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ProDarwin UltimaDork
5/15/20 7:47 p.m.

This is just a mental exercise at this point.  Maybe I'll get adventurous, maybe not.  Lets say you were looking in the $5-8k range for a vehicle capable of doing the Trans America Trail, which would you pick and why?  Is there another vehicle I am forgetting?


All of these look like reasonable options:

Jeep Grand Cherokee


4 Runner

Sequoia (1st gen)


I'm not thinking overland build or anything.  I'm thinking, remove rear seats, build a sleeping floor/platform and some stowage and that's about it.  As far as capability, a winch/shovel or some extraction gear would be nice, but not sure if necessary.  A locker & general off road capability is good.  Maybe a mild lift & taller tires if there is some benefit to be had there.

Top priority would be reliability.  Toyota seems to have the win there, although for the same price as an XTerra, a 4 Runner will have like double the mileage and/or be 5-10 years older.  Sequoias are on big side, Xterra - not sure if perfect or a tad small.  GC and 4 Runner seem to fall in the middle.

All of them seem to have a lot of following/aftermarket which is good.


Spill your thoughts

John Welsh (Moderate Supporter)
John Welsh (Moderate Supporter) Mod Squad
5/15/20 8:12 p.m.

Does reliability take out the Gen3 Mitsu Montero? 


It's got capability in spades.  It's also under valued so for similar money that you would spend on a GC, you probably have a newer, less mile vehicle. 

Sample from Australia. (yeah, they get diesels) 


The0retical (Forum Supporter)
The0retical (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/15/20 8:39 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

I'm biased towards the Xterra for a few reaons.

1) I have one (2006 SE 4WD). It's been, what I would consider, utterly reliable for 155k miles.

Major items done:

  • The chain guides had to be replaced at 90k
  • 1 cat was replaced at 120k, the other is on my work bench.
  • There was a problem with the IPDM start relay where I had to replace it. It was 3 dollars and took 5 minutes.
  • Ball joints, U-joints, wheel bearings, inner and outer tie-rods at 140k.

Everything else has been just normal wear items. (Ie: brakes & shocks)

I did bypass the radiator trans cooler at 140k as well. Just as a precaution.

2. I spent a week at Academi for drivers training in my last job. The latter half of the week was off road and recovery training. They used Xterras with Warn front bumpers for the days we spent in the offroad course. It's seriously impressive how capable the Xterra is in basically stock form.

That's translated into a confidence driving mine though all sorts of conditions I'd never have taken it out in otherwise. Toss some good tires on it and it's basically unstoppable in dirt or snow.

3. Parts, for the most part, are cheap, readily available, and the truck is pretty easy to work on.

The only downside I can think of is that the VQ40 is thirsty.

I honestly don't know what I would replace it with. Maybe another 4Runner, I had a 96 RWD 2.7L which was just ok. The generation after that they started putting on some weight and don't seem to have stopped.

ProDarwin UltimaDork
5/15/20 9:23 p.m.
John Welsh (Moderate Supporter) said:

Does reliability take out the Gen3 Mitsu Montero? 

I don't know, does it?

I'll be honest, Mitsubishi doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy thinking about something like this.  Parts availability might be a concern also... don't Nissans and Toyotas outnumber these things like 50:1 on the roads?

Prices on my local FB market place seem to be similar to Xterras.


The0retical (Forum Supporter) said:

The only downside I can think of is that the VQ40 is thirsty.

Ok, but none of these vehicles will ever get good mileage, especially in the use case I am talking about.  The Sequoia seems to be the worst by far though.


Seems that the 4 Runner and Xterra also also available with locking rear diffs from the factory which is a plus.  Although I'm not 100% clear on which trim packages have them and what the signs are in a used car listing.  Obviously this isn't a deal breaker, one could be added to the other cars, but they are pricey and I imagine a pain to install.  Not sure if 100% necessary, but its comforting to know its there.



The0retical (Forum Supporter)
The0retical (Forum Supporter) UberDork
5/15/20 9:38 p.m.

In reply to ProDarwin :

The 2005+ Pro-4X variant is the one that came with the locking rear diff.

