I think of trucks like surround sound or high-speed Internet; once you have a certain feature, you can never go back. I love my power windows, power mirrors, dual climate zones, and push-button 4x4. If I am buying a new tow rig and it didn't come with all of this stuff, there's no way I would buy it.
To me, the only advantage of an older rig in comparison to a newer rig is the solid front axle with maintainable bearings-and the fact that trucks from 30 years ago were built to last. They were made beefy and not sold as throw-away vehicles. It is hard to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new truck knowing that it has a shorter shelf life.
Michael St. Clair
Silver Springs, NV
Vote: New 4x4s
Great question! I, like many of my fellow subscribers, have been through "resto of old" and purchase/upgrade of new: trucks, Jeeps, and other assorted of offshore brands (Lexus, Land Rover) SUVs - all with at least 4WD and low range.
My experience with off-roading began some 45 years ago with dune buggies in Southern California. Simple two-wheel-drive vehicles with everything removed that could be, while still maintaining some semblance of control and vehicle instrumentation for off-roading. No body-just seats, frame, running gear and dashboard. What windshield? Of course, the adults were all WWII vets, instructing us kids, "As slow as you can, as fast as you need to"...something that all my kids can chant today.
My personal experience goes back to WWII GPWs (Ford), a CJ2A, a '49 Jeep Wagoneer, '70s Chevy 1500s, '80s Ford 250HD and a fullsize Bronco, Jeeps (TJ, WJ, XJs-four or five of them), a Lexus, a Dodge 3500 diesel, and now a JK, WJ, Suburban 2500, and a Range Rover. The latest in the fleet is my son's four-door JK Rubicon.
I have come to a couple of conclusions:
1) New vehicles come with warranties. Unless you void the warranty, it is much less expensive to wheel with a warranteed vehicle. If it breaks, just take it to the dealer...forget junkyard diving! (I also have the usual "donor vehicles" to keep up my "oldies but goodies" moving).
2) Today's off-road vehicles are much less expensive to enhance and have much better creature comforts plus improvements in performance, mileage and emissions. Properly spec'd, some vehicles are much more "off-road ready" than any stock older vehicle. As for the towing/hauling capacity of a truck...just check out today's trucks' towing capabilities. I tow with my old '94 2500 Suburban and don't want to tell you what I have had to put into it to get the same towing capacity as a current truck. And it won't hold a candle to a new Suburban in fuel economy, comfort, features, or towing capacity.
3) I compare the price, and accouterments of my '97 TJ with a 5.9L Magnum V-8, 4.3:1 Atlas T-case, locked Dana 60s, 5.5-inch Rubicon Express long-arm kit, Fox shocks, 37-inch MTRs...versus my son's '08 JK Rubicon with just a 4-inch lift and stock tires...and, there is simply no justification (today) for not buying new. His JK is able to go everywhere my '97 TJ goes, including all the the toughest Moab trails. The performance of the new '08 JK is stunning, and at a quarter of the cost of my TJ. And forget about maintenance-his is under warranty!
No question-for the money spent, new is much better, less expensive, easier to maintain, and better for the environment. If the worst Moab can offer is any indication, there is no functional difference between my built '97 TJ and my son's '08 JK...and he gets twice the mileage!
Leigh Belden, Via email