The $15,000 Expedition Vehicle: How would you build it?

Scott Brady

I often get questions of how to build an expedition vehicle on the cheap. Something reliable and good over long distances.

I am curious of how some of you would build one with the following criteria:

1. 2 Occupants
2. Camping out of the vehicle
3. 4wd for accessing remote locations
4. The 15k includes the price of the vehicle and all modifications.

How would you build it?


Supporting Sponsor
Are we talking about a dedicted expedition vehicle suitable for long distance, long duration remote travel, -or- are we talking about a daily driver capable of short expedition style camping trips?

Scott Brady

Good question...

The expedition would be to Tierra del Fuego and back from the Southwest USA. Duration would be 6 months.

Recommended books for Overlanding


Supporting Sponsor
Would this vehicle be travelling in convoy with some very capable and well equipped Tacomas by any chance?

I am thinking to save money on recovery gear and mods, such as lockers and winch if this is the case. Also is there possible spare parts sharing if similar vehicles are travelling together?


Expedition Leader
Honestly I think about half to a third of the mod threads address this exact question.

I think it needs to be pretty big (no Jeeps of the CJ/YJ/TJ style and an Unlimited would blow the budget), exactly how big depends on what the driver is comfortable driving and how much people are willing to put on the roof.

Instead of starting with the vehicle, I would be more inclined to start with the mods, and see how much is left over at the end. I know it sounds backwards. I will make the assumption that camping essentials (tent, stove, etc.) don't get factored into the cost of the vehicle.

1. Refrigerator, probably about $1000 with all the necessary odds and ends, shipping and/or tax.
2. Storage, say $300 - $600 for something reasonably simple
3. Rack to store what ever doesn't fit in the car $500
4. Extraction equipment $700 for the entire Black Rat package including hand winch.
5. $500 for battery system and solar panels to power the refrigerator when the vehicle is off
7. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch of stuff, $2000
8. Repairs, maintenance and spare parts for the new rig $4000; sounds high, but when the dust settles, probably not far off. Christo Slee told me to factor than number into the price of any used FJZ80.
9. Tires $800. Tires are the things that make contact with the road, and without good ones, we are walking.
10. Auxiliary food and gas storage, either tanks or cans, or ???

So assuming the car really won't need most of the $4k I've allocated to repairs, we are looking for a rig in the, roughly $4,000 to $8,000 range that is reasonable size and has a history of being bullet proof. You can weed the options down further if you want common parts availability.

Based on that, I would be looking for (in no particular order):
- 98+ Isuzu Trooper. If you find one with a blown engine the are about $2-3k and a new engine (with warranty) is about $4k.
- Gen 2 4Runner
- FJ62 Land Cruiser, these can be had routinely for less than $4000 and cleaned up nicely for another $6000
- WD51 Pathfinder (90-95). Later models have frame problems, so inspect carefully
- 96-2000 Pathfinder, reliable and comfortable
- Jeep XJ, as new as possible
- Very early Tacoma, the 4 cylinder, regular cab 4x4 are relatively inexpensive compared with regular cab and/or V6

I did not consider GPS, onboard nav, lockers or aux. lighting as these can push the price up considerably and very quickly.


Start with a 1999 Jeep Cherokee (since 2 people a 2 door, because it looks cool). With the 29-spline 8.25" Chrysler axle and 4.0L automatic. Then ARB's, 3.5" Rubicon Express lift, OME long travel shocks, SYE, High angle drive line, 255/85/16 muds on steel rims, all the needed electronics, I would pull all the carpet and back seat out and diamond plate it, roof mounted tent, nice organization system for the back, and finally a 8,000 lb winch. Oh and lots of armor.

Reason I would start with the XJ. You can get a 1999 or 1998 (best years due to high pinion front dana 30 with dana 44 u-joints and 29 spline 8.25" axle) around $4000 with under 100,000K miles. Only disadvantage is the best MPG is around 18.


Expedition Poseur
1: White 1996 Dodge ram 3/4 ton 4x4 with the cummins.

2: Four wheel popup camper (or similar), used (obviously).

3: Fridge

4: Winch.

5: Air compressor.


