The Golden Retriever Needs New Wheels--Help him pick out a Subaru Forester.
April 23, 2011 3:38 AM   Subscribe

What do you know about 2000 - 2005 Subaru Foresters? Problems?

We are looking to buy a used Subaru Forester for Golden Retriever outings and general hauling. What can you tell me about them?

Are there any particular things we should look out for?

Recently saw a 2000 with 50,000 miles for $9,000. This seems quite expensive for a 11 year old vehicle. They also had a 2001 for $5,900 with 123,000 miles. Which one would you get?

School us on Subaru Foresters.
posted by AuntieRuth to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't owned one, but a quick search at says that $9k for the 2000 is at least a couple thousand dollars more than it's worth, even if it's loaded with every option and in immaculate condition. It might be the better car of the two, but it's not better enough to justify paying their asking price. The price on the 2001 is much closer to its actual value.
posted by jon1270 at 3:50 AM on April 23, 2011

I've owned a Forester, I've also owned three other Subaru's.

I've been happy with the quality, reliability, and the value for the price. Obviously we can't see the vehicles you're looking at but, in general, Subaru makes a great little car and their all wheel drive is a fantastic asset if you drive on snowy roads.
posted by tomswift at 3:56 AM on April 23, 2011

*should've said that the price in the 2001 at least might be closer to its actual value. You really have to examine the particular car carefully. Generalizations only get you so far with cars of this age.
posted by jon1270 at 3:57 AM on April 23, 2011

Love my 2004 Forester turbo in the Cleveland winters. It might be overkill, gaswise, elsewhere; at current gas prices it's running $50/tank. While there's a reputation for head gasket issues, mine remains good.

Style-wise I also love its ugly-pretty old face much more than the new ones.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:14 AM on April 23, 2011

We own the 2005 xt (turbo) model, and have been very happy with it. The only caveat is that it needs premium-grade gas, and the mpg isn't that great. The power is great, though. We have friends who found their non-turbo model a bit sluggish, but YMMV.

Personally, I'd go for the cheaper, higher mileage one. I have another friend who makes a habit of buying Subarus with 100k on them and using them as daily drivers until they finally give up. They're pretty reliable well into old age.
posted by fixer at 4:16 AM on April 23, 2011

Love mine, which has been reliable mechanically. I have one minor quibble, and that's the damn gasket (the rubber strip) around the doors/windows. It has a tendency to come off the cheap-o plastic clips that hold it to the door and the resulting wind noise in the cabin is annoying. It is stupidly expensive to fix, and could have been prevented with a few more effective clips. But, as they say, YMMV. It has been great in wind, snow, and rain and I have never had any problem with starts on bitterly cold days.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:46 AM on April 23, 2011

We're on our third Subaru at my house (a 1992 Legacy, a 1998 Outback, a 2002 Forester) . I've had my Forester since 2004. They are awesome, well-made, very reliable cars. I drive a five-speed and have not noticed a sluggishness issue, so it's probably related to the automatic transmission gearing. I don't like automatic transmissions.

Three things about older Subarus: 1. There's a heat shield on the underbody of the car, I think it covers the exhaust. On all three of our Subarus that sucker got loose enough to make an awful racket that sounds like the car is about to drop some major mechanical component on the ground. It sounds like a very prominent rattle that's coming from somewhere beneath the front seat. Every Subaru mechanic that we spoke to said the only thing to do is remove that thing, which stops the noise.

2. For some reason my it collects chips and dings. Maybe it's the relative verticality of the surface and the car's lowness to the ground.

3. Because of AWD they do get slightly worse mileage than other cars of similar size. I think they've addressed this in newer ones, because new Outbacks, which are, absurdly, now the size of large minivans, are apparently rated at 30 on the highway.

I agree about that 9k price sounding a little high.
posted by mneekadon at 5:04 AM on April 23, 2011

I have a 2004 Forester with the standard non-turbo engine. It burns regular gas. I do mostly in town driving and it gets 21 mpg or so. When I do more of a mix of city and highway it does about 26 mpg. The car is well put together, and I've had no real issues with it except one: Piston slap.

A mechanic once explained to me that it's because of the flat four cylinder configuration (or boxer, like Porsche). The problem manifests itself as a knocking, especially if the engine's cold. From what I've read it's not particularly harmful to the engine, but it is a bit disconcerting. I owned a '95 Subaru Legacy with a similar engine and never had the noise, and I understand the newer generation (2009 on) doesn't have this problem.

You'll also want to consider interior space for your dog. Do you plan on keeping your golden in the way back? If so, you should be aware that there's not a terribly large amount of room back there, though there's probably enough for one dog.

