known issues (oil seals and head gaskets) and all standard maintenance issues. Throw the rebuilt suspension on top of that and, yes, I think it is reasonable to expect another 100k. And, honestly, if he is doing all that, I would put him on the spot for a 12k/12mo warranty on his end and feel better about giving him the full $5k asking price.

    '94 Pajero 2.8TD, '08 Charger R/T Daytona; '67 Coronet R/T; '13 Fiat 500c, '21 WRX, '20 S90 T6, '22 4xE, '92 Nissan Gloria 3.0; '22 MB Sprinter 2500 4x4 diesel. 65-car history and counting! '97 Suzuki R Wagon, '97 Alto Works on the way; Wagoneer L on order; and in queue for Lucid Air Pure, Blazer EV, and Fisker Ocean.

  • henrynhenryn Houston, TXMember Posts: 3,842

    I would vote with Qbrozen on this one. 9 years is not that old, and if the major mechanical problems are taken care of, then I would go for it. A base model Outback is not going to have a lot of fancy electrical systems to go haywire, so in this case simplicity is a good thing.

    I am generally of a mindset that 200k is too near the end of the useful lifespan for most vehicles, but that is based on it not being worth the cost to rebuild the engine. A friend had a new (rebuilt) engine put in her Jeep Liberty about 2 years ago. Total cost out the door was about $4200, and that did not include any work other than the rebuilt engine. Afterwards, her Jeep was worth just about exactly what she had just spent.

    In this case, it sounds like you’re getting around $5k worth of work, and the car is being thrown in for free, so why not?

    2019 Chrysler Pacifica, 2013 Ford F150 XL
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482

    It really depends on seeing a list of what he has done (and if he did them correctly), but just off the cuff I'd say it's worth it if he's at least looked at everything, flushed fluids, and car has good tires, good brakes, with a new timing belt, etc. The point is, I think, that it's very often small things that break, causing larger problems (such as, a leaking radiator hose causing overheating, or a leaking transmission causing transmission failure). So if you refresh the engine but put back all the old hoses and belts, and don't clean the 200K radiator, you've really only done 1/2 the job.

    So I'd want to see his "checklist". Obviously he can't replace all the parts.

    I have a friend who rebuilds Subarus and he easily gets $5000--$6000 for late 90s models that he has gone through. But he does a lot to them.

    Head gasket replacement is a must on these cars.

  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    edited June 2014

    Another option would be to find a different Subaru with fewer miles and use this mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection and for any work you may need over the upcoming years. Vermont should be full of used Subarus, but lots probably have been driven hard and logged lots of miles too. Prices are probably highish there too since they are so popular there.

    I recently sold my '97 Outback that only had 96,000 miles on it. I managed to avoid the dreaded head gasket problem (but I had a mechanic who had done plenty, and the going rate here was ~$1,500). My issues were leaky alloys and a dealer installed factory alarm that flaked out after 7 or 8 years. Otherwise, it ran good with just the occasional oil change, brake job, battery replacement and the timing belt service.

    I also recently sold my '99 Quest that just rolled over 200,000 miles. I kept that one about 20,000 miles too long. Had three tows the last year we drove it and never really trusted it the last year.

    Buying from an indy mechanic is enticing. My guess is that a 12/12 warranty would be a stretch but a 3/36 may be doable. Thirty days would be more likely. If the guy really does have a good reputation, he probably won't hurt for finding a buyer.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482

    You might take a good hard look at where he works. If his shop is a filthy mess, and the parts he replaced don't look cleaned and refreshed, I'd probably pass on the car.

  • regularduderegulardude Member Posts: 3
    edited July 2014

    Thanks for all the advice.

    Here's the checklist I've put together from a couple folks' feedback:

    • Complete timing belt kit installed (New tensioner, all 3 pulleys replaced, and new belt)
    • Quality head gaskets used (Subaru, Cometic, or SixStar)
    • Heads resurfaced
    • Subaru coolant conditioner added
    • Water Pump Replaced
    • Bushings and struts (end links, ball joints, tie rods) are in good condition
    • Front CV joints
      and steering boots

    • Exhaust is rust-free

    • Check for rust on the rear brake line
    • Fluids replaced
    • Check tire condition
    • Hoses replaced

    • Transmission history? Has it been replaced?

    • Possible 12 month or other warranty?

    So this is where I'm at. I've never bought a used car before.

    I'm currently driving a 2000 Civic with 194,000 miles. It has been super reliable for me. Replaced the muffler twice, another piece of the exhaust once, and the distributor just went on me recently. Other than that, it's been really low maintenance. Kept putting off the timing belt change for whatever reason and now it doesn't seem worth it. Don't know if it was ever done.

