There's a popular misconception that you need an expensive vehicle to hit the trail and see the world. In reality, some of the most ideal vehicles produced fall into the $3000-5000 bracket. Heavy hitters such as the Toyota 80 series Land Cruiser, Land Rover Discovery I, and the Toyota 4Runner can all be easily purchased for well under $5000. The lower entry price of these trucks allows plenty of leftover money for modifications and most importantly...traveling! Since we're Arizona based, we're using a local craigslist search as it often results in the best vehicle deals. Here's five examples of cars that we found to be accurately priced, and also in decent shape.
1.) 1991-92 Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80
Designated from the factory as an "FJ80" rather than an "FZJ80" as the newer 1993-97 were named meant little in terms of overall exterior design for the vehicle, but there were quite a few changes under with the drive line. The 1991-92 Toyota Land Cruiser featured the (arguably) more reliable, but less powerful 3FE engine from the FJ62, and a semi-floating rear axle with drum brakes. Generally, the interior is also a little bit more basic, lacking the leather that the FZJ80 commonly was equipped with. We chose the FJ80 over the FZJ80 because you're usually able to get more for less with the older model, typically the FZJ80 models command a higher resale, upwards of $15,000 with low miles and optional locking differentials. That being said, it's entirely possible to get an FZJ80 in this price range, typically, they're just higher mileage. The FJ80 we found has just over 150,000 miles on it and the seller is asking $4500 for the vehicle, and says that it runs a little bit rough on cold starts. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to offer a lower price and put a little bit of handiwork into making the engine purr like new.
2.) 1994-99 Land Rover Discovery I
Underneath the body of this Land Rover Discovery sits the same exact suspension architecture that you'll find on pricier Land Rover Defender models. Wheelbases vary, but the Discovery presents a serious bargain for a technically capable overland vehicle. 1994-95 models have a 3.9L engine with a 14CUX ignition system, which is generally simpler to work on, while newer 1995-99 models, including our find, have a 4.0L engine with a GEMS ignition system. All Discovery models feature AWD as standard, with a locking center differential for true 4WD capability as well as and low range. A low price point, and a great fun factor and great enthusiast community make this a great choice for someone that likes to pay a little more attention to their cars than normal. Plus, there's nothing like a clean, well-modified Discovery. A word of advice on these vehicles: be prudent with finding a vehicle with service records, or be knowledgeable with your purchase, it's easy to get into a "quicksand edition" Discovery. Our example is a 1996 model, with 156,000 models, and lots of recent service, it has new tires, brakes, o2 sensors, as well as a new mass air flow sensor. With the recent work and clean appearance, it deserves a serious look with the $3400 price tag.
3.) 1998-2002 Izuzu Trooper
Izuzu is often overlooked in the US market, and we can't figure out why. The 1998-2002 Trooper offers great volumetric efficiency from its boxy shape, and good power from its 215 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine. Scott Brady heavily used his 1998 model on many popular and challenging US trails, including parts of the Rubicon Trail. A strong payload of 1055 lbs (the same vehicle in Australia has a 1,480 lb) means that you'll always be able to carry an ample supply of gear without worrying about overloading your vehicle. Did we mention they're also incredibly reliable, and repairs are very reasonable? The 2000 model that we found has an asking price of $3950 with 140,000 miles, and with a relatively low demand for these vehicles, we're sure you can pick one up for even cheaper. It's a perfect alternative to a more expensive Toyota product, if you're looking for "extreme" upgrades, the Izuzu might be a difficult choice, but suspension systems and bumpers are available.
4.) 1989-95 Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota 4Runner is a seriously bulletproof vehicle, I've had several friends try to kill these vehicles, and none of them have succeeded. It's not uncommon to see one of these vehicles run for half-a-million miles with minimal issues. If you love traveling, not working on a vehicle, the 4Runner is the way to go. We're a big fan of the 1989-95 models, although they don't have the more modern appearance of their newer 1995-2002 counterparts, they don't have the more modern price tag either. It's easy to get a low mileage early 90's 4Runner for well under $5,000, parts are cheap and easy to find nearly everywhere because there's so many of them left running on the road. They're also very easy to modify, and have a large range of aftermarket parts available for them. The 1992 Toyota 4Runner we found was competitively priced at $3450, and was optioned with 4WD and air conditioning, with only 169,000 miles, it has plenty of life left in it. Don't believe us? Check out some other 4Runner ads, you'll find several with well over 300,000 miles.
5.) 1997-2001 Jeep Cherokee
Would it be an overstatement to call the Jeep Cherokee an American Icon? With nearly three million Cherokee's produced, they're literally on every street corner, and as a result parts are more than plentiful and upgrades aren't exactly lacking. If you're looking for an affordable, American-made, light-duty overland vehicle, look no further, they're easily found as low as $500 with some issues, and often available pre-modified. Their low vehicle weight of just under 3,400 lbs, and relatively powerful 4.0L I6 means they're still peppy in modern traffic, and don't require serious drive line modification when fitting larger tires and heavy-duty bumpers for around town performance. Finding a Cherokee is easy, and don't be afraid to turn a seller down, if they're modified and have been used off-highway, pay attention to the structure of the vehicle and how the doors open and close—they're a uni-body, and under extreme use issues can come up. We found a 2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport with 160,000 miles for only $3200, leaving you plenty of money to replace literally everything under the hood at your local parts store, and have a like new vehicle.
We're sure that there's plenty of other fantastic overland vehicles for under $5000, do us a favor and tell us what they are in the comments below!