Should I Buy A 4×4?

Thinking of buying a new 4×4 but don’t know where to start? Thankfully it’s not all that difficult. Following a few simple guidelines will help you decide.

First up, your budget is important and a good starting point. Be aware when you’re looking at prices that there’s a big difference between the list price of a new vehicle and the drive-away price. 

The drive-away price includes all the extras like stamp duty, registration, third-party injury insurance and any dealer charges. By law, dealers are now obliged to quote a full drive-away, no-more-to-pay price.

Keep in mind that you may also need extra money for general accessories such as a towbar, or 4×4 accessories such as a frontal-protection bar, long-range fuel tank or more durable tyres.

Insurance is also a significant extra cost that must be factored into your expenses when buying a vehicle, so don’t blow all your budget on just buying the vehicle.  

When it comes to buying a 4WD, there are more brands and models than you can poke a stick at, and frankly, it can be very difficult to work out what you should be buying.

The best advice I can give you is to purchase a 4WD that is going to fulfil as many of your requirements as possible. 

This means that you need to understand what you want from the future 4WD, and then find something that ticks the most boxes. 

Out of the factory (or even second hand), the vehicle may not do everything you want it to. However, there are plenty of modifications that can be done to make the vehicle that much better.

For some reason, there is an expectation that you buy and build a 4WD that is functional for a wide range of people, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is your 4WD, and it should do what you need it to. 

What 4WD should I buy? comes down to your requirements, which are different from your neighbours, best friends and family.

So you’re considering buying a 4×4 vehicle. Many drivers never drive these or only occasionally drive off-road. 

However, a 4×4 isn’t just for off-road driving. It’s great for street driving too. Not only you get better acceleration and traction, but you also get more safety, especially if you decide for a vehicle featuring all-wheel drive which, like its name suggests, uses all four wheels all the time. But before you head to your car dealer, there are a few things you should consider.

Do You Need A 4×4 Vehicle?

If you need a car to commute to work, a two-wheel-drive car will work just fine for you. Now, if you want it, you should probably get it. But unless you are worried about getting around in the snow, live on a farm or need to cross rough terrain, you don’t need a 4×4 vehicle.

Are You Prepared To Pay The Price?

If you need a 4×4 vehicle, you don’t have much choice than to buy one. But if you don’t really need it but want it anyway, ask yourself if you’re prepared to pay the price. 

It is possible to find very affordable four-wheel-drive vehicles. Still, generally, they are more expensive than a similar class two-wheel variants especially if they have extras such as leather or a private or personalised plate. 

Also, 4×4 cars usually require more maintenance, burn more fuel, are costlier to repair, need more frequent oil changes and are more expensive to insure.

The Environmental Factor.

If you’re watching your carbon footprint (and you should!), then 4×4 cars probably aren’t the best choice for you. 

Since they consume more fuel than 2×4 vehicles, the majority four-wheelers on the market are types of diesel which means that they aren’t particularly environmentally friendly. However, there are also hybrid four-wheel-drive versions which emit fewer greenhouse gases and consume less fuel.

Which One?

If you have decided that it must be a 4×4 car, that’s great. But which one? Remember that it’s possible to find a four-wheel-drive system in almost any type of car from SUVs to family cars and supercars. 

Which one is best for you above all depends on your specific needs. So be sure to take some time to consider what you need. To make your decision easier, it may also help to get some automobile magazines and go on a test drive to feel the difference between the potential ‘candidates’.

Reasons You Should Opt For A 4×4 Variant

They Offer Better Traction On Wet Surfaces

Right after a sudden torrential downpour is when roads get slippery. All- or four-wheel drive ensures better traction, especially when you’re taking a curve in wet conditions.

You Get Better Traction On Loose Surfaces, Too

Have you experienced firsthand the hazards of running over rice being dried on the highway, or suddenly encountering a sandy stretch of road? An inexperienced driver will immediately let off the gas and slam on the brakes. Doing so causes the vehicle to lose traction, which can very well lead to a spectacular crash.

They Can Prevent Accidents During Bad Weather

So, you’ve parked your car on a grassy field or unpaved lot, then it rains. Your 4×2 may not be able to drive off safely from its parking slot and could start drifting left and right, slamming into the other cars parked beside it. 

