What 4WD should you buy? What suits your requirements?

There are a heap of options when it comes to buying a 4WD. The most important factor you consider is what you require, and how the 4WD meets this criteria. Lot’s of people don’t put enough thought into it, and end up with the wrong vehicle.

In this post, we look at some of the important things to look into, which should help you to pick the right 4WD.  What it really comes down to is that every person has different needs that their car should ultimately fulfil, and if you get that right you are on a good path.

A big 100 series land cruiser
A big 100 series land cruiser

Some people want huge lifts and tyres to be able to do extreme competition 4WDing, whilst others just want a reliable vehicle that is set up to comfortably tow a caravan around the country.

We’ve come to realise that a reliable 4WD is one of the most important factors for touring, but not everyone values that so much.

Whatever it is that you want, chances are that you will have to spend a lot of time getting it right.

Its important is that you get it right the first time, because having to re do modifications that you are not happy with or sell and buy a new car can be a very, very expensive ball game.

Besides looking at private buys offline, you can look online at places like eBay and you will often find some great cars for good value.

Below are a few of the important things that you should consider when choosing the four wheel drive that suits you most. This will help you get the best 4WD in Australia (the one that does what you need it to!)

Pemberton 4WD tracks
What do you want from your 4WD?

What do you want to do with your 4WD?

Although a very general question, it is highly relevant. Consider what you are buying the car for in the first place. Do you really need a 4WD?

Is it to travel around the country with, or just to use for weekends? Will your partner have to drive it and use it for shopping and driving around town?

Do you want to drive through mud like this?
Do you want to drive through mud like this?

How many passengers will you be carrying? Where is it going to get driven most? If I want to modify it, are there parts available to suit that particular car at a good price? If it is going to be used in remote areas, how easy is it to fix problems and get parts? 

All of these questions might be small and niggly, but they add up. If you seriously take the time to consider all the variables regarding what 4WD to purchase, then you will be much better off.

How much do you want to spend?

This is probably the most limiting factor when choosing a 4WD. Before you purchase a vehicle, you need to consider the amount of money that you have to spend. Sit down and think about how much you can afford, and how much of that will have to go to repairs and modifications.

A suzuki Sierra
A Suzuki Sierra

Work out the cost of modifications and add them to the total cost of the vehicle. Adding new things to your car can be very expensive, and if you max out your budget just buying the dream car that you want then you will not be able to modify it very much.

A GU ute set up for camping
A GU Ute set up for camping

Often buying a car that has a few more kilometres on the clock is worth it, if it means you can afford some better tyres, a lift and other accessories. The money side of buying a four wheel drive is very important, and if you mess it up it can be very painful. Don’t spend more than you need to.

What is the point of buying the newest vehicle on the market if you just want to take it into the bush and give it a flogging? You will only be forced to sell it a few months later for a huge discount.

I have seen it happen too. Buy something cheaper that is just as reliable to have a bash in. I believe in getting a Cheap 4×4, and by that I mean something that is good value for money!

What type of car should you buy

There are many, many types of car manufacturers out there. They all compete with each other to build the cheapest, most capable and reliable vehicle. What it comes down to is that the more common vehicles generally have a readily available range of parts at a reasonable price.

A 4wd buggy with a huge engine
A 4WD buggy built for one purpose; to race!

Every vehicle manufacturer has made bad vehicles, and exceptional vehicles. The trick is to find one of the exceptional vehicles and to do your research on them.

Whether it’s a Toyota, Nissan, Jeep, Land Rover, Range Rover, Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi, Subaru or other is totally irrelevant as long as the car you buy is reliable and it does what you want it to.

Of course, be prepared to have the Mickey taken out of you for purchasing a brand different to your mates!

Make sure you think about what you are going to be doing. For example, Beach Driving does not require highly modified 4WD Vehicles!

Should you buy a new 4WD?

Personally, I will never buy a new car. I know that if everyone had this same opinion then car manufacturers would go broke, but it just does not make sense to me. New cars are often untested in the real world, and problems that appear will always happen in new cars that have not been sold before.

A fairly new Mitsubishi Triton
A fairly new Mitsubishi Triton

Buying a vehicle that has been tested and had all of the bugs fixed up can save you a lot of trouble! By this, I mean a brand new vehicle that comes out will always have problems. It’s the second and third generation ones that come out that are the most reliable.

That said, the most reliable 4WD in Australia is always going to be something newer, that’s proven itself over a couple of iterations.

That is only one small side to my opinion. When you buy a new car, you instantly lose a few thousand dollars the second you drive it off the dealer’s property. Consider a show car that has done a few hundred kilometres (and is no longer ‘new’) which will always be several thousand dollars cheaper!

With that money you can go and buy new tyres, bar work, suspension, a draw set, fridge or whatever it may be that you need on your vehicle.

A single cab hilux
A single cab hilux

Many people buy a 4WD and decide that they don’t like it, and sell it after only a few thousand dollars. This is where the savings really come in.

A car that has done less than 20,000km’s can be sold for up to $10,000 less than the new price. Do you know how many modifications that you can do to your car for 10 grand?

The older the car, the less it will depreciate in value over time. When you buy a new 50k four wheel drive, it’s only worth 20k a few years later. That’s 30 grand less in only a few years!

Obviously the car isn’t going to be in the same condition as new, but there are many older cars that are incredibly reliable and far more capable than the new ones with a few modifications. Of course, you don’t have to buy an old car, but something in the middle is what I would always aim for.

What size 4WD should you get?

This is a very important part of choosing the right 4WD. If you do a lot of driving around town, then maybe you don’t want a huge Land Cruiser, but a Jeep might suit you perfectly!

Not only are bigger cars often more thirsty on fuel, but they are a pain to park and drive around the city.

A 60 series Landcruiser; a big car.
A 60 series Landcruiser; a big car.

Perhaps your partner isn’t so confident in a large car. How many people do you plan on driving around regularly? How tall are they? Are they still growing?

Obviously the large the car the more you can pack into it, but do you need that much room? If you have a trailer, boat, camper trailer or caravan, then maybe you do need a big four wheel drive to tow it.

4WD or all wheel drive?

Several years ago you could only buy a 2wd or 4wd car. All wheel drive cars have only come out in the last few years, and generally will perform worse off-road than a true four wheel drive. The difference is in the strength of the drive components, and that all wheel drive cars lack low range.

A 100 Series Landcruiser in the mud
A 100 Series Landcruiser in the mud

Of course, if you just want a four wheel drive to carry kids around town, then an all wheel drive car would work just fine. They are alright for basic four wheel driving, but as soon as it gets tough you really need a true four wheel drive, with low range.

How old should your 4WD be?

This depends on the type of car that you are looking at, and largely your budget. There are a number of cars that exist today for fewer than 20k which are more than 10 years old, but still have hundreds of thousands of kilometres left in their motors.

Some cars don’t last as long as others. You need to look for a car that is going to fit your budget but still be reliable. Some of the older land cruisers are very cheap and will do over a million kilometres on the same engine.

The best second hand 4WD in Australia is one that has plenty of life left, and will do what you need it to.

Old landcruisers like this are still common
Old Land Cruisers like this are still common

Look around, decide what you want, do your research and then make your choice. Personally, I would be less concerned about the age of the car than the condition of the engine, amount of rust, condition of the driveline and the number of kilometres it has done (and where they have been done!).

Is petrol better than diesel or gas?

There is no definitive answer to this. What is known however is that most new diesel engines that are coming out today are more economical than petrol engines, and they no longer drive like trucks.

A single cab v8 toyota hilux
A single cab v8 toyota hilux

Today, you can run your car on straight petrol, diesel or gas, or a combination of petrol and gas, or diesel and gas. There are a few important things to remember when considering petrol, gas, diesel or dual fuel:

Petrol engines can rev higher than diesels

Petrol and gas engines don’t handle water crossings as well

Diesel is the most economical fuel, then petrol and then gas.

Gas is the cheapest fuel source, and although it has less energy it makes a car cheap to run.

Diesel engines need servicing more regularly than a petrol or gas

Diesel engines have more torque

Diesel engines tend to be more reliable, because they are simpler.

You need a lot of gas to travel the same distance as a little bit of diesel. To make this clear; 20 litres of gas might get you 110 kilometres, whilst 20 litres of petrol might get you 140 kilometres and 20 litres of diesel might get you 170 litres. Of course, this entirely depends on the car and engine itself (injected gas is almost as efficient as injected petrol).

A standard gas tank holds in between 60 – 90 litres. A standard petrol and diesel is about 75 litres, but you can get long range tanks for these. A long range tank may be able to hold up to 220 litres of fuel, but more common are 140 litre tanks.

Diesel cars are usually more expensive, and slower than a petrol or gas. A true Long Range Fuel Tank can only be fitted to diesel or petrol vehicles; LPG tanks are too big!

Whilst there may be some exceptions to the above, in general it is the case. Again, it comes down to what you want the vehicle for.

If you want a vehicle for towing and long distance travelling, get a diesel. If you want a quick car that isn’t going to tow much then buy a petrol 4wd and/or get it converted to dual fuel (then you can run it on both gas and petrol).

A 4wd set up for competitions
A 4wd set up for competitions

The thing with petrol and gas four wheel drives is that when you drive them hard they start to drink considerably more than a diesel will. A petrol towing something heavy or driving on soft sand can use up to 60% more fuel, whilst a diesel will only use up to 30% more.

