Congratulations, residents of Montana, or indeed any of those other big sky/big country places. Yes, you could buy a Mini Cooper S and have some fun, but your transportation options extend all the way up to a Hummer H1.

Trying to negotiate tight city streets or the genteel confines of a Whole Foods parking lot in an H1 is really not worth the bother. But out there, where the eagles soar and the buffalo roam, a four-wheel-drive beast that's seven feet wide will fit right in.

Buying one, however, takes more research than the average pre-owned vehicle. If a seller says his H1 has never been off-road, that might actually set off some warning bells. Highway mileage can be tough on Hummer drivelines. Owners who use their H1 for what it was intended (low-speed negotiation of rough terrain) have typically been more diligent in their maintenance.

Since Hummers have not been made since 2006, there will probably be issues with virtually every one that's up for sale. The trick is to go into this with your eyes open and an understanding of what work needs doing. Repairing or replacing parts on an H1 is invariably expensive. If you really are the rugged outdoorsy type and can do some of your own work, so much the better.

The front end needs particular attention. This big ol' heavy thing (the best part of four tons; the H1 is a Class 3 truck) can't help wearing out chassis parts. Check the steering for play; inspect the tires for uneven wear. Make sure the vehicle sits on its springs without leaning this way or that.

Aftermarket wheels could be a problem. Factory wheels or GT/Cepek rims are the preferred options here because other wheels don't work well with the automatic tire inflation/deflation system. They could also wreak havoc on steering geometry. Trouble is, the H1 originally ran on 16.5-inch wheels and finding the right size tires is a pain. (GT/Cepeks come in 17-inch sizes.)

Common sense dictates checking the underside of any vehicle that has gone off-road, but don't forget to look in the other direction as well. There might be rust where the steel roof joins with the aluminum body. Make sure the automatic transmission can select each of its ratios without clunking. And take tight, slow turns in both directions to see if the tires are rubbing on the bodywork.

Earlier models had a heating/air conditioning system that really didn't stand up. Some received factory upgrades. To avoid the possibility of paying over $3000 for a new unit, look at 1997.5 model years and later -- unless you don't care about heating or air conditioning.

Then there's the gasoline or diesel dilemma. Gas (a 5.7-liter V-8 available in 1995-1997 models) brings a greater likelihood of home repairs or finding a mechanic willing to get involved, plus the chance of installing a supercharger, offset by single-digit mpg away from the tarmac. The early non-turbo diesels lack muscle; turbocharged diesels from 1996 on are far more desirable. They rev slower than gas engines, offering better control going uphill and down. And they can still achieve 12 mpg off-road.

Two models stand out: the 1998 and the 2006 H1 Alpha. The former had a Torsen I differential that was ideal for rock-crawling. After 1998, the H1 had a Torsen II diff more suited to snow and loose surfaces. This modification was made necessary by the inclusion of ABS.

Looking for a 1998 in the classifieds unearthed one with 53,000 miles going for $35,000 from a private seller. A dealer wanted $39,500 for an example with 77,000 miles on the clock.

As its name suggests, the 2006 Alpha was the top dog in the H1 pack. Only thing is, it was the last and most expensive of the breed, with many exclusive parts. It has a more powerful engine (300 hp and 520 lb-ft from a 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8, as opposed to 205 hp and 440 lb-ft from the regular 6.5-liter), bigger brakes, tougher suspension, and a five-speed auto transmission.

Some other changes: the 1994 model received power accessories and an extra ratio for the transmission, bringing the count up to four. The 2004 got a new interior. Sound insulation improves gradually over the course of H1 production.

Things to look out for: Cylinder number eight of the 6.2-/6.5-liter diesel engines in 1992-2000 models has a tendency to fail. This is because of a basic design flaw in the block. In many cases, these engines have since been replaced. Maintenance and repair records are, as always, crucial.

While pulling off-road duty, mud can accumulate under the angled radiator, preventing adequate airflow. Smart owners would have kept things clear.

There are no real rivals to the H1. A Land Rover Defender or Jeep Wrangler could almost satisfy the off-roading enthusiast while offering a similar lack of comfort or cabin quietude, but few vehicles could go straight from the factory, climb a 22-inch step and wade through more than two feet of water. This is closer to Unimog territory.

Just remember that even though the body is big and tall, much of the all-wheel-drive hardware (and the full-size spare) takes up cabin space. An H1 is going to be a toy, albeit one as capable as it is pricey.


1992-2006 Hummer H1
Body type 4-door SUV (wagon/open top)
Drivetrain Front engine, AWD
Airbags Dual front
Engines 6.2L/150-hp OHV V-8 (1992-1993); 6.5L/170-hp OHV V-8 (1994-1998); 5.7L/190-hp SOHC V-8 (1995-1997); 6.5L/190-hp TD OHV V-8 (1996-1998); 6.5L/195-hp TD OHV V-8 (1999-2003); 6.5L/205-hp TD OHV V-8 (2004); 6.6L/300-hp TD OHV V-8 (2006)
Brakes, f/r Disc, disc, ABS (1998-on)
Price range, whlsl/ret (KBB) $19,225/$21,690 (1992 4WD wagon 6.2L V-8); $83,950/$88,200 (2006 Alpha 4WD 6.6L TD V-8)
Recall 2006 Alpha diesel tank assembly; tank might come into contact with universal joint on rear prop shaft (NHTSA campaign number 08V440000)
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/fr pass Not rated