The Best Overland Vehicle Under $5000 You Can Buy

off road car with tent on roof parked on lake shore in forest

The so-called “Jeep creep” and “Toyota tax” is in full effect Lately. Since I care so much about you Automotivists, I made it my mission to find the best overland vehicle under $5000 I could find, saving you the hassle. 

Overlanding is becoming the new hobby for the housebound millennials. Work from home and virus restrictions have created a hunger for the outdoors. 

I, for one, am all for that. What I’m not down with is the price premium this is putting on all the previously cheap and plentiful off road capable cars. 

However I have found one Gem, a glitch in the Matrix of car buying. The best overland vehicle under $5000 is a Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ.

You can still find these off roaders fairly easily within budget and it doesn’t have to be a beater either. How about that for a Jewel.

white jeep grand cherokee zj suv cruising down the road. Best overland vehicle under $5000
Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ Off Road

The Bargain

Before I tell you why exactly the WJ Grand Cherokee is the best budget overland vehicle, some brief history on the Grand Cherokee to get you up to speed. 

The original Grand Cherokee was launched as a luxury SUV in 1992 for the 1993 model year. It was the first Chrysler-badged Jeep product, since Chrysler took over AMC. It was essentially a fancy Cherokee meant to attract upmarket buyers. 

More history can be found at the Grand Cherokee wiki here.

So why a Grand Cherokee and not any other Jeep Models?

Simply put, price discovery. The market simply doesn’t value these vehicles as much as it does others. I think it’s because people forgot how capable these cars are and they just fell to history.

So what about other Jeeps from its era, they have to be just as affordable right? Not so much.

Jeep wrangler? Forget about it. The oldest and worst condition vehicles are unobtainable at any reasonable price these days. People covet them because of the cult like following wranglers attract. 

Sure you might find a Cherokee XJ in that range, but for the same price you can have something newer and more refined for on road use with all of the same rugged off-road ability. 

With that said, the best overland vehicle under $5000 you can get is the Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ and let me tell you why.

Fun fact. I actually owned a WJ Jeep Grand Cherokee in High School. It was a 2000 Laredo in Sienna (burgundy) with gray cladding. 

It was a desirable model with the 4.0 6Cyl and Selec-Trac 4WD. 

Of course I didn’t know what I had, and it being a gas guzzler I promptly traded it for a new Toyota Camry because I needed a fuel efficient car to go to College. 

Now I wish I still had it. The irony. Still have the Camry though.

Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ Laredo.
Best overland vehicle under $5000.
Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ Laredo

The Facts 

Jeep  WJ Grand Cherokee 1999-2004 

The WJ Grand Cherokee was introduced in 1999 as a successor to the ever popular ZJ Grand Cherokee (1993-1998) an overland classic and first of the Grand Cherokees.

It had the same fundamental chassis design as before but a fully redesigned interior and appearance. 

The original and stout 4.0L inline-6 engine from the ZJ was improved, and a new more fuel efficient 4.7L SOHC V8 engine was introduced replacing the old 5.2L V8.  

Even the unibody chassis was stiffened. The suspension was modified with a new 3-link rear, a new steering system, new control arms, and rubber isolators.

The WJ was offered in three basic trim levels: Laredo, Limited, and Overland.

4WD Systems

What’s Overlanding without 4WD right? It’s the reason why Jeeps are such a go to vehicle in this segment. 

The Jeep brand is well-known around the world for its 4WD systems and off-road abilities, and the WJ is no exception. 

The WJ had four different 4WD systems fitted in various submodels across the model line. 

Sounds confusing, but I’ve broken it down for you here.

  • Selec-trac– Found in Laredo’s and some special edition models.
  • Because of the multiple modes given by the NV 242 transfer case and the fully-locked 4HI mode, Selec-Trac is arguably the most desirable 4WD system of WJ for off-road use. 
  • This is ideal in circumstances when you require a lot of wheel speed to keep moving forward, such as snow-wheeling or mud-bogging.
  • QuadraTrac I–  Found only on laredo 6 Cyl models, it’s the least ideal 4WD system for off-road use mainly because of the lack of a low range setting. 
  • Although it should still give decent mobility on the road in rainy or snowy situations it’s the least common of all 4WD systems, with many people unaware of its presence. 
  • This 4WD system is the mall crawler edition. Gets you were you need to go but more of a soft roader. 
  • QuadraTrac II– Standard equipment for V8 equip models, this system has the same 4LO found in Selec-trac but is a more simplified full time 4WD not featuring selectable 2WD modes.
  • It will get you where you need to go and very few situations will challenge it.
  • QuadraDrive– Standard on the Overland trim, and optional for the rest. This is Jeep’s top of the line 4WD system, the “cream of the crop”. 
  • This took the QuadraTrac II system and added something called Vari-lok. 
  • In essence this system splits torque from side to side in addition to front and back, virtually making your car unstoppable in any condition. 
  • The WJ Overland with QuadraDrive is so good, it can hang with most built rigs offroad in its stock form. Impressive 

Reliability 

Generally, Jeep WJ Grand Cherokees are pretty reliable vehicles. The engines are low stress and the majority of vehicles were never taken off-road.  

Parts are plentiful because a lot of parts were interchangeable with other models. 

The youngest of the WJ’s are about 17 years old now with the oldest being 22. As with any vehicle of this age maintenance is key, and Jeep WJ’s are no different.

Look for wear items such as tires, belts, hoses, and importantly fluids. Cars this old will have worn rubber components if they haven’t been replaced.  

I’m talking specifically about bushings, stabilizer links, and rack and pinion boots. Replacing all fluids on a car this old wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

All differential fluids, transmission fluid, engine oil, power steering, brake bleed, and coolant flush.

For more tips on how to take care of your car check out this link.

Aftermarket

Now here’s the fun part about overlanding, the gear. There are tons of aftermarket parts for the WJ. 

You can literally mod everything on this car, from lift kits, axles, wheels, tires, brakes, roof racks and much more. 

Just google WJ overland build in google and you’ll see everything from mild daily driver setup for weekend overlanding, to full stop monster truck terrain dominating builds. 

It’s a jeep, they’re basically the legos of the automotive world so let your imagination run wild. 

The level you want to take it to is up to you. The thing I love about the WJ the most is even with minimal mods like just good all terrain tires, you can tackle most terrains, especially in a Selec- Trac or QuadraDrive model. 

Plus when you have to drive back home from your excursions, it won’t kill you on the highway because it will still have road manners. 

In sum

So there you have it, the best overland vehicle under $5000. The Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ. 

Go out there and buy it and drive the price up like everything else on the market. At Least you’ll be in before everyone else finds out. 

If you’re looking for a regular car under $5000 check out this list here.

Happy trails. 

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