After two fantastic generations of the Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STI, the third version of the car had a lot to live up to. While it would receive a lukewarm reception from some WRX enthusiasts at the time of launch, the third gen has gone on to become well received by much of the motoring community.
In this buyer’s guide we are going to be giving you all the information you need to arm yourself when purchasing a Mk3 Impreza WRX. We will cover topics such as common problems to watch out for, how to get yourself the best deal, and information about the different versions of the car.
How to Use This Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide
This is a very big guide, so make sure you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To start with we will look at the history and specifications of the third generation Subaru WRX and WRX STI. Following those two sections we will get into the buyer’s guide part of this article, where we will look at common problems with different areas of the Mk3 WRX (engine, bodywork, etc.).
To finish off the guide we will look at more general car purchasing advice and then we will cover some information on importing a third gen Subaru WRX from Japan. A lot of the info in this guide can also be used for normal third gen Imprezas as well (non-WRX/WRX STI), so if you are looking at one of those this may be a helpful read.
This generation WRX has a few different “Applied Model Codes” that relate to the different versions of the car:
- GH – WRX Hatchback
- GR – WRX STI Hatchback
- GE – WRX Sedan
- GV – WRX STI Sedan
History of the Third Generation Subaru WRX
By 2007 the WRX had become synonymous with practical performance, along with its compatriot, the Mitsubishi Evolution. The WRX and WRX STi had propelled Subaru’s brand to new heights, with many fans eagerly awaiting the announcement of a third-generation model.
Their prayers would be answered when Subaru launched the new version of the WRX, alongside the third-gen Impreza at the New York International Auto Show in 2007. The new Impreza’s design reflected Subaru’s desire to attract a wider range of customers.
Subaru gave the sedan a more rounded, refined look, while the hatchback was now more of a proper hatch rather than a hybrid wagon/hatch combo. The more sedate looking exterior was carried over to the WRX version as well, much to the dismay of a number of Subaru enthusiasts who felt that the Impreza had become too “fat” and large.
While some felt that the exterior of the new Impreza WRX was a downgrade, there was no denying that the interior was a big improvement. The cabin was now roomier and more spacious, with a greater emphasis on comfort and utility. Premium trim tiers also came with satellite navigation and a 7-inch screen amongst a number of other additional features.
At the heart of the new WRX was a 2.5-litre turbocharged EJ255 that was mounted lower down to improve stability. This engine was much the same as the one on the previous generation car, however, a newly designed intake manifold and intercooler were claimed to give improved mid to low-end torque and fuel efficiency. The turbocharger was the same TD04 unit from the previous generation, but with some slight adjustments so that it could accommodate the new intake design.
Power was rated at 227 PS (224 bhp/ 167 kW) at 5,200 rpm, while torque sat at 306 Nm (226 lb-ft) at 2,800 rpm. This meant a 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time of around 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 210 km/h (130 mph).
Once again, the standard WRX received the option of either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. There were some modifications to the transmissions, with Subaru advertising that both shifted faster than the ones on the previous generation WRX.
One of the biggest changes for the new model was the deletion of the rear limited slip differential. It was replaced by a new VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) system. The new system was first introduced on select Subarus in 2001, but this was the first time it was added to a WRX model. Subaru designed VDC to improve the capabilities of the AWD system. It also acted as an ESC to help keep the car squared up and pointing in the right direction, even during the most extreme driving conditions. Some owners lamented the loss of the rear LSD, but many felt that the move towards a VDC system was beneficial.
Subaru Launches the Third Gen WRX STI
With the somewhat lukewarm reception to the standard WRX, Subaru needed to create something impressive for the STI model. Many in the motoring industry felt that the STI needed to be much harder and more aggressive. Thankfully, Subaru answered enthusiasts’ prayers when they launched the Mk3 WRX STI later in the year at the Tokyo Motor Show.
The STI’s new exterior design instantly set it apart from the rather mundane looking WRX. The widened body flares were probably the most distinguishable feature, giving the STI a more rally-car like appearance. Other new exterior details such as new bumpers, side skirts, a large rear spoiler and dual-tail pipes enhanced the sporty look of the car.
The changes to the outside were not only introduced for visual purposes. Subaru’s engineers redesigned the front bumper and fenders to help minimize lift forces, giving the WRX STI better stability at higher speeds. They also added additional engine compartment ventilation along both sides of the front bumper and along the rear edges of the front fenders.
Along with changes to the exterior, Subaru’s team also made some alterations to the WRX STI’s interior. The front bucket seats came finished in a combination of Alcantara and leather. If the customer so desired they could also opt for specifically designed RECARO bucket seats that offer more support for spirited driving. A smattering of STI badges, a newly designed instrument panel and changes to some of the other trim pieces completed the STI’s cabin alterations.
The main focal piece of the new STI was what was lurking underneath the bonnet/hood. Japanese domestic market cars were fitted with a 2.0-litre EJ207 engine with a twin scroll turbocharger that developed as much as 308 PS (304 bhp / 227 kW) and 422 Nm (311 lb-ft) of torque at 4,400 rpm. Unlike the previous generation car, Subaru could now advertise the third gen WRX STI with power figures over the 280 PS (276 bhp / 206 kW) as Japan’s “gentlemen’s agreement” came to an end in 2005.
Export market models were given the slightly larger EJ257 unit that was matched to a single-scroll VF48 turbocharger. Power was down slightly for the export market car, with Subaru rating it at 300 PS (295 bhp / 221 kW) and 405 Nm (299 lb-ft) of torque.
Power is sent to all four wheels via a six speed manual transmission and the front differential adopted a torque-sensitive limited slip differential (LSD), while Subaru’s engineers gave the rear a Torsen LSD. A multi-mode Driver’s Control Centre Differential (DCCD) was also fitted which gives the driver the ability to choose from different modes of control for the centre differential. The VDC and Subaru Intelligent (SI)-Drive systems were also given three different modes as well, giving the driver the ability to really dial in the amount of control they want.
Thanks to the increased engine performance on both JDM and export STi models, the 0 – 100 km/h time dropped to around five seconds, while the top speed increased to an electronically limited 250 km/h (155 mph).
Big power upgrades weren’t the only benefits of purchasing an STI. Newly designed double-wishbone suspension at the rear and a widened track (40 mm front and 45 mm rear) helped to create a car that was more stable during cornering than the standard WRX. Subaru also optimized the suspension geometry to substantially improve traction and provide better comfort during hard driving.
Other suspension improvements included cast aluminum lower arms and a stabilizer bar at the front. At the rear, the suspension links are attached to the body through the sub-frame, increasing ride comfort and lowering noise levels in the cabin.
