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7 CHEAP Overlanding Rigs for Beginners

2018 toyota 4runner off road
Relations Race Wheels

It’s almost summer! It’s time to hit the open road! Are you stuck in a Honda Civic and the idea of tackling a rugged road trip seems impossible? Good news, everyone, I’m going to show you 7 cheap trucks and SUVs to start you on your overland adventure!

These rides will take you across the open road, down the dusty trail, and over any mountain you want! Grab your gear, and let’s hit the trails!

Jeep Cherokee XJ – XJ is OK

Wikipedia

To start us off is the notorious Jeep Cherokee XJ, a super capable off-road beast that we’re all familiar with. Why do we recommend this and not the insanely-hyped Jeep Wrangler? This is a more budget friendly-option with just as good performance as the Wrangler.

And unlike the Wrangler, you get a freakin’ roof over your head and a lot more room! Offered in both rear-wheel and 4-wheel drive, you’re definitely going to want to grab the model powering all four wheels if you want to tackle any kind of terrain!

The XJ Cherokee had a production run of nearly 20 years! It came equipped with a few different engines over its life, including a 4-cylinder. But, you’re definitely going to want to get one with the notoriously durable 4.0-liter inline-six cylinder. That power plant has been known to go the distance and last for hundreds of thousands of miles!

And this being a Jeep, there is a ton of aftermarket support for the XJ, making this an ideal choice for a beginner who doesn’t want to figure out how to custom fabricate equipment themselves.

The XJ had very few changes in its two decades, so prices for them are all fairly similar, usually under $10,000, and often far less than that! Now, if you asked us, we’d say go with a 1997 or newer XJ, as it got an upgraded interior and exterior. And good news, we found a white XJ with a V6 for just $4,500!

Alright, alright, maybe you’re thinking, Duh! Everyone knows about the XJ. Well, a far less obvious, but a far more comfortable choice would be the Mitsubishi Montero!

Mitsubishi Montero – Mighty Mitsu

1989 mitsubishi montero pajero
Curbside Classic

Do you want to scramble over rocks in the middle of nowhere and look cool doing it? Then the Mighty Mitsu might just be the rig for you. You may know it as the Pajero, Colt Shogun, Dodge Raider, these are all names for the Mitsubishi Montero in different markets. This vehicle even has racing pedigree. Monteros conquered the Day Dakar rally in the 1990’s and took home 150 stage wins, almost twice that of its closest rival.

The pedestrian Pajero comes as a 4×4 mid-size SUV for 2nd generation variants and full-size SUV’s for 3rd generation onwards. There are a few  different engine sizes, but we would recommend the 3.5-liter or 3.8-liter V6 engine. The Montero is kind of known for being a slug, so getting the biggest, most powerful engine is going to help you keep up with your V8 Land Cruiser buddies.

Prices for Monteros are kind of the same no matter what generation you choose, so go for a 3rd generation model! They come with more modern features and technology that you want if you’re going off-road. Some of these features include lower unibody construction with an integral ladder frame chassis for increased torque and rigidity. The fuel tank was also shifted in between the axles for better weight distribution and to allow more ground clearance.

All this adds up to a versatile, comfortable, and capable off-roader with room for your gear, making it one of the best choices for a cheap overlander! Sound too good to be true? Well, it might be.

You see, they’re pretty rare. Good examples of older generations are becomming harder and harder to find. But with a little detective work, we were able to find an absolutely gorgeous one for just $5,950! Good value for your money, worth every dime, and you don’t have to worry about aftermarket support for this one. Quite beautiful to look at too, you just might get the girls with this one.

Moving on to something more familiar, next, we have something with a little less room for people but a whole lot more room for gear. The Ford Ranger!

Ford Ranger XLT – Home on the Ranger

2011 ford ranger xlt
Biscayne Auto Sales

I know, I know, I know, we see Ford Rangers everywhere. You probably know someone who owns one. Hell, your uncle probably owns one. It’s literally in every other parking lot or yard, and I’m going to tell you why. The Ford Ranger is a super capable little truck, and it’s super cheap!

