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All rights reserved
$10,000 –$30,000
(for used car dealers add around 30%, incl GST)
Quick Summary
Great to drive, with
reasonable reliability at low
mileages & excellent safety.
However, these cars often
don't age well.
How Reliable?
Good, but see 'what goes
wrong' below ☛
How Safe?
Excellent. See our safety
summary below ☛ 
ALSO CONSIDER: Something more
practical at high mileages, like a Toyota
Subaru Legacy / Liberty / Outback
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
$11,500 –$45,000
(for used car dealers add around 30-40%, incl GST)
SUB MODELS: the Legacy and Liberty
are the same car with different badges.
Legacy is the international name, Liberty
the Australian name. Te Legacy/Liberty
was offered as either a four-door sedan or a
five-door station wagon. Te Outback is the
SUV version of the Legacy.

• Some of this wording is shared with
other reviews.
apan is a very conservative society and
exports most of its vehicles to cultures
that it does not fully understand. There-
fore, changes come slowly and cautiously.
Also, Subaru is, and always has been, a
small carmaker with very limited budgets,
with potential bankruptcy always lurking
somewhere in the background.
Before Subaru, four-wheel drive was
mainly for offroad use and was rarely
employed on an everyday car. The Leone
– which offered the option of four-wheel
drive motoring for the same price as a
conventional car – saved Subaru in the
early 1970s. The Leone model was sold
worldwide for an extraordinary 23 years
before finally being retired in 1994. How-
ever, long before the Leone expired as a
model, its shortcomings were obvious: it
was too small, underpowered and unsafe
for Western car buyers.
Thus, the 1989 launch of the Legacy
(Liberty in Australia) ushered in a new era
for Subaru.
The Legacy was larger, had more power
and was far safer than the Leone. However,
it was still a bit small and a bit gutless for
many Western buyers. This took Subaru a
long time to grasp: side streets in Japan are
often little more than well-sealed cart tracks;
large cars are heavily taxed and would not
fit into many carparking spaces.
With time, the message got through
and Subaru’s designers went back to the
drawing board once more. They enlarged
the existing vehicle, gave the engines more
power and made the Legacy a nicer car to
drive. As Subaru’s designers became more
aware and more confident, this process of
ongoing improvement continued.
Thus, the Legacy, with each generation,
grew larger, more powerful, more comfort-
able and more safe.
Aside from power and comfort, handling
improved noticeably on this version of
the Legacy. The rear suspension was vastly
improved over the previous version, mak-
ing the Legacy far better at cornering and
giving it much better stability overall.
Subaru did make a few blunders: due
to the fact that Subaru couldn’t afford to
produce a new body for this vehicle, they
recycled the old one: thus,the width of the
Legacy was kept to a Japanese standard: 1.7
metres, meaning that the rear seat is too
narrow for three large adults.
Subaru’s styling has often been ques-
tionable, but you can’t fault most of the
engineering. The Legacy’s interior has a
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
artist feel about it. The choice of interior
plastics appears to have been made by some
accountant somewhere; Subaru clearly
never consulted any Western carbuyers
before they went ahead with production.
In reality, we suspect that Subaru had
used up so much of its budget designing
the mechanical parts of the vehicle that
there simply wasn’t enough money left to
do a decent job on the interior. Not that
it matters, to most Subaru owners. Next
to Apple Mac owners, Subaru owners are
among the most loyal consumers on the
planet, coming back for more, generation
after generation. They have learned to trust
their vehicles, and a budget interior doesn’t
seem to bother them much.
The Legacy’s front occupants are well-
treated, although the seats aren’t all that
easy to adjust. When adjusted, the low-
slung seats are comfortable and the driving
position is very good for the average driver.
However, the steering wheel adjusts for
height but not reach, so very short or tall
drivers may feel less at home.
There’s just enough legroom in the front
and not enough in the rear.