They came with Bilsteins and post facelift models had lights embedded in the roof rack. Non pro-4x models, post face-lift, just had the empty pods.

The giveaway on the interior is the switch panel under the climate controls where the diff locker switch, HSA and HDC switches are. The trucks were pretty bog standard otherwise.

Under the car the 2005+ pro-4x trim had a full set of skidplates (diff, gastank, etc.) They're supposedly just ok though.

Pre 2005 the off-road/Pro-4x's were supercharged.

Brett_Murphy (Forum Patrón)
Brett_Murphy (Forum Patrón) MegaDork
5/16/20 12:18 a.m.

What is the budget here?

I owned a 1st Gen Xterra and I currently own a 4th Gen 4Runner.

The 1st Xterra has typical Nissan issue with the knock sensor being prone to failure and being buried under the intake. The 2nd Gen Xterra is prone to having a radiator failure result in the trans fluid mixing with coolant, ruining the transmission. They're kind of small, but both platforms are perfectly capable, as noted above. Overland Journal actually had the Xterra in the top ten list back 8 years ago or so. The 2nd Gen would get the nod from me, provided you move to an external transmission cooler, but you can get a working 1st Gen for probably 2k and have lots of money left over for mods and tires.

Lack of usable room for four people and our gear PLUS  V8 towing power was why I moved to the 4Runner. Mine has 310,000 miles (or more) and still runs very well. It's been religiously maintained by everybody that owned it, though. The V8 is "AWD" but has a locking center differential and low range capability. It's fairly civilized and quiet at highway speeds, but outside of a 3" suspension lift, I've not done anything terribly radical to it. Locking rear differentials weren't standard on the early 4th Gens, but were available later, in the V6 only trail edition and maybe some other trim levels. I also understand that the FJ Cruiser axle with the locking rear is pretty much a bolt on. 3rd Gen 4Runners had locking differentials available as an option.  North Carolina has a few groups dedicated to the 4Runner, and going out to Uharrie seems to be one of the most common activities for them. I've not made it out, yet. There are a few good shops around that work on them, too.

A Grand Cherokee can do the job perfectly well, too. I'd actually go older and try to get one of the V8 or inline six models.  Parts are plentiful in junkyards, because many of them get beaten on and have maintenance ignored, but I also see ones with over 200k still driving around. There seems to be no middle ground- it's either beat on and going to break in the near future, or it'll keep running until rust or a crash gets it. 

The Montero is a very capable candidate that lacks the premium price tag of some of the other marques. There are a few threads about them on the boards, here.​​​​​​​

Here is the Overland Journal link with a revised list as well as the original list that had the Xterra on it.

ultraclyde (Forum Supporter)
ultraclyde (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
5/16/20 6:45 a.m.

I've owned an older Grand that I was building for overland, a V8 ZJ. Get something else. Look for a thread in the builds section called Adventures of Snoball.  Legendary Jeep reliability is not what you want crossing the continent. There was no way I could lay down to sleep in the back comfortably. 

I'd go Sequoia every day out of that list. Most interior space, best comfort, good reliability, plenty capable - I think the 4wd systems were better after 05? You won't pay the current 4Runner tax to get one either. That's a LOT of miles and you are going to have more gear than you think. 

4Runner would be my second choice but you're going to get a truck in worse shape for the same money. Because it's a Toyota it will probably still get you through though, even if it is rough.

XTerra...I've 2 friends that loved theirs and got tons of miles out of them, but they felt way too small inside for my tastes. I'm 6'1", 250lbs so I take up a lot of room. Of course those were first gens, maybe it got better...


dxman92 HalfDork
5/16/20 7:47 a.m.

If space isn't an issue, Xterra. If you want something bigger, 4Runner.

Mike (Forum Supporter)
Mike (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
5/16/20 8:54 a.m.

I have 4th gen 4runner experience. We've driven ours from, I think, 45,000 to 165,000 over the last 8 years. We've towed, hauled building supplies, road tripped, and moved cross country. I've driven it through The Tail of The Dragon.

