Does the high mileage on my aging Subaru Legacy signal its demise?

Hi Baraza,

I’m a 25-year-old racing enthusiast and I own an old Subaru Legacy. The mileage on the machine is 390,000kms; could this pose any reliability problems? How soon should I start preparing for the car’s demise?


Yes, there are disadvantages to owning/operating a car of that vintage with that mileage: the lack of peace of mind. As your second question attests, this is a vehicle with one foot (one tyre? Two maybe?) Already in the grave. It is hard to tell when exactly it will give up the motoring ghost, but more likely than not it will be at the most inopportune moment, right when you need it most to work flawlessly… such as when you are running late for a meeting, or when on a date.

Some say that “enthusiast” and “grease monkey” are interchangeable terms. They are not.

The assumption that all petrolheads (and racing enthusiasts) also love tooling around and tinkering with their cars is obviously false and patently unverifiable. Grease monkeys are petrolheads, but petrolheads are not necessarily grease monkeys.

I, for one, grew out of it, and my editors claim I am the biggest petrolhead around (I’m not certain any more). Sure, back in high school I learnt how to disassemble and reassemble single-cylinder engines with my eyes closed, in my childhood I acted as spanner-boy to the paterfamilias as he repaired his own car, but afterwards I threw in the towel and called it a day.

It started with the week I joined a team of woefully inept chaps in pulling a Lazarus on an old twin-carb, 3.5-litre V8 Range Rover Classic, the original three-door.

It was the most intense mental strain placed on my mind-brain consistently over a period of five days, and this is taking into consideration that I also sat my SATs at the exact same time I was doing my KCSE national exam (doing the full nine subjects, no less, one of which was Power Mechanics).

Dealing with that V8 was more stressful than doing two sets of exams at the same damn time.

I ended up buying a painfully expensive Hayne’s manual to prevent our clueless foursome from destroying that Rover V8 courtesy of our ignorance; and as a result I also became something of a maestro in tuning carburetors, one of the most difficult things to do on a car to date.


This was followed by the period of Peugeot ownership that saw me trying to grease-monkey my way around the engine bay and nearly severing an index finger in the process on a wildly spinning, poorly installed heavy-duty fan belt. I had it.

No more screwing, no more tooling, no more one-man-spannering. Nowadays I even pay someone to change the bulbs in the tail lamps of my little Mazda. I honestly can’t be bothered.

So what is this little anecdote about? There are those who will tell you that having a half-dead, malfunctioning automobile is a surefire way of ingraining invaluable motoring knowledge on oneself courtesy of all the hours you will spend trying to keep it working. These are the same people who will tell you that to be successful in life you need to suffer terribly at one point. None of these is 100 per cent true, just so you know.

Yes, hardships in life inspire people to work that much harder to get themselves out of their respective difficulties (and they end up successful as a result of the hard work) but there are also those who suffer and stay suffering their whole lives, and those born with silver spoons you-know-where and who STILL succeed anyway despite never knowing what a hunger pang feels like.

Same thing: there are motoring enthusiasts who have never seen an open engine bay or wielded a steel Phillip’s tip, but their knowledge is impeccable.

Then there are veteran mechanics who still believe in rubbish like driving in neutral, have no idea how Tiptronics work or their universal answer to a modern engine problem is “check the sensors” (they never specify which sensor to check on), even when the car has simply run out of fuel, an act that betrays a degree of ignorance so profound it has not been seen since the time people refused to join Noah on his cruise-ship of genetically diverse passengers.

Depending on how well or how badly the car was maintained, the 400,000 mark is dangerously near the cemetery gates. If you like doing things with your hands, invest in a toolbox and sundry spares and wring every single inch of mileage out of that engine, but watch out for your finger tips, they are easy to lose in a moment of omnipotent whimsy.

If you, like me, opted out of dashing displays of dexterity (I can’t type without my index finger), then lose the car pronto and get something newer and less likely to develop bugs.

Dear Baraza,

Having known the super performer Subaru Impreza version 2005 as rally car with high pick speeds, I am honestly worried whether the 2008 version can even come close.

I even doubt it can beat a Toyota RunX (which is doing well in 2WD National Rally class). I’m a lover of the Imprezas but the latter looks very docile and I doubt whether it can handle any rough terrain. Sincerely, I psychologically classify it with the likes of Toyota Vitz. Please investigate and revert on status.



Fear not. Subaru totally lost the plot with the N14 but seems to have found it again with the N16 and the current STi (which is a standalone model, I am made to believe). Also, the Impreza STi was purpose-built as a rally car from the get-go, the RunX is… it’s something I’d buy my girlfriend for her next birthday if she smiles at me the right way, and also if I had the money.

The two cars are in different classes anyway, one is 2WD, the other is 4WD. However, if one picked a 2WD Impreza to go against the RunX, then I cannot with confidence vouch for the Impreza’s dominance.

We will solve this with a casting call. Anybody reading this who owns or has access to a RunX rally car, please feel free to get in touch at the address given below. I already have access to more than a few Impreza rally cars. We need to put Mr Gachannja out of his “satiable curiosity” by laying down a showdown. It’s been a while since we had one of those.

Dear Baraza, I recently overhauled my 200TDi Discovery engine and replaced parts like the piston rings and valves, which were were worn out.