More stopping power was made available via the installation of Brembo-made ventilated disk brakes. At the front the caliper size was increased to 330 mm (13 inches) from 295 mm (11.6 inches), while the rear received an increase in 33 mm (1.3 inches) to a total of 320 mm (12.6 inches). The increased brake size meant that Subaru needed to fit new 18-inch rims to the car. These were wrapped in Bridgestone RE050A (245/40R18) tyres as standard.
2009 Model Year Changes
With potential buyers and many in the motoring press less than enthusiastic about the standard WRX, Subaru made a number of changes for the 2009 model year to make it more exciting.
The biggest change was a dramatic boost in power to 269 PS (265 bhp / 198 kW) and 331 Nm (244 lb-ft) of torque. This power increase was the result of Subaru ditching the old TD04 turbocharger for an IHI VF52 unit.
The extra power helped to improve acceleration significantly, with Car and Driver reporting that the new model WRX could actually accelerate even faster than the previous year STI. The impressive acceleration performance was also helped by the WRX’s slightly lower weight (82 kg / 180lbs less) and 5-speed manual gearbox that required fewer changes to reach 100 km/h (62 mph).
Subaru’s engineers didn’t just increase power and call it a day. They also installed the upper strut mounts from the STI, and the front and rear spring rates were increased 43 percent and 43 percent, respectively. The 2009 WRX also received larger front and rear anti-roll bars, with the front now at 21 mm in diameter while the rear was now 16 mm. These changes helped to create a stiffer, sportier car which was more in line with what potential buyers were looking for.
To compliment the revised suspension, the tyres were changed from all-season Bridgestones to high-performance Dunlop SP Sport 01s.
2010/11 Updates and New Models
Subaru once again updated the standard WRX for the 2011 model year. This time the changes were more focused on the visual side of things. The car received the wide-body shell from the STI, along with quad muffler tips and new 17-inch wheels. Firmer rear sub-frame bushings were also introduced to improve traction.
The 2011 model year also saw the introduction of a four-door sedan version of the STI for the first time in the generation. Subaru made the STI easily distinguishable from the standard WRX sedan by developing a wide and low design, with much wider rear fenders to give the car a more aggressive appearance.
The hatchback version of the car also received a facelift with sharper bumper corners, new fog lamps and a new and larger front grill with bumper air intakes.
Both hatchback and sedan STIs also received higher-rate springs all around, with thicker stabliser bars at both the front and back. The spring rate at the front was increased by 15.6 percent, while the rear received a big jump of 53 percent.
Special Edition Models
Subaru and its partners produced a number of special edition models during the course of the gen 3 Impreza WRX’s production run. We have listed these below with some information on each model:
20th Anniversary Edition WRX STI – 2008
- STI tuned dampers and springs
- STI pillow ball bush rear suspension links
- STI Flexible Lower Arm Bar and Flexible Tower Bar
- Large diameter 245/40R18 tyres
- STI 18-inch aluminium wheels
- STI front under spoiler and a large roof spoiler painted in special matte black
- Black RECARO bucket seats with cherry red stitching
- Special 20th anniversary emblem on the rear
- Pure White, WR Blue Mica, and Obsidian Black Pearl body colours
WRX STI tS – 2010
- Carbon roof and aluminium bonnet/hood
- STI tuned dampers and springs
- Flexible Tower Bar Front and Flexible Draw Stiffener
- Flexible Support Rear and rear suspension links
- STI 18-inch aluminium wheels
- Special front under spoiler
- Side sill plates with the ‘tS’ logo
- Manual transmission model was equipped with a ball bearing turbo charger and special ECU to increase max torque
WRX R205 – 2010
- Power and torque increased to 320 PS (316 bhp / 235 kW) @ 6,400 rpm and 432 Nm (319 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm
- Special ball bearing twin scroll turbo
- Brembo 18-inch discs and callipers at the front and rear
- STI front and rear under spoilers
- STI dampers and springs
- Flexible Draw Stiffener and Flexible Tower Bar
- Developed through STI’s participation in the 24 Hours Nürburgring Race
- Production limited to 400 units
WRX S206 Sedan – 2011
- Developed to commemorate the WRX STI racing car that won the SP3T class in the 2011 Nürburgring 24-Hour Race
- Carbon roof and dry carbon rear wing
- Power and torque increased to 320 PS (316 bhp / 235 kW) @ 6,400 rpm and 432 Nm (319 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm
- New ball bearing turbo and specially tuned ECU
- Bilstein dampers and coil springs
- Flexible Tower Bar
- BBS 19-inch forged aluminium wheels wrapped in Michelin tyres
WRX STI tS Type RA – 2013
- Lightened body and chassis
- Quick Steering Gearbox with a steering gear ratio of 11:1
- Brembo 6POT front brakes
- Specially designed front and rear dampers and coil springs
- POTENZA RE070 tyres
- STI Flexible series body parts
- Pillow ball bush rear suspension link
- Black-painted 18-inch aluminum wheels and door mirrors
- Limited to 300 units
WRX STI 330S / STI Type UK and WRX STI 380S (UK Market)
- STI 330S – power increased to 330 PS (325 bhp / 243 kW)
- STI 380S – power increased to 380 PS (375 bhp / 279 kW)
- Special bodykit and wheels
- While announced, the 380S would not enter production due to homologation and specification difficulties
Cosworth WRX STI CS400 (UK Market)
- Cosworth tuned engine rated at 400 PS (395 bhp / 294 kW)
- 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) = 3.7 seconds
- Strengthened pistons, rods, head studs, gaskets, and a high-pressure oil pump
- Larger turbocharger, bigger manifolds
- Larger-diameter, louder exhausts
- Stronger clutch and short-throw shifter
- Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers
- Front brakes upgraded to 350 mm (13.9-inch) AP Racing discs with six-piston calipers
- Upper mesh grille with piano black finish on the top frame
- New front bumper with “Cosworth” logo
- lip front spoiler and rear waist spoiler
- Michelin SP3 tyres
- Lightweight 18-inch wheels
Subaru WRX and WRX STI Mk3 (GH, GR, GE and GV) Specifications
The below specs relate to the standard versions of the Subaru WRX and WRX STI, and not the special editions we have listed above.
|Model Years||2008 – 2014||2008 – 2014|
|Layout||Front-engine, all-wheel drive||Front-engine, all-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||2.5-litre EJ255 4-cylinder||2.0-litre EJ207 4-cylinder|
2.5-litre EJ257 4-cylinder
|Power||227 PS (224 bhp/ 167 kW) at 5,200 rpm – 2008 WRX|
269 PS (265 bhp / 198 kW) – 2009 WRX onwards
|308 PS (304 bhp / 227 kW) – JDM EJ207|
300 PS (295 bhp / 221 kW) – JDM EJ257 Export Market
|Torque||306 Nm (226 lb-ft) at 2,800 rpm – 2008 WRX|
331 Nm (244 lb-ft) at 2,800 rpm – 2009 onwards
|422 Nm (311 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm – JDM EJ207|
405 Nm (299 lb-ft) at 4,400 rpm – Export EJ257
|Brakes Front||295 mm (11.6 inches)||330 mm (13 inches)|
|Brakes Rear||287 mm (11.3 inches)||320 mm (12.6 inches)|
|Tyres Front||205/50 R17 – 2008 WRX|
225/45 R17 – 2009 WRX onwards
|Tyres Rear||205/50 R 17 – 2008 WRX|
225/45 R 17 – 2009 WRX onwards
|Suspension Front||Independent, MacPherson strut, Coil Springs||Independent, MacPherson strut, Coil Springs|
|Suspension Rear||Independent, multi-link||Independent, multi-link|
|Weight||1,425 – 1,440 kg (3,141 – 3,175 lbs)||1,540 kg (3,395 lbs – Hatchback|
1,505 kg (3,318 lbs) – Sedan
|Top Speed||210 km/h (130 mph) – 2008 WRX|
225 km/h (140 mph) – 2009 WRX onwards
|250 km/h (155 mph) – Limited|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.7 seconds – 2008 WRX|
4.7 seconds – 2009 WRX onwards
|5 – 5.1 seconds (manual)|
6 seconds (automatic)
WRX vs WRX STI
Before we get into the buyer’s guide section of this article we thought we would quickly look at some of the pros and cons of buying either a standard WRX or a WRX STI.
Despite having a slightly lower 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time than the 2009 onwards WRX, the STI is the much better performance machine. It has tighter suspension, better brakes, more power and a stronger six-speed transmission.
Some owners have upgraded their standard WRXs with more power, along with STI or aftermarket brake and suspension components. However, if you are planning to buy a stock WRX and upgrade it yourself, you are probably best shelling out the extra cash for an STI model instead.
WRX models are a bit cheaper to buy so if you are on a budget and don’t mind the lower specs/features it may be the better option. Try to go for a 2009 model year WRX or later as the first year is significantly less powerful.
If you have the choice of a late model WRX in good condition or an earlier STI in worse condition, we would go with the former. While it is nice to have the extra benefits of an STI, it is better to have a car that runs better and has less problems. Additionally, the standard WRX is perfect as a daily runner with a bit of performance for when you need it.
For those planning to do some serious performance modifications we would recommend that you go with an STI. It is a much better platform for power mods and can withstand higher horsepower figures.
Subaru WRX and WRX STI Gen 3 Buyer’s Guide
Now that the history and specs have been covered, let’s look at what you need to know about buying a Subaru Impreza WRX (GH, GR, GE or GV). Maintenance is key with these cars, so if you don’t think the Mk3 WRX or WRX STI you are looking at has been maintained properly be very cautious.
Setting Up an Inspection of Subaru WRX
Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for/setting up an inspection of a third generation Subaru WRX:
- View the third gen Impreza WRX in person if possible – While buying a third gen Subaru WRX sight unseen can be okay, it does open you up to a lot more risk. A physical inspection may reveal some hidden issues that could be quite expensive to fix. If you can’t look at the car yourself, get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you.
- Bring a friend or helper to the inspection – This is always a good idea as they second person may be able to spot something you missed. Additionally, they can give you their thoughts on the WRX and whether or not they think it is a good buy.
- Try to look at the Subaru WRX at the seller’s house or place of business – This gives you a chance to see where the third gen Subaru WRX is stored. A car parked on the street is more likely to suffer bodywork problems than a car that has been garaged its whole life. Additionally, by doing this you can check out the roads that the WRX is regularly driven on. If they are really rough the suspension and steering components may have taken a bit of a beating.
- View the Subaru WRX Mk3 in the morning rather than later in the day if possible – This isn’t completely necessary, but by looking at a used car earlier in the morning it does give the seller less time to clean up any potential issues such as a big oil leak.
- 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 Subaru WRX or WRX STI, 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 third generation 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.
Purchasing a Mk3 WRX With Problems
Most of the information in this WRX buyer’s guide relates to getting yourself the best example possible. However, there is nothing wrong with buying a third gen WRX or WRX STI with issues as long as you know what the problems are before purchase, how much they might cost to fix, and you are happy to deal with them.
If the WRX you are looking at does have some issues, try to find out an estimated cost of repair before making a purchase. Use this guide work out what common issues to look out for, and if you do find any problems, use them to get a discount.
Where to Find a Third Gen WRX or WRX STI for Sale?
We recommend that you start your search for a third gen WRX on your local auction/classifieds sites. Local or national dealers are a good place to look as well, although many of them will list their cars on auction platforms. Specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com are also good places to find these cars for sale, especially for those looking for extremely well maintained and low mileage Mk3 WRXs.
We also recommend that you check to see if there are any Subaru WRX owners clubs in your area. These sorts of clubs tend to attract very enthusiastic owners who are knowledgeable and look after their vehicles properly. Here are a couple of examples of some clubs:
- 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 Mk3 Subaru WRX Cost to Buy?
This really does depend on a number of factors from the condition of the particular WRX to its mileage, spec level, where it is being sold, how it is being sold (auction, fixed price, etc.) and more. For example, a late model third gen WRX STI with low miles is going to command a much higher price than a 2008 WRX that has seen a lot of action.
According to sales data on bringatrailer.com, most third gen WRXs/WRX STIs tend to go for around US$10,000 to $30,000, with some reaching well into the $50,000 mark for a car in exceptional condition (see this example here). The interesting thing here is that second gen WRX STIs tend to go for around the same price or in some cases slightly higher price as they seem to be a bit more desirable to collectors.
When looking for the cheapest third generation WRX in our country (New Zealand), we found that they didn’t really go below around NZ$18,000 (US$12,000) at the time of writing. This was for a higher mileage WRX STI, so we would expect a similar condition level WRX to be a bit cheaper.
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 third 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?
This seems to be much more of an issue on first and second gen cars, but it is always worth checking to make sure the WRX STI you are looking at is indeed an STI and not just a standard WRX in drag.
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 best way to check to see if the car is indeed an STI is by looking at the VIN/chassis number. The fourth and fifth characters of the VIN indicate the model. For example, the VIN JF1GR8H60DLXXXXXX indicates the car is an STI hatchback. Sedan STI models will have the code “GV” in place of the GR – JF1GV8J68BLXXXXXX for example. If you notice that the fifth character of the VIN is either an “H” or an “E” (GH or GE) it indicates that the car is a standard WRX. These two characters (GR, GV, GH and GE) are often referred to as the “Applied Model Code”.
