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Old 03-30-2003, 01:49 PM   #1
twlai
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Question Need advise on buying a used Outback

I am thinking of buying a 97-98 Outback. What should I look for during test drive and inspection? Any specific area that I should look at?
Are there any known problem with 97-98 Outback ?

Thanks.
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Old 03-30-2003, 09:19 PM   #2
smagoun
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The 97-98 Outbacks are good cars, but they're not perfect. They have the Phase I version of the 2.5L engine, which means it will blow a head gasket at some point (it's a question of when, not if). They also have some overheating problems on occasion, and a bearing that goes bad. It's always important to get a car's repair history, but it's especially important to find out the history of the motor in the Outbacks from that time period.

Other than that, it's the usual stuff: tires (age, wear pattern, etc), brakes, belts (tension, wear), blah blah blah.

Here's what's gone wrong w/ my 98 OB:
  • Blown headgasket
  • New clutch (thanks to my little brother, bah)
  • Motor overheats in cold weather (yeah I know that's backwards). Only happens 1-2x/year, mechanics are completely unable to diagnose or fix.
  • Rear brake rotors pitted/rusty/unusable just 10k miles after being replaced. Probably since I live in MA, the land of road salt.
  • Belt let go inside the engine compartment. That was a fun one to clean up.
  • Loose exhaust (rattles...)
  • Power antenna motor died
  • Lights are starting to burn out in the cockpit, and they cost a fortune to replace if you go to a dealer.

I'm sure there are other things, but these are the ones that spring to mind. Overall it's a good car, but the engine problems are pervasive enough IMHO that I'd recommend an '00 or newer.
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Old 03-31-2003, 01:03 PM   #3
outback_97
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Post Another opinion

My car: '97 OB Wagon Automatic w/ 94000 miles.

I'm aware that there have been head gasket problems with this engine, but I think it's an overstatement to say that it will happen to EVERY one. If you read on an online discussion forum that 10 people have had this problem, you probably aren't going to hear about the 100 people that haven't. These are just arbitrary numbers, but that's my $.02 on that issue.

Problems I have had:
Alternator (recall, no charge)
Oil pump gasket leak
Valve cover oil leak
Power steering pump
Rotor warpage
Front strut failure (on one side)
No problems yet with interior lights, don't have a power antenna.

I've really enjoyed this car, it's never left me stranded, but has had some things break. They are somewhat pricey to repair, especially at the dealer, but that could be said of many cars. MY'00 and newer might be better, but obviously more expensive, and I much prefer the pre '00 body style.
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Old 03-31-2003, 02:29 PM   #4
twlai
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Thanks for the reply. These are very good information.

'00 and newer are too expensive for me now.
But it sounds to me too much problem for a 5-6 years old car.

My friend's 5 year old CRV is still trouble free, but I always like
the Outback. I am kind of disappointed to hear about the problem.
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Old 03-31-2003, 03:41 PM   #5
KilrWagn
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Its getting faster.......

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I have a '99 Outback I bought used in 2001 and have only had a few minor problems.

* A loose heat shield on the exhaust. Not serious just annoying.

* Oil pump and gasket. (fixed under warranty)

*Timing belt tensioner (Also fixed under warranty)

*And of course the timing belt (Warranty wins again)

Anyways besides these minor things I have absolutely loved my car and would recommend it to anyone. From what I can tell that oil pump gasket is pretty common so peek under the bumper right in front and look for excessive oil build up or seeping. It was pretty easy to spot on mine. BUt if your buying fairly new the warranty should cover you. Hope this helps.

Alex
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Old 03-31-2003, 09:35 PM   #6
smagoun
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Oh yah, I forgot about some of those problems. I had the alternator and a couple of other recalls (bad paint on the struts or something??? wt f). Also had the loose heat shield. The dealer's solution? Pull it off! That's my kind of fix....unlike losing 5 days in the shop while they hunt around trying to figure out why the motor overheats. But I'm not bitter. Really.

At least the brakes haven't failed yet, like they did in my '94 Blazer.
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Old 04-01-2003, 10:37 AM   #7
outback_97
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Post

Actually the recall was just to install "coil spring guards", to prevent the coil spring (around the strut, not the strut itself) from shooting thru the tire if it broke. Supposedly they had some problems with the anticorrosive paint on some coil springs and there was a concern about them rusting through. Hard to imagine something that thick rusting through to the point of breaking, but I guess it could happen.

Subarus have heat shield rattles, definitely. Minor annoyance, easily fixed.
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Old 04-01-2003, 02:24 PM   #8
sooberoo
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Ever since day 1, I had problems with clunky shifts on my 1998 manual Outback (and yes I am an experienced manual transmission user). First they replaced the first gear synchros, then eventually the clutch was replaced (thank goodness for the warranty!). Anyway the guys at the dealership here said they are always replacing clutches in legacies and outbacks of this vintage, but there was no actual recall.

I am still not happy with the clunkiness of the shifts. I have heard that going to a synthetic trannny fluid helps. Maybe I'll give that a whirl now that the car is off warranty and I will be doing some of the maintenance myself.
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Old 04-04-2003, 02:32 PM   #9
outback2.5HO
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My wife's 1996 Outback has 160k, no problems whatsoever, runs like a top.

I've seen them (outbacks) go 300k miles with regular maintenance. Many 96-99s have over 150k and run strong.

So not all have the problem. It seems like many of the cars that have the head gasket problem have been "rode hard and put away wet". I know that any problems that occured with my '97 Outback were from hard driving. After I rebuilt my engine (bored/ ported/polished heads, etc...) and did a bunch of mods (lightened pulleys/flywheel/intake/exhaust) without replacing the bearings, the extra compression and power helped kill the lower end and blow the head gasket. Even the Ph II 2.5s have the head gasket issue...

They have gotten better, but still have some issues. Overall though, they are a ton of car for the $. 165hp out of a non turbo, 4cyl powerplant is pretty impressive. Look at the 90's v6 4runners and pathfinders, they push out 150hp and have their issues too. The 4runners still pull stupid $ with decent miles on them, and are not even close to the Outback.

BTW, the CRVs have had some tranny issues in the automatics, not sure about the sticks though...Either the Forester or Outback will outperform the Honda hands down though, that 2.0L powerplant isn't very powerful, and the handling isn't the greatest.
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Old 04-06-2003, 09:44 AM   #10
RacingBlue
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Check out new before you go used, very good deals and factory financing available. You can order exactly what you want if you can wait 45 days or so, that's what I did.
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Old 04-08-2003, 12:40 PM   #11
outback2.5HO
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You can get exactly what you want if you don't want an H-6 powered car with a 6 speed (like me)...

Honestly, there is a huge price difference between the 98-99 cars and a new one (+-$10k). Most people looking for a used Subie of that vintage are completely different buyers than new. Actually, you could have a pair of used Outbacks for the same $ if you shopped hard enough...
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Old 04-10-2003, 10:28 PM   #12
twlai
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Thanks for all the good info.

I found a 97 Outback with 95k mi, and I'm going to check it out tomorrow.

Hope it is going to be a good one.

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Old 05-07-2003, 09:09 AM   #13
Keith99RS
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My wife has a 97 Outback and has had very few problems with it. Only big deals were a alternator recall, a spring recall (dealer inspected springs on front struts and installed guards), and a pesky check engine light that comes and goes sometimes. Other than those three items, the car has been great. To be honest, the Phase 1 2.5L head gasket leak thing seems to be more of a 98 RS related issue, not a Legacy issue.
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