First things first: Off-road driving is a dangerous activity that can result in injury or even death if done improperly. Consequently, you should only consider putting your money down on an SUV or 4×4 if you have the requisite knowledge and skill set to safely operate it off-road. This article will not attempt to teach you those skills, but will instead outline some things that you should watch for when looking at a used 4×4.
There are a number of things that you should look out for when searching for a used 4×4. Some may not necessarily be deal-breakers, but can inform your decision to purchase or not. They include the following:
Check the VIN and registration – The simplest way to do this is to go on a carVertical website and order VIN decoding. The last 8 digits of the VIN is the car’s unique number and will tell you important information about the past ownership history of the vehicle, as well as whether it was ever involved in an accident.
Inspect all exterior surfaces – Rust on any body panels is a massive problem for 4x4s, so look closely to see if there are any signs of rusting on the body, particularly around the wheel wells.
Look at the paint – Faded paint is a surefire indicator that the vehicle has been exposed to the sun for extended periods, and may have suffered other abuse as well. Particularly look for hazing on plastic trim inside the car.
Check for cracks in the windshield – A broken or cracked windshield can be replaced, but it will likely cost you a couple of thousand dollars to do so, so look into that before buying a 4×4 with a damaged windshield.
Inspect the interior thoroughly – Look at all upholstery and trim in the interior, and remove any seat covers to inspect for wear.
Check the mileage – You can check this on a MyFreeVIN.com website. Sometimes, mileage can be altered on a car’s odometer, so it’s wise to check the VIN decoding for further evidence of strange mileage readings.
Request an invoice or Carfax – This is the best way to know if the 4×4 has ever been in any accidents. Keep in mind that even cars that have never been in an accident can be plagued by rust problems and other flaws, so this is not a silver bullet that will guarantee that you’re getting a good deal on your 4×4.
Test drive the car – If possible, take it off-road to see how well it performs. Also listen for any weird noises or clunks when driving, as these can indicate problems with the drivetrain or other components.
Check out the underbody – One of the best ways to do this is by parking it on a hill and looking at the condition of all four corners. Any signs of damage are indicative that there may be issues with suspension components.
Test drive – Do not rely solely on your gut feeling when driving a car. It’s vital that you take the 4×4 out for a spin down some rough roads to see if anything feels off.
Ensure all the accessories work – The power windows, locks, and other features should be operational, as should all of the lights, including those on the dash as well as head and tail lights.
Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be able to tell whether a used 4×4 is worth your money or not.