New or Used: Out-Backing the Outback?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Peter writes:

When my wife and I drove across the country, we found that our cars really weren’t right for Orange County. My Rav4’s payment spiked considerably due to a ridiculous monthly car tax out here on leases. I forbid my wife to drive the 2004 Corolla 40 miles a day in traffic on the 5. We had some cash left over from the move and decided to exchange our cars. We did very well in negotiating with the dealer. My wife got a brand new Legacy 2011 Limited with all the bells and whistles. I decided on using the 500 rebate towards a new Outback. The trade in deals we got were superb. We just got very lucky I guess. Well..

Her Legacy turned out to be a great car. She gets great gas mileage and we’re both happy with the car. It has fantastic soft leather seats. Fantastic piece of engineering. Love it.

Then there’s my Outback. I am in such pain from this car. It’s been dead reliable, great in terms of the way it drives and handles, zippy, and fits my lifestyle. Unfortunately the car’s seats are the absolute worst ever put into a car. I’ve tried two trips to an upholstery shop to get the seats altered. The dealer has performed numerous “fixes” to the seat. The problem only has gotten worse. I can barely sit in the car for 10 minutes without getting a headache and back pain. I finally sat down with my wife and told her the car must go. We’ve spent too much money on the problem and it’s not worth it.

My car is supposed to be a trip car : A car that can hold our dog, future child, and perhaps future second dog on trips to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. It’s also supposed to be good for pulling up to a beach and providing a nice hatch for me to sit down and put on my wetsuit. It’s supposed to be the “Dog” car. I cannot buy a car without a Hatch after finding how essential they are!

Here’s our situation: We’re paying off debt, and getting ready to buy a house. My wife and I have high incomes. The payoff on the Subaru Outback is $28K. It has 6000 miles on it. I’m guessing I can get about 24 for it. Our lease payment is around 420. The cars we’re entertaining are the Hyundai Tuscon GLS, Elantra Touring SE, Mazda CX7 “i model” and perhaps the Mazda5. I can put 2K-4K down and would not want a higher payment than 420. I need a comfortable car. It also must be safe. Gas mileage is essential. I don’t care if it’s a base model, but it seems the next level up from base is quite economical on these two cars.

I really have been starting to see that almost every car out there is superior to what I have for the simple reason that I can’t really sit in my car. This is the one vehicle that has made me miss every single previous car I’ve ever owned, except the Rav4.

BTW: I refuse at this point to purchase a GM vehicle, or a Chrysler for my own personal reasons that I will never get over. I have not taken Lincoln off the table, or any Ford. However their prices seem to be in another galaxy for what the cars offer.

I need to do this very soon, as my work is suffering due to the condition I’m in when I arrive. I am open to other options entirely. My wife and I discussed the possibility of an older car for a few years and then something else. That adds some risk, though. We’ve already spent too much on a car that was supposed to be under warranty.

Steve answers:

Am I missing something here?

If you are comfortable with one vehicle but not the other… then just drive the one that works for you.

You don’t need to blow a financial hole out of your posterior. Switch cars. Save your money (for once), and try to free yourself of this affluenza addiction.

You can also go visit a Subaru dealership if the mood strikes you. Sit on a bunch of other vehicles and test drive them. Once you find a seat that works, see if you can get the it installed on your vehicle by an independent shop. Just go to or Ebay and get yourself a nice comfortable throne for a few hundred.

That should beat becoming yet another one of the Joneses in California. Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Honestly, given your housing plans and the debt-income ratio that always comes with getting a home loan, you need to get a car that will support your back without making you “bend over” when the home mortgage people come a-ringing. My advice is to look at new sedans around 20k, the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus are high on my list there. There are even some hatchbacks at that price. Or…

Wood bead seat covers. I know they look awful, but they work for a lot of people. You owe it to yourself (and your wife, future mortgage note, etc) to give your Outback a chance via massaging seat covers. And while there are plenty of them on the market, the old school wood beads are honestly the best shot you have at seat comfort and a less painful route to home ownership.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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7 of 121 comments
  • Ciddyguy Ciddyguy on Oct 26, 2011

    OK, having read some of the OP's responses here, one thing came clear here. A lot of information now has come to light that was NOT apart of the Original post, like he bought the 04 Corolla second hand and discovered, probably after the fact that it had its safety ratings compromised by the original owner. That tells me he didn't properly check the car out before buying it. Also, relying of Forbes for safety ratings. Now I know Consumer Reports isn't the final say all be all here but just quick glance tells me that an '03 Toyota did very well in the safety ratings in both the frontal crash tests. The side impact tests came back as either 5 star for frontal crash tests or 4 star for the side impact and 2003 was the first year for the redesign that would involve the 2004 Corolla so that's incorrect as far as his assertions are concerned on the Toyota's crash ratings. This is from both Consumer Reports (I know it's not the end all, be all but they DO report the findings from IIHS), also, gave the car good marks for crash safety, including rollovers and I bet those results were from IIHS as well. So with the suspected issues with the Corolla, I don't blame him for not letting his wife drive the car to and from work on those issues alone, but again, a careful inspection by an independent mechanic would have most likely uncovered this and he'd have rejected the car in the first place. Bad move on his or his wife's part. Secondly, not having properly checked out the seats of the Outback and how they might be on longer drives is also suspect as if he'd had, he'd have known there might be a problem here and have rejected the Outback before buying it. So to that, it is easy to judge him like we did simply by how the letter was presented to Steve and Sajeeve so in this regard, I don't blame the B&B for their comments though some of them could've been worded better but in the end, we were left with what we had to go on and as a result, the comments left are what they are. Ultimately, either sell the car and take the loss and hopefully learn to really check out your next expensive purchase to be sure you have what you need in a car and secondly, as I said in a reply to another B&B commenter, try angling the seat backs and it might help with the headrests or whatever is causing your headaches. And if you actually have back issues, time to have it checked out by your primary physician so he can recommend a chiropractor if necessary to help you with your back pain. I was going to a chiropractor for a while but temping and no insurance nixed that but I still have the exercise ball I got as a result of his recommendations to help straighten my spine. I just need to use it more though. In the end, I think it has less to do with jealousy rather than poor decision making on the OP's part in some areas and appearing to wanting to "keep up with the Joneses".

    • See 4 previous
    • Bryanska Bryanska on Oct 28, 2011

      @misterpeter Right, dude, the original letter was rife with unexplained things. The numbers, as written in the post, just didn't add up. It sounded like you were sabotaging yourself. So yes, we judged, as you de facto asked us to. It's the Internet. We tried to give you advice based on that content.

  • Dastanley Dastanley on Oct 27, 2011

    C'mon B&B. I think we're being a little hard on misterpeter. He came to TTAC with an honest dilemma based on a medical issue - back problems. I myself wrote into Piston Slap about seat issues on my Corolla a couple of years ago and know first hand about back pain. It can be debilitating. So cut the guy some slack. If he feels the need to buy a new car for his back pain, so what? Let him get his new car. Why begrudge him? I thought we at TTAC would welcome growth and reader participation. Do we want to run misterpeter off and scare others into not writing in?

  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
  • El scotto I can get the speedometer from dad's 72 Ford truck back. I can't get dad back.