Subaru WRX & WRX STi (Second Gen) Buyer’s Guide

The original Subaru WRX had defined the performance car of the 1990s. It won numerous World Rally Championships, become synonymous with Colin McRae and showed the world what Subaru was capable of.

In this buyers guide we are going to be covering what things to look out for when purchasing a second gen Subaru WRX, where to find a WRX for sale, the history of the car and much more.

How to Use This Subaru WRX GD/GG Buyer’s Guide

This is a big guide, so use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will look at the history and specifications of the second gen Subaru Impreza WRX. Following this, we will get into the buyers guide section of the article. We will then finish up with more general car purchasing advice and then we will look at some info on how to import a GD (sedan) or GG (wagon) Subaru WRX from Japan. This guide also includes info on the STi versions and much of it will

The History Subaru WRX 2000 -2007

Credit: Subaru

Subaru introduced a new Impreza model to Japan in August 2000, which was both larger and heavier than the outgoing GC version of the car. The company brought back the iconic WRX nameplate, but many fans were less than impressed with the ‘Bugeye’ headlights that had made their way onto the car. Subaru’s designers would rectify this by creating a facelifted model a couple of years later, however, this too would be given a nickname (‘blobeye’).

Initially, the WRX rolled off the production line with a 2.0-litre 215 – 237 bhp (depending on the market) turbocharged boxer engine, powering all four wheels. An open differential featured at the front, while the car was given a limited-slip differential at the rear.

Credit: Subaru

Along with the change in styling in 2003, Subaru also gave the WRX more oomph. Power was now at 222 – 246 bhp and the WRX STi joined the range. The STi produced 265 bhp in most export markets and 276 bhp (in reality it was higher) for the Japanese domestic market. It also featured a strengthened six-speed manual gearbox instead of the five-speed found in the standard WRX. In addition to this, the STi also got quicker steering and a limited-slip diff.

Another round of changes came in 2005, with the headlights being reshaped for the third time in the generation. This new model became known as the hawk-eye. The legendry 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer engine was out, and in its place a new 2.5-litre EJ225 unit was fitted. This meant that power was increased to 227 – 247 bhp for the WRX and 276hp for export market STi models. Japanese market STis were still rated at 276 bhp, however, once again the true output is believed to be higher than this figure. The hawk-eye also had wider track and FHI 4/2 Pot brakes.

Special Editions

Subaru S202, S203 and S204 STi Cars

These three special edition cars were arguably the most extreme versions of the second gen Subaru Impreza STi. The Type RA Spec C based S202 STi was the first of these cars to be launched and it featured a very limited production run of 400 units for the Japanese domestic market.

With 316 bhp (320 PS/235 kW) and a lightweight body that is 140 kg (309 lb) less than the standard STi, the S202 was about as close to a WRC car as you could get at the time from a production Subaru. Most of the weight loss was a result of thinner carpets, windows, door cards and more. The bonnet/hood was also manufactured from aluminium, and Subaru’s engineers installed a lightweight alternator. Lastly, specially designed lightweight STi parts were also fitted to reduce the car’s overall weight even further.

Along with the power upgrades and weight saving, Subaru also made a number of other changes, including the following:

  • New steering rack with revised ratio
  • Brake discs featuring alumite treatment and slits
  • An adjustable two-step rear spoiler manufactured from carbon fibre
  • Modified rear suspension for sharper, more responsive handling
  • Special forged aluminium wheels
  • Revised intake system
  • Titanium sport muffler
  • Molybdenum coated pistons and hollow intake valves
  • Suretrac differential at the front and mechanical at the rear

The S203 and S204 STi cars featured similar improvements, however, they were heavier in weight as they were not based on the Type RA Spec C version of the car. A total of 600 S204 STi models were produced, with some being made available in export markets such as New Zealand. The S204 is the most powerful of the three cars with 320 bhp (324 PS/ 239 kW) being produced from its 2.0-litre EJ20 engine.

These three cars have become some of the most collectible of the second generation range, especially the S202 STi.

Subaru Impreza 2.0 WRX STi WR1

To celebrate Petter Solberg’s win of the 2003 World Rally Championship, Subaru launched the STi WR1, which was limited to just 500 units. The special edition sits 25mm lower to the ground, sports 18-inch seven spoke, and was painted in a cool Ice Blue paint job.

On the inside, not much was changed but Subaru did fit a couple of switches beside the handbrake to operate the WR1’s DCCD (Driver’s Control Centre Differential). Flicking the switch from automatic to manual mode lets you vary the torque distribution via a dial. Drivers could opt to send up to 64 percent of the WR1’s power to the real wheels. This meant drivers could indulge in a bit of rear-drive oversteer with the flick of a switch.

Exhaust and catalyst modifications, along with a revised ECU boosted power to an impressive 316 bhp at 5,800rpm. Torque was also increased to 310 lb-ft at 4,000rpm and the car could hit 100km/hr in as little as 4.3 seconds.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi RB320

Built as a tribute to the late WRC champ Richard Burns, the RB320 is essentially an STi with Prodrive’s tuning package and a bespoke chassis set-up. The car was given Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, a lower ride height and was only available in black. Other changes included special 18-inch black alloy wheels, a smattering of RB320 logos and slightly different interior trim.

On the engine side of things, the RB320 features the same 2.5-litre boxer engine as the standard STi, but with a few upgrades. The upgrades from Prodrive boosted power to 316 bhp from 276hp and torque was pushed to 332lb-ft. With the power increase came more performance, with the RB320 hitting 100km/hr in 4.8 seconds.

Subaru Impreza WRX GB270

Subaru created a special edition, last-of-the-line model to celebrate the outgoing Impreza WRX. Prodrive tuned-up the engine, giving it 266hp from the standard 226hp. They also fitted new, lowered suspension, 18-inch black alloy wheels, and a ‘quickshift’ gearchange. Increased power meant the GB270 could go from 0-100km/hr in 5.3 seconds, compared to 5.9 seconds for the standard WRX.

The Prodrive Performance Package (PPP)

Those who purchased a WRX could opt for Prodrive’s Performance Package. Often referred to as ‘WR Sport’, the performance package was comprised of a selection of parts and accessories to further enhance the performance Subaru’s flagship models, most notably the WRX.

Each iteration of PPP was engineered especially for its corresponding generation of Subaru. It was generally offered as a complete package and buyers could not opt for individual parts. Typical modifications included; a remapped ECU (as a result, Prodrive recommended using 98+ octane fuel), sports Catalyst, a backbox (silencer), and a high flow fuel pump.

Subaru WRX

ModelWRXSTi
Country/LocationJapanJapan
Years of Production2000 – 20072002 – 2007
LayoutFront-engine, all-wheel driveFront-engine, all-wheel drive
Engine/Engines2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder

2.5-litre EJ25 4-cylinder (2005 WRX)

2.0-litre EJ20 4-cylinder
Power218 – 240 PS (215 – 237 bhp / 165 – 176 kW) at 5,600 rpm – 2000 WRX

225 – 249 PS (222 – 246 bhp / 165 – 183 kW) at 5,600 rpm – 2003 WRX

230 – 250 PS (227 – 247 bhp / 169 – 184 kW) at 5,600 rpm – 2005 WRX

265 PS (261 bhp / 195 kW) – 2002 to 2005 WRX STi export market

280 PS (276 bhp / 206 kW) – 2005 export STi and all JDM STis

320 PS (316 PS / 235 kW) – S202, S203, WR1 & RB320

324 PS (320 bhp / 239 kW) – S204

 

 

Torque292 Nm (215 lb-ft) at 3,600 rpm – 2000 WRX

300 – 333 Nm (221 – 246 lb-ft) at 4,000 rpm – 2003 WRX

320 – 333 Nm (236 – 246 lb-ft) at 3,600 rpm – 2005 WRX

343 Nm (252 lb-ft) at 4,000 rpm – 2002 to 2005 WRX STi export market

394 Nm (291 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm – JDM spec

422 Nm (311 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm – 2005 onwards

432 Nm (319 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm – S202, S203 and S204

Gearbox5-speed manual

4-speed automatic

6-speed manual
Brakes FrontDisc brakesDisc brakes
Brakes RearDisc brakesDisc brakes
Tyres Front215/45225/45 (standard STi, S202)

235/40 (S204)

Tyres Rear215/45225/45 (S202)

235/40 (S204)

Suspension FrontIndependent, MacPherson strut, Coil SpringsIndependent, MacPherson strut, Coil Springs
Suspension RearIndependent, double wishboneIndependent, double wishbone
Weight1,340 – 1,380 kg (2,954 – 3,042 lbs)1,330 – 1,450 kg (2,932 – 3,197 lbs)
Top speed230 km/h (143 mph)233 – 250 km/h (145 – 155 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)6.2 seconds – 2000 WRX

5.9 seconds – 2004 and 2005 WRX

 

4.9 – 5.5 seconds (depending on model)

4.5 seconds S202, S203, S204

 

 

Subaru WRX & WRX STi Buyer’s Guide (GD/GG)

Now that we have covered a few facts about the second generation Subaru WRX, let’s look at buying one. While the car isn’t too old, some of them have had a pretty hard life and it is important to inspect any WRX thoroughly before purchasing.

Some cars will have a significant number of miles on them, while others may have modifications that need to be checked out. You need to decide whether a higher mileage or modified model is acceptable, or if you want a completely stock standard car that hasn’t travelled far.

Beware of any imposter WRX or STi cars. Many people have put badges or bodykits on standard Imprezas to make them look like a WRX or WRX STi. You should be able to tell this if you view the car directly. It can be a little bit harder to determine whether the car you are looking at is genuine if you are buying it sight unseen.

Setting Up an Inspection of a GD/GG Subaru Impreza WRX

Here are a few tips when looking for and setting up an inspection of a second generation Subaru WRX:

  • Look at the Impreza in person if possible – While purchasing used vehicles sight unseen is becoming more popular, it is still best to physically inspect a car prior to purchase if possible. If it is not possible for you to inspect a particular WRX yourself, try to see if you can get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you.
  • Take a friend or helper to the inspection of a Subaru WRX – This is almost always a good idea as a second pair of eyes and ears may be able to spot something you missed. Your helper can also give you their thoughts on the second gen Subaru Impreza and whether or not they think it is a good buy.
  • View the GD/GD WRX at the seller’s house or place of business – This will give you a chance to see how and where the second gen Subaru WRX is stored. If it is always parked out on the street there is a much higher chance of bodywork issues such as rust, perished seals, dents, etc. than if it has been garaged. Additionally, you can get a bit of an idea of what sort of roads the WRX is regularly driven on as well. If the roads are really rough and full of potholes the suspension & steering components, wheels, and tyres may have taken a bit of a battering.
  • If possible, look at the Subaru WRX GG/GD in the morning rather than later in the day – This isn’t completely necessary, but it does give the seller less time to clean up/hide any issues with their WRX (oil leaks, etc.)
  • Ask the seller not to drive or warm up the car prior to your arrival if possible – A warm engine can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious.
  • If the Subaru WRX is being sold at a dealer, don’t let them know you are coming to see it – While this is not always possible depending on how the dealer operates, it can be a good idea. If the seller knows you are coming it gives them a chance to clean up any potential issues and pre-warm the engine.
  • Try not to inspect a used car in the rain – Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect/test drive a second gen Subaru WRX, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
  • Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
  • Get the seller to move their Subaru WRX outside if it is in a garage or showroom– Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.

Buying a Subaru WRX or WRX STi with Issues

In this guide we try to steer you in the direction of buying the cleanest, most well maintained second gen Impreza WRX you can find. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a WRX with problems as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure you find out exactly what is wrong with the car and try to find out an estimated cost of repair prior to handing over the money. Use any problems you discover to try and get a better discount on the vehicle.

Where To Find a Subaru WRX GG/GD for Sale?

The best place to start your hunt for a second generation WRX is probably going to be local auction/classifieds sites or dealers. Specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com are also good places to find one of these cars for sale, especially if you are looking for the cleanest example possible.

Another good place to find GD or GG Impreza WRXs for sale is owners clubs. These sorts of clubs tend to attract very enthusiastic owners who are knowledgeable and look after their vehicles properly. We recommend that you check to see if you have any Subaru or Impreza clubs in your area. Here are a couple of examples:

  • net– club/forum dedicated to all Subaru WRX models from all generations. Lots of great information on here, whether you are looking to buy a WRX or need some advice on modifications, maintenance, etc.
  • North American Subaru Impreza Owners club– Club dedicated to all versions of the Subaru Impreza in North America.
  • Impreza WRX Club Australia– The Impreza WRX Club is a car club for enthusiasts of all types of Subarus. Their members vehicles consist Impreza WRXs, STis, Legacys and more.
  • Subaru Owners Club UK– Free club with a fairly active user base. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the UK.

You can find a more comprehensive list of Subaru clubs here.

How Much Does a Second Gen Subaru WRX Cost to Buy?

This is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. For example, this 2006 WRX STi sold for nearly US$50,000, but an early second gen WRX with high mileage will go for a lot less. The price can also be dependent on where the car is being sold in the world (some markets command a higher price), who it is being sold by, how it is being sold (auction, fixed price, etc.) and more.

As prices can vary dramatically, we recommend that you jump on your local classifieds and dealer websites to check the prices of ones that are currently for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get a second generation Subaru WRX that you are happy with. Remember to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.

How To Tell If the Car is an STi or a Standard WRX?

Watch out for sellers who are advertising their car as an STi when it is not. Some owners like to put STi badges and parts on normal second gen WRXs, so watch out for this. Even if somebody has tuned their WRX up to the level of an STi, it is still not going to be worth as much as an original STi model. Some standard Impreza owners will also fit WRX parts to their cars as well, so don’t be fooled by that (should be a bit more obvious).

The two main ways to tell an STi apart from a standard WRX is to look at the “Applied Model” number on the VIN plate (more on that below) and the transmission. The third character of the Applied Model number for STi cars tends to be either a B or a 6, with the vast majority being the former. This is why you may hear the owner referring to their car as a GDB (WRX STi Sedan) or a GGB (WRX STi Wagon). The GD6 code comes from United States Domestic Market (USDM) STis.

If the Applied Model number has an A for the third character the car is a standard WRX and is not an STi. For example, a car with the starting code GDA is a WRX sedan, while a car with the code GGA is a WRX wagon.

As mentioned, the transmission will also help you determine whether or not the car you are looking at is an STi. All STi models came with a six-speed manual transmission, so check that is the case on the car you are looking at. Make sure the car actually has six gears and somebody hasn’t simply put a six-speed knob on the gear shifter (it does happen, albeit rarely). You can also confirm the car was originally fitted with a six-speed gearbox by looking at the seventh character of the Applied Model number (should be an H). If the seventh number is anything but an H, the car was not fitted with a six-speed manual transmission at the factory.

Below we have listed some other things that can help you determine whether or not the car you are looking at is indeed a real STi (Note: some of these parts can be swapped onto the car so bear that in mind):

  • Brembo brake calipers (often overlooked)
  • Intercooler water spray
  • STi embossed on the gear surround
  • STi on the seats
  • STi on the steering wheel on some models (not all we believe, so comment if you know)
  • STi on the clocks
  • Rev indicator/beeper

2.0 EJ20 vs 2.5 EJ25 Second Gen WRXs

We wouldn’t worry too much about getting a specific engine size and would  instead focus on sourcing the best maintained Subaru WRX or WRX STi you can find. The power delivery of the EJ25 2.5-litre engine is slightly smoother, but many owners prefer the thrill of a bit of turbo lag from the EJ20.

When it comes to reliability it is really a bit of a toss-up. Some claim that the EJ25 is more reliable, while others claim that the 2.0-litre engine is the tougher of the two. The EJ20 is a bit less accommodating of bad tunes, while others say that the EJ25 is more susceptible to head gasket issues. In truth, the small reliability differences between the two will be outweighed by maintenance and tuning.

VIN/Chassis and Model Number

The VIN/Chassis number is located on a plate with the title Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. Export market cars tend to come with a 17-digit VIN, while Japanese domestic market WRXs came with a chassis number. Japanese imports tend to also feature a VIN that was given to the car at the time of import/registration, so that the car can  be identified in the final destination country (however, we are not sure if this is the case for all markets). This VIN should be located on an additional plate.

  • Export market VIN example – JF1GD70636LXXXXXX
  • Japanese domestic market chassis number example – GD8-XXXXXX

The VIN/chassis number plate should also contain other information such as the following:

  • Applied Model – example: GDFCYEH
  • Option Code – example: HG
  • Trim Code – example: B20
  • Colour Code – example: 01G
  • Engine Type – EJ2557BW5CB
  • Transmission Type – TY856WH4MA

If you look at first four characters of the “Engine Type” you can confirm what size engine the WRX has. EJ20 is the 2.0-litre engine, while EJ25 is the 2.5-litre version.

We also recommend that you check the VIN on a checkup website such as Carfax, Autocheck, or CarJam (NZ). If you are in the United Kingdom it is worth doing a an HPI check. We also recommend that you check out this excellent Subaru Impreza VIN Decoder by 0xADADA. You can use it to confirm what the Applied Model number, etc. indicates on the second gen WRX you are looking at (STi or not, transmission type, engine type, etc.).

The VIN/Chassis Number should be located in the following locations (along with the one on the Fuji Heavy Industries plate):

  • dash under the windscreen
  • driver door frame

If you notice that the VIN/Chassis numbers do not match, it may be a sign that the WRX you are looking at has been in an accident or stolen.

Engine

More than a few GD and GG Subaru Impreza WRXs have been thrashed to bits and/or poorly maintained or modified. This means you are probably going to come across quite a lot of ‘bad examples’ during your hunt for a second gen Subaru WRX.

To start your inspection of a GD/GG WRX’s engine, move to the front of the car and lift the bonnet/hood. Make sure that it opens smoothly and the hinges and catch are in good condition. If they look like they have been replaced it may be a sign that the car has been involved in some sort of accident or had repairs due to another reason. Once you have done this keep an eye out for the following:

  • Cleanliness – If the engine bay is super dirty it may be indicative of an owner who doesn’t care much for their Subaru WRX. However, on the other end of the spectrum, a really clean engine bay could also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up. For example, the seller may have pressure washed the engine bay to clean up an oil leak prior to your arrival. Pressure washing the engine bay can also potentially force water into areas it shouldn’t be in (electrical parts, etc.).
  • Obvious issues – This could be anything from an oil leak to broken or missing components (for example a damaged coolant expansion tank)
  • Modifications – Lots and lots of second generation Subaru Impreza WRXs have been modified and more than a few of those have been poorly tuned. Be cautious of any modified WRX and try to find out what exactly has been done to the car before purchase.

Checking the Fluids

This is something that is sometimes overlooked by potential buyers, but we feel it is always something you should try to do. The engine oil, coolant, etc. are the lifeblood of the car and if they are in poor condition it can lead to increased wear and potentially even component/engine failure.

Check the engine oil for any metallic particles or grit as this could be a sign of major engine issues such as bearing failure. Sometimes metallic particles can occur after an engine rebuild so keep than in mind. However, if they are instantly noticeable there is probably an issue with the car.

Like the first generation Subaru Impreza WRX, the second gen car is quite a collector’s item now (especially STi models), so it may be a good idea to get the oil analysed prior to purchase. This will help you determine the condition of the oil and whether or not there is any ‘foreign’ material in it.

Make sure you check for any foam or froth on the dipstick and in the engine oil (The oil may also look milky). If you do notice any it could be a sign of a range of different issues from condensation in the oil, to an engine that has been overfilled with oil, turbo seal problems and possibly even a blown head gasket (we will go into this in more detail later in this guide).

When to Change the Oil on a GD or GG Subaru WRX

It Is generally recommended that you replace the engine oil and filter every 5,000 to 10,000 km (3,000 to 6,000 miles) on a second gen WRX. If the car has not been driven much, oil changes should have occurred every 6 to 12 months. Tracked cars tend to need oil and filter changes more regularly so keep that in mind. Modern synthetic oils can go a bit longer between changes, so you may come across an owner who has pushed out the replacement mileage a bit.

Talk to the owner about their service schedule for their WRX and check the service history as well. If oil changes are spread really far apart and/or are irregular it is a sign that the GD/GG WRX has not been maintained properly. Proper servicing is vital for these cars, so make sure it has been done regularly.

Most owners recommend that you go with something like a 5W-30, 10W-30, or 10W-40 fully synthetic for the EJ20 or EJ25 engine inside the second gen Subaru WRX. However, some owners like to use thicker oils, especially if they are running more power and/or tracking their WRXs.

Do Second Gen Subaru WRXs Consume a Lot of Oil?

Talk to the owner about their WRX’s oil consumption. While they probably won’t be completely honest, you may come across somebody who tells you the truth. Some oil consumption is to be expected with the EJ20 and EJ25 engines, with many owners reporting about anywhere from under a litre to up to two litres between oil changes. Anything more than that is a bit of a concern and even two litres between oil changes is quite a lot depending on how many miles have been travelled.

Excessive oil consumption can be caused by a whole range of different issues from a problem with the PCV system, oil leaks, worn piston rings, seal issues, and much more.

Common Oil Leaks on a Second Gen Subaru Impreza

Below we have listed some of the more common oil leaks that can occur on these cars:

  • Valve/cam/time cover – A leak from here is going to probably be the most common leak you come across, especially on higher mileage WRXs/WRX STis and 2.0-litre models. The most common cause of the leak is the gaskets that seal the valve cover against the cylinder. If it is not the gasket that is causing the problem, it may be due to bolts that have loosened slightly. Neither of these issues are a major problem unless the leak is quite big.
  • Oil cooler – The O-ring (part number: 21370KA001) that sits above the oil cooler is prone to leaking, so check for oil around the cooler. You can see a great video on this below.
  • Oil pump – Bad pump seals or a bad mating between the oil pump and block can lead to leaks that appear around the timing belt cover. The pump itself doesn’t usually leak however.
  • Front crankshaft seal – This is basically the same as above because the front crankshaft seal is located on the oil pump and the crankshaft turns the oil pump (leak tends to appear around the bottom of the timing belt cover). It is often recommended that you replace the front crank oil seal when you replace the timing belt as it will eventually leak, so it is better to do a bit of preventative maintenance (check that the seal was replaced with the timing belt).
  • Camshaft seals – This is another leak that can appear around the bottom of the timing belt cover and can sometimes be confused with a leaking valve cover gasket. Camshaft seal leaks tend to be faster than valve cover gasket leaks, so keep that in mind. You may also notice a smell of burning oil if the car has this problem. You can find out more about camshaft seal leaks on second gen Subaru WRXs in this video here.
  • Oil separator plate – This plate is located at the rear of the engine, so any leaks will occur around there (the oil separator plate is the most likely cause of a leak at the rear). Early second gen cars fitted with both EJ20 and EJ25 engines were fitted with plastic plates that are prone to failure (very common issue on previous gen GC8 WRXs). Subaru did start fitting metal plates later in the GD/GG’s production lifecycle and there are aftermarket metal plates available. We believe factory metal plates were installed from around 2001 production year onwards, but not 100% sure if this was on all cars. If this leak does occur you could be looking at a very large bill as the engine and transmission must be removed to gain access to the plate. If the leak is very slow it may be possible to leave it until the transmission needs to be removed for repairs, but we wouldn’t guarantee this.
  • Rear main seal – Leaks from here aren’t too common on second gen WRXs, but they can occur. A rear main seal leak can often be confused with a leak from the separator plate. If the WRX you are looking at has a metal plate, the chances of a rear main seal leak are higher if you notice a problem here.
  • Oil pan – Again, not massively common with these cars, but it is still important towatch out for a leak from around the oil pan (bottom of the engine block). This is usually caused by the crush washer if it was not replaced.
  • Oil filter – If the oil filter has not been installed correctly and/or the crusher washer has not been replaced it can lead to an almighty leak.

PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) Problems

If you notice any of the following it could be a sign that the PCV valve on the second gen Impreza WRX needs to be replaced:

  • Rough/lumpy idle (this could also be spark plug issues, etc.)
  • Hesitation during acceleration
  • Excessive oil consumption (probably not going to be able to tell during a short test drive)
  • Leaks from the PCV hose assembly

Below we have listed some steps you can take to check the PCV system:

  • Try remove the oil cap with the engine running – the oil cap should be easy to remove
  • Check how the engine is running –with the oil cap off the engine should start stumbling due to there being a vacuum leak. If the engine starts surging immediately it could have a PCV issue.
  • Put some plastic/cling wrap or a post-it-note over the valve cover – If the item you are using gets blown off forcibly or sucked in, the car probably has a PCV issue. A normal functioning system should provide some light suction against the valve cover.

The PCV valve isn’t a major problem to replace and the part isn’t expensive, so don’t be too concerned if you notice this problem. However, if PCV issues are not fixed they can lead to more serious oil leaks, so keep that in mind.

When Does the Timing Belt Need to Be Replaced on an EJ20 or EJ25 Engine?

The answer to this question actually depends on where you live in the world as Subaru’s recommendation changes for different countries. Here is a rundown of their recommended timing belt/cambelt service interval:

  • Subaru UK – 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or every 60 months (whichever comes first)
  • Subaru North America – 170,000 km (105,000 miles) or every 105 months (whichever comes first)

Don’t just take the seller’s word that the timing belt has been replaced. Make sure you see any receipts, etc. for the work as it is not uncommon for sellers to claim that the belt has been replaced when in fact it has not. The EJ20 and EJ25 engines fitted to the second gen Subaru Impreza WRX are interference engines, so if the timing belt snaps it can lead to major damage and a very expensive repair bill.

It can be a good idea to put your ear up to the timing belt area (front of the engine) and listen for any strange noises such as squeaking or rubbing noises that may indicate a worn belt or failing tensioner.

What Else Should be Replaced with the Timing Belt?

  • Tensioner
  • Aux belt
  • Pulleys
  • Water pump (not necessarily a requirement but a good idea)
  • Spark plugs
  • Front crankshaft seal (again, not completely necessary but it is highly recommended)

Cooling System

The cooling system is vital to proper function of the engine, so watch out for the following:

Failing Water Pump

The water pump should have been replaced with the timing belt, but they can fail before that. Here are some symptoms of a failed water pump:

  • Coolant leaks – could be a slow or fast leak
  • Whining and/or chuffing sounds
  • Overheating– make sure you go out for a reasonably long test drive as sometimes a bad water pump will be fine for short distance trips.
  • Steam or smoke– this tends to originate from under the bonnet/hood. If the second gen WRX is already at this stage it is probably best to walk away

You can test to see if the water pump is working by turning on the heater as high as possible. The heater core requires proper function of the water pump for it to work correctly. If the pump isn’t working, fluid won’t be forced through the system.

When you turn on the heater you should notice a blast of hot air, and this should continue if the water pump is functioning properly. If the warm air reduces/stops gradually it shows that more hot fluid is not being cycled through the system and the water pump isn’t working.

Thermostat Failure

This isn’t too much of an issue as the thermostat is a fairly inexpensive component to replace. However, it is still worth knowing the signs of a bad thermostat.

  • Temperature gauge sits on the cooler side and/or behaves erratically – if the temperature gauge is on the warmer end, it is more likely that the GD or GG Subaru WRX is overheating
  • Coolant leaks– If the thermostat has failed you may find that it starts to leak coolant (however, leaks from here are not very common and it is more likely to be caused by a failed water pump, coolant lines, expansion tank, etc.)

Bubbles in the Coolant

If you notice bubbles in the expansion tank it indicates that air has made its way into the cooling system. Most of the time this is simply down to a bad bleed or a malfunctioning radiator cap. However, the bubbles could also be caused by a more serious issue such as a leak in the system, a blown head gasket and/or a cracked head.

Bubbles in the coolant will impact the performance of the cooling system, especially if they remain for the entirety of a test drive. If you notice other cooling system issues (overheating, etc.) along with the bubbles we would be very cautious.

Coolant Leaks

It is important that you check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, along with the coolant level to make sure it has not dropped. Following a test drive, turn the second gen WRX off and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this recheck for any coolant leaks. If you don’t see any leaks but get a whiff of the sweet aroma of coolant, there is probably a leak somewhere in the system.

Make sure you check for leaks around the expansion tank, coolant lines (particular around the clamps) and other cooling system components you can get a look at (radiator, etc.). Look for any crusted coolant as well, which may indicate a past or present leak. If the radiator and/or water pump have not been replaced in a long time they could very well be the cause of a leak.

Subaru recommends replacing the coolant every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so, but the service interval can change depending on what coolant is being used.

Head Gasket Failure

The EJ25 2.5-litre engine is known to experience more head gasket issues than the 2.0-litre EJ20 power unit. However, failure can still occur on the smaller engine, especially if the car has been poorly maintained and/or tuned. Here are some of the symptoms of head gasket failure to look out for:

  • Overheating
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or a mechanic can get a look at them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
  • Steam from the front of the Subaru Impreza WRX GD/GG

Knocking Sounds and Piston Slap

A slight knocking or rattling sound when cold could be piston slap. This is a common issue on many second generation Subaru WRXs and WRX STis. The problem should go away once the engine is up to temperature. Piston slap occurs because there is too much room for the piston within the cylinder, leading to ever so slight movement of the piston.

Be very wary if the knocking noise continues when the engine is warm, and especially if it is under load. This could a sign of a much more serious issue such as bearing failure caused by a lack of oil. We would advise you to walk away from a GD or GG Subaru WRX that is constantly knocking. If it is something like bottom end failure you will be looking at a complete engine rebuild and a wallet draining experience.

Knocking sounds could also be coming from the exhaust or some other component, so check by putting your ear up to the engine.

Exhaust System

Repairs here can be surprisingly expensive, so make sure you check as much of the exhaust system as possible. Surface rust is quite common, especially given the age of these vehicles, but isn’t too much of an issue. More serious rust can also occur which is more worrisome, especially as the problem tends to form from the inside out on an exhaust. A good quality aftermarket exhaust shouldn’t rust, but cheap mild steel or low-quality stainless steel (that may not actually be stainless steel) ones will eventually rust given the right circumstances. Rusted exhaust components are more likely to be an issue in countries like the UK where the roads are salted.

Make sure there is no damage to the exhaust (cracks, dents, etc.) or any bad repairs that have been quickly done to get the Subaru Impreza up to a saleable condition.

If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Additionally, watch out for any ticking noises as these sorts of sounds are a sign of a leak.

Catalytic Converter Issues:

The second generation WRX has three cats (catalytic converters) in the stock exhaust system. If one or more of these cats fail they can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Smell of sulphur or rotten eggs from the exhaust
  • Reduced acceleration and sluggish engine performance
  • Excessive heat under the GD/GG Impreza WRX
  • Dark smoke from the car’s exhaust
  • CEL (Check Engine Light)
  • Emission test failure

Be cautious of cars fitted with a decat system as this will almost certainly lead to a failure in any emissions test and the car may not be road legal. However, not all countries have this requirement, so check what laws are in place in your local area. Additionally, if it is only the upipe cat that has been removed it is probably alright as that is designed to reduce cold start emissions and the removal of it may not lead to an emissions test failure.

Aftermarket Exhausts

A lot of GD and GG WRXs have now got aftermarket exhausts. There are simply too many options to cover in this already long guide, so what we recommend that you do is to note down the brand/builder and then check any reviews or feedback. If the exhaust is a poor quality one it may be a sign that the Subaru WRX you are looking at has not been looked after properly or the owner has ‘cheaped’ out when it comes to upgrades.

Bad Motor Mounts

The motor mounts will eventually need to be replaced, so be on the lookout for the following:

  • Engine movement – Rev the engine and see if it moves excessively. Also check how the engine is at idle and check for any movement while looking from underneath the car.
  • Excessive vibrations/shaking – Often most noticeable at idle – you can see an example of this in the video below. In some cases, you may even notice the body of the car moving.
  • Clunking, banging or other impact sounds – These sorts of noises could indicate that the engine is moving slightly due to a failed mount

Sourcing and fitting new engine mounts aren’t too expensive, so this issue isn’t too much of a problem. However, be aware that engine vibrations could also be caused by something like bad injectors, etc.

Aftermarket engine mounts are available in materials such as polyurethane. These mounts tend to be more durable and are said to improve engine response. However, be aware that some aftermarket engine mounts can lead to more engine vibrations and noise in the cabin.

Idle Speed

You should find that the GD or GG WRX you are looking at idles around the 1,500 rpm mark when cold and around 750 rpm (+ or – 100 rpm ) when up to temperature.

If you notice that the idle speed pulses or hunts more than around 100 rpm at a time or starts to dip low and shake before coming back to 750 rpm, give it a bit of time and then tap the throttle pedal. If the problem occurs again there may be a boost/vacuum/exhaust leak somewhere that will need to be addressed.

Bad idle can be caused by a whole range of other different issues as well from clogged intake components, spark plug and coil issues, a bad battery and much more. You are probably not going to be able to determine the exact cause of the idle issues during a short test drive and inspection, so assume the worst and hope for the best. However, keep in mind that if the problem was an easy fix the seller would have probably got it sorted before putting the car on the market.

Smoke from a Subaru Second Gen Subaru WRX

If the GD/GG WRX you are looking at smokes like a forest fire, the car clearly has issues and it is probably not worth your time or money. A small amount of vapour on engine start is perfectly normal, especially on a cold day. This is just condensation in the exhaust and it should soon go away.

It can be a good idea to get the seller to start the WRX for you for the first time (do it yourself later during the inspection/test drive). This way you can see what comes out the back and if they rev the nuts off the car you know they probably aren’t a responsible owner. Here are what the different colours of smoke may indicate.

White smoke

As we have already mentioned above, a small amount of white vapour on engine start is usually just condensation in the exhaust.

If you notice lots of white/greyish smoke it is usually a sign that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown or leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.

Sometimes, this colour smoke can also indicate that the turbo has failed, especially if there is no sweet smell.

Blue/Grey smoke

This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, turbo issues and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the GD or GG WRX. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).

Black smoke

This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

A lot of modified WRXs will produce a few puffs of black smoke when under load/first accelerating. This is usually because they are running ricker and/or the new ECU mapping isn’t quite right.

Signs of Turbo Failure

The turbo on a second gen Impreza WRX will eventually fail and need to be replaced. Higher mileage cars or those that have been poorly maintained with irregular oil change intervals are more likely to experience turbo failure. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Strange rumbling, whistling, whining or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbocharger is at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms). A whistling noise could also indicate that a pipe has become loose.
  • Distinctive blue or grey/whitish smoke – This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving a second gen Subaru WRX. If there is a problem the smoke will probably appear around the 3,000 rpm mark. White/greyish smoke could be a sign that the turbo has failed catastrophically. Either way, it is probably best to avoid any GD or GG WRX with smoking issues.
  • Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. Both the EJ20 and EJ25 engines are known to consume a bit of oil, but they shouldn’t do so excessively
  • Slow acceleration – Does the second gen WRX you are test driving feel particularly slow? If it does it could be a sign that the turbocharger is failing or has failed. It is important to note that modified and unmodified cars and different WRXs (STi, 2000 vs 2005 WRX, etc.) models can feel vastly different in terms of speed, but it should be pretty obvious if there is something wrong.
  • If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost should come on from about 2,500 rpm and be noticeable by about 3,000 rpm or just before. If boost starts coming on much later than late or if it doesn’t come on at all there is a problem.
  • Check Engine Warning Light – Could be caused by turbo issues or something else.

Buying a Second Gen WRX With a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine

There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a car with a rebuilt or replaced engine. A lot of second gen WRXs you come across will have had this sort of work done to them due to mileage and age related wear or a failure of some sort.

If the GD or GG WRX you are looking at has had an engine rebuild or replacement, make sure the work was carried out by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic who has plenty of experience with such work. Additionally, it is generally best to avoid any WRX that has a non-original engine swapped into it as they can be a nightmare.

Be very cautious of home rebuilds as many home mechanics have more ambition than skill, however, there are some very good ones out there. If the work was done by a business/specialist, find out exactly who did the work and check any reviews (give them a call as well if you are really serious about the car as they may be able to tell you a bit more about it).

It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, a second gen WRX with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.

Compression/Leakdown Test

We recommend that you carry out a compression test on the engine if possible (or more likely get a mechanic to do one for you). The results of this will tell you if there is anything wrong with the engine and turbocharger. If the owner refuses to get these tests done, simply walk away and thank them for their time. The only reason they will refuse to get these done is because they have something to hide.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).

Engine Modifications

Aftermarket parts can be a potential threat if the car hasn’t been tuned for them. We have listed some parts that are commonly swapped out below:

  • Pulleys
  • Short ram intakes
  • Cold air intakes
  • Intercooler
  • Turbocharger
  • Blow off valve/by pass valve

Ask the person who is selling the car about any modifications and ask them for proof. Check the service history and any receipts for work done to the vehicle. A stock engine usually means that the vehicle has not been as abused as one that has been heavily modified. If modifications have been done incorrectly it can dramatically reduce the life of the transmission and motor.

Transmission

Credit: Subaru

The WRX was sold with either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic, while STi cars came equipped with a 6-speed manual. We will start by looking at the manual transmissions as they were by far the most popular option (and only option on STis):

Manual GD/GG WRXs

The 5-speed manual transmission is known to be quite weak, and many owners have found that they break under mild spirited driving or with moderate increases in power (around 300 to 350 hp is probably the limit and anything above with negatively impact reliability).

Around 2002 Subaru increased the width of the gears and strength of the teeth of the 5-speed gearbox. This did improve reliability and strength, however, the 6-speed transmission is still by far the strongest gearbox that came on the second gen WRX.

With the second generation WRX and WRX STi being performance cars, they do promote enthusiastic driving. This means that you will probably come across more than a few with dodgy gearboxes, especially earlier 5-speed manual WRXs.

Grinding/notchiness on both upshifts and downshifts is indicative of synchro wear. This can occur on all gears, but second and third are often the most problematic. Synchro wear can also be a sign of an owner who likes to give their WRX a good thrashing. Sometimes grinding can also be a result of low clutch fluid, faulty hydraulics or some other sort of clutch issue that prevents proper engagement.

You may find that the gearbox on a GD/GG WRX is a bit stiff when cold, however, as the car warms up it should loosen up a bit. If shifts feel very stiff and/or it seems like the gearbox doesn’t want to go into gear we would be concerned. Alternatively, if shifts very loose or sloppy there could be a problem as well. If you notice loose shifting it could be a sign that the shifter bushings/linkage are worn.

Make sure none of the gears pop out, especially third, fourth and fifth on the 5-speed manual. If this problem does occur it could be caused by anything from bushing issues (unlikely) to low transmission fluid or possibly the shift forks. You probably aren’t going to be able to tell the cause of the problem during a short test drive and inspection, so we would probably walk away as the issue could be very expensive to fix.

Another thing you can do is to try and find yourself a bit of an incline and see how the transmission and clutch performs with a hill start. Additionally, lift off after accelerating hard in second, third and fourth. If you notice any strange rattling noises it could be a sign that the gearbox bearings are in a bad way.

Modified second generation Subaru WRXs with lots of power are going to be much harder on the gearbox, especially second and third gears.

It is generally recommended that the manual transmission fluid be replaced every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so, but some enthusiastic owners like to do it much earlier. Remember to check for any oil leaks from the gearbox as well.

It is recommended that you use something like Motul Gear 300 75W-90 or Subaru Extra-S for the manual transmission in a second generation Impreza WRX.

Clutch

Make sure the clutch is in good working order as if there is a problem here it can be expensive to fix. The life of a clutch can depend on a number of different factors from how the car has been driven and maintained, how much power the particular WRX is running and more. Here are some tests to do to make sure the clutch is working as intended:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the GD/GG WRX you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.

Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.

Clutch Drag – Get the Subaru WRX on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.

Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.

If the WRX you are looking at is running an aftermarket clutch make sure you are happy with its feel. Aftermarket clutches can have a heavier feel and can make regular road driving a bit of a chore (especially in heavy traffic).

Automatic WRXs

There isn’t too much to worry about here apart from the usual automatic transmission related issues. A major overlooked benefit of buying a second gen WRX with an auto gearbox is that it is less likely to have been thrashed to bits. However, you are missing out on the enjoyment of changing gears and the resale value will be a lot lower.

Make sure you take the transmission through the rev range and all the gears. Check that reverse works correctly and be cautious of any clunking or jumping when shifting gears/positions. The transmission should be smoothish when shifting and watch out for a clunk when changing gear on the move as this could be a sign of bad gearbox or motor mounts.

Make sure the automatic transmission fluid has been changed regularly. If it hasn’t it may be better to leave it rather than change it. Alternatively, change it and then do another change soon after. Keep an eye out for any red fluid which may indicate that the transmission is leaking oil.

Check The Diff

Don’t forget to check for any leaks from the diff while you are looking for engine and transmission oil leaks. A leak from the diff could be the result of a number of different issues, so we would be cautious if you notice this problem. This is especially so as if the fluid level gets too low it can lead to the diff seizing up and a very expensive repair bill.

Make sure you listen out for any whirring, whining or humming sounds, especially when accelerating, decelerating or going around a corner. These sorts of sounds spell major trouble and would probably put us off a particular WRX.

Other symptoms of a bad diff include vibrations and a feeling like the handbrake is on when it is not. These problems could of course be a sign of another issue (seized caliper, etc.), but diff problems should also be in the back of your mind.

Body and Exterior

Problems with the body and exterior of a car can be very, very expensive to repair, so make you are happy with the condition of the bodywork. Here are some things to watch out for.

Accident Damage

Crash damage is arguably going to be one of your biggest concerns, so watch out for the following on the Impreza WRX you are inspecting:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the Impreza WRX has been in an accident.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Subaru you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the WRX you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the second generation WRX has been in an accident.
  • Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage.
  • Paint runs or overspray – Could be a factory issue, but more likely due to a respray. Check the seller’s shoes as well as we went to look at a used car once and the terrible respray job matched the specks of paint on the owner’s boots (more of a joke, but once you’ve seen it once you can’t help yourself during future inspections).
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).

It is not uncommon for sellers to try and cover up the fact that their WRX has been in a bit of an accident or the severity of an incident. You may even come across somebody who claims there Subaru hasn’t been in an accident when it obviously has.

Accident damage and repairs are definitely something to be concerned about, however, don’t completely write off a GD or GG WRX if it has been in a bit of a crash. Light to moderate damage that has been repaired by a skilled body shop/panel beater is probably fine. If the car has been in an accident, make sure you use the fact to get a discount.

If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.

Rust

Unfortunately, rust can be quite an issue on these cars, especially in some locations around the world. Below we have listed some of the main areas to watch out for, however, remember that rust can occur in other places as well:

  • Subframes can rust to failure, so thoroughly check the underside of the GD/GG WRX you are inspecting. Most of the time it isn’t structural, but we wouldn’t take the risk.
  • The rear wheel arches are particular prone to rusting on second gen WRXs. The front ones can also rust, but it is far less common. Remember to check inside the wheel wells and if you notice a problem it is almost certainly worse than it first appears. There is usually a little black strip on the wheel arches that should be removed as they lock in moisture and speed up the corrosion process.
  • Rear tower turrets where the rear shocks mount – Very serious if this has occurred as it will be costly to repair. In some cases the problem can be so bad that the entire turret needs to be replaced.
  • Sills – look from underneath the car and check with the door open as well. Rust in this area can often be hidden and will only be noticeable when its really bad or if you get the sills off.
  • Around the windscreen and rear window – check along the top, bottom and sides
  • Jacking point – this is especially so if somebody has jacked the car up improperly in the past and done damage to the area. Rusted sills are often caused by this issue.
  • In the boot/trunk under the spare wheel – We had a friend who had this problem and it was completely rusted through (check for any dampness while you are doing this).
  • Radiator support panels
  • Behind the plastic undertrays on Hawk-eye models

If you do notice any corrosion, it may be a good idea to take some photos and check with a competent body shop/panel beater to find out roughly how much the problem will cost to fix.

Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on a Second Gen WRX

  • GD or GG Impreza WRX has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
  • The WRX has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Rubbing body parts
  • Old or no underseal

Lots of owners like to rust proof their second gen WRXs, especially if they live in areas with harsh winters/salted roads. The rust proofing will need to be reapplied periodically, so make sure that has been one. If the car is a Japanese import into a place like the UK, make sure it was rust proofed when it arrived. If it wasn’t, corrosion is far more likely to be a problem.

We also recommend that you ask the seller/owner if regular washes of the underbody have been carried out during winter if you live in a country with salted roads. This can go a long way to prevent rust formation and if they have done it, it shows that they probably care quite a bit about preventative maintenance.

Looking for Rust Repairs

It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Suspension and Steering

Check how the steering feels as a number of second gen Subaru WRX owners have reported issues with the power steering. If there is an issue you may notice that the power steering cuts in and out or it may not operate correctly at all. In some circumstances, it can lead to smoke from passenger side. Most of the time the issues are caused by a leak somewhere in the system, however, they could also be caused by a pump failure.

Check the rear struts as they can suffer stiction as the damper rod seals dry out and loose lubrication. In addition to this, check all the other suspension components and ask the seller if/when they have been replaced or serviced. Here are some of the main things to watch out for:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration and rear end wobble over bumps
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension (trailing arm bushes)
  • Sagging or uneven suspension
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive – usually the front bushings or wheel bearings – watch out for the front lower arm suspension bushes, upper wishbones, and anti-roll bar bushes.
  • Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock)

The ride can be a little bit harsh on these cars, especially STi models. This is perfectly normal and shouldn’t turn you off a WRX.

Make sure you visually inspect the suspension and steering components, especially if you notice any of the problems above. Watch out for any leaking fluid around the shocks/struts, cracks in CV boot and/or excessive grease around the boot, damaged components or modified components.

Aftermarket Suspension

If the WRX you are looking at has cheap coilovers they could cause you trouble down the line. Also check for any other aftermarket suspension components such as sway bars, control arms, bushings, strut bars and more. If there are any aftermarket parts make sure they were installed correctly and are of a good brand.

Be cautious of WRXs that have had their ride height changed (too low) and/or set up for track use as this can make the car unbearable for longer rides or regular day-to-day driving.

Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment

During a test drive, locate a flat, straight section of road to check the wheel alignment. Make sure the GD/GG WRX runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. Bad wheel alignment can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear, which will cost you more money. Additionally, wheel alignment that is out can also make the driving experience less enjoyable and possibly even less safe.

If the wheel alignment is really bad it is a sign of an owner who probably doesn’t care much for their second generation WRX as they probably should have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.

Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.

Wheels and Tyres

Check all of the wheels for any curb damage, scuffs or scratches. Make sure they are not dented or buckled, especially if the car is running bigger aftermarket ones. Expect to find some damage on the rims of most GD/GG WRXs you go to look, given the age of these cars. However, if the wheel damage is really bad it could be expensive to fix. Excessive wheel damage is also indicative of a bit of a careless owner.

A lot and a lot of second gen WRXs have been fitted with aftermarket wheels and we feel that is a bit of a shame as the originals are great. If the WRX you are looking at does have aftermarket wheels, see if the owner still has the originals. If they don’t try to use that to get a discount as having the originals will only add value to the vehicle in the future. This is even more important for special edition models as sourcing the original wheels may be extremely expensive.

When it comes to the tyres check for the following:

  • Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
  • Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the second gen Subaru WRX. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance, increased wear and may even be dangerous.

Brakes

Make sure the brakes feel good as they should be more than adequate for regular road use and some spirited driving. STi models were given better Brembo brakes, so make sure they are present if you are looking at one of those cars. If the brakes do feel weak or spongy, it could be caused by anything from a bad bleed to pad issues, or a more serious problem.

Make sure you test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions, with some repeated high to low-speed runs being a good idea. Additionally, Listen out for any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use as this could indicate anything from worn/bad pads to disc issues and more.

If you feel shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied it is probably a sign that one or more of the discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking and is more likely to occur if the WRX has been regularly tracked/driven hard.

Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).

Seized calipers are a possibility and all models. If one or more of the calipers are seized, you may notice the following:

  • WRX pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • You find that the Impreza WRX doesn’t want to move at all
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

Remember to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the brake components. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use. If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing). Make sure the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so on the WRX you are inspecting.

Brake components can be expensive to replace on second gen Subaru WRXs. If anything looks like it needs to be replaced factor that into the overall price if you are still keen on purchasing the car.

Aftermarket Brakes

Aftermarket calipers are okay as long as they are of equivalent or higher value and performance. Non-OEM brake pads are a more common modification and are the best and easiest way to increase performance without spending a lot of money.

Electronics

While the second generation Subaru WRX’s electronics are fairly reliable, they can go wrong. Cars that have been modified will probably have more issues than stock models, so make sure any work has been carried out correctly. Check to see if there are any warning lights on the dash and operate all the dials and switches to make sure there are no faults.

The WRX is loved by thieves, so see if the vehicle has an alarm system. If the car does not have an alarm, you can use this as a bargaining point. Additionally, vehicles without security systems will be more expensive to insure than those that do have them.

If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to a Subaru specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

Interior

Credit: Subaru

Like the engine bay, we recommend that you get familiar with what a stock second generation Subaru WRX looks like inside. Many owners have installed new seats and replaced other trim for various different reasons. Ask the seller if they have the originals and try to get a discount if they do not.

Also check for any signs of damage, as replacing the trim pieces can be expensive. If you are sceptical of the mileage the car has done, take a look at the steering wheel and other trim pieces as they can be good indicators of how far a vehicle has travelled.

Thoroughly check the interior for any leaks or dampness. Check the boot and under the spare tyre. Feel the carpets in both the front and back and turn over the floor mats. If you notice water residue on the bottom it could be a sign of a past or present leak. Leaks from strange locations could be a sign of an accident.

Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Subaru Impreza WRX you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

General Car Buying Advice for a Second Gen Subaru Impreza WRX

How to Get the Best Deal on a GD or GG Impreza WRX

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a second gen Impreza WRX, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage STi version or do you not mind a base WRX that has travelled a bit further.
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Subaru sold a fair few of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple WRXs if possible – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad second generation Impreza WRX.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for a WRX for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple GD/GG Impreza WRXs, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

Credit: Subaru

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Impreza WRX you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Second Gen Impreza WRX

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Subaru Impreza (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the second generation Impreza WRX and the model they are selling (STi, WRX, S202, import vs non-import, etc.).
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Subaru Impreza.

Importing a Second Gen Impreza WRX from Japan

Credit: Subaru

The GD/GG Impreza WRX was a popular performance car in Japan and the country also got the most powerful models. While first gen WRX numbers are dwindling in the country, there are still quite a few available for export.

How to Import an Impreza WRX from Japan

While importing a second gen WRX from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually relatively simple. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import second gen Impreza WRX” or “import GD or GG Subaru WRX”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.

Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.

Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:

JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.

Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.

Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.

Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!

Use a Private Importer

While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Subaru WRX, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable second generation Impreza WRX for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.

You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work? 

The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles

They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.

Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.

While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.

Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.

Use the grade to reduce the number of WRXs you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).

The Auction Check Sheet 

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a particular Impreza WRX and where any problems are located.

Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.

What Does the Number Grade Mean? 
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
  • Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade

As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.

The Car Map 

The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Our Guidelines for Importing a Second Gen WRX from Japan

  • Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
  • If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
  • Try to go through a private importer
  • Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
  • Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
  • Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
  • Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
  • Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
  • Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
  • Avoid cars with unknown mileages
  • Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
  • Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws 

Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.

Wrapping Up This Second Generation Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide

Credit: Subaru

The second generation Subaru WRX might not be as legendary as its predecessor, but it is still an excellent motor car. While the car is starting to get a bit older, there are still plenty of excellent examples out there to find.

Remember to make yourself familiar with what a stock WRX/STi looks like and keep an eye out for any signs of crash damage. Always be cautious of modified cars and make sure to check the service history thoroughly. The WRX can be trouble if they are neglected, but a good one will be a joy to drive.

References

Julius Bloem (12/02/2020) – What Version or ‘Generation’ of WRX / STI do you have? – Our Blogs Technical Articles Identifying what ‘Version’ of WRX / STI you have (possumbournemotorsport.com)

Carfolio – Subaru Impreza Car Specs – Subaru Impreza car specs (carfolio.com)

0xADADA (29/12/2020) – DECODING SUBARU IMPREZA WRX AND STI APPLIED MODEL CODES – Decoding Subaru Impreza WRX and STI Applied Model Codes (unredacted-word.pub)

Happysnapper, DemandCommmonSense (25/01/2014) – 5speed vs 6speed manual… what is the difference? – 5speed vs 6speed manual… what is the difference? Talking about pre-’15 WRX and ’15 WRX. : subaru (reddit.com)

STI.jp – Heritage – Heritage : Complet Car | STI

 

Author

    by
  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

2 thoughts on “Subaru WRX & WRX STi (Second Gen) Buyer’s Guide”

  1. Hi,

    I currently live in Australia but originally from the UK. My Dad is getting old and looking to downsize their house and sell his car collection. He owns a Subaru Impreza WRX UK 300 (number 294 I believe ) and is looking to sell. It only has approx 11,000 miles in the clock and still on the original tyres! It’s probably the best version left of this model and wondered if you could point me in the right direction of the best way to sell and get the best price for it. Any help you could give would be much appreciated. Thanks, David

    Reply
    • Hi David, thanks for taking the time to comment on our WRX buyer’s guide!

      That sounds like an incredible car for sure, a real credit to the owner.

      With a car like that you may even be best placed talking to classic car auction companies to see if they can secure a stronger price than you’d get on the private market (the reason being that classic car prices, especially for this older Japanese stuff) are going up at the moment and so you might be able to ride that wave.

      Reply

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