Subaru Forester SG (Second Gen) Buyer’s Guide

The Subaru Forester is a great option for those who not only want something practical and reliable, but also fun and enjoyable to drive. Subaru launched the first-generation SF model in 1997 and it proved to be dependable, comfortable and an all-round nice car to drive.

However, today the SF Forester is hard to come by and the car’s somewhat dated appearance makes it a less exciting option for used car buyers than the similar, but sharper looking second-generation SG model.

To help those who are thinking about buying a second-gen Forester (and you probably are if you are reading this article) we have created this buyer’s guide that will cover everything you need to know about purchasing one of these excellent machines. Additionally, we have included information on the history and specifications of the Forester.

How to use This Subaru Forester SG Buyer’s Guide

This guide is very long, so make sure you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read (or just read it all). To start with we will be looking at the history and origins of the second-generation Forester. Following this we will take a quick look at the specifications and then we will dive into the buyer’s guide portion of the article. At the end we have more general car buying advice that applies to all used vehicle purchases.

The History of the Second-Generation (SG) Subaru Forester

Credit: Subaru

Subaru first introduced the Forester model at the Tokyo Motor Show in November 1995. Sales of the first-generation car would start around a year and a half later and continue through until 2002. The Forester was one of the first emerging crossover SUVs, a type of vehicle that has gone on to dominate car sales worldwide.

At the Chicago Auto Show in 2002, Subaru would give the world its first look at the second-generation Forester. This new Subaru received several improvements over the first-generation and it was given a new designation, SG.

One of the biggest areas of focus for the Subaru design team for the SG Forester was weight reduction. They gave the new car an aluminium bonnet/hood, perforated rails, and a hydro-formed front sub-frame that all combined lead to a rather significant saving in weight.

The exterior of the second-generation Forester was familiar to those who had become accustomed to the previous generation’s somewhat boxy appearance. However, smoother lines and rounder wider flared wheel arches made the new Forester appear more modern and purposeful.

Safety was another primary area of concern for the Forester design team. They strengthened and improved the safety features in the car and as a result the SG Forester received a 4-Star ANCAP safety rating at launch. Subaru would make several improvements to the safety of the car when they launched a mid-cycle update. This refreshed model was introduced for 2005 and it received a 5-star safety rating.

New buyers could opt for a range of different engines depending on the market they were in. These included the following:

  • 0-litre EJ20 H4
  • 0-litre EJ20 turbo H4
  • 5-litre EJ253 H4
  • 5-litre EJ255 turbo H4
  • 5-litre EJ25 turbo H4 (JDM Forester STi)

Subaru mated the different engines to either a 5-speed manual, 6-speed manual (STi cars) or a 4-speed automatic. Of course, the car also featured a permanent all-wheel drive system that made it excellent for tackling snowy roads and muddy fields.

In 2004, Subaru launched the Forester STi for the Japanese market. With the Forester being so closely related to the Impreza, the STi version of the car received the same engine as in the 2005 WRX STi.

Subaru also launched a higher performance version of the Forester for the North American market. The Forester XT was given Subaru’s 2.5-litre EJ255 turbocharged engine, while naturally aspirated models in America had to make do with the less powerful 2.5-litre EJ253.

2005 Facelift

Credit: Subaru

With the introduction of the Euro 4 pollution regulations in 2005, most car manufacturers had to update their range of vehicles. Subaru was no different and they refreshed most of their models including the SG Forester.

The updated SG almost looked like a completely new generation of car. There was a new front fascia with bigger headlights and a better-integrated grille. On the sides Subaru’s engineers fitted new panels for the fenders and doors. Body-coloured bumpers, handles and door-mirrors were also fitted as standard in some markets and from the mid-trim level in other places.

The interior also received some attention as well. Subaru fitted new knobs on the centre console for the HVAC unit and a new automatic climate control system. They also updated the stereo with an enhanced sound system and a single-CD player.

On the power unit side, a new generation of Subaru’s flat-four engines was introduced. These new engines featured a variable valve opening system (i-Active Valve System) that allowed the valves to open less or more depending on the load.

The End of the Subaru Forester SG

By the end of the decade it was becoming clear that proper crossover SUVs were becoming more and more popular. While the second-generation Forester was somewhat of a crossover, it was more similar to a wagon than a full SUV.

Because of this and simply the cars age, Subaru decided to end production of the SG and replaced it with the larger, higher third-generation SH model in 2009.

