An off-road build can be a daunting task for the inexperienced. You will buy and fix and fail and laugh and scream and throw things and try to figure out why you started in the first place.
This is why so many people have their garages filled with parts everywhere and a half-built, half unbuilt truck sitting there collecting dust instead of dirt and miles. So really what is the best off-road vehicle to build:
These are the trucks that are the easiest to buy cheap, have parts readily available, and offer a great off-roading experience for novices and the more experienced.
But where do you start and how can you even begin? There are ways you can make it much much easier to finish that winter project and get it up and running in the hills when it gets warm. There are many factors to take into account.
The first is a budget. You can have the sickest truck in the world but if you can’t afford to put gas in it or buy the right tires it won’t do you any good. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into and how you can get out of it if you need to i.e. finish it or sell it.
The top 5 things to take into consideration for the best off road vehicle to build are:
- Start with the end in mind
- Parts availability
- Technical ability
- Resources available
1. Start Your Off-Road Build With The End In Mind
Starting with the end in mind will force you to find out what you want to build i.e. A rally car? A side by side? A wall climbing monster? An ATV? A 4×4 you can drive from your garage to the dirt and back with Starbucks cups safely cradled in their cup holders and wireless cell phone chargers?
You’re going to find out what platform you will need and that is where you can start to plan to build your own off-road vehicle.
2. Budget Your Off-Road Build
Budgeting correctly will determine how much fun you can have. Are you willing to drop $20,000 on a newer truck that is already ready to go? Or maybe you want to buy a banger for $2,500, gut it, and slowly upgrade parts one at a time?
Whatever you decide your budget will limit how fast you can get out there and on what set of wheels would be the best off-road vehicle to build.
Don’t let this discourage you either. Some guys out there with a shiny new Renegade or Tundra and they’re scared to get it dirty? Then they get passed by those two guys in the banged-up Bronco or T100 that is charging harder than everyone else.
If you’re investing all your savings into a machine then you may be scared to get it out there and see what it can really do.
3. Make Sure Truck Parts Are Available
Parts availability is crucial to your off-road build. You may find a great deal on an older Expedition 4×4. It has a V8 and maybe some accessories so you’re off to a good start. But maybe it needs a lift kit, or you quickly realize it doesn’t have enough power to move its fat ass in the dirt and it’s just too awkward to move.
The parts you want are fitted for other trucks. The universal fit parts available are few and not designed for off-roading. You can get some close but maybe they’ll cause other problems you will have to fix down the road.
4. Gauge Your Technical Ability
Your Technical ability should be taken into consideration as well. This includes your access to parts as well. We all have been to Harbor Freight to “rent” parts for a day or two. But having a set of wrenches to use for this long-term and recurring project is crucial. Also is the ability to use them. Buying older trucks that are easy to work on will save you a lot of time, money, and energy in the long run.
Working on that Expedition would be a nightmare. A lot of trucks may require two people and a lot of aspirin. Most Jeeps or 80’s Toyotas would be child’s play in comparison.
5. Judge Resources Available
The resources available to you are crucial as well. Shop manuals, forums, youtube, friends, mechanics, or neighbors all serve as resources. Buy a brand you constantly see in the hills and you may have a world of knowledge at your fingertips.
Buy an older or not-so-common off-roader and you may be learning a lot of things on your own. This is something to take into consideration. But for some people figuring things out on their own may be the best part of the whole process.
My first restore was a 1982 Yamaha 650 Seca motorcycle. I had a shop manual but I did a lot of things on my own and I loved it. I trusted my work enough where I wouldn’t kill myself on the freeway.
In the next few years, I did find missing parts around the garage. Doing it over again I wouldn’t change the process. But that’s me. And that’s what I enjoy and I know that about myself. Hopefully, you do as well.
Building an off-road vehicle can be a daunting task for the inexperienced. You will buy and fix and fail and laugh and scream and throw things and try to figure out why you started in the first place.
Taking all of these things into consideration the following is a list of top road vehicles to build for 5 different builder types:
The Off-Road Novice
Probably the most exciting place to be. Everything is new to you. You don’t understand everything and your first influences may shape how you move forward. After some weeks you quickly realize how little you know and you jump around from truck to truck.
This type will need to do more planning than the rest. This is your first off-road build. This will decide whether you love off-roading or will frustrate you enough to turn you away.
Maybe you have a limited budget and no experience, but you have been reading everything you can online and you spotted a juicy listing on Craigslist. Do you pull the trigger or wait for a better opportunity? I got you.
Your 1st Off-Road Truck Upgrade
You’re no rookie anymore. You have your first ride and you quickly understand what it lacks and you’re ready to make an excellent decision. Maybe you’re tired of doing more repairs than riding. Or you’re constantly sitting shotgun in your friend’s monster. You want to do more but you want a better machine to do it.
You spend time fixing rides for a living or you have a garage filled with flips you’re fixing up. How can you take advantage? You may not have an unlimited budget to work with but you can fix a junker better than anyone else on this list. Buy a junker and fix it up? Get an obscure ride and mod it when needed? What are the best rides for your skillset?
The “I Got Money To Burn and I Want To Tear It Up This Weekend”
Possibly the best situation here. You have little limits to what you can get. You don’t have the experience to understand how you want to ride but you can an awesome machine and learn quickly.
You’ve been watching youtube videos about renegades with 6” lifts climbing up walls or watching off-roading fail videos over and over.
You want a brand new Gladiator to jump off cliffs on your next vacation. Or maybe your friend knows someone that knows someone that is selling a retired race truck and you want to buy a legit workhorse. Where do you start?
The Comfortable Retiree
You have more time than anything. Maybe you did some off-roading years ago and now you have the free time to get back into it. What has changed? What is different and what can you do to get back to it quickly?
Now that you know who you are. Let’s take a look at some of the best off-road vehicles to build for each type of builder.
What is the Best Off Road Vehicle To Build for The Novice?
If this is your first project so you are going to want to take things slow and find the best deal you can. You are going to find lots of used parts from the junkyard. Hell, you might even find a junker and get it running.
You have more time than money. So you will be spending long weekends in the garage fixing things that went wrong and fixing your mistakes. But this is part of the learning process and it is almost more important than learning from a shop manual.
You are going to be looking at the following trucks. They are in order of preference, keeping in: mind purchase price, parts availability, mechanical aptitude required, and off-road ability.
The Ford Rangers were bulletproof. The drive train won’t give you issues. But you may have issues with other parts of the truck. But used parts and driveability will make this a very easy build.
I would put this one at the top of this list because it was my first truck. But I won’t. The Jeep Cherokee is a great first-off-road build. You can buy them cheap every day, parts are easy to come by, not too complicated, and you’ll have plenty of fun in the dirt.
The Chevy S10 and the SUV Blazer were the Honda Civic’s of the ’90s. They were very common, customized, and drove nice. Nowadays you may spend more than the others on parts or dig a little deeper for used parts. Off-roading won’t be as fun with the others, but they won’t break the bank getting up and running.
The Toyota T100 isn’t as common as the others on this list, but it will get you up and driving quicker than the others. It is incredibly simple and parts are dirt cheap. Universal parts can be used more than on other trucks. It is the precursor to the Tacoma so off-roading is part of its blood.
The Ford F Series is on this list because it is just so common. You can find older ones cheap and easily. Used parts are all over. 4×4’s with big engines are abundant. Driving is great for a heavier truck. A stripped-down off-roading F-150 could be the most fun mudder you can get.
What is the Best Off-Road Vehicle To Build for the Wrencher and the Upgrader?
You know exactly what you want and now you only have to see the truck and you’ll jump on it. You know what shortcuts you can take, which parts are not worth upgrading, and which type of truck you want.
What is the Best Off-Road Vehicle To Build for the Retiree and Mr. Moneybags?
You are thinking about how fast you can go. Or you want to keep up with the Jones’. The money will make up for any lack of patience. Check out how easy it is to find what you want when you have the cash.
Have a good one and stay dirty.