Any tips for getting a used Outback in Massachusetts?
March 12, 2014 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Our mechanic has fixed our car from last week's question, but now I think we'll probably just get another used car. The Boston winters have convinced us we'd like something with good handling in ice and snow. We're not really SUV people. Because of their reputation for reliability (and ubiquity in the region), we're leaning towards a used Outback. Do you have any recommendations or tips 1) about buying a used car in MA generally, and 2) about buying a used Outback in particular?

This is for Boston, in particular. We'll be paying cash; no financing.

A couple of examples of what I'm looking for:

On the general topic of used car buying in MA, there's the MA Lemon Law and Lemon Aid Law. Are there other laws and resources we should know about? E.g., "MA has a database of complaints about dealers you can search online" or "You have a right to a 60 minute test drive" (both of which I'm making up, but you get the idea).

On used Outbacks (or, to the extent relevant, new ones), is there anything I should know in particular? Based on inventories online, the Subaru dealers have a mix of 2011s onward. E.g., "the 2012 3.6s often had a flange problem" or "a used Limited is a much better deal that a used Premium" or whatever. Recommendations for specific dealers would be welcome, and if you have a trusted independent Subaru mechanic to do an inspection, that would be great, too.

And... if we're totally barking up the wrong tree, free free to say so. If the absolute smartest thing is to get a RAV4 in Maine and bring it back, I'd love to hear it.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I've noticed from my copious viewing of court shows is that in MA, you can void the deal if the vehicle doesn't pass inspection. I believe that you have a time limit, so get the vehicle inspected immediately after purchase, and invoke your right to undo the deal if there are problems within 72 hours.

If you want an extended warranty, you might want to go directly to the company to purchase it. If you buy a car with an existing warranty, you can wait for the factory warranty to expire and then buy one. You will save big bucks buying direct.

If you buy from a private party, take the car to the dealer and have them go through an inspection to insure that there are no problems with the car.

Other than that, you're a lawyer, so read the contract, and make sure that anything promised verbally is also in writing.

Happy hunting!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2014

Honest John's site is useful to get an idea of the known problems. However, it is a UK site and I don't know to what degree the guidance applies in the US.

- 2009 Outback
- 1999-2004 Outback
posted by MuffinMan at 7:22 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bought a lightly used Forester at Natick Subaru and the process was very smooth. I managed to talk them down quite a bit after I did my homework on the price. It was the typical back and forth, "I can't do that but let me check with the manager" car buying bullshit but in the end I left satisfied with their service. I haven't been back since but they send me a card every year on my birthday, which is nice.

No other real advice other than there should be a buttload of used Outbacks in New England.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on March 12, 2014

There's a whole forum dedicated to the Subaru Outback, with a subforum dedicated to the 4th Generation models you'd be looking at, which contains a stickied thread on what you should know if planning to buy one.
posted by jon1270 at 7:31 AM on March 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

We bought a three-year-old Forester from a private seller in 2012. I imagine our area is similar to yours for Subaru utility and love: ours is the third Subaru in a row in our garage.

Theoretically, yes, there SHOULD be a buttload of used Outbacks in New England, but the reality is that people keep the damn things because they run forever and you can shove all kinds of shit in 'em. The guy we bought ours from had two Subarus and was replacing this one with another.

We had a hard time finding the exact amenity level we wanted at the dealerships, even 200 miles around. They hold their value VERY well, especially around here. What really helped was test driving a bunch of models at the dealership (a few Foresters with different amenities, a slightly older Outback with a V6 instead of a 4-cylinder, etc.). That helped us figure out what we really wanted/needed and what we were truly willing to compromise on.

Incidentally, the Subaru 4-cylinder runs like a dream and doesn't feel significantly different from the 6-cylinder. I was accustomed to a V6 Accord, and we compared both a V6 Outback and 4-cylinder Forester with a RAV-4 and the 4-cylinder Subaru was smooth as hell. It's been fantastic in two heavy winters.

I really didn't like the base level models; they're ultra-basic. The one we have is a mid-level model with a moonroof (they are INSANELY large) and steering wheel sound controls, but no leather seats (which was actually the one thing I really wanted). That said, it's pretty great. You'll probably run into a few Eddie Bauer models, which are top of the line but probably run you more than necessary.

So my recommendation is to do the legwork and then bide your time on Craigslist, particularly if you're willing to go a little bit outside of your area. We probably saved $3k from the dealership price, and we hadn't seen a single dealership in two states with the combination we wanted.
posted by Madamina at 8:19 AM on March 12, 2014

Also, having done the legwork on said RAV-4s: I was really, really unimpressed with the comparable RAV-4s, which surprised me. The interior fixtures felt cheap and plasticky, and the 4-cylinder model drove a little... "light," I guess, is how I would describe it. It wasn't smooth at all. We have friends who have a V6, which they love, and which works well for them in Minnesota winters as well as pulling a sailboat, but I'm guessing the fixtures are still not as nice. And the Honda CRVs seem really narrow to me. I was very surprised by my reactions to both, being a longtime Honda driver.

