Advice on buying a cheap, used, 4WD truck?
June 7, 2019 11:10 AM   Subscribe

After drama with not one! but two! beater Jeep Grand Cherokees (Straight 6, both of 'em, so at least I've got that going for me? Ugh.), I'm finding myself in need of a super-duper reliable, light-duty 4WD truck for both daily driving and farm work. For cheap. What's best?

Apologies in advance for the length, but this is clearly taking up more of my brain-space than necessary! I've really been through the wringer, vehicle-wise, and am pretty nervous to end up in a bad spot.

So, my particulars:

+ I have about an hour commute 2 - 3 times a week, both ways, so needs to be reliable

+ I need 4WD, for both the weather in my area (Hudson Valley) and driving in mushy fields

+ Light-duty preferred, and I don't need a long bed, as I have access to the bigger farm-owned truck for hauling/towing heavier stuff. I'd be mainly using it for, like, taking tubs of feed out to the chickens, throwing old fence beams into it, or bringing furniture home

+ I'm not terribly interested in financing. I'd be fine with a small payment, but my credit ain't great (it's in the Fair range), and the APR would be something like 14%, I think? No, thank you. I'll just keep saving up, doing my research, and crossing my fingers that the ol' Heep doesn't crap out before I can get money together. However I've luckily never had a car payment, so if it does make sense to finance, with my credit, I'd also appreciate advice about that

+ I should soon (hopefully, if all goes well) be able afford $10,000, cash—or maybe $15,000, if said Heep can stick it out that long. That puts me mainly in the Buy-Here-Pay-Here territory, which freaks me out, as the last "dealership" that sold me one of the Jeeps really did me a dirty—they cleared the codes it was throwing and turned off the check engine light. Got it home, checked it for codes again, and boom. Catalytic converter, among other things. (Even the mechanic I took it to for a PPI missed it! Or they were in cahoots with the dealership?)

+ I'm open to another SUV, as the JGCs were okay size-wise, but I could do a lot more with a small-ish truck

Obviously, my dream would be a Tacoma. But $10k gets me an old one, albeit with fairly low miles for a Toyata, like this or this. Is buying a truck that old a stupid idea, even if it has low miles and is a Toyota?

Other than Tacomas, I really don't have an opinion on other options. GMCs have a solid following with the farm/construction folk in my area, but I dunno!

Thanks for the help.
posted by functionequalsform to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tacomas are great, but everybody knows it, and so used ones are priced a little higher than they probably should be.

If I were in your place, I'd look for a Nissan Frontier or a Mazda B-Series/Ford Ranger from a private-party seller (when it comes to buying used cars, not having to hurry is a great advantage), and budget money to check Carfax and have a mechanic check out potential purchases. I'd be looking for a truck on its no-more-than-third owner, with a thorough maintenance history, no deferred maintenance from the seller, and without signs of significant towing or off-road use (noting that an FX4/TRD/Z71/Pro-4X/etc. off-road performance package is not in and of itself a sign of off-road use).

In my experience, compact GM trucks do not live up to the standard set by their larger siblings.
posted by box at 11:22 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]

I'd second a Nissan Frontier, they run a lot cheaper than the Tacomas. I have a 2006 and it's been very reliable and would easily fulfill the duties you list. You might be able to get a lot newer/lower miles than you think.
posted by split atom at 11:25 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]

Thank you! And to be clear, I do have time... but I also kind of don't? I have no idea if/when the Jeep I can legally drive (passed emissions inspection) will die. And the one that runs nicely won't pass emissions, and I really don't think I should dump the mechanic-quoted $2500 into it at this point, to get it passable. So yeah - I have time until I suddenly... don't. Thanks again.
posted by functionequalsform at 11:32 AM on June 7

As the owner of now two roughly two decade old Ford Rangers: Prefer manual transmissions. They're cheaper to replace, cheaper to fix, and last longer.
posted by straw at 1:28 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]

I think for 10k+ you can get a decent 4wd Taco in a private party sale if you’re patient and know what to look for. That said, the T100 and early Tundra are also great trucks. In your area they may all be harder to find in non-rusty condition. The Frontier is also underrated if a bit less regarded as reliable as mileage increases.

I also wouldn’t consider a 00s Toyota old, but I own an 84 Land Cruiser with 250k on it.
posted by a halcyon day at 7:47 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]

You should keep an eye out for 4Runners and Xterras (the Toyota and Nissan SUV versions, respectively), which share a lot of parts/design with the pickup versions, but sometimes don't carry the price of the pickup.

You probably know this and have already considered/rejected it, but generally it is cheaper to keep an existing vehicle running than it is to buy a new one. (You are in the salt belt, which can change that calculation -- once a vehicle crosses a certain rust level, it probably isn't worth repairing further.) So if one or both of your existing vehicles can be kept going, you might come out ahead versus buying another used vehicle with its own set of unknown problems.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:45 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]

I've driven several 10-20 year old Toyota trucks (but Hilux in Australia, we don't get the Tacoma and vice versa), and smaller Toyotas and they are super reliable if you keep them serviced. They might be more expensive upfront, but in my (Australian, so possibly different) experience they are reliable and hold their value if they're well maintained and I'd buy them over most others in that size bracket.
posted by cholly at 4:02 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]

I have a 2008 Ford Ranger, not 4WD, but manual. It is very reliable and sturdy, has needed only oil changes and tires in the 5 years I've had it.
posted by theora55 at 4:40 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

I owned a 2006 4x4 Ford Ranger manual (actually a Ford Courier here). It was my favourite car ever (apart from a '72 XA Falcon). Mine came with a traydeck and the reverse opening rear doors which was nice and useful. Pretty good traction anywhere. 4wd was via a lever. It was not very efficient tho' maybe 9km\litre

And there was lot's of legroom - I'm 6'3" and could really stretch out - plenty of room.
posted by unearthed at 9:33 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]

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