There’s a stark difference between old and new 4WD’s, and I’ve spent many, many hours thinking about the pro’s and con’s to either side of the coin. Like everything in life, there’s people that are firmly swayed to one side, and would never consider moving. The thing is though, is one really better than the other? Are you better off with an old 4WD, or a new one?
In this post, we dive into our experiences, and then look at what the pro’s and con’s are of each, and finish up with some final thoughts, and discuss anything we might have done differently, if we had our time again.
I used to say I’d never get an automatic 4WD, and after years of experiencing both, I’d probably almost say I’d never get a manual one again.
Opinions change as times go on (and circumstances do), and this is usually the first hurdle I question. I see a lot of people saying they’d never go to a new 4WD, but unless they’ve experienced a couple in depth, do their comments hold any real weight?
So, what’s better; a new 4WD with all the bells and whistles, or an old, simple brick? Let’s find out.
Our 4WD vehicle history
My first vehicle was a 1997 solid axle 2.4L petrol Toyota Hilux, which we had for a number of years, and used it to do a huge number of tracks around Perth, along with some longer trips north and south. I eventually sold this when the engine needed some more major work, but it was a hugely fun vehicle.
80 Series Turbo Diesel Land Cruiser
Our next 4WD was a factory turbo diesel 80 series Land Cruiser, which we picked up for an absolute steal. We used this for a number of years and spent a small fortune modifying, repairing and upgrading it into the ultimate tough tourer.
We did a huge number of local trips, as well as some more remote and longer distance ones through the Kimberley, Pilbara, Esperance area and South West of WA.
It got to a point where the vehicle no longer suited what we needed, and was starting to cost a fortune in repairs, so I sold it on.
Our current vehicle, which we’re doing the Big Lap of Australia in is a 2016 Isuzu Dmax. It’s the base model, prior to the DPF version, and I specifically hunted this model out, wanting something basic, reliable and good value.
We got this on a Novated Lease, and decked it out to be a comfortable tourer that doubled as the family vehicle around town. We spent a substantial chunk of money setting this vehicle up too, and its now done about 110,000km all over Australia.
You can read about swapping from an 80 Series Land Cruiser to Isuzu Dmax if you’re keen on that.
We also have a post covering the total cost of our Isuzu Dmax over 5 years.
What’s the benefits of an old 4WD?
Old 4WD’s are simple, easy to work on and quick to diagnose problems. There’s no electronics, sensors or fancy ECUs that make the vehicle function. On our very own 80 Series, the alternator failed on a trip down south, and stopped charging my batteries.
We turned the headlights off, and continued our trip for several hours that day, stopping and starting as needed while a mate detoured into Bunbury to get a new alternator. Later that day we arrived at camp, with the vehicle still functioning as it would normally, and we swapped the alternator over at camp.
A modern 4WD wouldn’t drive 10 minutes down the road without a working alternator, and you’d be stopped on the side of the road, waiting for a tow or an alternator.
Older 4WD’s were built like a brick. I made that reference when we swapped from our 80 series to the Dmax, when it was pretty clear that the durability had taken a back seat.
Don’t get me wrong, new 4WD’s are still designed to go off road, but if you punish them for hundreds of thousands of kilometres, they’ll be in worse shape than an older vehicle.
Cheap to purchase
Obviously, its much cheaper to purchase an older 4WD than a new one. Yes, there are exceptions to this, and some vehicles are holding their value to ridiculous proportions, but its hard to get a well known, modern 4WD that is relatively new for less than 45 – 50k these days.
What’s the benefits of a new 4WD?
One of the major costs of owning a 4WD is the fuel, and so many people don’t ever think about this. I’ll give you a simple example. Our Dmax has done about 110,000km, and probably averaged around 13L/100km over that period. At 2.10 a litre for diesel, that’s $30,030 that we’ve spent on fuel (it’d be less as fuel is expensive now, but you get the point).
