I Need A Cheap SUV To Get Me To The Mountains! What Car Should I Buy?

Ryan lives in LA but prefers to spend time on the mountain. He daily drives a Civic Si but is looking for a cheap truck or SUV that can hold his gear, get him to the mountain, and possibly tow his Honda. What car should he buy?


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Here is the scenario:

How much fun can you have driving to go snowboarding or towing your car? That’s pretty much what I want to answer here. Looking for an SUV or pickup truck that can get me into the mountains to snowboard and tow my Civic Si on occasion.

As mentioned, I have a Civic Si. I really like it. My only problem with it is that I don’t want to drive it in the snow. It also doesn’t have a ton of storage space in it. I will autocross it soon though so getting something to tow it would allow me to bring some more tools and supplies with me.

Now the easy choices for this are buy a Toyota or a Honda. I already did that though. Can we get something else? Fast is nice, space is nice, towing is nice, comfort is really nice. The plan is to stay on the roads so off-roading isn’t a priority. Tell me why I shouldn’t just go get a used Cayenne?

The budget is $10K and I do want to have some fun with this (hence why I’m asking you wonderful people). Not too concerned about it being a daily driver but I would like to not have to fix it all the time. I just want to get to and from the mountains, how hard can this be?

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $10,000

Daily Driver: No

Location: LA

Wants: Good for snow, can tow, somewhat reliable

Doesn’t want: Another Honda or Toyota

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Xtreme Boarding

Illustration for article titled I Need A Cheap SUV To Get Me To The Mountains! What Car Should I Buy?

Ryan, you asked the age old Jalop question in your post when figuring out what SUV to buy - “Tell me why I shouldn’t just go get a used Cayenne?” While there is sometimes an undercurrent of “SUVs, bad” on this website the Cayenne is a good ride. Porsche is somehow able to use some witchcraft to make a tall, heavy car feel a bit smaller behind the wheel. That being said, your budget of under $10,000 conflicts with one of your other statements “... I would like to not have to fix it all the time.” Once you start exploring German rides on the cheaper end of the spectrum, you are going to have to expect more maintenance than average.

While I certainly support the Cayenne idea, if you wanted something that isn’t going to threaten your savings account, I would suggest a used Nissan Xterra, these are great alternatives to the 4Runners that are going to have about a quarter of a million miles on them for the same price. The Nissan is pretty darn durable, has a great 4WD system and is rated to tow up to 5,000 lbs with the V6 motor. Of course, it also has plenty of room for gear, and friends. Of course, the Xterra already has a super cool roof-rack kit installed from the factory.


There is no shortage of nice Xterras in SoCal, though most of them seem to be 2WD, it’s just a matter of finding the right car for your budget. Here is one that looks pretty clean.

Expert 2: David Tracy - Why Resist A Corvette-Powered Wagon With Woodgrain?


My recommendation is inspired by my friend and Jalopnik reader Santiago, who found himself in a similar predicament. Santiago has a race car (a Subaru BRZ) that he needs to pull to events, and since he’s a car enthusiast who refuses to allow even his tow rig to be boring, he bought a 1995 Buick Roadmaster powered by a 260 horsepower, 330 lb-ft LT1 small-block V8. Yes, that’s a variant of the motor found in the C4 Corvette.

These luxurious body-on-frame (this thing was built on the old GM B-Body platform that underpinned all sorts of land yachts in the late 20th century) wagons were rated to tow 5,000 pounds, but according to what I’ve been reading online, with a proper setup including a weight-distributing hitch, that number goes up by a few thousand pounds. And that’s pretty impressive.


It may not be the best in the snow since it’s only two-wheel drive, so you’ll want to snag some good winter tires. And unfortunately, it comes only with a four-speed automatic, but I’d say woodgrain, a Corvette motor, rear-wheel drive, and wagon-ness almost make up for that deficiency. Oh, and price. These things are dirt cheap.

Expert 3: Raphael Orlove - The Best Deal In Old 4WD? 

Illustration for article titled I Need A Cheap SUV To Get Me To The Mountains! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Craigslist

Damn, a Roadmaster is a good idea. Well, hm, lemme see what else I can find.

Alright, it took me about three seconds to find a handful of wonderful offroaders from the usual suspects category near your, including some Mitsubishi Delicas and Toyota Land Cruisers that are within your budget. Well, they’re not in your budget basked on asking price, but are using the Craigslist 60 Percent.


But if I could find those in a minute or two, you’ve probably seen them already. As such, it is time to tell you what I would tell myself if I were in your position: Dodge Raider.


It’s not just that the Dodge Raider is a fine vehicle. (It’s a rebadged Mitsubishi Montero that escapes people’s search terms.) It’s that I am constantly looking for reasons or excuses to have a Dodge Raider of my own, telling any and everyone I meet how good of a deal I got on the thing, while they admire its handsome styling, practical design, and oddball corporate history as a captive import.

This one a day trip north of you is both way under budget and green. “Most fun car I’ve ever had,” the seller notes, and I believe ‘em.


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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)


David E. Davis

Vehicle pictured at top is the best one for getting you to the mountains and leaving you stranded.