10 Best Used All-Wheel-Drive Vehicles Under $10,000
If you must battle inclement weather, you will appreciate the niceties of all-wheel drive. The traction advantages of having each of the four wheels capable of driving the vehicle gives you a feeling of confidence that you can’t quite explain until you’ve felt it for yourself. Because of this inherent advantage many families opt for all-wheel-drive vehicles today, though the prices for new AWD models are stiff. But there is a solution: a reliable used AWD vehicle. If you are willing to dip back several model years, you can purchase a good all-wheel-drive vehicle for under $10,000, and this list is a great starting point for your research efforts. It draws on the vast experience of our seasoned master mechanic, who provides you with inside info on reliability, what can go wrong and what it could take to fix things.
Nissan's most affordable SUV of a decade ago has become renowned for its rugged body-on-frame construction, powerful V6 engine and appetite for all things dirty and boulder-strewn. This means the vehicle is rugged but some examples have been “rode hard and put away wet” so be selective in your choice of a used example. Potential issues include communication problems between various computer modules, sometimes resulting in a “no-start” condition. Coolant loss along with “no or low heat” from the heater is another somewhat common complaint. More expensive are problems with the 4WD transfer case motor and relays that operate it. If you can find a lightly used or well-maintained Xterra you’ll find its civilized interior and comfortable ride make it perfectly suitable as a daily driver.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is an SUV that has proven to offer good reliability, and, in the Hyundai tradition, used versions typically include a long list of standard equipment. Among the relatively small but irritating issues is a problem with the fuel gauge, because the Santa Fe has a two-compartment fuel tank fitted with two level sensors. If one of the two sensors goes bad, the fuel gauge will not register correctly and the check engine light will glow. This requires replacement of the level sensors. The throttle position sensor can also be an issue, sending the vehicle into limp-in mode, meaning it will not exceed 40 mph. The positive is that these issues don’t involve major, expensive systems, so the Hyundai Santa Fe can be a good used-vehicle buy.
The Nissan Murano was one of the earliest crossover SUVs, featuring unit-body construction that allows for a more sophisticated suspension setup than the typical truck-based SUV. The tradeoff is diminished towing capacity and off-road ability, but the benefit is a much higher level of on-road ride and handling. One of the first vehicles in its class to offer a CVT transmission, the Murano went through some teething problems because of it. There can be issues with the column spiral connection that might prevent the horn from working and make the airbag system inoperative. While a CVT that goes south could be expensive, the other issues are in the minor category. Another plus: the Murano looks “newer” than many vehicles its age.
The midsize Nissan Pathfinder created a decades-long legacy as a versatile on-road/off-road SUV. With room for five, plenty of power for towing and hauling and a design that still looks good 10 years later, the Pathfinder deserves consideration. While car-based crossovers dominate this list, some buyers want a sturdy body-on-frame design epitomized by the Pathfinder. Potential issues include fuel-level sensors, tire pressure sensors and the need to replace the catalytic converter. If your test drive indicates some slippage or other issues with the automatic transmission, you might want to pass because there have been transmission issues. Still, the Pathfinder offers a sunny interior, a wealth of cargo space and the ability to venture off-road and through heavy snow. A good choice if well-maintained.
Millions of the popular midsize SUV are on the road, so you should have your pick of the litter among Ford Explorers. And it pays to be picky because, though the Explorer has a fine record for longevity, there can be a few vexing problems. A common issue is “no heat,” caused by a failed blend door actuator on the heater box. This can occur even at low mileage and usually costs about $300 to repair. More serious are transmission problems, typically occurring after 100,000 miles. Fluid loss is often the culprit, because Explorer transmissions are checked from underneath the vehicle and require a fluid elevator for filling -- a dilemma for the average Joe DIYer. While major transmission woes are costly, none of the Explorer’s other issues is prohibitively expensive to fix. The 2008 Explorer offers plenty of cargo space, simple controls and a comfy ride.
Subaru Foresters are so loved that their owners seem more particular than others about maintaining them well. For that reason alone a Forester is a good choice as a used AWD vehicle. Many are still in service with over 200,000 miles on them. Not many problems are reported, but you might run into an aggravating “no start-no crank” due most likely to a security system problem. The cure is usually reprogramming the system. The weak link in the all-wheel-drive system seems to be the transmission, but doing regular fluid and filter changes should keep you out of trouble. Performing scheduled maintenance is crucial with the Forester because it has a timing belt that needs to be changed at 90,000 miles. The Forester might not be as feature-filled as some of its contemporaries, but it’ll take you a long way hassle-free.
The bestselling compact SUV for many years running, the CR-V is a crossover that offers many of the best attributes of a sedan and of an SUV. Its upright stature makes it a versatile cargo-hauler even though its exterior dimensions are compact. A breeze to drive in traffic, it can tote camping gear to a remote campsite with equal facility. The important thing with this vehicle is to change its oil and oil filter at least every 5,000 miles. The variable valve timing system might have issues if this is not done, because it is controlled by engine oil pressure. A possible ABS warning light is likely due to wheel speed sensor or wheel bearing failure, but these failures typically occur on high-mileage vehicles. The only problem with the 4WD system our master mechanic has seen is an occasional noisy rear differential. Do the maintenance and drive your CR-V 200,000 miles.
It’s hard to top the reliability of the Toyota RAV4, so it lands number three on our list (instead of higher) more for its smaller size than for any potential problems. In fact, the potential problem list is quite short: Oxygen sensors and water pumps are known to fail at around 100,000 miles. But that’s about it. The 4WD system is trouble-free other than occasionally blowing a fuse, and that is a very inexpensive repair compared to 4WD issues in other makes. The RAV4 is a handy size and it is robust enough to do some off-roading, but most of you will find it a faithful on-road partner that could give you 200,000 worry-free miles of motoring.
For those who seek convenience and durability, the 2006 Honda Pilot is more than worthy of consideration. Not as large as the current Pilot, the older version is still quite comfortable, and the controls are straightforward. Still there are potential maintenance/repair issues you should be aware of. The AWD system is dependable, but there could be problems with the differential oil-temperature sensor. The vehicle uses a variable torque management system, and all fluids need to be maintained. Expect to replace the catalytic converter between 100,000 and 150,000 miles. These potential issues don’t diminish the fact that the Honda Pilot is good for thousands of miles of satisfying driving.
The feature-laden Toyota Highlander offers superior reliability to its lengthy list of other positive attributes. With regular maintenance, Highlanders with over 150,000 largely trouble-free miles are not uncommon. Our master mechanic recommends replacing the timing belt and water pump at 100,000 miles. Expensive valve damage can occur if the belt breaks. Other areas of concern are the ABS sensors and power steering systems, particularly on high-mileage vehicles. That said, the Highlander offers world-class reliability and an interior full of creature comforts.