How To Buy A Used 4X4

When you’re in the market for a new toy to hit the mud with, you’re likely to consider buying used. However, this brings to the table a long list of considerations and questions for the seller, that you only hope he answers honestly. Let’s face it – you know that if you’re going to buy a used vehicle to take off-road, chances are that vehicle has already been off-road in the past. What kind of trouble has the vehicle run into that could spell problems down the road for you?

You know you can’t afford a shiny, new 4X4 – not only is the sticker price way out of your price range, insuring that truck is equally expensive. So how can you lower the risk associated with buying a used 4-wheel drive vehicle? Do you purchase a model all tricked out with aftermarket parts, or try to get a bare-bones model, as close to factory as possible? Here’s a handy guide to buying used.

The Hunt

Before you begin looking, you need to determine what’s important to you. After all, we all know there are numerous makes and models, all offering different load designations and bells and whistles. Do you want a small pickup, or an all-out extended cab full-size? Will you be towing four-wheelers and snowmobiles, or just hitting the trails with your truck? Are you only looking for Jeeps? Which aftermarket parts do you want to come with it, or will you buy your own used truck parts after its purchase?

Really get into detail here – if leather seats are important (much easier to wipe any errant mud spatter off of than cloth), it needs to be on the list. In this way, you are only considering those 4X4s that give you what you’re looking for, weeding out the models that simply won’t work for you, while sticking to your predetermined budget.

Fine-tooth Comb

Once you’ve found potential candidates, it’s time to do a thorough inspection. And it isn’t really outward appearance that matters. Sure, it might have a dent in the passenger side door, but does that affect how it’s going to handle the trails? Not at all – in fact, if you’re looking to take it off-roading, you know that dents and scratches are part of the territory!

You want to start with the frame, looking for signs of rust and corrosion. This vehicle needs to handle the bumps and rocks you’ll encounter on the trails, and a frame in poor condition just won’t do that. If you have it in your budget, you can overlook rusted out body panels – just buy some new panels and call it good – but the frame is irreplaceable.

Ask about any body parts that look like they were replaced, like doors and hoods, or a fresh coat of paint in different areas. Was the vehicle in an accident?


It should be noted you should never look at a vehicle on a rainy day. How are you to determine if there are any leaks? Be sure you’re getting underneath and inspecting for signs of any leaks in the transmission, brakes, engine, or cooling system.

Check out the parts underneath, whether used truck parts or factory original, for signs of damage. Don’t forget the wires and hoses, and thoroughly inspect the suspension, exhaust system, and things like the U-joints and shafts. Chances are if the vehicle is dirty under there, it’s hiding some kind of corrosion or issue.

The Engine

This is another area that is important, but of course any problems can be solved with aftermarket parts. If you notice something that you could easily buy used truck parts for, this will allow you to negotiate to lower that final price tag. Inspect the engine compartment carefully. Those who take pride in their vehicles – those who really take care of their babies – will offer up a clean engine. If it’s covered in filth, it might not have been cared for properly.

Is the engine warm when you open the hood? That’s an indication the seller is trying to pull one over on you – it likely has a problem with cold starts! After you start it up yourself, watch the exhaust. White smoke indicates coolant getting into the cylinders, blue smoke is burning oil, and black smoke indicates an issue within the fuel system.

A peek at the spark plugs gives you insight as to the overall health of the engine. If they’re clean-looking and dry, you have a good engine. If it’s dirty, oily, or shiny, there is some sort of fixable issue. If you see any bits of aluminum or other type of metal, this indicates knock, and you should probably walk away.

Don’t be afraid to bring along your trusted mechanic if you don’t know a lot about engines. If a seller has an issue with a mechanic taking a peek under the hood, you’ll probably want to walk away right then and there.

The Test Drive

When you take it for that drive, try to put it through the paces as if you are taking it out on the trail. Be sure the transmission engages properly, listen carefully for any noises (that means turn off the radio and listen with both the windows up and then down), take note of how the suspension system responds on bumpy terrain, and be sure to test the 4WD.

Be sure you let it idle as well, allowing you to see if it will overheat, sputter, or just act funky in general. It also allows you to check the transmission fluid and oil after it’s run.

You can buy used with confidence, if you know what you’re looking for!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *