[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]OLD 4WDS ARE TRIED AND TESTED, BUT CAN THE NEW BREED KEEP UP AND LAST 500,000KM OR MORE?[/blockquote]

The verdict is certainly out on older 4WDs; they’ve stood the test of time and some of them have even achieved legendary status and become icons in the Aussie 4WD landscape. Many old 4WDs have clocked up a million kays or more in some of the harshest conditions known to us and some would even agree that a lot of this country has even been pioneered on the back of classic 4WDs.

We’re talking about 4WDs from the 70s to the late 90s where many were very basic mechanically, built tough, perhaps inefficient, but got the job done. I would go as far to say that the 1980s and early to mid-1990s was a golden era in the Aussie 4WD landscape, during which many manufacturers, namely Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi became synonymous with building the toughest off-road vehicles in the world. More steel was used in the bodies, chassis were thick and heavy, drivetrain components were big and tough and mechanical components were over-engineered to outlast their owners.

Like anything, 4WDs have progressed and we now see a new breed of 4WDs loaded with technology, more comfortable and quiet, efficient and less of a burden on the environment while providing more power than ever before. It sounds good on the surface, but are these new breed of common-rail utes and wagons soft or is this a misconception? I believe the new breed of 4WDs have been around long enough for us to make up our minds up once and for all and be able to speculate whether or not they will be able to last the test of time like our old classics have.

My plan is to speak with many of the 4WD industry’s most knowledgeable experts to settle the score once and for all.

This is a topic that has been debated at many campfires all around Australia and I bet you are reading this, already have made your mind up to what’s better. But I want you to leave what you think you know at the door, because we’re not going to leave any rock unturned as we answer the oldest question in 4WDing, what’s better new or old?


So where do I stand on the question of old versus new? Well I own one of each and love them both to bits. The newer 2014 79 Series has air con and all of the power in the world, never overheats and I have the confidence to turn the key and drive it anywhere in comfort. However, if I was miles from anywhere and broken down, I know I would rather be in the old 60 Series because chances are I would have a better chance of fixing it myself and getting back on the road without needing to call a tow truck.

My old 60 Series is so tough and bush-proof that it would run on the smell of an oily rag and can run with no alternator for as long as I have fuel (12HT engine). I wouldn’t have headlights or even wipers, but I would be able to get home again. But that hasn’t kept me away from owning a modern 4WD, because technology has come a long way and as far as I see it, has mostly been a good thing for 4WDs.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”] OLDER DIESEL 4WD SHOULD SEE 500,000KM TROUBLE FREE[/blockquote]


Without a doubt, older 4WDs are easier to work on. You can look in the engine bay of an older 4WD and see the shed floor, which means you can generally spin spanners with ease. You’ll find less electrical components and older 4WDs will always be easier to diagnose.

In saying that, I think many new 4WDs automatically get thought of as ‘too hard’ to work on because they do look more complicated than older trucks. Take my 79 Series for example. I recently had to change an alternator and to be honest was a little stressed out about it because people talk about how hard a job that is, mainly because of the lack of access. But I found that to be a bit of a myth and the job was done in a few hours. In fact, in many instances, the 79 Series is easier to work on than my old 60 Series. Getting into the dash for instance is something that can be done without any need for tools, just a few clips and you’ve got the whole fascia off. How long before they become brittle – who knows? But as it stands they’ve both got their pros and cons.

The key to working on new 4WDs (like anything) is to know the ins and outs of the vehicle before you start working on it. It might seem obvious, but don’t just assume you are good with the spanners and start spinning them on new 4WDs without learning about them first. For example, if you drop the oil out of a new Ford Ranger or Mazda BT50 and leave it for more than 10 minutes without topping up with new oil, the oil pump cannot re-prime itself, leading to unnecessarily damaging your engine.

The other big issue that you’ll find with new vehicles is when they throw an engine code and go into limp mode. This can be a bit difficult to sort out yourself unless you have a little EDS unit or Scangauge where you can clear engine codes yourself.


The other thing you need to look at with new versus old is the availability of modifications and the cost and ease to fit them.

Take a new 200 Series LandCruiser for example and the cost of fitting a bullbar compared to an old GQ. The GQ has about eight bolts and is literally less than an hour job. The 200 requires you to cut the bumper and unless you’re quite handy, isn’t a DIY job. Price point is a big thing too – a colour coded bar for a 200 Series will set you back close to $3K, while a bar from the same manufacturer for a GQ will only set you back a touch over $1300. That’s less than half the price!

Many of your popular 4WDs that have been around for a few years (or decades) you will find that there is an endless amount of aftermarket accessories, both new and on the second hand market. But the availability of mods and accessories usually comes down to how popular your 4WD is. If you own an old Lada Niva, you’ll struggle to find any aftermarket support here in Australia, because they simply aren’t very popular and it doesn’t matter if it’s old or new.

