The Ultimate Guide to Buying a 4-Wheel Drive

We’ve gathered the most up to date and relevant information for Australians when it comes to buying a 4-Wheel Drive. We asked the experts and got top tips for buyers.

Introduction

4-Wheel Drive

Four-wheel drives, once the preserve of outback farmers and rural communities, have become increasingly popular in recent years as a fashionable alternative to a traditional city saloon. Understanding how 4-wheel drive vehicles work and choosing which ones might suit you best can be bewildering, so we have prepared this ultimate guide to help you along the way.

What is a 4-Wheel Drive?

A 4-wheel drive is a vehicle that can be powered via all four wheels at the same time. This 4-wheel drive function can be full time, part time (on demand), or automatic.

 

Four-wheel drives are also known as 4x4s or 4WDs, while two-wheel drives are known as 4x2s or 2WDs. The first digit refers to the number of wheels (four in a 4×4), while the second digit refers to the number of wheels through which the vehicle is powered. In the case of the 4×4 or 4WD, it is powered through all four wheels.

 

There are many benefits to having a 4-wheel drive, especially if you are likely to travel on rugged terrain, whether for everyday use or the occasional trip to the outback.

 

Four-wheel drive vehicles provide excellent traction on all types of surfaces. They are particularly useful in snow and ice; on rocky, sandy, or gravelly road tracks; in gullies and ridges; and in very muddy areas. They can also be useful for passing through shallow water and climbing or descending steep hills.

Types of 4-Wheel Drive Systems

Type of Drive Features Pros Cons
Full-time 4WD
  • Powered via all four wheels all the time
  • Power is often shifted between the front and rear axles for maximum traction
  • Can be used with all types of terrain and weather conditions
Traction in all surface conditions Less mobility off-road
Part-time 4WD
  • Can be switched between 4WD and 2WD functions
  • Usually can make the switch while driving to cope with sudden terrain changes
Best for most off-road conditions Important to switch off 4WD on smooth terrain to avoid damage
Automatic 4WD
  • Programmed to judge the terrain and switch between 2WD and 4WD as necessary for best traction
  • Switch can be triggered by a wheel slipping
  • More sophisticated 4WD systems may identify the need to switch before a slip occurs
Intuitive, easy to use Not advisable for serious off-road driving

Considerations When Choosing a 4-Wheel Drive

There are many considerations to take into account when choosing a 4-wheel drive. The first question to address is whether you actually need one, as there are downsides as well as upsides to four-wheel drive ownership.

 

Expense

Four-wheel drive vehicles are expensive to buy, and their fuel consumption, insurance, maintenance, and parts often cost more than on many other cars.

 

The deeply-treaded rubber of 4-wheel drive tyres can look the part, but those heavy-duty tyres can be a liability on smoother roads and will wear quickly with regular braking on tarmac. Consider buying a pair of everyday wheels and tyres to maximise your safety and keep wear-and-tear costs to a minimum.

 

Reliability

Because of their more complex drive system, 4WD vehicles can be more prone to breakdown. If you are buying a new 4×4, choose one with an extended warranty (most vehicles come with a three-year warranty as standard, but some brands offer five-year cover or even an unlimited-time warranty as long as the vehicle remains in the hands of the original buyer).

 

Top tip from Our Naked Australia:

If you’re expecting to drive through deep water, choose a diesel engine over a petrol engine. A diesel engine with a snorkel will keep running even when it’s fully submerged.

 

Practicality

With so much going on under the bonnet and around the chassis, a 4WD can be compromised for interior space, despite its exterior size. Consider the practicality of parking, too, and be sure to choose one that will fit into your parking or garage space.

 

Toyota hilux

 

Safety

While 4-wheel drives can provide more traction when starting from a stop or climbing hills in tough road or weather conditions, that does not mean that have increased traction around turns. The traction that keeps the 4WD moving in a straight line will not help you if you take a turn too fast on mud, snow, or ice.

