I was browsing around online and I have seen many articles titled “Best SUVs Under 5k” or something like that. But they are basically vague lists of the same few trucks that everyone writes about. Sure they are helpful and a good place to start, but you’re not going to get anywhere staying on these lists. Wasting time I compiled together my list of the best 4×4 under 5k.
So it got me thinking, what if I waste some time browsing current listings of trucks and vehicles and come up with my own list of REAL LIVE ACTUAL listings? So, how much $5,000 could get me? This time I searched only craigslist.com with these factors:
- Any model year
- All-wheel drive or 4×4
- Manual transmission
- Lift kit & winch included or bought within budget
- Minimum 6 cylinder engine allowed
READ MORE: 10 BEST OFF ROAD VEHICLES UNDER 10k
So I went to craiglist.com and autotrader.com to see what I could find. I am located in Orange County so I searched within 300 miles of zip code 90032. So here is a top 10 best 4×4 under 5k:
Kelly Blue Book: $3,500+
Asking Price: $4,500 OBO
This guy is a project waiting to be finished. It’s in running condition so there is half the battle won. It will need a bit more work depending on how clean you want to make it.
Doing the work yourself you will save a bundle. Most of the work is just manual labor i.e. rust work, bodywork, sanding, fine-tuning things, install parts, etc. Taking this to a shop would be pretty pricey.
Maybe you have a little brother or friends you can invite over and pay with pizza and beer to lend helping hands. If you’re really handy you could offer an internship to some kids at a local community college to learn the fine art of auto body sanding!
The rebuilt 327 is a beast and it will get you anywhere with little upkeep. It even has power steering and power brakes so you won’t get a workout simply driving the thing. It may not be able to be the best 4×4 for under 5k but it would be the most stylish and best head turner. Plus it would not go down in value with time.
Kelly Blue Book: $2,675-7,900
Asking Price: $1,250 OBO
Missing: Winch, dirt tires, lift kit, clutch, weather stripping, possibly more
I added this one in here because it could be a great deal. The Vulcan 3.0 V6 engine is an all-time great engine. It really is bulletproof. In the photos, it doesn’t say anything about the crash or any damages, just a “list of recommended fixes” by a mechanic. That is very vague and the low low price makes you wonder what type of fixes the list includes.
Common issues for this generation of Ranger is a cracked cylinder head. But if this truck had a cracked header it would be included in the listing. If there are no major issues you could luck out with a great ride that is well below the $5,000 budget. This can easily become the best 4×4 for under 5k on this list. Rangers are legendary.
The owner states it will need a new clutch and there are damages to the liner and weather stripping. That is not too bad. It does have over 264,000 miles on it so it is expected to have some problems. I am 37 and my body is pretty creaky.
A lot of the parts are made for the entire second-generation models. That means there are few part changes. A new clutch kit is a cheap fix and at a shop, you can expect to pay about $500. Complete weather stripping. A lift kit can be done on a Saturday afternoon. Starting with this truck you can get on the road then off it for about half the $10k budget needed.
- No negotiating power. With a $1,250 price tag they are starting so low there isn’t much room to go down. Also, the what-ifs of a truck priced this low.
- Everything looks too great. Sometimes that means it was fixed from a previous WTF moment. Bring a mechanic that can spot potential red flags.
- Price. It’s so low you really can’t go wrong unless the truck has the Corona Virus, Ebola, and stage 4 cancer. Spending this little really hedges your bets on its future.
- Original owner selling. Typically an owner that keeps a car for 22 years will take care of it and put a lot of care into it. They aren’t buying a new flashy car every few years so their mind may be in the right place.
- Parts are cheap and common. Your options for fixing anything that may come up are great. If this is your only ride you would be limited and proceed with caution here.
- Beginner friendly. This could be an excellent start and a weekend project that can last for months. OEM (definition) and aftermarket parts are common and cheap.
- Rangers are easier to work on than most with a shop manual. A beginner can make mistakes and still get the thing working.
- Value in parts. If it’s a junker you would be able to sell it to a mechanic for not much less than what you paid for it. The engine is a beast and you may be able to part it out and recoup your money with leftovers.
This simple list shows an overwhelming majority of BUY than PASS. I would do it. I think you would too.
Kelly Blue Book: $4,500
Asking Price: $5,000 OBO
These things are a blast. If you don’t mind cruising like a grandma to and from the dirt. You will probably drive as fast off-road as you do on road. The gear ratios are made for creeping up steeps rather than towing a house or straight-lining it with fury.