Foresters before 2009 were built on the Subaru Impreza platform. which makes the wheelbase and length of the vehicle shorter than an Outback. They are a bit taller than the Outback, which is why I chose the Forester over that model. Later models are bigger, but will cost you more as well.

You might want to peruse the Forester owner's forum, as it's a great resource for all things Forester.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:07 AM on April 23, 2011

Yeah, the engine is a little more clattery than some. My old Legacy did it very prominently. It could be mistaken for knock, but it isn't.

I corroborate on those mileage numbers. My dad's 02 Impreza did exactly the same.
posted by mneekadon at 5:11 AM on April 23, 2011

This is a very interesting thread, as I'm considering an even older Forester ('99), but with only 75K miles on it. The price is just under 6K, which seems high for a vehicle more than 10 years old. But some of these comments at least lead me to think the Forester would (generally) last well into 150K miles?

Which follows what I've read, but I'm just nervous about buying a car that old.

Don't mean to hijack thread with my own issues, just reassured that these comments echo stuff I've read on the longevity of the car.
posted by lillygog at 5:15 AM on April 23, 2011

High milage is relative to the quality of the car. Some car brands have a reputation for high mileage (My wife's 1990 volvo wagon is heading for 300,000k at this point with no major engine issues), Subaru's have a similar reputation. You might see if you can check the service records on them. A car whose oil and fluids were changed as they should be will last much longer than one that has been neglected.
posted by tomswift at 5:36 AM on April 23, 2011

2000-2002 Foresters are prone to cylinder head problems. We have a 2001 - when we bought itthere was a leak and the dealer came down the cost of the repair on the price. It was a major pain to fix because the head was warped and we ended up with a new engine - but my amazing mechanic did it for the cost of the head fix. We have since learned that those years tend to this problem so have someone experienced look for leaks before you buy.

That said, I love my Forester - it's been reliable in deep snow and across really rough terrain, hauls a ton of stuff - we routinely camp, stuff it with telescopes or artwork and it's fun to drive. We will replace it when it dies with another although I'm hoping they'll have a hybrid when the time comes.
posted by leslies at 5:56 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a 2001. It was extremely reliable and had few problems, except one. It always had trouble starting below about 10 or 0 degrees Farenheit (which was fairly often for me as I live in Minnesota). I think the gas line was pinched somewhere perhaps, but I'm not sure, and I don't know if it was just bad luck, or a problem with Foresters.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:16 AM on April 23, 2011

I (heart) my Subi. I'm just over 170k, and going.

But agree that 9k seems a bit high. Is it fully loaded? (leather, moon roof, all the options, etc etc)

I'd always go lower mileage than higher, though if you could get the 123k for maybe $3k that might be a deal. But if the head gasket hasn't been done on it, that'll probably end up needing to be done (not just Subarus, I've found start needing that head gasket around 120k - happened to me for Chevy's, Hondas an Toyotas that I've owned)

It all depends on the trim model, options, and if they have the service history.
posted by rich at 6:17 AM on April 23, 2011

1998 Forester. 105K of miles. It has been rock solid in winter conditions and cold morning starts. We sold the 99' over 3 years ago for something like 7.5K and that one did have the heated seats and all that so the price on the first is a bit silly.

Repairs, we have had timing belt replacement, alternator, small leaks, suspension (pot holes are HELL) and occasional window dings. Much less than the total cost of a new car.

I haul three kids and assorted crap. I would say that it is difficult if you have three kids that need boosters and child chairs because most modern chairs are frigging wide and getting wider. You would need to get narrow seats like Radian if you are cramming kids of a certain age into a Forester.
posted by jadepearl at 6:18 AM on April 23, 2011

I have a 2004 Forester XT (turbo); owned it since day 1. I looooove it. It has the smoothest power curve of any turbo I've driven - almost no spoolup.

Likes: Visibility is top-notch. Power is great. Reliability is awesome. AWD works great.

Dislikes: Wind noise. Very short first gear. Turbo needs premium gas. Not the prettiest thing on the road.

I would highly recommend one.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:55 AM on April 23, 2011

I bought my 2004 Forester X a year ago with 100,000 miles on it. I've had the rack and pinion replaced and also replaced a rear wheel bearing. From my research online it sounds like wheel bearings going bad is a somewhat common issue with Subarus, so just something to be aware of. Also, there's a special press for the wheel bearings that none of the shops in the area had, other than the Subaru dealer. It can be done without it, which I ended up doing due to the price, but will take longer and isn't exactly the by-the-book way to do it.

