Transport of choice for self-preservationists in most of the world’s trouble spots, the Toyota Land Cruiser has earned such a reputation for reliability and indestructibility that granite and cockroaches look on in envy. And if you’re considering what tow car to buy next and you need a tough, heavy, affordable vehicle, a used Toyota Land Cruiser cannot be overlooked.

Unlike many rivals, it retained an old-school separate X-frame chassis. The 2003-2009 incarnation we’re looking at here retained all the old virtues but brought a swoopy-headlamped modern face, more comfort and more electronic hardware.

The Land Cruiser was offered in three- and five-door form, but the overwhelming preference in the UK – around 95% – was for five doors. It’s a similar story with engines: about 3% of those sold in Britain had petrol V6s, most dealer-demonstrators. The rest are diesel-powered. A downside is that the Land Cruiser’s go-anywhere credentials have left the ride on the bouncy side, and there’s a fair bit of body roll in corners.

This generation of Land Cruiser was launched in 2003 with the choice of a 161bhp 3.0 diesel four-cylinder with a hefty 253lb ft of torque, or a 245bhp petrol V6. The latter came only with a four-speed automatic gearbox and just in five-door form. The diesel version could also be had with a five-speed manual ’box and as a three-door that is 18in shorter.

The base spec was LC2, though even that got alloys, air conditioning, multiple airbags, electric windows and hill-start assist. LC3s added permanent four-wheel drive, while the LC4 got leather seats and climate control. The LC5 gained a touchscreen sat-nav, electronically controlled suspension and other toys.

The LC2 was dropped in May 2004 and a revamped diesel was introduced five months later. It promised 164bhp, 302lb ft of torque and 2-4mpg better economy, paired to a six-speed manual or five-speed auto ’box.

In December 2006, the engines gained more power and lower emissions, thus reducing road tax. The diesel now put out 170bhp and the same torque.

Around this time, the Invincible made its debut. It trumped the LC5 with heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass and DVD screens in the back of the headrests. The Invincible proved so popular that it replaced the LC5 as the range-topper in October 2007.

In February 2008, the petrol engine was dropped due to lack of interest. The final revision came in May 2009, when the adoption of a low-viscosity differential oil cut emissions by a VED band, from L to K, almost halving its road tax.

A key factor in picking up a good Land Cruiser is discerning what kind of life it has led. Any that did a lot of off-roading are more likely to suffer from mechanical issues – or corrosion – down the line. Be ready to get grubby and check the underside, because it can tell you a lot. Dents, scrapes and fresh underseal are telltales of hard times, as are marks on or repairs to the valances.

On those with automatic gearboxes, budget for a new radiator, unless the service history shows it has already been done. If not, do it sooner rather than later. The radiator contains the transmission cooler, and once cars are around seven years old, they are prone to cracking; this allows engine coolant to seep in, which can destroy the transmission. A new rad is only about £190 plus fitting, so it’s good insurance to change it.

Under the car, check the state of the alloy air-conditioning pipes, which take refrigerant to the rear of the cabin. If not regularly coated with some kind of inhibitor, they’ll corrode. Replacing them and recharging the system can cost £2000.

Ensure that the car sits level on flat ground because rear suspension struts and ride-height sensors have reportedly failed. Neither is cheap to fix and it could encourage someone to sell rather than pay the bill.

It’s not that common, but there have been problems with fuel injectors, so be certain that the engine runs smoothly and the car idles without vibration.

As some owners have remarked, the Land Cruiser is better when given serious work to do, such as towing, rather than pootling around town. If you are looking for a serious tow car, able to pull anything anywhere, this has to be on the shortlist. It does its job perfectly, without that niggling worry about when it might decide to stop doing so – just as with a Discovery. It’s also remarkable how many Land Cruisers stay with their first owners for upwards of 10 years.

What you need to know

How much will a used Toyota Land Cruiser cost? The good news is they hold their value well, but it does mean you’ll struggle to find bargains. Even the ropiest can still fetch £5500. Prime stock, with proper history and less-than-average mileage, starts at around £7500. If you want the really top stuff — under 10 years old and less than six digits on the clock, expect to pay £10,000 or more. The most recent command £20,000 if perfect, and a bit more for the revered Invincible. All this applies to diesel models. If you want and can find a petrol Land Cruiser, prices are roughly 15% lower.

Now for some vital figures (for a 2007 Land Cruiser LC4 auto):

  • Kerbweight 1990kg
  • Towing limit 2800kg
  • Towball limit 130kg
  • 85% match 1692kg

How much is a towball? Speaking to PF Jones, a Witter flange towbar is £109.77 and a Westfalia detachable towbar is £201.53, fitting extra. And what about servicing? Servicing Stop quoted us £126 for an interim service and £180 for a full service (for all models).