New or Certified Pre-Owned? That was my dilemma in 2014, and I wrestled with it for a month. In the end, I chose Certified Pre-Owned. And Subaru.
I’ve long been a proponent of the Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle Programs that nearly all manufacturers offer. Normally, there is an extended warranty, usually to 100,000 miles, on most items included with the CPO program. This varies between manufacturers, but it’s roughly the same throughout the industry. Subaru has an excellent CPO program. I recommend it to friends all the time.
CPO is like Apple – and its refurbished program – in many ways. There are a few pre-owned miles (or in Apple’s case, a few extra keystrokes), but often it’s better than the original product and warranty. It’s been inspected and completely refurbished. At least in theory. Of course, Apple does all the refurbishing and certifying themselves. And that makes a big difference.
The difference isn’t in the program details. It’s really in the dealership certifying the vehicle. Because if that’s not done by the book, you can spend a lot of wasted time in the shop later – even if the manufacturer is paying the freight.
When done right, it’s a good deal. In the case of Subaru, this is what you’re supposed to get:
- Factory-backed 7-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, $0 deductible
- Additional coverage available.
- 152-Point Inspection.
- 24/7 Roadside Assistance.
- $500 Owner Loyalty Coupon
- CARFAX® Vehicle History Report
- SiriusXM® 3-Month Trial Subscription
- One-year Trial Subscription to STARLINK™ Safety Plus Package with Automatic Collision Notification 
In reality of course, none of the above inclusions matter if the vehicle is not inspected properly to begin with, and returned to its original, like-new selling condition.
The 152-point inspection is extensive. Here’s the link:
So, when I bought my 2011 CPO Subaru Outback on Bastille Day in 2014 I was very excited. Yes, it had a roof rack and some sort of aftermarket rubberized roof, and additionally, it was missing the headrest in the second-row middle seat. And when I asked to see the 152-point inspection report I noticed that almost half of it was not filled out.
I asked about this omission and the salesperson went in the back to ask the technician why there were blank areas on the report. Back came the salesperson with the inspection report completely filled out. The technician said he had just forgotten to check all the boxes. So, he checked the boxes then. (Note: checking the boxes is not the same as completing the inspection.)
That, of course, didn’t make any sense at all. But when you’re in love (and I still, to this day, love my Outback) you accept some things that someone not in love may question. Such is love. Love is blind…and probably deaf as well. Besides, we were signing the paperwork at that point, and about to go into the dreaded F&I office for a last chance to hear that I better buy the added protection because, you know! This car could quit running right after you leave here! Even if it was a CPO vehicle.
ACTUALLY, THEY WEREN’T THAT FAR OFF
Like in any relationship, problems can start to appear. That doesn’t make you less in love by the way. It just adds to the drama. And what’s love, without drama? Just ask Shakespeare.
Used cars are a love affair. New cars are often boringly alike. Used cars are unique. That’s why dealerships like them; there’s not an identical one across the highway, at another dealership.
A few days after I drove off the lot in my Outback, all the dash lights began flashing. Back to the dealership to have the brake lights worked on. Then the battery died. Back to the dealership, where no one could figure why I was having electrical problems. But I was helpfully reminded that I could still purchase an additional warranty for between $900 (last offer) and $1200 (first offer).
One good thing about being an automotive journalist is that you have contacts throughout the industry. I called up Subaru’s guy, my regional PR rep, a guy named Andrew Ganz.
At first, when the strange start/stop electrical problems appeared, they were intermittent. Electrical problems are about wiring, and there’s an amount of wiring in the average car that is mind boggling. Trust me, you never want to hear the words ‘electrical problem’. Couldn’t it just be a root canal without any anesthetic? That’s seems painless in comparison.
So, armed with a Subaru rep (Andrew) in the shotgun seat at the annual Texas Auto Writers Texas Truck Rodeo in San Antonio, I figured we could get to the bottom of this. And a lot of journalists, looking on, thought that as well. They even offered suggestions. But, well, we were wrong. The problem remained.
In the end, I received the name of a technician where I had purchased the vehicle. He would look at it, Subaru said, in an email. The dealership was surprised I knew the individual was there. In fact, they denied he existed, until I showed them the email. At which point, they admitted they knew him. They called him, and down the hall he came.
This was a car guy. Really knowledgeable. He popped the hood in the service center driveway and began ripping out stuff that was not supposed to be there, not original equipment, but had been left in place by the selling dealership. He ran a diagnostic and had the car up and running within half an hour. It cost a little money (I’m not sure why), but as fast as he could say “go to the parts dep’t. and get this” I was on my way to the parts dept.
When I left there, and this was my 4th or 5th trip to solve problems that came with the car, I vowed to find another dealership. After all, finding a knowledgeable tech had eluded that dealership for months, despite repeated visits. And odds were good that I wouldn’t meet the guy who fixed the problem again.
So, I sought out another Subaru Dealership. That’s important. I wasn’t trying to abandon Subaru. I was just trying to get my car running properly. After all, I had a great warranty, and the car had only 47, 000 miles on it.
Although I hadn’t gotten it new, it was new to me, and beautiful. Love, again, was in the air. My Outback was running great.
Since that time, I’ve had my Outback maintained at the dealership I found in Selma. Even though it’s a 60-mile drive for me, and the selling dealership is only five miles from my house.
Things have gone wrong with my vehicle. Nothing’s perfect. But there is a world of difference in how things are handled when they go wrong. This new store has treated me well. Very well. Every time.
(In fact, I drove a 2019 Subaru Outback loaner while my car was being repaired. I wrote a review of that car. Why not? It was right here in my driveway, which is a lot closer and easier than requesting a car from the press fleet, and then waiting for it.)
Also, the 2020 Subaru was just introduced at the New York Auto Show; I might as well see what Subaru is replacing.
