2020 Toyota 4Runner. SOURCE: https://pressroom.toyota.com/vehicle/2020-toyota-4runner/

Used SUV Feature Checklist

A modern sport-utility vehicle (SUV) combines the handling and functions of a passenger car or minivan with key features from off-road and military vehicles.

As a result, many SUVs will have relatively high ground clearance, powerful motors, and, in some cases, four-wheel (4WD) or all-wheel (AWD) drive. But this is not true for every SUV.

In fact, as a vehicle category, the SUV’s popularity has led to a lot of variation. For example, you can find crossovers, which are relatively small SUVs, or full-sized SUVs built on large truck frames. These two extremes of the SUV spectrum, if you will, are very different. One will be lightweight, nimble, and economical. The other will be spacious, rugged, and powerful.

So which used SUV will work best for you? The lists below, which we collectively refer to as “The Used SUV Feature Checklist,” are meant to help you zero-in on key SUV features based on how you will use the vehicle.

Along the way, we will also describe some important differences between various SUV choices and features, so look for a specific feature description in each section.

An SUV on a beach in Washington, State. PHOTO by Kyle Grozelle.

You Need to Move People

If your express purpose in shopping for a used SUV is to look for a vehicle that will move your entire family from soccer games and gymnastics competitions to the grocery store or church, you should aim for a stylish and roomy model, perhaps, with a third-row of seating.

Here are some of the features we recommend.

Third row of seating Many, if not most, modern SUVs will feature seating for up to five passengers. But if you need to move your family and friends, you may want to add a third row of seats, so you can carry seven, eight, or even nine passengers with some configurations.
Entertainment package This is a must for many parents of small children. Look for an SUV with some form of entertainment package. If you can play Frozen or Onward for the kids in the backseat, your family trips, however far, may be calmer.
Front-wheel drive People (family) moving SUVs often get driven a lot, and front-wheel drive provides a great combination of traction and relative fuel efficiency. A good second choice would be AWD. A large 4WD SUV might be more than you need and will cost relatively more to operate.
Back up camera This is a key safety feature. See what's behind your vehicle before you start moving backward.
Advanced safety systems Some late model SUVs now include advanced safety systems like forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and blindspot warning (BSW). These features can make your next SUV safer for the people you move.
Styling There is a reason you're looking at an SUV and not a white, 15-passenger van. Get something that makes you look sexy when you drive it.

2WD, AWD, and 4WD

In Boise, Idaho, where the Maverick Car Company is located, there are an average of 19 days a year of snowfall.

chart average snowfall in Boise, Idaho.chart average snowfall in Boise, Idaho.

While it is possible there could be snow on the road for a day or two at a time or more (everyone in Boise remembers Snowmageddon 2016-17), for the most part, the roadways are clear and driveable. If you live in Boise or Idaho’s Treasure Valley or somewhere with a similar climate this should be considered when you pick your SUV since you may not need 4WD or even AWD for people moving.

Front-wheel Drive

In a front-wheel-drive SUV, power from the engine is delivered directly to the front wheels. The drive wheels pull the vehicle forward and have many significant advantages.

  • Front-wheel drive is small and light. As the name implies, all of the drive components in a front-wheel-drive system are at the front of the vehicle. The engine, transmission, and differential are all close and compact rather than being spread out over the entire length of the SUV. This arrangement may also be significantly lighter than other drive systems.
  • Front-wheel drive is fuel-efficient. Because of its compact size and inherent efficiency, a front-wheel-drive SUV should get better gas mileage than its rear-wheel drive, AWD, and 4WD cousins. If your aim is people moving, this could be a cost savings.
  • Front-wheel drive is less expensive. Again because of its relatively simpler design, front-wheel drive vehicles may be less expensive to buy, maintain, and drive.

You Need to Pull Stuff

If your next SUV will need to pull a recreational vehicle (RV), boat, or trailer, you may want one with body-on-frame construction and a torquey motor.

Here are some of the features we recommend, if your main reason for buying a used SUV is to haul your stuff (and your people) to your next adventure or worksite.

Body-on-frame construction Most SUVs use either unibody or body-on-frame construction. While both solutions have advantages, when it comes to pulling, body-on-frame's rigid design is often associated with larger engines and more towing power.
Towing capacity Body-on-frame SUVs often have nearly as much towing capacity as a pick-up truck. A used, full-sized SUV could have 9,000 pounds of towing capacity, while a mid-sized SUV might pull 5,000 pounds. The former could haul a large boat. The latter would be suited for a camper.
Cargo room Often, when you are towing, you need a bit more cargo too. So look for a used SUV that can not only pull a load, but carry one too.
Advanced safety systems Some late model SUVs now include advanced safety systems like forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and blindspot warning (BSW). These features can be a huge help when you're pulling a trailer.

Unibody vs. Body-on-frame Construction

There are really only a couple of ways to build a modern vehicle. These are unibody and body-on-frame construction.

With body-on-frame construction, the vehicle has two distinct parts or sections.

First, there is the body, which is something like the SUV’s skeleton. It includes the engine bay, the cabin or seating area, and the cargo area.

The body sits on top of the second part of the vehicle, the frame. This frame is typically flat, rigid, and strong. It supports the body and holds the heavy motor and suspension.

Body-on-frame construction is relatively strong and solid. It lends itself well to towing and hauling tasks, perfect if the reason you’re looking for a used SUV to tow a camper or boat, for example.

In contrast, unibody construction combines the frame and body into a unified structure that is lightweight, relatively strong, and very safe.

This sort of construction works well in small and some mid-sized SUVs meant to be fuel-efficient. But in our context, SUV constructed this way may have a relatively lower towing capacity.

A Jeep SUV ready for adventure. PHOTO by NeONEBRAND

You’re Headed for Adventure

A used SUV can take you on many an adventure. You could put a kayak on a roof rack and head to Swan Falls dam for a sunny afternoon of fishing or fill the cargo bay with backpacks on your way to the Seven Devils for a week-long trek.

In some ways, an “adventure” SUV can be the simplest having a very short list of key or required features. But with each feature, there is the opportunity to add and customize to your heart’s desire.

AWD or 4WD Whether you're crawling over a rock or driving up Bogus Basin Road to go skiing or snowboarding, your adventurous SUV needs lots of traction, so we recommend that you find a 4WD model. In some cases, AWD will do the trick too.
Cargo room You will want room for skis, tents, backpacks, kayaks, or other gear your adventure requires.
Advanced safety systems Some late model SUVs now include advanced safety systems like forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and blindspot warning (BSW). These features can make your next SUV safer for the people you move.

Cargo & Accessories

It goes without saying that your used SUV will have a cargo bay and the ability to carry some of your gear right out of the box, but because it is a used SUV there is often the opportunity to get additional value if the previous owner or the dealer has added extra cargo capacity and other accessories.

Look for used SUVs with roof racks, hitch-mounted racks, and similar. You might even get oversized tires and a lift too.

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