The interior is well built and reasonably
nicely thought out, although – thanks to
the lightweight design and the quality of
the plastics – squeaks and rattles are com-
Upmarket models were re-powered by
a 2.5 turbocharged engine, introduced to
solve emissions problems without sacrific-
ing power. The new engine, while frugal,
was inclined to drink oil. These engines
have also given more than their fair share
of other issues as well. The problem with
all the recent Subaru engines is that they’re
a very old design that has been constantly
updated to wring out the maximum power
and fuel economy. There’s a limit to how
far you can go with this, and many of these
engines are at that limit.
Later versions offered a 2.0 diesel version
that offered impressive fuel economy and
reasonable performance.
Subaru also introduced a feature called
Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive), fit-
ted to all turbocharged models and the
3.0 model. In theory, SI-drive allows the
driver, via a dial on the centre console, to
play God with the operation of engine and
automatic transmission. By simply turning
the dial, you can choose between economy
and two sports settings.
Like most other systems of this kind, SI-
drive works best on paper and worst on the
road. It’s a silly gimmick; when you select
‘economy’ you use less petrol and you get
less power. However, you can easily achieve
exactly the same result by simply driving
less aggressively.
Moreover, the claimed fuel economy im-
provements aren’t always there; most of the
time the so-called improvements show up
on the fuel economy display rather than at
the gas station. All fuel economy computers
tend to be a bit optimistic, but the Legacy’s
one seems to be more optimistic than most
where SI-drive is concerned.
Rather more successful is the six-speed
manual gearbox, which makes good use
of the engine’s power and, if driven gently,
returns passable fuel economy, even on
larger engines.
The automatic transmissions aren’t per-
fect. Because they’re set up to give maxi-
mum fuel economy, they’re often in conflict
as to when to change gear. That is, they
are torn between the desire to change gear
at the appropriate time, and the desire to
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
wring out the maximum amount of fuel
economy by changing earlier or later than
the driver needs. This programming often
produces indecisive gearchanging, which
may be a pain to live with for some driv-
ers. Some of these transmissions also gave
problems from new.
On the road, the Legacy’s handling is
typical of a good four-wheel drive: tena-
cious grip coupled with mild understeer.
In English, this means that, although the
Legacy will stick to the road like glue, even
on loose road surfaces, it will want to keep
going in a straight line on corners. You
learn to adapt your driving style to suit
this reality.
Understeer aside, the Legacy handles
okay. The ride is too firm on performance
models and a bit inadequate on cheaper
models. Upmarket, non-performance mod-
els offer the best overall ride.
The steering is direct and firm across
the range.
Like many modern SUVs, the Subaru
Outback is a mostly-urban vehicle with
slight offroad pretentions. It isn’t and never
has been, a genuine offroad vehicle. The
Subaru Outback is a slightly modified ver-
sion of the Legacy wagon. It’s natural turf
is city streets and gravel roads. Other than
being slightly higher off the ground, having
a butch styling combined with a slightly
heavier suspension, the Outback is no dif-
ferent to a Legacy station wagon.
The Outback arose out of Subaru’s
desperate need to cash in on the SUV
craze of the 1990s. Subaru was financially-
challenged at the time and couldn’t afford
to build a genuine SUV, so they invented
a pretend one.
A large part of this vehicle’s success arose
from America’s extraordinary but brief fas-
cination with rural Australian culture that
followed the release of the first two Croco-
dile Dundee movies in the 1980s. Unsur-
prisingly, the actor who played Crocodile
Dundee – Paul Hogan – was chosen as
Subaru’s spokesman in America, and the ve-
hicle was given a title that spoke of rugged
rural Australia – the Subaru Outback.
In fact, this name was something of a
con: few Australians ever drove one of these
vehicles offroad in the true outback. Nor
should they; as a car to drive round town
and take down dusty roads, the Outback
does just fine. You rarely see one crossing
the Simpson Desert, which speaks for itself,
really. It’s not that the Subie can’t cope in
sand or dirt highways; quite the opposite.
