Today the Isuzu nameplate is more well known for its commercial trucks, but there was a time where they were an established competitor to regular passenger vehicles from the likes of Toyota and Nissan.
The second generation Trooper/Bighorn was one of Isuzu’s most popular consumer cars and in this Isuzu Trooper buyer’s guide we are going to give you all the information you need to know to get yourself a good one.
How to use This Second Gen Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn Buyer’s Guide
This is a long guide, so use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will be looking at all the names and brands the second gen Trooper was sold under (there are a lot of them).
Following that we will cover the history and specifications of the car, and then we will get into the buyer’s guide section of the article. To finish off we have some more general car purchasing advice.
The Different Names of the Second Gen Trooper
- Isuzu Trooper – This name was used in North America and a number of other export markets
- Isuzu Bighorn – The Trooper was sold under the Bighorn name in Japan and some other markets
- Isuzu Citation – Believe this name was used in Europe/UK until around 2002 (leave a comment if you know)
- Acura SLX – Yes, that’s right the Isuzu even wore an Acura badge in North America from 1996 to 1999
- Holden Jackaroo – Trooper was sold under this name in Australia from 1998 onwards
- Holden Monterey – Essentially same as above, but the Monterey name was used from the first year of production until the Jackaroo name was introduced (sometimes the names are combined, so Jackaroo Monterey)
- Vauxhall Monterey – Sold in the UK and Ireland
- Opel Monterey – Sold in mainland Europe
In this guide we are going to be mainly using the Isuzu Trooper name, but will also use the Bighorn name as well because that is what it is called in our local market of New Zealand.
The History of the Second Gen Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn
By the early 1990s, the SUV market had evolved. Buyers didn’t want just a rugged and capable vehicle, they wanted something that was also a bit more luxurious and comfortable. Isuzu responded by introducing the softer and rounder second generation Trooper in 1991.
It was a car that was not only usable on farms and offroad adventures, but also one that was more capable around suburban streets. The interior was much nicer, with more luxurious features such as wood and leather being available, and the engine options were upgraded.
Speaking of engine options, American buyers had the option of a 3.2-litre 175 bhp (130 kW) SOHC petrol engine or a DOHC version that produced 15 bhp (12 kW) more. A 3.5-litre petrol V6 with 215 bhp (160 kW) became available later in 1998. This larger DOHC engine was essentially the same as the 3.2-litre one, but with different pistons that gave it a longer stroke and slightly different cams.
Soon after the Trooper had launched in 1991, a 3.1-litre turbo diesel engine with 112 hp (84 kW) and 260 Nm (192 lb-ft) of torque at 2,000 rpm became available for most markets (unfortunately American buyers would miss out). The Diesel Trooper/Bighorn was designed to be a more rugged, fuel efficient car for heavy workloads and towing. A more powerful 3.0-litre diesel would also be available in some markets from around 1999.
Depending on the model year, the Different engine options were mated to either a five-speed Aisin AR5 manual transmission or a four-speed AI30E automatic. Isuzu implemented a “power” shift feature on the automatic gearbox, allowing it to adjust shifting and take better advantage of the engine’s power. The AI30E automatic also featured a “winter” mode that gave it the ability to start in a higher gear, improving traction in slipper conditions.
From the 2000 model year another feature was added to automatic cars called “Grade Logic”. This allows the transmission to automatically downshift on steep gradients to help slow the vehicle.
Power is sent to the wheels via a part-time four-wheel drive system. For normal driving the Trooper is propelled by its rear wheels, however, when things get slippery the driver can switch the car into four-wheel drive mode. This switch required the driver to stop the car to engage the four-wheel drive system, but from 1996 onwards Troopers came with the ability to engage or disengage the front axle on the fly (not all models though). From the 2000 model year Isuzu introduced a purely rear-wheel drive option in some markets.
Sales of the Vauxhall Monterey would stop in the UK in 1998 due to a lack of sales and the same would happen to the Opel badged version that was sold in mainland Europe one year later. In 2002, Isuzu would discontinue the Trooper in the United States. Sales and production of the car would continue in other markets until 2006 before being halted completely.
Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn Specifications
|Years||1991 – 2006|
|Layout||Front-engine, part-time four-wheel drive|
Front- engine, rear-wheel drive (2000 onwards)
|Transmission||4L30E four-speed automatic (petrol cars)|
AW30-40LE (diesel cars)
MUA5 five-speed manual (Pre 1998)
Aisin AR5 five-speed manual (1998 onwards)
|Weight (Kerb)||5-door – 1,955 – 2,030 kg (4,310 – 4,475 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||3-door – 2,329 mm (91.7 in)|
5-door – 2,761 mm (108.7 in)
|Length||3-door – 4,234 mm (166.7 in)|
5-door – 4,661 mm (183.5 in)
|Width||Pre-1995 – 1,745 mm (68.7 in)|
1995 onwards – 1,834 mm (72.2 in)
|Height||Pre-1995 – 1,849 mm (72.8 in)|
1995 onwards – 1,834 mm (72.2 in)
|Tyre Size||245/70 R16|
|Rim Size||7JJ x 16|
Engine & Transmission Specifications
|6VD1 SOHC V6||3.2-litre||Petrol||177 PS (175 bhp/130 kW) @ 4,888 rpm||255 Nm (188 lb-ft)|
|6VD1 SOHC V6 Gen 2 (1996 onwards)||3.2-litre||Petrol||193 PS (190 bhp/142 kW) @ 4,888 rpm||255 Nm (188 lb-ft)|
|6VD1 DOHC V6||3.2-litre||Petrol||193 PS (190 bhp/142 kW) @ 5,600 rpm||264 Nm (195 lb-ft) @ 3,600 rpm|
|6VD1 DOHC V6 Gen 2 (1998 onwards)||3.2-litre||Petrol||195 PS (193 bhp/143 kW) @ 5,600 rpm||264 Nm (195 lb-ft) @ 3,600 rpm|
|6VE1 DOHC V6||3.5-litre||Petrol||218 PS (215 bhp/160 kW) @ 5,400 rpm||310 Nm (229 lb-ft) @ 3,000 rpm|
|4JX1 Turbo I4||3.0-litre||Diesel||159 PS (157 bhp/117 kW) @ 5,700 rpm||333 Nm (246 lb-ft) @ 1,980 rpm|
|4JG2 Turbo I4||3.1-litre||Diesel||114 – 127 PS (112 – 125 bhp/84 – 92 kW) @ 3,600 rpm||260 – 275 Nm (192 – 203 lb-ft) @ 2,000 rpm|
Second Gen Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn Buyer’s Guide
Now that we have covered a bit of background information about the second gen Isuzu Trooper, let’s have a good at what you need to know about buying one of these 4X4s.
