25 4x4 Beaters That Are Still Better Than New Cars Today

Some cars deserve to be pampered and kept in pristine condition with a fresh coat of wax applied twice monthly. On the other hand, some were designed from the ground up by engineers who knew that they'd receive a lifetime of abuse and have to keep on trucking. Rest assured, there will be zero garage queens on this list.

This is a list of four-wheel-drive vehicles that have earned their 'beater' status—and not by being neglected throughout a long and boring life. These 4x4s have become beaters specifically because they've been beaten up, scratched, gouged, and worse, all while serving their owners through work and play (and everything in between). It takes a special kind of owner to know exactly how far they can push their vehicle without risking it collapsing into a pile of rusty shambles.

In the future, beaters may be a thing of the past. How many cars on the road today seem like they could haul a load up a gnarly dirt road, only to dump it at the top and trundle down the hill again to pick up more for delivery? Today's automotive products are just about as dependent on computer wizardry as a modern smartphone—and everyone knows an iPhone won't last more than two years.

Throw in the mainstream automotive industry's increasing preference for underperforming, blandly designed, and Bluetooth-equipped crossovers, and it's no wonder that fewer and fewer car-buyers are opting to actually buy their cars when they know each and every product was built to crumble as soon as the factory warranty expires. Today's cars are designed to be leased, not owned, and they'll never earn the beater status of these rugged 4x4s.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

25 Jeep Cherokee

via Reddit

This beat-up Jeep Cherokee looks like it's received a thrashing and just kept coming back for more. With a lift, some knobby tires, and only two doors, this truck has rough-and-tumble written all over it and its owner has clearly had some good times in the great outdoors. Compare this rugged utility vehicle to a modern Jeep Cherokee, which is more like a Fiat 500L than its predecessor, and you'll begin to understand why many Jeep loyalists are starting to have their doubts about the brand's direction.

24 Ford Bronco

via Fiveprime

Ford may be about to reintroduce the Bronco (and perhaps a Baby Bronco) in the hopes of attempting yet another retro-styled marketing ploy but there's little chance their new product will be able to live up to the legacy established by the Broncos of the past. Just look at that simple design that just wills any owner into splashing through the nearest muddy puddle they can find. What are the chances the newest Bronco—even if it is a true 4x4 rather than another bland crossover—will come with locking hubs?

23 Toyota Land Cruiser

via Pinterest

The Toyota Land Cruiser has an enormous following the world over thanks to legendary reliability, vast aftermarket support for modification, and plenty of rugged utilitarianism to go around. As a work truck or as a weekend dirt-road warrior, the Land Cruiser in all its generations has managed to stay true to its roots—and in reality, of all the brands making 4x4s today, Toyota may have remained the most impressive thanks to their Tacoma, 4Runner, and Land Cruiser options, even if the older models are arguably easier to beat up.

22 Dodge Ram

via Flickr

Dodge (and the recently separated RAM) may be owned by Fiat today but the manufacturer has long established itself as the builder of simple, beefy pickup trucks. There's nothing on the market today that can touch a Dodge Ram from the D/W Series in terms of blocky, simple design—like the Chevy C10, these were trucks that left the factory ready to work, and work for decades. It's no wonder the owner of this truck has let the paint fade, the roof rust, and the bumper start to sag; that's all just part of the appeal of the perfect beater.

21 Toyota Tacoma

via Toyota 4Runner Forum

There's nothing quite like a Toyota Tacoma when it comes to pickup trucks that will be able to drive from now until the end of time (or the zombie apocalypse, whichever comes first). Possibly the number one criticism of Mad Max: Fury Road would be that there were no Tacomas when, obviously, there would have been a ton of Tacomas. The truest testament to the Tacoma's ubiquitous abilities comes in the form of the 4Runner in the background of this pic: brand loyalty has been established here beyond a doubt.

20 Chevrolet Silverado

via Cell Code

Straight panels, right angles, and nothing extraneous should be every manufacturer's recipe for a successful pickup truck. Instead, we've received six-function tailgates and bed-liners that double as refrigerators on trucks with more swooping lines than a Hyundai from the mid-2000s. This beat-up Silverado comes from an era just before 4x4s started getting fancier and fancier—and there's little doubt it's served its owner well over the course of the nearly three decades since it was new. Repaint? We don't need no stinkin' repaint!