These trucks are not on the top of many lists but they are on many lists. That’s the thing with a Suzuki 4×4. It is a classic with whatever it says on the back. The compact machine is one of the best budget off road vehicles you can buy. There is not much you need to do and they won’t knock your sox off but they will always make you happy.
Kelly Blue Book: $4,500
Asking Price: $3,200 OBO
Missing: Lift kit, tires, winch, paint job
Except for the seafoam green, this Cherokee would be a great starter 4×4. The mileage is high but that just means more learning!
Parts from the junk are plentiful and new universal fit parts are cheap. My first truck was a 1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport and there may be some surprises with the tranny but the engine and suspension should serve you well for years.
You can truly drive from the garage to the dirt and back on a single tank of gas with no modifications done. You can add a lift kit and it should ride not much less on the asphalt and much much better on the dirt. Tires and wheels can be had from the junk for pretty cheap.
It needs a paint job but it shouldn’t be too high on your list. You can bang the thing around for years and not worry too much. Of course, you can get it painted with Kevlar and have it look badass if you want or paint it yourself with a gritty bedliner if you’re into that. Both are great options with the bedliner being super cheap and look incredible for the effect you get.
Kelly Blue Book: $ 4,825
Asking Price: $6,000 OBO
A vanity project if there ever was one. The owner has done a lot of work to this bad boy possibly expecting to use it for a long time or simply to flip it. But with the work done it would be a hardflip.
I personally like the choice this guy made to filter all the listing photos with a soft black and white to create a dreamy-type feeling. How dramatic buddy.
His excuse is he is moving and can’t bring the truck with him but it would be a great truck to fill up and haul a trailer. Maybe his worse half is making him sell it and the black and white effect is the mourning of his lost manhood.
This is a great truck with nothing wrong with it. It would be an excellent choice to his the hills straight from this dude’s driveway. 4Runners are great in the dirt and you can’t go wrong especially with one such as this.
If you can negotiate and pry this one away for $5,000 you’ll be getting a truck that will give you a lot of enjoyment.
Here is a shortlist of parts/work put in:
Springs and Shocks with 3” lift
upper and lower coolant hoses
and newer Vacuum hose
Radiator pulley housing.
Timing belt assembly (Timing Belt, Upper pulley, Tensioner pulley)
Brake booster, master,& lines
Clutch Release bearing
Rotors (Wheel Bearings repacked and adjusted)
Transfer case fluid
Differential gear oil
Knock sensor cable
Oil and Filter (Delo 400 LE, Napa Oil filter)
Battery (this Summer)
Alternator (100 miles ago)
Power Steering pump belt
Newer custom rims
– Nuff said
Kelly Blue Book: $7,500
Asking Price: $6,000 OBO
Badass. For only $6,000 you can get a full-fledged 4×4 with a straight 6. Gas mileage for a straight 6 may be better than you think. It is priced right so you may not be able to get it for the $5k budget. But you can try. Use your negotiating skills to and see what you are made of.
You can find equivalents that are 10 or 20 years older going for the same price or more. This range of Jeeps price points are relatively flat or slightly increasing. Buy it, put 15,000 miles on it, and keep it in relatively the same condition. When you go to sell you are going to get the same price you originally paid. Free education on basic truck maintenance and repair. Do it!
Kelly Blue Book: $ 3,500
Asking Price: $4,000 OBO
the 2nd generation 4Runners are not the most ideal for offroading on a budget. They were underpowered and took more than other trucks in the same category to maintain in time and parts.
Luckily this guy has a V6. It was an above-average motor and it should serve you well anywhere. The truck itself is lifted and has off-roading tires so you are coming out ahead there. The listing says everything works great with cold A/C so that is another plus. Add a winch to this guy and you will have a Toyota that is more dependable than most and one of the best off road SUV under 5k.
READ MORE: BEST OFF ROAD VEHICLES UNDER 20k
1988 Jeep Cherokee Sport
Kelly Blue Book: $5,000
Asking Price: $5,500 OBO
1988 Cherokee with a straight 6, manual, lift kit, mud tires, and a lot of off-road experience. Only 50,000 miles total mileage on the rebuilt 4.0L. 228,000 original miles on the odometer. These older 4×4 four-door sports offered a lot of excitement. Similar to the Suzukis in abilities with better handling on-road they can be a great low maintenance weekend warrior.
It has a brush guard and some floodlights. Add a winch and you will be ready for all the weekend trips you can handle. This fits into all the requirements I look for in a truck like this and more. Black is my number one choice in any vehicle, whether it is a lifted Jeep or a barbie truck.
