Subaru Outback alternative?

I bought a 1997 Subaru Outback a year ago and it has turned out to be the most expensive used car I’ve ever owned. I’ve had a host of problems–all requiring outrageously expensive parts to fix, the worst of which was a blown headgasket. Internet search has taught me that blown headgaskets are a not uncommon problem on these cars.

I love the shell of the car. It’s perfect for carrying kayaks, bikes, dogs, kids, etc., and the AWD is great. But given the priciness of repairs, and that fact that it now gulps oil and always smells like its burning up, I don’t think I’ll go Subaru again.

Any recommendations on alternative vehicles that are great cars for carrying my toys, dogs, and family?

I’m Looking Around, Too.
Toyota RAV4 is on my list.

Love my '98 Honda Odyssey
Bought it specifically to haul boats, kids and gear. The '98 was the last year for Honda’s original Odyssey platform. It has four doors instead of sliding doors and it is a good bit lower than Honda’s subsequent Odyssey.

The '98s are the best year to get in that style because they had the most power.

Honda CR-V
Competent little vehicle-tight turning radius, MUCH quicker than the Outback in 4 cyl. guise (We have a 2002 Outback also.), and tons of room for its size. The roofline is significantly higher though. I get better fuel economy in the Honda; in the Outback, my foot is always to the floor, as it can’t get out of its own way. I do like the Outback’s lower center of gravity, and Subaru’s AWD system is second only to Audi, but I’m leery of their reliability also. A few little niggling sensor problems, but it just came off warranty and we shall see. My brother owned a '97 and had problems as well, ultimately with the head gasket, but thankfully, after over 100K on the clock. Interestingly, after owning a Saab 9-5, which was in the shop more than it was out-such the POC that was-he just purchased the Outback GT. Guess he likes the marque. The CR-V is good, not great, but you get a lot for your money. I’ve always had superb luck with hondas and Acuras-bulletproof. Honda knows engines, but the vehicle itself is assembled in the UK (As a former NDK Explorer, and owner of a few Brit cars and motorcycles, uh oh…). I’d check out the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute also, but Ford is not exactly known for its reliability either. :wink: Good luck.

I had one for a number of years- great little car. Never had a single problem. Toyota and Honda are neck and neck in reliability and quality. Have an Odyssey now, which is a great van. I may finally have to break down and buy a second car again, and I would definitely consider another RAV 4 as my snow/ kayak car.


I have a '97 Outback. No head gasket
problems, but I did have a $2300 valve job because of a burned valve. Also have the strange sticking clutch pedal problem. And the radio and AC failed. I have about 150K miles and the car has not been >terrible< but it has not been nearly as reliable as our Accords.

Does it have to be AWD?
If not i’d recommend checking out the Dodge Magnum. With a V-6 it gets decent milage and is available with roof rails for attaching a rack. One of my cousins has one (He got the larger of the 2 available V-6 engines) and I am impressed with the comfort and performance. He put Thule loadbars and HullaPorts oniy and it hauls his 16’ and 17" rotomoulded yaks very well.

Owned three over the years and wife still has one. Buddy ran a Subaru only repair shop till he retired…rich! The cars are decent for sure, but NEVER get them hot. If you do, you will warp, or crack heads. You need to keep the cooling system clean and serviced, which most people don’t do, as their too busy changing their oil every 3k! Subaru’s love to seep oil, are not really fuel efficient, and in my experience they get costly in maintenance after 150k or so. My past BMW’s were far more reliable long term.

If a truck is of interest I highly recommend the dodge full size with the cummins / manual tranny. Haul anything, tow anything, 20 mpg, bio-diesel friendly, last hundreds of thousands of miles…mine at nearly 400k and running like new.

Good luck

Two thumbs up Kudzu

– Last Updated: Jan-28-06 8:29 PM EST –

I just happen to have acquired a 2006 Rav4 a couple weeks ago.

The Tempest will look good on her.

Uhhhhh, I meant to put a comma after the "up" in the subject line...don't take it personally.

It’s a SWEET ride
The '06 Rav4 is WAY bigger than previous years and is getting 23/30mpg with the I4 engine (166hp.)

Toyota Pickup
I am driving my 1990 30000/year with just maintenance upkeep. Not sure your family size but an extra cab may work well.

Beware used vehicles
I bet A LOT of “Katrina victims” will be sold around the country.


(Used) Ford/Mercury Wagons
They were/are being made thru 2005, so if you dig around you can find one. They are only really 120,000 mile cars, but are dirt cheap to repair compared to the alternatives in their size grouping and can haul boats and a load of stuff. We are on our third one, all the 3.0 liter Vulcan engine with a steel head, coincidentally are considering Subaru for a wagon as the next car since we’d like to stay with a wagon rather than have to move to the higher roof of a Freestyle. But it sounds like we’d better check consumer reports.

Aluminum head cars, all of them, can’t tolerate any overheating. The steel head engines are becoming impossible to find though, so it’s now a matter of finding the aluminum head engines that don’t tend to overheat.

Toyota Pickups Are Great
But… my rear wheel drive ‘94 needs about 300 pounds of weight in the bed to go anywhere in the snow.

Volkswagen made a little pickup that was front wheel drive. Wonder why that concept never caught on.

While I’m gabbin’… I’ve seen some older Camry wagons on the road that look like they’d be ideal kayak karriers. They don’t make the Camry wagon any more. They make that ugly, droopy assed Matrix. Who wants to carry stuff on a curved roof?

With my shell, carpet kit
and kayak, I get ok traction with snow tires. I had a Nissan Skyline Turbo Wagon that was great for hauling boats

We have a 1992 Camry Sedan that does ok. Don’t drive it that much, but decent mileage and pretty comfortable.

Another Toyota
The Scion XB… Yeah it looks like a box on wheels, but makes for economical transport.

Yes. A local paddling acquaintance has one and likes it. Unlike the Matrix it has a nice flat roof and I don’t think they mounted the radio antenna in the middle of the roof, either.

Wonder if Suzukis are any good. They make a Forenza wagon.

Escort wagon


H3 with a lift kit.