Over the last few years, I’ve probably been in to this dealership for repair work more often than I would like. This hasn’t been a flawless vehicle. But with the exception of my clutch (this is a six-speed manual transmission), almost everything has been repaired under warranty. It’s only the inconvenience of having to get the vehicle into the shop. It’s been towed at least three times.
I replaced the clutch at 72,000 miles, and though I thought that was pretty early for a clutch, I didn’t know who had driven the car before I bought it. So, I couldn’t even guess the clutch condition. I just paid the bill, and had a new clutch installed when the old one met its premature death. At this point, I should probably point out that I’m not new to a clutch.
In fact, I specifically sought out a manual trans Outback. In my family we only drive manual transmissions. There’s a 2008 Honda Accord 5-speed manual, a 2005 Toyota Matrix 5-speed manual, a Ford F-250 HD Diesel 4X4 extended cab, with a 5-speed manual. And the Subaru. Plus, two motorcycles and a Vespa 250. The only automatic is the Vespa.
We’re not hard on clutches. We did replace a clutch in the Matrix at somewhere north of 125,000 miles. But that is to be expected. Clutches don’t last forever, even if they are well cared for. But they shouldn’t quit at 72,000 miles either. We’re not talking a WRX here, or a WRX STi, or even a BRZ. We’re talking a Subaru Outback. But anything is possible, so I replaced the clutch and went on enjoying my Outback.
Until this past week, when at 112,000 miles the clutch simply stopped working. Actually, something much rarer than the clutch itself going out occurred. The clutch fork broke. Engage first gear, shift to second, clutch goes to the floor and stays there.
This is so rare – the clutch fork breaking – that I could only find one incident of it on the Internet. And that was a guy that replaced his own clutch at 212,000 miles and then about 30,000 miles later, the clutch fork broke on him. At which point, he remembered seeing some striations in the clutch fork when he changed the clutch. But he did not think enough of it to change the clutch fork.
At my Subaru store, the mechanics had never seen this happen, and the service writers could not ever recall this part failing, either.
I think the part (or parts) were probably defective to begin with, and then simply worsened over time. That’s the only thing that makes sense. It wasn’t dramatic when it failed. From a dead stop, the clutch just went to the floor and stopped working. No prior warning. No drama. Just no clutch.
The CPO warranty expires at 100,000 miles or seven years from date of first sale. I realize that. And that was last summer. But I continue to service the vehicle at this same store. That’s the loyalty you’re looking for in customers – service appointments, even after the warranty ends. But as I said, I was treated well at this dealership.
The Outback hasn’t been abused. At least as long as I have owned it. I love it. I wish Subaru still made a manual transmission Outback. I’d buy a new one. But they don’t. It’s automatics with paddle shifters now. Great if you’re an F1 driver, but if you’re not, you start to let the transmission shift itself. Pretty soon, you forget you even have paddle shifters.
On the other hand, shifting a manual transmission with a clutch is always fun. It not only keeps your mind on what you’re supposed to be doing (DRIVING!), it allows you to be in the gear that you choose every time, and for as long as you want to be there. The clutch engages you, as you engage it. It makes you think.
So, hopeful that Subaru might weigh in on this problem and help out, despite the fact that I was beyond the official 100,000-mile mark by almost 13,000 miles, I wrote them a nice letter. After all, doesn’t hope spring eternal? Yes.
In the letter, I said that I can live with the fact that I never got that second-row headrest. I can live with the fact that a lot of aftermarket stuff, like the rubber roof and the cargo carrier, and all the stuff under the hood painted yellow, was left on my car when it was certified, even though we know it was supposed to be removed. I can live with all the silliness (and negligence) of the tech not really doing the 152-point inspection prior to certifying the vehicle. I can even live with the fact that I’ve already bought a new clutch once, and a lot of other work has been done over the years. And all of that was mostly, as I stated earlier, under the 100,000-mile warranty.
But a second clutch issue, only 40,000 miles after the first clutch repair, seemed unusual, and I hoped Subaru might agree.
And I mentioned that not only did I buy a CPO vehicle, but I’ve only had it serviced at authorized Subaru dealerships. Even the oil changes. And you really can’t ask more from your customers than loyalty like that. Dealerships and manufacturers live for loyalty like that.
In the end, 10 days later once the necessary parts arrived, I had my 2011 Subaru Outback back. Subaru paid half the bill and I paid the other half.
The Outback shifts like new. Actually, better than new. It’s never shifted this well since I bought it. Never. Which could lead one to suspect there was an original issue that destroyed the clutch, not once but twice, while I owned it.
A clutch, like love, can be fickle. In the end, you just may never know what wrong.
As s Billie Holiday sings in Fine and Mellow:
“Love is just like a faucet/
It turns off and on
Sometimes when you think it’s on baby/
It’s turned off and gone.”
And remember, it never hurts to sit down and write a nice letter. Maybe your wish will fall on deaf ears. Or just maybe your wish will be granted.
Alan Pease is our Central Texas correspondent, covering city, county and state government, as well as all that's taking place at the Circuit of the Americas. Alan is a long time automotive and motorcycle industry professional, and covered the approval, development and opening of the Circuit of the Americas for Autoweek magazine. Prior to writing for Autoweek and txGarage Alan designed and executed over 350 individual press introductions, drive routes, and ride-and-drive events for BMW cars, BMW Motorcycles, MINI Cooper, Aston Martin, Jaguar Cars, and several General Motors divisions. Press introductions took him across the entire United States (including Alaska), as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. Alan also raced in the Inaugural Iron Butt Rallye, riding as a Factory Rider for BMW Motorcycles. He finished the 10 day, 10,000 mile solo rider race tied for 1st place. He lives in Austin, Texas, and can be reached by email at email@example.com .