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Easy to work on tank-like SUV

I need some advice on picking up a used vehicle.

What I am looking for is something in the 4K-8K (dollar) range. My idea for this vehicle is for it to be as rugged as possible, and easy to work on/acquire parts for. The third requirement is the best gas mileage possible but that is behind the other two requirements.

So, I would like for it to be something that can drive through most road conditions (I would like to be able to use it for trips to Central America, and the roads there are sometimes nonexistent). And the reason for the SUV part is because I want to be able to lock surfboards inside of it. 4 Wheel drive/AWD is probably a requirement since I also have to deal with snow in the Winter’s in NC.

I really like the 90’s Toyota Land Cruisers for this, but they get pretty bad mileage and they hold their value well enough that I’m not sure if that’s an options. I’ve looked some at late 90’s early 2000’s Jeep Cherokee’s, but I’m not sure if they meet the easy to work on/keep running requirement.

I’ve rented cars down in Central America that we don’t have here that seemed to fit those requirements, but all of a sudden I can’t seem to recall a single of their makes/models.

If anyone has any suggestions on what would be a good fit for me it would be much appreciated.


ANY $4-5k range vehicle is going to have problems…You may have to put a lot more money into it if you plan on doing a lot of off-roading…

Before you do any off roading you want the vehicle in good condition…Break-downs in remote area’s are NOT fun.

Snow in NC…you’re kidding right??? What snow?? NC does NOT need 4wd…They don’t get enough snow to even need snow tires on a RWD vehicle.

I have about a year to put work/money into it, so that’s not a huge concern for me.
I don’t plan on doing any sort of serious off-roading, it’s more that I would like to be able to drive it on road conditions that are poor at best.

Not really sure about the NC thing. I’m just moving there for a year or two, and my cousin said that for the last two years in a row he hasn’t been able to get his truck up the driveway because of the snow. I’ve seen pictures, and it looks like a lot of snow to me, but then I’ve never even seen snow in person.

Your best bet is to get a 2wd vehicle and put good snows on them during the winter…4wd is more expensive to start with and more expensive to maintain. Your $4k will go a lot longer buying a 2wd SUV.

And for what you want…I’d consider buying a Honda Pilot or any other fwd SUV. They’ll easily be able to handle any snow conditions in NC.

As for your cousin NOT being able to get in his driveway…I take it he didn’t bother to shovel any snow he got and just tried to plow over the snow at the end of the driveway the plow left…Even when we get only 4" of snow…the plow leaves 2-3 FEET of snow at the end of our driveway…Plus the fact if your cousin is a native of NC…he’s not use to driving in the snow…and when they do get their 2-3 days of snow fall he hasn’t a clue how to drive in it.

Don’t know man…anyway the point is not to discuss how much snow North Carolina does or doesn’t get.

Thanks for your advice, I’ll look into that and I guess you’re probably right in that i don’t really need 4WD, and it’s just one more thing to go wrong.

If you are looking for a vehicle to use in Central America, you need to buy one that is commonly found in that part of the hemisphere. Even if you commonly do your own repair work, parts availability for some vehicles will be very difficult in those banana republics.

That being said, my recollection is that Toyota 4Runners can be found in virtually all undeveloped parts of the world, and in terms of off-road capability, coupled with overall ruggedness and with parts availability, a 4Runner would be my first choice in your circumstances. I also seem to recall that Mitsubishi 4WD vehicles are popular in Central America. Normally, I would not recommend anything made by Mitsubishi, but in your situation, a Mitsu 4WD vehicle may be a good choice.

Yeah…that’s the ones I rented a few times down there, the Mitsubishi deals. They did a pretty good job, although one did overheat on me once.

Why do you generally not recommend those?

Mitsubishi vehicles are in the “second tier” of Japanese products.
Their reliability is definitely not up to the standards of Toyota, Honda, Subaru, and Nissan. While they are not terrible, they are just not as well-built.

Then, to top it off, Mitsubishi has a history of concealing major defects in order to avoid warranty claims. This situation became so bad at one point that the Japanese government (which traditionally looks the other way when it comes to corporate transgressions) instituted an investigation which confirmed that Mitsubishi had screwed thousands of customers out of transmission and engine repairs that should have been covered under warranty.

As a result, for several years, Mitsubishi had a really hard time selling cars in their own home country, and had to do a hard sell of cars in other markets just to stay afloat. One bit of fallout of that misadventure was giving credit to non-credit-worthy people, just so that they could move iron off of their storage lots. Because of that, for a couple of years, Mitsubishis became the ghetto car of choice–until most of them were repossessed, thus creating a glut of them at auctions. That also served to drastically lower the resale value of Mitsus owned by folks who actually had decent credit ratings.

I know a few people who owned one Mitsu, and would never buy one again. One of those folks is my brother. By contrast, he has owned Toyotas, a Subaru, and a couple of Hyundais, and he would not hesitate to buy another vehicle of those brands.

