Buying an old car in Canada. Here is what can go wrong

fun game of Guess the Car!

Fun game of Guess the Car!

A few months ago, I teased the fact that I wanted to buy a car, since I wanted to drive. Canada is the second biggest country in the world, with some of the longest roads and the most diverse terrain. Sure, I live in the city, but whatever.

So after thinking for a long time, I came up with a checklist of characteristics I really wanted in my car:

  • Good Handling: because I like to drive
  • Reliable: because road-trips
  • Fairly rust-resistant: because Canada
  • Comfortable: because Canadian roads
  • Exciting: because I like to drive

Naturally, that checklist was thrown out the window, when I was given the chance to buy an automatic wagon with less than 150hp. Also, it did not run. So here is how my careful planning worked out:

  • Good Handling: I never tried the car before, or any other car from the same brand
  • Reliable: the car does not start, I had to replace the knock sensor, the alternator did not work, and the brakes were jammed
  • Fairly rust-resistant: the car has a hole in the roof, and it’s not a convertible
  • Comfortable: I have no idea, since I never drove the car. Also, no heated seats, electric windows or air conditioning. I had to add a rev counter, since the car did not have one
  • Exciting: it’s 4 wheel-drive, weighs close to 1.5 tons and only has 135bhp

So why did I get it? In one word: Canada.

Think about it, when you go up North, where it is cold and icy everywhere, what do people drive?

Another word: Subaru

So in June last year, I was the happy owner of a non-running 1998 Subaru Impreza 2.2l (EJ22 to the connoisseur) Wagon. Automatic. In delightfully basic Brighton trim. Oh, and the colour was Brilliant Red (no joke).

A wild Subaru in its natural habitat

A wild Subaru in its natural habitat

Like good wine, you need time to appreciate old cars. So in October of last year, I was the happy driver of a 1998 Subaru Impreza 2.2l Wagon. I drove it after spending my summer weekends repairing it, spending the entire value of the car on parts and maintenance, and going to get the car inspected 3 times. (it failed twice)

I can hear you asking, but why? Again, because this is Canada. For instance, here is my car, one random day in December.

An icy Subie

An icy Subie


Here it is again, another random day in December.

A snowy Subie

A snowy Subie

Notice something?

To be completely honest, I really wanted an AWD car, since I have never driven in real winter conditions before, so I preferred to play it safe. And the little Impreza Wagon plays it safe. No speeding, just cruising. No canyon carving, just delightfully enjoying the countryside.

What could go wrong?

In a word: Rust.

You see, in Canada, especially Quebec, they love to put salt on the roads to avoid icing. It sounds like an intelligent decision, but it wreaks havoc on your cars! Case in point, my little Red Subie. Mechanically, in pretty good shape, even with 245,000kms. It starts everyday, no fault, drives 400kms per week without an issue, and the heater works a treat.

And yet, I find myself concerned about the level of water-proofness of my car. You see, when I got the car, it had a roof rack, which was screwed in the roof. What happens 18 years later? Many holes in the roof, some as big as a tennis ball. Not good. Another example would be inside the rear wheel arch. The metal in that area is a little thinner compared to the rest. After 18 years? A big gaping hole that sends water in the rear passenger footwell.

It’s annoying, but looking around, I’m not alone. Most cars in Quebec that drive all year, for over 15 years tend to have these issues. Seeing a car with literal holes in the doors is not a rare sight. Each time I mend a hole on the Subaru, I find another one. It kind of puts me down, because I love driving older cars. If those older cars end up full of holes, its no longer fun to drive them. And from what I’ve seen, Subarus are just as bad as all the others. With this amount of rust on my car, any sane person would trade up for something else. Maybe something newer, with more rust protection.

Lil' Red Wagon

Lil’ Red Wagon

And yet…

There is something about the little red wagon. First of all, that engine. The flat-four boxer engine is something else. I get why people swear by them. Sure, the engine is not very powerful, but after 3,000rpm, it loves to roar! Honestly, with the stock exhaust, it does sound a bit like a V8. What is not to love in that?

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part: All. Wheel. Drive. When the snow’s out, people tend to stay at home, in the warmth. Not me. I go Subaruing (from the Greek, Subarua, meaning, purposely finding snow and ice, in order to slide around and have an amazing time). Honestly, I have had some great fun with the little Subaru, and I have not even taken it on an ice track yet! It just is so hilarious, you feel like a rally driver in the snow. It makes me smile.

I just love driving it.

So yes, driving it everyday is probably not the best idea. The rust just keeps growing, and there are some concerning sounds that appear from time to time. But I learnt mechanics on it, and I am going to continue working on it. Will I keep driving it everyday? Not for long, I will probably get something newer for the daily commute in the future. But the Lil’ Red Wagon will continue with me, probably rallying.

Side note, if you ever plan to get an old Impreza, you need the Haynes manual. You can find it on Amazon: Subaru Legacy 1990 thru 1999: Includes Legacy Outback & Legacy Brighton

The Impreza look

The Impreza look



About justdrivethere

Automotive enthusiast, Travel seeker, Whisky aficionado
This entry was posted in Philosophy of driving and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Buying an old car in Canada. Here is what can go wrong

  1. Cheryl says:

    Hi Kev,
    There is something about the little red wagon. First of all, that engine. The flat-four boxer engine is something else. I get why people swear by them. Sure, the engne <-(spelling mistake) is not very powerful, but after 3,000rpm, it loves to roar!

    And I haven’t even mentionned<- (single 'n') the best part: All. Wheel. Drive.

    Very interesting!!!

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