Let’s Talk About The ‘Subaru Tax’ Of The Pacific Northwest

Need an Outback for Portland winters? Look in Dallas or something.

byEmmet White|
Culture photo

What makes a Subaru a Subaru depends on who’s driving. Subaru mentalities range from anchoring in the twins’ car seats for a run to Trader Joe’s to spraying fans with gravel at the World Rallycross Championships.  

And no region better suits a Subaru than the Pacific Northwest. Subarus are synonymous with cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, where child pickup and fire trail maneuvering happen mere hours apart. Decades of the Pacific Northwest popularity and generations of Subaru loyal families comes at a cost, however.  

Before I get to the enthusiast pick, respects must be paid to the quintessential car of my youth: the skateboarder special. The car that mom lent you for your 50-mile drive to Salem, just in case the ‘87 Accord wouldn’t make it. The slightly lifted, third-generation Subaru Legacy Outback is a car I have fond memories of and is also the pinnacle of L.L. Bean collaboration. But if you’re looking to go West, go East first.

Because of what I call the PNW Subaru tax, a 133,000-mile, 2006 example with a manual transmission goes for nearly $6,000 in Portland. For comparison, a down-to-the-paint identical example, with slightly fewer miles, goes for $4,200 in Stamford, Connecticut. Those looking to evade the tax should look east from Texas and beyond, with an  L.L. Bean collaboration H6 modelwith 170,000 miles going for $5,000 outside of Houston. Even granted the inconsistencies in Craigslist posting styles, which is half the fun of classified searching, the Pacific Northwest premium is clear. 

The relative value held by model Subarus, especially the WRX and WRX STI, precludes them from this comparison. The true test of tax, however, is in the early generations of WRX that hit the U.S. Finding a WRX that retains even a faint memory of being stock is impossible, but in Brooklyn that magic exists for the price of $7,200, a clean title, and 150,000 miles. 

In Houston, a “blob eye” WRX with a full engine rebuild (hopefully for the better), an extensive catalog of aftermarket modifications, and a teenager’s dream sound system goes for $7,000. This wing touting abomination, with no power steering and 165,000 miles on “the body”, comes in at $10,000 outside of Portland. In the name of fairness, I found another PDX listed WRX, this time with tan seats and a salvage title for $8,600

As an honorable mention, and a personal aside, this 2006 Baja Turbo in Queens fulfills all of my useless pickup truck dreams and at a decent price for such a unicorn. 

The ubiquity of Subarus in the Pacific Northwest, in theory, would lend itself to a more saturated, and therefore cheaper, market. However, Subarus are advertised and used as family cars, often by families who meticulously maintain their vehicles and pass it down through the generations. To the East Coast, a Subaru is just a good snow car, as it as a capable sand crawler in the South. Rather than being priced by their mileage or capabilities, Pacific Northwest Subaru prices rest on their heritage. 

What’s your experience with the PNW Subaru Tax?