Other minor issues...wind noise from the rubber strip around the window being loose, and mpg isn't the best due to AWD. The AWD is very good, though, and definitely worth it if you live in an area with lots of snow. Overall it's a great car. I'm happy with mine and would definitely buy another Subaru.
posted by flod logic at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2011

Oh, one more thing -- there was a recall on the catalytic converters. You should make sure that work has been done on any Subaru you look at because the date for getting reimbursed for it is past, and they are $$$$.
posted by mneekadon at 7:30 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a Legacy 2004. Approaching 170k. Check engine light has been on for almost the entire time I have owned it (4 years). Cat coverters keep burning out. Also, there is a slight coolant leak so be aware that the head gasket thing may affect cars outside of the recall dates. Check the records. If there are multiple reports of the check engine light coming on then that means you will probably be dealing with the same cat converter issue for the life of the car.

Despite all the above, I really like the car. It drives nice, and does great in snow.
posted by WickedPissah at 7:48 AM on April 23, 2011

My '05 has 160K on it and has been fabulous with zero maintenance. I get about 30 mpg hwy. Love this car!
posted by purenitrous at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2011

This is a useful page aggregating engine type, car model and the kind of head gasket problems present in each.

Imprezas (on which the Forester is based) are pretty reliable but the platform is known for wheel bearing failures and that is worth checking pre-purchase.

I have two Legacy wagons. One has the turbo engine and it is a lot of fun. If you buy a turbo you should look at the Legacy GT turbo engine forum. These engines demand a bit more commitment than the normally-aspirated ones: you have to change the oil fairly frequently and there's a body of evidence developing that the 2005 models' turbochargers are sensitive to all kinds of oil issues.

9k for a 2000 Forester sounds high, but 5900 for a 2001 would not be completely out of the question in the California bay area. Personally I would stick to 2003 and newer in Foresters. A friend of mine had a 1999, though, and it never burped, leaked, stranded her or did anything untoward. She drove it like a rally car (which Imprezas are) and at first I was very surprised that a tall boxy thing like that would handle well, but it does. She bought a 2010 Forester (and forgot I wanted to buy the '99) which seems very van-like, the magic is gone.
posted by jet_silver at 9:43 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a very interesting thread, as I'm considering an even older Forester ('99), but with only 75K miles on it.

I basically just bought that car for about 5k this summer, no rust, somewhat loaded. Was totally happy with it. It did need the timing belt replaced soon after I got it, as well as some fuel line work which were expensive repairs. Still happy with it, just wasn't the total steal I originally felt it was.

On the newer Forresters you absolutely need to check out the head gasket issue. This will be an expensive repair and I agree with what other people have said, that seems like a high price for the car. I'd look at the 2001 and talk them down to 4-ish.
posted by jessamyn at 9:50 AM on April 23, 2011

Not to thread hog, but Wickedpissah, I had similar check engine light issues for a long time. My mechanic kept changing the O2 sensor (probably happened 3 times, I only paid for the first one), and I finally had a Subaru dealer (Evergreen in Auburn ME) replace the catalytic converter.

When the check engine light came on AGAIN after that, I took it back to the dealer and they told me there was a firmware update that had to go with the new catalytic converter, otherwise the O2 sensor is operating with the wrong specs. They fixed that, and the light has stayed off since.
posted by mneekadon at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

It just occurred to me that the Subi has one really weird characteristic that you need to know if you get one: the gas cap MUST be completely tightened down after you gas up (spin it until it clicks a few times). If the cap is loose at all, your engine will eventually stall and it's a stumper if you don't know what's going on. It must be some kind of pressure thing.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2011

You can lump the Foresters into these year ranges: 1998-2000, 2001-2002 (different taillights and grill), 2003-2008 (nicer inside and out with turbo option), 2008-present (ugly minivan). In other words, a 2001 model is the same as a 2002 model, so you shouldn't pay much more based on that.

I own a 2001 with a little over 100k miles (family's since 54k, and mine since 75k). Here are some things to check on the ones your considering:
  • If it's over 100k, has the timing belt been replaced? This is around $1000 USD for a timing belt and water pump change. It's supposed to be replaced at 105,000 miles.
  • Has the alternator been replaced? If it's squealing for <1>
  • Is the front skid plate broken? Most Subarus around here (MT) have them dragging on the ground. It's an overpriced piece of plastic that shatters in cold weather ($300 to replace). If it's broken, you can get a real skid plate (sump guard) for about the same price, but it'd made out of aluminum (see Primitive Rally or Subtle Solutions).
  • Ka-clunk feeling from 3rd to 4th on an automatic. Might be an axle problem or transmission. Test drive on a freeway if you can.
  • Don't forget to look up the model on Kelley Blue Book.
Some things you might find annoying:
  • Rattling from weather stripping or something else. Some people put noise-deafening material between their doors. It depends on how bad it is, but it's not terrible if you have your stereo on. My car sounds like a rattling bed frame, but I sense it's the out-of-whack wheels from a winter of potholes.
  • The check-engine light is pretty sensitive. If it comes on, try cleaning your gas cap first, otherwise it's a $45 fee from a dealer.
  • You're stuck with tiny speakers in the 1999-2002 models (not sure about later). This hasn't been a problem for me, and the upside is you can replace them for $20 at Walmart.
Aside from these little issues, it's a great car as evidenced by all these responses! If you have snow tires and/or chains, you can get up most winter trails, and you can also survive some 4x4-only trails. It hugs the road despite high winds or other terrible conditions too. You can get pretty decent gas mileage as well. I'm usually around 19-21 MPG city and 25-30 MPG freeway (55 MPH for the latter). You can also make it about 40 miles past E too. It's kind of zippy with a low center of gravity, so you don't feel like you're driving a box (or a Honda Element).

