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Old 05-21-2006, 06:19 PM   #1
JLow03
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Default How reliable will this car be: 1996 Legacy L AWD

Hey guys. I know there might be an archived post on this, but in my search, I didn't have much luck. Here's what's up: My girlfriend is looking for a reliable car to get her through grad school (one year) and a few years beyond while she pays off loans. Alas, it also needs to be fairly cheap.

Sooo, while perusing the Subie dealer this weekend, we came across a 1996 Legacy L AWD wagon. It's an automatic with 130,000 miles. The venerable 2.2 liter motor. Major belt service done at 120K, and a Stage 4 Service (all fluids, diffs., tranny service, brakes, etc.) is included with the purchase price of $5,600. KBB is $5,700, and the salesman said they'd do $5,500 with a 60 day warranty. Also, it's a one-owner, new Subie trade with all records. This thing is CLEAN. I'm all about it, she drove it and loved it.

What I want to know is, how much life is left in this car? I know the 2.2 will go forever with basic maintenance, which is why I want her in a 2.2 as opposed to the 2.5 which might run into head gasket issues. She's a student, and will be for the next year - she does not have a lot of money to burn, but would like this car to get her through the next 2-3 years. Is it a good solution? Let me know.

Thanks!
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Old 05-21-2006, 06:22 PM   #2
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Sounds good to me!
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Old 05-21-2006, 07:40 PM   #3
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Cool. Oh, here's some pics:



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Old 05-21-2006, 08:16 PM   #4
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$5700 seems like a lot to me for a legacy. I paid like $2700 for my '95. That is in really nice shape though!

I wouldn't hesitate to buy another legacy as a "girlfriend needs a relaible car" car, since that's why i have mine. The only things i've really needed was a CV axle, and steering rack boots. I also had one bad front wheel bearing when i got the car, so i did both sides with their ball joints to get that out of the way.
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Old 05-21-2006, 08:36 PM   #5
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The EJ22 is very reliable
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Old 05-21-2006, 08:41 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MCarp22
$5700 seems like a lot to me for a legacy. I paid like $2700 for my '95. That is in really nice shape though!

I wouldn't hesitate to buy another legacy as a "girlfriend needs a relaible car" car, since that's why i have mine. The only things i've really needed was a CV axle, and steering rack boots. I also had one bad front wheel bearing when i got the car, so i did both sides with their ball joints to get that out of the way.
I think the final price will be closer to $5,500. $5,700 is KBB, but I mentioned the lower figure and they said they'd bite. Also, the rear wheel bearings will be replaced and included in the purchase price.

Thanks for the tips so far! She and her parents are looking at it tomorrow!
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Old 05-21-2006, 10:56 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MCarp22
$5700 seems like a lot to me for a legacy. I paid like $2700 for my '95. That is in really nice shape though!

I wouldn't hesitate to buy another legacy as a "girlfriend needs a relaible car" car, since that's why i have mine. The only things i've really needed was a CV axle, and steering rack boots. I also had one bad front wheel bearing when i got the car, so i did both sides with their ball joints to get that out of the way.

price also depends very much upon your location though. i paid like $4500 for my '95 L AWD wagon back in december, so that price doesn't seem too bad to me.

and yes, that car is very clean looking. looks just like mine did the day i bought it.

err, except mine's white.


uh, and the interior's brown.


um, and mine had yakima crossbars.


but other than that, they're identical!
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Old 05-21-2006, 10:58 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JLow03
Hey guys. I know there might be an archived post on this, but in my search, I didn't have much luck. Here's what's up: My girlfriend is looking for a reliable car to get her through grad school (one year) and a few years beyond while she pays off loans. Alas, it also needs to be fairly cheap.

Sooo, while perusing the Subie dealer this weekend, we came across a 1996 Legacy L AWD wagon. It's an automatic with 130,000 miles. The venerable 2.2 liter motor. Major belt service done at 120K, and a Stage 4 Service (all fluids, diffs., tranny service, brakes, etc.) is included with the purchase price of $5,600. KBB is $5,700, and the salesman said they'd do $5,500 with a 60 day warranty. Also, it's a one-owner, new Subie trade with all records. This thing is CLEAN. I'm all about it, she drove it and loved it.

What I want to know is, how much life is left in this car? I know the 2.2 will go forever with basic maintenance, which is why I want her in a 2.2 as opposed to the 2.5 which might run into head gasket issues. She's a student, and will be for the next year - she does not have a lot of money to burn, but would like this car to get her through the next 2-3 years. Is it a good solution? Let me know.