It’s a great vehicle for muddy dirt tracks and
dusty backroads. What the Outback can’t
cope with is ravines, rocks, logs and rivers.
In serious offroad situations it’s common
for the water to come right up over the bon-
net of a vehicle during the crossing. Light
vehicles can easily get washed downstream.
Water can also get sucked into the engine,
wrecking it instantly. Sudden dips can eas-
ily mean a vehicle gets stuck in the bottom
of a V shaped ravine, both ends jammed,
with the wheels spinning hopelessly. Large
rocks and logs will not only shipwreck a
low vehicle like the Outback, but they’ll
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
often seriously damage the underside of
the vehicle in the process.
Serious offroad situations require a seri-
ous offroader, such as Toyota Land Cruiser
or Nissan Patrol, which are purpose-built
to cope with ravines, rocks, logs and rivers.
Serious offroaders also tend to have winches
to pull themselves out of trouble, some-
thing your rarely see on an Outback.
Still, offroad prowess is rarely relevant to
buyers of SUVs. Outbacks are sold and
used as city station wagons. This is a task
they perform well, although their load-
carrying space is not huge.

Legacys and Outbacks – all versions – re-
mind us of one of those Hollywood action
heroes – good-looking, strong and vigor-
ous. The sort of friend you’d like to hang
out and be seen in public with. However,
when you look back a decade later they
don’t seem to have aged very well. Perhaps
in the Legacy’s case you can blame the previ-
ous owners. Perhaps not. There’s no doubt
that if these vehicles have not been main-
tained carefully then both the engines and
transmissions will give grief at an early age.
However, even well-maintained cars are not
immune to problems. Automatics on these
cars were never great, although later ver-
sions were a definite improvement. Subaru
was forced to upgrade these transmissions
time after time, but outside of Japan they
would only upgrade the transmission if the
owner complained. Typical problems are
transmissions that shift abruptly and with
a thump or a bang, lack of acceleration and
a refusal on the part of the transmission
to change down when the vehicle is going
between 40-70km/h. Regardless of how
well the transmission is serviced, expect it
to need a full and expensive overhaul every
100,000km. The rest of the car should be
perfectly reliable until about 150,000km.
We know of vehicles that have done three
times that mileage without problems, but
there’s no guarantee. Bear in mind also that
these vehicles are reasonably complicated
and many jobs on the engine require that
the whole motor comes out.
Even owners who have maintained their
vehicles to the highest of standards have
sometimes discovered, the hard way, this
fact: like Hollywood action heroes, these
vehicles are best enjoyed while they’re
young and vigorous. Often, old age isn’t
kind to them.
See also our comments on ‘Diesels’, ‘Tur-
bochargers & Superchargers’ in the links page
that follows this review, and on Subaru at the
end of this review
Fuel system problems
Legacy models built between
24 April 2003 & 14 April 2004 (only 12 vehi-
cles affected) • Te fuel tank may leak around
the fuel pump when full. If the problem has been
fixed in Japan there will be white paint on the bolt
securing the fuel tank onto the vehicle body.
VIN numbers: BL5-002001 – BL5-018656;
BP5-002005 – BP5-046175
Search ☛RJ-1342-2
Engine problems
• These engines require that the antifreeze gets
changed religiously, or the interior of the motor
will be eaten away by corrosion.
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
• Rattly engines which leak oil probably warn
that the end is nigh.
• EJ20 two litre Subaru engines (and some
others) are rapidly developing a bad reputa-
tion for premature big end bearing failure.
Subaru is claiming that the problem is lack of
maintenance, but we know of a number of cases
where the buyer was careful and thorough and it
still occurred. The problem is worst on the twin
turbo versions: these engines are equipped with
the short skirt pistons which also wear badly. The
symptom of the big end problem is a distinct
knocking when you start the car from cold and
the symptom of the piston wear is a rattle when
cold. The above two problems seem to strike at
around 150,000km.