In this time, aside from consumables and maintenance, it has needed a replacement rear hatch release button because the rubber turned to goo, and a replacement rear window because the existing one spontaneously shattered late last year. It has developed a rattle in the sunroof. I haven't noticed any real change in the way it drives.

Other than that, it's been tires, filters, fluids, batteries and bulbs. Oh, and fixing the things we broke that aren't the truck's fault, like the rear wiper a rambunctious dog broke.

We have not, however, used it off road in any capacity, as a 2wd example. 


I had a WJ for several years. It was more nimble than the 4Runner. They're quite cheap for what they are. The 4.0 online six is supposed to be a very durable engine. Mine was perfectly reliable and very comfortable until about 105,000 miles, when a bunch of stuff started going downhill at once. Fan clutch, then alternator, then AC, and I think something with power steering. And there was a code that is usually a gas cap, but that wasn't a gas cap in this case - I don't remember the details on that. P456 maybe?

Regardless, if you're good to go over it yourself, there is a lot of truck in a WJ for your money. Get a low mile one with some options. Early trucks had problems with front brake warping that jeep solved by swapping the system out somewhere around late 2002. Early models included roof rack cross bars. When shopping, know there is a recall for fuel tank ruptures on rear collision for trucks that don't have a tow hitch. The solution is to install a Mopar tow hitch. Look for water under the passenger front floor mat - the result of debris clogging the drain from the vents in front of the windshield. Radio is odd Mopar 1.5 DIN size. Late models were subject to the Jeep love of special editions. Some have factory rock sliders. I think there were three different awd/4wd systems. Spare tire is under the cargo floor, and should be a full size that matches the other wheels and tires. Rear lights use a set of contacts on bulb carriers that are poorly designed. The metal eventually folds away and loses contact with the track. Check that before buying new bulbs. CHMSL bulb requires something odd for a user replaceable part - I think Torx T-15 - something to keep in mind when outfitting your tool kit. 

spitfirebill MegaDork
5/16/20 8:59 a.m.
dxman92 said:

If space isn't an issue, Xterra. If you want something bigger, 4Runner.

I figured they are the same size.  My 99 4Runner sure isn't very big.  

bmw88rider (Forum Supporter)
bmw88rider (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/16/20 9:04 a.m.

In reply to The0retical (Forum Supporter) :

It was called the Off Road version for 1005-I think 2009. Look for the rocker switches, as you said, on the dash for the locker and the hill descent. 


Very happy with the 2011 I had. Only complaint is the rear springs are too soft so you do bottom out. 

Carbon (Forum Supporter)
Carbon (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/16/20 10:32 a.m.

4runner is such a clear winner here. If you’re patient enough to find the right one, it’ll last as long as any vehicle ever made. Fantastic rigs. 

mtn (Forum Supporter)
mtn (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/16/20 11:16 a.m.



Any reason why the Pathfinder isn’t in this comparison? Seems like it is the more natural competitor to the 4Runner instead of the Xterra. 

captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
captdownshift (Forum Supporter) UltimaDork
5/16/20 11:20 a.m.

Lifted volvo 240 wagon with a locker in the Dana 30. 

Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter)
Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/16/20 11:30 a.m.

Stretch the budget another 2 thousand and you can have a better option than any mentioned so far.

ThurdFerguson (Freeloader)
ThurdFerguson (Freeloader) Reader
5/16/20 11:39 a.m.

We bought our daughter a 1st gen Xterra when she turned 16.  It was 16 years old itself at that point.  She loved it, it had the tightest steering out there.  She drove it two years, but we sold it after I gave her my old Escape.  She has a job where she drives a lot and the Xterra was thirsty.  We sold the Xterra to a couple gals from Arkansas who were into trail running.  They took the back seats out and made a sleeping platform with a slide out storage system.  Pretty cool.  My wife keeps up with them on FB, they are hardcore rough camping out of it.



bgkast (Forum Supporter)
bgkast (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
5/16/20 11:44 a.m.
Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter) said:

Stretch the budget another 2 thousand and you can have a better option than any mentioned so far.

That was my answer to this question. You should be able to find one in your price range if you hunt around.

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/16/20 12:02 p.m.

