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Used 4WD Buyer’s Guide

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Off-roading and overlanding can really rack up the expenses. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to trim costs and still enjoy yourself…

One of the most significant cost-saving measures you can undertake is buying a used 4WD vehicle. Whether it’s a Jeep or Land Rover, a Subaru or a Landcruiser, there are many different used 4WD options on the market. You just need to know what to look for and what questions to ask to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

This used 4WD buyer’s guide will give you a few tips for finding the right used rig for your budget.

Used 4WD Buyer’s Guide: Do Your Due Diligence

man doing research to by a used 4WD

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I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t wake up one morning, decide you want a used 4WD, and buy the first one you see on Craigslist…

Instead, getting a solid used 4WD will require that you spend a decent amount of time conducting research.

First, you need to figure out what kind of 4WD fits your needs. Do you want a 4WD for overlanding or rock crawling? Do you want to car camp or tow a trailer? How much ground clearance do you need? What kind of storage space is ideal? These are just a few considerations to make.

4WD Driving in the desert

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Once you have a select few 4WD vehicles on your radar, the next step is to investigate common problems with each rig. This is done quickly and easily by Googling the make, model, and year of the vehicle followed by “problems.” You’ll find a wealth of information about potential issues to look for. Not only is this helpful for determining which vehicle might offer you the most long-term durability, but it will also inform you as to issues you need to look for when inspecting potential 4WD vehicles to buy.

Lastly, no used 4WD buyer’s guide is complete without this simple advice: shop around. If you have your sights set on a 2000s Jeep Wrangler Sport, search around to see what’s available. There are scads of websites specifically for car shopping (like Car Gurus) in addition to sites like Craigslist and eBay, as well as local dealerships. Don’t be afraid to search outside your area, either. The perfect used 4WD could be waiting for you a couple of hours down the highway!

Also check sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides to give you an idea of what a good price is for the vehicle you like.

Inspect the Vehicle Inside and Out

Inspect the drive train when buying a used 4WD

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When you think you’ve found the used 4WD for you, schedule a meetup with the owner so you can inspect the vehicle inside and out. This is where your research into common problems for this vehicle will come in handy!

The first and easiest thing to look for is visible damage. Check the paint, the body, bumpers, and other exterior components. If you find damage, ask the owner what the story is behind the damage.

Pop the hood, too. You want to see a clean engine bay; if not, it might indicate that the owner is neglecting critical maintenance on the vehicle. At the same time, if only a certain part of the engine bay is clean, it tells you that something was recently worked on – and you’ll want to know what work that was.

person inspecting engine on an used 4WD

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Also have a look underneath for damage, rust, and leaks. You don’t have to be a mechanic to understand that something doesn’t look right. Of course, if you have concerns with anything on the vehicle, ask to have it inspected by a professional.

Kick the tires while you’re at it. Check for wear, like uneven wear patterns that indicate the tires have not been balanced properly. Not only does this mean you’ll need to replace the tires, but it also means having other work done like an alignment. These expenses should be factored into your offer for a vehicle.

On the interior of the vehicle, poke around and look for damage like torn seats, deteriorating door seals, chips in the windshield, and if the heat and air conditioning work (among many other things). Again, you want to see a clean space. Obviously as a used vehicle you can’t expect it to be perfect, but it also shouldn’t be trashed!

Learn More:

Used 4WD Buyer’s Guide: Ask to See Maintenance Records

person holding a clipboard inspecting an engine

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A good way to get a feel for the condition of the vehicle (and the owner’s commitment to maintaining it) is to ask to see maintenance records.

If the owner doesn’t have every receipt for every single thing that’s been done to the car, that’s okay. But be leery of someone that can’t give you any records of the vehicle maintenance.

Furthermore, if the vehicle has modifications – an aftermarket exhaust, a lift kit, wheels and tires, and so forth – ask if there are receipts for these mods. While some folks certainly have the skill to make these modifications themselves, it will be more comforting for you if they can produce receipts from a shop that’s done the work professionally.

Asking for maintenance records also gives you a timeline of when things have been done to the vehicle. So, if you’re after a Subaru, and the owner has paperwork showing that the water pump was replaced 500 miles ago, you know that you won’t have to foot the bill for that very common piece of maintenance any time soon.

Take It for a Test Drive

SUV driving in the rain on a mountain road

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A test drive will tell you a lot about a vehicle. You’ll learn if it starts up just fine or struggles. You will experience any steering or braking issues. You’ll get a feel for the ride of the vehicle and how the suspension is performing as well. These are just a few important details that a test drive will present to you.

Of course, many of us (myself included) find vehicles out of town or out of state, so test driving them (or inspecting them, as suggested earlier) is impossible to do on your own. This is when it is critically important to have an independent inspection done. Local mechanics offer this service for a relatively low price, and it’s money well spent to get a thorough report on a vehicle that you can’t see and touch yourself.

Used 4WD Buyer’s Guide: Negotiate the Price

used 4x4s on a lot

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The vast majority of vehicles for sale are not listed at the owner’s lowest acceptable price. This means that if you want to get the best deal, you need to be willing to negotiate.

Negotiating the price can be a little tricky. You don’t want to lowball the owner, thereby risking offending them, but you also don’t want to offer too high a price and miss out on the opportunity to get the vehicle for the best price.

So, a good option is to offer a respectable amount, say, $1,000 less than the owner is asking. Ideally, they will meet you in the middle and knock $500 of the price.

This is just a random example, of course. If the vehicle is listed for $5,000, offering $4,000 might be too low. Then again, if it’s a used $40,000 rig, offering $39,000 might be too high for your first offer. Just judge the situation to the best of your abilities, rely on your research, and make an offer the owner can’t refuse!

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