• Overheating can destroy your engine! See our
article ‘Keeping it Cool’ in the links page that fol-
lows this review.
• EJ25 2.5 litre DOHC engines are well known
for blowing head gaskets.
• See our general head gasket warning at the end
of this review.
•Timing belts and belt tensioners need replac-
ing every 100,000km (or five years, whichever
comes first) or they may break, causing severe
engine damage. Timing belt replacement can be
• See our article ‘A Question of Timing’ in the
links page that follows this review.
• The 3.0 engine uses a timing chain, not a
timing belt. A noisy chain probably indicates
a tired or badly maintained engine. We have
a few reports of these chains breaking at quite
low mileages, causing massive engine damage.
• See our article ‘A Question of Timing’ in the
links page that follows this review.
• Turbochargers rarely last as long as the engine
they are bolted to, and they ain’t cheap to fix
• Te crankshaft oil seal leaks
• Te crankshaft pulley nut strips out, caus-
ing crankshaft damage. This is a very common
problem and generally occurs not long after the
vehicle has had its timing belt replaced. Some
engine shops can repair the crankshaft in place,
but if there’s not one nearby the whole engine
will have to come out.
• Fuel pumps die with age, and are VERY ex-
pensive to fix.
Liberty GT (2007-2008MY),
Impreza WRX (2008MY, not including STI
models) & Forester XT (2009MY), built be-
fore 10 November 2008 • The turbo charger oil
supply pipe may be deformed and vibration during
normal driving could casue the pipe to crack and
leak engine oil. VIN numbers: not disclosed.
Details @
Legacy 5-speed manual turbo
models built between 24 April 2003 & 31
March 2004 • Te timing belt tensioner may al-
low the belt to move and become damaged. If the
problem has been fixed in Japan there will be white
paint on top of the timing belt cover.
VIN numbers: BL5-002044 – BL5-018374;
BP5-002137 – BP5-041689
Search ☛RJ-2175-0
Gearbox & drivetrain problems
• Constant velocity (CV) joints are prone to
wear. Drive the car in a tight left, then right-
hand circle and listen for the telltale knock-
knock-knock sound.
Also check behind the wheel for split CV boots
and grease leakage. If the boot is split, CV
failure is not far behind, and this CV is a mod-
erately expensive repair.
• Clutches are the weakest link in the power
transmission chain . Try accelerating hard after
changing from first to second while driving
uphill. If the car doesn’t speed up but the revs
keep rising, there’s a problem.
• Manual gearboxes are prone to problems
from around 150,000km onwards. Symptoms
of impending doom include jumping out of
second gear and crunching when changing in
and out of third. Difficulties shifting may also
be worn shifter bushings.
• The differentials on these cars will quickly
seize if the vehicle is run with tyres of different
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
• Rear differentials blow and may be expensive
to fix
• See our general automatic transmission
warning at the end of this review.
Automatic Liberty 3.0, Liberty
GT 2.0/2.5 & Outback 3.0 models built be- models built be-
tween 2005 & 2007 • Transmission may slip due
to a leaking oil cooler hose. This is also a fire haz-
ard. VIN numbers @
Steering & suspension problems
MILEAGES. Especially watch out for oil leaks
from the steering rack, because this not only
signals that the unit needs rebuilding, it may
cause it to fail a safety check
• Suspension bushes are prone to wear
• Suspension struts are prone to wear
• Check for uneven tyre wear. It may mean
that this car has clipped a curb while parking,
or there may be hidden accident damage. If
there’s uneven tyre wear, insist on a four-wheel
alignment before proceeding.
• The rear springs are prone to sagging if the
vehicle has been overloaded.
Brake & safety problems
• See our general airbag and ABS warning at
the end of this review.
