How to Buy a Used WRX or STI
Results 1 to 4 of 4

This is a discussion on How to Buy a Used WRX or STI within the Car Purchasing Forum forums, part of the ClubWRX.net Marketplace category; Since this question comes up all the time and I remember answering it years ago, I've decided to have another ...

  1. #1
    He simply abides. SD_GR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    CA, US
    Posts
    22,562
    I Support ClubWRX

    Post How to Buy a Used WRX or STI

    Since this question comes up all the time and I remember answering it years ago, I've decided to have another go:

    Be meticulous and cautious. Do not buy a modified car.

    First use common sense to rule out the worst offenders: does the VIN come back clean? Was the car at the bottom of a lake, stolen, or burned? How many pieces is the car in?

    Once you have a basic understanding of the car's history then:

    Only buy a car with FSH (Full Service History) in the form of a logbook and original receipts in the owner's name from an authorized dealer or repair facility (no independents for the FSH on such a new car).

    Take it to an independent specialist and have them do a compression test, check the turbo shaft for play, check the brakes and clutch for wear, and pull 100 ml samples of motor oil, gearbox oil, and coolant - have these analyzed by an independent lab. Ask the owner what brand lubrication/cooling products are in use - if you get a blank stare or BS, do not buy the car. If you get an answer, send the samples in for testing and use your own fresh fluid (same type indicated by owner) to replenish the car if needed.

    Have the mechanic comment on the plugs while they are out.

    Have the shop pull any ECU codes. If no codes, check the battery terminal for wear indicating it's had contact with a wrench - if the FSH doesn't indicate any reason to pull off the terminal, the ECU codes may have been blanked by the owner. Ask and depending on the answer, decide... What's that you say -- the battery is new and that's why the terminals have wrench marks? When did the original battery fail, why, and where's the receipt again?

    Find a body shop and pay a body repair person to take a look at the body and tell you if it's been re-sprayed and if all the seams are original, and if any panels have been replaced.

    Check the condition of the driver's floor mat. It should not look ancient in a car with low mileage. The usual pedal cover check doesn't apply, as these are metal. Check the wheels/rubber for ridiculous wear that doesn't correspond to the driven-by-granny-to-church-only story you may have heard.

    Check the body for nicks and damage to the paint. If the car only has a few miles on it, were they all done following a gravel truck down the road or has the owner simply replaced the instrument cluster with another showing more favourable mileage?

    When were all the recalls performed? When was the radiator replaced, the clutch judder fixed, and the driver's seat rail bolt replaced? By whom?

    Do not buy a car with a spotless engine bay. Find a nice dirty one. Look for streaks of fluid and/or other leak signs. Look for juice marks on the tarmac where the car is usually parked. Check the exhaust component bolts from the manifold all the way to the muffler, turbo and up/down pipe included of course, and see if they've ever been removed. Check the story.

    Are the dampers still firm and the steering tight or does the car wander and float? Why?

    Look all around the car and inside the engine bay for anything that looks out of place or that doesn't agree with the image a machine put together at a factory by pros and robots would portray - signs of an aspiring "tuner" should make you run.

    This will take time and effort, and will not be free, but it will ensure you'll have a fighting chance of getting what you think you're getting. Don't rush to buy a car, it's simply not worth it. This is a Subaru, they make them every day and you'll find another soon enough. Rushing costs money.
    WRX Info Links, Courtesy TheJ
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. Ernest Hemingway
    I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Benjamin Sisko
    DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are the author's alone and are inherently worthless.

  2. Remove Advertisements
    ClubWRX.net
    Advertisements
     

  3. #2
    He simply abides. SD_GR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    CA, US
    Posts
    22,562
    I Support ClubWRX
    Feel free to buy any car from anyone. However, if you want to minimize the chance of getting a car that was not meticulously maintained and/or was not driven mildly, I think the above general advice will give you a decent shot.

    There's no problem in buying something if you like it and know what your'e getting into. There's also no problem if you don't specifically care what you're getting into.

    However, if you do care about what you're getting into it's probably a safe idea to see you do everything you can to find out as much as possible about the car's history, and then to select a car with as few spots in its history as possible.

    If you know about something you can then decide for yourself if it matters to you or not. For example, if you know a part has been changed you can at least ask what happened and gauge from there if you are interested, if the seller seems honest, if the seller seems competent, or both, or neither.

    The more you know the more educated your choices would be.

    All this is just IMO and I don't want to come across as dogmatic (though I am very proud that whoever buys my car one day will be pretty well assured it's been maintained correctly). Of course even my well maintained car could fail the moment I sign it over to someone else - there's no foolproof way to know that and even brand new cars have problems. I'd just like to see as many people as possible be in as strong a buying position as possible. I'm sure there are better ways to evaluate a car; all this is just my two cents.

