Author Topic: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles (Read 17015 times)

RobinAZ

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Hi!

I know a lot of you have Subarus so... I am hoping to get some input. I dumped my car and car loan, and hubby is about to do the same. We are looking to buy a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles for $4500. There are 6 for sale in my area, roughly the same miles, same price, matches NADA, so we are happy with the cost (and no loan!!).

Neither one of us has ever opened a hood in our lives so we aren't ready to repair cars ourselves. Can someone assist me in determining what maintenance we need to consider, to keep this baby on the road forever?

So far, I have gleaned the following from the Internet:

1. There is a notorious head gasket issue
2. In addition to head gasket problem, should have had / may need Timing Belt, Tensioners + Idler(s) bearings, Water Pump, radiator hoses (since radiator has to come out), thermostat, and all the pulleys (CARFAX says TB was done at 100K but don't know the others)
3. Battery and A/C (this is the desert)

Also, if you have any thoughts on costs to have a mechanic do these repairs, that would be greatly appreciated. Might be able to grow our skill set going forward but for now, paying a repair shop is still cheaper than out combined $27,000 in car loans. Gotta start somewhere!!!!

Thank you so much!

Robin
Phoenix, AZ

thurston howell iv

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2013, 07:03:01 AM »
If the car does not have the head gasket issue, I wouldn't worry about it. Even if it did, it's a simple Boxer engine that is very easy to work on...
Same goes for the timing belt. It's about $40 for the belt and you don't really need to swap much more (like water pump, if all is working well- even though it's usually "recommended") There are tons of DIY videos and write ups for this project and it can be done with a basic socket set. You can do this yourself...

$4500 sounds a little pricey for a 98 model with 134k... I'd keep looking or maybe try a lower priced offer... I think you can find a better deal.

Like you say, it's still better than getting into car payments...

Good Luck.

badamsa

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2013, 06:21:11 PM »
Hi,

As a former 1998 subaru outback owner, I have some insight that will save you a lot of time and headache.

Don't buy this car or any like it!

I don't have time this minute to tell the whole story, but I will post it later tonight.

Bryan

badamsa

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2013, 09:50:50 PM »
Ok, story time.

I purchased a 1998 subaru outback with 135,000 that ran like a champ for $3700. No issues with it for 3 months. Out of nowhere, the car started overheating on drives longer than 30 mins or if I punched the gas too hard. I did a bunch of online research and found out about the head gasket issue. I took it to numerous mechanics and some thought it was the head gasket while others thought it was a bunch of other problems. One mechanic found that my radiator was 1/3 of the way clogged. Replaced it, no help. I took it to Subaru and they explained that head gaskets can go bad at 135,000 miles. Around this time my uncle had a similar problem in an 05 outback with 70000 miles on it. He replaced the head gasket. 1000 bucks later the car still had the overheating issue. He sold the car and bought a Honda. My uncle owned at least 5 subaru outback wagons and always took them to 250,000+ miles. He said he wont ever buy a Subaru again.

Back to my experience, I decided the car wasnt worth the risk of sinking that kind of money into it and have the problem unresolved. I sold it to someone on craigslist for $2200 with them knowing full well about the overheating issue, the lengths I went to try and fix it and the possibility the head gasket was bad.

I would highly recommend staying away from all Subaru vehicles with the 2.5L engines from 98-07. There is a reason there are so many of these cars for sale. There is a strong possibility that some of these cars have the overheating problem, the owner knows about it and are trying to sell a lemon. My theory is that the guy who sold the car to me put some stop leak in the radiator to temporarily fix it and sell it. That would explain why the radiator was clogged. Also, just because the car isnt overheating now doesnt mean it is immune to the problem.

After selling the car, I bought a Hyundai Elantra hatchback with 60k for $4500 (no loan!). I love that car and would highly recommend looking into them. Now have 115000 miles on it, gets 33 mpg and has only needed minor repairs.
Im not trying to be negative here, just trying to help a fellow mustachian learn from my mistakes.