Setting Up an Inspection of a Second Gen Trooper
Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up an inspection of an Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn (or any car for that matter):
- Try to view the Trooper in person or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – This is usually a good idea as there is a big difference between something looking good in photos vs in person. You will also get the chance to test drive the Isuzu as well, which may reveal some hidden problems. Some specialist auction sites do vet the cars they list prior to purchase, which does reduce the risk quite a bit (but it is still always best to inspect the car yourself if possible).
- Take a friend or helper to the inspection – We recommend this because a second pair or eyes and ears may be able to spot something you missed. Additionally, they can give you their thoughts on the Trooper and whether or not they think it is a good buy.
- Is possible, inspect the Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn at the seller’s house or place of business – This can be a good idea as you can see where the car is regularly stored. If the car is always parked out on the street there is a higher chance of rust and other bodywork/paint issues.
- Look at the Trooper in the morning rather than later in the day – This gives the seller less time to clean up any potential issues like a big oil leak.
- Ask the seller not to drive the vehicle or warm the engine up if possible – A warm engine can cover up a number of different issues, so be cautious if the seller has pre-heated the car.
- If the Trooper is being sold at a dealer, try to turn up unannounced – If you let a dealer know that you are coming to look at a particular Trooper, they will have time to clean up the car and cover up potential issues.
- Try not to inspect a used car in the rain –Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect a second gen Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
- Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
- Get the seller to move their Isuzu Trooper outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.
Buying an Isuzu Trooper or Bighorn with Issues
There is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a Trooper with some problems, as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Even buying cars with more serious issues is okay, but make sure you know what is wrong with the car prior to purchase and how much it may cost to fix. Do not overpay for a Trooper with issues and make sure you use any problems to get a discount (if you still want to purchase the car).
How Much Do Used Second Gen Isuzu Troopers Cost?
This ultimately comes down to the condition, specs, where it is being sold, etc. A late model 3.5-litre V6 Trooper with low mileage and in excellent condition is going to be worth more than an early SOHC 3.2-litre model that has seen a lot of action.
To work out roughly what you need to spend to get yourself a Trooper/Bighorn, we suggest that you have a look on your local auction/classifieds or dealers’ websites to see how much they cost. You can then use these prices to get a rough estimate of how much you need to spend for a particular spec and condition level. Troopers do tend to be cheaper than Landcruisers, Hiluxs, Safaris, and other Japanese 4x4s, so sometimes you can get a good deal.
Is the Isuzu Trooper Expensive to Maintain?
Unfortunately, while Troopers/Bighorns tend to be less expensive than their other Japanese 4×4 counterparts, they can be more expensive to maintain. This is because spares can be more of an issue in some markets, driving up repair costs.
Checking the VIN
Depending on where the car was sold new, the VIN will look different. In America and other export markets the VIN is typically 17 characters long, whereas Japanese domestic market Bighorns tend to have a VIN (also known as a chassis number in Japan) that is around 14 characters long. The VIN plate is located on the firewall at the back of the engine bay.
Japanese VINs (like the one in the photo above) will usually look something like this – UBS69GW – XXXXXXX. Here is what this indicates:
- UBS – model code – Trooper/Bighorn
- 69 – Engine Code – 4JG2 – 3.1
- G – Chassis – LWB
- W – Model Year – 98
- XXXXXXX – This is just the serial number
If the Bighorn you are looking at is a Japanese import there may also be a 17-digit VIN that has been issued by your country’s transport agency. For example, the Bighorn in the photos in this guide is a Japanese import so it has the original Japanese VIN as listed above and then a 17-digit VIN that looks a bit like this – 7A8XXXXXXXXXXXXXX.
If the Trooper or Bighorn was sold new in your country (export market car), it will should have a 17 digit VIN that will look something like – JACUBS25GV7XXXXXX.