Thanks!

oh, and since she hasn't driving it yet, you might want to warn her that the engine does have a bit of a stutter around 3-4K RPM. what that means is that the car will accelerate, and then seem to hesitate for a moment before it shifts, it almost feels like turbo lag, and it's very distracting if you're not aware of it.

you also might want to warn her about the parking light switch on top of the steering column!
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Old 05-21-2006, 10:59 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by that one legacy
price also depends very much upon your location though. i paid like $4500 for my '95 L AWD wagon back in december, so that price doesn't seem too bad to me.
Yep. It's in the high-point of the buyer's season and it's in CT, a haven for Subie owners. So there will a premium associated with it just for being in New England. Glad to hear it's not out of line - that's my biggest concern, is if the price is fair (along with anticipated reliability, but I think we've established that much.)
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Old 05-21-2006, 11:13 PM   #10
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Keep in mind the dealer gave the seller nowhere near $5K for that car, they have money to make on it. $5500 seems like a lot IMO, but there is some value to dealer serviced & 60 day warranty.

I always negotiate a little more out of them and I would do that if I were you. But even if you don't you're getting a good car at a decent price, so you can't go wrong.

My 97 LGT Wagon has 206K miles and is still going strong. The only issues are what others have mentioned, mainly CV boots since its not the 2.5L. If you can get the car jacked up, look for something that looks like this:



IIRC it should be slightly behind the engine; inspect the boots on those and also there's another shaft that has rubber boots protecting it. I think that other shaft has to do with the steering, but I'm not sure.

As I think of it, didn't someone mention pre-97 4EAT transmission problems? I just recall someone saying "they fixed the auto tranny problems in 97."
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Old 05-21-2006, 11:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GTWagon_Phreak
As I think of it, didn't someone mention pre-97 4EAT transmission problems? I just recall someone saying "they fixed the auto tranny problems in 97."
Hmm, I'd like to know more about this...
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Old 05-22-2006, 02:26 AM   #12
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It is my understanding, and I've said this more than a few times, that in mid-97, the rear housing of the transmission was changed to an updated design. The previous models had wear issues at high miles, and exhibited what's commonly reffered to as "torque bind". I don't recommend 4EAT transmissions to anyone, and especially not anything made before 98.

What I did hear is that it's a $500-1000 replacement, which is hardly the end of the world. If it does have problems, just know that it's probably not going to be a full transmission rebuild.
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:03 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DLC
It is my understanding, and I've said this more than a few times, that in mid-97, the rear housing of the transmission was changed to an updated design. The previous models had wear issues at high miles, and exhibited what's commonly reffered to as "torque bind". I don't recommend 4EAT transmissions to anyone, and especially not anything made before 98.
Plenty of folks who do nothing more than routine maintenance get more than 250,000 miles out of their pre-'97 4EATs. While not great transmissions, they are not exactly unreliable. Given the expected life span of a 5 speeds clutch assembly, one could argue that the automatic is more reliable than a 5 speed. With the '97+ models the 2.2 litre motor became an INTERFERANCE motor, offering rather dire consequenses to those who fail to do prompt timing belt belt service.

I *think* the only real down side to the car in question is the slightly less then stellar fuel milage. (I am getting ~19MPG in stop & go semi-city type driving in my '96 4EAT, conditions where my '99 GT gets perhaps 23-24 MPG).
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:51 AM   #14
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Thanks for the advice on the trans. Anything that should be looked for in how it drives in regards to how stout the trans. is? The pre-97 2.2 is very appealing because of its design, and the timing belt was done at 120K. The cam belt service is also included in the sale price.
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Old 05-22-2006, 08:09 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JLow03
Anything that should be looked for in how it drives in regards to how stout the trans. is?
It should shift crisply, not hesitate all over the place, and drop into gear nicely when you shift it.

That's about all I got, I'm not a 4EAT expert.
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Old 05-22-2006, 08:23 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JLow03
Thanks for the advice on the trans. Anything that should be looked for in how it drives in regards to how stout the trans. is? The pre-97 2.2 is very appealing because of its design, and the timing belt was done at 120K. The cam belt service is also included in the sale price.
The general stuff with automatics is that it shifts between gears pretty smoothly, check the transmission fluid to see if its pink (which it should be if the dealer just did that service on it), and I would give it a full throttle run. Some problems I've had with auto's before are mainly exhibited under full throttle, so see if it still shifts relatively quickly and smoothly under full throttle.
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:41 PM   #17
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My '96 "L" sometimes viabrates a bit while waiting at a traffic signal in drive... other than that it runs well... knock on wood. with 187K miles
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Old 05-22-2006, 06:43 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GTWagon_Phreak
so see if it still shifts relatively quickly and smoothly under full throttle.
Aside from a general lack of acceleration due to engine power, i'm always impressed with the precision that the 4EAT cranks off 6000rpm shifts on the nose every time. My omni had the old rock-crusher 3 speed from the late 70s, and being all mechanical and hydraulic, it would shift "when it felt like it" during a full throttle run.
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Old 05-22-2006, 10:53 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by that one legacy
oh, and since she hasn't driving it yet, you might want to warn her that the engine does have a bit of a stutter around 3-4K RPM. what that means is that the car will accelerate, and then seem to hesitate for a moment before it shifts, it almost feels like turbo lag, and it's very distracting if you're not aware of it.

