You have to admit, every man, child, woman and dog seems to be going crazy over dual-cab utes at the moment. And for good reason, too! But what if you prefer having your cargo safely stowed inside the cabin of a wagon while exploring? Well there’s good news! Thanks to the extra demand for modern dual-cabs, picking up a second-hand 4X4 wagon has never been easier or cheaper than it is right now.
So, you know you want a wagon but what do you look for if you have a budget of say $15,000 burning a hole in your pocket? You can get a serious amount of 4X4 wagon for that price, hopefully with enough change left over to fill up the fuel tank, too. Before you get too excited however, this is the price bracket where neglected or abused vehicles usually end up for a quick sale. It pays to take your time and find the right 4X4.
Here’s the sub $15,000 wagons we would happily park in the Unsealed 4X4 garage.
TOYOTA 105-SERIES LANDCRUISER
YEARS MADE: 1998-2007
EXPECT TO PAY: $15,000+
WHO SHOULD BUY ONE: Everyone!
Okay, those that need a tough, reliable and low frills tourer.
The 105-series LandCruiser would have to be one of the most honest 4X4s on the used market. Following on from the success of the 80-series, which will go down in history as one of the most-loved 4X4s in Australia, Toyota have made a good thing better with the 105. What we love about it is the fact it is stripped back, but still looks appealing.
There is plenty of room for the whole family; off-road capability is up there with the best of them, and electrical components are capped to the bare minimum making this one bush-ready tourer.
Think vinyl seats and floors, manual window winders, and part-time 4X4 with manual locking hubs but with coil springs on each corner, a super reliable diesel (or petrol if that’s your poison) engine. Bold prediction, but a 105 Series will be one of those 4X4s you wish you bought and held onto in a few years time. So if you find one today under $15,000 and it hasn’t lived its life on a mine site, grab it!
NISSAN Y61 GU PATROL
YEARS MADE: 1997- Current
EXPECT TO PAY: $12,000 – $15,000+
WHO SHOULD BUY ONE: If you have broken CV joints or diff centres in the past, buy a GU and never have the problem again.
We all know the GQ Patrol was a tough old thing, but the more modern GU is tougher again. Not only is the GU stronger than the GQ in terms of driveline components, but it rides, handles and just plain drives better too, thanks to the modern fixtures utilised. With a variety of engines to choose from, there are more GUs on the market than nearly any other 4X4. This means picking up the buy of the century is as easy as opening up the classifieds.
If you see a GU with the venerable 4.2L TD42 engine, make it yours! However for under $15,000 you will more than likely come across plenty of RD28 (2.8L) or ZD30 (3.0L) turbo-diesel power plants. If petrol power is your thing, the TB45 and TB48 motors are reliable and powerful as the sun, but like a drink like a sailor. The good news is many will have been fitted with LPG conversions already, significantly reducing the running costs.
Pay close attention to off-road damage when shopping for a prospective GU, as it’s fair to say most have been used off-road. While they are plenty tough enough to take it, with the amount of vehicles on offer, why settle for something that has been potentially abused?
MITSUBISHI PAJERO THIRD GENERATION
YEARS MADE: 2000-2006
EXPECT TO PAY: $12,000+
WHO SHOULD BUY ONE: Keen long distance tourers, or those seeking a comfortable ride on- and off-road
In many ways the third generation Mitsubishi was ahead of its time. Utilising independent suspension on all four corners, and a monocoque chassis to offer a silky-smooth ride over undulating terrain, the Pajero offers unrivalled on-road and fast dirt road performance.
Basically the Pajero is as car-like as you can get a mid-size 4X4 wagon, and if your idea of 4X4 adventure is cresting sand dunes, driving extended distances on dirt and corrugations, or pottering around National Parks, the Pajero is hard to beat. Sure it lacks some of off-road ability in extreme situations, but there isn’t much a third generation Pajero couldn’t tackle with a decent set of tyres, a mild suspension lift and perhaps a diff lock or two. It just might have a wheel in the air while doing so.
As a side note, the 3.2L turbo-diesel engine powering the Gen III Pajero is our pick. Sure the petrol powered Pajero offers a more refined ride, but they are notoriously heavy on fuel, especially when towing. The diesels are powerful and economical – just what you want in a good touring vehicle.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER 110
YEARS MADE: 1992- Current
EXPECT TO PAY: $12,000+
WHO SHOULD BUY ONE: Serious 4X4 tourers… or those who just want one
It’s safe to say the Land Rover Defender is one of the most iconic 4X4s created. Love them or hate them, you can’t deny they look the part.
In the sub $15,000 bracket you will be able to pick up an older 300tdi powered Defender, which is actually a blessing in disguise. While down on power compared to modern oilers, the 300tdi will go down in history as one of the most-robust diesels Land Rover produced. And even though the Defender has the aerodynamics of a box of tissues, the 300tdi is remarkably frugal with many owners reporting fuel consumption figures under 10L/100km. This is seriously impressive for such a big 4X4!
Thanks to aluminium panel work rust is less of an issue (check the chassis and doors for rust though), and the mechanicals are so simple that servicing and repairs are straightforward enough. Just be sure to have the timing belt changed at 80-100,000km intervals to avoid expensive engine damage. We won’t mention oil leaks or leaking air vents either, because if you’re considering a Defender you knew about them already…
TOYOTA PRADO 90-SERIES
YEARS MADE: 1996-2002
EXPECT TO PAY: $5000-$15,000+
WHO SHOULD BUY ONE: Young families wanting to get outdoors without fuss
The 90-series Prado was doomed to be judged as ‘soft’ from day one, with Toyota’s marketing campaign targeting those who wanted to ‘survive the city’. The truth is while the Prado isn’t and wont ever be a rock-crawler, it is a very capable thing if used within its means. The components used happen to be shared with other Toyotas such as the Hilux, meaning it’s strong enough and easy to fix or upgrade if required. And while you might be able to find a more modern 120-series Prado in this price bracket, you would be better off looking for a neater 90-series, hopefully with some accessories already fitted.
Available with two different petrol engines and one turbo-diesel (2.7L 3RZ, 3.4L 5VZ-FE and the 3.0L turbo-diesel 1KZ-TE engine) there are plenty of choices available on the used market. Both the petrol engines are known for being tough and long lasting. In fact Toyota even offers factory forced induction systems for these engines in the USA. The turbo-diesel engine on the other hand has a reputation for cracking heads. Ensure the cooling system on any potential 1KZ-TE you inspect is in top condition, and have a reputable mechanic inspect the vehicle before purchasing just for your own peace of mind.
Comfort, reliability and off-road ability (despite what the initial marketing campaign suggested) all in a sub $15k vehicle is pretty hard to beat. But if that’s exactly what you’re looking for then the Prado could be well worth a look.
Words By Evan Spence