Hope this helps,
Bryan

pr0zac

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2013, 10:27:44 PM »
As a sort of counterpoint, I have a 1996 Legacy Wagon with a 135k miles on it and the thing has been nothing be reliable. It is however, the 2.2L engine. It appears that all of the trouble with these cars stem from the 2.5L, especially the head gasket issue. I'd fully recommend the vehicle, and like the others above me said, would fully recommend avoiding the 2.5L.

nuclear85

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2013, 01:40:35 AM »
We bought a 2007 Outback 2.5L with about 70,000 miles on it a couple years ago (for reference, it was $12,000 cash in fantastic condition)... it now has about 115,000 and we have had ZERO problems with it. We did the timing belt around 105K; I want to say it was $500-600. We were wary of the head gasket issue too, and it seems like the 2005-2009 models have fewer problems than the earlier ones (although this may just may be due to the fact that many haven't been driven far enough yet!). Maybe you can find one with even higher miles (150K or so) that has never had head gasket issues; then you can be more confident. Absolutely take it to a trusty mechanic before buying!

My husband has learned a lot about working on cars with the Outback -- it's a lot easier to get to most parts than in his old car (a Civic). He's done just about everything except the timing belt, because we really didn't want to screw that up. It's a good car to learn on. Anyway, maybe I will change my tune when we hit 135K, but we have no regrets about going with this car.

Flynlow

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2013, 08:28:07 AM »
I would highly recommend staying away from all Subaru vehicles with the 2.5L engines from 98-07. There is a reason there are so many of these cars for sale. There is a strong possibility that some of these cars have the overheating problem, the owner knows about it and are trying to sell a lemon. My theory is that the guy who sold the car to me put some stop leak in the radiator to temporarily fix it and sell it. That would explain why the radiator was clogged. Also, just because the car isnt overheating now doesnt mean it is immune to the problem.

Hope this helps,
Bryan

As an additional counterpoint to the post a few above mine, this sounds MUCH more like a previous owner problem than a car problem. Stop leak WILL crap up your cooling system, in the same way fix-a-flat craps up the inside of your wheels or AC refridgerant with leak sealant will junk up your AC system. Good mechanics don't use them, and many refuse to work on cars that have been treated with them because it will damage their equipment (particularly the expensive vacuum/charge equipment for cooling and air conditioning systems).

You replaced the radiator, but not the head gasket? If so, the cooling system issue was NOT fixed, which is why you still had problems...can't really hold that against the car. Also, if you continue to drive a car with a bad headgasket, you increase the chances of warping the head, making the eventual repair that much more expensive since the head (and sometimes block) have to be milled back flat to ensure a good seal for the new gasket (which may be why your uncle had problems if this wasn't done). You are absolutely right that the 2.5L engine has a propensity for popping headgaskets, but it's a known problem and not the end of the world to fix. And the catch is, EVERY car has something like that, whether it's the impossible heater core on Volvos, the weak automatic transmissions in Hondas, the oil sludge problems of Corollas, whatever. While all of them can be an issue, the internet has a tendency to blow them out of proportion. The majority of owners don't have these problems.


Sharing my own story, I own a '99 Subaru Impreza with the 2.5L engine. It was my uncle's car at the time, and at ~100-110K miles, his mechanic told him the HG was starting to go. The car was in for a timing belt replacement (normal maintenance, due every 100K miles), and the head gasket was caught early and fixed. Since then, no more problems. The car now has almost 200K miles, and the only maintenance it's needed besides oil changes was new rear wheel bearings @ 170K miles, which is pretty good considering how long the originals lasted.

Cars need maintenance, neglect it at your own peril. How many here follow the manufacturers recommendations? Meaning, and it varies by manufacturer, but generally: you replace the coolant every 5 years/100K miles, the brake fluid every two years, the oil every 5K miles (you do run a high quality synthetic to ensure long life, right?), replace the trans/diff fluid every 60K miles, your air filter every 15K, your timing belt every 60-100K, your fuel filter every 10K, etc., etc. The new coolant helps protect your cooling system from rust by replenshing the additives, extending the life of your water pump/thermostat/radiator, brake fluid is hydroscopic (it absorbs water), replacing every 2 years keeps the water content low and helps avoid frozen (rusty inside) calipers, leaking master cylinders, and junked up ABS pumps, regular synthetic oil changes help prolong the life of your engine by keeping wear low and protecting against low oil conditions (such as startup), high heat (towing, traffic jams, etc.), and sludge, new trans/diff fluids replace the used up additives like friction modifiers that help keep the gears meshing smoothly, synchros happy, and limited slips working. Filters (air, engine, fuel) need to be clean to do their job, etc., etc.........It's all written down and available for anyone that want to know and follow it, but few do.

