By on August 29, 2014

969
“I have a couple older Subaru wagons (96-97) for sale in Morehead. Message me if you are interested.”

Interested? Was I ever!

As I stated in one of my more recent contributions to TTAC, I have been driving my Boss 302 as my daily driver ever since I bought it (with a brief interruption from a 1995 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Elite that had more electrical glitches than one might have thought possible). Well, with winter approaching yet again, and my right rear wheel still showing the ill effects of my last attempt to drive the Boss in about a quarter inch of snow, I thought it might make sense to investigate when a friend of mine made the post seen above on Facebook back on June 27th.

Fearing I might already be too late, I started the following message chain (the names have been redacted to protect the quilty):

27/06/2014 16:46

Bark M.

Interested in the subies! What are the details?

.

27/06/2014 16:58

G. T.

Okay one is an outback 1997 with 262366 miles and is in fair to good condition KBB is @$1800 The other is a legacy L with 163654 miles it has two set of wheels and tires. It does need a catalytic converter and some minor electrical. KBB on that one is fair condition is $684. I am open for offers especially for the pair. They are old gals but have been great cars.

.

27/06/2014 17:01

Bark M.

Does the legacy run?

.

27/06/2014 17:01

G. T.

Yes it is also a manual and is quite fun to drive.

.

27/06/2014 17:02

Bark M.

Any head gasket issues with either (and I promise that’s my last question)?

.

27/06/2014 17:03

G. T.

Yes the outback had that problem and it was replaced. That is an issue with these engines.

.

27/06/2014 17:03

Bark M.

That’s why I asked

.

27/06/2014 17:04

G. T.

There were no xmas presents for the kids that year

.

27/06/2014 17:05

Bark M.

Hahaha I bet not. Do you think the legacy could run from Winchester to the Lexington airport and back reliably (I lied apparently about the questions)

.

27/06/2014 17:05

G. T.

Yes it could

.

27/06/2014 17:06

Bark M.

I will take it for six hundred then if you’re cool with that price.
.

07/06/2014 17:06

G. T.

sold

And just like that, I owned a 1996 Subaru Legacy L Wagon, AND it was a manual! Imagine my surprise when he rolled into my driveway to make the exchange and I discovered that it was AWD! My good pal had done his KBB valuation based on the car being FWD, which meant that he had undervalued it by about $600. Well, perhaps he had been a tad generous in estimating the vehicle condition as “Fair,” too. The interior was covered in dog fur, especially the cargo area. The front passenger floorboard looked as though a soda had been spilled on it in 2003 or so and had never been cleaned up. The smell of dog was pervasive, too. Nevertheless, I was more than happy to press the cash into his hand before he changed his mind, although due to it being Sunday, we had to wait until the following day to actually change the title into my name.

The next day, I met him at the UPS Store where we had the title notarized. I swiftly took it to my local title agency, where it took a mere two trips and 45 minutes to get the title switched into my name (turned out that they needed the old plates). After paying a whopping $36 in property tax, I was officially the owner of My First Subaru.

Thrilled to death with my purchase, I drove it happily to the grocery store to make use of the spacious cargo area. After loading up the back with a week’s worth of groceries for the fam, I got behind the wheel, turned the crank…and nothing. Tried again. Nothing. The starter appeared to be working fine, and the battery wasn’t dead, but the damned thing just wouldn’t go. Oh, well. Good thing I had already added it to my insurance policy and had enthusiastically said “YES” when asked if I wanted Roadside Assistance. After a quick call home and a rescue trip by the rest of the family, I transferred the contents of the cargo area to my Flex and was ready to leave the Subaru to sit in the parking lot of the grocery store and be towed off to the local garage. I thought I might try it one more time, though, since it had been sitting for a while.

Boom, started right up, no problem, but there was a horrible whining noise that sounded like a belt problem of some type. Now what to do? The tow truck was already on the way. I decided to let them tow it to the garage anyway and allow the mechanics there to give it a once over (especially since I had bought it sight unseen and had no discernible mechanical ability).

They kept it for about a week. They couldn’t duplicate the issue. Every day I called and asked, and every day they told me the same thing. No problems with the car—it starts right up every time. No belt noise. Weird, right?

Well, I decided that I should go get it. Sure enough, it started right up. I drove over to the local library to take the kids to pick out some new books. Had a wonderful time at the library, picked out about 20 books each. Went to the Subie to drive home…no dice. ARRGH. Waited about 15 minutes. Tried again. Started right up. Oh, well. Home we go.

