Should you spend the ex­tra money on a 4×4 model when buy­ing used, or should you save the cash? It de­pends on your needs and ex­pec­ta­tions.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - GUIDE -

Re­gard­less of whether you’re buy­ing new or used, the is­sue of driv­e­train is an im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion. Sure, it’s great to have a 4×4 sys­tem, but do you re­ally need it? When it comes to buy­ing used, it’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to think things over care­fully first.

Not only does a 4WD sys­tem add to the price of a ve­hi­cle, but it can im­pact its re­li­a­bil­ity. 4WD sys­tems, trans­fer cases and diff locks are all com­plex com­po­nents, and un­less you truly have need for them, they are noth­ing but a li­a­bil­ity.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when de­cid­ing if you need an SUV or bakkie with a 4WD sys­tem.


Th­ese days, many bakkies are 2WD only, al­though you can opt for 4WD ver­sions, es­pe­cially if you’re shop­ping at the top-end of a par­tic­u­lar model range. While it’s nice to have that ‘4WD’ badge on the back of your car, you have to ask your­self if it’s worth pay­ing more for the priv­i­lege.

How do you de­cide? Well, ask your­self: what do I want to do with the ve­hi­cle? Your av­er­age com­pact SUV might be avail­able with 4WD, but the ve­hi­cle cer­tainly isn’t de­signed for se­ri­ous off-road­ing. To tackle a proper off-road trail, you need a ve­hi­cle not only with a 4×4 sys­tem, but also with low-range gear­ing, and ide­ally a diff lock, too.

What’s the point of the 4×4 sys­tem? Well it can aid trac­tion and make things a bit safer when deal­ing with loose sur­faces. Many of th­ese ve­hi­cles are de­signed to deal with snow and ice but can also aid trac­tion on gravel, in sand, and even on wet tar roads.

How­ever, few own­ers will spend enough time on gravel or sand in a com­pact SUV to jus­tify the pres­ence of a 4WD sys­tem. The truth is, if you re­ally need a 4×4, you prob­a­bly also re­ally need a ve­hi­cle with low-range gear­ing. In the vast ma­jor­ity of cases, a 2WD com­pact SUV will get the job done other­wise. Many of th­ese com­pact SUVs never ven­ture off tar once in their lives, in any case.


As men­tioned, if you in­tend to use your ve­hi­cle to ven­ture onto 4×4 trails, or to set off on ex­treme over­land trips, you prob­a­bly want to pur­chase one with both a 4WD sys­tem and low-range gear­ing. With the ex­cep­tion of the odd ve­hi­cle (like the au­to­matic 4×4 Amarok), you need a 4×4 with low range to go off-road­ing. Sure, you can do a bit of sand driv­ing in high range, but when it comes to tack­ling steep, rocky slopes, you need a trans­fer case. So, if you want to buy a 4×4 to go off-road­ing, buy one with a low-range trans­fer case. If you won’t be hit­ting the trails, avoid a ve­hi­cle with a trans­fer case, though, as it will only add weight.


Many 2WD bakkies come with a diff lock, but de­spite what some peo­ple say, a 2WD bakkie with a diff lock will not go as far as a 4×4. Sure, it can help in a pinch, but it won’t be suf­fi­cient if you in­tend on tack­ling se­ri­ous 4×4 sit­u­a­tions.

When it comes to a 4WD ve­hi­cle, a diff lock can be im­mensely use­ful. It’s not a ne­ces­sity, but for the most part, a diff lock makes it much eas­ier to deal with tough 4×4 ob­sta­cles. Axle twisters, for ex­am­ple, are much eas­ier when you have a diff lock. With­out it, you need a lot more mo­men­tum, which puts ex­tra strain on the ve­hi­cle.

As an added note, some mod­ern 4×4s (like the Wran­gler Sa­hara) have an ex­cel­lent of­froad trac­tion con­trol sys­tem that can lessen the need for a diff lock. Be sure to find out ex­actly what off-road bells and whis­tles the ve­hi­cle has.


Be­fore buy­ing, make sure that all the 4×4 sys­tems on a ve­hi­cle are in good work­ing or­der. Test ev­ery­thing thor­oughly, and don’t just as­sume that a sys­tem is okay be­cause the light on the dash­board goes on.

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