Both types of engines have advantages, and you need to consider what is best for what you want.

I will just quickly mention dual fuel diesel cars. This is technology that has not been very common in diesel cars for many years, but today they are becoming very popular. Unlike a petrol/gas dual fuel car, which uses either one or the other in pure form, a diesel gas car will run part diesel and part gas.

Most of these cars will run 75% diesel and 25% gas. A good conversion will make the car much more economical, more powerful and able to travel more kilometres on one ‘tank’.

Also, because you are only using a fraction of gas the gas tank does not have to be very large. To match a 100 litre diesel tank you may only need a 30 litre gas tank. You can still run the car on pure diesel if you can’t get gas anywhere, which is advantageous.

What is road legal where you live?

This is a very touchy subject. I will be frank; there are a lot of illegal cars out there, and finding the rules is not always easy.

Also, once you have found them you have to check they are actually correct (finding someone who knows what they are talking about can be difficult) and then you have to interpret them as well. What it boils down to however is that there are a number of laws that your 4WD must obey. If you aren’t sure, check this out: Is your 4WD legal?

My hilux
My original Hilux

These are there for safety, and restrict tyre sizes, lift heights, engine modifications, accessories and a whole range of other things. You are able to get things that are illegal made legal through engineers, but it is very expensive and has to be safe.

You need to be well aware of how you modify your car from the laws point of view before you do anything to your car! If you just throw a huge lift and massive tyres on your car, then expect to get pulled over and kicked off the road.

Not only is it expensive to play the modification vs legal game, it is incredibly frustrating. My advice is to find out what is legal in your state, and go from there. If you want to go outside of what is specified, then see an engineer and they can help you out. Just be prepared to fork out the big bucks!

Will you use it for towing?

If you have a boat, trailer or caravan then this is a very important point. There is nothing worse than buying a four wheel drive that can’t tow your boat safely or comfortably. Towing something that is too big for the vehicle is not only costly in fuel, but dangerous and it works your engine very hard.

A GQ Patrol has a decent sized engine.
A GQ Patrol has a decent sized engine.

All 4WD’s have different weight and size limits for towing, and you need to consider this before you pay any money!

I see a number of people in Western Australia buying brand new v8 Land cruisers not to use for four wheel driving, but simply to safely tow big 2 tonne boats around without spending huge dollars on fuel.

Want the ultimate towing guide? Check this out – Simple towing capacity guide

What modifications should you do to your 4WD?

When you buy a car, you want to modify it so that it is reliable, comfortable, practical and easy to use. If you go camping regularly, maybe you want a rooftop tent, a drawer set at the back, canopy that folds out from the car, a fridge or Ice Chest and a few more of the hundreds of accessories that you can add to your car.

A lifted GQ Patrol
A lifted GU Patrol

The more that you personalise the car to your individual needs the more fun that you will have on a trip, and the easier it all is. Again, be sure to take notice of what the law permits before you make any changes to your car! One of the first modifications that is well worth doing is getting new 4×4 Tyres.

Where can you get a 4WD from?

You can buy 4WD’s online, through private advertising or through a car yard or auction. What is more important than where you get it from is the condition that it is in, and whether it is value for money.

There are many car yards that will rip you off, so be well and truly informed of the value of the car that you are looking at.

Don’t buy something on impulse; give it time and make sure that you have done the right research first. Don’t bother with cars that don’t have a regular service history or that look dodgy in any way. Buy something that is good value for money, reliable and within your budget!

You can pay the RAC and various other companies to check a vehicle to see how mechanically sound it is, and this is often well worth the money.

Should you buy a stock 4WD or one with modifications?

This is a hard question, and it’s a trade off one way or the other. To put it bluntly, 4×4 Accessories for your car are expensive, and buying a car that already has some modifications to it can be a real money saver.

The only problem is that the more modifications the car has, the more four wheel driving it is likely to have done, and the more severe the four wheel driving it will have done.

A standard 4wd with limited modifications
A standard 4wd with limited modifications

The more 4WDing a car has done the more damage it is likely to have done to it. Basically you either buy something that you are sure has never been taken off-road, or you buy something that has modifications and hope it hasn’t been thrashed.

I think a good compromise is to buy something that has a few modifications but nothing severe.

You would know that a car with dual diff locks, a big exhaust system, engine modifications, 35 inch tyres and a 5 inch lift would have done some serious off-road work, and unless you know the owner I would stay clear.

In saying this, you can get some brilliant deals when buying cars with all the fruit, but you have to decide whether it is worth the risk!

Does your job affect what 4WD you should get?