However, if you are looking at an older, used vehicle, initial quality and warranty coverage would not be part of your list of concerns. Instead, in a third-world country, you should be concerned with having a vehicle that mechanics are familiar with, and which has decent parts availability in that part of the word. In Central America, that could well be a Mitsu 4WD.

If you want a good SUV with 4 wheel drive and that is easy to work on… You want an older Suburban. With the 3rd row seats, you can easily fit 8 in it. Plus they are easy to work on and parts are relatively cheap. I happen to have one and love it. I can go just about anywhere. Plus I have a great towing capacity. You just can’t beat them.

An older Suburban might be a great choice in the rural US, but would it be a good choice in a third-world country where one of these vehicles is rarely seen?

And, when traversing very narrow jungle roads, isn’t it possible that the Suburban would be too long and too wide for easy passage on very tight turns?

Yeah I think Suburbans’ might be a bit large for what I am looking for, but thanks for the suggestion.

VDC, that’s a lot of (interesting) information. Thank you. I do think that my first choice is actually the Toyota Land Cruisers, but the cost might be a bit more than what I am looking for. I will keep both of those vehicles in mind and keep an eye on what they are selling for.
Also, in your opinion, how would an older Cherokee compare to that? I’ve never particularly liked Cherokee’s, but I find that there are no shortage of them for sale, although thinking about it I don’t recall seeing a lot of them in Central America.

What about a 4.0L 6cyl Jeep Put a winch on it. Any of there models should work for you. I have a Wangler with over 145,000 on it. go’s any were I want it to. From deep snow to deep mud. There are some mod’s you would want to make to the front axles,shocks. Check with the Jeep site’s for those. I have seen The 4 door wangler for around the 8K range. I would just carry some spare parts like u-joints,fuel pump/filter. Also I would carry some Dike for the radiator. Its made by the Conklin company. you wont find a better product. It will seal leaks and keep them sealed. It’s unlikely that you would need any other parts. With the winch I would upgrade to a higher amp alt. and add a second battery. I also would put in gel-cell type battery’s.

My Jeep is easy to work on. You can drop the gas tank in 20 mins, you change plugs easy also. Gas milage is about 18 on the highway. Off road milage on the roads you will on in any vehicle will 5-15 at best. I do alot of off roading with friends. Break downs are few and far between. What breaks are U-Joints and axles,Trans, and flat tries. We use cheep U-Joints. Why you ask? Because it cheeper than a axle. The best advice I can give about driving off road is leave in 2 wheel drive till stuck then put it 4 wheel drive. Also use the winch when stuck. It beats breaking things.

Oh if you get a Wangler, first thing to do is were the air filter is in the box, There is a tube that go’s thru the core support. Remove it and tape over the hole in the core support. I found out the hard way about this. Went thru some deep water and sucked water in the motor. It bent 2 rods. Also it shows how tuff these motors are. I drove it home (about 1 mile). Pulled the head drop the oil pan. Got 2 new rods and put them in and she runs like new. That was over 20,000 mile’s ago. One more thing I would not try this in a 2 wheel drive vehicle of any kind.

“…Plus the fact if your cousin is a native of NC…he’s not use to driving in the snow…and when they do get their 2-3 days of snow fall he hasn’t a clue how to drive in it.”

Most North Carolinians live in the eastern part of the state, and ou are correct for them. But not so for the west. Here’s what NC State University has to say about it:

“Average winter snowfall over the State ranges from about inch per year on the outer banks and along the lower coast to about 10 inches in the northern Piedmont and 16 inches in the southern Mountains. Some of the higher mountain peaks and upper slopes receive an average of nearly 50 inches a year.”

If the snow is bad and the driveway is steep, I’d guess that Branden7’s cousin lives nearer to Asheville than Durham.

Asheville is right on.

Durham averages less then 10" a year. Sorry that’s not much snow…The get a few days where it might snow 0.5"…and every once in a while they get 2-3"…And maybe once every 50 years they actually get a snow storm of 10" or more.

The mountain (TOPS) may see more the 50"…but NOT in any populated area’s where there are roads.

Not sure how long your boards are, but a used 4cyl, 4wd PU with a lockable cab and longest bed might work.

I’d look for a Toyota 4 Runner. I have an '01 Sequoia that is a great vehicle, but perhaps bigger than you need.

“Durham averages less then 10” a year."

I used Durham as an example for low snowfall.

“The mountain (TOPS) may see more the 50”…but NOT in any populated area’s where there are roads."

That’s essentially what NC State said. But I had no idea where branden7’s cousin lives until he said Asheville. Asheville is in a valley. If you go NE or SW, you are into the mountains, and snow will be considerably more than Asheville’s 16 inches. NC is no Syracuse or Pottstown, but some areas get more snow that you’d think.

NC State is in Raleigh…They average about 10"…Again…insignificant amount of snow.

I know the mountains get some snow…They even have skiing there. But even the mountains region averages less then we do in NH and we don’t need 4wd here…Any decent fwd vehicle is fine in the snow with just all season tires…Wife hasn’t had a problem in snow since she bought her first fwd vehicle back in 87 (Honda Accord)…not once…

Add another vote for a Toyota 4Runner.