Reader Question: Bug Out Ute?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Tim asks: My wife and I are planning to buy a large used SUV that needs to satisfy the following criteria: 1. We need a vehicle that can accommodate large cargo space for potentially long range travel at short notice.

2. We have a dog and 3 cats that we would need to take with us.
3. We need a vehicle that we may need to take off-road, so 4 wheel drive is essential (in addition to it handling snow and other bad weather conditions).
4. We need a vehicle that is reliable and is unlikely to break suddenly.
5. The vehicle should be one that federal agencies or police use to increase its “intimidation” characteristics and reduce its profile (which is why we also want it to be dark gray or black).
6. We don’t want to spend more than 25K, ideally even less than 20K.
7. We don’t want a vehicle with too much mileage, but what the cutoff should be, we don’t know (I was thinking 100K miles max, but I’m guessing).
8. We plan to buy the vehicle on an online car buying site with delivery (delivery doesn’t need to be free).
9. Extreme towing capabilities are not a factor (I have a BMW 530i with 191K miles on it, but I doubt I will be towing it).
10. We don’t want any 1984 style technology in the car.
11. We don’t care about fancy features (e.g. audio systems), but safety is very important.
Based on these characteristics and my research, we narrowed the vehicle to the Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon and Chevy Tahoe. The Chevy Suburban doesn’t fit into my garage, so we eliminated that one. I’m leaning toward the Ford Expedition primarily because it has better performance (from my understanding) and larger cargo space than the other two; and also lower rollover risk and generally higher safety ratings.
I’m seeing contradictory reliability reports. On one site, the Chevy Tahoe 2015 and GMC Yukon 2015 had significant reliability issues. Based on this information, can you make any recommendations on:
1. The best vehicle matching these characteristics.
2. The year range of the vehicles I should be looking for (e.g. do I target older vehicles from 2010 and earlier or try vehicles from 5 years ago).
3. The maximum number of miles I should consider.
4. Whether I should consider number of accidents or owners as a relevant factor.
5. Any other considerations I should make. Thank you in advance for your assistance! You can look for my donation as your site is very informative!
My reply: While I think the Tahoe is a fine vehicle, generally (and would be my preference vs. the Expedition, all else being equal, because of the Chevy’s superior-in-my-view OHV pushrod V8 vs. the Ford’s turbocharged OHC V6) I would like to suggest a Toyota Sequoia or LandCruiser. While not used by the federales, these things have the virtues of being Toyotas and are incredibly over-engineered/hard-to-hurt and conservatively engineered. If you find one with 100k on the odometer that hasn’t been abused it ought to be reliable for another 150k. These are just great rigs; ask anyone who owns one.
The downside is people know about these virtues and the price is apt to be high.
I know the Suburban is too large for the garage, so the following will run afoul of that criteria, but I also would like to suggest looking for an Excursion. These will meet all your other criteria, including the federale criteria. They were sold with gas and diesel engines and without the garbage that afflicts later-model vehicles, including the twice-turbo’d V6 “EcoBoost” late model Expedition. The diesel Excursion can burn any type of diesel, too – including biodiesel/waste vegetable oil (WVO), another huge virtue.
Failing all that, I’d still go with the Tahoe because of its drivetrain. The Chevy LS V8 is a generally sound, stout engine and GM makes a better (more durable) transmission. The engine has been in circulation for decades (unlike the Ford’s engine) and so service parts are readily available, too. The older, the better – as it will have fewer electronic failure points. Don’t turn away one with high miles, if it has been well-treated and especially if it has a sound frame (don’t sweat superficial exterior panel rust). Even if it has a tired engine (or transmission) if the rig itself is in good shape and the price is right, it could be well worth buying it and installing a sound rebuilt/good condition used engine (or transmission).
Once you’ve found a solid one, it can and should last for 10-15 years at least and even longer if you care for it well and can avoid exposing it to road salt. Most of all, try to keep it under cover when not in use as sitting outside in the weather is really hard on any vehicle.
PS: Wild card: The Nissan Armada. It could meet your needs and these are also considered pretty solid if a bit less refined than the others. I wouldn’t turn it down if I found a good deal on a nice one
Thanks for the kind words – and support!


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