Kelly Blue Book: $ 4,000
Asking Price: $3,500 OBO
I love first-generation 4Runners. They are built for off-roading, and they can work forever. This guy for $3,500 is a great deal. Rebuilt engine, lift kit, and a strange paint job (or overcoat?) it’s got a lot you need. You can drive this straight to the hills and have a blast.
This guy bought it for his kid and I guess the love died out. Now he’s dumping it quickly. Opportunities like these are perfect ways to get a great deal. Do you know when you make an emotional purchase and then get buyer’s remorse a few hours or days later?
That’s the same with this type of deal and it something that someone wouldn’t normally do but they are making choices (sometimes poor ones) influenced by heart instead of brain. Cool. I’ll take it.
Another angle could be a quick flip. Offer $2,800 and get it for around that. do some minor bodywork and slap on a decent pain job and you could make maybe a grand or two in a few days. Not a bad deal if you’re savvy with sales.
Kelly Blue Book: $8,000+
Asking Price: $5,000 OBO
Missing: 6 pack
Want a one-stop-shop for a couple or single dude staying in the boonies for a while? Well, look no further than this… thing. It has been modified for extended use in the wild. If you are looking to pass some time in the middle of nowhere and you do not demand a lot of creature comforts then this 4×4 Jeep would fit your needs very well.
It has a rooftop camper. They are becoming very popular nowadays. This one looks more homemade than others, though it just may be a bit aged. They can be a great buy for you to stay away from the elements if you aren’t ready to upgrade to a glamping lifestyle.
The actual vehicle is a ’95 Wrangler 4×4 with a straight 6. The add ons are what makes this bad boy really intriguing. All the way down to the duel bottle openers on the rear panels you can tell this has been used quickly a bit for all sorts of shenanigans. Add a lift kit and you have no excuse to go get lost in the nearest woods this weekend.
With addons like an outlet and a bottle opener, this owner has taken pride in the vehicle. You can tell they got a lot of use out of it and did most if not all the work themselves. This is good and bad because you know they will be on top of maintenance and really enjoy the truck.
On the other hand, you are not sure what level of work was done. Did they cheap out on things in the short term and now will problems? Do they think no one can fix their truck except themself so the work will be…unique? These are issues you would have to address. Bringing a mechanic with you would be wise before purchasing this one. This is almost last on the list but it is my choice as the best 4×4 under 5k.
Kelly Blue Book: $3,000-9,800
Asking Price: $3,000 OBO
Missing: Suspension, tires, anti-roll bars, turbo rebuild
WRX what? EVO what? between 1988-1989 this was the rally street wonder. Turbo, AWD, and a hatchback this is the prototypical rally car. Keeping it on the street may be a better idea. Finding parts can be difficult and pricey and if you want to work on this thing yourself you would have to include it into your fir year plan.
Mazda didn’t make it easy on anybody servicing or modifying this car. Power isn’t really exciting either with only 148 HP and 144 ft-lb of torque. At 2,590 claimed weight it has a power to weight ratio of 0.0571 (Toyota Sienna records somewhere around 6-7).
Compared to the 2019 310 horsepower Subaru WRX STI with a P:W ratio of 0.0899 or a more closely related 1992 Mitsubishi EVO I with 244 horsepower and a P:W ratio of 0.092 this thing will be pretty underpowered in comparison.
That rating was in 1988. Imagine how it performs nowadays. The good thing is that you will be able to get more power out of it with optional things like a new air intake, lighter flywheel, front-mounted intake cooler. To get the same power to weight ratio as its future cousins the Mazda would need to drop 900 lbs or add 80 HP.
A combination if either is somewhat manageable. Upgrading the turbo (this may require some advanced skills) would be the easiest way to get there. Dropping a few hundred lbs would be realistic but 900?
You are already on your way with the red model and its custom windshield mod…
If you are looking to get out there and go off-roading there are many possibilities to do it. It is much cheaper than you may have imagined. With so many options it may be hard to choose the best 4×4 under 5k if that is your budget. But with some analysis, I have laid out here you will be more informed on your purchase.
Thanks for reading and stay dirty.
Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor nor a professional in any way. You much purchase your own vehicles and operate them at your own caution. These can be serious weapons if used in the wrong way and extreme caution should be used. Act at your own risk as nothing on this website should be used in a professional manner only drawn from my own experiences. Take what wisdom you choose and use it at your own discretion. You may have a lot of fun but always act in a safe and empathic way with respect to others and the environment.