 

wheels

 

Comfort

Whether you are behind the wheel or in the rear passenger seat, you will want to travel in comfort whenever possible. With so many models to choose from, it is worth testing a selection before you buy to make sure you find one that meets your needs. A rugged workhorse might not be the ideal choice for family cruising, while a fashion-focused brand may not give you the performance you need on heavy terrain.

 

range rover evoque

Safety Certificates, Registration, Inspections, and Test Drives

Test Drives

 

Whenever you are buying a new or used car, carrying out a test drive is critical. With a 4-wheel drive this is even more important, as you need to make sure that all the systems work on different types of terrain.

 

Always fire the engine from cold so that you can identify any issues with starting. Select each gear one by one before you move away to ensure that the gears shift smoothly from one to another.

 

As you drive, listen out for unusual sounds from the engine, and check the dashboard regularly for warning lights and fluctuations in the temperature or oil gauges. Test the brakes both while driving slowly and at speed, and if the car has part-time or automatic 4WD, test it in each of its different functions.

 

Inspections

 

Either before or after your test drive, it is wise to carry out a detailed inspection of the vehicle’s driving and safety systems. Inspect the bodywork from front to back to see whether the lines are straight and true, and look carefully for any signs of colour variation, both of which might indicate that the vehicle has previously been in an accident.

 

Check that the door and window seals are tight. This is particularly important if you will be using your four-wheel drive on rough, muddy, or wet terrain, when you want to be sure you are well protected from the elements.

 

The best time to inspect a car is in bright daylight, and if you are buying from an individual you should always try to visit them at their home. This can give you the reassurance you need that the seller has nothing to hide.

 

mechanic's toolset

 

Safety Certificates and Registration

 

Check that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plates under the bonnet of the 4-wheel drive are the same as those listed on the registration papers and that the date of manufacture fits with the owner’s description.

 

Some states, including Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and Victoria, require used cars to be sold with a safety certificate if sold by a private owner. Other states do not require a certificate unless the vehicle has been modified or subsequently will be transferred between states.  Be sure to double check this before purchasing.

 

Canning Stock Route Tip from Track Care Incorporated WA

Carefully consider upgrading your suspension and tyres before commencing a Canning Stock Route trip.  Load conservatively and check the packed vehicle mass on a weight-bridge to avoid overloading.

Where to Buy Your 4-Wheel Drive

There are various options when it comes to purchasing a new or used four-wheel drive. Buying through online classified ads sites or car dealers are popular choices. An online classified ads site like Gumtree provides a massive selection to help find the model that best meets your needs, and is particularly suitable if you are looking for a used model.

 

If you are looking to buy a used 4-wheel drive, you can buy directly from the current owner by responding to an ad in an online classified ads site, newspaper, magazine, or auction.

 

While buying from an individual is usually cheaper, be sure to check out the vehicle’s registration and ownership records. You also should inspect the car thoroughly, as it will not come with a warranty.

 

Dealership sales may offer a warranty, but they generally are more expensive as a result.

How to Buy a 4-Wheel Drive on Gumtree

Gumtree is a highly-popular online classified ad site for both buyers and sellers, so it has a tremendous number of 4-wheel drive listings at bargain prices. In addition to being a source of good car deals, Gumtree is a great starting point for researching the different types of 4-wheel drives on the market, and it gives you a good feel for the features and prices of the various models available.

 

To view all the available four-wheel drives, you can search for ‘four-wheel drive’ or use this quick link to view the search directly.

 

Once you have decided on your preferred model, you can search for it directly, for instance typing ‘landrover discovery’ into the search box.

 

To narrow down your search to models that are located in your area, add your preferred geographical location.

 

Buying a four-wheel drive can be a big investment that also can have a positive impact on your life. Take reasonable steps to find the model that suits your lifestyle best, ensure that the vehicle is in the condition you expect, and you can look forward to a happy future of off-road motoring.