To double check that the car is a true STI you can also check what transmission the car has. STI models were mostly fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox, however, some were also fitted with a 5-speed manual. If the car has a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic it is a standard WRX. Here are some other things that can help you determine whether the car is an STI or a standard WRX (Note: some of these parts can be swapped onto the car so bear that in mind):
- Wider body with more flared arches (Going to be the most visually obvious one)
- Brembo brake calipers (often overlooked)
- 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
Another thing to be cautious of is STIs with WRX or even non-turbo engines swapped into them. This is probably incredibly rare, but it does happen as this owner found out on iwsti.com. He purchased a 2011 STI from a dealer and found that it was fitted with a naturally aspirated EJ253 engine. We can only assume that this occurred because the original engine failed and the owner/seller didn’t want to pay for a proper engine replacement with an EJ257.
EJ207 vs EJ257
The JDM spec WRX STI was fitted with the 2.0-litre EJ207 engine, whereas export market cars were fitted with the larger EJ257. Power figures are pretty similar with the EJ207 slightly edging out its bigger brother.
Those that have driven both tend to find that the 2.0-litre engine builds boost and delivers power more linearly and gently than the 2.5-litre unit. Some drivers prefer this sort of power delivery whereas others prefer the excitement of the slightly laggier EJ257.
When it comes to reliability and modifications, most would agree that the EJ207 is a bit better. The factory block of the 2.0-litre unit is said to be better and is more capable of dealing with higher power figures. If both engines are stock, reliability is going to largely come down to which has been maintained better (although the EJ257 is more likely to experience head gasket issues).
We have already touched on this a bit above, but we thought we would go into a bit more detail here. The VIN is a 17-digit series of characters that indicates exactly what a particular car is. Japanese domestic market cars feature a shorter VIN that is commonly referred to as a “Chassis Number”. Cars are assigned a VIN/chassis number at the time of production.
If the Mk3 WRX you are looking at is a Japanese import, it may also have a 17-digit VIN alongside the Japanese VIN. This extra 17-digit VIN is given to the car at the time of import/registration in the new country and it helps to better identify the vehicle. We are not too sure if this occurs in all countries but this is what happens in our local area of New Zealand.
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, VIN number, etc. indicates on the third gen WRX you are looking at (STi or not, transmission type, engine type, etc.).
The VIN/chassis number can be found on a plate that says “MFD BY FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES LTD”. This plate also contains some other information as well such as when the car was manufactured. You can find the VIN plate on the driver’s side door shut. The VIN can also be found in the car’s logbook and in the corner of the windscreen.
Lots of third generation Subaru WRX and WRX STIs have been put through the ringer, with poor maintenance and lots of spirited driving. This means you are going to find more than a few bad eggs out on the market, so be cautious.
To begin your inspection of a Mk3 Impreza WRX, move to the front of the vehicle and lift the bonnet/hood. Check to see if the bonnet opens smoothly and that the hinges and catch are in good condition. If there seems to be a problem and/or the catches and hinges look new, it could be a sign that the WRX has been crashed into something. Following this, check for the following:
- Cleanliness – A disgusting looking engine bay that is really dirty and full of stains, leaves, etc. is never a good sign and is indicative of an owner who doesn’t maintain or care about their Subaru. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by a completely spotless looking engine bay as this could be a sign of a seller who is trying to cover something up. Additionally, if the selle has pressure washed the engine bay it can force water into areas where it shouldn’t go (electrical components, etc.)
- Obvious issues – This could be anything from an oil leak to broken or missing components (for example a damaged coolant expansion tank)
- Modifications – A good number of third generation Subaru Impreza WRXs have been modified, with more than a few of those receiving poor or unsuitable tunes. Be cautious of any modified WRX and try to find out what exactly has been done to the car before purchase.
Inspecting the Fluids
It is always a good idea to check the fluids (engine oil, coolant, etc.) as they can tell you quite a bit of information about how a particular WRX Mk3 is running and how it has been maintained. If the engine oil and other fluids have not been changed regularly or unsuitable fluids have been used it can lead to increased wear and possibly even total component/engine failure.
Have a good look at the engine oil, checking for any metallic particles or grit which could be a sign of major engine trouble such as bearing failure. If the engine has just been rebuilt it can lead to metallic particles in the engine oil, however, this should soon go away.
It can be a good idea to get the oil analysed, especially if you are looking for a really good example. This will help you determine the condition of the oil and whether or not there is any ‘foreign’ material in it. Testing the oil will also help you work out whether or not the WRX can go further between oil changes or if it needs more frequent changes.
Check for any foam, froth or milky looking oil. If you do notice any problems here it could be down to a range of different issues from condensation in the oil to an engine that has been overfilled with oil, turbo seal issues or possibly even a blown head gasket.
When to Change the Oil on a Third Gen Subaru WRX
The service schedule calls for oil changes every 10,000 km (6,000 miles) or every 12 months for both WRX and WRX STI models. However, many third gen WRX owners and even some Subaru dealers recommend that the oil be replaced at half this distance due to the turbo and more demanding driving conditions the car is put through (regular spirited driving, etc.).
If the third gen WRX you are looking at has only had oil changes at 10,000 km (6,000) miles that is perfectly fine, but if the car has had more frequent changes it does suggest that it has been owned by somebody who goes the extra mile with maintenance. If oil and filter changes haven’t been very regular and have always been well over the 10,000 km (6,000 mile) mark we would be very cautious of proper servicing is very, very important for WRX and WRX STIs.
Most owners recommend that you go with something like a 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40 fully synthetic for the EJ series engines inside the third gen Subaru WRX. Some owners do use thicker oils if they are tracking and/or running extra power.
Do the EJ Series Engines Consume a Lot of Oil?
Both the EJ20 and EJ25 series engines fitted to the third generation Subaru WRX and WRX STI are known to use a bit of oil. Many owners report that their WRXs consume just under a litre to around two litres of oil between changes (does depend on the service interval). We wouldn’t be concerned if the car consumes around a litre of oil between changes, but if it is getting up to around two litres and above there could be a problem.
You are probably not going to be able to tell if the car is consuming too much oil during a short test drive, so check with the owner. While they probably won’t be honest, it is still worth a try and their reaction may give a clue to whether there is a problem or not.
If the Mk3 WRX does have an oil consumption problem, it could be down to a range of different problems from oil leaks, worn piston rings, turbo issues, a problem with the PCV system and much more.
