A Subaru Wrx Buying Guide

The question gets asked repeatedly on numerous car forums around the net, “I want to buy a Subaru Wrx what things should I look for when buying them ? “

In 2002 Subaru decided to import their newest Impreza which was the GD body style “bugeye” which has become quite a cult favorite in the Import world. It came to North America with a robust little 2.0 liter EJ205 sourced from the Japanese Wrx but without single AVCS (Variable valve timing). It produced 227HP@6000rpm and  217 ft lbs of tq @4000rpm. That motor was mated to a five speed manual with a 3.54 final drive. This drive train remained relatively unchanged from 2002-2005 except with minor revisions to the fueling system and transmission. The interior also was changed with every face lift of the vehicle.

2002-2003 Wrx

2002-03_subaru_wrx_sedan

2002-2003 Wrx interior

2004-2005 Wrx

2004 Wrx interior

2006-2007 Wrx

Now in 2006 things changed quite drastically for the Wrx as its motor was changed from the EJ205 2.0 liter to the new EJ255 2.5 liter motor. The EJ255 motor is very similar to the EJ257 found in the USDM Impreza STi but with a different compression ratio, AVCS and cylinder heads. It made 230hp@5,600rpm and 235 ft lbs of tq@3600pm while still using the same TD04L turbo from the previous Wrx. The ECU also changed from Drive by cable to a drive by wire system. Another important change was the addition of FHI 4/2 Pot brakes which allowed the car to stop much more effectively, The FHI 4/2 Pot brakes actually originated on the GC STi from the 1990s and were used on Group N rally cars quite frequently.

2005-2007 Wrx interior

So what are the most important things to check for on a Wrx ?

First and foremost would be the rear quarter panel rust. This repair can cost you anywhere from $800-$1500 or more. It is sadly quite common with these cars and one way to help prevent it is to rip out the black strips you can see in the picture because they lock in moisture and accelerate the spread of the rust. If you buy a car with rust think of it as cancer , you have to kill it all or it will continue to spread.

What you want the engine bay to look like

What you don’t want your engine bay to look like

The closer to stock that the engine bay is usually means that the car has not been as abused or modified heavily. This is quite important because if done incorrectly many modifications can severely decrease the life of your transmission and motor.

When it comes to the engine here are some questions you can ask

– When was the timing belt done ?

– What motor oil do you use ?

– Who tuned the car ?

– What parts have been replaced ?

If the owner does not know the answers to those questions or tells you that he runs speedway motor oil you may want to reconsider buying that car. Service receipts are a fantastic sign that the car has lived a good life or a good Carfax can tell you that information as well. If anything looks fishy or is out of place walk away. Also you may find that a car has been swapped with a JDM EJ205 or EJ207 which is all good if it was done correctly but that is rarely the case. Pay even more close attention if the car has had an engine swap done to it. Learn to trust no one but yourself or people who have proven to be trustworthy.

Basically this is what my ideal Wrx would look like

  • Stock or Catback , tune and STi TMIC
  • Stock suspension , STi struts or aftermarket struts with RCE or Swift springs
  • Timing service complete and up to date on service
  • Rust free and not from the Midwest
  • No salvage title
  • Stock wheels , Sti wheels or Quality aftermarket wheels
  • Under $7500

What would make me run from any car even if it was a good deal

  • Aftermarket blow off valve
  • Any mention of transmission issues
  • Rust
  • Salvage title
  • engine rebuilt and no paperwork to back it up
  • Hybrid engines
  • Any engine swap that is not a GD EJ205 or EJ207
  • Raceland coilovers
  • Stanced in any way
  • Any type of window banner at all

What problems can arise with owning a Wrx ?

If you assume that your new 120,000 mile Wrx is going to be a perfectly reliable new car you are in for a rude awakening. Depending on the cars service history it could be affordable to own or a financial nightmare.

Here are things I replaced over three years of ownership of my wagon and other things that we have replaced on other cars with their approximate costs

  • Suspension replacement for all four struts $400-$800 for used STi struts and springs or oem KYB replacement
  • Wheel bearing $100 part , Eternal suffering if you do it yourself. $400-$600 if you have a shop doing it.
  • Engine replacement $1500 + , Mine did not blow up but I swapped it out with an EJ207. If you don’t have money to blow don’t go EJ207 as its 4k+ easily.
  • Transmission replacement or service $500-$1500+ depending on what you blow up. 2nd gear , center differentials and Synchros are known failure points.
  • Axles are $50-$100 each and easy to replace. Either buy used oem axles or re boot your old axles. Remanufactured axles are a bad time and will fail quickly.
  • Turbo inlet can rip leading to having to replace it with a $200-$300 Tomei or Perrin part.
  • Turbos get old and need replacing , a used TD04 can be had for $100 easily. You could also go to a VF turbo but that is more money spent on injectors and more stress on the car.
  • Timing service $400 if you do it yourself , $700-$1000 if you pay someone to do it. This needs to be done every 100,000 miles if you enjoy your engine working.
  • Radiator failure is common place with older cars and an oem replacement is around $100. You could also get a Koyo aluminium radiator for $300 if you want one.
  • Radiator hoses get old and start to leak coolant via small holes. They are around $15 each from the dealer.
  • Random seals and gaskets can run you $100s to replace and if they have never been serviced on a 10-13 year old engine they are for sure leaking oil. When I pulled my 162,000 EJ205 it was leaking oil from both valve covers , rear seperator plate was starting and the oil cooler was starting to leak.

Recalls

Last but not least are recalls and there are only a few to really look into. The 2002-2003 Wrx has an open recall on the fuel line hose clamps. In cold weather they do not completely seal to the fuel line causing a fuel smell. Make sure to check this out unless you like the smell of fuel or car fires. This has been know to happen on any EJ series motor from 2002-2007 though so this does apply to anyone buying a Wrx from that time period.

The other major recall was for the lower control arms because they tend to rust and if ignored can fail causing an accident or humiliation. Subaru fixes this in two ways , The first being they clean the control arm’s and spray them with an anti corrosion substance. If your control arms are too bad to salvage then you most likely will get 2004 Sti aluminium control arms installed !

Conclusion

If you are looking for a fun daily driver or even a weekend warrior car then the Wrx is a great choice just be make sure to thoroughly check the car out before purchase. I can not stress enough that you should have some money set aside for future repairs and for the love of god do not take out a crazy loan on a decade old car. I advise anyone buying a Wrx to have a reliable daily as well. Take your time and find the right car for you.

– Joey

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