The 15 Best Adventure Vehicles Under $10,000

Photo: Subaru Forester

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While we’d all love the ability to head on down to our nearest dealership and drive a brand-spanking-new all-terrain 4×4 off the lot or have an old-school Willy’s Jeep commissioned from a custom builder, we know that those are pipe dreams to the average person. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from trying to take a vehicular adventure. It just means you have to be a bit more economical with your choice of ride.

Luckily, the United States (and the rest of the civilized world) has a wealth of used vehicles just waiting to be taken back out onto the road. In fact, you can get a worthwhile off-roader even if your budget is as tight as they come. Believe it or not, $10,000 (maximum) can get you any of the following adventure vehicles – you just have to know where to look.

Photo: Subaru Outback

What's The Catch?

Expected Conditions

You’re not going to get a brand new adventure vehicle for under $10,000. Period. Hell, it’s hard to find a decent motorcycle under that price. But getting a used one doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a lemon, either. Still, there are a few things you should expect from a vehicle with a price this low.

First, you’re likely going to end up with a car that’s a few years old at the very least. Some of the offerings on our list are going to be newer than others, but that’s because of a combination of their overall popularity and depreciation.You’re not going to get a brand new adventure vehicle for under $10,000. One way or another, you should be ready to get a car that’s at least five years old.

Second, it is possible to find a car in this price range with under 100,000 miles on the odometer – but you probably shouldn’t expect to find one. Especially when it comes to the more popular and/or more capable vehicles – anticipate that you’ll be purchasing a car that has been driven a lot. Just make sure everything is in working order before you buy and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Take it to a mechanic if you have to, just to be sure.

Third, due to the nature of adventuring (along with the aforementioned factors), you’re going to see a lot of sub-$10,000 rides with some rust on them. As much as possible, this should be avoided. It’s not the end of the world if there’s a bit of rust on the bodywork of an older adventure vehicle – in fact it’s bound to happen – but if the engine looks it was left out in the rain for years, it’s probably not salvageable. Play it safe and steer clear if you can.

Lastly, avoid structural damage at all costs. You might think you’ve found a diamond in the rough when you come across a practically pristine SUV at a fraction of the Kelley Blue Book value. But the likeliest explanation is that the vehicle was in an accident at some point. If the chassis is compromised, you could be driving yourself around in a ticking time bomb. And god forbid the structure gives out while you’re away from civilization.

Chevrolet Blazer

On the larger end of the SUV spectrum, the Chevrolet Blazer would eventually be renamed the Tahoe – which is what it is still called today. Popular through the 90s, this burly SUV actually came in a few different trims and styles over the years – including a 2-door K5, a 4-door S-10, and the beefed up TrailBlazer. Interestingly enough, the TrailBlazer was actually sold as a trim package before it became its own model in 2002. It’s also worth noting that GMC’s Jimmy – which would later become the Yukon – is built upon the same platform, so really they’re interchangeable from a used adventure vehicle standpoint. That is to say, you’ll get the same performance, handling, etc. out of all of them.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1998-2005
Common Trim Option: LS

Dodge Durango

The Durango is kind of a dark horse when it comes to SUVs, even in regards to the newer models. But that means a big opportunity if you’re looking for an adventure vehicle on the cheap. These cars are perfect for off-roading or overlanding and, since they’re not in high demand, the purchase price for passable examples is astonishingly low with the right amount of searching. An especially enticing fact is this: if you can find one built after 2011, it’s actually built on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Sure, you don’t get the Jeep badge, but you do get pretty much everything else – and that’s definitely worth consideration.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1998-2012
Common Trim Option: SLT

Dodge Ram 1500

Another major workhorse across the generations that is still sold today, the Dodge Ram series of pickup trucks are abundantly capable – especially in regards to the 4wd versions (which can be distinguished in the early generations via a ram hood ornament). Unfortunately, their popularity and wide range of trims also means you’ll have to do a lot more research to find the one that you want as your off-road adventure vehicle. Remember that this one comes in both 2- and 4-wheel drive (do yourself a favor and choose the latter) and always make sure you double check to see what engine is under the hood. You can do with a low-end variety – just make sure you’re not paying for a Hemi when it’s actually just a Magnum under the hood.