In reply to bgkast (Forum Supporter) :

Not if you want the lockers. Early 80-series with the old motor and no lockers can maybe be found for that much. 

I had a third-gen 4 runner for a few years. Great rig, only time it let me down was when the starter solenoid failed right after buying it. $25 for a factory rebuild kit and it was flawless for the next 5 years until I sold it. You will pay that Toyota tax for one though. 

Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter)
Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter) Dork
5/16/20 12:07 p.m.

A Landcruiser without lockers is still a force to be reckoned with. 

The one pictured is a 97 so it has the better engine.

ProDarwin UltimaDork
5/16/20 12:23 p.m.

What year LC would you look for?  They are thin on the ground and prices are all over the place

mtn (Forum Supporter) said:



Any reason why the Pathfinder isn’t in this comparison? Seems like it is the more natural competitor to the 4Runner instead of the Xterra. 

Should it be?  My parents had an '01 when they were new.  It was a nice vehicle, but seemed to be aimed much more at street driving than the Xterra.  Are they capable offroad?  They don't seem to have nearly the following the others have and I'm guessing there is a reason for that...

Or did you mean a later model?

MrChaos SuperDork
5/16/20 12:33 p.m.

look at the lexus GX 460/470 as well those dont usually have the land cruiser price premium.

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/16/20 12:35 p.m.

In reply to Cousin_Eddie (Forum Supporter) :

Fair enough. The funny thing about 80-series pricing is that it has solid overlap with 100-series pricing. Internet rumors say that they trade on-road comfort for some off-road capability. But they're still land cruisers so they still do great when the pavement ends. I guess it's the old IFS vs solid axle thing. And the 100 "only" gets one locker for 98-00 and then traction control after that.

ProDarwin UltimaDork
5/16/20 12:47 p.m.
ProDarwin said:

Should it be?  My parents had an '01 when they were new.  It was a nice vehicle, but seemed to be aimed much more at street driving than the Xterra.  Are they capable offroad?  They don't seem to have nearly the following the others have and I'm guessing there is a reason for that...

Or did you mean a later model?

I was just reading on this.  Apparently the R50 Pathfinder is a lot more commonly used offroad, and well supported than I thought it would be.

I will add some pics, because this thread needs more pics of the vehicles we are talking about.


I'll admit, there is some sentimental draw to the Pathfinder.  My father did really love his and he had some desire to take it off road.

bgkast (Forum Supporter)
bgkast (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
5/16/20 12:55 p.m.

In reply to thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) :

I don't believe any of the other options have lockers either. You can still do some hardcore stuff with a un-locked land Cruiser:


Boost_Crazy HalfDork
5/16/20 12:59 p.m.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of something similar for my next project. My list looks very similar to the choices above,  and I’ll add...

1st gen Nissan Pathfinder. Pretty old now, but I love the way they look and they run forever. Pretty outdated, but capable and cheap. Use the savings to mod to your desires. 

‘90’s Ford Bronco. A bit wider than most on this list and also outdated, but very cheap and easy to keep running. Also a plenty available, and likely to be worth more when you are ready to sell. 

And now for the left field option that I’m extremely intrigued with. 

Volkswagen Touareg. 

I’ll just leave this here, I’ll wait until you are done...

TFL Car Touareg Off Road Sleeper

Never in a million years would I have suspected that. 


One of the most capable stock off road vehicles you could buy.

Also one of the nicest to drive on the road. 

The nicest interior of anything in the price range.

Terrific 4WD system with rear locker.  

Air suspension can lift the truck to almost 12’ of ground clearance, stock!?!

On board air tank and hose. 


It’s a frikin’ VW. You may get skin cancer from the glow of the check engine light. 

Expensive/ complicated to fix. 

Not much aftermarket

No skid plates, recovery points, you would need to fabricate. No full size spare mount. 

Air suspension can be expensive to fix. 


Normally, I’d run away from VW from a car  perspective, not worth the hassle when there are much less risky alternatives. But for an occasional use off roader with this much bang for the buck, maybe worth the extra maintenance commitment? It wouldn’t need much in the way of mods. And the drive to the trail would be much nicer. 


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