There’s no denying the fun and practicality of an all terrain vehicle but there’s also no denying how expensive these toys can be. A new model loaded with all the bells and whistles can ring the register at more than $10,000.
This may not be in your budget, but that doesn’t mean you have to take your chances getting your tractor or pickup truck stuck in the muck when checking on livestock or hauling tools and supplies to remote areas. With a bit of good old redneck ingenuity you can easily create your own purpose built workhorse.
Over the years I’ve rescued a small fleet of dilapidated four-wheel-drive SUVs from the crusher and built them up to off-road specs.
I typically try to find a donor vehicle that’s riddled with rust and will likely never be seen on a highway again. Folks will often sell a running but rusty model for as little as $200. Look for one built prior to 1997 as they are typically easier to work on and don’t require expensive diagnostic tools to keep running. My general rule of thumb is to purchase a four-wheel-drive vehicle with fuel injection, so pretty much anything built after 1986 is good to go. You want to find one that is still running well, make sure the engine idles smoothly, the transmission shifts right and the 4×4 engages. Anything else, including rust, torn seats, bald tires and even minor collision damage can be easily overlooked, and overcome.
Popular older midsized SUVs still available on the used market include the Ford Explorer, Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder or S-series General Motors versions of the GMC Jimmy or the Chevrolet Blazer.
A few years ago I spotted a very rusty 1987 Toyota 4Runner with a for sale sign in the window in front of one of my rural neighbours’ properties. After determining that the engine, transmission and 4×4 components worked properly, for $300 it was towed home to my shop.
Hours later the majority of the offending rust was removed with an angle grinder. Later that week a nice set of used wheels and big tires were purchased from a friend. Dents were pounded out and the works was painted with a roller and a $40 gallon of Tremclad. A few decals were applied to spruce things up and some used seat covers made the interior look “almost” new. As many lights as I could find cheap were also installed. This thing looked like a Christmas tree at night. The exhaust was rotten so I rigged up a new system with other spare parts found for next to nothing. It actually turned out better than we expected and by the time the job was done it was deemed safe for road travel. My total investment was about $1,500.
Although it is no longer with us, (it lasted about two years), this 4Runner ventured to swampy areas of our rural property. The back cap was removable and we hauled a mountain of garbage in it and loaded it with bales of hay. We got our money’s worth and more out of that little 4Runner.
My next budget build was a 1994 GMC Jimmy that served as both a yard mule in the summer (the air-conditioning still worked) and a snow-plow in winter. It was a little small for the massive used plow we installed on the front, but it did the trick.
You may be thinking I’m making this sound easier than it is, but the reality is these vehicles were built in my home shop with basic hand tools and barely enough skill to use them.
My next project is actually two vehicles, a Nissan pickup and a Nissan Pathfinder. I’m excited to get these wounded warriors in the shop and transform them into one machine.
The next time you spot a rusty 4×4 for sale on the side of the road, you may want to take a second look. For far less money than you might think, it may one day be the envy of all your neighbours. †