Help: I Need a Cheap New Car for Dirt Driving


Hi John,

I have owned a 1997 Daihatsu Terios since new. I only paid around $17,000 for it and it has been a hardworking, reliable vehicle. I will be sorry to see it go. I loved it from the moment I first time I sat in it. However, I know it's getting very close to the time I will need to replace it, and I'm dreading having to fork out double the price for a new AWD or 4x4 vehicle.

We live in rural NSW on a dirt road about 20km from town. The road is frequently corrugated and there are always potholes even on the bitumen, so I really do need a vehicle with good ground clearance and good "grab". I love the size of my little Terios, it's easy to drive & park, but still roomy enough for my husband, groceries & our Staffy.

I would like a vehicle that has seats I can fold flat to make maximum use of the available space. If I can afford it, I'd prefer a diesel as I think diesel engines are sturdier. Can you make any recommendations that won't break the bank? It'll probably be my last vehicle as I'm 58 now.




Hi Gloria,

You won't need to fork out double the price.

(Check out for a free valuation on your Terios.)

If I were you I'd buy a cheap-ish car with permanent AWD - AWD is good for grip on the dirt. I don't think you need tremendous ground clearance for driving on a corrugated dirt road you just need robust engineering for that..

Subaru has a good AWD 2.0i Impreza for about $23k drive-away that will handle the dirt all day long. That's about $100 a week over five years fully paid off at 7% interest.

The Subaru XV is another option, currently from $28,490 drive-away. That's about $130 a week on the same terms. It'll have more clearance, and is one of the smallest SUVs available. Very capable dirt driver. Twice the car a Terios was/is.

I wouldn't go for a diesel if the budget is tight as a diesel drivetrain will cost you around $3000 more up front, and it will take a lot of driving to make that back in saved fuel. Cost is obviously a factor in your decision, and a decent AWD diesel will be in the mid-$30k region

Don't know what you mean by 'sturdier' with respect to diesel engines - petrol engines and diesel engines are equally robust. Diesels cost more to service, and heaps more to repair if something goes wrong. They suit high-mileage, heavy-duty applications, which yours isn't. Diesels make more power at lower revs, but petrols accelerate better for overtaking.

More here on petrol Vs diesel (if you are interested).

I'll put you in touch with a car broker who can get you the lowest possible price on whatever car you choose. There's no pressure and no obligation with this service - but many visitors to the website have saved hundreds (and in some cases thousands) as a result. Bear in mind banks routinely charge 9% or more but the broker can also present you with a range of finance options at much lower rates, all from reputable Australian lenders.

I hope this helps.

Best of luck.


John Cadogan

PS - at 58 you're still young. Surely you have two or three more cars in you at this stage...