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Buying a Used Subaru – Avoiding Scammers

I am writing this in anger and frustration due to the sheet number of a**holes on Craigslist, Facebook Market Place and used car dealers looking to ripoff unsuspecting buyers.

I hope this quick post will help you avoid these d***heads.

I am currently looking for a 2016-2019 Subaru Crosstrek/Impreza/Outbacl with around 60k-80k miles.

Step #1 – Get the Vehicle Identification Number

The very first thing you need to obtain is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

Sellers who have nothing to hide will list the VIN in their ad.

If the VIN is not disclosed, but you can see the license plate in one of the advertisement pictures, you can go to, click on Sell/Trade link, and plug the plate number to obtain the VIN. If the plate is not visible, you will have to contact them to get it.

Ideally, you want two picture: VIN on the top of dashboard and VIN plate from the driver side door frame.

Step #2 – Title Search

When shopping for a used car, seeing “clean title” rather than “branded title” in the description is important. A clean title means that the car’s title is clear of any major issues. Specifically, it indicates that:

  1. No Major Accidents or Damage: The vehicle has not been involved in any significant accidents or sustained major damage. This suggests that the vehicle’s structural integrity is likely intact.
  2. No Liens: There are no outstanding loans or debts against the vehicle. This means that the car is fully paid off and the seller has the right to sell it.
  3. Not Stolen: The vehicle is not reported as stolen.

On the other hand, a car with a “branded title” can be one of the following:

  1. Not a Salvage Title: A salvage title is issued to a car that has been deemed a total loss by an insurance company due to severe damage (either floor or accident) or theft recovery.
  2. Not Rebuilt or Reconstructed: The car has not been labeled as rebuilt or reconstructed. Such designations usually apply to vehicles that were previously salvage-titled and then repaired.

With your VIN, head on over to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) VIN check site to verify that your car’s title is clean.

As an average consumer, I highly recommend that you AVOID a car with a branded title for the following reasons:

  • You have no idea who fixed the vehicle, therefore cannot determine the repair quality
  • You have no idea what kinds of repairs were made (i.e. bent frame, etc.)
  • Most auto insurance companies will ONLY provide liability coverage (which means if you have an accident, all physical repair costs will be up to you)
  • When you re-sell this vehicle, expect to get about 50% less than the market price

Step #3 – Car History Report

Most used car dealers will provide you with a copy of Carfax report. If buying from another person, you will have to pay for it yourself. there are several paid and free options:

  • – provides a free report with limited info; should not rely on it as the primary source of info
  • Bumper – sign up for a 7-day trial for $3 (you can run 10 VIN reports)
  • Autocheck – rather than buying a full report, do the free vehicle history report score; any score above 90 means is good. Keep in mind that AutoCheck free score is good at detecting branded titles (i.e. salvage, rebuilt, etc.) where the score will be around 75. For specific damage reports, you still need to purchase the CarFax report
  • Carfax – very comprehensive report; you can buy direct from Carfax or from a freelancer at Fiverr round $5 to $10 per report + $3 Fiverr fee. Do NOT purchase multiple report bundles unless you are using them all at the same time. These freelancers come and go quickly.

Step #4 – How to Spot Subaru Issues in a Carfax report

Carfax report contains a detailed maintenance history, especially if the maintenance was done at a dealer.

If you see multiple entries with notes of “battery checked”, “electrical system checked”, or “battery replaced”, that particular may have a parasitic drain issue which are common in some Subarus. Just know that this battery drain issue is pain to diagnose and fix.

If the report says “minor damage”, it probably means a small fender bender. If the report says “accident”, you want to ask the seller for the repair invoice to what repair was done and how much they cost. Again, not a big deal if body parts were repaired or replaced. But if there were any kinds of frame repair work was done, I would move on.

Step #5 – Physical Inspection

You have to visually check the vehicle inside and out and test drive it before making the purchase.

I would personally never think to purchase a car from an online used car retailer without driving it.

Let me tell you a quick story about a 2017 Subaru Outback about 5 months ago.

This Outback was a Limited model with 56k miles and was described as being in an excellent condition by a very well known, large Toyota dealer. Yes, the car was cosmetically great, but boy, it sounded and drove absolutely terrible!

The engine had ticks and the suspension made loud sounds when turning left. The car had many issues so I didn’t even bother leaving the lot.

If you are buying a Subaru in the Northeast region, you need to visually inspect the underside to ensure that there are no crazy rust issues (pin holes, large rust flakes, etc.)

Also, check the lower left side of the windshield (on the passenger side). If you see “Subaru Carlex”, it is the original windshield that came with the car. If the spot is blank, or says something like “Fuyao”, the windshield has been replaced. Not a big deal unless your car came with EyeSight feature. If that is the case, you will want to make sure that EyeSight is calibrated (can only be done at the dealer).


Remember, when it comes to used car buying, it is Caveat Emptor (buyer beware)!

Good luck

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