However, ever since the re-assembly the engine keeps breaking down. First it was a case of timing belt getting ripped and ground to pieces, causing engine seizure and bending push-rods. Repairs were done and all push rods were replaced, plus tensioner and bearings. The engine was only able to make one return trip to Nyanza before breaking down again; this time the camshaft broke.

What could be the cause of this cycle of break-downs? Is there a deeper problem? If so, what is the missing link?

Nashon Tado

There is no missing link. The problem is obvious: you bought a first-generation Land Rover Discovery. It is the epitome of unreliability, a member of an exclusive club inhabited also by Alfa Romeos, Peugeots and 1980s Ferraris. The Disco 1 was built as a reaction to Japan’s insurgence into the light-on-the-pocket user-friendly SUV market, particularly with the Pajero.

So the Disco was a rushed product, and Rover being Rover at the time, there was no money to develop it properly. The result was a car that spectacularly failed to make an impression on The Paji’s discerning eye: he bought one and sold it several hours later after “discovering” it was nothing more than a bag of bolts quickly glued together with seats thrown into the mix to make it more like a Pajero.

Lose that car and get a Discovery 2, then prepare for problems with electronics and the transmission…

Dear Baro,

I enjoy reading your column and as a car enthusiast I must say it is very informative. Quick question sir: I’m looking to buy a second-hand car that costs less than Sh1 million and I have been eyeing the old model Toyota Harrier. I’ve heard rumours that it has transmission issues and owners have had to change gear boxes every so often. How true is this?


Not very true. I’ve not received too many complaints about the Harrier. The most notable was about one that almost drowned in the notorious “South Sea” floods and that particular problem can be attributed to trying to use the car as a submarine rather than a reflection on the car itself. Just make sure the car has been well maintained and is not showing signs of fatigue and you’ll be fine.

Hi Baraza,

This issue has been bothering me for a while now: Is there a difference between Toyota Landcruiser VX and Toyota Landcruiser V8? I normally see Landcruiser V8 VX but have also come across theLandcruiser V8, Landcruiser VX and Landcruiser VX Limited. Is there a difference, and if so, what is it?


Quite a mess this is. Let me explain:

The first Landcruiser to use a V8 engine was the 100 Series. The V8 engine was petrol powered, there was no diesel V8, and this V8 petrol engine was available only on the top-rung VX spec. So you could have a 100 Series VX V8, yes, but strictly a 4.7 litre petrol. The diesel VX used a straight-6 engine only, so it was NOT a VX V8. In a way, you can say that all V8s were VXs, but not all VXs were V8s. Savvy?

With the 200 Series, all VXs are V8s but not all V8s are VXs. It is actually the opposite. The VX spec comes in both petrol and diesel variants as before, but this time round even the diesel engines are V8s. So all VXs are V8s; whether petrol or diesel. However, not all V8s are VXs, because these V8 engines are now available in the lower spec GX, GX-L and GX-R models, unlike in the 100 Series where the GXs used straight-6 engines for both petrol and diesel.

This is how to simplify things in case I lost you with all those alpha-numeric combinations: V8 is a type of engine: eight cylinders arranged in two banks of four cylinders each tilted away from each other but using a common crankshaft. All kinds of cars have V8 engines: Range Rovers, Mercedes, Toyota, Nissan; hell, even Scania trucks have optional V8 engines. VX, on the other hand, is a spec level used in Toyota’s cars to denote the top-rung, best endowed, generously equipped model in a given lineup. Think leather, sunroofs, color-coding, the most powerful engines, the biggest, flashiest rims etc. That is why we have the daddy, the Landcruiser VX, but we also have a Prado VX (sometimes called VX-L) and at one time also a RAV4 VX (called a RAV4 J) for the first-generation model.

This is how to tell the difference (if you can call it that). If it is a petrol-powered 100 Series, it is a VX V8. If it is derv-driven, it is NOT a VX V8. If it is a 200 Series, they are all VX V8s.

*Note to all the nit-picking, trigger-happy, quick-on-the-draw, itching-to-criticise readers: before you write angry emails about 6-cylinder GX-es, this treatise applies if we are discussing the VX spec ONLY. Nobody is talking about the GX.

Good morning Baraza,

I have a quick question on mileage; and I know you had tackled this before, with regard to the KIA Sportage. I’m looking to upgrade to an SUV and, after months of searching, I eventually settled on getting the Mitsubishi Outlander SE. However, on searching the Japanese websites, most on-sale Outlanders have clocked a mileage that exceeds 100,000km.

When I bought my first car, a blue Subaru Impreza, it had a genuine mileage of around 58,000km and performance has been great. I’m now a firm believer that the lower the mileage, the better the performance.

So should I still keep searching for an Outlander that has done below 100,000km and pay more for it, or mileage plays no major role in SUVs, especially when importing?


Pauline, go with the first feeling. That rule applies to ALL motor vehicles: the lower the mileage, the more life it still has in it and the better the shape it is in generally. There are no two ways about it.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

2 thoughts on “Does the high mileage on my aging Subaru Legacy signal its demise?

  1. Baraza got it wrong on this one. Low mileage does not necessarily mean a car is in great condition.

    1. But then, what are the odds?

Comments are closed.