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 Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or dirt 
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Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:45 am
Posts: 1681
Location: Merritt Island, Florida, Estates Unitas
Post Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or dirt
There has to be a ton of experience with rough road or offroad vehicles on this forum. I know a lot of us like to get far away from cities and crowds to enjoy some peaceful time in the great outdoors. I'm surprised this topic hasn't come up before, but after scrolling through a dozen pages of "off-topic", there is nothing about rough-road vehicles.

My interest in this post is totally self-serving, as I'm going to be looking for a replacement vehicle soon.

For the benefit of others, I'll start by reviewing my current vehicle, a 2001 Ford Explorer sport. I like the idea of this vehicle but it is very poorly built. It has a high ground clearance, big wheels, and the big cargo area found in most SUV's, which are all good. It only has 2 wheel drive, but can easily traverse dirt roads where a normal car would scrape on the high mound in the middle of the dirt road between the ruts carved by vehicles with bigger tires and better ground clearance. There is a roof-rack which does a great job of hauling 20 foot 1030 extrusions for making super-long track for the stage zero dolly. The rear hatch made a nice seat and shade so I could setup a tripod under the open hatch and sit in the back while shooting in places where I could drive. In a pinch, you can put a blow-up bed in the back and camp in it. It unfortunately has Ford's W4 axle which was defective but never recalled. The seals leak, then the differential makes this loud whining sound until it fails. All sorts of people complained about it when these were new, but Ford did not stop production to fix it. They just fixed vehicles under warranty and they went bad again after the warranty expired. I think this is the "blow and roll" explorer, which rolled over more often than not if you got a flat tire. To make this situation worse, the roofs would not support the weight of the vehicle, so rollovers were almost never survivable. Mine got to the point where the air strut supporting the rear hatch seized, then broke off when closing the hatch. Now the hatch won't close right, and straightening the hinges only lasts a short time until its out of alignment and won't close again.

I got this vehicle because it was the cheapest used SUV I could find with reasonable ground clearance and offroad tires. I'm probably like a lot of people on this forum. I've never owned a new vehicle. I get used cars for a couple thousand dollars and drive them until they are unservicable. I'm not doing extreme offroading, but i drive on really bad dirt roads where normal cars would high-center on the mound in the middle of the road between the two deep ruts carved by vehicles with big tires and high ground clearance. (imagine the worst dirt road in the world and some short offroad hops in reasonable terrain)

I'm not asking what is the best offroader on earth (Bowler Wildcat), or special expedition vehicles from Unicat or GlobalX. I'm asking people who own or have friends who have owned good vehicles which are around 10 years old to honestly share their experiences. From these, it should be possible to avoid models which have given people a lot of grief and steer towards the ones which have been most reliable.

Other people on here must be in a similar situation (getting used cars because we can't afford new) and want similar capabilities for handling rough roads or a little light offroading. If enough people review suitable vehicles, this could become a valuable resource for all. Besides, I need another cheap vehicle and don't want to be surprised by the next one the way I was by the Explorer.


Sat Aug 10, 2013 9:55 am
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Joined: Wed Dec 14, 2011 1:56 am
Posts: 75
Location: Sydney - Australia
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
My knowledge is from Australia so don't know if it'll help you, here goes anyway. Toyota land cruisers are pretty hard to break, are reliable and parts are cheap and plentiful. The Nissan X Trail and Patrol would also be on my list for the same reasons. I have a current model X Trail and its great for hauling around film gear and the family too :-) It strikes a good balance between on road manners and off road capability. I don't know if I'd take it on the Birdsville Track but it handles muddy dirt roads no problem!


Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:29 pm
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Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:15 pm
Posts: 54
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
I never owned a SUV, but the "review" in the video below looks like a Toyota Hilux is unbreakable ;)



Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:38 am
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Joined: Wed Apr 03, 2013 7:20 pm
Posts: 340
Location: Brisbane, Australia.
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
I've never owned a 4WD myself but have driven a friends X-Trail on beaches a few times here in Aus. As mentioned previously it is a cross between city and offroad - we were driving through some pretty rutted sand and through a couple of small streams. It's certainly not made for more extreme off-roading and doesn't have quite the ground clearance of something like a Land Cruiser - we managed to tear off the plastic sump guard once or twice, tore the rear bumper, and did get bogged on a couple of occasions. But we were pushing it probably a little passed what it was meant to handle (and his wife didn't look too happy when shown the damage on our return ;)

Not sure of a second hand price though, 4WDs tend to keep their value here so even second hand they aren't cheap.