Now, lets say we kept our 80 series Land Cruiser, which averaged around 18L/100km. That’s $41580 to do the same distance, or 38% more, or $11550 extra in fuel. We’re talking about $100 every thousand kilometres that you save, with a more modern 4WD.
If you kept a 4WD for 250,000km, that sort of fuel economy difference goes a long way to purchasing another vehicle.
Now, it can be far more extreme than this, as our 80 would have used around 20, or 22L/100km towing our Reconn R2, and that takes it to 51k, vs 30k on your fuel bill.
We’re very grateful for the warranty that our Isuzu Dmax came with, as its saved us a bucket load of money. You should know that the warranty goes beyond what the OEM offers; any product has to do what a reasonable person would expect it to, and that is quite a bit with a modern 4WD.
Any old 4WD that you buy is going to be well out of warranty, and even if you do manage to get one through a car yard, they’re usually absolute garbage, and not worth the paper they’re written on. That doesn’t mean its not worth fighting against, but they’re notorious for being unhelpful to the consumer.
Power and torque
Modern 4WD’s are remarkable when it comes to power and torque. Yes, the engines are more highly strung, but they’re delivering power figures that you’d have dreamed of back in the 90’s, and that goes a long way to towing well, overtaking and travelling long distances.
The new 300 Series Land Cruiser is 227kw and 700Nm. Compare that to a 60 series 12HT, which had 100kw and 315Nm. That’s well over double the increase, and the difference is staggering especially when paired with a nice automatic gearbox that makes much better use of the power.
Everyone wants to take their house with them when they travel today, and that means that the towing capacity of 4WD’s has had to increase hugely over the years. At one stage it was the primary marketing item, and if it didn’t have a 3500kg towing capacity, it wasn’t good enough.
If you’ve done any research into the 3500kg towing capacity setup you’d know its all smoke and mirrors anyway, but it is possible, under crazy scenarios. Take an older 4WD though, and you’d be lucky to have a 2500kg towing capacity, and that’s ignoring the GVM that you’d almost always go over.
Payloads and upgrade potential
Modern 4WD’s that are common all have approved kits that you can buy, and get installed which will bump your payload (by GVM upgrade) up. Some of them are massive increases too, and whilst that’s a different can of worms, it is one way to keep your vehicle legal.
You can even get GCM upgrades in some states (pre or post rego), and that opens up another world of opportunity, which you really struggle to get access to on older vehicles.
What’s the downsides of an old 4WD?
They’re often worn out
When you take a 4WD off road, you begin the journey of its demise. It happens slowly, but after millions of corrugations, the odd wash out, stresses on the clutch and so on and so forth, it starts to show wear and tear.
When we got our 80 Series, it had done about 350km, and whilst it still drove OK, you could tell it had been well used. You had to wait between the gear changes to let the gearbox slop out, it had some rust that needed attending to, and you could clearly see it wasn’t a new vehicle rolling out of the factory.
There were small things too, like the power windows sticking or occasionally not working, the dashboard loose and threatening to fall out (although it never did), and seatbelts that would go in, and not release (seriously; this happened on the test drive when I was selling it!).
You can take a gamble and buy a vehicle with low kilometres, but you still usually don’t know its history, and I’ve seen vehicles running PTO winches that had hardly any kilometres on them, but had lots of engine hours.
Now, a worn out vehicle isn’t necessarily the end of things, but it just means you are always going to be fixing things, and that gets old real quick. We did the rust in the 80, the transfer case, a new head, fuel pump, dash fixes and there was still a long list of things that either needed attention, or would do in due course.
Some things wear out due to use, but there are others that wear out due to age. Any rubber on your 4WD is going to be pretty knackered after 30 years, and that brings a whole new world of work in.
Its impossible to get payload increases
Our 80 Series was well over weight, and I looked into GVM upgrade options. Unfortunately, there are no approved kits, which means you can get a suspension upgrade done, but you need it to be signed off as a custom job, through an engineer, which is mega money.
