New Or Used? : Darwin Riding Shotgun Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

I bought my first car six months ago, a dark green 2002 Subaru Impreza 2.5 TS. I purchased it from a local dealership for $5,800 with 97,100 miles on the odometer. Stick-shift, Subaru AWD, and sticky studded snows made this a solid candidate for the harsh Vermont winters. And while this past snowy season didn’t turn out to be too frightening, the car did.

About a month after purchase, my mechanic threw it up on the lift and showed me that my rear subframe was laced with rust and together by a thread. He said that the car was becoming more dangerous to drive and that resolving the situation (new frame, struts, cables) would set me back $1,500 at least. A month later the Subie got involved in a late night tussle with a deer, and the deer won. This repair needed to be made as the deer left the scene with my headlight for a necklace. I got a buddy to reconstruct the face of my car for $500 — headlight, new bumper, etc. I kept driving the heap despite my mechanic’s earlier warnings that soon the frame would fall out and I’d be propelling the thing like my name was Flintstone.

But the final blow came last month when coolant and oil began leaking out onto the engine. By this point the car has only 110,000 on it but Subaru’s are notorious for needing head gasket repairs around this mileage. It was time for me to think about my options. This new diagnosis would set me back another $2,000.

So the sum total of what I would need to put into this car — between frame and engine — would be near-as-makes-no-difference $3,500-4,000 to keep it going. By this point I think it’s a no-brainer. Ditch the Subie and pick up a late nineties Corolla with few miles. I just hate giving up on something I’ve driven a sinful 16,000 miles.


Steve Says

The only help I can give you is prayer.

“Heavenly father. I pray that you will give this young lad the wisdom of Darwin and the fear of the most conservative of Camry drivers.”

A frame hanging by a thread represents death on the road. At the salvage auctions you will sometimes see these rustbuckets totaled to the point where the survival of the prior occupant was between doubtful and impossible. You will also see the word ‘Biohazard’ scrawled on the windshield to reflect the residue left from the rotting corpse that once occupied the driver seat.

Cars that have severe rust issues end up with failing brake lines, broke axles, defective sub frames, and all sorts of steering nastiness when you are traveling at rates of speed that endanger you and every other human being in your domain.

You can kill people. You can kill yourself. If you want funny on the open road, go ride a lawnmower.

This is what you do. Sell the vehicle at a public auction that is frequented by dealers. Sell it with the following announcement, “AS/IS, Frame Damage, Parts Only, Dealer Bid Only, No Individuals”.

The auction should have a specific bill of sale for “parts only” vehicles. Sell it. Sign it. Consider your cost a cheap education compared to what could have been.

Sajeev Says:

I hope you learned your lesson, don’t buy an older car without a Pre-Purchase Inspection. A PPI woulda spotted the subframe rot rather quickly, and been worth every penny spent.

That’s for next time. Now you dump this machine with all kinds of warnings (and a Bill of Sale stating it’s sold AS-IS with frame damage) for the next owner. Should you buy a Corolla? Maybe. But any FWD machine with snow tires will be adequate, and some of them have decent suspensions too. Sure, it ain’t a Subie, but that’s also a good thing in some respects.

Go test drive some sporty FWD machines (Focus, Civic, any Mazda, etc) in your price range and, for the love of all that’s right in this world, get a PPI this time!!!

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • Sketch447 Sketch447 on Mar 08, 2013

    The appeal of Subarus has always puzzled me. They just don't seem to be reliable. Further, they're very expensive to maintain. Sure, you read about Subies that go 250k miles. But then you read that the journey there was marked with multiple head gaskets, huge suspension issues, and **always** multiple brake problems. They're big in the Northeast of course. Many here in MA; even more as you go further north. I'd blame Subaru for the demise of Saab. Saab was the car of choice for college profs. But honestly, who really needs AWD for his/her daily driver? Here in MA, when there's a big snowstorm, the governor now bans all driving until it's all plowed. (An acceptable policy). But then why have AWD?? At my local supermarket, for many years there would always be a neon pink PT Cruiser parked out front, even during the worst snow imaginable. I'd always chuckle because that supermarket worker would always drive to work in his FWD PT Cruiser. Meantime, soccer moms in $40k 6000 lb. AWD SUVs would drive up to buy milk and bread. Cops don't use AWD. Neither do ambulances or firetrucks. Why do we????

    • See 1 previous
    • Compaq Deskpro Compaq Deskpro on Mar 10, 2013

      I have seen the new AWD unibody Explorers in service for Mass state police and numerous local police departments, paramedics, and fire departments. It's looking like the Explorer is the Crown Vic replacement. As a Crown Vic fan that's okay with me, but I doubt the twin turbos will last long under police use.

  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Mar 08, 2013

    A friend of mine's father was legendary for buying cars that belonged in the scrapyard. Especially wagons. Inspections were for "dopes". That's what he said. Best part about it is his brother ran a garage and a couple of times had warned him about even thinking about buying these junkers, but he would buy them anyway. There were two gems I will never forget. The first one was a misty green Ford wagon with major rust issues. About two weeks after he bought it, the rear axle popped out while he was making a turn. After that was fixed, he blew a tire and a piece of the belt hit the wheel well, and it basically destroyed the rear quarter panel. The other rear quarter had started falling apart already, and being the cheapskate he was, he had some galvanized sheet steel riveted to what remained. The "garbage can" look got a lot of laughs over the rest of the life of the car, which was about a year. The next one was the best. He found a Pontiac Parisian(?) wagon that at first glance, looked ok. His brother told him it was a POS, with the 301 motor in it, but he bought it anyway, of course. About a month or so after he bought it, Winter hit, and the water began coming in. He took it someplace and they told him it needed the floorboards replaced, along with other stuff done as it had severe rust issues. He ignored this and put some plywood under the carpet and kept driving it. One day, he's going down the road and some guy pulled out in front of him. He slams the brakes on, and his left foot goes through the floor and his ankle twisted when it hit the ground while the car was still moving, and the ragged metal cut his leg badly. That didn't convince him to retire the thing, he put new plywood in it, marine stuff this time, and kept driving. Until he hit a big pothole, and tore the left front suspension off it. That finally killed it. He replaced it with his first "new" car, a demo Chevy Malibu, that supposedly had 4,000 miles on it, but looked like it had much more. It was a total dog, and was in the shop constantly. The only thing he did that paid off was he bought the credit life insurance, as he died unexpectedly and paid the POS off for his widow. That was probably the smartest thing he ever did. Period.

    • CJinSD CJinSD on Mar 09, 2013

      I laugh when people say that there are no bad cars anymore because I have a friend with horrible taste in cars who is a carved ankle and death away form rivaling your friend's father while only owning cars built in the past dozen years, more than half of them new. My laughter is tempered by fresh concern that my friend is at risk of being maimed or killed for his poor taste in cars. Damn you BMW, Ford, and VW! Nissan would be on that list too, except that I got a look at the one he bought when there was still time to make the dealer buy it back.

  • CanadaCraig Toyota saw this coming. So good for them for being courageous enough to say, "Wait a minute. Let's not rush into anything."
  • Rna65689660 As the previous owner of a Triumph, and current owner of a MINI, I say, LOL!
  • Yuda 1) EVs are garbage and a complete waste of time and money 2) Ford IS a business after all, cars and trucks ain't free, they take a lot of time and money to Actually make, manufacture, and build 3) SD trucks are actually useful and practical
  • Tane94 If there is market demand, build the vehicle. That's what Ford is doing. Kudos
  • Cprescott Looking like that? Egads