The Subarus just FELT right. Very cockpit-y in a good way, and (a good feature for you, a "non-SUV person") you feel like you're driving a car, not perched upright trying to control something trucky (like the RAV-4).

Honestly, I'd suggest looking at a Forester if you have the option. I think the recent Outback models have gotten more upright and SUVish anyway, though both still feel like cars.
posted by Madamina at 8:38 AM on March 12, 2014

Just to give you another option and anec-data point: I live in upstate NY and am *very* pleased with the driveability and handling of my all-wheel-drive Honda CRV in winter weather. I do have snow tires on it, which make a big difference.

(Yes, I *know* you said "we're not SUV people" - I never thought I was either until I drove my Honda - to be fair, it's a small and unassuming SUV.)
posted by Ardea alba at 8:41 AM on March 12, 2014

Along with it seems like half of Fairbanks, we have a subaru outback. So, I can vouch for its ability to deal with ice and snow and crappy roads. (The AWD is nice.) We didn't get around to installing snow tires this year, so we're on the second or third year of the tires it came with, and it's not been problematic.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2014

Subaru does not make a V6; all of their engines, even the 6-cylinder ones, are pancake-type. You want this. It lowers the center of gravity of the car and improves handling.

FWIW, I found the Forester much easier to get in and out of, and that's why I bought one, instead of an Outback.

Consumer Reports has lists of problems common to specific years and models of cars in its annual Auto issue (at your local library), but as I recall, there's not much on the normal Subarus, because they're so reliable generally.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have much to add other than that I bought a used Outback two years ago and I know I am going to be one of those lifetime subaru drivers. The car has been fantastic. It's a 2001, so pretty old really, but drives awesome. I have no problems with it in the snow, in the mountains, on sketchy gravel forest service roads. I drove it through North Dakota in February through a blizzard with no issues. Mine has 150k miles one it and has needed very little major maintenance, though I and the previous owner have taken exceptionally good care of the thing. If I ever get a second car it will probably be the WRX.

Part of it is that subarus are just great cars. Part of it is that I've noticed subaru drivers tend to be pretty good folks and the sort who take care of their cars, get regular oil changes, etc., so buying a used one can be a great deal.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2014

You might have already found your answer but I'd thought I'd add my 2 cents. We are used Subaru people from way back. We've bought a Subaru DL wagon, Subaru 98 Outback wagon, Subaru 03 Outback wagon and Subaru 08 Tribeca. They have been good cars, the worst was the 98 wagon, the others were pretty awesome. We still have the 03 and the Tribeca. All were bought used. The best experience we had was buying from an owner. He had all the paperwork and could tell us the service history. The worst was buying from one of those dealers that specialize in used cars with no brand specialty (I hope that makes sense). Subarus IMO can take a beating but most owners aren't that hard on them. I would buy one that has close to 100,000 or even over since my experience shows that they can run to 200,000 at least. It may need some repair but if you use a reputable dealer (I like Anchor Subaru in RI) you should be ok. I am using $10,000 or less as your budget. If you are willing to pay more, then your options are obviously much greater. I would still use either a reputable dealer or a 1 car/owner. Personally on the tire front I wouldn't bother worrying, regular radial tires work fine in all weather. That being said, Subarus can and do slip in icy conditions but usually those people drive like assholes. However IMO tire pressure is important to these cars and can effect your milage. Also if you are going from a car to an all wheel drive car be prepared for lower gas milage. Our 03 Outback is a 4 cylinder but compared to our 4 cylinder Toyota Corolla, the Subaru is not as efficient. Our Tribeca tows our sailboat and drags us to numerous hockey games but gets the worst milage simply because it's 6 cyl (but so much fun to drive, it rules the road). You can check out milage on Edmunds or msn auto reviews.

I hope some of this helped you. Personally as long as we live where there's winter I wouldn't be without one.
posted by lasamana at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2014

I'd love to drive a Subaru because they are the best vehicle for winter driving and overall safety stats. I don't have one, because finding a decent used one without very-high mileage for a reasonable price, well there's not a lot to choose from where I live unless you get lucky. The brand is desirable, so if cost is an issue you'll just be paying more than for the competition. If you have the bucks I say go for it.

I think that Subaru owners are a sort of car cult. I mean this in a nice way. My friend has an cute old Forester with half-a-million km on it. So that's something.
posted by ovvl at 6:22 PM on March 13, 2014

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