It might seem expensive, but regular maintenance isn't bad to DIY, and if you keep up with it, the car should last you three times longer than your friends who run them into the ground. That turns out to be quite a savings in the long run. :)

Flynlow

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2013, 08:36:27 AM »
Hi!

I know a lot of you have Subarus so... I am hoping to get some input. I dumped my car and car loan, and hubby is about to do the same. We are looking to buy a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles for $4500. There are 6 for sale in my area, roughly the same miles, same price, matches NADA, so we are happy with the cost (and no loan!!).

A wagon should be quite practical! When you go to look, the good ones should rise to the top pretty easily. It's usually better to buy from the guy who's the original owner, and pulls out a stack of maintenance receipts since new vs. the highschooler who's owned the car 2 years and can't tell you anything about it, even if it winds up being a few hundred more. If you're nervous though, you can request a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) any mechanic or dealership should be able to do this for you for $100-200. Some sellers may split the cost with you, or cover it, others won't. If you're short on mechanical knowledge, and you have a local dealer or mechanic that you trust, I would take your top pick from the cars you're looking at and get a 2nd opinion. Ask what's included in the inspection (should check brakes, coolant, battery, tire life, AC system, hopefully do a compression check, suspension: tie rods/control arms, ball joints, CV axles, etc., and maybe more)

Hope that helps.

badamsa

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2013, 10:16:51 AM »
After seeing my uncle's experience (who got the problem fixed the same week is started overheating), I didn't think replacing the HG was worth it due to the risk of the problem not being fixed. Also, I had read about quite a few people who had to replace the HG again after getting the problem fixed initially. Its not just the HG, its the design of the engine IMO. This was way more of a hassle than I thought was necessary in vehicle ownership.

I think HGs should last well beyond 110k as was your experience Flynlow. They should last the life of the engine.

http://adm-karpinsk.ru/2012/03/19/top-10-cars-for-smart-people/

RobinAZ, do some research into other cars that are on MMMs list and that don't have a known major defect. I would highly recommend hyundai elantras.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2013, 10:22:11 AM by badamsa »

orcas50

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #9 on: May 24, 2013, 10:52:03 AM »
I'll chime in as the owner of a 2003 Outback. We replaced the head gasket when the car was about 8 years old, mileage about 90K. Before scheduling the repair, we did a google search and found that '03 Subarus are known to have head gasket problems. We called Subaru of America and they ended up paying $500 towards the repair cost (work done at the dealer). We thought this was pretty good customer service.

zoltani

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2013, 12:15:49 PM »
When I was looking for a subbie back in december i read all about the infamous head gasket problems. Through my research I saw a lot of people recommending the earlier models, '90-'95, or some of the newer models with the 2.2L engine. I ended up finding a 1990 Legacy with 138k on it for about 3 grand. Wow, I thought that was a lot for this car, thought the dealer i bought it from had just put a grand into it replacing the head gasket, water pump, and timing belt. The person that sold him the car did so because it did not pass emissions due to the head We took a gamble a bought it in cash. So far the car has been running pretty good, and i really like having the wagon. A friend has a '90 with 220k or so miles, and he has driven it across the country. From what i understand the 2.2L engines were considered to be bulletproof. My mechanic told me that mine is one of the cleanest engines he has seen in a subbie that old. With proper maintenance these things can easily go 300k+ supposedly, though i don't know how much it will cost to keep it running.

I'd say to look for the 2.2L engine, but I have no experience with the 2.5L other than researching all of the problems. Personally I would have loved to find a nice condition '95, but no luck for us, the '90 was in the best condition of all the ones we looked at.
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RobinAZ

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Re: How to maintain 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback with 134,000 miles
« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2013, 06:56:40 PM »
Thank you to everyone for responding! Subaru sold anyway, so back to the drawing board. I will steer clear of the 2.5s!!!

Funny, I just sold my 2010 Hyundai Elantra. :-) It held its value very well and I was able to get a little more than we owed. But I want no car payment, so it had to go.

We'd like something a little bigger that we can take camping, so we were hoping for a small SUV-ish car, or the Outback. We are going to check out some CR-Vs and I'll look for those MMM posts re: good models, thank you!