    Look at it this way: some members here are very competent mechanics and have gone through several major parts (motors, gearboxes etc.). If I were to buy from one of them, I'd already know this and they'd just tell me anyway -- both the buyer and the seller are up-front with one another and know what's going on with the car. Other people haven't spent as much time underneath an Impreza with bleeding knuckles and parts all over the floor, so they could probably use some words of caution.
    Last edited by SD_GR; 06-16-2005 at 06:04 PM.
    WRX Info Links, Courtesy TheJ
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. Ernest Hemingway
    I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Benjamin Sisko
    DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are the author's alone and are inherently worthless.

  4. #3
    Registered User Timdog1650's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Posts
    6,170
    Things to look for:

    Tire life. If it's on stock tires, make sure they're basically new or have just been replaced

    Brakes. The brakes are a FORTUNE to replace with OEM parts, and if you can't do a brake job yourself you want to get them to put new pads/rotors on the car as part of the deal. That being said, aftermarket parts are about 75% cheaper than stock and the brakes on this car are so easy to do I would literally let a 10 year old do it for me if I was standing there just casually supervising. If you can play with legos you can do a brake job on an STi.

    This is crucial....make sure the following are stock or else get them reverted to stock...

    BPV (bypass pressure valve). If the person has an aftermarket blow off valve get them to replace it with stock or give you the stock one to replace.

    Exhaust. If they have modified the post-turbo exhaust (i.e. downpipe, catalytic converters) then you need to know a couple of things.

    1) did they port the turbo to deal with the inevitable boost creep that accompanies such a modification?
    2) can the car pass inspection in the state your living in? If not, then you need to get them to include stock exhaust so that you can pass inspection. Use this as a bargaining point
    3) Did they have engine management in the car? If the exhaust has been modified the car is prone to overboosting in high gears because of boost creep (this can drastically reduce engine life). That being said, if they put some kind of tune in the car to account for the higher boost levels, it's probably safe. If they just threw on catless exhaust without tuning for it, recognize that this could cause problems.

    Boost control. Is it running the stock system? Is there an aftermarket boost controller? What is it set to if it's not stock? What tuning has been done to account for higher than stock boost? Is there a boost gauge in the car to monitor boost? The stock factory boost gauge sucks really bad, so don't rely on that for accurate information beyond stock boost levels.

    One easy way to notice if they have screwed around with the turbo/exhaust/boost control is to look at the turbo (it's on the passenger side of the engine bay, right next to/under the intercooler). If the stock heat shield is in place and looks unmarred/unmolested then it has most likely been left alone. If it looks like the vacuum lines are all messy and there is no heat shield, maybe ask them why. Could be something simple, could be that they absolutely beat on the car and just threw a used stock turbo on there to sell it. Take a look at the bolts on the exhaust...if they tell you that the car has never been modded but the bolts are marred up and rounded off a little bit....call BS. A stock car really should never need to have the exhaust removed within 100k miles, so if it looks like it's been tampered with ask why.

    Suspension Take a test drive and make sure you take the thing somewhere you can go over speed bumps, into driveways, around slow corners. You want to make sure the suspension travel does not seem "broken." If it seems harsh, that's fine, it's an STi. If you hear loud thuds, clunks, or a sort of general "too shaky" feeling then start poking around. Some people had issues with the stock struts dying on them or becoming overly loud. If the issue has been previously addressed and there is documented work that has been done, give the seller credit for taking care of an other wise annoying and potentially frustrating problem that most 04's suffered from.

    Fluids This is the big one. If you're buying from a stealership the car will probably have fresh fluids. If you're buying from a private seller, this is doubly important. Pop the hood and check the oil. It's best to do this when the car is cold and hasn't been running in a while. You want the oil to look clear like honey with no foamy appearance or chemically smell. If it smells strongly of gasoline and/or is black and thin looking the seller might not be that good about oil changes OR the car has some engine damage causing fuel contamination in the oil. This can happen if the piston rings are shot and the car may or may not have good compression in every cylinder. If the oil just looks like hell ask for a compression test and make sure they no joke do it and don't just say "oh it's good, don't worry."

    Also, check the transmission fluid. This needs to be changed WAY less than the oil but is still something to take note of. The dipstick is behind the turbo, under neath the intercooler. You can access it without removing anything by standing next to the passenger side front wheel and looking behind the turbo for a little brass dipstick with a loop at the end. It should be clear and honey colored (unless it's an aftermarket fluid like Royal Purple which is...wait for it....PURPLE). It should smell like a cross between sulfur and coal smoke and should REALLY not be discolored at all.

    Brake fluid is important but as long as it's full then no worries. Also you might want to take a look at the power steering reservoir and make sure it's within limits (the markings are on the side of the bottle).

