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Help an archaeologist pick out a 4x4 suv

Hi there,

I am looking for some advice on picking out an suv for my work in the field. I work in remote, hard to access locations (lots of desert work) with rough roads (think abandoned logging roads and worse) and I need to get a new to me vehicle that is reliable, easy to repair, and doesn’t break the bank. Also, it needs to have enough room to pack gear in the back as well, so something a little bigger than a wrangler would be good. My budget for it is around the 6000 dollar range… is this possible?

It’s possible if you’re lucky as a used xterra, or 4runner should work. Xterra has been around long enough but either will be tough to find used in good shape for that money. Next down might be a Suzuki 4wd Vitara or Grand Vitara which are inexpensive. I would also opt for a used 4 wd Toyota PU which might give you your best choices and parts a plenty. Nissan too. Rangers are weak off road and chevy compacts too unreliable. F 150 in short bed form is another choice though, True off Roader standard form are tough to find and in general, Toyota and Nissan Suv and PUs are among the few that are the most reliable and can do the job. Jeeps are plentiful and perform well but reliability may be suspect off road too. The last thought is to contact an off road club whose members might have one of these vehicles for sale. They are maintained and rebuilt for themselves and even used, may work for you.

You’re asking a lot for $6,000.

Is this vehicle for the US or another country? I ask because of parts availability–if you are working abroad then it might be best to get a vehicle intended for that country with a parts and dealer network to help you. It might be difficult to get US spec. parts in some areas.

That said, used suv’s like the Ford Explorer and Expedition are a dime a dozen. Well-made vehicles that have fallen out of favor due to gas prices more than anything.

For true off-roading, look for a vehicle with part time 4wd and a transfer case with low range gearing and a locking center differential. AWD is intended mostly for on-road use.

$6000 should get you a fine vehicle–just budget $100 for a thorough pre-purchase inspection by an independent, impartial mechanic.

" I am looking for some advice on picking out an suv for my work in the field. I work in remote, hard to access locations (lots of desert work) with rough roads (think abandoned logging roads and worse) . . . My budget for it is around the 6000 dollar range... is this possible? "

It's quite possible that almost any $6,000 SUV will get you out there ! The problem is that most of them won't always bring you back !


I had an older Grand Vitara 5 speed in Costa Rica a couple years ago. It had about 90,000 kms on it at the time. I put that truck through more punishment in a week than I’d seen a car stand in a lifetime. Their “gravel” roads are made of pleistocene era bowling balls; what pavement there is is tamped down by hand; and more than once it was necessary to ford a river. We had water splashing over the hood at one point. The only niggle I noticed was that after a several thousand foot drive up to a volcano, the coolant was boiling… probably just requiring more coolant and less water. It wasn’t quiet and it wasn’t pretty, but that little truck seemed indestructible to me. I’d have one while I wait for my Defender 110 to come in.

Hi all, the vehicle will mainly be used in the western united states as well as Baja California. I was thinking about either an Xterra (has IFS, is this a concern?), Discovery (how expensive are these to fix?), or a Cherokee (should I worry that its a unibody?) I have seen all three going for around 6k locally for around year 2000 models. I don’t really care about status, giant suspension lifts, creature comforts, or towing, I just want something to get me where I need to go safely (as well as back home again). I haven’t seen the Vitara’s yet, I will take a look at them.

Oh yea, and yea they do pay archaeologists, but archaeology grad students are a different matter :-p.

The XTerra will give you the best bang for the buck and you can’t go wrong with one if the car is in good shape to begin with, It does have the innards of a Nissan Patrol which is a respected vehicle throughout the world, Nissan and Toyota parts are as plentiful as ANY off road world wide.
Consider an extended or crew cab Toyota Tacoma which are also durable and cheaper to find then their 4Runner, also a very good but expensive choice. Be prepared to pay for decent off road tires as their durability and traction will have as much to do with getting you back as anything. Don’t cheap out on the tires !

The Discovery will be exceptionally expensive to fix, not just expensive. Jeeps are designed to go off-road. I would not worry about it being unibody. In addition to the Tacoma, consider a Nissan Frontier. My cousin hauls her motorcycles around with it and loves it.

Personally, I would only consider a Toyota 4Runner if the vehicle is to be used outside of the US. Actually, even if it is to be used in the US, I would still recommend a 4Runner.

For $6,000 you need to keep it simple. Chevy Blazer, GMC Jimmy, Ford Explorer.

"For $6,000 you need to keep it simple."

I think a Jeep Cherokee (not Grand Cherokee) would definitely fit the description. The last production year was 2001, and that’s getting a bit old. Maybe a Jeep Wrangler might fit the bill if it isn’t too small.

For $6000 you can find a low mileage 94-96 Ford Bronco. Great off road, plenty of storage space, reliable and cheap and easy to fix.

Check the repair histories in CR on Cherokees, Blazers and Jimmys.