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Off-Road Vehicle Buyer’s Guide

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If you want to get into off-roading, you’ll need the appropriate vehicle. The question is, what vehicle might that be for you?

That’s where this off-road vehicle buyer’s guide comes in…

The type of vehicle you buy should be tailored to the type of off-roading you will want to do. If you want to take periodic jaunts on dirt roads in the country, you’ll need something much different than if you want to go rock crawling every weekend.

With that in mind, here’s a few tips to help guide you in the direction of a vehicle that might work best for your situation.

Off-Road Vehicle Buyer’s Guide: Light Off-Roading

SUV off-roading in the mountains

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Let’s say that you want the ability to get off-road, but that you aren’t interested in doing anything hardcore. Perhaps dirt roads are really all you’re comfortable with. In that case, you don’t need a lifted Jeep with lockers. A basic SUV or crossover with AWD will likely do the job just fine.

Since some dirt roads can get a little rough, having AWD is essential for ensuring you have the power where you need it to navigate messy spots, like mud. Additionally, you’ll want a vehicle with a little more ground clearance to ensure you have the ability to get over rocks that might protrude from rougher dirt roads.

Most SUVs and crossovers fit the bill here. Something like the Hyundai Santa Cruz, for example, offers the light-duty off-roading capabilities that are needed for this kind of off-roading. This is just one example, though. Virtually any small SUV, from the Ford Escape to the Chevy Equinox to the Subaru Outback will do the trick.

Overlanding Vehicle Options

4x4 in the desert

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Overlanding is much more involved than occasional trips on dirt roads or Forest Service roads. Instead, overlanding is all about the journey – spending time on the road enjoying the surroundings and being less concerned with making good time or even what the final destination is.

Since overlanding involves being gone for days, weeks, or even months at a time, having a vehicle with ample interior space is paramount. While it might be possible to overland in one of the vehicles I mentioned earlier, most overlanders opt for something a little bigger to capitalize on increased interior space. Think of the Toyota Landcruisers and 4Runners of the world…

It isn’t just interior space you’ll need, either.

4x4 on a dirt road

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While overlanding is not typically hard-core off-roading, you might find an occasion when you’re faced with a difficult stretch of road, tough weather conditions, or the need to cross deep water. In those situations, having a beefier 4×4 is a distinct advantage, as is having the following features:

  • 4×4 transfer case with low range
  • Locking differentials
  • Increased ground clearance
  • Good payload capacity (for all the gear you’ll need)
  • Good towing capacity (in the event you have a trailer)
  • Easily accessible parts (for repairs in far-flung places)

SUV in the woods

Photo by a_Taiga via iStock

Many overlanders also prefer vehicles with solid front and rear axles because of their strength and ease of maintenance. However, vehicles with solid axles are a bit rougher of a ride, so that’s something to consider.

At the end of the day, there are all kinds of vehicles to consider for overlanding, from SUVs like the Toyota Landcruiser to trucks like the Toyota Tacoma to full-size vans like the Ford Econoline. Ultimately, the size and type of vehicle you get will need to be a good fit for your specific needs, so there is no wrong answer here!

Off-Road Vehicle Buyer’s Guide: Serious Off-Roading

4x4 rock crawling

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If your goal is to head out on rough trails then you’ll need something a little more bulletproof than your standard SUV…

Hitting the likes of the Rubicon Trail necessitates a vehicle with certain features. Having a 4×4 is an obvious necessity, as is having low-range 4WD and locking differentials. You also want a vehicle that has proper ground clearance, but more importantly, good approach and departure angles and breakover angle, so you can get up and over large obstacles. This is why many off-roaders prefer Jeep Wranglers – they have superb approach and departure angles.

4x4 driving through the water

Photo by christys66 via iStock

Having an off-roader that can be heavily modified is another feature you want to look for. The ability to lift the vehicle, swap out suspension components, and add goodies like winches and armored bumpers is a definite bonus if you’re going to be doing serious off-roading.

Again, the specific specs and features you’ll need for serious off-roading depends on where you’re going, what you’re doing, how many people you need to carry, and so forth. Additional research is encouraged so you can identify the specific features you need and want and get a vehicle that does what you need it to do off-road.

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