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What off-road vehicle to get for 16 yrs old?

Our daughter needs a car that can safely go over a mile or so of rough dirt road downhill with pretty major ruts, including crossing a stream - then 9 miles of road to school. I use a Landcruiser which is perfect but want something less gas guzzling: is a Subaru Forester or Outback tall enough? A pick-up truck? As a reference a 4Runner makes it but with difficulty in slippery road conditions (although we are in SoCal, not too much rain :). For 10K or less?

A 4wd 4Runner is much more capable than any Subaru in the conditions you describe, so if it has problems, Subarus are not an option. I don’t understand how ‘slippery conditions’ enter in, that can be addressed with the proper tires. A properly-equipped v6 4Runner should be able to handle it.

To be more precise, my husband’s old 2WD 4Runner had trouble when it rains (actually broke an axle over too deep a rut), but his new V6 4WD does fine. Maybe the solution is to take the detour via the paved road (which adds a good 20 minutes to the commute) for the two or three weeks when it rains… Do you think a Subaru would do OK in dry conditions?

Well, it comes down to ground clearance, and if a 2wd 4Runner broke an axle over a deep rut, I’d worry about a Subaru.

Any thought about an FJ? Or a truck? Really not sure what to buy that would be more economical than a Landcruiser (but cheaper than a 4Runner…)

FJs have terrible visibility, and they’re no better than a 4Runner, on which they’re based. A Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier 4wd pickup would be fine. Again, the Tacoma pickup’s pretty much the same chassis as the 4Runner, but it should cost less.

Thanks - I guess it will have to be a pick-up then - I was trying to see if we could get something with better gas mileage, but I guess not. Of course there are no hybrids that could take the road conditions, right?

Yes, no hybrids. Toyota does make the Tacoma 4x4 with a 4cylinder, but I don’t know how easy those are to find. Worth a check, though.

Just checked out their site, 4 is only available with a manual transmission, so it looks like a v6 if you want an automatic.

Thanks, this has been very helpful, thanks for taking the time to share your expertise!

Forget that auto/4cyl- that’s for a 4x2. So, anyway, good luck!

I had an 03 Ranger 2wd, if you need 4wd, it is an option, but with a 4 cyl whatever? engine got 23/29 mpg. as a thought. I even towed our speedboat with it and I think the clearance was good.

The first five years we lived where we do now, the spring closed our road down so that neighbors bulldozer was often stuck. My Toyota 4wd trucks were fine. Friends with GM and Fords especially Rangers, really struggled as they had inadequate skid plates and suspension to handle the rough going. A used Tacoma 4cyl 4wd would be my first recommendation or a previous generation 4Runner or Nissan Pathfinder. All 4Runners except 2010 used Tacoma chassis, so they should be fine in 4wd.

Foresters and Outbacks like many car based SUVs without solid axles do not have “real” ground clearance, regardless of what they advertise. Only solid axles or off road prepared independents, keep their clearance under load. Normal independently sprung cars loose theirs as soon as you climb aboard.

Jeep Cherokees, Wranglers and previous generation Suzuki/Trackers are cheap, great off road but like many great off roaders, skiddish on highway. My daughter as a teen handled our Toyota trucks fine, though they must be respected more for being higher profile on the open road.
Think Tacoma (perhaps Nissan Frontier)…best off road bang for the buck. They can be had easily and cheaper in the spring after winter when everyone is tired of their rough ride. Teens get used to it.

BTW…there are NO off road vehicles that don’t compromise on fuel economy over their on road counterparts.

A 4x4 Ford Ranger will most likely get you the newest vehicle for the cheapest price. Don’t forget to put weight over the rear axle for winter time driving. And the one thing that all 16 year olds need; [i]Practice, practice practice[/i]

Honestly, with all the gas you’re burning driving nothing but off-roaders and the much accellerated wear-and-tear that will be caused by driving on this chunk of road every day(especially crossing a stream!), I think your best bet is to do the detour most days, especially if it’s wet.

As an aside, is this a private road or what? It doesn’t sound like it’s really set up to get as much traffic as your family alone is putting on it. Can it be improved at all? Even just some relatively minor improvements in drainage and some gravel here and there can make a jeep track someone cut out of the woods into a decently servicable road.

Also, another thought. What about having a beater 4x4 that you park at the end of the rough road and then getting something safer and more fuel efficient that stays parked down there?

EDIT: To throw in a vehicle recommendation, what about an old Subaru Justy? It’s maybe not what I’d want any 16-year old of mine driving, but it they are, perhaps along with an old Baja Bug, the most off-road capable compact cars. You can even buy lift kits for them. If you’re really serious about having something that gets mileage that’s respectable even for a car, but is still offroad capable, that’s just about it.

The Jeep Wrangler would work, perhaps an older Honda CVR with well positioned skid plates. The Subaru’s won’t have the clearance and something will scrape and get torn up on a Subaru.

If a 4Runner has trouble, then a Subaru won’t work. Why not just take the detour?

A 4WD Toyota Tacoma has 11" of ground clearance. Nothing in the compact class comes within 1.5", and most are 3" less. Nothing will get decent gas mileage because of the weight of the vehicle. The Tacoma has a 4-cyl and still averages 17 MPG.

Maybe it would be cheaper just to fix up your driveway…

How about a Jeep Cherokee, not the Grand Cherokee.

How did your daughter get to school when she was 15?? Won’t that still work?