Used Cars: 10 Best Off-Road Vehicles under $15k

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I don’t know where you live but spring is in the air in the good old southern USA. With temperatures soaring into the low 70s (yes, we were in the grasp of a crippling ice storm just last week) the off-roading bug has definitely bitten some and stung others. There is nothing like spring; the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.

The critters are coming out of hiding and hibernation in some cases. Personally, I enjoy getting out into the great outdoors, taking in the sights and breathing in some crisp, clean, fresh air. Looking at the mountains and sipping from a clear crystal spring and then driving a big, powerful, smelly truck all over it. If you enjoy off-roading, then you might want to look into these new-fangled used car websites.

They have hundreds, even thousands, of affordable used 4X4s just waiting for you to come along and buy them (and save a bundle of cash in the process).

Here is a list of the 10 best off-road pickup trucks and SUVs. They are readily available on used car websites like

2010 Dodge Ram 1500

2010 Dodge Ram 1500The 2010 Ram 1500 makes good use of a rear-coil spring suspension (instead of the traditional leaf spring type commonly used in pickup trucks) to yield a comfortable highway ride and excellent off-road capabilities. Available 3.7-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8 engines provide ample power for getting through the rough spots, however I strongly recommend the 5.7-liter V8, with 390-hp and 407 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mated with a five-speed automatic transmission and gets 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway. Four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic stability control, and hill-hold brakes are standard on the 2010 Ram.

2010 Toyota Tacoma

2010 Toyota TacomaFleet of foot and excellent on fuel economy, the 4X4 Tacoma is not built for overly large individuals but it does have its place. That place may very well be off-road. The Tacoma is small and maneuverable enough negotiate the tightest terrain yet powerful enough to pull out of trouble. The Access Cab and Crew Cab models offer an available 4.0-liter V6, which produces 236-hp and 266 lb.-ft. of torque, with your choice of a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case. Off-road the manual transmission contributes nicely to the Tacoma’s overall prowess. It gets 16 mpg city/20 mpg highway. Standard safety features for the Tacoma include front seat side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, hill-hold assist, and down-hill assist.

2010 Ford F-250

2010 Ford F-250When it comes to snaking logs, crossing creek beds, or navigating a washed out access road to get to your campsite, you aren’t likely to find a more capable off-road machine than the 4X4 F-250. A chassis with a three-quarter-ton cargo rating means heavier stronger axles and that spells success for off-roading. Especially when combined with three powerful and responsive engine choices: a 5.4-liter Triton V8 engine (300-hp and 365 lb.-ft. of torque), a 6.8-liter V10 (362-hp and 457 lb.-ft. of torque), or the 6.4-liter International turbo-diesel V8 (350-hp and 650 lb.-ft. of torque). The diesel, in particular, offers extreme towing capacity that can give you the power to tackle all your chores, with enough left to haul the boat to the lake afterward. Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard and power adjustable pedals are available as an option.

2010 Chevrolet Silverado

2010 Chevrolet SilveradoThis truck offers impeccable styling and rugged durability in one powerful package. The base 4X4 work truck trim level comes standard equipped with a 195-hp 4.3-liter Vortec V6 but three other engine choices are also available. The Silverado covers every requirement with diverse trim level options that run from the basic W/T version listed above to the plush LTZ with Z71 off-road package.  Other engine choices include a 4.8-liter V8, a 5.3-liter V8, and a 403-hp 6.2-liter that generates 417 lb.-ft. of torque. All of the V8s operate on E85 ethanol as well as gasoline. Highlights for the Silverado (and its twin the GMC Sierra 1500) include a shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive transfer case, with both four-low and four-high.

2010 Ford Explorer Sport Trac

2010 Ford Explorer Sport TracIs it a truck or an SUV? It is both, with four doors and seating for five to six adults plus a pickup truck bed on back. The Explorer Sport Trac, available in four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive configurations, is rugged enough to gain plenty of traction in even the most challenging off-road situations and elegant enough for a night on the town. Available engine choices include a 4.0-liter V6 that makes 210-hp and 254 lb.-ft. of torque mated with a five-speed automatic transmission or a 4.6-liter V8, which delivers 292-hp and 315 lb.-ft. of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission.

2010 GMC Canyon SLE

2010 GMC Canyon SLEThe great looking Canyon (and its twin the Chevrolet Colorado) offers a wide variety of trim appointments and engine/transmission combinations. The 4X4 Canyon is available as a regular cab, extended cab, or four-door crew cab. Engine options include an inline four or five cylinder, as well as a powerful V8. The regular cab model can only be found with the 2.9-liter four-cylinder, while the extended cab and crew cab models feature the 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder or 5.3-liter V8 engines. The four-wheel drive system boasts a two-speed shift-on-the-fly transfer case and available locking differentials.

2006 Mercedes-Benz ML350 4MATIC

2006 Mercedes-Benz ML350 4MATICThe old adage says that living well is the best revenge and this is really living well. Tons of interior space and elegant surroundings with viable off-road prowess make this German SUV a contender. When equipped with the off-road package, this SUV will give you and your family years of unforgettable getaways. It comes with a 3.5-liter V6, which manufactures 268-hp, and a seven-speed automatic transmission. This is one of the most appealing SUVs available on the used car market. The ML350 gets 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali

2007 GMC Yukon DenaliThe GMC Denali is a combination of the Chevrolet Tahoe and the Cadillac Escalade. It is available used with supple leather seating, the latest electronic communication, connectivity, and audio amenities, as well as a degree of off-road capability should you need it. All Denali models are equipped with a 6.2-liter V8 engine that churns out 380-hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque. Named after the Denali National Park in Interior Alaska, the Denali offers superior styling using the most elegant materials available, in a large SUV that seats seven comfortably.

2007 Toyota Sequoia SR5

2007 Toyota Sequoia SR5The Sequoia is designed with families in mind, with three rows of seating, a comfortable demeanor on the highway, and enough off-road proficiency to deliver you and yours safely to the most remote campsite, put the boat in the water, or tow a camper with no problem. This full-sized four-wheel drive SUV is outfitted with a 4.7-liter V8 that spawns 272-hp and 314 lb.-ft. of torque, a five-speed automatic transmission, and a transfer case with a low range setting for increased “off-roadability.” The Sequoia is the largest vehicle in the Toyota line. It provides smooth acceleration, an extraordinarily comfortable ride, loads of interior space, and exquisite craftsmanship.

2010 Jeep Wrangler Sport

2010 Jeep Wrangler Sport 2The Jeep Wrangler offers outstanding off-road maneuverability in an astounding variety of styles and configurations, with a rugged rough-and-tumble image. Equipped with a 202-hp 3.8-liter V6 and a six-speed manual transmission with hill-hold assist, the Wrangler is equally adept to assault the wilderness trail or tackle the rush hour commute. Jeep has maintained their well known reputation for off-road dexterity with the 2010 Wrangler model, outfitting it with a two-speed transfer case. A wide variety of removable soft tops and hard tops are available to further enliven the off-road experience. There are just not many things more fun and wholesome than a day of off-roading, with your sweetie, in your Jeep with the top-down.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.