The VIN plate also carries some other information such as the paint code, transmission, engine and more. At the bottom of the VIN plate there are codes for the options on the car. We have decoded the VIN plate from the photo above as an example:
- 758 – BODY COLOUR CRANBERRY MICA
- 153 – INTERIOR COLOUR GRAY
- AS3 – 3RD SEAT 7 PASSENGERS
- C60 – AIR CONDITIONER MANUAL CONTROL
- ED2 – MANUAL LOCKING HUBS
- HC6 – FINAL 41/9
- NK3 – STEERING WHEEL LEATHER
- S3Y – PRIVACY GLASS
- T37 – FOG LAMP HALOGEN
- X72 – BRONZE GLASS
- 6MK – FOLDING ELECTRIC DOOR MIRROR W/DEFROSTER
- 6RV – not listed
- 6WW – BATTERY 115D31R
You can find a full rundown of the option codes in this forum post on Isuzu Trooper Owners Club UK.
The VIN can also be entered into a VIN checkup/decoder website that may contain information such as whether or not the Isuzu you are inspecting has any money owing on it or if it has been written off at any point. Most of these VIN checkup websites/services are region limited, so keep that in mind.
Start your inspection by lifting the hood/bonnet, making sure that it opens smoothly. If the hinges and catch have been replaced at some point it may be a sign that the Trooper has been in an accident or had some sort of other issue. The next step is to do a general check for the following:
- Cleanliness – How dirty or clean is the engine bay? These cars are meant to be workhorses, so we wouldn’t expect the cleanest of engine bays but if it is in a really bad way it could be a sign that the owner hasn’t cared for their Trooper. On the other hand, a super clean engine bay that looks like it has been pressure washed could be a sign of somebody trying to cover something up like an oil leak.
- Obvious Problems – This could be anything from a big oil leak, broken or damaged components and more.
- Stickers and plates – If the engine bay is missing all or most of the stickers and plates (VIN plate, engine info, etc.), it could be a sign that the car has been resprayed due to an accident. Alternatively, it could also be a sign that the car was stolen at some point, especially if the VIN information is missing.
Checking the Fluids
Once you have done that, move onto checking the fluids as they can tell you quite a bit of information about the condition of the Isuzu you are looking at. Black oil is typically fine and usually just indicates that a replacement is needed in the near future.
Have a look for any pieces of grit in the oil as lots of it could be a sign of a serious issue. Additionally, keep an eye out for metallic particles/shavings as these could be a sign of something like a bearing failure. Metal shavings are usually pretty uncommon in a well-maintained engine and if they are there you will probably have trouble seeing them with the naked eye, so if they are easily noticeable there could be an issue with the engine.
Another thing to watch out for is any foam or froth on the dipstick or in the oil. This could be caused by a range of different issues from condensation in oil, to an engine that has been overfilled with oil, or even a blown head gasket.
Most owners tend to recommend replacing the oil every 5,000 to 8,000 km (3,000 to 5,000 miles) or every 12 months. Modern synthetic oils can probably go a bit longer but if the owner has changed the oil quite frequently it suggests that they have cared for their Trooper. On the other hand, if oil changes are infrequent it suggests that the owner hasn’t been the best with maintenance and they may have cut corners elsewhere. Oil filters should be replaced with every oil change or every second one if the changes are very frequent.
Check with the owner to see what oil they use in the car. The service manual recommends a good quality 10W-30 oil for the 3.1-litre diesel power unit, but lots of owners use other weight oils as well (10W-40, 15W-40 and 5W-40 are popular choices) as the engine isn’t too picky. The 3.0-litre turbo diesel on the other hand is known to be quite selective with what is used in it, so make sure that a 5W-30 weight oil has been used.
Like the 3.1-litre diesel, the petrol engines are compatible with more oil weights. A lot of owners use 10W-40 oils, but some recommend going with something that has a higher viscosity at operating temperatures (5W-50, 10W-50 or 0W-50 engine oil for example).
Talk to the seller about how much oil their Trooper/Bighorn consumes between changes. While we wouldn’t exactly expect every seller to be 100% truthful if there is a problem, you may get the odd seller who is honest with you.
The petrol engines (especially the 3.5-litre one) are known to drink quite a lot of oil due to the small size and number of holes in the factory pistons. These holes clog up, leading to excessive oil consumption. To fix the problem some owners have drilled more holes or replaced the original pistons with new style ones. Replacement engines that were not part of the original production line were given the newer style pistons, so they did not suffer from excessive oil consumption. Check to see if any of these “fixes” have been implemented on the Trooper you are looking at.
Diesel versions of the Bighorn/Trooper aren’t known to consume as much oil as their petrol counterparts, but given the age and mileage of many of them, we would expect some oil consumption. If the car is losing oil very rapidly it is more likely due to a leak or some serious piston/piston ring issues.
Common Oil Leaks on a Second Gen Trooper/Bighorn
Here are some of the main areas to watch out for when it comes to engine oil leaks:
- Oil filter – An incorrectly fitted filter, wrong filter or bad filter seal can lead to a very big leak. We had this problem on our Bighorn and the leak was significant. Fairly easy to fix, however, your main concern should be if the car has been driven while low on oil.
- Valve/timing/cam cover gasket – Have a good look around the valve cover as leaks around here are quite common, especially on older cars. If you do see a leak it is probably from the gasket. These eventually perish and need to be replaced. If the leak seems quite rapid the gasket should be replaced as soon as possible.
- Stripped threads on oil drain plug – If somebody has been a bit overly enthusiastic with tightening the oil drain plug, they may have stripped the threads. This can lead to a fairly rapid leak depending on the severity. It is possible to repair this, but once again be mindful that the car may have been driven with insufficient oil. Alternatively, an oil leak from here may be due to bad O-rings that need to be replaced.
- Oil cooler O-rings (3.2-litre) – Very common issue on pre 1998 3.2-litre Troopers. The parts aren’t too expensive to replace, but the labour can be if you take it to a mechanic to get fixed. Check out this thread on Planet Isuzoo for more.
- Pressure Switch (diesel) – The pressure switch in front of the starter motor can sometimes leak.
- Oil pipes for the turbo (diesel) – The turbo oil feed pipes can sometimes become loose, leading to an oil leak. The oil feed pipe is on the top, while the pipe between the sump and underside of the turbo is the return line. If the pipes are not loose, the leak may be due to a failing gasket on the oil return pipe.
When Does the Timing Belt Need Replacing on a Second Gen Trooper?
Both the petrol and diesel engines use a timing belt/cambelt instead of a chain, so it is important to make sure that it has been replaced. Depending on the engine, the recommended service interval for the belt does change:
- 2-litre petrol engines – 120,000 km (72,000 miles) or every 8 years
- 5-litre petrol engines – 160,000 km (100,000 miles) or every 8 years
- 0 and 3.1-litre diesel engines – 100,000 km (62,000 miles) or every 8 years
The 3.2-litre petrol engine is a non-interference engine as are 3.5-litre engines produced up until 2004. From 2004 onwards, Troopers were sold with a different 3.5-litre V6 engine that is an interference engine. Both the diesel power units are interference engines as well.
If the belt breaks or slips on an interference engine it can lead to catastrophic damage, so make sure the belt has been replaced. Sometimes the damage won’t be too bad, but it is pretty much impossible to tell unless you open the engine up. If you are happy with the risk of buying a Trooper with a broken timing belt and can get it fixed at a reasonable price, it can be a good way to get a massive discount on one of these cars (do not overpay however as the repair costs could be very, very high).
If you are looking at a Trooper/Bighorn that is well overdue for a timing belt replacement and you want to purchase the car, make sure you use that to get a good discount and get the belt replaced as soon as possible.
Along with the timing belt, it is generally recommended that you replace the tensioner, pulleys, and water pump. Some owners also like to replace the valves and engine hoses as well.
A failure here can lead to some pretty catastrophic consequences, so make sure everything is working as intended.
If you find that the Isuzu you are test driving overheats, it could be a sign of a water pump failure. Sometimes if the water pump has failed you may not notice overheating problems unless you go for a longer test drive, so try to get some good driving time in the Trooper/Bighorn.
A good way to test if the water pump is functioning correctly is to turn the heaters onto full when the Trooper is up to temperature. You should get a good blast of hot air. If the pump is functioning correctly, the hot air should continue. However, if you notice that the temperature of the air goes down noticeable it is a sign that the water pump has failed as fluid is not being forced through the system.
Other things that may indicate that the pump is failing include high-pitched whining noises or chuffing sounds.
If the water pump has failed it is generally recommended that you replace the timing belt as well.
This can be quite a common problem, so watch out for a temperature gauge that doesn’t work properly. Most of the time the needle will be on the cooler side of the temperature gauge if the thermostat has failed. If the thermostat is sitting on the higher end of the spectrum it is more likely to be another failure such as the water pump that is causing the car to overheat.
Have a good look for any coolant leaks and sniff around the engine bay. If you get a whiff of something sweet smelling it could be a sign that there is a coolant leak somewhere in the system.
Check the expansion tank for any cracks or leaks and thoroughly inspect the coolant hoses. If the hoses are hard and brittle they are more likely to leak. Watch out for any crusted coolant as well as this could be a sign of a past or present leak.
It is a good idea to check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, along with the coolant level (keep an eye out for any big changes). When you come back after a test drive, switch off the car and wait for around 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this, have another look for any coolant leaks and remember to check underneath the car as well.
Head Gasket Failure and More Serious Cooling System Problems
If the head gasket has failed and/or the head has cracked, you may notice the following issues along with overheating:
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
- White and milky oil
- Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Smell of coolant from the oil
- Sweet smelling exhaust
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- Steam from the front of the Isuzu Trooper
Head gasket failure is fixable, but the cost to do so really comes down to the severity of the issue. If the cylinder head has cracked as well, you will be looking at a much higher repair bill. We would personally avoid any Trooper or Bighorn with head gasket/cracked head issues unless we could get it for a great price and knew roughly how much it would cost to fix before purchasing it (an engine swap may be the best course of action).
Inspect the Exhaust
Have a good look at as much of the exhaust system as you can get your eyes on as a problem here could be expensive to fix. The flex pipe is a common failure point and some mechanics/shops like to charge handsomely to cut out the old one and put a new one in.
Exhaust manifold leaks are another somewhat common issue, especially on 3.1-litre diesel cars. If the manifold is leaking you will usually hear a chuffing or ticking type of noise, and possibly even some screeching from the turbo on diesel versions of the Trooper/Bighorn.
Check for any damage that may have been caused by taking the Trooper offroad. Other parts sit lower than much of the exhaust so those should take much of the brunt of any impacts, but a stray rock or tree stump could lead to exhaust damage.
Look for any areas where the exhaust may have been repaired in the past, making sure they have not been done on the cheap. Additionally, check that the exhaust is securely fastened and does not rattle around.
Surface rust on the exhaust is quite common and isn’t usually too much of an issue. However, more serious rust/corrosion problems can occur as well, especially if the car has spent a bit of time in locations with salted roads (UK for example).
