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Buying a Used Subaru

I'm not sure why, but for some reason a number of people have asked me about buying a used Subaru.  If you want to buy a used Subaru there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that Subaru's are of course excellent vehicles.  In my experience, Subaru owners are on average far more vehicle savvy than the average person and generally take excellent care of their vehicles.  The bad news is that it is really hard to find used Subaru vehicles and if and when you do find one you can expect it to carry a premium price.

The problem is that since Subaru's are so good, people tend to not trade them in; rather they end up being passed along within families.  In speaking with folks at the dealership I take the vehicle for service, they tell me that the two most common reasons people buy a second Subaru is that (1) they simply need another vehicle because kids are growing up, etc. or (2) they have fallen in love with the features on the newer vehicles.

So, would I buy a used Subaru?  Of course I would.  What would I pay attention to?

First, look at the overall condition.  Like I said, Subaru owners tend to treat their vehicles very well.  If you run across that odd Subaru owner who doesn't seem to care about the appearance of the vehicle, pass on any deal.  Remember, a car with a lot of miles isn't going to be brand new, but it also shouldn't look like a wreck either.  I would pay particular attention to how it looks under the hood.  If it looks like crap on the outside there is a good chance it looks like crap on the inside.  Take a hard look at the tires.  Replacing the tires is a 500 buck job minimum.  Don't necessarily let worn tires scare you but make sure to factor that into any negotiations.

As far a maintenance, just like with any car, ask for some kind of records.  If the owner says they did most of the servicing themselves you have to make a call on whether or not you trust them.  There is one very important maintenance item - the timing belt.  It should be serviced at 105,000 miles.  If the owner has neglected this, they probably haven't paid too much attention to anything else. 

The most important thing is to take the car out for a drive.  Subaru's are peppy little machines.  My Forester with 205,000 miles still pulls hard leaving a traffic signal. The transmission shifts crisply (but not harshly).  It still handles extremely well around corners.  If any of this is lacking I would think twice about making the purchase.

As far as how many miles is too much.  I wouldn't think twice about buying an Subaru with under 100,000 miles provided it runs well and looks good.  Between 100 and 150K I would still feel comfortable but still I would want to really check it out.  Once you get over 150K, unless I knew the owner (say it was someone like me), I would absolutely want a professional to check it out for me.
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