Top 10 tips for buying a used 4×4

Want to buy a used 4×4 – these tips will show you exactly what to look for.

Establish your specific wants and needs

Prior to looking for a 4WD, it is important to establish what you want and need from your vehicle. It is advisable that you sit down and think about exactly how you will use your vehicle when you get it.

This helps to narrow down the search so that you in the end you get a vehicle that suits most of your wants and needs.

Some key decisions you will have to make:

  • Petrol or diesel 4WD
  • Automatic or manual transmission
  • Leaf packs or coil springs; leaf packs (good for carrying heavy loads) and coil springs (comfier ride)
  • City and Off-road or just off-road only

Establishing exactly what you need and want from your 4WD helps to narrow down on the wide range of options in the market to a few vehicle models that are likely to meet your needs.

Do your due diligence

After narrowing down your search to a couple of vehicle models, the next step is to do some due diligence or research. You can visit some used car sites like ‘’ to get information on average pricing, mileage and condition of your vehicle of choice.

Used car sites let you do side by side comparison of different vehicles which helps you make a more informed purchase decision. You can also visit forums and other websites on the internet to gather any information on any known issues affecting your vehicle model of choice.

Some vehicle models and makes have known issues such as poor handling, transmission and many more. You should also research on availability of parts as well as cost of servicing your 4WD of choice.

Becoming really knowledgeable about the vehicle you are interested in can really pay off in the end. You are more likely to get a fair price and you will be aware of the various problems to be on the lookout for.

When purchasing a four wheel drive car, knowledge is everything. If you need something really rough, then check out this piece from Fircroft.

Ignore the sales pitch

It is nothing short of hilarious how a powerful 4WD monster truck can suddenly turn into the preferred ‘mom’s after work pick up car’ when the owner wants to sell it. Never put a lot of emphasis on the sales talk you get from the car owner.

Gather as much physical evidence as you can as opposed to taking the car’s owners word because they are only looking to make some money. Ask as many questions as you can and look for any inconsistencies from the answers you get.

A car that has supposedly being used to only pick up moms from work should not have extensive scratching or denting under the vehicle.

Consider mechanical stability over aftermarket mods

It is obviously very luring to opt for 4WDs that have a wide range of aftermarket mods to choose from. They look so much more capable and tough off road than your regular 4WDs.

However, most people add mods to their 4WDs to give them more power off road meaning these modified vehicles may have seen better days when compared to your regular after-work 4WD pickup trucks.

It is advisable to start with a regular 4WD then gradually upgrade it with various aftermarket mods that you prefer. If you do opt for a modified 4WD, it is important that you request for appropriate installation receipts and warranties in order to avoid DIY mods and installations.

Always check under the hood

4x4 used car
Photo: AaronPictures, Pixabay

What to check for under the hood:

  • Check for leaks: Carefully examine critical components such as brakes, transmission and engine components for leaks.
  • Check the oil: Carefully examine the oil filter cap for any foamy residue. This is usually an indicator of a leaky head gasket. You should avoid any car with such a problem. Also, examine the condition of the coolant and make sure it is not grimy and brown as this is an indicator that the vehicle does not get regular servicing or the head gasket is leaking.

On top of this, you should carefully examine crucial systems for wear and tear such as rusting, drying, cracking or any DIY repairs. Harsh off-road conditions can often intensify corrosion and rusting of the vehicle.

Get down and dirty

Four wheel drive vehicles are often exposed to harsh environmental conditions such as severe corrugations, flooding, mud, water and many more. Carefully examining the bottom of the vehicle can help you uncover any damage the vehicle may have sustained in its lifetime.

So, get down and dirty and examine the bottom of the car to make sure there isn’t any rusting, misalignment, leaking, significant scratching and cracking. Also, take a good look at the exhaust system for leaks.

Check the bodywork

Always check the bodywork of the vehicle you want to buy thoroughly. You should avoid any car that has signs of frame damage or involvement in accidents.

The car saddle should be bolted and not welded. Examine the bolts for scratches that indicate replacement or adjustment after an accident. Also, examine the bumpers for any cracks.

You should also inspect the back of the car and check the side panels for any uneven surface or uneven paint reflection that shows that the car has been involved in an accident.

Do not focus too much on minor scratches but use them to make the car owner lower the selling price for the vehicle.

Test drive

A test drive is the best way to familiarise yourself with a vehicle and also find out any latent problems that you may not see. Here are some of the things you should be on the lookout during the test drive:

  • Strange noises: Lookout for any strange noises coming from changing gears, pressing on the brakes, turning the steering wheel or turning the ignition. Any strange sounds when turning the steering wheel should instantly attract your attention as fixing any problem with the power steering can be very expensive.
  • Warning lights on dash: the lights on the dash are also something to check during the test drive. The engine light specifically can be cause for alarm.
  • Transmission: As you drive, try accelerating at different speeds to make sure that the car can handle sudden acceleration. If manual, check for any malfunction of the clutch. If auto, make sure that the gears shift smoothly without clunks or jerks.
  • Leaks: the best time to look for leaks is after driving for a considerable distance. Leaks will rarely show up when the car is idle. After a long drive, park the vehicle on a clean pavement and examine for any leaks from the ball joints, under the car and under the hood.

Also, checking the servicing history of the vehicle is important prior to buying.

Request to see the books

Do not blindly believe the car owner when they tell you that the car has been undergoing regular servicing. Request to see the car’s servicing documentation which includes dates and work done.

Lookout for any repetitive repair work that has been done on the vehicle. Never buy a 4WD car that has zero or incomplete servicing documentation. Poor servicing of a vehicle is a recipe for pre-mature aging and excessive wear and tear. Investing in such a car is a waste of both time and money.

Carry out a full pre-purchase inspection

After giving the vehicle a thorough examination, it is also important to get a trained mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection before closing the deal.

Contracting a mechanic can cost you some cash but this is definitely worthwhile considering the huge investment you are making in buying a car. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Grace Woods
Grace Woods
Grace is an entrepreneur with a unique passion for all things blogging. She has worked with a number of different businesses assisting their profitability and success rate.
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