Vehicle Class: Pickup Truck
Expected Year Range: 1997-2010
Common Trim Option: ST

Ford Bronco

Admittedly, the Bronco is one of the most difficult to find vehicles on this list, both in regards to outright cost and finding a drivable example. A big reason for this is the explosion in popularity of early models – thanks chiefly to restomod custom shops. That doesn’t mean you can’t still find one worth driving for cheap, however. Just don’t expect to get your hands on one that’s first generation. As long as you can accept that you’re far more likely to end up with one similar to OJ Simpson’s 1993 model or later, you can still get behind the wheel of Ford’s most lauded SUV. You might also want to believe that the upcoming 2020 release of a reimagined Bronco will shift interest to the new version and free up some older ones, but we anticipate the opposite will happen – as not everyone that wants one will be able to afford it. If you’re considering this one, pull the trigger sooner than later.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1979-1996
Common Trim Option: Base

Ford F-150

The F-150 isn’t just America’s favorite pickup truck – it beats out the nearest competition by nearly double the number of sales. There are F-150s everywhere around this country. And that’s really great news for anyone in the used vehicle market, so long as you’re a buyer and not a seller. Not only does it mean the price is pushed down on older examples, but it also likely means that the cost of parts and repairs is still going to be pretty low compared to rarer vehicles. Don’t get your hopes up on a Raptor edition F-150, however, as they don’t tend to depreciate anywhere near as low as $10,000. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a capable, functional, solid Ford pickup if you’re shopping in the U.S.

Vehicle Class: Pickup Truck
Expected Year Range: 1997-2014
Common Trim Option: XL

Honda Pilot

Like the CR-V, Honda’s Pilot is one you can get that is a bit newer than a lot of the other ones on this list. It’s also a bit bigger than the CR-V, so if space and is your main concern, it’s the better option of the two. It also features a unibody construction, independent suspension, and is built on the same platform as the Acura MDX, Odyssey minivan, and Accord sedan. It is worth noting that the Pilot depreciates slower than the CRV, so you might end up spending a bit more for this option – but that’s the tradeoff. With 8 seats, this one can haul a whole squad, but don’t expect it to be as rugged as some of the smaller off-road focused vehicles on the list.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 2003-2011
Common Trim Option: EX

Jeep Cherokee

No, the Cherokee is not the highly-lauded and well-respected Wrangler, but it’s not so far removed from the most famous Jeep that it doesn’t rank amongst the best of the best adventure vehicles. In fact, with very little, if any, alterations to the stock vehicle, it can go toe-to-toe with just about anything else on this list. Of course, if you do choose to upgrade a Cherokee (and why wouldn’t you, since you’re saving all this money), not only will it be an absurdly capable off-roader, but it has a far more comfortable and plush interior than its rugged counterpart. Another fun little tidbit: solid drivable Cherokees are a lot easier to find than Wranglers, so you might be getting a longer-lasting vehicle at a fraction of the cost if you opt for a Cherokee instead. Don’t write this one off, or else you might regret it.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1997-2015
Common Trim Option: Sport

Jeep Wrangler

By all accounts, the Jeep Wrangler might be the ultimate American SUV. After all, its built to be exactly that. Remember, this is the SUV that was featured in a Super Bowl commercial fording a river – and that was the base model. The downside with buying a Wrangler second hand, of course, is that people that own them tend to drive them until they’re basically un-drivable. Still, there are enough out there in solid condition for under $10,000 that they certainly rank on this list. Of course, if you’re having too much trouble finding a Wrangler you want, there’s also a ton of Cherokees on the market. And they’re very nearly as good – perhaps better when you take into account their likely condition.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1997-2008
Common Trim Option: Sport

Range Rover Sport

Seems hard to believe that you could get a used Range Rover for $10,000 or less, but you most definitely can. In fact, they’re not just available, they’re abundant. Sure, they’re no classic Land Rover, but they’re still plenty great enough for some off-road adventures, especially if you’re a discerning driver. Take a look around the used car market and you’ll certainly see plenty of Range Rover Sports worth driving – though we’d recommend opting for the HSE trim. You’ll likely pay closer to the 10k mark, but you’ll get all of the top-tier options, both interior and exterior.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 2006-2009
Common Trim Option: HSE