Some vibrations are normal (these cars are old trucks after all), but if the Isuzu you are inspecting shakes excessively it could be down to a range of different problems. For example, if one or more of the motor mounts has gone bad you may notice the following along with excessive shaking:
- Engine movement – rev the Trooper/Bighorn and see if the engine moves excessively
- Clunking, banging or other impact sounds – could be due to engine movement, especially when shifting (could also be transmission mounts, suspension issues and more)
Alternatively, the excessive shaking could be due to something like a failed injector/problem with the ignition system. These problems aren’t too difficult to fix, but it may take a bit of time to diagnose the exact issue.
The 3.2-litre petrol engine is known to be a bit smoother than the 3.5-litre one, so keep that in mind if you are testing Troopers with either of these engines. Overall, the V6 petrol engines are known to be quite smooth, while the diesel engine options are definitely a bit rougher.
Injector Issues on 3.0 Turbo Diesel Troopers/Bighorns
The injectors and injector seals on 3.0-litre TD cars are notorious for going wrong, leading to misfiring, shaking and just general rough running. The problem was so bad that Isuzu had to issue a recall, but owners are still experiencing failing injectors to this day.
What is the Correct Idle Speed for a Second Gen Trooper?
The correct idle speed does depend on whether or not the car is a manual or automatic Trooper/Bighorn. Automatic cars tend to run slightly faster than manuals in park or neutral, but the idle speed should be roughly the same when a gear is engaged. Below we have listed the correct idle speeds for each engine:
- 0-litre and 3.1 turbo diesel – 750 to 790 rpm with a manual gearbox
- 2-litre and 3.5-litre petrol – 750 rpm (850 with air con on at idle)
As you can see, the idle speed for all of the engines fitted to the second gen Isuzu Trooper is around the same. Expect the idle speed to be just over 1,000 rpm when the car is first started, but it should drop down to the levels we listed above once warm. The idle speed should also increase around 100 to 150 rpm when the air conditioning is turned on.
Watch out for hunting idle, very low or very high idle as these problems could be caused by a range of different issues from a bad sensor (oil rail pressure sensor, throttle position sensor or mass air flow sensor for example), bad or old intake components, and much more. It will probably be very difficult to determine the exact cause of the Trooper’s idle issues during a test drive/inspection, so assume the worst and hope for the best. Keep in mind that if the idle issue was an easy fix, the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.
Oil Rail Pressure Sensor and Oil Rail Control Valve (3.0-litre TD)
Like the injectors, the oil rail pressure sensor and oil rail control valve are known to fail/go bad on 3.0-litre turbo diesel Troopers. If this has happened you may notice the following symptoms:
- Poor idle
- Car is down on power
- Increase fuel consumption
- Delayed auto changes and labouring in all gears
- Failure to start
Replacing these parts can be surprisingly expensive, so watch out for these issues.
Smoke from an Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn
Be on the lookout for smoke or steam from the Trooper or Bighorn you are inspecting. A small amount of vapour from the exhaust on engine start is perfectly fine and is usually just caused by condensation in the exhaust. Turbo diesel Troopers also sometimes produce a tiny bit of white smoke on startup as well, which isn’t something you should worry too much about.
We recommend that you get the seller to start the Trooper for you for the first time. This not only gives you the ability to see what comes out the back, but if they rev the nuts of the car when it is cold you know they probably haven’t treated it well. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke may indicate:
White smoke – As we mentioned above, a few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from an Isuzu Trooper or Bighorn’s exhaust indicates that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.
Blue/Grey smoke (can be quite light) – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, turbo issues on diesel Troopers and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the Isuzu. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).
Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.
Signs of Turbo Failure on Diesel Troopers
Turbochargers don’t last forever, so check for the following symptoms that may indicate the one on the Trooper/Bighorn you are inspecting has failed/is failing:
- Strange rumbling, whistling or high-pitched metallic sounds – when the turbocharger is at full boost (drive at a slow speed and then accelerate moderately up to high rpms).
- Distinctive blue or grey/whitish smoke – This happens when turbocharger’s housing cracks or if the internal seals become worn. The smoke will become more apparent when the turbocharger is in use, so get somebody to follow you and check while you are test driving a
- Burning lots of oil – It will be hard to get an accurate picture of this during a test drive, but try to glean some information from the owner. Some oil consumption is to be expected, especially as these cars are getting on a bit, but excessive amounts indicates a problem.
- Slow acceleration – Does the Trooper or Bighorn you are test driving feel particularly slow? If it does it could be a sign that the turbocharger is failing or has failed. Note, 3.1-litre models are quite a bit slower than 3.0-litre Troopers, but you should still notice a big difference if the turbo has failed.
- If the boost pressure comes on late – Boost comes on very early on diesel Troopers, so if you notice that it doesn’t come until later it indicates there is a problem.
- Check Engine Warning Light – Could be caused by turbo issues or something else.
3.0 vs 3.1 Turbo Diesel Engines
As we talked about earlier, the 3.0-litre engine is known to have a few issues with the injectors and some other components. The 3.1td on the other hand is known to be very reliable in comparison, however, it is down on power when compared to the other engine.
Many 3.0-litre turbo diesel Trooper/Bighorn owners don’t seem to have any problems with reliability, but there is a higher risk. Basically, if you want a bit more performance and don’t mind the added risk, the 3.0-litre engine is a better option. If you want a more reliable workhorse, the 3.1-litre engine may be the right option for you.
