Mid Week Match-Up: A Cheap SUV For BionicTorqueWrench

Today’s Mid Week Match-Up comes to us from BionicTorqueWrench who is seeking a $5k SUV to use for a long cross country trip.  From the Bionic man himself:

I am from New
Zealand, living in the SF Bay Area for the last few years.  My wife and I
are approaching the end of our time here in Spring 2016, and want to
take a drive around the US for six weeks before we go.  We have a son, who will be circa nine months at the time.  

thinking something like: Tahoe, down to the Grand Canyon and Arizona,
across the Rockies to Colorado, North to Yellowstone, into Montana, then
left to the Pacific Northwest.  

Our currently
car is a 2001 Audi A4 wagon.  But it is pretty small for an infant and
infant-related paraphernalia, as well as two grown adults and luggage to
keep them all going for six weeks.  I’m looking
for a vehicle that I can buy now, so I can sell the Audi, then take the
new vehicle on the long trip in six months.    

Can the commentariat advise:

Firstly a vehicle:

probably an SUV.  I don’t need full off-roading capability, but I do
want to have all weather tyres and 4wd and cross mountain passes in
Spring while avoiding snow chains as much as possible.  And I do want to
go down dirt roads and ford streams when the mood takes me.  (I am
familiar with light to moderate off-roading.)  

– comfortable to drive and ride in.  

– with good rear leg room (baby car seats are surprisingly long) and good luggage space.  

that will be reliable.  That I can pull into a mountain town in Idaho
to get the fan belt replaced or the wheels balanced, and they won’t give
me a line about working on “funny furrin cars”.  (I don’t know what
would count in this category in rural US.  Is a Toyota SUV ubiquitous
enough that I could rely on mechanics anywhere?)  

– that costs less than $5000, and is already in the Bay Area.  


there an easy way, once back in the Bay Area, to sell a vehicle before
going to the airport?  Would I recover any real money, or does the
cost-benefit trade-off make it just as easy to donate to charity?


DT E-i-C Vince: My recommendation would be to pick up a used Nissan Xterra, like this 2000 model year example with 177k miles on the odo offered for $4,500 in Tracy, CA via craigslist.  The Xterra shares a chassis with the capable Frontier pickup and this one is powered by the upgraded 3.3 liter VG33E V6, good for 170 horsepower, but you could hold out for a supercharged version that pushes out 210 hp and 246 ft-lbs of torque.

What do you suggest?  Comments below.