  5. #4
    Registered User Timdog1650's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Posts
    6,170
    Test Drive When you put the key in and turn to "run" you should see the gauges do their little song and dance but you should also hear the fuel pump cycle on. It will sound like a low mechanical hum coming from behind your head (it's underneath the back seat in the trunk). Turning the key it should turn over within about 2 or 3 seconds. Any longer than three seconds and you should start to wonder. The car should idle at about 1500 RPM for a few minutes or until the coolant temperature comes up. Then it should fall back down to about 750 rpm and hold there steady. If it pulses, hunts around more than 100rpm at a time, starts to dip low and shake then runs back up to 750, give it a second and maybe tap the gas a little. If it does this again, there may be a boost/vacuum/exhaust leak somewhere that will need to be addressed. The single best way to recognize a major boost or exhaust leak is a crappy idle and/or stalling if you rev it a little. This probably shouldn't be a deal breaker but it needs to be addressed before you pay anything for the car.

    When you start driving, the gears should feel notchy and firm, but you should NEVER EVER EVER feel like you have to put muscle behind a shift. The STi has a BAD ASS transmission and if you feel like it's becoming a real effort to select a gear something is probably wrong. The clutch (assuming it's stock) should also feel firm but not too light. There should be literally no play in the clutch or gas pedal. If the pedals move really at all without actually doing anything, take a second to ask about that. The gas pedal is an electronic sensor so it's not like there is slack in the throttle cable. It should feel crisp and progressive.

    The car should feel good around 2500 rpm. If you don't get that "god damn!" feeling by about 3200 rpm in 2nd and 3rd gear, there may be an issue with the turbo building boost. If there is a boost gauge you're going to want to see about 1 bar (14.7psi) around 3200/3500 rpm in 3rd and 4th gear. You probably won't get that much in the lower gears on stock boost. The car should not sputter, buck, or over-run when you let off the throttle after a wide open throttle run. If the car does anything but slowly rev down and coast smoothly, start asking questions. Bucking and heaving in these cars can be a sign of poor transmission maintenance and you should be able to smoothly apply and release the gas pedal without any disturbance to the drivetrain.

    If you have any suspicions that the clutch may be iffy, here's a simple test you can do while accelerating from a stop. Put the car in first, accelerate to normal shift point (3k rpm is mine). Shift to second and go back to about 3250/3500 rpm. Instead of hitting third gear, try to put the car in 4th gear. Once it's in gear, floor the gas pedal. If the clutch is in good shape the car will kind of bog down and chug along as it picks up RPM then will come alive at about 2800 rpm and feel strong. If you put it in gear, floor it, and the engine seems like it's revving out and starting to really get going but the car is still sluggish and is not accelerating proportionally to the engine RPM....start asking questions, this is a sign of excessive clutch wear.

    Frame/body Make sure when you're looking at the car that all the doors open and close smoothly with the windows both up and down. The doors will sound rattly, that's okay...all Subarus do that. What you should NOT see is when the windows are rolled all the way up and you try to close the door the window catches on the door seal and the door won't latch properly. Since the car has frameless windows, there is nothing stopping the window from over extending when it's rolled all the way up sometimes. This is a simple fix as there is a plastic stopper that can break/come loose in the door panel. That being said, it should be fixed or addressed since it really is something that must work properly if you don't want to further damage the door and windows.

    Make sure the trunk opens and closes smoothly. If it's an STi, it's going to have slightly stiffer spring action to account for the heavier wing on the back. If you pop the trunk and it just barely floats about 1/4-1/2 inch above the closed position, then opens smoothly and stays open...it's all good. If the car is wingless and you pop it and the thing basically flies to the moon and feels like you have to slam the hell out of it to close it, then it has too stiff of springs in it and you will want to discuss this with the seller because it becomes a huge pain in the neck and can possibly cause damage down the road after repeat use.

    Take a look at the bumpers/fenders and make sure all the body panels are held in place securely. Do a quick inspection of the interior trim pieces and ensure that they all have fasteners in them. If the car had a body kit on it or there were gauges installed in the interior, there may have been body panels removed and or trim pieces tinkered with. You should know about this before you buy the car and make sure it is addressed in the price if something is missing retainer clips or the panels don't sit perfectly right. Since it's a turbo car, a lot of people put aftermarket gauges in it. You should check the driver's side A-pillar since this is a popular spot. It should be well secured and not marred up from being removed 100 times. Also, the clock pod is a popular location. make sure it sits flush with the dash and does not rattle excessively when you drive.


    Best of luck...I know this is a TON of stuff but having recently purchased a high mileage '04 STi and missed some of these things, I thought I would just share my experience.

    ~Tim

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •