Is It The Right Choice To Buy 4×4?

It’s hard to see footage or photos of upgraded off-road 4x4s tearing across streams or dunes and not see the appeal in owning one of these versatile and enduring machines. 

Unfortunately, diving headfirst into the world of 4x4s and off-roading is a daunting prospect, especially to the uninitiated. 

With so many different styles and models available — both new and used — things can get overwhelming fast. This problem is further exacerbated by the endless number of aftermarket part offerings out there.

So, to help take some of the headaches out of hunting for your first off-roader, we’ve compiled this guide to how to buy your first 4×4. 

In this piece we’ll be exploring the various types of 4x4s, what to look for when shopping, what areas to consider, and where to buy, as well as a few general tips to help ensure you go home with the right side and not a lemon on its last leg.

When setting out to find your next used car, you’ll have a lot to consider, from your budget to the necessary features you need for your daily life. 

However, apart from a navigation system, one of the factors that will strongly influence your driving experience is whether or not you opt for a 4X4 or four-wheel drive. 

Not exclusive to trucks and utes, 4X4s can come in all shapes and sizes and offer a range of capability for handling the most challenging of driving conditions. 

Whether or not you choose to go for a 4X4, make sure you’re making an informed decision with a car history report. 

Inside you’ll find any information you might want to know about your prospective vehicle, from past insurance claims to signs of odometer rollback and outstanding finance.

The Right Tool For The Job 

When in the market for your first 4×4, the most important question to ask yourself is “what is my intended use?” Different 4×4 models each have their strengths and weaknesses that make them more or less ideal to particular areas. 

Figure out if you’re procuring your 4×4 for hardcore off-roading and rock crawling, camping/Overlanding, fire road duties and some light exploring, or whatever else you’ve got planned. Hell, you might just want a daily commuter decked out in rugged off-road style. This question should help you better hone in on the exact make and model that best serves your particular needs. 

This question should also serve to help answer whether or not your intended use of the truck is going to require any aftermarket modifications.

Do Your Homework

If you’re unsure of exactly how you plan on using your 4×4, the good idea is to check and see what your local region has to offer in the way of off-roading. 

If you reside within a 45-minute drive of a sea of dunes, then it might be wise to invest in a desert-ready vehicle, though if you live somewhere nearby ample boulder deposits, a rock crawler might be a good choice. Determine what kind of 4x4ing you’ll be doing and use that as a jumping-off point.

New Or Used

There is a myriad of both positive and negative factors associated with buying new or purchasing a used classic off-road vehicle. 

A new vehicle will offer the latest and greatest in reliability, style, and comfort, though costs considerably more than used options. 

Another perk of shelling out more cash for a new 4×4 is you can build it up exactly as you see fit, adding whatever custom or aftermarket options you want to suit it to your intended use better. 

This not only results in a bespoke 4×4 but also allows you to take part in the build process itself, which is honestly pretty fun.

One massive downside to going the new route is that even the most expensive aftermarket parts add very little value to your car’s overall worth, at least in the eyes of the market. 

And while that’s bad news for new buyers, this gives the less-deep-pocketed a chance to snag a well-failed 4×4 for a fraction of what it originally cost to piece together. 

Don’t get us wrong, you can build your custom 4×4 starting with a used specimen, though it might require some refurbishment here and there before the build can commence.

Of course, buying used comes with its potential pitfalls. Unlike a shiny new $50,000 4×4, used specimens are far more prone to suffering from cosmetic or mechanical problems and will almost always require more maintenance than their newly-bought counterparts. However, if you make sure to pay attention to a few specific areas (that we’ll touch on down the line), you can usually buy used with confidence.

Why Buy A 4×4?

They Are Safe

There’s no disputing that these vehicles are safe. They’re made to be robust, tackle the most demanding environments and survive in the toughest terrains. 4×4 cars such as Nissan’s X-Trail are designed to cope with the aftermath of mudslides, rock falls, flooding and more. 

So a little UK rain and a touch of frost or snow hardly worry them. And for the designers and manufacturers, the survival of the passengers is just as important as survival of the car.

In addition to a plethora of safety features, your average 4×4 delivers a far higher driver ride than most other vehicles. 