Engine Rebuilds, Replacements and Conversions
There is nothing wrong with a Isuzu Trooper with a rebuilt or replaced engine, as long as the work was carried out by a competent specialist or mechanic. It can be a good idea to check reviews of the place that did the rebuild or swap, to make sure they have good feedback.
If the rebuild or replacement was a home job, we would probably be a bit more cautious. While there are plenty of very competent home mechanics out there, there are also a load with more ambition than skill. You don’t want to purchase somebody else’s unfinished project (unless you want to).
Conversions between the 1998 onwards 3.2 and 3.5-litre engines is quite common as it is a relatively straightforward process. Turning pre-1998 3.2-litre engines into 3.5 ones is not recommended as the wiring harness and many other components need to be replaced, so a straight swap is usually better.
It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, a Trooper or Bighorn with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.
Another thing to keep in mind is the history of the new power unit if the car had an engine swap. While it probably won’t be possible to find out the history of the new engine, we do recommend that you try to do so.
The second generation Isuzu Trooper was available with either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed auto. Let’s start by looking at the manual transmission options.
Early Troopers/Bighorns were fitted with Isuzu’s own MUA5 manual transmission, while 1998+ manual cars were fitted with an Aisin AR5 five-speed transmission. AR5 equipped Troopers are quite rare as the majority of later cars were fitted with automatic transmissions.
Don’t worry too much about what manual transmission is fitted to the Isuzu you are looking at, as both the MUA5 and the AR5 are known to be very strong and reliable. Both transmissions should easily last 320,000 km plus (200,000 miles) if they are maintained well.
The main advantage of the AR5 is if you are wanting to convert from the 4L30 automatic to a manual transmission. This is because the transfer case from the auto bolts right onto the back of the AR5 and the manual transmission has the same body length as the 4L30, which means no drive line swaps are needed as the rear mounts are in the same location. One other benefit of the AR5 is that they are easier to repair as there are more spare parts available for them.
When to comes to actually testing the transmission, listen out for any whining noises. If you do it could a sign of a range of different problems. Here are a few tests you can do that will help you determine what could be causing the whining:
- Put the car in neutral and let off the clutch. Rev the car a bit and then listen out for any whining noises that may increase or decrease with the change in engine speed. If you do hear any such noises it could indicate that a bearing on one of the transmission shafts has gone bad.
- While you are driving, put the Trooper into neutral and let off the clutch as you coast to a stop. If you notice that the whining noise falls with the speed of the wheels it could be the output shaft in the transmission or the first synchro gears in the transfer case. This is because these components are the only things that are still spinning.
Check how the transmission shifts as if it is really loose or sloppy it is a sign of a problem. If the transmission pops out of gear under load it could indicate a range of different issues from a low fluid level to even something like a bad transmission or motor mount. The transmission will probably be a bit stiff when cold, but it should loosen up as the car warms
Synchro wear can occur, so check for any graunching or grinding on up shifts and downshifts. Synchros will eventually go bad as they are a wear item, but here are some things that can increase the rate of wear:
- Poor quality shifts
- Repeated hard driving/thrashing
- Clutchless shifting
- Worn shifter bushings
Clutches should last anywhere from around 100,000 to 160,000 km (62,000 to 100,000 miles). However, this can depend on how the Trooper you are looking at has been treated and driven.
Clutch Engagement – The first step is to make sure the engagement is good. To do this put the Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn you are inspecting into gear on a level surface and let the clutch out slowly. It should engage around 7 to 10 cm (2.5 to 4 inches) from the floor. Engagement that is early or too late indicates a problem.
Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.
Clutch Drag – Get the Isuzu Trooper on a flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor (do this while you are stationary). Rev the car hard (once it is warm) and see If it moves. If the car does move, the clutch is not disengaging when you shift and parts will wear prematurely.
Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated.
Unlike the MUA5 and AR5 manual transmissions, the 4L30 automatic isn’t known for being bullet proof. It is famed for having pretty poor reliability on all the cars it was fitted to, so if the Trooper you are looking at is fitted with one it should be one of your biggest concerns. On average, the automatic transmission fitted to the second gen Trooper seems to last around 200,000 to 300,000 km (124,000 to 186,000 miles), but this does depend on servicing and how the car has been driven.
Do a general check of the transmission during a test drive to make sure everything is working as intended. Make sure you test all of the positions (drive, reverse, overdrive etc.) and make sure shifts are smooth. Rebuilding these transmissions is quite a skill, so if you do encounter a problem it could be a nightmare to fix. Sometimes a transmission fluid flush and change will sort the problem, but don’t assume that it will!
A very common cause of transmission issues with the 4L30 on second gen Troopers/Bighorns is the switch mounted on the shifter linkage. This switch tells the transmission ECM what gear is selected and if it goes wrong you will experience all sorts of shifting issues. One sign of this problem is if the gear indicator lights on the dash don’t match what the gearbox is actually in.
If the transmission won’t shift out of first gear it could be due to failing/failed shift solenoids. You can try winter mode to see if the transmission will shift as this configures the gearbox to start in third as opposed to first. If the transmission just stays in first it indicates that both shift solenoids may not be working at all or there may be some sort of other electrical problem. If winter mode works and the car goes into third it could indicate shift solenoid A (1-2/3-4) is not working correctly.
There are quite a few other issues that may cause shifting issues/failure to get out of specific gear, so really if you notice any problems we would be very cautious with buying the car.
