OLD BEATER OR NEW & NEATER?
QI’m 16 and recently got my license and I’m infected with the off-road bug. I’m getting an ’00 Nissan Frontier 4x4 3.3L V-6 that my parents got for me and my brother, who is going to college. I can’t
really take the Nissan wheeling because my parents would not like me ”wrecking“the truck they bought. So I would have to buy another truck to wheel. Now don’t go telling me to buy an old beater, which I would very much like to do, because my parents will not let me drive a truck with no airbags (which I’m sure other kids can relate to). So if I were to get an old truck, I would have to tow it to go wheeling with the Nissan so it couldn’t be a fullsize truck because it would be too heavy. Also to tow I would have to flat-tow, keeping me from having to buy and license a trailer. The other option would be to buy a newer truck with an airbag and only drive that to go wheeling to save money. I don’t know which option to choose. Next year at school I will be taking an auto shop class, which will help me save money learning to work on my truck myself.
JACOB D. via firstname.lastname@example.org
AFRED WILLIAMS REPLIES: I was in your same situation once long ago. Mom and Dad had gotten my brother Sam and me a Volkswagen to drive to school, and even though it was a perfectly good commuter car I really thought we “needed” a Jeep CJ instead. Of course my dad told me that if I wanted a Jeep I should save my money and get a Jeep, so I did. By working on the farm and saving all my spare change I eventually came home with a $600 ’73 CJ-5. It was a rust bucket for sure, but I did learn a lot about how
4x4s worked and how to make mine run.
In the end the simple old Jeep taught me more than I ever realized, and the crazy thing is I ran out of money before I ever got it to pass Pennsylvania safety inspection. Luckily for me I was able to sell it for a profit and spend that money on a newer ’86 CJ-7 that ran and was licensed. In fact, the CJ-7 never needed much work, and had I started with a newer Jeep I wouldn’t have learned how to rewire and fix all the stuff that was wrong with my CJ-5.
That is why I recommend an old beater 4x4 as your first 4x4. Lots of kids are given nice trucks by their parents. If you buy it, learn to fix it, and get it running all by yourself, then you will appreciate it much more and will be able to fix any problems when you’re out on the trail. Plus, an old 4x4 is the perfect project for your auto shop class to help on.
As for flat-towing the rig, your Nissan has a recommended towing capacity of 5,000 pounds if it has an automatic transmission
(3,500 if it is a manual), and though this will pull a 4x4, you’ll probably save plenty of fuel by just driving your 4x4, unless you get something small and light like an old Jeep CJ, an early ’80s Toyota pickup, or a Suzuki Samurai. In fact, I think any of these three would make a great first 4x4. They are all nimble, all have simple leaf-sprung suspensions and solid axles, and in stock form they were all available with hearty four-cylinder engines.
If an airbag-equipped 4x4 is needed, then realize that they weren’t required until
1999, so you are looking for something built in the last 10 years or so. I’d still consider an open-topped Jeep.