Buying a used 4WD can be a daunting experience. We all work hard for our money and want to make sure our hard earned cash buys us our dream ride rather than an over priced lemon! So if you are in the market for a used 4WD here are the top 10 tips to help you make the right choice, and avoid an expensive nightmare.   


Top 10 tips for buying a used 4x4

1: Know what you want and need.   

Before looking it pays to really think about what you need out of your 4WD. Sitting down and thinking about how you would use your 4WD is probably the easiest way to narrow down the search and come out with a vehicle that is more likely to tick all the right boxes. 

 Some decisions to think about:  

petrol vs diesel   

coil springs vs leaf packs

Coil springs: if you prefer a more comfortable ride

Leaf Packs: if you regularly carry heavy loads  

auto vs manual  

city and offroad vs offroad only

Thinking about what you need will help you narrow down your search to 2-3 models and get you a 4WD that is more likely to suit your needs.  

2. Do your research.  

Once you have narrowed down your search to 2 or 3 models. Do your research. Check used car websites such as '' and get an idea of average price, kms and condition for your model of choice. These sites also allow side by side comparisons on features so it is a good way of further narrowing down your options. Go on forums and internet sites and find out the most common issues for the model you are looking for. Some makes and models have common issues such as transmission, steering etc. and it pays to know what to look for. Consider availability of parts and servicing costs for your model of choice. Becoming an expert on the make and model you are interested in can really pay off in knowing the fair market price for the vehicle and knowing the problem areas to look out for.  When buying a used 4WD knowledge is power.     

3. Ignore the sales pitch.  

It is funny how a bush bashing monster truck can suddenly become a "the wife's after school pick up taxi" when the owner is looking to sell. Look at the physical evidence rather than taking the word of the owner who clearly is looking at getting the best price. Ask plenty of questions and if there are inconsistencies in the story its best to be cautious.  For example an after school pick up taxi should not have extensive scratching under the vehicle. 


4: Look at mechanical stability over after market mods.  

It can be very tempting to go straight for the truck with all the mods you could ever dream of. They look tough and so much more capable off road than the standard 4WDs. But think about it, generally people get mods to give their 4x4 a good workout off-road so chances are the modified 4WDs have had more of a beating that your standard after school pickup cars.  Start out standard and then build up the mods to your liking.  If you do go for a modified ride ask to see any relevant warranties and installation receipts, best to avoid those with DIY mods.  

5: Check under the bonnet. 

Crucial check points to consider under the bonnet:  

Check for leaks: particularly from critical components such as engine components, transmission and brakes

Check Oil: Remove the oil filter cap and check for any foamy residue. This can often be an indication of a leaking head gasket and this car should be avoided.  Check the condition of the coolant and ensure it is not brown and grimy in appearance as not only is this a sign of lack of servicing but also possible leaking head gasket.  

Check critical systems for wear and tear such as cracking, drying, rust and bodgy home repairs. 

Severe off-road conditions can ofter intensify rust and corrosion of the vehicle.  Photo: powerful4x4

Severe off-road conditions can ofter intensify rust and corrosion of the vehicle.  Photo: powerful4x4

6: Get down and dirty. 

4WDs can take quite a beating and can often be exposed to extreme external conditions such as water, mud, flooding, severe corrugations etc. Taking a good look under the vehicle can often be a great way to uncover serious off-road related damage.

Get down and dirty and inspect under the car if possible looking for cracking, significant scratching, leaks, misalignments and rust. Check the exhaust system carefully for any leaks.  

7: Check the bodywork.

When it comes to body work it pays to check thoroughly. Avoid buying cars that have any indication of an accident or frame damage.

The saddle of the car should not be welded but bolted. Check the bolts for signs of scratches indicating adjustment or replacement after a crash. Check for any cracks in the bumpers.  

Crouch behind the car and inspect the side panels looking out for any uneven paint reflection or uneven surface indicating body work after an accident. 

Don't stress about minor scratches but do use them as bargaining power to lower the sale price.   

8: Test drive.

The test drive is usually one of the best ways to get a feel for a vehicle and also to pick up on any warning signs. Here are a couple of warning signs to look out for:

a) Strange noises: any strange noises when turning the ignition, turning the steering on full lock, using the brakes or changing gears. Any clunking sounds while turning steering wheel to full lock should set off alarm bells, as fixing the power steering is an expensive exercise.  

b) warning lights on dash:  this could be stating the obvious but after turning the ignition check thoroughly for any warning lights on the dash board.  The check engine light is never a good sign. 

c) transmission: During the test drive experiment with different acceleration levels to ensure it can handle sudden acceleration. If auto, check that the gears shift smoothly without jerks or clunks, if manual check any slipping of the clutch.

d) leaks: after a long test drive is the best time to check for leaks because they will show up even if the owner has tried to hide them prior to the test drive. You may wish to park the car on a clean strip of concrete and look out for any leaks after the drive. Check for leaks again under the bonnet, under the car and on the front ball joints.  

Checking the service history of the 4WD is crucial before committing to buy. 

Checking the service history of the 4WD is crucial before committing to buy. 

9: Ask to see the books. 

Don't take the owner's word for it when they tell you it has been religiously serviced. Ask to see the service history and check over the dates and work carefully.  Take note of how often the work has occurred as well as any major issues the vehicle has had in the past. Avoid buying a 4WD with no service history or incomplete and irregular servicing. Lack of regular servicing can lead to pre-mature damage and wear to the 4WD and is not worth your time or money repairing. 


10: Get a full pre-purchase inspection  

If you think you have given it a good look over and you are seriously contemplating buying, alway get a qualified 4WD mechanic to give the vehicle a very thorough inspection.  This may well set you back a couple of hundred bucks, but it is well worth the investment compared to buying something that will cost you thousands to repair later down the track.  

More comments from the Muddies: 

Do you have any more top tips when it come to buying a used 4WD? Or have you had a terrible experience when buying a 4WD? We would love to hear from you. Comment below:   

AuthorMaria Oanca