Common Oil Leaks to Watch out For on a Third Gen WRX
Here are some of the common areas where leaks can occur on the different EJ series engines fitted to the third generation Impreza WRX:
- Valve/cam/timing cover – A leak around this area is quite common on all the engines fitted to the Mk3 WRX (EJ255, EJ257 and JDM EJ207). The problem tends to be more of an issue on higher mileage cars and the leak is usually caused by the gaskets that seal the valve cover against the cylinder head. Sometimes the problem can be caused by incorrectly tightened or loose bolts as well. Neither of these issues is a major problem and we would suggest checking to see when the gasket was last replaced. If it was a long time ago, a replacement may be needed in the near future.
- Oil feed and return lines for the turbocharger – Initially, this can often be mistaken for a valve cover leak, but on closer inspection you may find that the oil is coming from around the turbocharger. The problem is usually down to the oil feed and return lines for the turbocharger and the leak will often be accompanied by a nasty smell of burning oil. Most of the time the problem with the lines is usually just down to the fact that the fittings aren’t on right or haven’t been fully tightened. If you do notice this problem, try to find out if the turbocharger has had to be removed/disconnected recently as this may help you confirm whether or not it is simply down to a tightening issue. Getting to the lines can be a bit of a nightmare to fix this issue, so it may be best to get a quote for the estimated cost of repair before purchase (if you still want to buy the car).
- Rear main seal – A leak roughly in the middle of the car when looking from the bottom could be caused by a failing or failed rear main seal. This isn’t too common but if it does occur it can be very expensive to fix.
- Oil pan – Again, not massively common with these cars, but it is still important to watch 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
Keep an eye out for the following symptoms as it could be a sign of a bad PCV valve:
- Rough/lumpy idle (this could also be spark plug issues, etc.)
- Hesitation during acceleration
- Excessive oil consumption and worse fuel/gas mileage (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.
Luckily, the PCV valve isn’t too expensive to replace, and you can view a video of the process below. If you suspect the third gen WRX you are looking at has a problem with the PCV valve, it is important to get it sorted as soon as possible. This is because if it is left it can lead to a build-up of excessive amounts of pressure in the crankcase, resulting in a failure of the rear main seal (and other problems). Subaru recommends inspecting, cleaning or replacing the PCV valve every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) to ensure a problem does not occur.
Ringland Failure and United States Class-Action Lawsuit
There has been a lot of talk of ringland failure on 2008 to 2014 Mk3 WRX/WRX STIs amongst the Subaru community. Ringland failure usually occurs when excessive pressure and heat cause the ringland to fracture, with many owners suspecting that it happens around the 3,500 rpm mark when the turbo is boosting and the engine is running lean at wide-open throttle.
When a failure occurs the cracked ringland no longer supports the piston ring properly, which leads to a loss of compression. This then results in symptoms such as misfiring, smoking and general rough running. If things get really bad pieces of the ringland can break away and damage the cylinder walls, resulting it a very expensive engine repair or replacement bill.
In 2017 United States based owners launched a class-action lawsuit that claimed the 2.5-litre engine had a defect that allowed contaminated oil to carry “damaging metal debris though the engine” and that Subaru sold the WRX knowing that there was a problem with defective parts. A settlement was reached in 2018 that included reimbursement for certain out-of-pocket repairs and compensation for those who sold or traded in their WRXs.
What Can Owners Do to Reduce the Chance of Ringland Failure
The most important aspect in reducing the chances of ringland failure is proper maintenance. This is why it is so important to make sure that the Mk3 Subaru WRX you are looking at has had regular oil and filter changes, along with all the other recommended servicing (spark plugs, PCV valve, etc.). Additionally, check with the owner to see what fuel has been used in the car. Higher octane fuel will provide additional knock resistance, reducing the chance of ringland failure.
If the WRX has been modified, servicing should be more frequent with more regular oil and filter changes, spark plug replacements at 60,000 km (37,000 miles) and PCV valve check or replacements every 30,000 km (18,000 miles).
How the car is driven also has a big impact on whether or not ringland failure occurs. If the owner thrashes their third gen WRX from cold it is much more likely to experience issues. Additionally, flooring the car in fifth or sixth at low rpms puts an enormous amount of stress on the engine, and is reported as a factor in a number of failures. If you want to overtake somebody/go faster in these higher gears, drop the transmission down a gear or two before accelerating, or gradually accelerate.
There are some other factors that can make ringland failure more likely to occur, so we suggest that you check out Touge Tuning’s article on the issue here (especially if you plan to buy a modified Mk3 WRX or do some modifications yourself).
When Does the Timing Belt Need to Be Replaced on a Mk3 Subaru WRX?
Like the previous generation Subaru WRX and WRX STI, this depends on where you live in the world. Here are Subaru’s recommendations for the UK/European market and North America:
- 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)
As you can see there is quite a big difference between the two recommended service intervals. The reason for the big difference is not because different parts are used, but because in the United States there is a requirement for timing belts to last 160,000 km (100,000 miles).
Check to see if the timing belt has been changed at or before the recommended service interval on the Mk3 WRX you are looking at. Don’t just take the seller’s word that it has been replaced as there are more than a few dishonest people out there who are happy to claim that the belt has been replaced when in fact it has not.
If the belt snaps on an EJ255, EJ257 or EJ207 it can lead to catastrophic damage and an extremely expensive repair bill. If the timing belt needs to be replaced in the near future use that to get a discount or get the seller to do it for you before purchase.
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?
- Aux belt
- Water pump/water pump gasket
- Thermostat/thermostat gasket
- Spark plugs
Problems with the cooling system can lead to catastrophic engine damage/failure, so keep an eye out for the following:
Failing Water Pump
As mentioned earlier, it is generally a good idea to get the water pump replaced with the timing belt, so check that has been done. However, water pumps can fail before that so check for the following:
- Coolant leaks – could be a slow or fast leak
- Whining and/or chuffing sounds
- Overheating – It is a good idea to go for a reasonably long test drive as you may not notice the car overheating during a short test drive.
- Steam or smoke – Be on the lookout for any steam or smoke from the front of the car. If you notice this problem it is best to walk away.
You can do a bit of a test to see if the water pump is working by switching 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 on the third generation WRX you are looking at.
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 third generation Subaru WRX or WRX STI 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.)
When you are happy with the road test let the car idle and listen for the radiator fans cutting in. They cut in when the coolant is about 95c they should stay on for about 30 seconds and if everything is working OK cut out shortly after . If they are staying on permanently this indicates a problem possible thermostat or even a head gasket issue.
Bubbles in the Coolant
If you notice this problem it is a sign that air has made its way into the cooling system of the Mk3 WRX. This is usually due to something like a bad bleed or a malfunctioning radiator cap. However, in some cases this can be a sign of more serious problems such as a coolant leak or a blown head gasket.
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.
It is a good idea to check the coolant level. Have a look in the expansion tank to check the condition of the coolant as well (only do this when the engine is cold and do not do it when warm/running!).
Make sure you have a good look for any coolant leaks both before and after a test drive. After you have come back from a test drive, switch the WRX off and let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes. Following this, recheck for any coolant leaks. If you don’t notice any but smell a sweet aroma, the car probably is leaking coolant from somewhere.
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
Head gasket failure can occur on all engines fitted to the third generation Subaru WRX, but the problem seems to be more of an issue on the 2.5-litre EJ255 and EJ257 units. This is why some recommend going with a JDM EJ207 WRX if you can find one in your local area. Here are some of the main symptoms of head gasket failure to watch out for:
- 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 Mk3 WRX
Knocking Sounds and Piston Slap
Piston slap was (and still is) quite a common issue on first and second generation WRXs. Mk3 WRX and WRX STIs also seem to suffer from the problem as well, so listen out for a slight knocking or rattling sound when cold. Piston slap happens because there is too much room for the piston within the cylinder, which leads to ever so slight movement of the piston and a knocking/rattling noise. As the engine warms, the tolerances should become tighter, and the sound should go away.
If the knocking noise continues when the engine is warm, especially when it is under load, be very cautious. This is because it could be a sign of a much more serious issue such a bearing failure due to a lack of oil. It is best to walk away from a Mk3 WRX that is constantly knocking or rattling as you could be looking at a very expensive repair or replacement bill.
A problem here could be expensive to fix depending on what it is, so check as much of the exhaust system as you can get a look at. Depending on where you live in the world (UK, North American, etc.), surface rust can on the exhaust can be quite common, but it shouldn’t cause any major issues. More serious rust issues can occur, but unfortunately it can often be quite hard to tell if this is the case as bad rust typically forms from the inside-out on exhausts.
If the Mk3 WRX you are looking at is running a good quality aftermarket exhaust made from stainless steel it shouldn’t rust. Low-quality stainless steel or really cheap mild steel exhausts can rust quite badly, so watch out for those.
Remember to check for any damage to the exhaust (cracks, dents, etc.) or any bad repairs that have been quickly done to get the third gen Impreza WRX up to a saleable condition.
If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Ticking noises are often a sign of a leak, especially if they change with an increase or decrease in rpms.
Catalytic Converter (CAT) Issues:
Third generation WRX and WRX STIs have multiple cats. 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 Mk3 WRX
- Dark smoke from the car’s exhaust
- CEL (Check Engine Light)
- Emission test failure
Some owners like to fit their third gen WRXs with a decat exhaust systems. This is often done when running more power and/or if the original cats failed. Unfortunately, running a decat system will almost certainly lead to emissions test failure and the car may not be road legal at all. Sometimes the upipe cat can be removed and the car will still pass emissions tests as it is designed to simply reduce cold start emissions.
Many third generation Subaru WRXs are running aftermarket exhausts from the likes of GReddy, HKS and much more. 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.
If the listing states that the car is running an “SPT” exhaust that means the WRX was upgraded with Subaru’s Performance Tuning exhaust option. The SPT design has a mid-pipe with two flanges instead of Y-style piping like on the standard exhaust. Additionally, the shape of the flanges is more triangular with three holes instead of two. Subaru’s SPT exhaust is well regarded as it not only produces a nice exhaust note, but it isn’t overly intrusive and loud during regular road driving.
Bad Motor Mounts
Given high mileage, age, and general wear and tear, the engine mounts can wear out and need to be replaced. If one or more of the engine mounts have failed you may notice the following symptoms:
- 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
Replacing the engine mounts isn’t too expensive, but remember to use the problem to get a bit of a discount. Additionally, engine vibrations can also be caused by other issues as well (bad injectors for example).
Aftermarket motor mounts made from materials such as polyurethane or a popular modification. These sorts of mounts tend to be a bit more durable and come with some other claimed benefits such as improved engine response. On the other hand however, aftermarket engine mounts can also make the ride a bit more harsh than the original Mk3 WRX ones.
Expect the idle speed to sit around the 750 rpm (+ or – 100 rpm) mark on both third gen WRXs and WRX STIs. The idle speed will be higher when the engine is cold, but it should soon drop to this level.
If you notice that the idle speed on the Mk3 WRX you are looking at hunts or pulses more than 100 rpm or dips a lot and shakes before coming back to 750 rpm, give it some time and then tap the throttle. This should fix the issue but if the engine keeps on idling strange it may be a sign of a boost/vacuum/exhaust leak.
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 Mk3 Subaru Impreza WRX
If the third generation WRX you are looking at smokes like an eighties rockstar you should probably walk away as there are plenty of examples out there that don’t. A very small amount of vapour on engine start is completely normal, especially on cold winter days. This vapour is usually just condensation in the exhaust and it will eventually go away.
We recommend that you get the seller to start the Mk3 WRX for you for the first time. This is because you can get a look at what comes out the back and if the owner revs the car hard when it is cold you know they haven’t treated it well. Make sure you try start the WRX yourself later during a test drive. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke can indicate:
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.
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 Mk3 Subaru 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).
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
Turbocharger failure is going to be one of your primary areas of concern on any third generation Subaru WRX or WRX STI. This is especially so as many WRX owners have a knack for poor maintenance, which is something that these cars need. If the engine oil and filter haven’t been changed regularly, we would be seriously concerned with the current health of the turbocharger. Below we have listed some of the main symptoms of turbo failure on a Mk3 WRX:
- 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 third gen Subaru Impreza 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. The EJ207, EJ255 and EJ257 engines are known to consume a bit of oil, but they shouldn’t do so excessively
- Slow acceleration – Does the Mk3 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, 2008 vs 2009 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 GH, GR, GE or GV WRX With a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine
While some buyers have a thing against purchasing a car with a rebuilt or replaced engine, we see no problem. However, it is vitally important that the rebuild or replacement was done by a competent Subaru specialist or mechanic who has experienced with that sort of work. Additionally, we would probably avoid any third gen WRX that has had a non-stock engine fitted into it. Radical engine swaps like in the video below can be okay, but most of the time they are a nightmare and the owner is trying to get rid of their unfinished project.
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 third generation WRX or WRX STI 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.
If possible, we suggest that you get a compression test done prior to purchase. A compression test can help you determine whether or not there is problem with the engine and turbocharger, however, it won’t necessarily tell you exactly what the problem is. If the owner doesn’t want a compression test to go ahead it suggests that they are tying to hide something from you.
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).
