Buying a 4WD isn't a cheap exercise, no matter how you look at it. When you browse through potential 4WD's, you'll see some have huge lists of modifications and accessories and others have none. It begs the question; should you buy a 4WD in stock condition, or one that's been modified?
Whilst a 4WD with big muddies, a lift kit and lots of bar work might look attractive, avoid getting attached to it before you take a few minutes to really think it through.
Modifications are done for a reason
Lets start with the obvious one. People don't modify 4WD's for the fun of it. Rims perhaps, but beyond that, modifications are done for a reason. If its got rock sliders, they were probably put there to protect the vehicles sills from nasty damage off road.
If its running remote reservoir shock absorbers, you can pretty much guarantee that the vehicle has done some serious corrugations. Air bags and electronic brake controllers are a dead give away that the vehicle has been used for towing or lugging heavy weight around.
Diff lockers aren't fitted to mall crawlers; if its twin locked, you can bet they've been used.
All of this is not necessarily a problem, but it is something to be aware of. You don't get something for nothing, so remember that with a long list of modifications often comes a long list of tracks that have been completed! This is usually identified by the condition of the vehicle; scrapes, bumps, worn out components and general wear and tear from 4WDing is usually obvious.
Every now and again you will come across a big build that's had almost no use; things don't always go to plan and for one reason or another vehicles like this do come up for sale from time to time.
Accessories are expensive
If you haven't had much to do with the 4WD modification and accessory world, I'll tell you straight out; its extremely expensive. The long list of modifications on a vehicle don't just appear; they cost a fortune. Our 80 Series Land Cruiser for example, had over $26,000 of accessories bolted to it. Here's a very basic list of mods done to many 4WD's, with rough prices:
Winch compatable bull bar with winch $3000
UHF Radio and antenna $400
All terrain tyres x 5 $1250
Aftermarket suspension $1250
Tow bar $500
Dual Battery and isolator $400
Roof Rack $400
Fuel filter $300
Differential breathers $150
Rated Recovery Points $300
Differential locker $1500
Rear storage system $1200
That small list is over $11,000, and we haven't even looked at long range fuel tanks, canopies, rear bars, scrub bars, water tanks, gauges and GPS, awnings, exhausts, cargo barriers, seat covers and the rest of the massive list of mods you can fit to a 4WD.
You won't get your money back on mods
Something that you can use to your advantage as a buyer is that modifications don't add their full value to a vehicle. Just because you've spent 20k on your 4WD doesn't mean its worth 20k more. In general, you are probably lucky to get half of your money back on mods spent. Of course, this is a very individual thing, and a a sale just needs one buyer who's keen!
Not all modifications are done legally or properly
I'll be the first to admit a big 4WD rolling down the road offers a lot of appeal. That said, there's a pretty good chance the 4WD isn't legal, and modifications and accessories are often not fitted properly. For example, you can easily fit a 3 inch lift to an 80 Series Land cruiser for $1200, but to do it properly you'd get your steering and suspension geometry aligned using additional components that many people ignore.
12V wiring is another example; if you buy something that's been heavily modified and not had the cables crimped and soldered properly, it could very easily come back to bite you in the future!
How do the modifications affect the vehicle?
I mentioned above you don't get something for nothing. A long list of mods done to a 4WD might make it super capable, comfortable and functional, but it will have downsides too. Sometimes your reliability suffers, and other times just the weight badly increases your fuel economy. Have a look at the modifications done to a 4WD, and consider what they actually do.
Are they legal? Does the vehicle have engineering?
Do they affect the vehicle's fuel economy?
Do they affect the vehicles reliability?
Receipts are king
Knowing what a modification cost, who installed it and when it was put on makes a big difference. If the seller has plenty of receipts that are legit, you are onto a winner.
When were the modifications done?
Some modifications have lifespans, and if its been on a 4WD for 15 years of 4WDing, there's a pretty good chance they are going to be a little worse for wear. Have a look at when the modifications were done, and consider how long they have left before needing replacing or refurbishing.
Do you want the mods?
There's a heap of accessories you can install on a 4WD. What do you really want though? Don't pay a fortune for a decked out 4WD if you aren't going to want any of the gear! If you are going to change the mods, remember you have to remove old gear and try and sell it!
Who did the modifications?
I touched on this above; your average Joe blogs in his backyard shed will probably not do as good of a job as a qualified mechanic or auto electrician. Again, this is a generalisation, but its something to pay attention to.
Vehicle maintenance is critical
What ever you buy, ensure its been well maintained. You will see a huge variety of vehicles on the market out there. Some are stock as a rock, and in terrible condition. Others are highly modified and the owners have been extremely careful to maintain things to the highest degree. Then, you've got everything in between. I would say vehicle maintenance is even more important than a well modified vehicle.
Don't get caught up with the mods if the vehicle hasn't been well cared for.
Do the figures
When you look at a 4WD, work out what you want to modify, and see how much its going to cost. If you can find one with some modifications done well, you'll save a fortune.
Common modifications to look for
Whilst buying a vehicle with nothing done to it is a great canvas to start with, sometimes its a good idea to find a 4WD that has the basics done. This will save you a fortune in time and money. Things like bull bars, winches, snorkels, tow bars, roof racks, UHF radios, quality tyres and dual battery systems are often fitted to commercial vehicles and can add a fair bit of value without increasing the vehicles price too much.
Use your gut instinct
Try to take your emotions out of the equation, and use your gut instinct. If something feels off, walk away; another deal will pop up.
It all comes down to the individual deal
I believe you need to consider every 4WD that you see. Don't go out and look for one that's got a huge list of mods, or one that is bone stock. Look for value for money, attention to detail. You should know what vehicles you are looking at, and then its just a case of working out whether its a good deal or not.