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Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:22 pm
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Joined: Mon Oct 04, 2010 5:00 pm
Posts: 253
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
I just bought a 2004 GMC Sierra Duramax diesel 4x4 crew cab (4 door). These trucks are tough with an unstoppable drive-train. My main reason for purchase is towing but I do plan on taking it places a 2 wheel drive vehicle can't go. I have no idea what these go for in Florida but here they range from $8000-25000, they hold their value if you take care of them.


Mon Aug 12, 2013 3:11 pm
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Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:22 pm
Posts: 165
Location: Winnipeg, Canada
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
A VW Westy camper van, of course! (It's got everything except a bathroom.)


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Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:51 pm
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Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:45 am
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Location: Merritt Island, Florida, Estates Unitas
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
Thanks for all the awesome suggestions. Hopefully we can keep this thread growing for the benefit of other members who will eventually be buying vehicles. I've looked at some pretty nice vehicles in my search, so I'll give some comments here even though I haven't owned them.

The vehicle I liked the most is the Toyota FJ cruiser. If youre going to get one, try to find the "Trail Team" edition, which is raised up a little more than the standard model and has some other nice accessories relevant to expedition type travel. The FJ is built very heavy-duty, it has a high ground clearance made even higher in the trail team editions, and big off road tires. I definitely would have chosen this vehicle if i could afford to buy one. Used prices from $30,000 down to a minimum of around $18,000 for one with real high mileage put them out of my price range.

Of course you can get American made vehicles here much cheaper and there were reasonable prices (under ten grand) for some good used off roaders. The Chevy blazer and Jeep Liberty have high ground clearance comparable to my old Ford Explorer and both can be had with less than 50,000 miles on them for under ten grand. There were even some four wheel drive blazers in that price range with reasonably low miles in pretty good condition.

I eventually compromised somewhat and got a Hyundai Santa-Fe SUV. It is pretty high up compared to most SUV's but not quite as high as the explorer, blazer or jeep. I really don't like my main reason for buying it (because its not American made). The horrible quality of my Ford Explorer really made a difference in my choice. Hopefully my prejudice against the Jeep and Chevy is unfounded. The Santa-Fe I got is an 07 with 40,000 miles on it and was a bargain at ten grand compared to others I had seen advertised. The Chevy's and Jeeps could be bought for a few thousand less. People I've known who owned Hyundai's said they were very reliable, requiring few or no repairs as long as normal maintenance is done on schedule. I also got a six year and 60,000 mile warranty with it which doesn't expire until the vehicle is 12 years old with 100,000 miles on it. Any failure of the drive train gets fixed free in that time. There are definitely rough areas where the other vehicles could go which the Hyundai can't because the exhaust hangs down lower than that on the other vehicles. Other vulnerable components are up higher. Hopefully it will be OK. I figured that if I do significant damage to the exhaust, I'd have it re-routed to place the new pipes up higher. Its about the most minor thing you can break. I do like the storage bins sunk into the floor of the cargo area in back, and a roof rack more solid than the one on the Explorer. I'll try to post some more comments after I've taken it someplace challenging.

Thanks very much for your helpful comments. Please keep posting comments on this thread. I think it could be a valuable resource for the Timescapes community because so many of us travel to remote locations and everyone replaces vehicles at some point. I'll definitely be reading through it when the time comes for another vehicle again.


Fri Aug 30, 2013 7:51 am
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Joined: Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:04 am
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Location: Thailand
Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
I've had my Toyota Hilux 3.0 diesel pickup for six years and I will be buying another one very soon (need an upgrade to a double-cab). Parts are easy to get and not too expensive. Give them dealer servicing and they just keep going. Plenty of after market mods for pretty much any environment and storage options. In 150,000Kms the only mechanical part to wear has been the clutch, which cost $400 to replace. A few body panels have been replaced without issues and the interior is hard-wearing.

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Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:12 am
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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2010 1:18 pm
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Post Re: Recommend cheap, reliable vehicles for rough roads or di
Land Rover man myself . Not sure of the availability in the US . Older ones easy to work on and parts can usually be found in the corner of a farmers field. Newer ones not so cheap and parts can be expensive . Converted mine into a bit of a camper sleep in the back tent just a bit of extra space. Only put it up when staying in one place for a long period .
More importantly got a large solar panel and twin batteries and inverter so i can power all my gear . :D
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20130607_180417 by DISPLACEMENT101, on Flickr[/flickr]
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20130607_180508 by DISPLACEMENT101, on Flickr[/flickr]


Sat Aug 31, 2013 1:56 am
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