Ever since then, it has been dead reliable. I have driven it as far away as Charlotte (about seven hours) with no issues whatsoever. The radio works, the AC works, the power windows work (well, the switch did snap off in my hand, but it still works), the windshield wipers work, the CLA works…it’s been perfect. The shifter is exciting, because there’s no relationship between the actual gears that makes any sense at all. The shift lever will move several inches in any direction when in gear, and often just falls down and to the left, so there’s no real way to know what gear the car is actually in without doing some RPM and MPH calculations. Fifth gear is impossible to find—I have a 50/50 shot of putting it in third, instead.

I have tried vacuuming it with three different vacuums (Dyson, Shop-Vac, and Car Wash Hose), but the dog hair appears to be here to stay. However, the good news is that I have found nearly a dollar in change in the various crevices of the interior, so my net purchase price is getting closer to $599 every time I drive it. Also, it has a “LADY VIKINGS SOCCER” sticker on the rear driver’s side window that probably has a street value of about $5.

The best thing about the car, though, was pointed out to me by my good friend, Ryan, when he rode in it for the first time. “Man, I miss being in old cars,” he opined as I struggled to find third gear. “My car is a 2012, which is great, but it has no character, no personality. This thing has character.”

There’s no question about that. I fall in love with it a little more every time I pick it over the 444 HP beast nestled safely in the garage behind it. The little Subaru sits outside, parked in the grass next to my driveway, with nary a complaint. It goes when I call upon it. It sits inconspicously in the airport parking lot. It gladly takes my luggage in its vast interior and welcomes me home cheerfully with a slight whine of a yet-to-be-determined belt when I start it up. It’s like a previously neglected golden retriever—it just wants me to love it.

And I do.

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65 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Joys of Owning a Six Hundred Dollar Subaru...”


  • avatar
    BigWill

    Like the ad says, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.”

    Welcome to the club.

  • avatar
    gtg645w

    Spark plug wires. I had the same starting problem on a 1990 Subaru Legacy 2.2L with a manual. It randomly would not start and I would have to wait a few minutes and then it would start. It happened at least once a week. One morning, it wouldn’t start even with waiting and I had it towed. The shop replaced the spark plug wires and the starting problem never happened again.

    • 0 avatar

      Good call, but the author should observe. If it happens after a drive, parking it a bit and starting again, could just be a radiator water temperature faulty sensor. That’s why after a long stop it fires with no problem. Many modern cars won’t start if that sensor goes bad.

      The belt whine on start up can be an air conditioning belt with faulty lubrication.

    • 0 avatar
      ekaftan

      I vote for the Camshaft or Crankshaft position sensor. I had one of those years ago and it would randomly fail to start when hot and even once in a while stall in heavy stop and go traffic and refuse to restart until 15 minutes of cooling down.

  • avatar
    philipbarrett

    As with yours, our 80s model (bought well into it’s prime too) was also self repairing. Most faults would disappear without trace if you had patience.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    unfortunately, Subies are a rare commodity in the sun belt, in So. Fl it’s almost impossible to find anything used and half way affordable.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I had a fancy pants ’96 Subaru Legacy GL wagon. That’s the one with the upgraded interior appointments like pleather interior, a sunroof (that was stuck closed) and a luxurious 4 speed automatic transmission.

    I bought it for a few bucks more than what you paid for your Legacy L wagon, knowing that it needed a bit of work, as the owner described pretty well in the craigslist ad.

    I brought it home and tore down the engine, replaced the headgaskets, where I also punctured the A/C condenser putting the engine back in. I replaced all 4 calipers and rotors, new struts, front CV joints, and did an overhaul/cleaning of the interior. Of course, it took twice as long and cost twice as much to do all of this, but that’s the general rule of a rollin’ rebuild right?

    Once I got the car up and running again it ran like a champ and I really enjoyed driving the car until the filler neck started weeping a bit, which is a pretty common issue on these cars. Basically a little plastic guard traps debris between the guard an the neck, which causes it to rot out. I got my replacement neck from Subaru and threw a few coats of Rustoleum paint on it and got it on the road again.

    I drove it and another rolling rebuilder for about two years with no real problems. Compared to my other much newer Impreza that I was also driving at the time, the old ’96 Legacy was quieter, rode smoother and was a pretty pleasant place to be for the most part.

    I ended up selling it because I needed a truck and of course, now I miss that old green Legacy GL wagon.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    I’m breaking out in jealousy hives.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Have you tried a strong lint roller on the dog hair? Might need pulled out by something sticky, if it’s too woven in for the vac to pull.