you also might want to warn her about the parking light switch on top of the steering column!
There's two things I know (one i just learned on Friday - so even a Subie Guru can learn a thing or two...;-)...)

1) Do the grounding mod. I've done this to five of my six Subes. The 05 doesn't need it so I left it as is...plus Subaru has done a much better job on the 4th gens. Do a search on grounding mod under my screen name and it should pop right up. Smooths out the engine AND the transmission as both the ECU and the TCU have good clean ground reference to work from.

2) Replace the transmission mount (just learned this bit) because if it's sagging, the car will vibrate during acceleration. Also, over time, it'll affect the trasmission-to-drive-shaft coupling - front and rear u-joints - pinon angle and will result in worn parts and leaking seals. The Subaru master tech that I work with estimated that conservatively 70% or better older Subes (> 3 years old) have this issue and it just isn't caught.

WRT the 2.2L, bullet proof in my mind, especially if it's had great care. The 4EAT, same thing. Since it's a 96 USDM, it has to be an AWD unit so I'd have it gone over with a fine tooth comb by a Subaru master tech (independent of the dealership you're buying it from) and if he/she gives it a clean bill of health, then go with it. Whatever the tech identifies as work needing to be done, either decrement the buy price or have them repair it at their cost for the agreed upon price.

HTH
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Old 05-22-2006, 10:54 PM   #20
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yeah you'll definitely enjoy the torque that the engine puts out. that alone made me satisfied with my purchase, never mind the AWD or the wagon body! just be aware of the hesitation that i mentioned above, which apparently is present on many subaru models, not just the Leg. but after a while, you should be able to figure out a way to drive around without lagging the engine too much (i did anyway), so after that it's not a big issue.

the only other things i can think of are just be aware that H4 motors are a bit noisy, and don't idle like an I4 engine will. if the motor feels a bit lumpy at idle, that's actually normal, so don't worry about it. also be aware that the windows have a bad tendancy to rattle when they're part-way down, especially at idle. there really isn't much that you can do about that though.

oh and the only other problem that i've experienced is that the rear view mirror likes to fall down a lot (not off, it just leans down very easily). i fixed that by taking the damn thing apart, and shoving in a bigger washer (i can explain that further if you need, but i think there's a couple threads floating around about that already). i've got a 400mm Broadway mirror on mine, and even with that big old thing, the mirror doesn't move at all anymore, now that i've got that washer in there.
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Old 05-22-2006, 11:07 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by that one legacy
yeah you'll definitely enjoy the torque that the engine puts out. that alone made me satisfied with my purchase, never mind the AWD or the wagon body! just be aware of the hesitation that i mentioned above, which apparently is present on many subaru models, not just the Leg. but after a while, you should be able to figure out a way to drive around without lagging the engine too much (i did anyway), so after that it's not a big issue.

the only other things i can think of are just be aware that H4 motors are a bit noisy, and don't idle like an I4 engine will. if the motor feels a bit lumpy at idle, that's actually normal, so don't worry about it. also be aware that the windows have a bad tendancy to rattle when they're part-way down, especially at idle. there really isn't much that you can do about that though.

oh and the only other problem that i've experienced is that the rear view mirror likes to fall down a lot (not off, it just leans down very easily). i fixed that by taking the damn thing apart, and shoving in a bigger washer (i can explain that further if you need, but i think there's a couple threads floating around about that already). i've got a 400mm Broadway mirror on mine, and even with that big old thing, the mirror doesn't move at all anymore, now that i've got that washer in there.
Yeah H-4 motors are very loud when cold and idle a bit rougher than your average small displacement engine. The windows on my car don't rattle when part of the way down unless you close the door.