We could not get our 80 series legal without removing half of the modifications done to it, and even then with a family and gear on board, plus the tow ball weight, it still would have been over. One of the reasons we moved to the Dmax was that we wanted to be legal and compliant when travelling, and the 80 series simply could not meet this criteria.
They’re not nearly as safe in a crash
You might think that a solid 4WD is a good one, but in terms of protecting the driver and passengers, old vehicles that are built like tanks are only good at protecting the vehicle. Modern cars have all sorts of safety features to try and maximise the chances of people in the vehicles surviving, and it starts with crumple zones that absorb the energy of a crash, instead of staying rock solid and passing the energy onto you.
You’ve got air bags, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, ABS braking, Electronic Stability control and a whole world of things that help you either avoid an accident in the first place, or protect you when the worst does happen.
What’s the downsides of a new 4WD?
They cost a fortune
There is no doubt that it costs a LOT of money to get a new 4WD, and that is especially the case with supply issues over the last few years. Most standard run of the mill dual cab Utes are going to sting you for about 55k new, and if you’re getting something with a few more bells and whistles you can easily be paying 75 to 80k.
Wagons aren’t much different, except for the higher end options like a 300 series, or Ineos Grenadier, where you can be paying near on 150k, and that’s for limited accessories.
The costs of accessories have gone up too, and its not hard to blow 20 – 50k in accessories, and then you’re starting to talk some serious money. Add in a nice interest rate and it can get expensive, really quickly.
Diagnosis can be a lot more challenging
Older 4WD’s have a very limited number of failure points. Things wear out, or they stop working, but there’s not an endless number of sensors, cables, environmental gear and so forth that can wreak absolute havoc on a modern 4WD.
With an older 4WD you can generally see, or find what is wrong quickly and easily. Good luck doing that to a modern 4WD that has a dash full of Christmas lights because a sensor isn’t working properly. In fact, if you don’t have an OBD2 reader your troubleshooting abilities are basically reduced to a tow truck, beyond the obvious checks.
There’s a lot more electronics to go wrong
I discussed the 80 series alternator failure above, and that’s the perfect example of limited electronics in older 4WD’s, which are a very common failure point.
New 4WD’s have more sensors and ECU’s to poke a stick at than you could ever dream of, and that means a greater probability of things going wrong. This can be from general wear and tear, or you might have a stick damage a wheel sensor when off road, and the end result is the same.
They are built with lots of constraints (emissions, safety, jack of all trades, price)
My biggest gripe, and perhaps a good summary of where modern 4WD’s fall short is that they’re built with too many constraints applied. They all have to meet strict emission requirements, which interferes hugely with building a reliable, and simple 4WD. You’ve got more hoses than you’d know what to do with, DPF’s, EGR’s, crazy high pressure fuel rails and the list goes on and on.
Then, they have to pass the safety ratings, and the better they do, the better it looks (and is for people). That means gone are the days where you could over engineer and build it like a tank, as that’s no good for safety.
A lot of 4WD’s today are built to do lots of different jobs, and that means the humble dual cab ute needs to be comfortable from the factory floor. Throw half a tonne of tools in the rear though, and it will sag like a banana, and that’s no good either.
All in all, its a big change going from old to new, or new to old, but I have to ask. Are modern 4WD’s actually better, or are we headed off in a direction you’re not overly happy about too?
Is an old 4WD or new 4WD better?
Ultimately, the answer to this question comes down to you, your budget, tolerances and what you are really looking to get out of a vehicle. There’s no right or wrong, just what works best for your needs.
I’d struggle to go back to an older 4WD, but they certainly have their appeal if you want something simple, easy to work on, well built and capable. If I lived in Melbourne, and wanted a 4WD to do trips to the High Country, I’d get an older 4WD without a shadow of a doubt.
However, for the touring that we do, towing a 2.3 tonne hybrid camper I would not get an old 4WD, as they’re not as safe for my family, use a lot more fuel, have limited payload options and reliability is up there with the most important aspect of travel for us.
That doesn’t mean they’re any better though; it just means for our application, a modern 4WD is better. What about you? Do you prefer an old rig, or a new one?