Buying a used off-roader can be risky. Here’s what you should look out for when buying a used 4×4.
A 4×4 – one that’s actually been used to go off-roading, at least – has probably led a hard life. Off-road trails place a lot of strain on a vehicle’s drivetrain, and sharp rocks tend to result in dents and scratches, so if you’re buying a 4×4 that’s been used to do what it was intended for, you need to be careful and make sure that the vehicle is still in decent order. If it hasn’t been used to go off-roading (and a lot of these vehicles are purchased purely for fashion), you still need to be careful. Here’s what you should look out for when buying one.
A good way to see what sort of life a vehicle has lived is to get down in the dirt and check the underside of the vehicle. A vehicle that’s been used to tackle tough grade-five trails will sport telltale signs. There will be nicks and scratches, and bash plates will have been, well, bashed. A few war wounds aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s important to make sure that the damage is superficial. You don’t want to buy a vehicle if a major component has been bashed, and you don’t want a vehicle with a bent or damaged chassis.
Check the bodywork
It’s almost impossible to drive 4×4 trails on a regular basis without causing a bit of damage to a vehicle’s bodywork. At some stage, a rock is going to scrape a bumper or body panel. These injuries tend to be superficial, but they can still cost a fortune to fix. If you want a vehicle that looks as if it’s just been driven off a showroom floor, be aware of the fact that even small dents and scratches can be expensive to repair.
Test the 4×4 tools
You need to make sure that the transfer case and diff locks on a vehicle work. Don’t assume that they’re in good working order simply because the relevant lights on the dashboard go on. Take the vehicle to a trail or open field and check it all works. This is just as important if the vehicle hasn’t seen much off-road action, since these components can develop issues if they haven’t been used for a while.
Have the drivechain checked
As with any second-hand vehicle, it’s important to make sure that it is mechanically sound. As mentioned, off-road driving places a lot of strain on a drivetrain, so you want to make sure that everything is in order. Call in a professional to make sure that there aren’t any worrying sounds that could suggest issues down the line.
Inspect the tyres
Tyres are expensive, especially chunky all-terrain and mud-terrain ones; so inspect a vehicle’s tyres before buying. Off-road driving can lead to tyre and rim damage, and replacing these can be hugely expensive. New rims and tyres can set you back R40 000.
Don’t forget the accessories
Many trail vehicles and overlanders have been fitted with aftermarket accessories. These don’t increase the price of a second-hand vehicle very much, so if you’re buying used, you can score some nice extras for virtually nothing. However, it’s important to make sure that these accessories are well made and have been fitted properly, as shoddy aftermarket accessories can damage a vehicle. A bad replacement suspension can ruin the ride of a 4×4, while a lift kit can damage driveshafts. A replacement bull bar could look great, but it could also render the airbags ineffective.
Text: Chris du Plooy from RFS Auto