Ford made something like 43 trillion of them over decades, and the new ones are really something, but that’s a story for another day. The benefit of that popularity? Parts are cheap. Hell, this truck is so cheap you might just replace the whole thing when something breaks.

Rangers are also endlessly customizable. Grab a long travel lift kit to get you over wilder terrain, slap some meaty tires on, and you can get a fiberglass top for the bed. Never sleep outside again!  They come with solid axles, big tires, and have better aftermarket support than most competitors because they’ve been around longer.

Now, there are a ton of Rangers out there. How do you know which to choose? Our advice, go for the 1998 through 2011 model XLT’s. Definitely make sure you’re getting 4-wheel drive, and maybe try and get a SuperCab if you want some room for your gear! We found a 2001 Ranger XLT that has it all for under $3,300!

If you’re on a budget, grab yourself a little Ranger, take it to work all day, and still fire it up to the mountains in winter without a worry. You’re killing two birds with one stone. Win! But, like, don’t actually kill birds.

Now, to move on to something less common but equally fantastic, we have the Isuzu Trooper.

Isuzu Trooper – I See You, Isuzu

1995 isuzu trooper
Bring a Trailer

That’s right. Isuzu. When’s the last time you thought of Isuzu? For a lot of our readers, that might just be never. Well, pay attention, because the Trooper is actually one of the best values in overlanding today, especially if you’re a tall glass of water. You see, the Trooper has the most storage space inside of any rig on this list. You can store an entire bicycle inside without removing a wheel!

Its capability on the road and off easily compares to more expensive rigs, it even came with one of the highest ground clearances of its time when it was released. The Trooper holds up! Let’s get real, who wants to spend extra money for something they could get cheaper? Definitely not me.

Overlanders and off-roaders appreciate the capability of this rig for the price. And I’m talking in the low  $1,000 range for older models. I was able to find one that looks pretty clean for just $1,300. That’s insane! That’s less than you’d spend on tires for some of these rigs.

You probably want to go for the 2nd generation model. More aftermarket support, better body style, bigger, more powerful V6 engine, and wider wheelbase, which gives you better efficiency. If you can, go for one with the updated 3.5-liter V6, and always keep an eye out for a manual when you can. Used 2nd generation Troopers will cost you bit more than that $1,300 bargain, typically floating around $4,000. We found a nice one with the 3.5-liter at only $3,499.

Just keep in mind, the Trooper isn’t the most reliable ride on this list. So, with all that money you saved, maybe pack a few tools for your first few outings.

Now, the most reliable ride on this list, and I bet you all were just waiting for me to bring it up, is the Lexus GX470.

Lexus GX470 – Squidd’s Choice

2009 lexus gx470
Wikimedia Commons

No joke, if you’re really looking for an overlanding, off-roading SUV under $10,000, stop right here. You’ve found it. I’m going to talk briefly about this modern marvel, but seriously, check out my full length video on the GX if you really want to get the inside scoop!

Okay, you won’t find a better, bigger, more badass, more luxurious, dead reliable, and more capable rig right now than the GX470. It’s the ultimate all-in-one vehicle that you can find at this price right now. Well, now that my videos out, maybe they’re going up in price, so hurry.

It’s a mid-sized 4×4 5-door luxury SUV with a 4.7-liter V8 engine, and it’s also known as the Land Cruiser Prado. The GX is loaded with features to make your overlanding life easier, Toyota’s A-TRAC system that gets you over anything, a center-locking differential, full-time 4-wheel drive with selectable low, and Downhill Assist Control that modulates descent down a slope.