This naturally means that as an occupant, you have a much better level of visibility so that you can see more of the road than other drivers. 

Often, this can be like an advanced warning system; giving you a better opportunity to observe the actions of other drivers and the chance to adapt your driving much earlier safely.

4×4 Vehicles Are Practical

Cars like the Hyundai Sante Fe are big with a capital’ HUGE!!’ This means there’s always plenty of space for you and a great big gang of passengers. Many 4x4s have seven seats, so they can easily accommodate large groups. 

There’s no squeezing people in or scrimping on legroom either; the extra space means everyone travels comfortably. So family holidays or long-distance journeys with friends or colleagues are all handled with ease.

What’s more, there’s always a cavern of space in the boot for everyone’s belongings too. Plus enough room to clear your garage or junk room with just one or two trips to the local tip. There’s a reason why those stallholders with the most stock at your weekend car boot sale all drive 4x4s.

They Are Economical

Oh, yes, they are! It’s something of a myth that they are all fuel-guzzling monsters, driven by marauding diesel demons set on destroying the planet. Famous 4x4s, like the iconic Range Rover, can return up to 56mpg. 

That’s even more economical than a popular family estate car. And many smaller 4×4 SUV vehicles use the same economic engines as smaller cars, so if you drive them frugally, they can be just as kind to your pocket.

They Are Environmentally Friendly

No, we haven’t taken leave of our senses. It’s not just fuel economy that compares with so-called ‘greener’ vehicles. 

Emissions aren’t necessarily the 4×4’s Achilles heel any more. Some produce emission levels that are even kinder to the environment than family hatchbacks and thanks to manufacturers like Range Rover (who run CO2 offset schemes) they can be much greener. Now, that’s a surprise, isn’t it?!

4x4s Are Adaptable

We’ve touched on this earlier – vehicles like Jeep’s Renegade and Grand Cherokee are manufactured to handle pretty much whatever is thrown at them. This includes weather conditions, like severe rain, ice, snow and wind. 

Plus, they can cope with whatever the UK’s roads bring their way; from steep hill climbs and winding mountain passes, to pot-hole ridden roads and exposed rural dirt tracks.

Remember, when the going gets tough these vehicles get even tougher, so if you need to venture off-road for work or pleasure, or find yourself parked beside a muddy sports field, you’ll want to be behind the wheel of one of these; it’s what they’re made for!

They Are Versatile

Ah, but, they’re not a city car. Right? WRONG! Your average 4×4 can comfortably handle any kind of road surface and any kind of road. They are precision-engineered machines, so sharp turns and tight spaces are easy to work for a 4×4.

They’re often packed with advanced technology too, which can automatically help with braking if a cyclist or pedestrian gets a little too close. And multiple cameras give you the perfect 360 views; something many so-called city-cars can’t match.

They Are Seriously Strong

One regular criticism of 4×4 drivers is that they use them to pull that other much-maligned road vessel – the caravan. We can’t dispute this. But there’s a good reason so many 4x4s are used for towing; they’re strong! And that means they’re safe.

Towing anything heavy like a caravan, trailer or horsebox is serious business and not just for the driver. If the vehicle loses control for just a second, it can spell disaster for whoever is on the road at the time. So it makes sense to use a car that’s big, powerful and up to the job rather than something smaller.

These 4x4s have major pulling power, with the largest able to tow up to 3,100kg. So if you see one of these big boys, like a Kia Sorento or Volvo’s XC90, connected to a caravan on the motorway or country road, breathe a sigh of relief – everything is under control.

When buying a 4-wheel drive, there are many things you should consider to help you find the one best suited to your needs. We outline the essential things to consider when buying a 4-wheel drive. 

Size

One of the most important factors is the size. Some smaller 4-wheel drives can perform even better than larger ones. Smaller 4-wheel drives have short rear overhangs, steep approach angles and more open space underneath.

Mass

Consider the mass or weight of the 4×4 before you buy it. It is better to go for a lighter car than a heavier one. The reason for this is that the lighter car uses less power and has better traction and flotation. 

Wheelbase

Take a look at the wheelbase. The shorter your wheelbase, the better your performance, balance, clearance and your ability to approach angles. This stability can be easily attained when your wheelbase is between 2,200-2,600 millimetres. 