The other thing you need to think about is how far you would like to modify a vehicle. If you have a modern 4WD with side airbags, then fabricating your own sliders is an extremely difficult and costly exercise because of the work to keep it legal – if it’s possible at all. You would need to get an engineer certificate to say that the sliders would not impact the effects of the side airbags deploying correctly. This process starts to get costly and limits your fabrication ideas considerably. The same goes for lift kits. Older vehicles on the other hand are usually only limited by your imagination… and fabrication skills.


Simply put, fuel economy is better in newer vehicles.

In fact, thanks to common-rail technology you can have your cake and eat it too, because not only are they more fuel efficient but they have a lot more power too. This is possible because common-rail technology uses a computer to get the fuel injection timing pin-point accurate, multiple times per cycle,  and is also able to atomise the fuel better by pumping the fuel through the injector nozzle at upwards of 20,000PSI – so it’s much more efficient and powerful.

Mechanical injection is like a sledge hammer. The timing of fuel delivery is mechanical, it’s not as accurate and the engine has to work harder to get the same results. While both systems are expensive to replace, the common-rail fuel system can set you back up to $10,000 for a complete overhaul, while the older mechanical pump and injectors would be more like $3,000.

Many of your smaller capacity common-rail utes are returning fuel figures well under 10L per 100km with bigger tyres and load, while many older diesel Patrols and LandCruisers are getting 15L per 100km as a best case scenario.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]MODERN 4WDS ARE CAPABLE AND HERE TO STAY AND I FOR ONE AM EXCITED[/blockquote]

My turbo-charged V8 LandCruiser typically returns me figures of around 14L per 100km, which is not great for modern 4WD standards, but it’s a V8 with a lot of power and you don’t really buy a V8 for fuel economy. In saying that, when you add over 2t of trailer to the back of it, the figures only slightly blow out to around 16L per 100km. Last time I was towing over 2t with a modern common-rail diesel ute (that typically gets around 9L per 100km unloaded) I got 16L per 100km as well.

There’s no doubt about it, you can turn an old live-axle 4WD an absolute beast off-road with some basic mods. However, being around a few new 4WDs out on tough tracks recently my opinion has somewhat changed about the capabilities of modern 4WDs.

Take Graham’s D-MAX ute for example – it’s only the limited clearance that has let it down off-road. In stock standard form, with its traction control and automatic gearbox I reckon it would go further off-road than a stock standard 80 Series Cruiser. Of course, once you put 2in of lift, 33in tyres and a locker in an 80 it would be a different story.

Whether they can physically cop the punishment that gets dished out to older 4WDs is another question…


We have stacked up parts of some common 4WDs to let you see the difference between servicing and major rebuilds of old and new 4WDs. These prices are aftermarket part prices (where available) and we have searched around for the cheapest prices on replacement gear, which does not include fitting. I reckon you’re going to be blown away by the difference between old and new when it comes to servicing costs. In some cases, a new 4WD can cost twice as much in servicing costs over the life of the vehicle!


Shauno asks his mates in the industry for their take on whether new vehicles will be able to last as well as old ones.


“I guess being an older model myself and coming from the generation that learnt to drive in vehicles made before I was born, it’s fair to say I have a bit of a soft spot for the older 4WD. Modern 4WDs are like modern people; sophisticated, fragile and precious but at the same time they are safer, more efficient and probably just as reliable as older cars were when they were new (unlike modern people).

Personally I reckon you can’t go past cruising around in an older vehicle for a day in a local area. It’s a great nostalgic experience and gives a real world feel to the tracks and the whole bush environment.

However, when doing a trip and touring give me the modern 4WD with air con, stability control, tip-tronic auto, iPod connection, surround stereo, Bluetooth and heated seats any day.

Will the modern 4WD be around in 20 years or more? For sure some will, but I don’t reckon as many because the modern vehicle will quickly deteriorate without constant maintenance and the increasing expense of repair costs may see them at the wreckers at a young age as the second and third owners probably won’t want to throw the cash at them to keep them on the road.”


“Trying to work out ‘what’s the best 4WD’ may not be as easy as it seems. There is no doubt in my mind that the 4WDs of the ‘90s were probably the pick of the crop for reliability. It was a period of time where modern assembly and parts technology met with older design thinking. In the ‘90s, coil suspension went mainstream with the GQ Patrol and LandCruiser 80 Series which really brought comfort to the outback rigs. For me, the engines were pretty simple and most injection systems were still free of electronic management.

Come the year 2000 and things started to change and electronic management systems started to replace older mechanical injection in diesels. With electronics came problems and these problems came with larger repair bills. Of course generally though, these new 4WDs are pretty reliable when they are properly serviced.

