Do You Need a 4x4
Sooner or later, most serious campers get to thinking about the "need" to own a four-wheel drive. So, right up front, here’s my answer: A definite "maybe"! You see, it’s all to do with your personal outdoor lifestyle. Many outdoorsy types mistakenly believe that, since camping takes place in "the bush", they obviously need the off-road ability of a four-wheel drive. Not true. Well, not necessarily true anyway. Confused? Let’s go back a step or two.
Firstly, there are a few relevant questions that only you can answer. For example: Will you and your family be camping alone in fairly remote areas? If so, how often? But don’t rush it; answers need to be honest. I mean, we all start out believing that we’ll frequently head off on hairy-chested expeditions. The reality is, though, because of family or economic considerations -- or genuine lack of experience -- things rarely turn out that way. That’s the main reason you see all those late model 4WDs in the used car lots.
After all, there’s little point tying up maybe $15,000 more than the equivalent 2WD would cost, only to find later that you just don’t need a vehicle with all-wheel traction. On the other hand, if you prefer to get well away from the tourists and holiday hordes, or prefer camping with your family in splendid isolation, then for you a 4WD might be essential. The answer can only be found in an honest appraisal of your camping history, the highs and lows throughout that history, and the direction in which you and your family really would like your outdoor activities to go. Mind you, a 4X4 can certainly extend your horizons considerably. Whether alone or with another family or two, the extra wilderness areas that become available make additional investment much easier to justify. With their higher ground clearance, significantly increased traction for those tricky access trails (particularly after rain or snow), and improved load carrying and towing abilities, the average 4WD won’t be beaten for serious -- or mildly adventurous -- camping. That’s not all. These days a 4X4 does not have to be your "second car" since levels of comfort in most models are now on a par with conventional -- even luxurious! -- family station wagons. Reliability, ruggedness and resale value of the 4WD also help ensure that any cost premium becomes purely academic. But, having said all that, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, scattered across the country there are thousands of superb campsites, including national and state parks, reserves, and commercial campgrounds.
The vast majority of these are easily accessible, which is more reason still to be absolutely certain, up front, that you’ll get reasonable return for your higher dollar investment. For my family and I, that has definitely been the case. Maybe.