Our friend Mud Flap over at Mad Digi has been kind enough to write a piece for us. Since warm weather is coming soon I figure it would be a great time to buy an off roading vehicle. It’s a great time now to buy one before everyone gets in on the annual trend and prices go up. Wanglers are the standard but there are many other alternatives that can be just as fun.
For a lot of people the Jeep Wrangler is what they think of when they imagine off roading. In the past there were only a few trucks available. Nowadays there is a huge market for off road vehicles. What was once the standard is now one of many in a crowded field. What if you don’t want a Wrangler? What if you are a die-hard GM or Ford fan? Or maybe you always had a thing for the quirky Samurai.
So What Is A Cheaper Alternative To The Jeep Wrangler?
Some direct competitors that you can purchase for less than the equivalent Wrangler include the Suzuki Samurai, Chevrolet Blazer, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder & Xterra. Even the older models like the Ford Bronco and the Toyota FJ. There are many alternatives that cost less than the Jeep Wrangler. Some may even provide better value, lesser brand appeal, or cheaper generic aftermarket parts.
What Trucks Have Aftermarket Parts Like The Wrangler?
Jeeps have such a long history it’s hard to find aftermarket part stores with catalogs rivaling those of the Wrangler and toe community that share the same passions of Wrangler owners. 4Runners do come close though. They have over forty years of history with a very solid following. Most off road stores have a wide range of accessories and performance parts for the Toyota off roading machine.
Models that have a multi decade history such as the Suzuki models, Blazer, Pathfinder & Xterra all have a decent offering of OEM replacement and direct fit aftermarket parts that can be readily available online. While Ford mostly focuses on performance off road parts for their popular F line of pickup trucks.
Can I Work Them? Are They Reliable?
One of the best parts about owning an old Jeep or similar off road truck is the joy of fixing them with your bare hands. Well a lot of times you will find yourself tinkering with them even when nothing appears wrong except for the fact that you can’t ignore getting greasy.
Ask any true Jeep owner what shop they take their Jeep to and they’ll point to themselves. The physical toll these off road machines are put through and the love they require are parts of the satisfaction of owning a Jeep. The reliability of these trucks go as far as the wrench swung at them. A daily driver with 300,000 miles isn’t unheard of.
The simplicity of Jeeps are one of their biggest strengths. The ability to work so well for how simple it is makes it a wonderful home project. Newer trucks are more complex and require advanced knowledge. Some even need a computer.
For the purpose of this article we are looking at cost. Cheaper options usually means older models. Think pre 2001~.
First generation 4Runners are great for engine swaps, suspension upgrades, interior work, and remove the rear “camper” shell to make it an open rear summer cruiser. Upgrading with the availability of non OEM parts makes the 4Runner an excellent option to replace the Jeep Wrangler.
How Do These Trucks Handle True Off Roading?
If you’re looking for a replacement with less investment than a Jeep but with the ability to have fun off the pavement you’re in luck! Some older trucks excel in the mud.
4×4 Ford Rangers with their 3.0 Vulcan engine with 155 hp and 186 lb⋅ft of torque. It was used in models from 1986-2008. It is virtually indestructible. The more season driver may desire more HP but it is an excellent option for a novice on a budget.
First generation 4Runners with lift kits can be found sold for those on a budget. Check craigslist or even maybe you can get lucky on autotrader.com. 4Runners are great overall vehicles and they do very well in the mud. I’ll include the T100 here as well as older models are basically a striped down 4Runner.
Mid 90’s Blazers are readily available and can be got for under $2k. Their weight distribution and size makes them a viable option for off roading. If you add a lift kit, and some tires you may be the most comfortable person out there. The Blazer is a road SUV that is built to go off-roading if absolutely necessary.
The price point and availability of the older (and lighter) Mitsubishi Montero equivalent of the Wrangler is almost astronomical compared with the Wrangler so we won’t say much more than that. Xterras and Pathfinders have off roading ability but you won’t have as much fun as in the others in this section.
Of course Suzukis and other Jeeps can be great for off-roading as well.
If you have visited any local parks or off roading scenes you will have noticed a lot of different trucks being thrown about and tested to their limits. A T100 with a big winch or maybe even a Suzuki driver making all the other drivers look bad. Nowadays it is common to show up with something not named Jeep.
Is Salvaged OK?
Buying a salvaged vehicle, or a vehicle that has more damage than that vehicle is worth, can sometimes be an excellent way to find a great deal on a normally much more expensive vehicle. Samcrac on youtube has an excellent channel where he buys and repairs salvaged high end vehicles. Watching his channel makes it seem anyone can buy a flattened Land Rover and make it new and shiny again.
If you’re handy with the wrench and you don’t need your off roader as a daily driver then buying a salvaged 4×4 can give you great a great option. The most important thing to keep in mind is type of damage. Was it in a wreck? Was it water damaged? Can you find out directly from the owner what happened? Were the repairs done? And if so, ALWAYS have a trusted mechanic check the work quality.
If the $2,500 Wrangler rear ended someone on the way home and insurance put a salvage title on it, this could be an excellent find where you can buy and tow the truck home and do some minor framework yourself. On the other hand if it was in an accident where there could be frame damage you’ll have to ask yourself if this is work you can successfully do.
Water damage can be very expensive to fix since it can affect so much of the vehicle. This means possibly replacing the interior, the dash, and electronics. Flushing or even rebuilding everything under the hood. Or it could be as simple as ripping out everything that smells, a thorough cleaning and lots of lube.
It really depends on the situation and the extent of the damage. Sometimes buying a salvaged Jeep can be the best option. You will be forced to learn how to fix your car in case (or when) the situation happens in the future. You will have to invest in tools and knowledge of your new found hobby. “Necessity is the mother of invention” and in the matter of fixing older Jeeps “necessity is the guardian of ability“.
So you’re chomping at the bit for a new project? Or maybe you’re tired of watching others have fun climbing rocks or wading through mud in their 4x4s? I hope you have found this information helpful in your decisions to get a Wrangler or the many other options for on and off road fun.
If you have had experiences you would like to share then leave a comment below!
Have a good one and stay dirty.