• Heavy disc wear is common, especially at the
Worldwide recall of Legacy
models built between 24 April 2003 & 14 April
2004 • The rear stabiliser may interfere with rear
brake callipers and cause brake fluid to leak.
VIN numbers @
Search ☛RJ-1342-1
Search ☛R/2005/117
Body problems
• Many Legacies have been pranged, and not
always fixed properly. You should always have the
vehicle professionally checked, but also check for
uneven tyre wear, wheel wobble when driving and
especially watch for a tugging towards one side of
the road as you drive
• Many Legacies have been used to tow boats, so a
check for rust underneath is essential, especially in
the front crossmember, around the wheel wells and
in the front of the bonnet
Worldwide recall of Legacy
models built between 24 April 2003 & 21
March 2005 • Te rear doors may open while
driving. If the problem has been fixed in Japan
there will be black paint on the latch of the rear
door lock. VIN numbers:
Search ☛RJ-1462-0
and RJ-1514-0
not disclosed, search ☛
Interior problems
• Air conditioning is often dead & may be
uneconomic to fix
• Electric windows die with age
• Central locking dies with age. The key re-
motes are also prone to dying of old age. Make
sure that they work and make sure you get the
spare as well, or budget for its replacement.
ANCAP crash tests, Australia
2004-on models. The version with side
airbags did even better.
In actual road smashes the driver of a small-
er (lighter) car is far more likely to die than
the driver of a larger (heavier) vehicle it col-
lides with. (A Daihatsu Move weighs about
815kg and a Range Rover weighs about
2500kg. Tis vehicle weighs about 1200–
1400kg, depending on the model). See also
our general comments on ‘Four-wheel drives &
Safety’ in the Safety section (see the links page
that follows this review) and our general com-
ments on safety in that section.
All content © The Dog & Lemon Guide 2011. All rights reserved
VIN PLATE LOCATION: Right inner guard
behind wheel arch
ENGINE TYPE & SIZE: (petrol)
• 2.0 EJ20 HO 1994cc DOHC MPI, some
• 2.5 EJ25 HO 2457cc DOHC MPI, some turbo
(VVT on turbo versions).
• 3.0 EZ30 HO 3000cc DOHC MPI
• 2.0 1998cc DOHC MPI turbo
• 2.0 & 2.0 turbo
• 2.5 Regular
• 2.5 turbo Premium
• 3.0 Premium
HOW MUCH FUEL?: Realistic urban averages:
• 2.0 12.3 litres/100km • 8.1 km/litre • 23 mpg
• 2.0T 15.6 litres/100km • 6.4 km/litre • 18 mpg
• 2.5 12.8 litres/100km • 7.8 km/litre • 22 mpg
• 2.5T 17.5 litres/100km • 5.7 km/litre • 16 mpg
• 3.0 15.6 litres/100km • 6.4 km/litre • 18 mpg
• 2.0 7.4 litres/100km • 13.6 km/litre • 38.5mpg
HOW GREEN? (petrol)
• 2.0 J/K • CO2 emissions (g/km) 148-212
• 2.5 K • CO2 emissions (g/km) 200-210
• 3.0 L • CO2 emissions (g/km) 229-290
• 2.0 K • meets Euro Standard IV
• See our article ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ in the links
page that follows this review.
PROPER SPARE TYRE: Yes, except for Legacy
GT models which have spacesaver only.
• LEGACY all models except (previous) 2.2 LX
• OUTBACK standard all models
AIRBAGS: • LEGACY GX & RX dual standard
• GTB & RSB driver only
• LX wagon not available
• OUTBACK Ltd dual standard
• SUV not available
Outback Ltd 3.0R, and Legacy GT. Other models
TOWING CAPACITY: unbraked 710-750kg,
braked 1500-1800kg

making sense
of this review
•Note: this PDF review is designed to be read on your computer. Obviously, the online links within this
review will only work if you’re viewing this PDF onscreen with your computer hooked up to the internet.