That might sound a bit odd, but what 4WD you buy can be influenced by what your job involves. Many trades’ people wouldn’t be able to survive without a Ute to carry their tools around. If you can find something that will do both work and play then all the better!

Utes are great for four wheel driving, but they might not be so handy if you have 5 kids!

Pajero's make good touring 4wds
Pajero’s make good touring 4wds

A checklist; What 4WD to buy?

Does it have a regular service history?

Is it good value for money?

Does it have any rust?

Has it been used for towing?

How much beach work and other 4wding has it done?

Has it been in any accidents?

Is it the original engine?

What is wrong with it?

Why is it being sold?

Is it big enough for what I need?

Can I afford to run it?

Are parts easy to get?

How much does the servicing cost?

What are some common faults with the type of car?

Are there plenty of modifications for the vehicle?

Is it a legal vehicle?

Are there any leaks?

Does all of the electronics work (stereo, spotlights, indicators, brake and reverse lights, electric windows, gps, UHF etc)?

Who serviced the car; are the reputable?

Does it drive well?

How much is insurance going to cost?

Who did the modifications?

At the end of the day, what 4WD you buy should be decided based on a whole range of factors. Make a list of what you want, and what you don’t want.

Consider both the negatives and positives of the car that you are buying and go from there. Above all, take your time, do the research right the first time and then have a ball in your new reliable, good looking and capable car.

Take a look at the post I did on My Hilux and you can see what I looked for.

Toyota Hilux Surfs are good cars
Toyota Hilux Surfs are good cars

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  1. Hi Nguyen,

    Are you going to use it as a daily driver as well? There aren’t actually many petrol options out there these days, except the Y62 Patrol which is a great vehicle.

    Otherwise, I’d be looking at a Toyota Prado. If you were interested in dual cab Utes then there are lots of other options, and I’d probably look at the new shape Dmax or BT50

    All the best in your search!

  2. Hi Aaron
    I am looking for a 4wheel drive , just use it for long trip and one day will drive around Australia and some time more confident to go off road.
    I need the car is very safe to protect my family, reliable, comfortable for long trip and going to use it for long time.
    Would you please advice me to buy a petro car or desiel car, my budge is around 60k, even though the used car is fine.
    I am looking forward to hearing your advice
    Thanks you very much

  3. Hey Carl,

    No worries, and welcome! You’ll have a ball together

    All the best

  4. Thanks Aaron, great post. My son is 14 and we’ve been talking about getting a 4WD that he and I can work on together for when he gets his license.
    Subscribed and I’m sure we’ll be asking a few questions along the way.

  5. I’d look at a Pajero. If you aren’t going to do a lot of kilometres a petrol one is pretty good value.

    You wont need huge modifications, just a solid, reliable vehicle


  6. Thanks Aaron,
    Budget of $22k max
    Need to carry 3 adults + 1 dog but minimal camping gear.
    Happy to do whatever reconditioning required to assure long distance reliability.

  7. Hi Dave,

    What sort of budget? Without knowing that, I’d probably look at a Pajero, or Pathfinder. If your budget goes further, maybe a Prado or MUX


  8. I’m looking for a 2nd car for occasional weekend/holiday use on trips interstate (from NSW) that are likely to involve graded gravel country roads, perhaps creek crossings & less frequently, bush tracks & maybe beaches but definitely no towing of any sort, rock-hopping or desert adventures.
    So I’d be grateful for suggestions on makes. models & years for a long distance comfortable touring vehicle with off road ability ?

  9. Hi Nick,

    This is one of the big debates – much like petrol four wheel drives vs diesel ones. At the end of the day all you can do is research online and see what the overall opinions are. In general though:

    – Need to stay cool and for extensive towing often require modifications to the transmission
    – Use slightly more fuel
    – Lack engine breaking
    – Increased brake wear
    – You can’t stall the engine
    – Gear changes are much quicker and as a result tend to be considerably better for sand driving

    – Are more simple
    – Require clutches to be replaced
    – Can be push started
    – Are more economical
    – More fun to drive

    I mentioned it is a much debated topic – many people say that Automatics are considerably better for four wheel drives, and then you get others who say the opposite. I prefer manuals, but it doesn’t mean they are better.

    Have a search on google, and you will find plenty of (heated) discussions about which is better!


  10. Great site man. I’m interested in what your thoughts are with regards to Automatics v’s Manuals when it comes to 4wds. I’ve heard different things, what do you think the pros and cons are of each?

  11. Thanks for the visit. Twitter can be helpful to share ideas, this is true 🙂

  12. Hey, this blog is really happening! It took me quite a while to read through all the replies. I appreciate the idea of tweeting the post so that more readers find it!

  13. Alfredia Yeldell says:

    Thanks for sharing! Keep up the nice work.