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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying an Old 4×4

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying an Old 4×4

6 Questions to ask yourself before buying an old 4×4 [and how to spot a good one]

Before buying an old 4×4 it pays to do some research – a lot of research, old retro offroaders are becoming increasingly popular and prices are on the rise, this is in part to the age of these vehicles now and the fact that the golden 4×4 era where you could buy a ‘real’ offroader was back in the last century, the big old diesels and Japanese imports of the 90’s were taken over by the advent of the ‘crossover’ such as the Volvo XC90 and offerings from Subaru amongst others.

The big oil burners were no longer economically viable as the world became more environmantally conscious, emissions became an issue as did diesel, fossil fuels and everything else as we entered an age of saving the planet at the eleventh hour.

The desireability of these retro 4×4’s is increasing, not everyone wants a modern vehicle and when you consider what you can still get of you look hard enough it’s no wonder that some of the better examples are getting snapped up by both enthusiasts and those who wish to take on a classic project, dive into overlanding or simply have some fun at the weekend.

Below we have 6 questions to ask yourelf before buying an old 4×4, before jumping in and potentially making a mistake take five to think about what owning one of these old beasts will actually be like.

What do you plan to use it for?

So you plan to buy an old 4×4, you have the budget and your eye on a couple of brands – what are you going to be using it for? Should it simply be a weekender to take the kids on a forest drive then pretty much anything will do, for an overland project you’ll need to be a bit more careful particularly where inside space is concerned and load carrying capacity.

shogun k90
Shogun Sport

If you like the idea of extendable kitchen storage and a slide out table from the back of the rig then something larger is going to be more suitable – on a 4×4 it is also worth considering the rear door and how it opens, a traditional lift up hatch design can be awkward if you’re over six feet tall [I know].

Does it make financial sense?

30k on a new 4×4 or 3k on something which is a ninetees classic? Go for the cheaper option and you will be hard pushed to spend even half the price of the new model doing it up to what would be a very high standard.

The options are there though, if you’re looking for ease, comfort and money is no object then a new truck could be the best way to go, if you have a tight budget but insist on the same level of fun then the older model will certainly deliver too.

There is no doubt that that while new/newer vehicles can have their problems an older rig is going to suffer more, the aches and pains of a 20+ year old offroader will make themselves known at some point [probably when you least expect] so the older option is going to need work – a lot more compared to a new vehicle but hey, that’s half the fun right?

There is a lot to be said for taking on an older project, you get a lot of satisfaction seeing your project develop over time and you learn a tremendous amount about your vehicle which is no bad thing if you have a breakdown when you’re out and about.

Are you prepared for more maintenance?

You certainly don’t have to be a fully qualified mechanic to own an older 4×4 but a level of knowledge does help, as mentioned above if you have an incident in the middle of nowhere you could get yourself out of a sticky situation simply by having the right knowledge and the right tools.

Buying and owning an old 4×4 is an exciting prospect but don’t expect it to be all plain sailing either, think about the purpose it has been designed for and if it has been used for this purpose, a four wheel drive will throw problams at you that you wouldn’t see in your two wheel daily driver.

buying an old 4x4
Terrano vs Maverick

Maintenance means tools and it’s worth investing in good tools you don’t already have some, it’s also a good idea to have a selection of tools kept in the vehicle in case of breakdown, don’t carry any you don’t need and look at the likes of bolt sizes etc to slim down your tools and therefore carry less weight, there’s no point lugging around 10 spanners that don’t even fit anything on your rig.

Maintenance on an old offroader will be regular, they are not like standard saloon cars, older vehicles are clearly easier to work on but they do demand attention, for older 4×4’s costs are usually minimal in comparison to dealer prices and there are usually specialists that keep parts and panels [inc reproduction] from discontinued models.

Do you like rust?

Nobody likes the old ‘tinworm’ and it’s the biggest killer of old 4×4’s particularly Mitsubishi and Toyota imports into the UK where the roads are salted every winter. Depending on where you live this may not be too much of an issue, in the southern Mediterranean for example there is little humidity and therefore less rust on older vehicles which may be one reason why they hold there value better.

old 4x4 rust problems
Hidden rust issues on old 4×4’s

Rust however will make an appearance at some stage so it pays to know what to do when you first discover it, how to diagnose how serious it is and what the outcome may be if it was left untreated. One the best ways to hold rust at bay is not to purchase too much of it in the first place…

Which manufacturer?