A Quick Word on Engine Modifications
Having a WRX with loads of power is great, but it also comes with downsides. Reliability can be massively reduced, especially if the tuning has been done incorrectly and/or poor quality parts have been used. If the Mk3 WRX you are looking at has been modified, see if the owner has any receipts for the work and try to find out who did the modifications. Check any reviews to make sure they are reputable.
Another thing to keep in mind is that modified cars tend to be owned by people who like to floor them a lot (hence the modifications and extra power). This can lead to increased wear and a higher failure rate of components.
The third generation Subaru WRX was fitted with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. STI models on the other hand were fitted with six-speed manual and five-speed automatic gearboxes (more of the former). Let’s start by looking at the manual transmissions:
Manual Mk3 WRXs
Just like the previous generation Subaru WRX, the Mk3 STI’s six-speed manual transmission is known to be more durable and stronger than the five-speed fitted to the standard WRX. However, the five-speed is perfectly fine with stock power levels and regular driving (some find it better for daily driving due to the longer ratios). If you plan to track the car a lot, drive aggressive regularly and/or increase power levels, the six-speed in the STI is a much better.
During a test drive, take the WRX through all the gears at both lower and higher engine speeds. If you notice any grinding or a notchy feeling when shifting it could be a sign of synchro wear. This can occur on all gears, but second and third seem to be where the bulk of the complaints are. Synchro wear is often indicative of an owner who likes to drive their Mk3 WRX hard, but it can occur with regular driving as well.
Sometimes grinding can also be a result of low clutch fluid, faulty hydraulics or some other sort of issue such as bad clutch and throwout bearings. If the throwout bearing has gone you may notice a slight grinding when you depress the clutch.
It is not uncommon to find that the transmission is a bit stiff when cold on a third gen WRX, especially the six-speed on STI Mk3s. However, as the car warms up you should find that the shifts become a bit easier. If the shifts are super stiff and it is a real struggle to change gear it is a sign of a problem. 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.
Check to make sure that none of the gears pop out, especially third to fifth on the five-speed gearbox. While it isn’t that common, it can occur. If anyone of the gears does come out of gear it could be a sign of problems such as low transmission fluid, bushing issues, or possibly bad shift forks. This issue could be very expensive to fix, so it is probably best to walk away if you notice it.
It is a good idea to see how the clutch and transmission performs during a hill start.Additionally, lift off after accelerating hard in second, third and fourth. If you notice any strange rattling noises it co uld 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 third generation Impreza WRX.
Check to see if the clutch is working as intended as replacing it can be quite expensive. Clutches will eventually need to be replaced so check when the last replacement was done. If it was a while ago try to use that to get a bit of a discount, even if the clutch seems like it is in fairly good order.
The life of a clutch depends on a number of different factors from how the car has been maintained, how it has been driven, and what sort of power it is running. If the Mk3 WRX you are looking at is running more power and the owner likes to give it a good thrashing, the clutch won’t last nearly as long as somebody who babies their car. Below we have listed some tests you can 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 third gen 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 Mk3 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).
Spot Weld Failure and Clutch/Brake Assembly
Listen out for a slight creak or click when you press the clutch pedal down as this could be a sign of the dreaded spot weld issue that has affected a large number of Mk3 Subaru WRXs. Other symptoms of this problem may include movement of the brake pedal when the clutch is applied and excessive movement of the clutch master cylinder when the pedals are pushed down.
The problem occurs because the firewall is so painfully thin that it flexes every time the clutch pedal is used. This is then compounded by the fact that the clutch/brake assembly is only held to the thin firewall by six small spot welds that can eventually fail, making the clutch pedal inoperable.
There is no set mileage that the spot welds can fail, with some owners experiencing it as low as 65,000 km (40,000 miles), while other cars haven’t had a problem at all despite many more miles on the clock. It seems that owners who like to drive their WRXs hard regularly and/or are running a heavier clutch are more likely to experience premature failure of the spot welds.
You can inspect the welds to make sure they are in good condition. However, the owner is probably not going to let you do this as it takes around 20 minutes and requires removing a number of components to get access to the welds.
Fixing the issue is possible, but can be expensive if you get a mechanic to do it for you as the dashboard may need to be removed (depending on the fix used). We highly recommend that you check out reide181’s excellent full guide on the problem over at nasioc.com.
Both the four-speed and five-speed automatic transmissions seem to be pretty robust and reliable and shouldn’t really cause any issues as long as they have been maintained well.
If you are looking at an auto WRX, make sure you take the transmission through all the gears and test how it responds under different engine speeds. Any jumping, clunking or general harsh shifts indicates a problem that could be very expensive to fix (or it may simply need a fluid change, but we wouldn’t take the risk). Clunking when changing gear on the move could also be a sign of bad motor or transmission 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.
A major benefit of buying an automatic Mk3 WRX or WRX STI is that it is much less likely to have been thrashed to bits. However, resale value of automatic WRXs tends to be lower than manual versions, so keep that in mind.
Check The Diff
Don’t forget to check for any leaks from the diff while you are looking for engine and transmission oil leaks from the third gen WRX. 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. If the fluid level gets too low it can lead to the diff seizing up completely 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
A lot of third gen Subaru WRX and WRX STIs are running with bodywork issues, so keep an eye out for the following issues:
Subaru WRXs tend to be driven hard and that means more than a few of them have been in accidents. Here are some of the tell-tale signs of crash damage and/or repairs:
- 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 Mk3 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 Mk3 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 third 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.).
Watch out for sellers who try to cover up accident damage. Some may even claim their Mk3 WRX hasn’t been in a crash when it clearly has.
If there has been some accident damage and/or repairs, try to get an idea of the severity of the incident. Light to moderate damage that has been repaired by a skilled body shop/panel beater is normally fine. However, if the Subaru has been in a serious incident and received major damage it is probably best to walk away.
If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.
Rust isn’t nearly as much of an issue on the Mk3 WRX as it was on earlier generations of the car, but it can still happen. The problem can occur anywhere, but here are some of the most important areas to check:
- B-pillar – this usually occurs under the vinyl stickers and if this gets really bad it can spread and a whole door replacement will be needed.
- Boot/trunk lid – this usually occurs where the license plate sits and seems to be more of an issue on sedan versions of the WRX.
- Wheel arches and wheel wells – have a good look around the wheel arches and inside the wheel wells as rust here can be surprisingly common.
- 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.
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 Third Gen WRX
- Mk3 Subaru 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 Mk3 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.
