What truck/suv should I buy?

So I’m selling my garage queen E39 M5, a decision I have been told many times that I will regret (but it’s too nice to mod and I worry about an expensive repair every time I fire it up), and making room for a “fun” vehicle (or maybe vehicles). One of the directions I’m strongly considering is an off-road rig that I can load the family into and go exploring. What should I get?

I haven’t really been much of an off-road guy and want to make an informed decision on something I might be dumping many thousands of dollars into. I’ve previously owned a ‘98 K1500 (my college bro-truck) and an ‘07 Tahoe (family hauler/tow rig) but never really did any modifications (outside a 3" body lift and wheels/tires on the K1500) or serious off-roading. Not that this new vehicle will do anything “super serious” (I don’t want a rock crawler or fire-breathing hill-climber).


I’m looking to build (or purchase if I can find one done right) an overland rig. Something I can drive a few hundred miles (without wanting to drive it into oncoming traffic after 20 minutes), take off into the wilderness, do some “intermediate” rock crawling (I don’t know what that really means either), then drive home. Hopefully without breaking something. I need to get the family in and out easily, so it should have 4 doors and room for all our crap in the back (so SUV-style).

This will be a 3rd vehicle, and while the M5 sale will leave me with some money in the bank, I don’t want to blow it all on something that will be sitting for most of the year. And while I’m looking for cheap, used vehicles, I want to take total cost of ownership into consideration. So I’m willing to pay a bit more for something I have to mod less, will last longer, has cheaper replacement parts, great aftermarket support, etc, etc. My initial budget (again, with some wiggle room for the right truck) for something un-modified (but I wouldn’t turn away a truck with the right mods done) is around $4000.

I can turn a wrench, so I also want to evaluate how easy it is to work on (both mod and repair). The older models will (hopefully) be simpler to deal with, but I have to balance that against any amenities that would be nice to have.

After I caught up on Roadkill, I got into Dirt Every Day and watched Fred find a few cheap trucks which I hadn’t considered before. Here’s my current list of options. Please feel free to rip it apart, re-educate me, and add to it as you see fit.


Jeep Cherokee XJ


In my limited opinion, probably the king of cheap off-roaders. Cheap, stout engine/transmission, and robust aftermarket support. In SoCal I see a mix of these on Craigslist, ranging from $1500 to $6000 in varying ranges of modification, miles, and condition.

Toyota Land Cruiser (J80)


I hadn’t thought of this one until Fred picked one up for the 2015 Cheap Truck Challenge. A bit bigger and nicer inside than the XJ, but a bit more expensive, and I would guess that aftermarket support is not as good (though I see plenty of lift kits and other parts available). I see these going for $3-8K, mostly unmodified. Toyota trucks have a habit of being extremely well-built, but I don’t know if the J80 has any particular issues I should be wary of. All the fancy bits that increase comfort are also just more things that can break.

Toyota 4Runner (2nd or 3rd gen) 


I have some friends with these and they’ve had some problems, but nothing major. I’m not sure how the V6 compares to the I6 in the Land Cruiser and how the suspension design differs between the two.

I see 2nd gen models starting around $2000, and 3rd gen about $2500. Each then going up around $5-6K for a lower mileage example. The 1st gen models seem to be asking a premium. Are they that good?


Jeep Grand Cherokee (1993-1998)


I put the Grand Cherokee on par with the Land Cruiser, except not as well-built. It will be a nicer place to spend a long trip in compared to the XJ, as long as the interior has held up okay. Aftermarket support seems to be right up close to the XJ.

These next ones I know less and less about but are on my research list.

Nissan Pathfinder (1st or 2nd gen) - Good prices ($1500-$6000), and seems like there are parts available, but I don’t know their reputation. Will I be rebuilding the motor several times?


Nissan Xterra - A bit more expensive than the Pathfinder (mostly due to them being newer). Also a bit smaller than the Pathfinder. Which Nissan is better off-road?

Mistubishi Montero (2nd gen) - These look to have decent approach angles and ground clearance out of the box. The SR package has a locking rear diff. Assuming they have relative poor aftermarket support and I have no idea how stout the components are. I’m also guessing that repairs will be a bit more costly due to the lack of parts.


So what do you think? Where am I wrong? What should I be looking at?

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