Four-Wheel Drive Buyer’s Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Women In 4 Wheel Drive

There’s nothing quite like getting off the beaten track in your own four-wheel drive. From relaxing country escapes to weekends spent exploring the great outdoors, 4x4s are your ticket to adventure. Alas, a brand-new model is not without a hefty price tag. 

Enter the realm of second-hand four-wheel drives—an option that offers off-road adventures at a more affordable price point. Whether you’re scouting for light commercial vehicles for your business or a trusty companion for those holiday getaways, the second-hand 4×4 market boasts a wide range of choices tailored to every need and budget. 

In this 4WD buying guide, we’ll take you through some of the key essentials you should consider when looking for second-hand four-wheel drive cars for sale. 

Types of Four-Wheel Drive Systems

There are three types of four-wheel drive systems:

  • Full-time 4WD
  • Part-time 4WD
  • Automatic 4WD

Full-Time 4WD

Powered by all four wheels all the time, a full-time four-wheel drive system gives you powerful traction across all surface conditions, no matter the weather or the terrain. Power is usually shifted between the front and rear axles for maximum traction, allowing you to conquer even the most difficult off-road tracks.

Part-Time 4WD

Part-time four-wheel drive gives you the best of both worlds—four-wheel drive when you need it, and two-wheel steering when you don’t. Most vehicles will allow you to switch between systems while driving to help navigate sudden, difficult terrain changes. They’re a smart choice for just about any off-road conditions. 

Automatic 4WD

This is an excellent choice for those who dream of living the weekend warrior life but haven’t got much experience driving on rough terrain. An automatic four-wheel drive system takes care of things by assessing terrain and switching automatically between four-wheel drive and two-wheel drive modes for optimal traction.

On-Road and Off-Road Considerations for Second-hand Four-wheel Drives

While searching for second-hand four-wheel drive cars for sale, it’s vital to consider on-road and off-road capability based on where you plan to take your vehicle. For example, if you’re looking to venture way off the beaten track in search of isolated, pristine camping spots, then you need to make sure you choose a 4×4 model that has the right off-road capabilities. However, some of these factors may be less important if you’re planning on taking your vehicle on less challenging tracks.

Ground Clearance

The clearance between the underside of your vehicle and the ground is a crucial factor to consider when purchasing a four-wheel drive; especially if you intend to take it off-roading across difficult terrain. A four-wheel drive with ample ground clearance can easily navigate over obstacles like rocks, tree roots and uneven terrain without getting stuck or damaged. This extra height can give you the confidence to tackle challenging trails without fear of damaging the bottom of your vehicle.

Suspension and Tyres

When it comes to off-roading, a quality suspension system can make all the difference to your four-wheel driving experience. Robust suspension can handle tough terrain with ease, allowing your wheels to maintain contact with the ground for improved traction and an overall more comfortable ride. But good suspension isn’t enough on its own—it needs to be combined with the right kind of purpose-built tyres. Consider investing in terrain-specific tyres to give you the extra traction, grip, stability and control you need when navigating off-road trails.

Traction Control and Locking Differentials

Think about traction control as your ‘safety net’ in slippery situations. It helps manage wheel spin, ensuring you maintain traction on uneven or slippery surfaces. Equally as important are locking differentials, which force both wheels on the same axle to turn at the same speed. This ensures that power is evenly distributed even when one wheel loses traction. Both these features are important for those looking to take their four-wheel drive off-road. 

Towing Capability

You may be thinking of buying a used 4WD because you want a powerful car that can tow a caravan or trailer. If this is the case, then make sure you search for a vehicle that has enough power to tow a significant load. The easiest way to do this is to ask the car seller for the owner’s manual, as the towing capacity will be listed there. It’s also a good idea to check with the previous owner whether the vehicle already has the necessary trailer brakes fitted (such as electric brakes). Trailer brakes can help your vehicle stop more safely when towing a heavy load, and some local laws may even make it a legal requirement to have trailer brake systems for trailers over a certain weight.

If you can’t find a second-hand 4WD for sale that already has a tow bar fitted, then don’t worry—there are a number of different types of tow bars available, which can either be professionally or personally installed. 

Cruise Control

For four-wheel drive vehicles, cruise control could be a good choice if you’re travelling long distances over a relatively flat road. However, it could be a lot of strain on your engine when faced with steep inclines or undulating roads. That said, it’s best not to use it when going off-road. However, if you plan on taking a lot of long cross-country trips, then finding a vehicle with cruise control could be a smart choice.

What to Consider When Buying a Used Four-wheel Drive

If this is your first time purchasing a second-hand 4WD, there are a few crucial factors you should keep in mind. Beyond the upfront cost of the car, you also need to think about things like upkeep, practicality and condition. This will help you make an informed choice as to whether a 4×4 vehicle is the right choice for you and your lifestyle. 

Associated Costs

While you need to budget for the upfront cost of purchasing a used four-wheel drive, you also need to consider a few other things. For example, the fuel consumption, insurance, maintenance and parts of many four-wheel drive vehicles are often more expensive than their two-wheel drive counterparts.


Because there’s so much going on under the bonnet of a four-wheel drive, they can be more prone to wear and tear compared to two-wheel drive models.

While most four-wheel drive models consume diesel, it also means they require more frequent maintenance compared to a petrol engine. But although the maintenance and repair of a diesel engine can be more costly, it is far more efficient than petrol when it comes to fuel consumption.

Heavy-duty four-wheel drive tyres can also be expensive to maintain, as they can wear down quickly with regular braking on the tarmac. One way to soften this particular cost is to buy a set of everyday tyres for smooth surfaces, which you can switch out when you plan to tackle some more rugged terrain.  