Good tip on the rear view! It doesn't fall down on me until I get the bass going a bit, but it IS annoying
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Old 05-22-2006, 11:12 PM   #22
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True that, the torque curve of the EJ22 is very nice! From 2800 on to 5000 rpms, it is very solid. I find myself happily living under 3000 rpms most of the time. If I want a bit of power, 4500 is the place to be

Not to say that the car is fast and I wouldn't have it faster, but the engine output makes it easy and smooth driving.

Definitely get the tranny mounts, I've heard nothing but good things about them
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Old 05-22-2006, 11:37 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Subietonic
WRT the 2.2L, bullet proof in my mind, especially if it's had great care. The 4EAT, same thing. Since it's a 96 USDM, it has to be an AWD unit so I'd have it gone over with a fine tooth comb by a Subaru master tech (independent of the dealership you're buying it from) and if he/she gives it a clean bill of health, then go with it. Whatever the tech identifies as work needing to be done, either decrement the buy price or have them repair it at their cost for the agreed upon price.
Well, she and her parents arranged for an indendent tech. to check it out. He's not so much of a Subie specialist as he is an 'all-rounder', but the dealership is bringing it to the mechanic tomorrow morning. So, it's at least a sign of good faith on the dealership's part.

Thanks for all the feedback so far!
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Old 05-23-2006, 12:15 AM   #24
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Nice gesture on their part but my guess is they're "hoping" the all-rounder won't truly know a Subaru from a Saab or any other perspective. Will likely check the brake pads and shoes (doubt this), check the color of the brake and transmission fluid, wiggle the front wheels with the car off the ground to check for bearing play, check the CV boots for wear/tears and look for leaks (maybe). Things the mech will not check but should:
  • Brakes - Transition from reverse to forward with no snaps, cracks or pops
  • All lines are corrosion and bend/crimp-free, and free of any crack in the rubber hoses
  • Pads are worn evenly (should be new), Rotors should be well within minimum spec
  • Rear shoes are worn evenly (should be new), Drums should be well within minimum spec
  • Hub bearings have no wear/rotational sound
  • CV joints have no wear/rotational sound
  • Diagnostic read on the sensors (O2, Catalyst, engine knock, etc.)
  • Coolant capacity (how old and how much protection do you have)
  • Cooling fans come on/go off when they're supposed to and the temp gauge works properly
  • Battery specific gravity
  • Alternator and starter motor load test
  • Steering rack, pivot arm, swaybars (F/R), rear link and differential mount bushings
  • Clunks in the chassis/steering when driven
  • CV, Shaft (F/R, L/R) Differential end play
  • F/R U-Joint check, U-Joint to transmission coupling and rear U-Joint to diff play
  • Hydro-carbon sniff test and/or leak down test (checking for head gasket issues - and yes the SOHCs can have them too)
  • Filter replacement (were the filters truly replaced)
  • Tranny mount play (see previous note in my post above)
  • Transmission operation (specifically checking the center differential - does it drag the F/R wheels during tight left/right turns on concrete - cause the car to crab sideways instead of turning)
  • Does the transmission engage properly with no clunks, thunks, delays
  • Does 1st gear operate properly (start easily in first and stay in first)
  • Does 2nd gear operate properly (start easily in 2nd and stay in 2nd)
  • Does the transmission shift smoothly up and down through its range with no jerks, hesitations or sounds
  • Transmission operation from Forward to Reverse - transition without clunks, jerks, delays
  • Are the tires properly inflated (32F 30R)
  • Are there ANY signs of previous body structure repair - i.e., non-subaru OEM fenders, hoods, trunk lid, etc., they'll all be stamped with Subaru on their visual surface
  • Does the car body pass the bondo (magnet) test
  • Struts are not leaking and respond promptly and appropriately well to compression
Those are just some of the checks that should be done and which a Subaru tech would know to look for on routine examination

FWIW - I always spend $150-200 minimum (unless I personally know the car's history, owner and how it was driven) and I still will spend $100 to tell me what the car needs if anything. I realize that you're looking for a good car but by having a non-Subaru tech do the pre-purchase inspection, you're potentially looking at a missed-item that will likely cost you much time and dollars to get repaired. Not being a pessimist, but I've learned this one the hard way (and, unfortunately, more than once in another, pre-Subaru world)
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Old 05-23-2006, 07:47 AM   #25
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It would have been ideal to have a Subaru tech do the inspection, but to be honest, I know the mechanic has dealt with the family's problematic Volvos for several years, so he's not completely in the dark.

I have to admit, I'm still concerned the price is too high. My girl is considering holding off because she found several Corrolas local to her that are under $5K. I can't blame her - but I do like knowing a Subie dealer stands behind this car, as opposed to a corner used car lot that won't help you out if something goes wrong.
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