You’d have to spend either way: for a towing service to get you out, or for the repairs of the vehicles you’ve damaged.

They Have Better Resale Value

Browse ads for used vehicles, and look at the price differences between used 4x2s and 4x4s of the same make and model. You’ll realise that you’re going to get more money in the long run selling a secondhand 4×4.

Off-road Capability 

Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but you at least have the option with a 4X4. And “offroad” might just be a rough track down to the river, or a sandy road, or even just a water ford that’s, say, 400mm deep, well within the capability of a 4X4 but likely to be death to a wagon.

Dirt Roads And Remote Roads 

Ok, you never will even think about offroading, but a 4X4 will do dirt roads much easier and safer than a wagon. 

Yes, the wagon can get there, just more slowly and with greater risk of hitting that errant rock or bottoming out on a country road pothole. The 4X4 is also more likely to have tougher tyres and a full-sized spare. You don’t want to be worrying about run-flats or space savers when you’re 100km from the nearest town, even if that’s all bitumen.

Towing 

4X4s are the best heavy-duty towers on the market. Even medium ones like the Pajero Sport and Fortuner are good for 2800 to 3100kg. No chance with a road car wagon; you’re lucky to get a rating better than 2000kg and often that comes with caveats such as limited tow ball mass or speed restrictions. 

Visibility 

You are higher up in a 4X4 so you can see further. Try looking ahead on country roads; you can better see over crests and across corners. 

The biggest contrast I experienced was driving a Range Rover Sport and Lotus Elise back to back – the Elise would have been quicker, but I couldn’t see where I was going so had to drive far below the car’s capability. Reversing visibility is very variable across all both 4X4s and wagons, so the best answer is a quality reversing camera.

Safety 

Did you know that ANCAP gives larger SUVs and 4X4s an automatic 16 out of 16 on the side impact test because they always do so well they don’t bother test? And all else being equal, a heavier car fares better in a crash. 

The average 4X4 wagon is, as a road car, now 5-star rated and the family-oriented ones do well on safety gear.

Modifications – you may not want a winch or cross-axle differential locks, but you may want a range of roof racks, a long-range fuel tank, a cargo shelf system, uprated suspension, or a bullbar/nudge bar to mount driving lights. All available off the shelf for popular 4X4s, but harder to find for wagons.

Seven Seats 

Most of the 4X4s offer seven seats. Not so the road car wagons, unless you want a people mover, which you probably do need but almost certainly don’t want—another discussion for another time.

Better, More Reliable Traction

4×4 means ‘4 wheel drive’ so that rather than engine power going only to the front wheels or only to the rear wheels, on a 4×4 power goes to all four wheels.

Also, depending on the manufacturer and model, you might be able to switch between 2 and 4-wheel drive, you might get permanent four-wheel drive, or you might get an ‘on-demand’ system that switches automatically between 2- and 4-wheel drive depending on road conditions.

The 4-wheel drive works to maximise traction and stability, particularly in wet or slippery conditions. And, ultimately, can give drivers more control and peace of mind that they’re more secure out on the roads.

Flexibility With Space And Storage

While you can get extra legroom, headroom and boot space in some conventional saloons and estate cars, many 4x4s also offer increased flexibility for drivers and passengers with individually adjustable seats, and even removable rear seats. As well as making them easier to get in and out of, this also means it’s often easier to install or remove child seats – thanks to the elevated seat heights – making them perfect for anyone with a young family.

What Do You Want Out Of A 4wd?

There are a number of big questions that need to be answered, which will guide you in purchasing a 4WD that is going to make you smile every time you walk past it. By answering the below questions, you will be on a much better path to choosing the right 4WD.

I’ve seen a lot of people buy a nice 4WD, throw a heap of money at it through accessories and then decide that it doesn’t do what they want it to. 

The only thing you can do in this situation is to sell and upgrade, but you lose a large amount of money on the accessories you’ve added. You want to avoid this situation; it’s an expensive learning curve!

Whilst I understand that we’d all like a brand spanking new 4WD with a heap of accessories unless you have found a secret money tree in your backyard, it’s not possible for the vast majority.

Even if you can afford a new 4WD, you may be better off buying a second hand one. There are many benefits and plenty of 4WD’s of different ages on the market!

