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Choosing The Right Vehicle

Posted by on January 5, 2017


Pine Barrens

The topic of which vehicle do I buy for an overlanding vehicle has been popping up regularly in a few Facebook groups I follow and the answers always seem to be something like, “I’ve got XYZ and it is the best for overlanding, you should get one just like me.” Thing is, the commenter’s needs and requirements for their choice in vehicle is most likely very different that the person asking the question.

Sometimes the answer is the vehicle you own is the best one to use and spend the money to go explore and play instead of worrying about having all the gadgets and the coolest rig. But let’s assume it is time to replace the vehicle.

How to choose your next vehicle

When choosing what vehicle to purchase and build, I believe it is most important to honestly evaluate the intended use of the vehicle. When it came time to replace the old worn out 95 Toyota Tacoma, I made a list and answered the questions which lead me to the vehicle that I felt would best fit my needs.

Toyota Tacoma

Squirrel hunting a few days after getting the Tacoma

  • Will the vehicle be your daily driver, a local play toy, or a long distance traveler? Each one will require different parameters.
    • Things to consider with a daily driver would be good road manners, decent gas mileage, lower cost of maintenance, and generally a vehicle you can comfortably drive every day.
    • The vehicle that is destined to be a weekend play toy, these things become less important and off-road capabilities become the greater factor.
    • With the long hauler, a new world of compromises enter into the equation.
      • How much and how severe off-road driving are you going to do 1,000 miles or more from home?
      • How much gear are you going to be carrying?
      • Sleeping arrangements?
      • Ease of repairs and availability of replacement parts.
      • And what is the historic reliability of the vehicle make and models.

Honestly think about these things before choosing a vehicle. While it may seem cool to own an old FJ40 or a V-8 CJ-5, driving one to work every day or from coast to coast would not be the best choice. Unless of course you are a real gearhead for such a vehicle and see the punishment of a harsh ride, wind noise, and regular major maintenance as a badge of honor driving such a critter.

In the same manner, if the weekend off-road play toy is the intent, a Subaru Forester may not be the best choice while a Defender 90 with 37-inch tires and lockers would be a blast to run the trails.

offroad vehicle

Of course, I do favor old XJs for trail beaters

As an example, listed below are the parameters I used in choosing my latest rig, a 2013 Access Cab Toyota Tacoma.

Before even making the decision to replace the old Tacoma, I had to look at the options of keeping it and making repairs. The truck was paid for and not having truck payments was nice.

tire review full view muddy truck

However, the motor with its 250,000 miles was nearing death. I discussed with a mechanic friend about replacing the motor and we figured that for between, $2,000 and $4,000 we could replace the motor and keep her alive a little longer. However even after the motor swap, I would still be left with a 20-year-old truck that required continuing repairs to keep on the road. She would have made a perfect weekend play toy, but as a daily driver and long distance traveler, not so much.


  • Do I need 4 wheel drive?
    • 4×4 was a must. I travel off-road way too often and would be stuck way too quick without it.
  • Track record of reliability?
    • I wanted a vehicle I could drive and not constantly have to tinker with. Toyota’s maintain one of the best track records of reliability of any vehicle on the market.
    • I also wanted a new or almost new vehicle to minimize the daily maintenance and hopefully keep it around a long time.
  • Pickup truck vs. SUV?
    • Having a pickup truck bed fit my needs better than an SUV.
    • I once owned a highly modified Jeep Cherokee. She was a beast when it came to rock crawling. However, I saw the interior degrade from hauling hunting, fishing and camping equipment. From the sharp edges of tree stands to the mud from decoys the interior took a real beating.
  • Access cab vs. Double cab?
    • The majority of my driving is either solo or with one passenger. Not very often do I haul more than two people. In trade the larger truck bed gives me more space to haul my gear.
    • The access cab has seats for two more riders if needed and allows me to carry things like a sleeping bag or clothes that I don’t really want to toss in the back of the truck bed.
  • V-6 vs. 4 cylinder?
    • More power, need I say more?
  • Automatic transmission vs. manual?
    • I prefer an automatic transmission when off-roading and when dealing with commuter traffic. I can still down shift to control downhill accents and when crawling over a rocky trail a two footed driver with an automatic is always a smoother driver.
  • Mid-sized truck vs. a full-sized truck?
    • I spend a lot of time driving tight trails through the woods. I needed a vehicle able to fit in those tight places and a full-sized truck simply would not make it.
overlanding vehicle

Is this your perfect overlanding vehicle? Probably not, but for me it is.

In no way are my needs and/or wants possibly the same as yours. But the above gave me a direction on which vehicle would best fit and serve me and my life style. How much I modify the truck to tailor my specific needs is in the details, but now I had a baseline to start with.

So what vehicle should you buy and modify to build your perfect overlanding rig? I can’t answer that for you, only you can.