    Doesn’t look like your wagon has any rust – which is quite surprising in Ohio. Unless it’s all on the other side… Cause old Subarus in Ohio fare only slightly better than old Mazdas.

    EDIT: You might have known it was AWD from the photo. Because wheels vs. hubcaps.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a slight amount of rust right above the left rear wheelwell.

      I never saw a picture of the car. I honestly didn’t even know what color it was before my friend delivered it. For $600…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      +1 on lint rollers. Even strips of masking tape will get a lot of it out.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim_Turbo

      Duct tape wrapped around your hand works good as well-its a little sticker than the masking tape lint rollers out there.

      As a dog owner who also likes clean vehicles-my 99 Cherokee (3rd/spare vehicle) is cleaner than most peoples newer cars-I’ve tried a lot of stuff. Even bought a special motorized shop vac attachment that was supposed to suck the hair right up-nope.

      I’ve also had luck using a squeegee to get most of the hair into one spot and then suck it up.

  • avatar
    Fred

    When I got my first new car I was amazed at how quiet and smooth it ran, and I’m talking about a Fox body Mustang. Ever since then I’m not keen on old cars as daily drivers. Sure an old truck for weekend duty, 1960s sport cars for fun, but I really don’t want to put up with their temperment on a regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      No kidding, I’m pretty spoiled by my Volt. Remote-starting my AC before I leave my desk at work and letting it cool down while on shore power, silence, smoothness, and a good-sized wall of torque to surf.

      I am definitely of a mind to make my next car a pure EV, with a beater pickup with class 3 or better hitch.

  • avatar
    jaybird124

    Does the shifter have bushings that can be replaced? Probably would tighten up the gate.

  • avatar
    NN

    my first car was a $500 1985 Subaru Wagon (brown, manual, 2wd, awesome spaceship digital dashboard with orange graphics). Odometer was frozen at 120k so we never knew how many miles it actually had. It lasted me 5 years, including to/from college 300+ miles away. Leaked oil always. had to replace clutch, timing belt, oil pump, cv joints, rusted exhaust during that time but all in all it was a great buy

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    @ Bark M

    Are winter tires commonly purchased in that part of the US? Are they needed?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      As a SW Ohio resident, I can say:

      Need goes back and forth. Sometimes you get almost no snow (winter 2012), other times it snows many times (winter 2013). Columbus area gets more snow than here but not a ton.

      People usually run all seasons, and purchase the AWD version of whatever car they have, if available. I can’t say I personally know anybody who switches over to winter tires.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I think this winter will be brutal.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I’m considering some winter tires for my T-Bird…I live in Pennsylvania, this will be my first winter driving a RWD car, and I’ve never been good at driving in wintry conditions. Sure I can throw as much heavy crap from the garage as I can find into the trunk, but snow tires would probably also be a smart idea.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          I remember last year (here in NC) when it snowed heavily, I was behind a mustang and we were going through the grid, everytime he gave it a little gas the rear end immediately started slipping and going side ways into the street gutters (brain fart on name).

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          The old Ford RWDs tended to slip in these parts, I would invest in winter tires.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Given how vicious this past winter was, that’s motivation enough.

            Time to find some crappy steel wheels and winter tires!

        • 0 avatar
          Thinkin...

          Winter tires are ALWAYS the correct answer in areas with cold and snow. Because:

          1) They’re free. (Tires are a wear item, and winter tires are cheaper than decent all-seasons.)

          2) They work. The softer compound has far superior traction in the cold (even on dry pavement) and the tread is MILES AND MILES better when it comes to finding traction in any sort of snow, slush, or ice.

          3) Snow tires help cars go, stop and turn. All-wheel-drive or 4wd simply helps you go. I find stopping and turning to both be super important parts of my driving experience.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          I highly recommend Continental Extreme Winter Contact. I got a set of them for my wife’s car last year and they are the best winter tires I’ve experienced. Granted I haven’t tried the most recent version of the Michelin X Ice but the Conti’s were significantly cheaper and did better in the rain that any other tire in Tire Rack’s testing and living in the PNW rain performance is just as important and the snow and ice performance.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes and yes. I had snow tires for both my RX-8 and my G8. Snow tires on a Boss 302 seem silly, though.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    “(the names have been redacted to protect the quilty):”

    Were they Amish?

