Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Rodko asks: Longtime reader, follower and donor (at times) with a question I hope you can help with. I own a 2006 Mazda MX5 which I purchased as a fun roadster. It has been a ball to drive. It’s not a fast car, but it’s a fun car, unencumbered by most nanny distraction electronics of later year models. However over the past year with all the Corunka idiocy, I’ve found that I’m staying out of the city and enjoying getting out into the bush on my 250 enduro motorcycle more and more often, simply to get away from the stupidity.
Also, the pavement pork has been much more frisky lately, waylaying innocent travelers for the most trifling of reasons, which has kept me out of the car and riding the dodgy and rather invisible knobby tired bike. I’m often thinking how it would be nice to be able to carry more bush/camping gear than fits on a motorcycle, so I’m looking at selling/trading the MX5 for a Jeep: 2door, manual, a few years old at least so as to keep the cost down and stay away from as much electronic junk as I can. I live in the Pacific NorthWest of Canada and am looking for a fairly tough, logging road worthy vehicle. I’m not going to beat the crap out of it, but value something durable. I was wondering about your opinion on Jeeps – the YJ/Wrangler style – and whether you think they are a decent option.
Are there things to look out for, or particular years you would recommend? Or, if you think they are worth avoiding, are there other truck frame or solid SUV’s that you would recommend? Thanks for your time and keep up the great writing!
My reply: Jeeps – and Wranglers, especially – are fun but their track record for reliability is less than the best. They are, however, very capable and they are among the few such vehicles still available with a manual transmission. There is also the option to get a bed, in the iteration of the new Gladiator – which is basically a four-door Wrangler with a short bed out back. It could carry your dirt bike without you having to hook up a trailer.
That said, I’d steer you toward a Toyota 4Runner or (if you’re game for it) an older, late ’90s-early 2000s era Nissan Frontier. These are stout little pick-ups that were available with manual-hub 4×4 and very sturdy four cylinder engines that will run 250,000-plus miles without giving you major problems (the timing belt/tensioner should be checked and replaced at around 175k or so, but it’s not a big deal).
The current Frontier – which is mid-sized – would also be a good choice and is my recommend vs. the others in the class.
Another one to consider – maybe – is probably one you haven’t thought of. The Honda Ridgeline. Yes, seriously. It’s not a “truck” in the traditional sense as it hasn’t got a two-speed transfer case and 4WD Low range gearing but the thing is extremely capable – ask around – and also extremely reliable, long-lived and practical. It has a number of very useful features such as a tiered bed storage system and it can easily carry a dirt bike . . . two of them.
PS: I wish I still had my dirt bike!
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Among Jeep products, the Wranglers and TJs are among the most reliable, but everything is relative. If you’re thinking of doing much off-roading, the main failure points on Toyota’s are the CV joints on the front independent suspensions. The boots are fragile and easily damaged by sticks and rocks offroad vs the solid front axles of a TJ or Wrangler. It really depends on the intended use case.
Anything that you get that is older will require a lot of work to maintain. Jeeps have the advantage of easy and cheap parts availability and are much easier to work on, even in their latest iterations. The electronics can be troublesome, though, and that’s where Toyota’s would have an edge. The other issue is that Jeeps hold their value dryer than any other vehicle on the road. This getting one for a reasonable price means looking at much older versions that may not have been well maintained. I purchased new vs used because even a 5 year older Wrangler goes for almost as much as a new one. A friend of mine purchases them with salvage titles and repairs them himself, saving a lot of money in the process and giving him the opportunity to modify them how he would like.
As for the Frontiers, the latest generations are notoriously unreliable, as are all Nissans. They offer no advantage over a Wrangler in that department. The older ones, about 20 years ago and older, were wonderfully reliable (pre-Renault ownership of Nissan). Toyota is great, with the above caveats, but they are also expensive to buy new or used because they are generally reliable.
Honestly, take a look at older half-ton pickups as they’re ubiquitous and don’t attract much attention from the bacon patrols, are easy to work on (if of adequate vintage) and parts are readily available.
Ridgelines are great but have fewer off-road mods available than their body on frame competitors. They hold up to corrosion extremely well. Mine lived in new england since 2006 and only has minor rust on one rocker at 200k miles and still drives like new.
As a jeep alternative I’d suggest the toyota fj cruiser. Visibility aint great but they’re hardy with huge aftermarket support. If you can find one a suzuki samurai or first gen sidekick blows everything short of a side by side away in the sticks but they’re rotboxes so inspect carefully.