In my experience, it's been surprisingly low maintenance despite the way it was formerly treated. These have been my major expenses since I've owned it: struts ($600), AC blower motor ($300...mice ruined mine), tires ($400), right front axle ($225), oxygen sensors ($330), knock sensor ($250), front plastic skid plate ($300 [mistake]), real front and rear skid plates ($350), and misc. fluids. If you take into consideration that my Forester lived on a harsh winter ranch for 3.5 years of its life and missed all of its maintenance points from 54k to 100k, it's not too bad. (I've since repented and have it on a normal maintenance schedule.)

As an unskilled mechanic, I've found the Forester to be pretty easy to work on for oil changes, headlights, interior work, and other little jobs. However, if you do need major work done, find a mechanic that specializes in Subarus. In my experience, the Subaru dealerships overcharge for any kind of labor. We're fortunate enough to have an exclusive Subaru shop in Missoula, since nearly every other car here is a Subaru.

Also, check out for good info on aftermarket parts, maintenance, etc.

Good luck finding a Forester. Feel free to mail me with any questions.

gauchodaspampas: Your gas line was probably frozen, which can happen if you're low on gas (or get fuel with water in it). Fuel line antifreeze is all you need ($5). I had this problem a few times when I parked outside with <1/4 tank in winter.
posted by fleeba at 11:42 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a 2000 Forester with 145k miles, I got it with 100k in 2006 for I think $7000. It's been a great car, I've moved tons of stuff with it and never had any major problems despite me not really taking great care of it and the side getting mashed in pretty good in an accident. It's definitely a "loud" car in that the engine does clatter a bit, particularly when it's cold, and I get an odd whistling from the frameless windows that is apparently pretty common. Gas mileage is not so great either, I probably get 18ish city and maybe 22 highway, though I have a bike rack on the roof.

Also it leaks and burns a little oil (not super bad for an 11 year old car) and I have the cat converter check engine issue mentioned above but I haven't done anything about it and it keeps running and passing emissions tests.
posted by ghharr at 11:58 AM on April 23, 2011

Also I would say the front seats aren't super comfortable on long drives (but heated seats on the "s" model are awesome)
posted by ghharr at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2011

Thanks mneekadon!
posted by WickedPissah at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2011

My 2000 Forester, automatic, bought new, has 257K miles (mostly highway). I have the oil changed about every 5000 miles, and try (not always successfully) to remember to have the differential fluid and transmission fluid changed on schedule.

O2 sensors have been an ongoing expense for me: replaced at least 4 times now, so watch out for that. Gas mileage is usually near EPA estimates of 19/25 but I got 27 mpg on a tank last week running 60 to 65 on the interstate.

Stuff wears out: so, I've had the timing belt + water pump replacement done as scheduled (twice); both rear wheel bearings replaced (one two years ago, the other late last year). Have had to had brakes replaced when the rotor was worn. Multiple sets of tires.

Knowing that no car lasts forever, I've been mulling over the gas mileage versus AWD tradeoffs for all cars. I find that AWD gives much more control, not only in snow, but in rain-flooded roads in summer. I also like the ground clearance (even better on the new Foresters.) Subaru just announced a 2012 Impreza, not built on the boxer engine platform, that is supposed to get 36 mpg. I'll probably buy another Subaru when I need another car (not sure if it will be the Impreza though).

Have a mechanic check out the 2001 Forester if possible, and get an estimate for work needed, prior to buying it. 123K miles is a lot of miles.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:15 PM on April 24, 2011

Response by poster: After being dicked around by the Subaru dealer--who wouldn't give us a firm price on a 2003 Forester, we decided to buy a 2001 PT Cruiser for 4,500.00

Ted is pretty happy with his new silver Cruiser with moonroof for beach operations and dog park excursions. Plus he has a hatchback to easily get at his toys and beach towel.

Thanks to all for advice on Foresters--we just couldn't get the right deal for the right money and Mr. Ted likes to save his green for jerky strips!
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:47 AM on July 10, 2011

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