The 6 million dollar question… there really is no answer to this one, its all about personal preference, there are however some things to keep in mind:

Parts availability – online or can you source parts locally? Mitsubishi parts for example are difficult to source in some countries compared to the UK.

The one you always wanted – Nobody is going to knock you for getting that truck you always wanted…

Price & Demand – Wished you’d snapped up that Landcruiser 80 series a few years ago? Yup, me too, some 4×4’s really hit the spot with their followers and drive prices high where they tend to stay. Making the right choice of model or even engine within your chosen manufacturer is a serious consideration.

Running costs: Petrol or diesel? Road tax? These things can come back to bite you, to offer one example if you take a 2.5td Shogun Sport in the UK that was manufactured in 2005 then the road tax is £395pa buy an identical vehicle manufactured a year earlier after March 2006 and your road tax goes up to £695pa. Ouch.

Are you ready for the whole ‘Old Skool’ thing?

A new rig or even a used ‘modern’ 4×4 is great but they do blend in with all the other modern vehicles around, which is easier to spot the Tacoma in the supermarket car park or the second generation Montero? Both have their positives and negatives but when it comes to full on retro then the eighties and ninetees are where it’s at.

As a 1984 Ford Capri owner I get the retro thing and have seen it grow especially over the last decade, its a feeling you get when you’re behind the wheel of an oldie, the better the condition, the more attention it gets.

we are now decades on from when these old 4×4’s entered the market and there are numerous ways modern day technology can improve an old 4×4.

The retro old skool thing can also be enjoyed in numerous other ways like not having any air conditioning, no power steering, a sparse interior to say the least and the lack of power. Horrendous you might think and yeah, for some it may be the case but…. we are now decades on from when these old 4×4’s entered the market and there are numerous ways modern day technology can improve an old 4×4.

Fabulous old Pajero

Power steering and air con can be fitted, modern suspension can also be fitted, lifts, brake upgrades you name it. For the hard core fan you can just about make these vehicles even better and more capable than when they were sitting in the forecourt in the early 90’s.

Keeping things original is also a good idea, good original examples of any in demand classic command higher prices in many cases, the engine is simplicty compared to today’s power plants, the big difference is that you can work on the engine yourself – you can even see the engine and identify what is what.

Think carefully about going old skool as it offers different challenges, it’s a mountain of fun but just like all things mat not be for everyone.

Buying a good one…

Okay, this is another article on it’s own so I’ll keep things brief. All of the usual common sense rules apply:

  • Cross reference mileage
  • Check chassis number etc
  • Ask the owener the reason for sale
  • Ask for any receipts / history
  • Test drive the vehicle
  • Establish number of owners
  • HPI check
  • Etc etc…

The places to look ie: classifieds are going to offer different choices, don’t go looking for your next classic in the classifieds section of your regional agricultural magazine as unless you stumble across that one in a million barn find your options will be well used agricultural vehicles.

The likes of the Autotrader can be quite generic but it is a good place to seek out a good base project, good honest vehicles can be found but also be aware that there are many lemons out there too sold both privatey and through the trade.

Instead search for clubs online, they often have a classifieds section and usually have a forum section for spare parts and projects too. The benefit of purchasing from an enthusiast is axactly that – they’ve been enthusiastic about the vehicle so the chances are that it’s been well cared for during it’s life [or at least while it’s been with them].

Overlanding in Spain
Overlanding in Spain

Overland vehicles should not be dismissed, while it might be your vision to do all of the work yourself an overland vehicle is a good choice from the right seller, many potential buyers are put off by the fact that a vehicle has larger rims, mud tyres and a snorkel thinking that it’s been hammered, the truth is quite the opposite.

A vehicle built for overlanding [not mud flying or rock crawling!] should have been meticulously well cared for and maintained, owners need to limit the risk factor of breakdown or incident when they are miles away from anywhere so overland rigs make a good choice. As in all cases though, buyer beware.


1800 1200 Mac


K90overland is Mac and Gayle, they lived in Andalucia for 19 years before moving back to the UK. Overlanding since 2019 the pair have built up a 'budget rig' and now enjoy a relaxed approach to discovering Scotland and the north of England.


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