Can't go wrong, just watch the head gaskets
By JohnnyLingo on Friday, February 12, 2016
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 182,000
overall rating 8 of 10rating details
- Overall Rating
Pros: "Versatile, roomy front seats, good handling"
Cons: "Cabin noise, oil and head gaskets leaks, back seat"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"The best part about the Forester is of course its versatility: it has the ruggedness of an SUV, but handling of a sporty hatchback. I've been using it as my daily driver for over 12 years, and it still runs strong and gets the same mileage as it did coming off the lot. Power was never great, but it is adequate for most driver and situations and every time I replace the spark plugs, I can feel the boost. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, with good road visibility and seating position. The rear seats are not as comfortable, but they do offer good head room, and fold down nearly flat, making it possible to haul furniture. I self-installed a trailer hitch and have pulled several u-Haul trailers, further adding to the amazing value I've gotten out of this car.
Only had one complaint the first 10 years of owning this car: the noise. This was in part due to the horrible Yokohama Geolander tires that come stock, but the larger issue was a design flaw in the window gussets that cause them to come loose and tear. Switching to high-end Michelins and replacing the window gussets has been well worth the money. Also replaced the stock stereo with a Sony bluetooth model. The factory subwoofer was Subaru proprietary, but I still get above average sound thanks to the large front speakers.
As it hit the 10 year mark, some maintenance issues began kicking in. The front oxygen sensor went flaky and had to be replaced, then the spark plug socket seals started to leak causing engine misfires. With the right tools and some patience, I was able to fix both of these myself. Around that time there started to be a humming sound from the rear which turned out to be a failing wheel bearing. Found a local shop that did both wheels for under $600.
The big maintenance caveat of the 03-04 Foresters though are the head gaskets, which will fail in the 150-200k mile range. Head gasket replacement in Subarus is a $1,500+ job as it requires lifting the engine. Mine are still holding, thanks to always using genuine Subaru "green" coolant with their coolant conditioner mixed in. This underscores why it's important to get the 30/60/90k maintenance done at a competent dealer, or shop that specializes in Subaru.
Overall, would I buy this car again? Heck yes. It's gotten me from Wisconsin to Seattle, to work every day, and on some fun camping trips. It's an ideal car for a teenager to drive as it's safe and easy to manage, but not underpowered. If you're in the market for a used one, just check the status of head gaskets and oil seals - there's going to be some degree of leaking and it's just a question of how bad."
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