19 International 110

via Barn Finds

Whether or not that's actual plywood plugging a rust hole behind the front fender, this International looks the real business. Dirty, rusted, upright, and with those school-bus style rearview mirrors, it has staying class unlike any truck on the market today. International may be more famous for their Scout, which helped pave the way for the SUV trend (which then paved the way for the dreaded crossover trend), but they did make trucks, as well. Faded yellow looks perfect on this truck, which would be a perfect ranch beater for hauling firewood or tossing all six dogs in the bed on the way down to the creek.

18 1951 Ford

via Pinterest

The magic of old, steel-bodied pickup trucks is that they're just about indestructible. Plow through some tight trees, over tall grass, or into some corn fields and the worst that'll happen is a light scratch on the paint. But don't worry, if things get too bad, just find another steel body panel and bolt it right on—without even bothering to put new paint on! After all, the new paint is just going to ruin the patina and get scratched up quick, anyways. (Something a little funny is going on with those wheels, though. Is this a beater or a sleeper?)

17 1961 Willys

via Powerbuilt Tools

Willys is pronounced like "Bruce Willis" not like "Willy's" but anyone who lived in the 1940s and 1950s could have told you that. The original jeep builder brought small, rugged 4x4s to the people after World War II and for that, the entire automotive world is eternally grateful. See any design details that may have been stolen by the likes of Jeep or Toyota over the ensuing decades? How about just about everything? No jeep deserves to be left behind because they can all be repurposed into a beater that'll take every piece of abuse and keep on chugging.

16 1956 Chevrolet

via The Jalopy Journal

After the epic five-window pickup trucks of the late 1940s, rounded glass continued to make appearances on Detroit's trucks. Classic style like this Chevy owns helps to separate it from today's pickup trucks and even though it's not the completely square exterior that later trucks would inhabit, this thing looks great. Patina, rust, weatherbeaten—however you want to describe it, there's no doubting the fact that this Chevy has lived exactly the kind of life its engineers envisioned more than half a century ago.

15 Subaru Brat

via The Street Peep

This Subaru Brat is missing two critical details: jump seats in the bed and enormous 'BRAT' decals on the sides. But at least it's picked up a solid roof rack—there probably aren't many Brat's still cruising the streets that actually get used as work trucks these days. While hipsters may be scooping up every Brat that gets posted on Craigslist, they might have something going. There just simply aren't too many tiny pickup trucks with the four-wheel-drive capability of a Brat—not to mention the distinctive design—left on the market anymore.

14 GMC VanDura

via Fiveprime

This model van may have become most famous for its borderline-starring role in The A-Team, but that film prop probably couldn't hold a candle to this beast. With a lift big enough to expose the front differential and some knobby tires, there's no doubt this VanDura would be a blast to off-road in. While it's not quite in the same category as off-road specific Jeeps, SUVs, and trucks, the VanDura is gaining popularity because of the sheer amount of utility offered by the box behind the driver's seat.

13 Nissan Pathfinder

via Miata Turbo Forum

The Pathfinder was essentially an SUV version of Nissan's spartan pickup trucks—and not the other way around. With an enclosed cabin for the second row of seats and cargo area, the Pathfinder offered about as little extra comfort as possible. Compared to today's SUVs, which are usually built on sedan platforms with a slight lift, the original Pathfinder was way, way more awesome. The model has continued on until this day but it sadly lost the nifty rear door handle somewhere along the way.

12 Suzuki Sidekick

via Pictam

Everyone likes to poke fun at the Suzuki Samurai these days. The strange little box on four wheels may deserve a bit of criticism but there's no doubting that its simple design is something the automotive world is unlikely to ever see again. The same goes for the Suzuki Sidekick, essentially an even more pared-down little box that could go places in no style at all. Sidekicks are a rare sight in the US, where only 4,860 sold in 2004, but the rest of the world showed the proper appreciation for such a sweet little toy.

11 Subaru Legacy

via Curbside Classics

So far, this list has stuck with trucks, SUVs, and Jeeps, but there's another market segment that needs to be covered: cars that can hang with the best. This off-road prepped Subaru Legacy station wagon (hopefully a 2005 model year example with the five-speed manual) looks super mean thanks to a lift, all-terrain tires, that absurd grille, a tiny rally bar up front, and a snorkel that 100% can't properly feed the Legacy's turbo (that it shares with its contemporary STI).

10 Toyota Hilux

via Reddit

While most people probably think that Toyota just made earlier Tacomas with no badging, the rest of the world knows all about the legendary Hilux. Much like the Tacoma that would follow in the second half of the 1990s, Toyota's earlier trucks paired utilitarian design, absolutely legendary reliability, and just enough ruggedness to earn an eternal place among the best pickups the world has ever seen. Who cares if the bumper's held on by wires or the hood doesn't match? This is one pickup truck that will run until Gabriel blows his horn.

