Off-road, no SUV

I live in the southwest where there are local dirt roads and mountains. Should I stick with my trusty “04” VW new beetle or get a more “off road” car. I don’t need or want a big SUV because I rarely have passengers. Thanks.

It depends on the conditions of those local dirt roads. Are there lots of pot holes? How fast do you drive on them? How much ground clearance do you think you need?

There are wheel ruts, not potholes. I drive very slowly attempting to avoid loose rocks from kicking up. As far as clearance, I don’t know if a few inches makes a difference. Thanks.

Whitey hits on one of the key points to non-suv driving on, around here, what we call ‘rez roads’…ground clearence.

On most rez roads we’re not dealing with pot holes but ruts and washes. In bad weather the dirt roads become muddy ( you’ll need tires with a better traction tread vs highway tread ). When the mud dries those ruts are now hard as stone and the puddles that were small ponds are now dry dirt crater areas that must be navigated on a daily basis.

Many of my four corners customers, over the course of my thirty years in the business, opt for plain two wheel drive, manual trans, six cylinder pickup trucks. They all seem to need nothing more and are quite satisfied with those.

My roommate has a 99 Mitsubishi Galant that has gotten her hung up more times than we can count. She’ll often borrow the Explorer, even if not needing the 4x4, just for the clearence and gripping tires when visiting family in Window Rock.

I have a 02 Beetle and I would not consider it good for off road. It lacks much ground clearance.

What part of off road do you feel a need for a special car? Ground clearance, traction ???

Suzuki make a something-or-other that’s small with relatively generous ground clearance.

Ground clearance is the issue. I’m afraid that the rocks will punch a hole in the underside of my car. Should I worry or just go slowly? I’m in New Mexico so “rez roads” are the issue.
Thanks everyone for your comments.

I’d look at one of the newer “crossover” vehicles – just about every company makes one these days. Aside from traction, I’d also consider ground clearance, skid plates, tire size and heavy duty suspension as part of the decision.


It sounds like you could use with a larger car, or at least one with a little more ground clearance. Do you ever drive through the snow on these roads?

I think you should look at car-based SUVs. Unfortunately, they are getting harder to find these days. The Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V were good choices, but they have been redesigned and are now larger crossover vehicles.

It is called the SX4.

The new Subaru Outback is another good one to check out, decent ground clearance, lots of room inside.

Not to be a smart alec, but were you planning on driving these dirt roads and into these mountains? I mean, if you’re going to be moving out to the middle of nowhere where you are going to have to drive these sorts of roads on a semi-regular and/or involuntary basis, you probably should get something beefier.

However, if you’re living in a city and your interest in the mountains is purely recreational, you should be fine with what you’ve got. Most places, the roads to the major trailheads and recreational areas are going to be at least passable to a regular 2wd car most of the year. I would just stick with what you’ve got for now and if you feel like there’s places you want to go that your car isn’t getting to, consider something more off-road capable.

Also, if you really want to get back there, you could consider trying to buy a cheap 4wd truck that you can use as a dedicated fun vehicle.

Have you considered modifying your Beetle to be more suitable for dirt roads? I think it would be a fun project to add beefier shocks, off-road tires, maybe lift it a bit, add some plates underneath. I’ve seen plenty of old Beetles converted to off-road use and Oliver Reyna had a fair amount of success using a new Beetle as a rally car. I don’t know if the new Beetles are as versatile and easy to work on as the old ones. My cousin Syd owns a new one and she raves about it. I’ve ridden in it and it seems like a great car. Tt would be a shame to swap it for something else, especially if you like yours so much.

Here’s a VW Rally Car. Perhaps that would work, eh?

I’ll echo the 4wd small truck idea. Without knowing your budget, a Ford Ranger would most likely fit the bill. If you get the 4cyl, get the stick shift, otherwise, go with the v6 auto.
What do most of the people in your area drive? If they’ve lived there for a longer time than you, they probably drive what they do out of necessity more than anything.

Lets pretend for a second that you were entering the Baja 1000. Correct me if you would (and I know you will guys) but 4 wd is not a necessity, though a good long travel suspension system, excellent ground clearance and larger, higher profile tires would be the order of the day. Without taking it to an extreme, could your suspension system be modified slightly and larger tires added to your VW ?
Forgot to mention that FWD is a no no for the Baja and probably problematic for your conversion. Get an original rwd VW and have at it. Though you don’t need AWD, many of them come with the larger tires, higher clearance and longer suspension travel.
A second vote for Whitey’s RAV4/CRV suggestions unless a 2wd truck is also in the running. If we could spend your money, Toyota makes an 2wd truck with an off road package that would do the trick…

Can you still get a" Desert Runner"? It was basically a small truck,with LSD and a good engine and the clearence and skid plates of 4wd-without the complexity and weight and maintenece issues of pure 4WD and better gas mileage to boot-Kevin

As long as you aren’t driving on sand you’ll be fine. If you’re driving over rocks smaller than about a foot across, well…jagged rocks will tear up your tires, but you can generally stop and pile the rocks to form a path for your wheels.

I used to drive down washes with my Honda Accord…until I drove down the WRONG wash, where the sand was much finer than I was used to. I could go back into the grittier ones if I wanted, but I’ve been scared straight.

As far as mountain paths, most of those tend to be hard-packed dirt and broken rocks. Those, you can do, no problem, at least when it’s dry.

The southwest is pretty friendly to unconventional off-roading…it’s just the finer sands you have to worry about.

Drive outside the ruts, if they’re more than a few inches deep. A FWD car can take terrain most people wouldn’t believe…it’s all about choosing the right path.

Yes, the Toyota Tacoma Prerunner. It has the bigger tires and suspension of the 4x4 Tacoma, but without the 4 wheel drive. That might be a good solution here.