I have a saying; an older diesel 4WD, if maintained with regular servicing, should see a trouble free life for the first 400,000 to 500,000km before expensive parts start to fall due for repair. As far as a new 4WD goes, I have shortened that down to about 200,000km to 300,000km before potential bills start to appear.

One thing worth mentioning in relation to the argument of old lasting longer than new: traditionally, servicing of older 4WDs was performed about every 5,000km for a simple oil change. With new 4WDs, the service regime has now been hi-jacked by the manufacturer by way of extremely cheap and minimal servicing. This cheap minimal servicing doesn’t take into account the need to change even as much as a fuel filter as the dealers battle it out to grab a portion of the service market. Throw in oil changes now running out to 15,000km and beyond, and you can suddenly see what a disadvantage new 4WDs are under if reliability and long life is being truly measured.”


“Old verse new is a very difficult battle to weigh in on. It would really depend on what you are doing with the vehicle.

The new 4WDs have all the modern features that anyone could ever want; electric windows, central locking, heated seats, automatic wipers, ABS, hill decent assist, common-rail fuel injection, the list is almost endless. But will they survive? My short answer is no! The new vehicles are just not designed to withstand our harsh 4WDing environment.

If you are only using these new vehicles to tow your boat or box trailer a couple of times a week, or the occasional family camping trip then you will be fine. If it’s a Cape York trip, Victoria High Country or the Kimberley annual trip, then expect the unexpected.

Water is one of the biggest killers with these new style 4WDs. There are more computers in modern vehicles then your local Internet Café; a computer to start the car, a computer to move your seats, a computer to wind the windows up and down, a computer to shift the automatic. It just does not stop. I’m not saying not to purchase a new 4WD, but I am saying is just be careful on what you want to do with it.”


“Way back in the day of horse and cart, the first automobiles to hit Aussie soil were seen as problematic and it was thought they’d never catch on, nor replace the reliability of the horse. We of course, now know that not to have been the case at all. Times change, technology changes.

Having had the good fortune to wheel a mix of the old and new, I can say I’m confident in the future of 4WD advancements. Manufacturers are implementing solid technology upgrades to modern 4WD vehicles that are not only reliable but work exceptionally well. Devices such as traction control are on a level today that will surprise even the most ardent solid axle and locker fanatic; it just works so effectively you cannot be anything but impressed. Combine this off-road capability with comfort often neglected in older 4WDs and not to mention shockingly fuel efficient engines that deliver bucket loads of power and you can no longer overlook modern rigs.

As for longevity; I firmly believe that as quality modern trucks age, so too will the list of mods and upgrades. Just as you can still buy off-the-shelf bolt on parts for a 15 year old 4WD, I see a future where the same will be available for today’s rigs, except perhaps in even cooler measures. Imagine a reliable plug and play upgrade that delivers extra power plus crawler gears and enhanced traction control all adjustable via an app on your phone. Sounds ludicrous but welcome to the future; modern 4WDs are capable and here to stay and I for one am excited by the possibilities they will offer.”


“While the old argument about comparing old against new never seem to carry all that much weight, with the old reliable always winning out but that was until just recently when there seems to have been a sudden shift towards the more modern vehicles and running gear.

Yes, the old will always be more reliable because they are so simple and easy to fix but now some would say they are antiquated and the parts are becoming harder to source and more expensive. Who would have thought that we would one day be calling the old faithfuls of yesteryear expensive and outdated? Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge and yes all of my favourite songs can now only be found on “Golden Oldies” but even I have come to realize that modern vehicles have now hit the lead and are at this point well out in front. What changed? Well besides me getting older and the vehicles that I used to think were all the rage and cool are all now hard to drive, bloody noisy, hot, won’t steer in a straight line and most of all a lot slower than I remember them. You see I’ve now become spoilt with the modern vehicle, more powerful, smooth, quiet and yes, most of all, the automatic transmission has come so far over the past 30 years in development that it now stands proudly above all other transmissions as the best all round and user friendly.

[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”A NEW 4WD CAN COST TWICE AS MUCH FOR SERVICING”[/blockquote]

In some cases, with all the modern aftermarket upgrades we are putting out more horsepower than Allan Moffat’s Ford Falcon GT or Peter Brock’s beloved Toranas and we now have automatic transmissions that have just as much capability on steep downhill descents but run circles around the old manual transmission with strength and durability. It seems that slipping manual clutches and gear shifts not unlike a light truck have become the norm with most manual transmissions while the automatic transmission, modern electronic engine, suspension, modern interior and navigation systems have all skipped away to start a new and modern life together.

I feel so old but it’s true I am a convert and for me the vehicles of the modern age with all the comfort and capabilities suit me perfectly.”


[share title=”Share this Post” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true” linkedin=”true” pinterest=”true” reddit=”true” email=”true”]