What Makes A Good Tradie's Ute/4X4?
Updated: Sep 25
Ute’s are one of the true Aussie icons and, having a good looking and good performing ute is one of the things that many tradies and 4X4 enthusiasts value above anything else. With so many choices on the market though, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees at times and, having an unreliable ute can cause lost time, lost money and even heartbreak.
So, what are some of the things that (in the mind of a mechanic) make a good ute?
First and foremost, a good ute has to be reliable. Much like a stockman’s horse and a butcher’s knife, many tradies have built careers around their utes. Buying a brand-new ute only to have it spend 3 months a year in the workshop for warranty is taking honest money out of tradies hands. As well as this, having a ute break down in the middle of a trip is a painful and sometimes dangerous hazard.
When looking at a new ute, it’s good to look into what the service schedule is like. If the service schedule still allocates time to replace things like differential oils and transmission oils, it’s a fair sign that the engineers behind the scenes have planned for it to be around for a good long time. On top of this, looking into the common problems that people are experiencing can save you dearly down the line.
A great example of a reliable ute are the offerings from Toyota and Isuzu. With issues far and few between and thorough service schedules, these utes are easily a step above the rest.
The next key factor in a good ute is usually combined power and capability. When looking at a new ute, most buyers aren’t looking at the reliability, but the off-road, towing and performance capabilities. With most new utes putting down 400+nm and being able to tow upwards of 3T, this is usually a pretty evenly matched race. With that said, the old drag racers adage still stands true, there’s no replacement for displacement.
As emissions standards have become more aggressive each year, many manufacturers are opting into smaller and more highly-strung motors. While this might not seem like an issue on the surface level, it means that these manufacturers are trading engine lifespan for power. It’s also far harder for a ute with a small motor to make the same torque figures as its competitors, which is noticeable when driving as they constantly rev extra high which can be annoying to deal with.
In the power category, it’s hard to go past the 79 series Cruiser and the VW Amarok, though both of these leave some room for improvement in running cost.
The area that most buyers overlook when buying a new ute is comfort and improvements. From simple things like adding or including car-play and a CB radio, to the more intrusive modifications like lift kits and engine upgrades.
This is where the aftermarket comes into play. If a ute is already capable in its day to day life (or is popular enough) the aftermarket support will be there. For example, modifying a Ford Ranger is almost only limited by the size of your wallet, and with so many inclusions from factory, it’s easy to see why this ute is a fan favourite. With that said, the inherent strength built into utes like the D-Max and HiLux are cause to look no further. The D-Max in particular is such a strong motor that with very few improvements, can over double the power.
For this reason, the D-Max and the Ranger are obvious picks in this category.
Finally, the most important thing for many tradies and 4X4 enthusiasts, the price. While this might seem obvious, many people are prepared to buy with their wallet and not necessarily end up with the ute they actually wanted. The good news here is that there are some really good utes available at a good rate. While the Triton is an easy winner in this category, if you’re after a true trade pack ute, the drive away price on a manual 2wd D-Max is absolutely astounding.
On top of this, the 4X4 versions of both the Triton and the D-Max are incredibly well priced compared to the ‘tax’ you’ll pay on more mainstream ute’s like the Ranger.
Overall, our pick on what would the best ute is a previous generation HiLux and D-Max, the 3L diesel 1KD and 4JJ1 are truly unbeatable motors and, as far as comfort and modification is concerned, both are right up there with the best.