Scott Brady

***The vehicle would be traveling solo most of the time.

The reason for the thread is that many folks want to do this stuff, but think $60,000 is required to build a truck and buy the gear. I do not think that is true. This thread will help shed some light on the important mods and the top vehicle choices.

I think it is fun to consider this...


Spamicus Eliminatus
expeditionswest said:
1. 2 Occupants
2. Camping out of the vehicle
3. 4wd for accessing remote locations
4. The 15k includes the price of the vehicle and all modifications.

How would you build it?
This is actually a really tough question and there is no one encompassing answer. It really depends on the person and how they want to "live" for 6 months and how much space they need.

Without those details, my first inclination would be to guide the person towards a Japanese spec RHD Diesel Cruiser or Prado.

Alberta and British Columbia are being flooded with them lately and there are many good deals to be found of vehicles outfitted with lockers and winches for that price range or less. I have even seen one 80 series that was a camping edition that had the raised roof and a rear inside bed deck that was all factory (I think it went for around $18k - it was in a small town in BC and the guy needed to sell).

They are extremely reliable, have an excellent cargo capacity, efficient (diesel) and easy to work on. Need to get over the RFD factor though...



Expedition Leader
Scott, you have it in your Trooper. Not uncommon in Central and South america, parts are available. Build a drawer system in the back (with the rear seats removed, or half folded) rack, etc. and you shoudl be good to go.


I based my answer on vehicles available in Northern California and can handle the local terrain. If I could use diesel Toyotas a whole new world would open up. Including a 70 series pickup with a 4 wheel drive pop-up.


2005 Expedition Trophy Champion
I say a solid FJ60, 16" rims and 235/85r16s. I'd say BJ60/HJ60 but that'll get much more pricey. Emissions equipment removed for reliability, no computer to fail. Distributor and carb changed to non-US to adjust for questionable fuels.

Truck: $5000
Dizzy + Carb: $700
Lift: $1500
6 Tires & Wheels: $1000
Fridge: $1000
Roof Rack: $1000
Winch (even PTO): $1000
TOTAL: $11200

It's big, roomy and bulletproof and dead reliable, no potential EFI issues. I'm quoting approximate new costs too. Roof rack can be had used much cheaper, same as winch, etc. You actually can sleep in the back of the 60 series. Got money to spare on spare parts and local brews.

I'd also swap in 4.11 3rd which are super easy to source from other LC years. Manual tranny for roll starting.

Recommended books for Overlanding


Private-party KBB for a 2000 Toy Tacoma Xcab/V6/4wd TRD package/75K miles is about $10,000. The TRD package will net a factory rear locker. I would add a set of good 31" tires, recovery and jacking points, some good stock-replacement shocks (Old Man Emu, Bilstein or KYB) and the essential recovery gear and spare parts. I'd mount a roof tent over the bed rails (a la ExWest style), and some Wedco water & fuel cans. Remove the jump seats and put some economical storage platform or bins in there. That should be under the 15K mark, and good to go. I think the key apects here are:

1. Reliability
2. Comfort
3. 4wd/locker will allow more dirt/mud road travel/exploration

Grim Reaper

Expedition Leader
I'm the King of Cheap.

Toyota 4Runner. $3k including rebuilt engine, Transmission.

Need to fix A/C. Expansion valve stuck. $30. Unfortunately compressor eating itself dumping shavings is usually what plugs them $200. $30 in Freon.

$450 for a set of BFG 33X10.5 KO's on used aluminum wheels

$500 factory E-locker. (actually part of a trade fore a set of 35's I had from another truck. I decided I didn't want to go that big

Researching on how to build a Fridge with some Danfoss BD50f compressor I got for CHEAP. If it works out I will have around $300 in a 2 cubic foot freezer fridge.

Building my own Expedition trailer. So far I have $80 into salvaged aluminum cabinets. Figure $300 for axle with brakes to match the 6 lug of the truck. $300 in steel. Using the current set of wheels and tires on the truck for now. $200 in random items an it should be road worthy. Then little stuff like water tank, LP regulator etc.

Roof top tent the home version. Still researching.

I bought my last off road truck for $1 LOL
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