So, you want to get into this offroad exploration thing, but you’re tight on cash. Despite some of the occasional vehicular extravagance we post up on DirtRoadTrip, damn near everything we do can be accomplished with a total vehicle investment of $10K or less (possibly much less depending on how handy you are…).
For a little inspiration, I did some Craigslist sleuthing and came up (pretty easily…) with 5 solid “do-it-all” rigs you can have “expedition ready” for under $10K. Here’s the criteria I used in selecting the top 5.
- Off-road capability: Able to traverse a wide variety of terrain with minimal modification. Short of the Vermont Overland Trophy or King of the Hammers, these trucks will safely get you to the remote locations you dream of checking out.
- Livability/Reliability: All of these are somewhat reasonable to daily drive, and would be capable of hightailing it to Moab with minimal stress (notice no Land Rovers on the list!).
- Affordability: You can buy it, baseline maintenance, and do some basic mods, and do it all for under $10K.
(5) Land Cruiser 80-series (1990-1997)
I guess you could call the 80 series cruiser the usual suspect – but that is because they are such a bulletproof vehicle with a legendary mix of capability and reliability. These things are priced all over the map, with minty 1997 special editions fetching over $20K. Browsing Craigslist, I was able to quickly find examples in the $5K or less range. For those, I’d mentally expect to drop a couple of grand on maintenance (Cruiser parts aren’t all that cheap), but once you do that, you’ve got a super capable rig that can go almost anywhere with a decent set of tires. Despite being over 20 years old in most cases, these trucks are still livable for long stints behind the wheel, or schlepping it to the office M-F. Just ask contributors Dave (current 80 series owner) or Mark (former 80 series owner). In terms of aftermarket, if there’s something you might want, there’s probably 5 competing manufacturers to choose from.
(4) Toyota Tundra (1st gen 2000-2006)
Unlike the Tacoma (which you would think is made of solid gold given resale values), the first-gen Toyota Tundra is dead-reliable, quite capable, and somewhat more reasonably priced (for a Toyota 4×4). The 2000-2003 models can be found for between $7-10K either with the 6 cylinder or optional V8. Like everything on this list, there are no shortage of options to modify these trucks to your liking; most major aftermarket companies support them.
(3) Nissan Xterra (2nd Gen 2005+)
For those of you looking for one of the most modern and most affordable options, the Nissan Xterra blends tremendous value and performance. The second gen, which came out in 2005, is just now dipping comfortably below the $10K mark. These truck came with an optional rear locker and a pretty sweet 4.0 L V6 putting out 265HP. In a quick search, I quickly found several 2005-2006 Xterras in the $7-8K range. At that price, you can do a little maintenance, put some tires on it, and go just about everywhere we have covered on this site!
(2) Jeep Cherokee (XJ 1997-2001)
The venerable Jeep XJ Cherokee was produced for what seems like forever, and there’s still plenty of these guys on the road. The inline 6 is loved by most, and parts availability is supreme. Let’s not even get into the aftermarket – it is very easy with bolt-ons to turn these XJs into extremely trail capable vehicles. My cursory Craigslist browsing suggests you can pick up a reasonably clean stock example for under $5,000 all day long, leaving all kinds of funds left over to get all the maintenance in order and complete some capability-oriented mods.
(1) Mitsubishi Montero (Gen 2.5 1998-2000)
Montero’s don’t seem to get the same kind of mainstream love that other trucks do – and that’s a shame. These gen 2.5 trucks have all-time 4wd with a center locking diff, an available rear locker, and can fit 33” tires STOCK. They are generally deemed to be reliable and comfortable daily drivers with a 200hp 3.5L v6, which doesn’t set the world on fire, but gets you from A to B. You can routinely pick one of these up on Craigslist for $5K or less, which leaves tons of money for maintenance, and likely plenty left of for some mods. Being a world platform, there are standard lift options (like Old Man Emu) to increase ground clearance, and a couple of front bumper options that fit with a little bit of modification. This is about the best bang for the buck out there.
There you have it. Even with a budget, there are plenty of solid options to suit your personal tastes and brand preferences. What are you waiting for?
All photo credits go to Craigslist (DC area)…except the cover photo, which is a super inspirational shot found here (photobucket)
Why no 4 runners? Is there something i am missing? love my 2001 sr5.
Brandon – there’s no good answer for why no 3rd gen 4Runner, it deserves to be part of the list just as much as the others. Reality is, when we’re narrowing to 5, there’s deserving platforms that’ll get left out.
I never thought the xterra was a good offroader. How is the resale on them? Have they pretty much depreciated as much as they are going to?
If you’re going to buy an X, I would recommend that you go the used route. They cost considerably less than similar 4runners, and you’ll save yourself a few thousand by going the Nissan route.
The the flip side, if you do go new, these trucks do depreciate more than the competition.
David - DRT says
I purchased my current 80 about 5 years ago to the day. It’s been an extremely rewarding ownership experience and I would highly recommend them to anyone that is a fan over extremely overbuilt, long lasting machines. They are the pinnacle of solid axle vehicles and there is no equivalent vehicle available in the US. Just make sure you go into with your eyes and wallet wide open. An 80 can trade hands for 1/10 of what they cost new – but the parts have not depreciated. The cost of ownership can be high in parts alone – mix in outsourced wrenching and it can get cost prohibitive. Also – rust kills the fun of owning these. They are not prone to rust – but the under carriage and associated bolts can become a mess when you mix in salt. I made that mistake on my first 80 and when I bought my current 80 that I intend to keep for life, I looked to the SW and ultimately had it shipped from Arizona. It stays garaged in the winter 🙂