  • avatar
    Xafen

    Lol, I read the byline thinking you were trying to sell a $600 Subaru, and I wasn’t going to be able to contact you fast enough!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Six bucks doesn’t sound like a bad buy. Someone tried to goad me into an 01/160K/auto with no history for like 2gs. As Consuela says: Noooo.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Old quasi beaters are fun. I have a 13yo Range Rover. Was $5k, everything works, paint a bit scruffy. Had a similar sometimes no fire issue that took a while to figure out. CPS and a couple relays. Random CELs every couple months, no big, a BT ODB adapter and my phone sorts them right out. Tows the 7k lb boat with aplomb, goes through snow like it is dry pavement. Sits at the airport 50% of the time. Slurps gas like it is going out of style. I love the old beast. Has the utility trailer with new decking for my porch behind it right now.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    We traded in our ’02 Subaru WRX wagon on a newer car recently. My wife had been driving it to work every day basically without incident, but it was showing signs of age and high mileage, and was going to be needing some work done to it, so it was time to update. So we drive it to the agency, and then when they go to start it, it doesn’t start! That knocked the price we received down a bit! Plus they showed us a Carfax that said that the car had had frame damage to it prior to our owning it. It had never caused us any problems for the ten years we owned it, but I can see that the Carfax would make it that much harder for them to sell, though they were obviously just going to wholesale it anyway. So no Kelly Blue Book value received on that car.

  • avatar
    donutguy

    We had a 90 Legacy wagon, we put 260 K on it and had “0” problems with it.

    Dead reliable.

    Sold it on Craiglist list and 2 days after we sold it, the teenager we sold it to blew a head gasket and overheated the motor.

    He called and wanted half his money back……no dice, I made it very clear in the bill of sale that the car was sold “as is”.

    He threatened to take me to small claims court, must have been a bluff as I never heard back from him.

  • avatar
    Tim_Turbo

    I have a 99 Cherokee Sport as a 3rd vehicle-I sell Subaru, and usually have a dealer demo. When I have my demo (which is a used car, not a new one-but still only 2-3 years old) I love driving the Jeep to run an errand, take the dogs to the beach, go camping etc. But last month I did not sell enough cars to keep my demo, so the Jeep has been my daily driver. Do I still like it? Yes. Do I smile when I get in it, like I do when its not my daily? Nope. It has character, and I love the simple nature of it-not to mention the fact I don’t have any payments, but it has too many shortcomings for me to love it as an “only” vehicle.
    I would bet if the Boss was not right there in the garage the author would have a similar feeling.
    Course come winter I love the Jeep even more for the occasional drive-No traction/stability control! Whoo-hoo!

  • avatar

    Wait this was the Subaru parked next to Jack’s rental after the party? I thought it was familiar.

  • avatar
    the duke

    Nice buy Bark! I am curious about the mis-price though – unless he thought he was selling you an Impreza there is no way he quoted you a FWD value…the Legacy has been AWD only for every generation since its introduction in 1989.

    • 0 avatar

      I trust your knowledge of this subject. That being said, KBB will allow you to spec one as FWD, and I believe that’s what he did.

    • 0 avatar
      BigWill

      Not true about the all Legacy-all AWD thing. As the former owner of a FWD 1990 Legacy, I can guarantee you that ours had no AWD hardware under it.

      • 0 avatar
        scrappy17

        It was only in 1997 that AWD was made standard on all Subaru until the FR-S came along.

        1995-1999 was the same body style and 1995-1996 you can get legacy wagons and sedans with FWD on both manual and auto transmissions., except the outback which was always AWD.

        95 and 96 is also a non-interference engine with hydraulic lifters, so no timing belt worries either on the EJ22.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    Nice find. Our elderly neighbors have a 1997 Legacy L with about 50K on the odo. I’m thinking future first car for my twins. Only problem: it’s a slushbox, and the kids, God bless ‘em, want a manual just like all of Dad’s cars.

  • avatar
    davew833

    I recently bought a ’99 Legacy GT wagon which is basically the same car with the bigger (and more troublesome) EJ25 engine. That’s the engine that blows head gaskets with annoying regularity, not the EJ22 which your ’96 has. Not only that, but your EJ22 is non-interference, which means if you break the timing belt it’s usually just a matter of replacing it. The valvetrain doesn’t usually get damaged. The EJ25 is an interference engine, as is the EJ22 from ’97 onward. Personally, I think a ’96 Legacy L AWD EJ22 with a 5-speed is about the best Subaru from that generation. Dirt cheap (because it’s not an Outback) AND nearly bulletproof. A word about dog hair: I’ve owned probably half a dozen Subaru wagons and they’ve all had dog hair in them when I got them! The ’99 I bought recently was the worst. A couple of things I found that really work: Spray the hairy areas with a mixture of water and a little fabric softener, then sweep the hair into one place with your hand while wearing a latex glove, then vacuum. Also, you can sweep the hair together with a pumice stone and then vacuum.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      I have an old (left over from the Navy so it’s at least 20 years old and still works) lint brush that’s got directional lie fibers on both sides instead of inside out tape. It gets fur (I have to 20lb+ maine coon cats) off of any fabric. I just checked “lint brush” on Amazon and something that looks just like it is $4.95 and prime eligible. That’s too cheap and easy not to try, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Hi Bark, nice to have you back above the comments line.
    The color on this is the same as my old 93 AWD L wagon (manual natch) was. I needed to upgrade the front brakes (the bigger wheels/tires required didn’t hurt) before I could love it, but then it was a wonder steed. The original idea was to have a winter car and have time on my side while negotiating the purchase of an S2000. Then the plant closure was announced and its economy was its virtue. Eventually (re-employed) I found it too boring. With a Boss in reserve there’s no reason not to enjoy the economy, practicality, fun, and yes, quirkiness. I sorta miss the old “Scrappy Roo”.

