Things To Check Before Buying Used 4x4s

Buying a used 4X4 is not the same as buying a two wheel drive sedan or wagon for many reasons.

You have quite a bit of extra stuff to look out for in the way of damage not only on the body and interior trim, instruments and the usual steering/suspension, but wheels can be damaged and wheel bearings may be worn out as well.On a 4x4 changing a wheel bearing can be quite a big and expensive job.

A 4X4 has another drive shaft, differential, and gearbox to service so checking for leaks or fluid loss is essential. If the "Joey" or low speed gearbox gets low on fluid it can be damaged easily and be godawful expensive to repair.

If the seller claims that it has seen little off road use that means it has had some off road use so I would be looking more closely at the condition of the low speed gearbox, wheel bearings and any other components that wear out quicker with off-road use.

Test drive the vehicle thoroughly and check the low range gearbox functions without excessive noise. (You will need to come to a complete stop with some heavy 4X4's to change in to lower range and 4 wheel drive.
Test drive the vehicle thoroughly and check the low range gearbox functions without excessive noise. (You will need to come to a complete stop with some heavy 4X4's to change in to lower range and 4 wheel drive.

A lot of unexpected damage can be done to a 4X4 if badly driven off-road.

Stress can bend and distort, water and mud can grind and destroy brakes and other mechanical components. Electrical and electronic components get moist or even drowned, extreme temperature changes can stretch and shrink mechanical components.

If you can find a used 4X4 that has never been off-road, so much the better!

Always carefully inspect the service records on 4X4's as repairs often run into many thousands of dollars.

Check the ownership of the vehicle as well. Some 4X4's are stolen and others have been badly damaged then rebirthed.

This oil has wept out of the joins in the differential through prolonged hard work and a lack of service in this case as the oil is old and thin, causing a large stain.
This oil has wept out of the joins in the differential through prolonged hard work and a lack of service in this case as the oil is old and thin, causing a large stain.

Any sign of oil leaks or a dark stain line where the gearbox or motor is joined together such as block to cylinder head could indicate prolonged off-road use.

If a four wheel drive has been constantly driven off-road hard in low range the motor and gearboxes can get very hot, causing these oily lines to appear as the very hot oil is thinner than it should be, the casings have been hotter than they should get thus allowing oil to reach the outside of the join.

Some 4X4 owners have been known to overfill the transmission, especially the transfer case. This damages seals and forces oil to leak.

Checklist.

Inside the cabin.

  • Start the engine cold and listen for any noises in the motor that sound metallic. Get a friend to listen under the bonnet when you start the 4X4 cold if you can.

  • Check the operation of all instruments including gearbox engagement light.
  • Ensure all warning lights go out on start-up.
  • Check air-bag function light goes off.
  • Turn on air-conditioner, and check that it gets cold.
  • Turn the heater on and make sure there are no water leaks from the heater inside the cabin on the floor from the heater and that it gets really hot when set to maximum heat.
  • Check windscreen for chips and cracks.
  • Lift floor mats to inspect for water stains or other water damage.

Check spring shackles for any signs of wear. This requires a good eye for the bolt being central in the bush, and often it is easy to pull one side of the shackle of and look at how neat the fit is. Movement here will make the vehicle throttle steer.
Check spring shackles for any signs of wear. This requires a good eye for the bolt being central in the bush, and often it is easy to pull one side of the shackle of and look at how neat the fit is. Movement here will make the vehicle throttle steer.
Panels under the hood should be clean and have bo signs of repairs. All the filled seams should look original.
Panels under the hood should be clean and have bo signs of repairs. All the filled seams should look original.

Outside of vehicle.

  • Look along the sides of the 4X4 in bright sunlight to see any paint flaws or ripples in the panels.
  • Examine tow bar and bull bar mounting points to see that they are properly secured and have not been crushed or damaged at the chassis mount points.
  • Check all lights to see if they have allowed water to leak in and discolor the lenses.
  • Open and close all windows and doors including rear hatch door to ensure proper fit and seal.

Under the Hood.

  • Look at the underside of the bonnet for any stains or oil that has been thrown up onto the hood lining. Stains could indicate a failed cooling system or past fluid leak which may have caused damage to the engine. Unless you can find an explanation in the notes of the service manual, including the repair of a component which could have caused the stain be very careful.
  • Check the engine for any signs of oil leak. The engine bay should be clean and dry.
  • Check all fluid levels. They should all be right on the maximum line. Any sign of a low reserve indicates a leak somewhere. Fluids do not evaporate between services!
  • Check radiator for fin or core damage from rocks or large stones.

You can see where stones have bent quite a few fins, but this is quite acceptable as long as the core (the tubes running up and down the fins are attached too) are undamaged and there are not enough bent fins to restrict  air flow.
You can see where stones have bent quite a few fins, but this is quite acceptable as long as the core (the tubes running up and down the fins are attached too) are undamaged and there are not enough bent fins to restrict air flow.
Check body mount points for wear or rust.
Check body mount points for wear or rust.

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Comments 15 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

Great write-up but it will be of more use to my son. Off it goes by email.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you my friend, I hope it is useful. I wrote it at the request of another hubber who I will acknowledge when I can find them.

Let your son know that there is good money to be made doing major gearbox work on some makes of 4X4's.


Candie V profile image

Candie V 5 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Fantastic information and check list for buying a used 4x4! There are so many things I (as a non-mechanic first.. and girl second) would have NO idea is involved. So this is going into my bookmarks for later use! Thanks Ern!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks Candie V! There is a lot to watch for. The best advice I could give is to buy one that has only seen highway miles if you don't have an expert to assist.


Candie V profile image

Candie V 5 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Good advice as always Ern! You are the best!


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you very much Candie. Very nice that you think so.

I am enjoying writing the automotive hubs a lot.


eculligan profile image

eculligan 5 years ago

Your from Australia and I'll bet it is fun going off roading there. Would love to come visit Australia and go off roading. Great tips!


Jason R. Manning profile image

Jason R. Manning 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

Wish I would have read this before I bought my 1985 Chevy K5, I ended up with throttle steering and braking. Expensive fixes indeed. Great info.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Yep Australia has tremendous off-roading eculligan.

You would love it here. Lots of 4X4 clubs too.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you for the comment Jason. It sounds like you had trouble at both ends of the suspension. It can get expensive to sort, as everything is heavy duty and costs more.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia

Very sound advice, Earnest! Lots of 4x4 trucks in my area as many are used around the farm! Almost need a ladder to get up in some of them! LOL!


Sa`ge profile image

Sa`ge 5 years ago from Barefoot Island

This is good check list for buying any vehicle. Thanks I wont forget any of this when and if I buy one. This is good to know even if one does not have a vehicle, it can help someone else maybe. thanks for this advise, one to keep in my brain forever. :D hugs :D I dance on yor tabs :D


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thanks Randy. I read your hubs, and the advice and "how to's" you provide are excellent.


WildIris 5 years ago

A most excellent Hub. I can attest to the cost of wheel bearings on a 4x4--$$$. Dirt roads eat cars. It is either mud or dust season. The best piece of advice you give is to find a 4x4 that had never been off-road. Your check list for interior and exterior is invaluable.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia Author

Thank you WildIris! You make a great point. It is either mud or dust season when four wheel driving.

I also agree that the best Idea is to buy one that has not been used off-roading.

I am well pleased you understood the importance of the interior and exterior inspection, as it can cost thousands if one of those warning lights stays on, or if the drive train is leaking oil!

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