Subaru Forester SG Specifications

ModelSubaru Forester SG (Second-Generation)
Year of production2003 – 2008
LayoutFront-engined, four-wheel drive
Engine/Engines2.0 L EJ20 H4

2.0 L EJ20 turbo H4

2.5 L EJ253 H4

2.5 L EJ255 turbo H4

2.5 L EJ25 turbo H4 (JDM Forester STi)

Power 123 – 226 hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque137 – 236 lb ft
Gearbox5-speed manual

4-speed automatic

6-speed manual (STI)

Suspension FrontMacPherson Strut
Suspension RearDouble Wishbone
Weight1,320 – 1,474 kg (2,910 – 3250 lb)
Top speed225 km/h (140 mph) – STi
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)5.3 seconds -STi


Subaru Forester SG Buying Guide

Credit: Subaru

With the history and specifications out of the way for the second-generation Subaru Forester, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying one and any common problems/issues that you may come across.

While the SG Forester tends to be more reliable than the first-generation model, the car does suffer from a range of different foibles from major to minor. Additionally, many have been maintained poorly and driven hard, so it is important to take your time thoroughly inspecting any Forester you are interested. Subaru sold plenty of these cars and a well maintained one will overall be pretty dependable and reliable, so don’t rush into a purchase.

Setting Up an Inspection of a Second Generation Forester

Setting up an inspection correctly is an important part of the car buying process. While you are arranging an inspection of an SG Forester consider the following:

Try to set up the inspection at the seller’s house of place of business (dealership for example) if possible – By doing this you can get an idea of how the car is stored, what sort of area it lives in and the roads it is regularly driven on (really rough roads can lead to increased suspension wear).

Arrange a time to meet in the morning – You should try to view a Forester in the morning as the owner/seller probably won’t have warmed the car up prior to your arrival (unless they have driven somewhere or moved the car). Preheating a car is a great way to hide several engine issues, so keep this in mind.

Go with a reliable friend or third party – Having an extra pair or ears and eyes is really useful. They can help you with the inspection (by doing things like checking for smoke, etc.) and they will be able to give you their thoughts on the Forester you are looking at.

Avoid going to look at a Forester SG in the rain – Water on the bodywork can hide numerous issues with the paint and other exterior parts/panels.

Be cautious of a Forester that has been freshly washed, especially if it still has water on the bodywork – this is largely for the same reason as above, but some owners will also wash the underside/engine bay to hide a nasty looking leak.

What Should You Pay for a Subaru Forester SG

This is a tricky question to answer as it comes down to a number of factors from the age of the car to its condition, specs and more. For example, a late model XT Forester in excellent condition is going to fetch a much higher premium than an early model XS that looks like it has gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson.

With the above being the case, we recommend that you check your local dealerships and auction/classified websites for second generation Foresters for sale. You can then use the prices from these places to work out roughly how much you need to spend for a given car. We recommend that you add a bit to your budget if possible to account for any unforeseen expenditure (almost always a case with second hand vehicles).

Subaru Forester SG Inspection Guide

Credit: Subaru

In this section of the article you will learn about everything you need to know about buying a second gen Forester and the common issues that can occur on one.

Checking the Vehicle Identification Number

The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a series of characters and numbers that manufacturers such as Subaru assign to a vehicle at production. You can discover quite a bit of information about a car from the VIN, such as the model year, place of manufacturer and the vehicle’s engine size.

In addition to the above, the VIN can also be entered into a VIN checkup/decoder website that may contain information such as whether or not the Forester SG you are looking at has any money owing on it or if it has been written off at any point. Most of these VIN checkup websites/services are region limited, so keep that in mind.

Where Can I Find the VN on a Forester SG?

The VIN can be found in the engine bay on the bulkhead at the back and on the right-side reinforcement. If the VIN has been scrubbed out or is missing it may be a sign that the vehicle has been stolen.

Inspecting a Subaru Forester SG’s Engine

Credit: Subaru

If maintained well, the different engines in these cars are fairly reliable and dependable. However, on the other hand poor maintenance is a killer, so try to find an example that has been owned by someone who understands the car properly and lets it warm up/cool down properly. The 2.0-litre engines also tend to be a bit more reliable than 2.5-litre variants so keep that in mind as well.

When you first open the bonnet/hood, check for the following:

  • Broken or damaged components – This is usually a big sign of trouble, especially if the parts are major. If the owner doesn’t mention anything about it or tries to brush of an obviously serious issue as minor you should be very cautious. Broken or damaged parts that have not been replaced or repaired indicate that maintenance on the Forester has been less than adequate.
  • Cleanliness – Does the engine look spotless or does it look dirty and poorly maintained?
  • Modifications – Can you see any mods? Modifications are perfectly fine if they have been installed correctly and are suitable for the Forester, but poor quality or badly installed ones are an issue. Power modifications can also lead to increased engine wear and component failure.

If you notice that the engine bay is completely spotless it probably means that the owner maintains there car well. Alternatively, it may also be a sign of an owner/seller who is trying to cover something up (a major oil leak for example). If you notice that the engine bay and underside of the Forester you are looking at is still wet after being washed it is a good sign that the car has been cleaned to hide an issue.

Also remember to check that the engine in the Forester is cold. If it feels hot when you first open the bonnet it may suggest that the vehicle has been pre-heated to hide an issue.

Checking the Fluid Level Height

Once you have given the engine bay a good general look, make sure you check the different fluid levels. It is incredibly important that the levels are at the correct height as if they are not it is a sign of poor maintenance and damage may have already been done to the engine and any other componentry.

You should inspect the different fluid levels around the engine bay both before and after a test drive to make sure they are all still roughly the same height (a slight change is to be expected).

Service Intervals for the Engine Oil & Oil Filter on a Forester SG

Another important thing to check is if the oil and oil filter have been changed regularly. Ask the owner and check the service history to see if this work has been carried out at a regularly interval.

If you discover that the oil and oil filter have not been changed at a regular interval it is a major warning sign. Overtime, oil in a car’s engine can become contaminated and diluted, leading to poor engine performance and possibly even engine damage.

Engine Oil

Depending on who you ask you will probably get a different opinion on when to change the engine oil in a Forester SG. Subaru initially recommended changing the oil (synthetic) every 12,000 km (7,500 miles) for normal use for all models, but later cut that in half to 6,000 km (3,750 miles) for some of the models in the Forester range. This reduced service interval is also recommended for severe driving conditions.

Many enthusiastic owners, especially those with turbocharged Foresters like to change the engine oil closer to the 6,000 km (3,750 mile) mark even on synthetic oil. If it looks like the owner has not changed the oil at least every 12,000 km than we would probably move onto another car. For those that don’t drive much the engine oil should be replaced every 12 months regardless of mileage.

Which is the Best Engine Oil for a Second Gen Forester?

Again, this really comes down to personal preference, the environment the car lives in, and how it is driven. For most driving conditions a good quality synthetic 10W-30 or 10W-40 from the likes of Mobil 1 will be perfect for an SG Forester. Some owners like to go with a 5W-30 in colder months or for better protection on start-up, while those on the other end of the spectrum sometimes opt for something like a 10W-50.

Oil Filter for a Forester SG

There are loads of different oil filters available for the second generation Forester, but the most recommended one tends to be the Tokyo Roki/Subaru 15208AA100 that is black in colour. The 15208AA100 is usually recommended over the other OEM filter, the Honeywell/Subaru 15208AA12A that is blue in colour.

When it comes to good aftermarket options something like the Mobil1 M-108 or the WIX 57712 comes highly recommended. You can read more about a full comparison of the different oil filters for an SG Forester here.

It is generally recommended that you replace the oil filter with every oil change (especially as they are fairly cheap to purchase). 

Remember to Check the Condition of the Oil

When you check the level of the engine oil, don’t forget to check its condition as well. Any metallic particles or grit on the dipstick is usually a sign of major issues and serious expense on the horizon.

You should also check for any foam or froth on the dipstick as this is a sign that the Forester you are looking at has overheated at some point and/or is suffering from a blown head gasket (remember this is a fairly common issue on these cars).

Do These Cars Burn Oil?

Oil burning is quite common on these cars with many owners reporting that their Foresters burn about 0.5 – 1 quarts (470 – 950 ml) every 1,600 km (1,000 miles). Excessive amounts of oil burning is an issue, so talk to the owner/seller to see how much oil their car uses.

Are Oil Leaks Common?

More than a few of these cars leak oil, so it is important to thoroughly inspect the engine bay and underside of the vehicle for any signs of a leak.

If the car is leaking oil it will probably be difficult to pin the exact location of the leak during a short inspection. Common leaks on STi/XT models are the oil cooler gasket, which will make it look like the filter is loose, and the passenger valve cover gasket, which will get hard and lose its seal near the back.

Another common cause of leaks is the oil filter. If it has not been installed correctly or the crusher washer is reused it may lead to a leak. Additionally, the wrong oil filter can also cause leaks. Other places such as the cam seals under the timing cover and even the dipstick are places to watch out for as well.

If the SG Forester you are looking at is leaving puddles of oil on the ground underneath it or it is clearly showing signs of a big leak, move onto another car. Additionally, remember to check for leaks both before and after a test drive, as if the owner/seller has cleaned the car to hide an issue you should be able to catch them out following a bit of a drive.

Timing Belt Replacement

The different power units installed into the second generation Forester are interference engines. This means that if the timing belt breaks or stretches, the pistons will hit the valves and the engine will likely have to be replaced or rebuilt at your expense.

As this is the case, the timing belt/cambelt must be replaced at around 170,000 km (105,000 miles) or every 105 months, whichever comes first. Many owners like to change the timing belt much earlier to be on the safe side, which is a sign of good maintenance. Interestingly, Subaru Europe and some other places such as Australia recommend doing the change every 96,000 km (60,000 miles). However, there are very few reports of the belt breaking before the American service schedule.

If the Forester SG you are looking at has gone well past the North American service interval be very cautious about buying the vehicle. Only purchase the car if everything else is good on the vehicle and you get a big discount, so you can get the work done immediately.

Alternatively, if the owner is willing to get belt changed for you at their expense this is acceptable as well. However, remember that if this work is not done at or before the recommended service interval it is a sign of poor maintenance, and you should question how the rest of the car has been maintained.

Along with the timing belt, the water pump, thermostat, belt tensioner and all the idler pulleys for the belt should also be replaced.

Spark Plugs

While you probably won’t get the chance to inspect the spark plugs on the Forester you are looking at, you should definitely do so if you get the opportunity. The condition of an engine’s spark plugs can tell you quite a bit about how it is running. We recommend that you check out this guide for more information on spark plug analysis.

When Should the Spark Plugs Be Replaced on a Forester SG?

Platinum and Iridium plugs should be replaced every 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or so, but once again some owners like to change them earlier. Copper plugs won’t last nearly as long (especially on turbocharged models) and will probably need to be replaced every 16,000 – 32,000 km (10,000 – 20,000 miles).

Best Spark Plugs

While copper plugs offer the best performance, many owners choose iridiums as changing the spark plugs on a Forester can be a bit of a time-consuming process. Iridiums offer the best combination of performance and longevity, however, they are the most expensive. Platinum plugs offer the worst performance, but they are cheaper than Iridium.

The standard plugs in a Forester SG are NGK PFR6B (platinum) with owners of modded cars commonly running one step cooler PFR7B plugs. NGK-LFR6AIX plugs are the equivalent Iridium plugs for stock cars and they come highly recommended. LFR7AIX plugs are the Iridium version of the PFR7B and are more commonly seen on modded Foresters.

Checking the Cooling System

While the SG Forester is less likely to overheat and suffer a head gasket failure than the previous generation, the cooling system should still be one of your primary areas of concern. Thoroughly inspect as much of the cooling system as possible as a problem here can lead to total engine failure and a big expensive bill. Here are the main components that make up the cooling system in a second generation Subaru Forester:

  • Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
  • Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
  • Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine (should be replaced with the timing belt).
  • Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
  • Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system

Remember to check the cooling system on Forester you are looking at both before and after a test drive to make sure it is working as intended and there are no leaks. If you notice that the coolant height changes drastically alarm bells should be going off in your head (a slight change is expected however).

What are the Signs of Overheating or a Head Gasket Failure?

During a test drive and inspection of a second generation Forester you need to keep an eye out for the following signs of overheating/head gasket failure:

  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank (this is a big one)
  • Oil that is white and milky
  • Fouled spark plugs (if you can get to see them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Engine oil that smells of coolant
  • Sweet exhaust smell
  • Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)

Don’t forget to check the temperature gauge. Obviously if it is on the higher end it indicates that there is an issue, however, overheating and head gasket failure can cause the gauge to behave erratically (reading high then dropping back to normal levels, etc.). If the gauge is on the low side it may be a sign that the thermostat is not functioning correctly.

More on Head Gasket Failure

Foresters fitted with 2.5-litre EJ series of engines are more likely to suffer a head gasket failure than their 2.0-litre counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, the turbocharged DOHC 2.5-litre EJ255 and EJ25 power units are less prone to a head gasket failure than the SOHC 2.5-litre EJ253.

While the DOHC turbo and SOHC engines may seem similar, they have a different block and head. The turbocharged power units are either semi-closed deck or closed deck depending on the year and model. Non turbocharged SOHC EJ25 engines are all open deck, which is believed to be the reason for the increased head gasket failures.

The head gasket on pretty much all EJ series engines will probably fail at some point, so even if you purchase a Forester that seems like it is in excellent condition, you may have to get the head gasket replaced. Failure tends to occur at around 130,000 to 190,000 km (80,000 to 120,000 miles), however, it can occur much earlier or later.

Making Sure the Exhaust is in Good Condition

Leaks and other issues with the exhaust on a Forester SG can lead to poor performance, hesitation, and reduced fuel economy. A leak or issue can also lead to a CEL (Check Engine Light), especially if it is before the cat and the front oxygen sensor. As this is the case it is important to check for the following during an inspection of a second generation Forester:

  • Black sooty stains – Usually sign of a leak that may be a minor fix or it may be expensive to repair.
  • Corrosion – This is more of an issue on cars that are driven in country’s or areas with salted roads such as the United Kingdom. Check around the exhaust assembly bolts and other mounting hardware as well. If any part of the exhaust is rusted through you could be up for an expensive bill if you purchase the vehicle.
  • Cracks or accident damage – This is often a sign of a careless owner and is more common on lowered cars. If there is accident damage it could lead to rust forming, so any problems need to be addressed as soon as possible.
  • Bad repairs – There is nothing wrong with a repaired exhaust, but if the work was done on the cheap it is an issue.
  • Aftermarket systems – Replacing the original exhaust with an aftermarket one is very common modification, so don’t be surprised to come across a few Forester SG’s with a non-stock exhaust.

Turning a Forester on for the First Time

We always recommend that you get the owner to start the vehicle for you for the first time (however, make sure you do it yourself at a later point). This is for the following reasons:

  • So, you can see what comes out the back (smoke, vapour, etc.)
  • To see if the owner revs the car hard when it is still cold (if they do that pass on the Forester)

A car that struggles to start or won’t start at all may be suffering from several different issues from something like a bad battery or poor spark plugs to something much more serious.

What Should the Idle Speed be on a Forester SG?

Once the vehicle is warmed up expect the idle speed to hover around the 700 rpm mark (plus or minus 100 rpm). Remember to check the idle speed when all of the electronics, air con, etc. are turned on. You should expect a slight increase in idle speed, but if the car suddenly starts struggling or stalls there is a problem.

Checking for Smoke

Smoke or large amounts of vapour is almost always a sign of trouble and incoming expense. If the second generation Forester you are looking at is churning out lots of nasty stuff out the back of the exhaust of the exhaust (or anywhere else for that matter), move onto another car.

While large amounts of vapour coming from the exhaust signals an issue, a little bit on engine start-up is perfectly normal on a cold day and is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour doesn’t disappear after a short time it signals an issue. Below we have put together some information on what the different colours of smoke indicate:

White smoke – This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant.

Blue/Grey smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back.

Blue or grey smoke on start-up and overrun is a sign that the car has been thrashed. Alternatively, if you see a bit of smoke on engine start-up it may be a sign of the oil burning issue we discussed earlier in this article. If Forester you are looking at is fitted with a turbocharged engine, the smoke may be caused by worn/failed seals in the turbocharger.

Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.

Signs of a Failing Turbo on an SG Forester

While DOHC turbo models don’t seem to suffer as badly from head gasket problems as ones fitted with naturally aspirated SOHC units, they do experience another serious issue, turbo failure. If the turbocharger in one of these cars fails it can send fine metallic particles all throughout the intake system and in some cases take the entire engine with it.

Most of the time a failure is caused by a bearing in the turbo. The turbo wheel gets wobbly and then self-destructs. You may hear a weird whistling, rumbling or high-pitched metallic sound if the turbo is failing, but by this point it is too late. Here are some other signs of a bad/failing turbocharger:

  • Distinctive blue/grey smoke – This usually indicates that the seals are worn, however, it can also be a sign of a cracked turbo housing (pretty unlikely). If the seals have failed a blue/grey coloured smoke will exit the exhaust.
  • Burning lots of oil – Its hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner.
  • Slow acceleration – If the car feels slow it is a good indication that the turbo has failed or is failing. This is why we recommend that you test drive a few different Forester SGs before making a purchase.
  • If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost pressure that comes at higher than normal rpms could indicate either a worn or unbalanced turbocharger.
  • Check Engine Warning Light – The check engine light (CEL) can be displayed for a number of reasons, from major to minor. One of these reasons may be due to a failing/failed turbocharger. If the light is on and you notice some of the other symptoms we have listed above, then it is a good sign that the turbo has failed.
How to Extend the Life of a Turbo in a Forester SG?

With turbo failure potentially resulting at worst in the loss of your engine and at best an expensive bill for turbo repair or replacement, it is important to make sure you try to extend the life of the turbo.

The most important thing is to make sure that regular oil and filter changes are carried out at or before the recommended service interval of 6,000 km (3,750 miles). Oil starvation and contamination is the leading cause of turbo failure, so if the Forester you are looking at has not been maintained well it is a big problem. It is also recommended that you also replace the oil supply bolts every 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or so, depending on how the vehicle is used and driven.

Rebuilt Engines

A Forester SG with a rebuilt engine should be no problem as long as the work has been carried out by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic. The main problem with rebuilt engines is that many of them have been done on the cheap for a quick sale.

If you are looking at a second generation Forester with a rebuilt engine make sure you check any receipts for work, parts, etc. Find out who did the rebuild and check their reviews. Be cautious of any home rebuilds as while there are plenty of competent home mechanics out there, there are far more who have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

Another thing we suggest is that you avoid any car that has just had a freshly rebuilt engine as they are a bit of an unknown. A rebuilt engine with 5,000 – 10,000 km on it is a much safer bet.

Engine Swaps/Conversions

During your hunt for a second generation Forester you will probably come across a few of them with swapped or replaced engines. Replacing a blown or worn out engine with a working one that is the same is reasonably common and shouldn’t cause too many problems as long as the work was carried out by somebody who knows what they are doing. However, not knowing the history of the new engine can be a bit concerning.

You may also come across an owner who has swapped a turbo engine into their naturally aspirated forester. Once again this is fine as long as the install has been done correctly.

If the engine that is fitted into the Forester you are looking at is non-stock you should be extra cautious. There is a lot more to go wrong when installing a non-stock engine and you don’t want to be left with somebody else’s problem or unfinished project.

Like with cars with rebuilt engines, you should probably avoid anything that only has a few miles on a engine swap. A freshly swapped engine is a complete unknown and could cause you a lot of issues, especially if it is a non-stock one.

Should You Get a Compression Test Done?

A compression test is not completely necessary when purchasing a used second generation Forester, but it is a useful tool to help you determine which car has the healthiest engine. However, a compression test will only really tell you that an issue exists and not what that issue is. Depending on the model, expect to see compression readings from around the 130 to 160 psi mark.

The most important thing with a compression test is that all the four cylinders give roughly the same reading (within 10% of each other). If one cylinder gives a reading that is vastly different to the other cylinders there is a problem.

Transmission & Differential

Subaru fitted the Forester SG with either a 5-speed manual, a 6-speed manual (for STi cars) or a 4-speed automatic. Manual XT models will command a heavy premium over their automatic counterparts and are much harder to come across. However, they will be worth more if you decide to sell the Forester in the future.

Manual Transmissions

When it comes to the 5 and 6-speed manual transmissions there really isn’t much to worry about as they are fairly durable, especially at stock power levels.

During a test drive make sure you shift through all the gears at both low and high speeds and see how the gearbox feels when stationary. You may find that shifts are a bit stiff when the car is first started and the transmission is cold, but once warm, changes should be nice and smooth. If the stiffness problem doesn’t get better or it is a real struggle to change gear there may be a problem.

Graunching, grinding or whining sounds are a sign of incoming expenditure, so make sure you listen out for those noises. Synchro wear is more likely to be an issue on Foresters with more power and those that have been thrashed (grinding noises usually indicate this problem). While synchro wear can occur on all gears, it seems to occur more frequently on third gear.

If the transmission jumps out of gear it could be anything from a clutch problem to issues with the shift fork and shifter bushings. You probably aren’t going to find out what is causing the problem during a short test drive, so it may be best to move onto another Forester SG.

Subaru recommends checking the fluid every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) and changing it if necessary (dirty, contaminated, etc.). Most owners seem to recommend just changing the fluid altogether at this interval, and some enthusiastic owners will even replace it at 24,000 km (15,000 miles).

It is recommended that you use something like Red Line Lightweight Shockproof 75W-90 gear oil for the manual transmission in a second generation Forester (some owners like to mix it with Motul Gear 300 75W-90).


The life of a clutch in a Forester SG will largely depend on how the car has been driven and treated, but a normal life is usually in the realm of 48,000 (on the very low end) – 96,000 km (30,000 – 60,000 miles), but they can definitely go further. If the clutch pedal feels excessively heavy or you feel shuddering when you take of the clutch is probably on its way out.

Below we have listed some methods that will help you determine the condition of the clutch in the Subaru Forester you are inspecting/test driving:

Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Forester 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 too early or too late indicates a problem.

Clutch Slippage – The way to check for this is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. Once you have done this, plant your foot on the throttle and watch the revs. If the engine speed goes up but the car doesn’t accelerate the clutch is slipping. Here are some things that can cause slippage

  • Worn clutch
  • Clutch covered in oil
  • Clutch cable is too tight and is not releasing properly

Clutch Drag – Get the Forester 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.

If the clutch needs replacing and you still want to purchase the Forester, make sure you get a heavy discount on the vehicle. Clutch replacement kits are fairly expensive and labour can add up quickly if you get somebody to do it for you.

Another thing to watch out for is aftermarket clutches. Many owners like to fit stronger clutches that offer improved performance and life. Some of these clutches can be quite heavy, so bear that in mind if you are using the car as a daily driver. If the clutch is aftermarket, try to find out the brand and look at reviews.

Automatic Transmission

Like the manual transmissions, there aren’t any real specific issues with the automatic gearbox. Just make sure that shifts are smooth (no thuds) and there are no strange grinding, whirring or whining noises. Also watch out for any hesitation as it could be a sign of an expensive issue and check that all the different positions work (reverse, drive, etc.).

Problems with an automatic transmission can often be fixed by restarting the ECU and or changing the transmission fluid, however, if there is something majorly wrong it will be expensive to fix.

It is recommended that something like Motul MULTI ATF Fully Synthetic Car Automatic Gearbox Oil be used for the automatic transmission in a Forester. Changes should be roughly every 48,000 km (30,000 miles).


Leaks from the rear differential may not be from a seal but the diff cover itself, as they can crack if the fill or drain plugs are done up with too much enthusiasm. Small cracks can be sealed, so this problem shouldn’t be too much of an issue. It is a good idea to replace the diff fluid at the same time as the transmission and once again many people recommended Redline 75W-90.

Suspension & Steering

Credit: Subaru

The suspension and steering components can take a hammering, especially during hard driving or use on rough surfaces. These cars are also getting a bit long in the tooth, so expect to find more than a few with clapped out suspension.

Worn Anti-roll bar bushes, drop links, wheel bearings and CV joint boots are all common issues, especially at high mileage.

Make sure you thoroughly inspect the suspension and steering componentry thoroughly. The rubber CV boots can tear or split, so make sure they are in good condition. Also check for any broken parts and make sure there is no corrosion.

Below we have listed some things to watch out for that indicate worn suspension and steering componentry:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping during cornering
  • High speed instability
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed ball joints)
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging or uneven suspension – Turbo Foresters often succumb to this problem as they have self-levelling rear suspension which, over time, ceases to function.
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive

Aftermarket Coilover & Standard Suspension

Many owners like to fit coilovers to their Forester SGs (shock absorber surrounded by a spring), giving them the ability to lower their vehicle. While coilovers and lowering the ride height gives a theoretical increase in performance, it is at the detriment of ride quality.

Additionally, a Forester that has been lowered too much may be impractical to use as a daily driver. Lowered cars are also more likely to suffer damage on the underside than standard height Foresters.

Regular suspension that is much like what was fitted from stock is also available from aftermarket vendors. You will find many Foresters with such suspension, just make sure that it is from a good brand (poor quality suspension will often lead to bottoming out/scraping, so check for any signs on the underside of the vehicle).


Credit: Subaru

The brake components will wear overtime, especially if the car is regularly driven hard, so check the condition of them. Luckily, replacement parts aren’t too expensive and they are readily available.

When you take a look at the brakes, check for the following:

  • Condition of the pads
  • Pitted, scored or grooved discs
  • Corrosion
  • Modifications
  • Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
  • Fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
  • Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months (check the service history and with the owner for this)

While on a Test Drive

Weak and spongy brakes indicate that there is a problem, however, some owners do find that the brake pedal in these cars tends to be somewhat numb and initially unresponsive. This unresponsive feel is caused by the bulkhead flexing. A fix is to fit an aftermarket master cylinder stopper that improves the feel of the pedal.

Make sure you test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions to make sure they work correctly and stop the car. Erratic braking such as pulling to one side is usually caused by a sticking/seized caliper. This usually happens if the car has been left unused for a long period of time. Another sign of this problem is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.

Watch out for shaking or juddering through the steering wheel of the Forester SG you are test driving when the brake pedal is depressed as this suggests that the discs are warped. This issue usually becomes first apparent under high speed braking.

Other than the above, keep an ear out for any loud bangs, knocks, grinding or other strange sounds when the brakes are applied. A squealing sound could indicate that the pads are near the end of their life.

Wheels & Tyres

Credit: Subaru

While inspecting the brake and suspension componentry, make sure you take a good look at the wheels and tyres as well. Watch out for any damage on the wheels as it is a sign of a careless owner and can be expensive to fix depending on the rims fitted.

Aftermarket wheels are a very common modification. If you are interested in a Forester SG with aftermarket rims, check with the owner to see if they still have the originals as they will only add value to the car if you decide to sell it in the future.

While you are inspecting the rims take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:

  • Amount of tread
  • Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
  • Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
  • 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 and may even be dangerous

Checking the Wheel Alignment

Find yourself a nice flat, straight section of road to check the wheel alignment. If the Forester SG you are test driving doesn’t track straight with minimal or no driver inputs then the wheel alignment is probably out. You should also check the tyres for uneven wear as that is indicative of bad wheel alignment or some sort of other suspension/steering issue.

Exterior & Body of a Forester SG

Credit: Subaru

Getting bodywork problems sorted can be very expensive and in some cases damage may be irreparable, so make sure you inspect the exterior of any Forester SG you are interested in thoroughly.

Accident Damage

This is going to be one of your biggest areas of concern as a major accident could lead to permanent damage to the car’s structure. Additionally, the body panels on the Forester SG seem to be made of paper mache, so watch out for dents, dings and scratches.

Accident damage is often much more serious than it first appears and many owners/sellers will lie about the severity or even claim that the car was never in a damage when it obviously was. Always assume the worst and hope for the best!

Below we have listed some signs that indicate that the second generation Forester you are inspecting may have been in an accident:

  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
  • Rust in strange locations – May be a sign that the Forester SG you are looking at has been in a crash or has some other sort of problem.
  • Paint runs or overspray – Possibly a factory issue but can also indicate that the Forester you are looking at has been resprayed due to an accident.
  • Missing badges or trim – Can be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.). These cars are popular with thieves, so the car being stolen may be a very real possibility.
  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors, engine cover, and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Forester SG you are inspecting may have been in a crash.
  • 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 second generation Forester you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).

While accident damage is always a cause for concern, it shouldn’t make for an instant dismissal. Damage that has been repaired correctly by a skilful body shop/panel beater is perfectly fine and, in some cases, may even be better than the original finish.

However, major accident damage, especially if it is structural is a serious issue and a lot of the time it can’t be repaired properly. If the Forester SG you are looking at has major damage or the repairs seem to be of poor quality move onto another car.

If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.


Unfortunately, while rust isn’t too much of an issue an many cars from this era, it does seem to be a problem for Subarus. On second generation Foresters, rust seems to creep into the front and rear subframes, and any other area that is regularly exposed to mud, moisture and salt. Also check the sills, the top of the strut mounts and all around and inside the wheel arches.

If you do happen to come across rust during your inspection try to get a gauge on how bad the issue is. While corroded body panels & parts can be fixed, the problem is usually much more serious than it first appears on the surface. If the Forester SG you are inspecting is suffering from significant amounts of rust you should move onto another car.

Things That Can Make Rust More Likely to Occur
  • Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads
  • Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • If the Forester has always been kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
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. 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 or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.


Credit: Subaru

Fortunately, while the exterior seems to be a bit flimsy on these cars, the interior is quite hard wearing. Still, it is important to thoroughly inspect the interior for wear. Most interior components are still readily available, but if the interior is in a seriously bad way it will be expensive to put right.

As with many cars the seat bolsters can wear quite a bit, especially if the vehicle has seen lots of use or the owner is of a larger persuasion. If the seats move under braking or acceleration it is a major problem and will be a WOF/MOT failure.

Excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage may be an indication that the odometer has been wound back (or it may simply be that the car has had a hard life). Remember to check all of the other interior trim pieces for wear as while they can be replaced if necessary, costs can add up quickly.

Wind noise is a bit of a problem on these cars due to the frameless door design and expect to hear the odd rattle and squeak.

Remember to check the carpets and floor for dampness. Additionally, lift up the floor mats and check for water residue as it could be a sign that the Forester has had a leak in the past or may have even been flooded.

Electronics, Lights & Air Conditioning

Credit: Subaru

Electronic issues aren’t too common on these cars but they can occur. During an inspection make sure that all the switches, knobs and buttons work as intended. Make sure that you check that the warning lights come on when the engine is started. If they don’t it may suggest that the owner/seller has disconnected them to cover up an issue.

If the air conditioning/climate control doesn’t work don’t let the owner convince you it just needs a re-gas. While a re-gas may simple be what is needed, it may also be a much more serious issue such as a compressor failure.

The wipers can fail (especially the rear). This is usually because moisture seeps into the spindle and causes corrosion, jamming the mechanism. Replacing the assembly is easy and cheap to do so not a major problem.

General Car Buying Advice the for the Subaru Forester SG

Credit: Subaru

How to Get the Best Deal on a Second Gen Forester

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 Forester, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different Forester SGs out there in different levels of condition and spec, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple Second Gen Foresters – 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 Subaru Forester.
  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 one of these Subarus and only go for promising looking cars.
  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 cars, 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 in a Forester 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.

Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!   

Service History and Other Documentation

Credit: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima

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).

The service history will give you a good idea of how the Subaru Forester 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?
  • When was the timing belt last replaced?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been 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?
  • Is the car tracked or taken off-road regularly or at all?
  • 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 Forester SG

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
  • 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 Forester (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 Forester and the model they are selling?
  • 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 second-generation Forester.

Importing a Second Gen Forester from Japan

Credit: Tokumeigakarinoaoshima

If you are struggling to find a suitable one of these cars in your country, you may want to look at importing one from Japan. Subaru sold quite a few of these cars in Japan, so it is not a bad place to look, especially if you want something like an STi model.

Exporting vehicles from Japan is a big business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles become more expensive to run. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a Subaru Forester SG from Japan.

How to Import a Subaru Forester SG

While importing a Subaru Forester from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import Forester Second Gen” or “import Forester SG”. 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 Forester, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect Forester 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 Foresters 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 Subaru Forester SG 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 Subaru Forester SG 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.


  • 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.

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