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So I drive a '97 Subaru Legacy with about 200,000 miles on it. Still runs like a charm, never gives me any trouble. Had the brakes, rotors, and calipers all replaced recently, tightened the power steering belt, replaced a tire...that's it.

But I know this can't go on forever. But I also don't understand why.

I can keep making $100-$800 fixes once or twice a year no trouble. That's fine. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing that could brake and be beyond my ability to repair is "the engine" or "the transmission," either of which costs thousands.

So this is a fairly open question-- how can I avoid deathly component breakdowns? What should I look out for, what precautions should I take, what should I have greased or oiled or replaced or shined up before it's too late, what can I do to prolong the life of the mysterious metal object known as "the engine," and also "the transmission"? Past the 200,000 mile mark, what's going to be problematic in the near future? And how much longer do I have, on estimate?

All advice is welcome. During college, anything beats buying a new car.

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I feel like I'm consulting the medical team on options for my dying grandfather. – Aerovistae Jun 16 '12 at 7:41
+1. I have similar `97 car (Skoda) - so far maintaining costs are cheaper than buying and maintaining any new car by times. So I would like to know (maybe that can be a part of you question?) - how to detect the point when old car should be scraped in favor of buying new(er) one (in pure practical reasons!). – Kromster Jun 18 '12 at 5:12
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Some reasons that old cars may not be able to be supported indefinitely are:

  • Rust. If you get rust in areas that are hard to reach and compromise the integrity/safety of the vehicle, it may be cheaper to buy a new car than pay the massive labor for extensive rust repairs. These days labor rates are insanely high, the killer is the disassembly/reassembly (Got a quote to paint my car for $8000 simply due to the labor of pulling the body parts off for paint! Actual paint cost & labor was only about 10% of the total cost!).

  • Parts availability. When your power steering rack (just an example, could be any part) breaks in a way that requires a unit replacement you may find that there are none available. When I had a caliper irreparably seize up in my car (cooked it beyond being able to have the seals replaced), it took 2 weeks to find a replacement! None available new. None available in the dealer network. No aftermarket replacements/refurbs available. None available in any of the junkyards we tried. Finally found one in a warehouse out in Cali...

The engine/transmission thing is the least of my concerns about car longevity. Even if you spend $4000 getting an engine, it's still way cheaper than buying a new car... :-)

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Just curious, what model(s) was that caliper for? – BigHomie Dec 23 '13 at 13:19
1991/2 Toyota MR2 Turbo caliper. I've now got a similar situation with my 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX (with factory rear LSD). I had a rear wheel bearing go bad, which is not normally too tricky. However, it's been on a lift for nearly 3 months while we're trying to source usable axle cups (everything was so badly rusted that the originals are no longer usable). – Brian Knoblauch Dec 23 '13 at 15:59
@BrianKnoblauch revisiting this four years were right. Rust killed it. Rear wheelwells rusted out completely, to the point that there was a small hole in the trunk. Repair quotes were insane. I was very sad. Such a god damned shame, because everything else about the car was functioning flawlessly, even as I was approaching 300k miles. – Aerovistae Jun 22 at 17:51

I don't consider a 15 year old car to be that old! Regular maintenance is the key. Change the oil etc regularly (go by the service schedule), and use a good quality oil and filters. Change the transmission fluid, make sure the belts get done on schedule, etc.

When I was running cars of that age as my everyday transport, it was terminal rot that killed them, not mechanical failure. Rust can become very expensive to fix, but you might be lucky and live in an area where that is less of an issue.

Legacys are pretty solid from what I've seen. If you look after it, you should have a good couple more years out of it - it should at least keep going until you've finished studying...

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Rust around wheel arches is one Subaru problem so keep an eye on these areas. – Rory Alsop Jun 19 '12 at 11:36
I've already got that rust as of the past year! It worries me but I don't know what to do about it. – Aerovistae Jul 25 '12 at 14:48

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