True though it is that a car is a necessity nowadays rather than a luxury it was a couple of decades back, a 4-wheel drive is an option that comes to mind only in conjunction with specific functions. Off-road trips could be a big motivation and to this effect, such a car is indeed a blessing, courtesy of its ability to sustain even the most intimidating terrains, something that is beyond the capabilities of other configurations.
A four-wheel drive is an embodiment of power and is as solid in terms of functionality as it appears to be. If you happen to own one, then you need not think twice about taking a diversion off the road into the wilderness or spend as much as a single moment wondering how you would possibly tow a boat or a trailer. However, budget is a big concern while buying a brand new 4-wheel drive and this is where a second-hand vehicle presents itself as a cost effective alternative.
While buying a used a four-wheel drive might be financially tempting, the decision is fraught with its own pros and cons. Rather than relying on luck or chance, approaching the issue armed with in-depth knowledge and a good understanding about everything involved is a must in order to accrue satisfactory results in the long run. Assuming you have decided to give a used four-wheel drive a try, a few aspects which you must bear in mind while assessing the vehicle are –
First and foremost, look for signs of rust below the vehicle’s chassis. Given the fact that 4-wheel drives are usually expected to clear rocks, tree-stumps and undulations with ease implies that these enjoy high ground clearance. So all you need to do is get down on your knees and take a peek at the underside of the vehicle.
While scrutinizing, keeping an eye out for scratches, dents, damaged plates and so on will help to provide a fairly realistic picture of whatever the vehicle might have gone through. Considering that it is a popular choice for off-road driving, a little bit of wear and tear is inevitable but anything indicative of a major repair job should set alarm bells ringing. In such a situation, taking a car mechanic along to check the chassis, sub-frame, and springs is strongly recommended owing to his expertise in recognizing subtle hints.
The Engine Bay
Examining the engine constitutes an important part of inspection as there is no better way to determine the actual service life of a vehicle. Ideally, the cables and fluid lines should be neatly arranged as per the original factory fitting. In case of the appearance being untidy or disorderly, you can assume that the car has undergone several repairs and hence may not be good value for money in the long run.
Oil leaks are indicative of a myriad of problems and are revealed by the presence of residual oil around switches, seals and covers. To this effect, shrewd sellers do tend to obliterate signs of oil leaks with a quick degrease, meaning the onus is on you to apply your understanding and look for tell-tale signs. Such problems occur only when the engine oil and oil filter may not have been changed after the requisite 3500 miles and hence speak of negligence.
Because you are going to utilize your four-wheel drive for adventure activities and carrying loads, the condition of the engine is of utmost importance. After all, a breakdown on an off-road path would leave you stranded on a route which is less frequented by other travelers, thus minimizing chances of seeking help.
While the interior of a car does not really reflect its working condition, it does echo the degree of care and attention that the vehicle might have received over the course of its lifetime. For instance, intact factory-fitted upholstery is suggestive of the fact that the owner has been meticulous in looking after his car. Likewise, signs like worn-out steering wheels, an unresponsive clutch or a depressed driver seat point towards active usage.
To be able to form an accurate impression of the interior, the vehicle must always be inspected on a bright morning with plenty of sunshine illuminating even the innermost corners of the car.
Taking a Test Drive
Insist on taking the vehicle for a test drive as it is the best way to check its performance in a ‘4WD environment’. Preferably it should be on a rough terrain if you intend to take it on frequent off-road trips. If you plan to take it for white-water rafting or for camping, then you must test the vehicle’s capacity to tow a boat or a camper similar to your equipment in order to acquire a realistic picture.
Gear shifting, engine rattles and excess smoke from the exhaust are some of the points to watch out for. In this context, it is important to note that if a car sputters on being chugged to life, there could be a range of underlying problems. Lastly examine the steering, braking and clutching thoroughly since these could be the difference between a memorable outing or a scary near-death experience.
What You Need to Know
Admittedly, you don’t need to be an auto expert to buy a used car. Nonetheless, since you are making a substantial investment, here are the bare basics you need to know about 4×4 cars –
High/low ratio – This refers to a second gearbox that allows you to choose between low and high ratios for scaling steep slopes and maneuvering through muddy roads.
Shifting on the fly – This feature allows you to change your ratio from high to low or vice versa while driving depending on the terrain.
Transfer Case – Popularly known as the transfer box, it is a part of a four wheel drive system connected to the transmission and to the front and back axles through drive-shafts.
Differential Lock – In a 4×4 wheel drive car, this mechanism locks the front and back drive-shafts together upon locking the centre differential that results in equal torque to the front and rear axles for better traction, a particularly important requisite for off-road driving.
Miscellaneous issues –
The car plates must match the vehicle’s registration papers along with the owner’s address. You can also use the papers to check the date of manufacture. To the extent possible, make sure the vehicle is not mortgaged to a bank or to another person as such a pre-existing liability would effectively render your title to the car as being invalid.
Watch out for oil leaks as they could be a source of multiple problems. Presence of oil stains near the vehicle parking area should prompt you to reconsider your purchase decision.
Inquire why the vehicle is being sold and if the current owner is the one who originally bought the vehicle. While an ideal situation will be one where the owner is the original buyer and wishes to buy a new version of the same make, a cautionary one would be one where the vehicle has been in an accident and has been repainted to cover up the flaws.