9 Toyota Tercel

via Barn Finds

Toyota hasn't only spent the last fifty years crushing it with their 4x4 pickup trucks; they've also made a name for themselves as a builder of some of the world's best economy cars. Those two worlds overlap with the Toyota Tercel, which came with an available four-wheel-drive layout. Perhaps one of the stranger cars to look at that Toyota's ever made, the Tercel is nonetheless as reliable as its truckier siblings and is famous for being able to handle snow and slush just as well (even without the ground clearance) while putting out over 30 MPG on the highway.

8 Ford F-Series Custom

via Smays

Much like the D/W Dodge Rams, Ford's F-Series products from the 1980s are boxy work trucks that can easily be still running today. In fact, the styling differences between the two companies were as their minimum in the 1980s, and that's just another thing that makes both trucks such a good beater candidate. Leaving this guy sitting out during the winter would just be a shame, so the only option is to just keep on trucking through the cold and damp with the hopes that enough work will get done to waylay any potential rust growth.

7 Chevrolet Silverado

via Imgur

By the late 1990s, Chevrolet's Silverado was beginning to acquire a bit of roundness to its edges. Luckily, this owner decided to keep things as real as possible and beat his truck into a pulp—apparently hauling a variety of yard implements along with some garbage and scrap metal. Mismatched doors, holes in the rocker panel, and blacked-out wheels don't help this truck look like it's been detailed any time recently. And that's exactly what makes it the perfect candidate to haul around an unsecured load like it is.

6 Toyota Land Cruiser

via Pinterest

Back when International was pioneering the SUV form, Toyota had their own Land Cruiser variant that brought new meaning to the terms 'rugged' and 'boxy' simultaneously. Somewhere between a Land Rover Defender and an actual shoebox, this Land Cruiser has seen better days—or has it? While any Defender still running decades later is a collector's piece that's probably benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in mechanic's bills, this Land Cruiser may actually have been photographed having someone look under its hood for the first time ever.

5 Toyota Tacoma

via DeviantArt

Beat it up, burn it out, drive it hard, and put it away wet; that recipe would destroy most vehicles—but the Toyota Tacoma isn't most vehicles. There's a reason Tacomas (even more recent ones) hold onto their values with a depreciation curve that looks frightening level: everyone knows they're going to keep doing truck stuff for another half-century, at the very minimum. This Taco looks perfect with some flares, a primer black hood, the lift, and the tires, but what really sets it off is the copious dirt that's found its way onto every single body panel.

4 Subaru Outback

via Cubside Classics

The Subaru Outback remains a wonderful station wagon for hitting the road, even if that road might sometimes be flooded, gravel, or snow. Outbacks receive more than their fair share of abuse and this one's license plate has been applied right where it's missing a front bumper cover. Cloth seats, a stick shift, and an AM/FM radio with a casette adaptor—does anyone really need heated and cooled, perforated leather seats, an eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic, and Apple CarPlay? Just add those features to the laundry list of gizmos that will break soon.

3 Toyota Hilux

via YouTube

Just one more Toyota, honestly. There's no end to the praise that Toyota's pickup trucks have rightfully earned over the years. This early pickup received a flat-bed conversion and its owner still clearly loves to push it up even the smallest slippery hill they can find. A little lift might be nice in this case to help offset the interrupted simplicity of this truck's design but hey, that's just quibbles compared to the undying 22R or 22R-E engine that's just waiting for a chance to drive for another 100,000 miles or so.

2 Subaru Forester

via StanceWorks

The first generation of Subaru Forester was a much different vehicle than what is on the market today. It was one of the original products to find a fine line between station wagon and SUV—and even if it did help to hasten the proliferation of today's boring crossovers, the original Forester is still a hidden gem. Thanks to Subaru's legendary all-wheel-drive system and a bit more room than its contemporary Imprezas, Outbacks, and Legacys, the Forester is becoming a new favorite among ski junkies who need to be able to charge up the hill on big-time powder days.

1 Jeep Wrangler

via Beaterlife

And of course, no list of 4x4 beaters could possibly be considered completely without a Jeep Wrangler holding down the fort. Perhaps the ultimate beater, the Wrangler has maintained a stranglehold on its own individual market segment for decades. What other vehicle offers that kind of off-road capability, a completely trashable interior, doors that are removable, and a windshield that can be folded down? Rubicons make every off-roader a little giddy but even base-model Wranglers deserve high praise when compared to most of the 4x4 market these days.

Sources: Bring a Trailer, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

More in Motor Hub