The interior screams luxury and comfort, and offers two rows of seating with an optional third row in the rear. Toyota was really just showing off when they made the GX470, and we love it! This being a Land Cruiser, and sharing it’s platform with the 4Runner, Land Cruiser, and FJ Cruiser, aftermarket parts are in strong supply, and there are so many ways you can upgrade this ride for any overlanding needs.

Right now, you can snatch one of these up for under $10,000, swap out the tires, and go out and dominate nearly any terrain, all from the comfort of your leather-lined, wood grain interior with the AC blasting. Or you can be like me and start messing with perfection, adding bigger wheels, bigger tires, a rooftop tent, and, well, I have lot more planned.

Now, if you’re lookin to buy, get a 2005 or newer model for extra power, or a 2003 or 2004 if you want more simplicity and don’t mind the lack of grunt. Either way you’ve got a rig that’ll go hundreds and hundreds of thousands of miles, and conquer any terrain out of the box, all for under $10,000. In fact, I found one for just $6,000 and it’s a 2005!

But maybe you don’t need the most capable ride ever made, and want something a little more reasonable for your daily drive. Then you’re looking at a Subaru Outback.

Subaru Outback – Overlanding Outback

Driving.ca

A car? You want me to take a car out into the wild? Don’t be so surprised! The “Overlanding Outback” has gained popularity in recent years due to its outstanding capability and daily drivability. Subarus have long been the choice of tree-hugging hippies who need to reach roads less travelled, and thanks to their popularity, they make a great cheap first option for getting started in the world of overlanding!

The Outback is a Subaru Legacy which has some extra body panelling, beefier suspension, a raised roof, two-tone paint, a roof rack, and a bigger set of tires. It also surprisingly has useful towing capacity. It’s no giant 4×4 SUV or pickup, but the station wagon option offers more space for storage and sleeping, which makes it suitable for trips and camping. And that big roof with the built-in roof rack means you can store all manner of gear or rock a rooftop tent.

The big advantage of the Outback over the rest of the cars on this list is its fuel economy, as its consumption is more or less like that of a mid-sized saloon car. But with 7.3 inches of ground clearance and capable all-wheel drive, you get confidence normally associated with bigger trucks on rough roads and harsh weather, while keeping a daily driver car-like personality!

These are easily available under $5,000 for models in the early 2000’s, and slightly higher for newer models, of course. I found one for just $2,500 with the L.L.Bean package!

Alright, I’m sure some of you more experienced overlanders have been waiting for me to say the magic word. It’s time to talk 4Runner.

Toyota 4Runner – Yeah, Buy This One

2010 toyota 4runner
Wikimedia Commons

Guys, we have a winner. Need I say more? Buy it. Go on any dirt road in America, and you’re going to see a 4Runner. You’ll probably see a dozen of them. This is the de facto choice of those that need to explore the wild.

The engineering on the 4Runner is like nothing on any other car made by Toyota. Yes, not even the GX470. The 4Runner is always packed with the latest off-road technology, including Hill Start Assist and Downhill Assist Control, which come in handy for the mountain lovers.

It has a solid rear axle, which is known for its long term durability. And it’s a dang Toyota, it’s going to run forever.

Toyota made the 4Runner in three trim levels: the SR5, Sport Edition and Limited Edition. The SR5 is the more affordable version of the three. All the versions come with a standard 4.0-liter V6 giving 245 horsepower, but if you’re really lucky, there’s the option to go for the 4.7-liter V8. That’s real hard to find though. But the V6 won’t disappoint, it’s plenty capable when paired with the stout 4-wheel drive system. The 4Runner is built for off-road adventures and outshines pretty much any other SUV.

Now, all that performance comes at a cost, 4Runners ain’t cheap. For a proper 4-wheel drive example with reasonable miles, you’re looking at about $7,000. Even at that price, though, this is your ideal deal. They’re just dead reliable and capable out of the box, so even when you break the bank spending $7,000 on this 4Runner, you can at least be confident you won’t have to spend much more at all to keep it rolling for years and years to come.

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