A lot of third generation Subaru WRXs have been fitted with aftermarket bodykits and unfortunately many of these bodykits simply look like a dog’s breakfast. Additionally, really bad bodykits can lead to problems such as tyre rub and scrapping noises. If the Mk3 WRX you are interested in is running an aftermarket bodykit, try to find out if the seller has the original parts. Aftermarket bodykits may also be a sign of accident damage as the owner may have got them fitted following a crash.
Suspension and Steering
There are no stand-out issues here but worn droplinks can cause some strange knocking noises. Additionally, the rubber bushes for the anti-roll bars can eventually perish. Neither of these issues are too expensive to fix, but if you notice something like a leaking shock absorber it can quickly drain your wallet.
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 that indicate bad suspension and/or suspension components:
- 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 bushings or wheel bearings. Sometimes these sorts of noises can also be a sign of bad shock absorbers as well.
- 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. The 2008 model year WRX is the softest, with Subaru stiffening up the ride for the 2009 model year onwards. However, despite this the ride on standard Mk3 WRXs is still slightly softer than that of second gen models.
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.
Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment
Don’t forget to find a nice straight and flat section of tarmac to check that the wheel alignment is good. Poor wheel alignment can lead to problems such as excessive and/or uneven tyre wear, leading to more frequent tyre changes. Additionally, it can even make a WRX’s driving experience less enjoyable and safe.
If the wheel alignment is really bad it is a sign of an owner who probably doesn’t care much for their third 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
Inspect all of the wheels for any curb damage. A few scratches and scrapes are to be expected on most cars, but if the damage seems to be quite serious it is a sign that the Mk3 WRX may have been owned by a bit of a careless driver. Additionally, try to check for any dents or buckling as these problems may require a completely new rim. Buckling is more of an issue on larger wheels, so keep that in mind.
A good number of Mk3 Impreza WRXs have been fitted with aftermarket wheels. Larger rims can lead to worse ride quality and can alter handling performance. Additionally, there are less tyre options at a reasonable price once you start going over 18/19 inch rims.
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 third 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.
The brakes on both WRX and WRX STI models should be more than adequate for regular road driving. STI models have better Brembo brakes so if you are looking for something with more braking performance for track days or more regular spirited driving, it may be worth going for one of those. If the brakes feel weak or spongy, it could be caused by anything from a bad bleed to pad issues or possibly a more serious problem.
Some owners have found that they have to press the brake pedal excessively hard to disengage the cruise control. This is usually caused by an issue with the brake sensor and a reset should fix it. Additionally, there was a brake master cylinder recall in 2012 for a number of Subaru models, so it may be worth checking to see if the car has had that recall work done (only around 3,000 Subarus were impacted by it).
Remember to test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs to make sure everything is working as intended. If you notice any squealing, rumbling or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use it could be caused by anything from worn pads to disc issues and possibly even problems with the calipers.
A shuddering or shaking through the Mk3 WRX’s steering wheel when the brakes are applied 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 on all versions of the Mk3 WRX. 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
Make sure you do a complete visual inspection of the Mk3 WRX’s 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 third 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 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. Most owners probably won’t need a big brake kit unless they are very regular track day abusers.
Electrics, Locks, etc.
The Mk3 Subaru WRX and WRX STI’s electrical system seems to be fairly robust and reliable. However, things can go wrong with the electrics and if they do it is usually a nightmare to find the exact cause. A lot of the time it is down to the battery, it may be a much more serious issue.
Have a play with all of the dials, knobs and buttons. Make sure all of the lights and indicators work correctly, along with the door locks, window mechanisms, etc.
The third gen WRX is loved by thieves, so some owners have fitted their cars with aftermarket alarm systems. This is okay but make sure it works as intended as a malfunctioning alarm system can be a tear-your-hair-out experience.
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).
When the third generation Impreza launched it got a bit of a bad rap for poor quality materials and trim in the cabin. This is only made worse by the fact that many Mk3 owners have treated their WRXs poorly, resulting in lots of interior issues.
Have a good look at the seats for any rips, stains or scuffs, paying particular attention to the bolsters. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will result in an MOT/WOF failure.
The leather material used on the seats of some Mk3 WRXs can sag and crack with age and mileage. If the cracking isn’t too bad you may be able to get the leather material back to looking good with some repair compound.
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 of the floor mats 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 2008 – 2014 Subaru Impreza WRX
How to Get the Best Deal on a Mk3 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.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a third 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.
- 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.
- 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 third generation Impreza WRX.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple Mk3 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.
- 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
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 Third 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
- 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 third generation Impreza WRX and the model they are selling (STi, WRX, S206, 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 Third Gen Impreza WRX from Japan
The Mk3 Impreza WRX was a popular performance car in Japan and the country also got the most powerful models.
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 Mk3 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 third 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 Third 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.
Concluding This 2008 – 2014 Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide
While the third generation Subaru WRX wasn’t as well received at launch as the previous two generations, we feel that it is a great option today. The STI model is better if you need a bit more performance and/or want to do a bit of tuning. The 2009 model year onwards WRX is also excellent, and you may find it more suitable as a regular everyday car with a bit of power. The 2008 standard WRX is probably the worst of the bunch and is probably best avoided.
Remember, maintenance is key with these cars. If it hasn’t been looked after well the car could be a whole load of trouble. On the other hand, a well maintained third gen WRX or WRX STI should provide plenty of miles of trouble free motoring and we feel they will be collectors items over the coming years.
JUSTIN GARDINER (24/10/2007) – Tokyo Motor Show: Subaru WRX STI debut – Tokyo Motor Show: Subaru WRX STI debut (autoblog.com)
FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES Ltd (03/04/2007) – FHI Unveils All-New Subaru Impreza at the New York International Auto Show – FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES Ltd. NEWS RELEASE | NewsRelease | Subaru Corporation
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 WRX Specs – Search on “subaru wrx” (carfolio.com)
Car and Driver – Tested: 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX – Tested: 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX (caranddriver.com)
IWSTI and geezersmk (08/10/2021) – Purchased fake STI from Dealership – Purchased fake STI from Dealership (legal advice) | Page 2 | IW STi Forum
Cicio@TopSpeed (20/07/2011) – New Performance Water Pump Released – New Performance Water Pump Released | IW STi Forum
Reide181 (09/02/2015) – The 08-14 Spot Welds Thread – The 08-14 Spot Welds Thread (How to Check Your Welds) – NASIOC
ChrisTouge (22/01/2016) – Subaru Ringland Failure – Are the forums right? – Subaru Ringland Failure – Are the forums right? – Touge Tuning
Denis Flierl (01/06/2021) – Subaru WRX And STI Engine Failure Lawsuit – A New Ruling Says It’s Not Over Yet – Subaru WRX And STI Engine Failure Lawsuit – A New Ruling Says It’s Not Over Yet | Torque News