More Canadians than ever are turning to the great outdoors as a way to pass the time and automakers are reacting to the trend by launching innovative new off-road-capable trucks and SUVs. Shoppers trading up to the latest new models might be trading in their few-year-old 4x4s – meaning there is plenty of selection in the second-hand marketplace for the shopper after a vehicle that’s perfect for getting out and exploring.

If you’re considering a modern used Toyota 4Runner, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Jeep Wrangler, Ford Raptor, Range Rover, or similar off-road capable SUV or pickup truck, we have some tips designed to help ensure you get the best used 4x4 for your dollar.

Some off-road vehicles are purchased by enthusiasts who use them for the gruelling work they’re built for. Some of these drivers often treat their 4x4s to religious maintenance and care throughout their lives. Other off-road vehicles rarely go off road and are used primarily as comfortable commuters. Other 4x4s are neglected, abused, and treated as playthings to be discarded at the end of its lease.

Let’s make sure you wind up with one of the first two examples.

Watch for Modifications

Many owners of off-road vehicles modify their pickups and SUVs for added enjoyment and capability. Certain quality modifications are no cause for alarm, though some can cause problems, especially if the quality of the parts or installation of those modifications was shoddy. Some modifications may also void remaining warranty coverage, in part or full.

The average shopper is best to stick to stock and avoid a used truck or SUV with extensive suspension, axle, or driveline modifications. Some such modifications contribute to owner complaints about reliability as their vehicles age. For instance, lifted trucks may prematurely wear out axle seals, and oversized wheels and tires may shorten the lifespan of the vehicle’s steering system.

Wear and damage caused by the use of non factory-approved parts is generally not covered by warranty.

Watch for electronic modifications, too. Auxiliary lighting, battery charging, and communication provisions may be present, so you’ll want to ensure the wiring was handled by a professional and isn’t a headache (or fire hazard) waiting to happen.

For maximum peace of mind, stick to stock unless you’re familiar with the ins and outs of vehicle modifications.

Mandatory Inspection

Having any used vehicle you’re considering inspected by a technician as a final step before you buy can save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you’re considering a used vehicle that may have been used carelessly in an off-road setting.

Set up this pre-purchase inspection (PPI), ideally at the vehicle’s dealership, as the last step before you cut a cheque.

The PPI is quick and affordable. After a technician runs over dozens of checks in and beneath the vehicle and its electronics, you’re provided a printed inspection report that reveals any possible issues or concerns.

A satisfactory PPI report is a final two-thumbs-up from the professionals that used vehicle shoppers can get a great deal of confidence from.

Check the Accessories

Does the used off-roader you’re considering come with any accessories included? If so, be sure to test any auxiliary lighting, roof-mounted carriers, racks, or removable roof provisions for proper operation. If anything’s not working properly, you’ll want to know before you buy.

Vehicle History Shouldn’t Be a Mystery

There are two good reasons to make sure you have a clear and complete picture of the service history of the used 4x4 or off-roader you’re considering.

First, it’s a vital part of making a warranty claim should the need arise. If you need to make a claim, you’ll need to provide proof that the vehicle has been maintained meticulously as outlined in the owner’s manual, with receipts and service records. If you’re unable to provide these, your warranty coverage may be in jeopardy.

Second, obtaining full and complete service records is a vital step in ensuring the vehicle’s seller was fond of regular and timely maintenance, which is vital to long-term vehicle health.

If you’re buying a used off-roader with incomplete service records, many owner communities advise a pre-emptive, system-wide fluid change covering coolant, oil, transmission and differential fluid, and brake fluid. With fresh fluids in all vital components, you reduce some risk of uncertainty.

Let the Tires Do the Talking

A vehicle’s tires take a lot of abuse, and that’s especially true in SUV and 4x4 models that see regular use on rough terrain.

Carefully inspect the tires on the model you’re considering, checking both inner and outer sidewalls for signs of rips, tears, gouges, or lumps that can signal a safety concern. Use a flashlight to check each tire carefully. If damage is spotted, have the tires checked by a professional, or budget for a new set.

Compare the tire tread depth across the treads of each tire, too. If one or more tires is worn more heavily on one side than the other, the vehicle needs an alignment and may require some attention to its suspension system. Regular servicing, inspection, and maintenance of the tires, suspension, and steering system is important to maintain maximum handling capabilities and safety at all times.

Finally, make sure the tires are application-appropriate and made by a quality brand you recognize.

Hit the Highway

Be sure to hit the highway on your test drive, as you’ll want to spend some time driving the vehicle you’re considering at higher speeds to check for unwanted vibrations or pulsations that can indicate problems.

Many owners across various makes and models report highway-speed vibrations or droning as a common issue in modern SUVSs and 4x4s as they age. Quiet the cabin and fluctuate your highway speed several times, being on the lookout for anything unusual. If something seems off, the fix could be as easy as a software update or as big as a transmission replacement, so you’ll want to have a professional help track down the cause before you buy.