Should you spend the extra money on a 4×4 model when buying used, or should you save the cash? It depends on your needs and expectations.
Regardless of whether you’re buying new or used, the issue of drivetrain is an important consideration. Sure, it’s great to have a 4×4 system, but do you really need it? When it comes to buying used, it’s particularly important to think things over carefully first. Not only does a 4WD system add to the price of a vehicle, but it can impact its reliability. 4WD systems, transfer cases and diff locks are all complex components, and unless you truly have need for them, they are nothing but a liability. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding if you need an SUV or bakkie with a 4WD system.
4WD vs 2WD
These days, many bakkies are 2WD only, although you can opt for 4WD versions, especially if you’re shopping at the top-end of a particular model range. While it’s nice to have that ‘4WD’ badge on the back of your car, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth paying more for the privilege. How do you decide? Well, ask yourself: what do I want to do with the vehicle? Your average compact SUV might be available with 4WD, but the vehicle certainly isn’t designed for serious off-roading. To tackle a proper off-road trail, you need a vehicle not only with a 4×4 system, but also with low-range gearing, and ideally a diff lock, too.
What’s the point of the 4×4 system? Well it can aid traction and make things a bit safer when dealing with loose surfaces. Many of these vehicles are designed to deal with snow and ice but can also aid traction on gravel, in sand, and even on wet tar roads. However, few owners will spend enough time on gravel or sand in a compact SUV to justify the presence of a 4WD system. The truth is, if you really need a 4×4, you probably also really need a vehicle with low-range gearing. In the vast majority of cases, a 2WD compact SUV will get the job done otherwise. Many of these compact SUVs never venture off tar once in their lives, in any case.
As mentioned, if you intend to use your vehicle to venture onto 4×4 trails, or to set off on extreme overland trips, you probably want to purchase one with both a 4WD system and low-range gearing. With the exception of the odd vehicle (like the automatic 4×4 Amarok), you need a 4×4 with low range to go off-roading. Sure, you can do a bit of sand driving in high range, but when it comes to tackling steep, rocky slopes, you need a transfer case. So, if you want to buy a 4×4 to go off-roading, buy one with a low-range transfer case. If you won’t be hitting the trails, avoid a vehicle with a transfer case, though, as it will only add weight.
Many 2WD bakkies come with a diff lock, but despite what some people say, a 2WD bakkie with a diff lock will not go as far as a 4×4. Sure, it can help in a pinch, but it won’t be sufficient if you intend on tackling serious 4×4 situations. When it comes to a 4WD vehicle, a diff lock can be immensely useful. It’s not a necessity, but for the most part, a diff lock makes it much easier to deal with tough 4×4 obstacles. Axle twisters, for example, are much easier when you have a diff lock. Without it, you need a lot more momentum, which puts extra strain on the vehicle. As an added note, some modern 4×4s (like the Wrangler Sahara) have an excellent off-road traction control system that can lessen the need for a diff lock. Be sure to find out exactly what off-road bells and whistles the vehicle has.
Before buying, make sure that all the 4×4 systems on a vehicle are in good working order. Test everything thoroughly, and don’t just assume that a system is okay because the light on the dashboard goes on.