    Part of me wants to see how long I can run the Civic, but the less reckless part of me wants a little more security... including the AWD for the winter. So I'm thinking about an Outback or a Forester, or possibly an Impreza hatchback.

    I've got $4,000 set aside for another vehicle. I just moved and am working two part-time jobs, not taking in a whole lot of money, so I'm not really looking to take out any loans. I'm trying to get a career going in education, but wanted to relocate first, so that's where I'm at. Hoping to get a better job / financial situation by the fall.

    I'm not super knowledgeable about cars, but have some general knowledge, and can diagnose and repair small problems if I can find an article, PDF or a youtube video about it.

    I would really like to get a car with lower miles, but if I make that a priority, I think I'm going to have to expand my search to 150-200 miles, in which case it seems like I basically need to commit before I see the car. Going with a Subaru dealer seems like a too expensive option. A smaller, independent dealer might work out. Found an '05 Forester with 105,000 maybe three hours away that seems like a nice candidate.

    Anyways I could use some advice on how to go about buying a used car. Since I don't really have the know how, know where to check for rust, what bad wear looks like and what's acceptable, etc, I don't feel like I can really assess a car's condition, other than a general impression.

    I can go prepared with a checklist, or use it to assess a car ahead of time. Maybe I should go that route.

    But ultimately, I feel like I'm just going to need to trust who I'm buying from.
    And I found out today that this guy with the '05 Outback is a third generation mechanic who grew up in the shop. It is just him running the shop, although his father goes down occasionally. It just seems like it would be awesome to buy from him and support what he's doing.

    Here are the options I'm considering:

    • Drive the Civic into the ground, at which point I'll have to make a rushed purchase
    • Scrape together the money for the '05 Outback through the local mechanic, make it quick and easy, hope it lasts
    • Another option: he's working on an '03 Forester with 130,000 that he'll be selling for around $3,300. But it's got some rust issues that will need to be tended to in a few years.
    • Assemble a checklist and widen my geographical search to look for a car with low miles. Possibly be prepared to buy at a distance based on information given to me by the seller. Seems risky, as I won't be near the seller, and it will be difficult to have it inspected by a mechanic before a purchase. Just seems like a headache to orchestrate - but maybe worth it.
    • Try to cool it and not think about getting a new vehicle until I get a better job.

    Thanks for reading and let me know what you think about my situation.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482

    Well if I'm reading between the lines here it sounds like you don't have a lot of extra money to throw around on unexpected repairs. The Subaru sounds like a good deal but if your Civic is running well and isn't badly rusted I'd tend to stick with it, and do the timing belt, also, so that you don't ruin the engine if it breaks.
    Better the devil you know than the one you don' they say. Unless you are in Alaska, FWD with snow tires is plenty okay for winter.

  • regularduderegulardude Member Posts: 3

    I think that's what I'm trying to avoid telling myself. Thanks for being straightforward.

    If I did the timing belt in hopes of keeping my Civic running a while longer - is there anything else I should have checked?

  • steverstever Guest Posts: 52,454
    edited July 2014

    Winters in Vermont can be long, but I managed okay in Anchorage with FWD vehicles for 20 winters. But the AWD Subaru would be nice to have for the snow days, and I'm assuming you'd be able to keep using this mechanic for maintenance.

    Keeping the Civic would be the cheapest option (but you need to do the timing belt) but you'd get a lot of use out of the Subaru up there. If you decide to wait, chances are this mechanic you've found will continue to pick up and flip used Subies, and you could ask him to look out for one for you after your job situation improves.

  • eliaselias Member Posts: 2,209

    This Subie sounds like a fine deal with the rebuilt motor, etc.
    I tend to prefer Civics/Hondas just due to having owned 4 of them. But no doubt the Subie would be a considerable upgrade, especially with the AWD dealing with snowy city parking spaces or skiing or whatever. Also I lived in VT for a while and understand why you are right to trust everything that 3rd-gen-native-vermonter mechanic says/does! Ayuh.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482

    @ Elias---I read over his post once I read yours, just to double-check my memory, and that engine is not actually rebuilt--it hasn't even had head work other than a resurface.

    There's no argument that a Subaru will perform better in winter--it's more an argument of swapping one old used car for another old used car and whether that is a plus or not.

    AWD is great but on passenger cars is becomes somewhat irrelevant once the snow gets deep enough, because then ground clearance is a bigger factor--which might make one lean towards the Forester.

    I actually did the very thing that this topic suggests--I bought a used Subaru for $5000 that had been gone through, with new gaskets and lots of other stuff as well. All in all it turned out to be a good deal for me---but the car was not without its needed maintenance and some repair during the 3 years I owned it. Cruise control died (wiring issue), CV joint boot cracked, driver's window switch went bad, needed tires after a while---you know, normal "old car stuff".

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