The practicality of buying a four-wheel drive vehicle is a big consideration, especially for those who live in high-density, built-up areas. When choosing a four-wheel drive, make sure you find one that will fit into your parking space or garage, and re-consider using it for your daily commute if you need to navigate narrow neighbourhood roads or squeeze into tight parking spots.

When looking for used four-wheel drives for sale, it’s also important to consider the practical needs of you and your passengers. A heavy-duty workhorse is probably not the best fit for a family of five who want to use it for camping weekends away. However, a dual-cab automatic four-wheel drive with plenty of space in the back could be the perfect choice.


Whenever you’re searching for second-hand cars for sale, carrying out a test drive is critical, even if the vehicle has only had one previous owner. With a four-wheel drive this is even more important, as you need to make sure that all the systems work on diverse types of terrain.

When taking your potential new four-wheel drive for a test drive, make sure you:

  • fire the engine from cold so that you can identify any issues with starting
  • select each gear one by one before you drive away to ensure that the gears shift smoothly from one to another
  • 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 vehicle has part-time or automatic 4WD, test it in each of its different functions
  • take a look at the log books to check the car’s maintenance records, service stamps and maintenance stickers.

If possible, try to arrange a time to inspect the second-hand four-wheel drive during daylight hours. This will make it easier to check for rust, dents, scratches or chips in any of the windows. It’s also important to check that the door and window seals are tight, especially if you plan on using the four-wheel drive on rough, muddy and wet terrain.

Where to Buy Your Used Four-wheel Drive Car

There are two main options you can choose when looking for a second-hand four-wheel drive for sale: dealerships and private sellers. 

Whichever way you decide to go, both these options offer unique advantages as well as some drawbacks. By understanding these pros and cons, you can make an informed decision when it comes to buying a used four-wheel drive.

Dealerships: Extensive Range in the One Place

The main perk of opting for a dealership is the variety of models they have available. This means less time spent shopping around and an overall more streamlined experience.

The benefits of shopping at a dealership include:

  • Extensive range: At a dealership, you have the benefit of a broad selection of used vehicles all in one place.
  • Warranties: A dealership may offer a warranty on their used cars.
  • Trade-in deal: Have you already got a car that you’re looking to sell? You may be able to trade it in at the dealership. This can save you time when trying to sell it yourself.
  • Vehicle inspections: Many vehicles available at dealerships undergo mechanical inspection, giving you peace of mind.

Disadvantages of buying from a dealership: The convenience of having many options all in one place does come with an inflated cost, and you may discover more affordable prices through a private seller. Also, salespeople at a dealership may encourage you to opt in for add-ons and other extras that you might not want or need.

Private Sellers: Affordable Prices and Plenty of Options

Buying a car from a private seller allows you to negotiate the price, and gives you an overall more personable experience.

The benefits of buying privately include:

  • Cost: Generally speaking, you should be able to find more affordable prices when buying from a private seller compared to a dealership.
  • Negotiating power: You might find that private sellers are much more flexible when it comes to cost and are open to negotiating the selling price.
  • Vehicle history: When talking directly to the owner, you can get firsthand information about the vehicle’s history and care.

Disadvantages of buying privately: The main downside to buying from a private seller is that you don’t get the benefit of a warranty or mechanical inspection. You also need to remember that all paperwork, such as title transfers, are your responsibility.

Why Gumtree is Your Trusted Partner in Used Four-wheel Drive Buying

Finding the right second-hand four-wheel drive for sale can be a long journey. But when you do find the perfect vehicle, the time and effort you’ve spent researching, test driving and comparing models will be worth it. Let’s talk about how Gumtree can help make your journey easier, so you can find the four-wheel drive of your dreams.

Detailed Seller Profiles

Thanks to our detailed seller profiles, Gumtree allows you to get to know the person you’re dealing with a little better. Many sellers will have ratings and reviews from past transactions which will help give you an indication of their reliability. This 

Gumtree lets you peer a bit into who you’re dealing with. Sellers often have ratings and reviews from past transactions, giving you an idea of their reliability and integrity. We find that this system can provide an additional layer of confidence for buyers, especially if you’re about to make an important purchase like a four-wheel drive.

Safe and Secure Messaging

When you’re shopping around for four-wheel drives on Gumtree, you can message sellers directly through our platform. This means you don’t need to provide any personal details to the seller until you’re ready to make an offer and schedule a time to inspect the car. Our messaging system is secure and easy to use, and it keeps all your Gumtree conversations in one place.

Safety Resources at Your Fingertips

Would you like a refresher on the dos and don’ts of online transactions? Make sure you check out our Help section, which is filled with useful safety guidelines and tips to protect you from potential scams or pitfalls. 

Easy Payment Solutions

Gumtree supports secure online payment options, facilitating a seamless and safe transaction process. We still advise you to take a look at the car and meet the seller face-to-face before you finalise anything. However, this feature can help make the payment process smoother and easier for everyone. 

Localised Searches for Quick Transactions

One of Gumtree’s standout features is its ability to focus your search on local listings. This means you could meet the seller, inspect the car and even close the deal all in the one day. 

Good Luck!

We hope this four-wheel drive buying guide has been able to help you make an informed decision about purchasing a second-hand vehicle. A four-wheel drive can offer you plenty of new and exciting experiences, and you’re now equipped with the knowledge to confidently find the right vehicle to suit your needs and lifestyle. What are you waiting for? Start searching, take a test drive, compare your options and find your perfect four-wheel drive vehicle. Weekend adventures and country escapes await! 


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