The AW30-40LE fitted to diesel Troopers is known to be quite a bit more reliable than the 4L30 fitted to petrol models and tends to last quite a bit longer. As with petrol cars, do a general check to make sure everything is working correctly. Take the Trooper/Bighorn through the rev range and gears, listening out for any nasty whining noises that could indicate a big problem.
Make sure the transmission has been serviced every 40,000 km (25,000 miles) or so. There is a great thread on Australia4WD for servicing the 4L30 which you can view here.
Make sure you check that the Trooper goes into four-wheel drive “high” and “low” and back into rear-wheel drive. If it doesn’t it could be a sign of a problem with the front actuator (solenoids, switch, etc.) or some other issue.
You can test if the actuator is working properly by jacking the front wheels up, selecting 4WD Hi or Lo and then spinning one of the front wheels to see if the other side spins. If it doesn’t it indicates that the actuator is not engaging properly. The seller may not want you jacking up their Trooper, but if you can we suggest that you do this test.
Suspension and Steering
There are no specific issues to really watch out for here, but the steering and suspension components can take a bit of a battering with regular offroad use. Here’s a bit of a list of some things that may indicate the steering and suspension components need a bit of attention.
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping/looseness when cornering
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Grease on the outside of the CV boot – indicates that it has split
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking, rattling or creaking sounds during a test drive
- Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – CV joint, bad wheel bearing, etc.
Visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering components as possible. Watch out for any leaks, damage, or modifications. Make sure the suspension is the same on each side. For example, if the components on the right front side are much newer/different than the left front side it could indicate the Trooper has been in an accident.
Buying a Lifted Trooper/Bighorn
If you are looking at a lifted Trooper, make sure you are happy with the fact that the handling will take a hit due to less stability. This is especially important to remember in the case of an emergency where you need to quickly manoeuvre the vehicle.
Additionally, fuel economy will be reduced due to the higher rolling resistance of larger tyres and the increased overall weight of the car. Larger tyres will also be louder than the originals and can lead to premature wear of some of the cars suspension and steering components (wheel bearings, shocks, bushings, ball joints, etc.). The last thing to keep in mind is that larger tyres are usually going to be more expensive to replace.
If the Trooper/Bighorn is primarily going to be a family vehicle or commuter, a lifted car probably isn’t going to be for you (even if you think it looks cool). However, if you think you need the extra ground clearance and want to do a bit of off-roading, you may see some real benefits. Ultimately, the choice is up to you and what your needs are.
Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment
Find yourself a nice flat and straight section of tarmac to check the wheel alignment. Make sure the Isuzu Trooper runs straight with minimal wheel corrections. If the wheel alignment is bad it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear (costing you more money) and can even lead to a less safe and enjoyable driving experience. Additionally, really bad wheel alignment could be a sign of a careless owner as they should have got it sorted before putting their Trooper/Bighorn on the market.
Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.
Wheels and Tyres
With a good amount of tyre sidewall to protect the rims, we really wouldn’t except to see much if any curb damage. Troopers that are regularly used offroad may experience a bit more rim damage, so keep that in mind.
When it comes to the tyres check for the following:
- Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
- Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Trooper. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
Once again, nothing really specific here. A lot of braking issues are caused by a bad bleed, so if the pedal doesn’t feel great that could be the cause. If you notice a bit of squealing it could be a sign that the pads need to be replaced or there may be some sort of other issue.
Make sure you visually inspect the brakes for any issues such as disc damage, worn pads, corrosion, etc. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use. If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing).
When it comes to an actual test drive, make sure you try the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs, and listen out for any rumbling, squealing or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use.
A shuddering or shaking feeling through the steering wheel when you step on the brake pedal is probably a sign that one or more of the discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.
Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one).
Seized calipers can occur, so watch out for the following:
- Trooper pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
- Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
- Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
- You find that the Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn doesn’t want to move at all
- Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time
Body and Exterior
The body on second gen Isuzu Troopers is fairly tough, but problems can be expensive to repair, so check for the following:
Crash damage is going to be one of your primary concerns when looking at one of these cars. Troopers/Bighorns that have been used offroad will probably also have more bodywork issues. Here are some things to watch out for when it comes to accident damage:
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the Isuzu Trooper has been in an accident.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Trooper/Bighorn you are inspecting may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the Isuzu you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
- Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the Bighorn/Trooper you are looking at has been in an accident. This is definitely a problem to look out for if the Isuzu has been used regularly for off-roading.
- Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage
- Paint runs or overspray – Very unlikely to be a factory issue, so likely a result of a respray job.
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
A lot of sellers will try and cover up the fact that their car has been in an accident or try to downplay the severity of the incident. In some cases, you may come across somebody who claims their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.
Despite being a very serious issue, we wouldn’t necessarily walk away from an Isuzu Trooper that has been in a bit of an accident. Light to moderate damage repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is usually fine, but remember to use it to get a discount. Additionally, if you don’t mind a bit of bodywork damage then there is nothing wrong with buying a Trooper/Bighorn with a few dents here and there.
If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.
Luckily, Isuzu had a much better handle on rust issues by the time the second generation Trooper/Bighorn came around. However, these cars are quite old now and many of them do have corrosion somewhere on the body. Here are a few places watch out for:
- Rear double doors – Usually where the window frame joins the main door panel, but can happen in other places as well. Repairing this can be quite tricky if it has got out of hand.
- Base of the door pillars and along the sills – Another common place for rust to form. Check with the doors open and look around the sills as well.
- Chassis – The rear rails can rust badly, along with some other parts of the chassis. Most of the time this can be fixed, but it really depends on the severity of the issue and how thick your wallet is (unless you have a friend who is handy with a welder). Chassis rust is often caused by a lack of rustproofing or areas where rustproofing hasn’t quite reached.
- Bottom of the doors – Have a good look around the edges of the doors for any rust
- Windows – Along with the rear window, check around the other windows as well.
- Wheel arches and wheel wells – Not usually too much of an issue on second gen Troopers, but always worth checking on any car.
Rust can occur in other places as well, so check the entire car thoroughly. Remember that rust is often a much bigger problem than it first appears on the surface. While most rust issues can be fixed, it can get expensive fast.
Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on an Isuzu Trooper
- Trooper/Bighorn has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
- The Isuzu has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
- Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
- Always kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
- Old or no underseal – check to see if underseal was put on if the car was an import and that is has been reapplied on a regular basis
Japanese imports to the UK and other places where salt is applied to the roads can often experience far more severe rust issues than cars that were sold new in the country. This is because they were not sealed as thoroughly.
Looking for Rust Repairs on a Trooper
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).
Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork and keep in mind that some parts are aluminium) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
The interior trim and plastics on a second generation Trooper are pretty hardy and resistant. For example, the one in the photos in this guide has done over 300,000 km (186,000 miles) and we think it still looks pretty great.
While the interior is pretty tough, give the cabin a thorough inspection. Check the seats for any rips, stains or general wear. Replacing the seat material is possible, but it can get expensive depending on how many of the seats need to be done.
Make sure that they are nice and firm and that all of the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.
If you notice excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage it may be a sign that the Trooper has had a particularly hard life.
Make sure you check the cabin and boot/trunk for any leaks or dampness. Water can play havoc with the electronics if it gets in the wrong place, lead to rust formation and can cause nasty smells as well. Feel around the carpets and turn over the floor mats. If you see water residue on the bottom of the floor mats it could be a sign of a past of present leak. Dampness in the cabin could also be due off-roading if the driver got themselves into a bit of an unexcepted situation.
Have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Isuzu Trooper you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.
Don’t expect the car to be free of rattles and squeaks. While the second gen Trooper was much more refined than the first gen car, they are still quite rugged and many of them have done big mileage.
Electronics, Locks, Etc.
The electrical is pretty reliable, so you shouldn’t have too many concerns there unless the Trooper has been used for river crossings, etc. Do a general check to make sure the electronics work, testing the lights, radio, windows, etc.
If the Isuzu is fitted with an aftermarket alarm system make sure it is working as intended, as if they go wrong they can be a nightmare to live with and fix.
If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to a mechanic or specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase. Later models produced from 1998 onwards came with the OBD2 system, so it may be worth taking along an OBD2 scanner if you are looking at one of those Troopers.
General Car Buying Advice for a Second Gen Trooper/Bighorn
How to Get the Best Deal on an Isuzu Trooper
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for an Isuzu Trooper, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage 3.5-litre Trooper or do you not mind an early 3.2-litre car that has travelled a bit further.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Isuzu sold a fair few of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple Integra Type R if possible – While Isuzu Troopers are getting harder to come by, It is a good idea to test drive as many cars as possible This will help you determine what makes a good and what makes a bad second gen Trooper/Bighorn.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for an Isuzu Trooper for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner completely – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple second gen Troopers/Bighorns, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.
Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at an Isuzu specialist, it should be carried out by somebody competent who knows about the second gen Trooper. Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.
The service history will give you a good idea of how the Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- How are the speakers
- Is there any rust?
- Has rust been removed at any point?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Second Gen Trooper
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars (unless we could get it at an absolute bargain price). While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems or blown head gasket
- Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
- Money owing on the car
- Bad compression
- Very bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their Isuzu Trooper (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the second gen Isuzu Trooper and the model they are selling (3.5 vs 3.2, etc.)?
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Isuzu Trooper.
Importing an Isuzu Bighorn from Japan
Quite a few second gen Isuzu Bighorns were sold in Japan, so it has been a popular place to import them from.
How to Import a Second Gen Isuzu Bighorn from Japan
While importing an Isuzu Bighorn from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually relatively simple. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import Isuzu Bighorn”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.
Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.
Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:
JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.
Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.
Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.
Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!
Use a Private Importer
While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Isuzu Bighorn, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a suitable second gen Isuzu Bighorn for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.
You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.
How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work?
The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles
They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.
Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.
While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.
Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.
Use the grade to reduce the number of Isuzu Bighorns you are looking at and then use the check sheet and any additional information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).
The Auction Check Sheet
Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a particular Isuzu Bighorn and where any problems are located.
Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.
What Does the Number Grade Mean?
- Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
- Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
- Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
- Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
- Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
- Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
- Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
- Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
- Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
- Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade
As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.
The Car Map
The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.
Our Guidelines for Importing an Isuzu Bighorn from Japan
- Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
- If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
- Try to go through a private importer
- Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
- Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
- Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
- Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
- Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
- Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
- Avoid cars with unknown mileages
- Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
- Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws
Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age. This is especially so for cars that don’t meet newer emissions/environmental standards like the second gen Isuzu Bighorn.
Wrapping Up This Second Gen Isuzu Trooper Buyers Guide
The second gen Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn is a fantastic car. Good ones are getting a bit more difficult to find given the mileage and age of them, but if you do find a good one it should last you many years. If you have anything to add to this Trooper buyers guide, leave a comment and we will put it in.