  • avatar

    Did your wife approve of your purchase? What was the look on her face when you called her to the rescue? Lol! Love an old semi-beater as much as anybody, but women don’t usually love them as much. If the Subaru was wife approved, you are one lucky guy!

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    I drove the same car (manual, dark green, etc.) for several years. Sold it for $1300 with over 200K on it. Great car. The shifter was real sloppy when I bought it but those bushings can be had pretty cheap on fleabay and it will be much more fun to shift…

  • avatar
    radimus

    Road trips in old beaters are always twice the adventure.

  • avatar
    seattle4r70w

    i have way more fun in our old car vs. our new one.

    going about your daily business and not caring about dirty shoes, parking under a drippy tree, door dings, curb rash, sweaty teenage children, parking at remote trailheads, playing home depot loading tetris and being able to do a donut in a dirt parking lot because you feel like it.

    mine is a ’97 outback with a salvage title, 225k and on it’s 3rd set of headgaskets. the hood won’t hold paint so i’m going stencil a day of the dead skeleton with pencil and clear coat it. it’ll fall off in 6 months like the last three paint attempts.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Beautiful article!

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I found a ’98 Legacy Brighton wagon for a friend of mine, in the trade-in row of a dealer I service (previous owner was something like 85, and decided to get himself a new Forester). 5-speed, something like 100k miles, he got it for $1000. Of course, it needed a few hundred bucks of work to get it through safety, some of the rust spots patched up, and the alternator died on him a day or two after getting it on the road.

    Since then though, he loves it. Little things go wrong, but nothing of a stranded variety, does just fine as his sole car (although he has occasional access to his job’s fleet of new cars), and more than enough fun for a grand. I’ve told him a couple times I expect first right of refusal if he ever gets rid of it.

  • avatar
    HydrogenOnion

    The problem I see here is this:
    “Thrilled to death with my purchase, I drove it happily to the grocery store to make use of the spacious cargo area. ”

    You bought a $600 car and just started using it… without even doing your own inspection and doing any routine maintenance first?

    On an old car that is that cheap, you have to assume that it is due for ALL routine maintenance… spark plugs, wires, oil change, filter changes, etc.

    In the case of your no-start-when-hot situation, if it still occurs after changing the plugs and wires (as some others here suggested you should change), then I’m inclined to think it’s something like an iffy ignition coil or crank position sensor… or whatever the equivalent of these is for this car (I’m not familiar with working on Subarus).

    Just because the car is cheap doesn’t mean you ignore maintenance. A cheap car can be reliable if you’re proactive. You don’t need to go overboard, but you definitely need to cover the basics. And cheap cars are great if you want to learn how to work on a car yourself to keep costs down.

    One other thing… if the battery is 5 years old or older, replace it. A weak battery is what leads to a dead alternator. Spending $50-$100 on a battery can save you from spending several hundred more on an alternator replacement.

  • avatar

    Time to change your shift linkage bushings and make sure the external spring is there. But, nice buy. Unfortunately out of my year bracket here at home (68 to 94 with most of the fleet running the same 90 to 94 2.2 engine out of Legaci). But check your fuel pump, The one in the SVX made QUITE a racket when it went. There is a access door under the carpet in the cargo area behind the rear seat. One on the Left is the transfer venturi and secondary fuel sender. And the right is the fuel pump and primary sender unit. Easy to get at and drop in units wont break the bank. Also check your timing belt, hate for that to let go and ruin such a nice ride.

    Best wishes and welcome to the land of Subaru. Oh yeah they are like Australian backpackers. Let one crash on your couch over night and you will get 4 more in a fortnight.


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