Is It Modifiable?

Have a look at how easily modifiable a car is. The build of some cars allows them to be modified more easily than others. Some vehicles with too advanced features can pose problems when it comes to modifying. 

There are many things you will want to carry out in a four-wheel drive, including lifting the rig, increasing its traction, changing its tyres and gears, and installing new parts. Look at the products available for your potential mod project from a four-wheel-drive hardware catalogue or spare parts shop. 

Are Spare Parts Easy To Get?

Check on spare part availability and choose a car for which finding spare parts is easy and don’t need to be imported from overseas. If your options are limited, you will be forced to depend on one-off custom auto parts which are costly and are void of engineering and market testing from car experts. 

What’s The Limit That Your Car Can Carry?

Before buying the 4-wheel drive, find out the weight limit of what it can carry. Some people buy cars with low luggage load capability and then overload them. 

This can affect the efficiency and performance of the 4-wheel drive. If you are someone who carries tons of luggage, then get a car with higher traction abilities because driving an overloaded vehicle can cause it to sink on soft ground. 

4-wheel Drive Shocks

Always opt for shocks that can be modified. Know when and when not to use a particular shock so that you don’t damage your car. 

These changes have to be made depending on how fast you are driving. For example, slow and steady rock requires a softer setting and stretch. Plus if your 4-wheel drive is armed with a soft-sprung coiler, a firmer setting can reduce the off-camber sway.  

Sway Bars

Find out about the sway bars and the limitations for your 4-wheel drive, so you know when and where not to let them active. If you dive on sidehills, then you will need the balance of a modifiable anti-sway bar system. 

Engine

Get to know the engine of your four wheels perfectly so you do not do more than what it can handle. Make note that 4-wheel drive engines need clean air filters and active cooling systems. 

Driving In Snow And On Ice

4 x 4 wheel drives are challenging to drive in snow and ice as the traction of the wheel needs greater control. So if the roads you mostly drive on are icy or snowy, then avoid using a 4×4-wheel drive because this can be quite dangerous.

Expenses Related To 4wd

One of the main disadvantages of 4WD is that they are quite expensive when it comes to purchasing price, cost of maintenance, and fuel. 

The additional apparatus (differentials, transfer case, and others) increases the intricacy and adds weight to the vehicle. This expands its initial market value, tyre wear, and the cost of repairs and maintenance. 

The extra power and weight of 4WD systems need more fuel, making them less fuel-effective than their 2WD counterparts. 

Extra weight increases traction and control, but the disadvantage is that it also increases the braking distance required to make a complete stop. Lighter vehicles can avoid collision easier than heavier vehicles. 

Why Choose Four-wheel-drive Over Front-wheel Drive? 

With the majority of cars having their engines in the front, a front-wheel-drive makes a lot of sense, as you don’t lose power having to transfer it to the back wheels (as is the case with a rear-wheel-drive). Front-wheel drives are also known to be lighter and easier to manufacture, which can make them more economical both in terms of price and fuel efficiency. 

“The main disadvantage is that when the vehicle has accelerated the weight of the car shifts to the rear and the front wheels tend to scrabble for grip,” explains The Royal Automobile Club of WA1. 

One of the main benefits of a 4X4 is the added traction gained by power being directed to all four wheels, as well as the visibility gained with an often more elevated driving position.

Do You Need A Four-wheel Drive? 

The key attraction for this type of vehicle is their off-road capability. This is primarily due to the fact that if you should find yourself stuck on the road and you are unsure which wheels need purchase on the ground to get you moving again, a 4X4 can supply power to all four, a trait that also makes these vehicles excellent for towing. 

“It is an admitted fact the large four-wheel drive is not an ideal car for driving a single person around the city,” acknowledges the Australian National Four Wheel Drive Council.

“But most 4X4 owners have other interests apart from getting to and from work during the week. The 4X4 may be an absolute necessity for that person’s recreational pursuits, whether it be towing a caravan, a horse float or a large boat.”

To sum up, if you’re planning on off-roading, and want the stability and ruggedness of a 4X4, go for it. However, if you’re looking for a reliable city run around, perhaps a two-wheel drive will serve you perfectly fine with regards to your driving needs. 

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