Nissan Xterra

When it first came out, the Nissan Xterra was widely regarded as being pretty damn ugly. And time hasn’t done it any favors. But if you can get past its looks, you might just realize that this SUV is a powerhouse of off-roading at a fraction of the price of similar vehicles. Keep in mind that Nissans are legendary for their reliability and compound that with the fact that this particular vehicle comes standard with a beefy roof rack, perfect for hauling all your gear (or at least whatever doesn’t fit within the roomy interior). Of course, if you prefer pickups to SUVs, there’s always the Frontier – which was basically the same vehicle, but with a truck bed rather than an extended cabin.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 2000-2013
Common Trim Option: S

Subaru Forester

The Forester from Subaru isn’t often in the conversation when it comes to great SUVs, but we think that’s a big mistake. Often overlooked, this particular sport utility vehicle boasts quite a bit of things that make it definitely worth consideration – including standard all-wheel-drive, a ton of cargo space, and most of them come with factory roof racks. Sure, it’s probably not gonna win you any awards for good looks, but it’s also not going to be a target for thieves. That might sound like a consolation prize, but with the increased demand for vehicles like the Bronco and Land Rovers, it’s nice to know you don’t have to worry too much.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1998-2014
Common Trim Option: 2.5X

Subaru Outback

Yes, the Outback is a wagon. Yes, it’s the only wagon on our list. But there’s a reason for that: truly, this off-road ready station wagon is one of the all-time best all-terrain vehicles. With standard all-wheel-drive, a functional roof rack, a gargantuan amount of interior cargo space, a high ground clearance, and so much more, it’s really hard to beat this bruiser – brand new or used. Sure, it’s not as sexy as a Jeep or a Bronco, but it can practically go toe-to-toe with any other offering on this list. And it’ll even win a lot of those face-offs. We can’t say enough good things about the Outback. And if you can get behind the wheel of one on the super cheap, we definitely suggest doing so.

Vehicle Class: Wagon
Expected Year Range: 2008-2013
Common Trim Option: 2.5i

Toyota 4Runner

Originally, Toyota’s 4Runner was little more than a pickup truck with a fiberglass top put on top of the bed. Since then, however, it’s become one of the best vehicles both for off-roading and overlanding all around the world. Fun fact – outside of the States this SUV is actually known as the Hilux Surf – which, if you’re paying attention, makes it the sport utility brother of the absurdly durable and reliable Hilux pickup that isn’t sold in the U.S. Whatever the case, pretty much every generation of this particular vehicle has an excellent 4×4 option and definitely ranks amongst the best adventure vehicles of all time. Find one in acceptable condition and you’ll never want for anything else.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1997-2008
Common Trim Option: SR5

Toyota Land Cruiser

Like the Ford Bronco, Toyota’s Land Cruiser is hugely popular with the restomod crowd – especially when it comes to historical examples. But, it’s also a model that the brand still builds today in some form or another. And that means there are decades between the old classic and the brand new ones, so there are an awful lot of less popular versions (we’re looking at you J80 and J100) that are still out there in solid running condition. Great as an overlander or off-roader, this SUV is widely available at a relatively low price point. Just don’t think you’re getting your hands on a classic FJ and you’ll certainly be happy with the options out there.

Vehicle Class: SUV
Expected Year Range: 1998-2004
Common Trim Option: 4WD

Toyota Tacoma

Toyota trucks are famously indestructible and, at least as far as the United States is concerned, the Tacoma might just be the best of the bunch. And since they aren’t particularly expensive brand new, their value after a few years of ownership drops pretty severely – meaning you can get a relatively new one for a starkly low price. But don’t take a steep decline of Kelley Blue Book value make you think these trucks aren’t worth driving, as you’d have to actively try to destroy it to get it to stop running. After all, this is the closest thing in the States to the Hilux – the truck that famously survived drowning, the Arctic, and having a building demolished beneath it by the boys at Top Gear. If the Hilux was available in the States, we’d say go for it – but this is a close second.

Vehicle Class: Pickup Truck
Expected Year Range: 1997-2014
Common Trim Option: Base

For The Journey: Sea to Summit's Alpha Pot Cookset

How about a home-cooked meal while on the road? As the newest addition to their camp kitchen range, Sea to Summit’s Alpha Pot Cookset is built from a hard anodized alloy making for strong, lightweight and highly resilient cookware that’s also BPA-free and compact when not in use.

Additionally, the set boasts clever and innovative design features such as the Pivot-Lock handle for safe and secure use, a Lid-Keep that rests the lid on the side of the pot rather than the ground, and a slotted strainer built into the lid for backcountry pasta dishes.

Purchase: $120