Below, we examine some of the things you should be considered before spending your hard-earned

What Is Your Budget?

This is the most important factor you need to decide on. Remember, the purchase cost of your 4WD is just the start. 

Accessories, repairs, rego, fuel and insurance are all additional costs and need to be factored into your budget. There is plenty of second hands 4WD’s on the market that needs thousands of dollars to be done in repairs, so choose wisely!

How long do you plan on keeping it for?

The length that you plan on keeping your 4WD for is something well worth considering. It determines the amount of money you spend on repairs and accessories and makes you aware of the cost of depreciation.

A 4WD that you intend on keeping for many years is often treated differently to one that you only want for a few months or a year. It’s not worth buying a 4WD that doesn’t do what you want it to; trust me!

What Sort Of 4wding Do You Want To Do?

Being aware of what you plan on using the 4WD for is going to reduce the number of cars you need to search through dramatically. There are plenty of different levels of 4WDing, but for simplicity, let’s just break them down into 3 for now:

Hard-core

If you intend on taking your 4WD out on a regular basis and hitting the tracks that are going to push your 4WD to its limit, then you need a vehicle that is going to handle it. Big rocks, mud, side angles and huge ruts require a 4WD that is very different to one that is never going to be taken off the black stuff.

I’m going to suggest that if you want a 4WD to make the gnarly tracks regularly, you want something with the solid front axle and solid rear axle suspension. This rules out a massive number of 4WD’s, which is a good thing when you are searching for the right 4WD!

I’m not suggesting that vehicles with Independent front suspension (or rear) are not able to do some hard-core 4WDing. However, if your primary purpose is the gnarly tracks, stick with something that has a solid axle front and rear.

Tourer

A 4WD used for touring is usually upgraded to comfortably travel the majority of 4WD tracks, with the exception of the high-end hard-core tracks. Vehicles with independent suspension make great tourers because they are more comfortable on the majority of Australia’s 4WD tracks.

IFS (Independent front suspension) 4WD’s are not useless in serious off-road situations. They can be very good. However, they are not as good as a solid axle in the same situation. On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you rule out solid axle vehicles for touring; they also do a very good job.

A tourer is usually set up for comfortable travel. This means it’s set up with modifications and accessories to cook lunch easily, set up camp and travel with minimal fuss.

Gravel Roads, Towing And Beach Driving

There are plenty of 4WD’s purchased with the sole purpose of towing a big caravan or trailer. If that is what you are chasing, then just about any 4WD with a decent amount of torque, power and towing capacity is going to fit the bill. Make sure you consider the economy it is likely to get too, or it can get expensive quickly!

Beach driving is fairly simple, and can be done by just about any 4WD easily with low range, providing you have the right tyre pressures!

Of course, there is plenty of 4WD’s that fit into more than one category, but it gives you a good idea of what you should be looking at!

Purchase a 4WD that is suited to your intended terrain. Whilst it might seem nice to do a lap of Australia in a 4WD with a 6-inch lift and 37’s, it’s not the most practical, comfortable or economical way to do it!

What Gives A 4×4 Its Off-road Ability?

The degree of off-road prowess you require is also important as many vehicles that are excellent off-road can be cumbersome around town. 

Vehicles such as the commercial-grade Land Cruisers, Land Rover Defender and even the Jeep Wrangler, all of which have live axles front and rear, fall into this category.

Conversely, something like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, with its fully-independent suspension, is brilliant on-road but not as happy in more arduous off-road terrain. 

The unfortunate fact of life is that if you want something that excels in both arenas (like a Range Rover), you generally have to pay big bucks.

Dual-range gearing is one of the key characteristics of a serious 4×4 however, ground clearance, approach and departure angles, and wheel travel are vital, too.

You also need to think about the availability of aftermarket accessories. Frontal protection bars, brush bars and side steps – even roof racks and tow bars – are all assets to a vehicle that will be used extensively in remote areas. 

However, the popularity – or lack of it – of a particular model may limit the availability of essential aftermarket touring equipment.

And finally, make sure your intended purchase will fit in your garage or parking space with its bullbar and/or roof rack. Don’t laugh, but we’ve heard of people buying a new 4×4 only to get it home and find it’s too high or too long for their garage.

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