1) We suggest you read this page carefully if you’re having trouble
understanding the review. If you’re frantic and need a quick
confirmation that you’re making the right car-buying decision, go
straight to the ‘Quick Summary’ section on the front page of your
2) The rest of the review is there to explain why we make our recommendation in the
‘Quick Summary’ section. Don’t be surprised if we make a negative recommendation: we
try and steer buyers away from vehicle purchases that are likely to end in tears.
3) Buying a car is a complex and confusing process. For this reason we recommend that
you calm down and read our supporting articles as well as the review itself, so that
you can see where we’re coming from.
4) We especially recommend you click on the blue link below to read our article:
‘How to Use These Reviews’.
5) If you’re buying secondhand, we recommend you watch our free video:
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6) There are a number of really useful supporting articles available free from our website.
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7) If you’re still horribly confused:
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the answers you need are already supplied within this review and the free articles on our
Here’s the ‘Quick Summary’ section on the
front page of your review.
mythology Pleiades. Subaru’s
logo of six stars comes from
the Taurus constellation and
is also a reference to the six
companies of the Fuji group.
Subaru’s first big break came
with the four-wheel drive
ubaru is the car division
of Fuji Heavy Industries
Ltd. Fuji also manufac-
tures aircraft, trains & ships,
among other things.
Started in 1917 as the Naka-
jiama Aircraft Co, the company
changed its name
to Fuji Sangyo Ltd
in 1945, when the
American occu-
pying forces split
the group i nto
twelve independ-
ent companies. Six
of these were later
to regroup as Fuji
Heavy industries
Ltd. and gradu-
al l y di versi fi ed
into manufactur-
ing such things as
motor-scooters, bus bodywork
& gasoline engines.
Subaru’s first car was a Fiat
Bambina lookalike, the 360,
in 1958.
More conventional cars
started with the FF1 of 1966,
formed after a co-operation
agreement with Nissan.
The trademark Subaru (cor-
rect Japanese pronunciation
is Soo bar roo, not soo - ber -
ROO) is a Japanese reference
to the character from Greek

Offcial name: Subaru Division,
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd
Owned by: Mainly Fuji Heavy In-
dustries Ltd and Toyota (16.5%).
Formerly owned by: General
Motors (20%).
Current situation: On the
positive side, Subaru vehicles
have an excellent reputation for
performance, handling, reli-
ability and safety. However, like
the giant Panda, Subaru has
become too specialised and is
endangered by a changing en-
vironment. Subaru has a limited
model range and is currently
losing money; it’s a small fsh
in a hostile and overpopulated
Chances of survival: okay.
Subaru’s alliance with Toyota
will improve its chances consid-
erably. In the end, Subaru may
end up like Daihatsu – sim-
ply one of Toyota’s specialist
brands •
Leone in 1974, which suddenly
made four-wheel drive available
for the everyday motorist.
Subaru also did well with
small cars & vans and its per-
formance models.
Early ’80s Suba-
rus had bad rust
pr obl ems , and
Subaru small cars
and vans were
In the early ’90s
Subaru really got
its act together on
both fronts. Most
mode r n Suba -
rus give excellent
crashtest results
and rarely rust.
Subaru’s rally cars like the
WRX have made the brand
famous among petrolheads.
However, much of the tech-
nology that goes into Subaru’s
racing vehicles is also present in
its everyday cars.
Subarus do not age as grace-
fully as their Toyota equivalent;
a ten year old Toyota is often
still in its prime; a ten year old
Subaru is nearing the end of its
trouble-free life. While they’re
new, Subarus are among the
most trustworthy cars avail-
able •
Before You Buy
• Bargain Hunting
• How To Use These Reviews
• The Five Minute Car Check
• Finance
• Buying New
• Depreciation in Australia
• Depreciation in New Zealand
• Insurance
• Types of Vehicles
• Japanese Secondhand Imports
• Cabriolets & Convertibles
• Yuppie Four-wheel Drives
• Hybrids
• British Cars
• European Cars
• German Cars
• Classic Cars
• Luxury Cars
Ownership Issues
• Automatics & CVT Transmissions
• A Question of Timing - timing belts
• Keeping It Cool
• Know Your Battery
• Tyresome Foolishness
• Diesels
• Turbochargers & Superchargers
• Playing it Safe - vehicle safety features
• Making Sense of Crashtests
Dozens of useful additional articles for free!
Just click on the name of an article from the list below
(you need to be viewing this page on your computer and be connected to the internet for this to work).
online links
• Cars 1970-88
• Vans & Safety
• Four-wheel Drives & Safety
• Classic Cars & Safety
• A Tragic Lack of Restraint – seatbelts
• The Seven Deadly Sins - the causes
of road crashes
• A Comedy of Errors – road safety ads
don’t work
• A Fine Mess – why fnes don’t work
• Calming the Madness – good road
design can save lives
• That Sleep of Death – driver fatigue
• Victims of Circumstance – how you
live afects how you die
• When a Phone Box Pulls Out In Front
of You
Cars & The World We Live In
• A Long Way From Paradise
• The Dream Merchants
• Women & Cars
• Cars & Other Dysfunctional
Relationships - by Germaine Greer
• The Chinese Bubble
• Cars & Nazis
• It’s Not Easy Being Green
• The Emperor’s New World
• The Emperor’s New Car
The Meaning of Life
• Dictionary of Car Terms
• Both the ABS (anti-skid braking) and airbag
warning lights should go on and then off when
you first start the vehicle. If this does not happen,
the vehicle may require a major, extremely
expensive repair immediately (if either the ABS
or airbag warning lights do not go on at all,
someone’s probably disconnected them to hide
the fact that the ABS or airbag system is faulty).
If either warning light comes on while you are
driving, this may mean a serious malfunction in
the vehicle’s safety systems, and the vehicle should
not be driven, let alone purchased.
Modern engines work hard. Because of this, they tend to
get hot and frequently ‘blow their top’, especially if the engine
has been overheated or run without fresh antifreeze. Head gaskets
may be very expensive to fix and if left unfixed you’ll probably
end up broken down at the side of the road. Worse, blown head
gaskets sometimes lead to total engine failure.
The symptoms of a blown head gasket are mysterious
coolant loss, sometimes accompanied by rough running and
overheating, clouds of white steam coming from the exhaust,
oil in the water, water in the oil, and/or white goo under the oil
filler cap (see picture opposite). You should also lift out the oil
dipstick. If the oil is the colour of the white goo in the middle of
the oil filler cap in the picture, you have a cracked cylinder head
and/or blown head gasket. You should also be suspicious about
any vehicle with a heater that leaks coolant into the interior of
the car. A leaking heater is sometimes a symptom of a head gasket
problem. So is a blown or leaking radiator or its hoses.
Blown head gasket
ABS & airbag warning
Automatic transmission warning
• Automatic transmissions that do not shift smoothly during a test drive are probably
not long of this earth. Also, with the vehicle at normal operating temperature (so that
the engine is not idling too fast) put the handbrake on and try switching the gear selector
between forward and reverse – this should happen quickly and smoothly without any clunk
– if not, suspect big repair bills in the near future.
Note: the advice below may not apply on some modern cars, because there may be
no dipstick to check. For further information, see our articles on automatic transmis-
sions and CVT transmissions in the links page (one page back).
With the transmission in neutral and the engine running at normal operating temperature,
lift out the transmission dipstick, wipe it clean, put it back in and then remove it again. The
automatic transmission fluid should be a happy cherry red colour & should be within the
marked area on the transmission dipstick – if it’s not, abuse and/or neglect is pretty likely
and the vehicle should be avoided!

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