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This blog by Graeme Cooper Automotive addresses solutions to customer problems. Please search the entries for issues similar to your own, OR post a new message to obtain answers from the GCA team and/or expert contributors

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Electrical gremlins – make your mechanic’s job easier and save money

A significant component of the cost of fixing faults is the diagnosis of the problem, namely which of many possible components is the culprit. A trained mechanic will invariably find the cause fairly quickly because he/she will have encountered something similar beforehand but some preliminary work by the owner will achieve several things:

  • It helps to make the driver aware of possible similar problems in the future, many of which may be very simple in origin
  • It allows the owner to describe more precisely what is wrong, so saving the mechanic’s time.
  • In many cases, the fault may be rectified by the owner, eliminating the inconvenience of having the vehicle out of action.

Start with the simple stuff

Most of the time, a broken fuse is likely to be the cause of a simple electrical failure. Of course, there will be a reason why that fuse blew but it may be as simple as vibration or water ingress in or near the failed component.

Look in the vehicle’ owner’s manual (yes it should be kept permanently in a side pocket of a door or in the glove box). The index will refer to the pages where all of the fuse numbers and their functions will be listed.  Remove the cover and locate the relevant fuse, Remove and examine it. If the internal wire is broken, just replace the fuse and test the item that had failed to work. Most of the time, it will now work correctly.

If the fuse blows again

It will be necessary to investigate what caused the fuse to blow. Again, check the simple things first, starting at the electrical item that has failed to work.

  • If this is a lamp, check the bulb (LEDs will rarely fail but incandescent or halogen bulbs are prone to failure). Remove any covers or clips to get at the bulb, look at its colour – if it is cloudy or black, that pretty much identifies a failure. If it looks OK, remove it carefully (use a tissue or latex glove – not bare fingers that will deposit acid onto the surface)
  • First use the multimeter switched to ohms to check if there is a a circuit between the fitting and any earth point (any metal part of the body should do). If you cannot get a zero reading, you have a bad earth – generally requiring nothing more than abrading the surface of the contacts. Check again to see if the lamp is working.
  • LOOK carefully at all of the wiring between the failed item and any relay or the battery. If there is a burnt or frayed wire, you have found the source of your problem and can probably fix it temporarily with nothing more complicated than some electrical tape. However, do NOT assume this is a permanent solution – the defective wire MUST be replaced properly
  • If that has not eliminated the problem, fit a new fuse if necessary and turn on the relevant switch. With your test probe (see below) check to see if there is power to the bulb. If so, you have identified the bulb as the culprit. If not, you will have to work your way up the wiring until you get a live power supply. The problem will then almost certainly be a worn or broken wire.
  • Remember that many circuits only become active when the ignition is ON (the horn may be an exception). For this reason, put the ignition into the “accessory” position before making this test and/or start the vehicle and turn the headlights on. It may be necessary to check with the lights both on “high” and “low” depending on how the failed lamp becomes active.
  • WARNINGS – Do not probe any wires connected to the air bag or the ECU to avoid creating further damage. Also do not touch any wire with your fingers OR “short” any two components. All you want to do is determine if there is power. This is the advantage of the test probe over the multimeter because it requires only a single point of contact for the test. With a meter, you need to put one probe onto the “hot” wire and the other onto ground (an earth point)

Please remember. Reading this article will NOT turn you into a professional auto electrician. Stick with simple stuff to make jury repairs to get you home. Then take the vehicle to an expert as soon as possible.

The complete version of this article, with suggestions on what tools are suggested, also more on relays and wiring is available on the main desktop version of the website – note that a mobile phone version of the site does NOT have links to articles or other high-content material

Getting advice on forums

It would be fair to say that the vast majority of contributors on specialist forums are very knowledgeable and well-intentioned.  Based on their own experiences they post answers to questions from other forum members in a sincere attempt to help solve problems. The person asking the question is generally looking for practical advice on an unusual issue, or perhaps concern about being ripped off by an unscrupulous repairer.

Frequently, the advice provided by other members is excellent, practical, but also free. However, the problem is that over time, the most vocal individuals assume positions of dominance across various topics, regardless of whether they actually have the skills and experience relevant to the topic. So it pays to check other post by the same contributor to assess the relevance and quality of their advice.

The same applies to administrators/moderators who may excellent administrative abilities but it is equally important for them to possess the qualities of open-mindedness toward the experience of others and sufficient practical knowledge and/or technical backup to be able to differentiate between correct and incorrect advice. The point is that most advice provided on a forum or blog is valid especially when moderated by genuine experts, even if they are “only” other members who patently have the relevant experience.

It must be said that in the case of the Graeme Cooper forum/blog, all content is checked and approved by the technical experts before it is posted. There have been occasional arguments about what may or may not be posted but this is generally confined to situations where the writer has engineered his own solution that works, but is not an “approved” procedure. That is only fair as the workshop must not be considered responsible for non-standard “fixes.”

Emergency and dual battery systems for Land Rovers

Whether it is for a trip to the snow, where the extreme cold can kill a starting battery literally overnight OR for backup at any time, the latest type of emergency starter packs are virtually essential. These range from “cheap and cheerful” units to seriously professional models, but if getting out of trouble in some remote location is considered, the latter are truly worth the extra money. GCA do not supply these units but will recommend one that will suit your particular needs and vehicle.

The second battery option

Anyone adventurous enough to use an electric winch running from the starting battery OR plug a fridge or other high-current demanding appliance into an existing lighter socket and leave it running overnight can pretty well be assured that the vehicle will not start in the morning. A current draw of 5 amps for a 12V fridge is not uncommon. Even cycling at 50% in 12 hours this means 30 amps of battery power has been used.

Starting batteries are designed to deliver high current for a very short time so when subjected to demand over a long period, the battery life will be seriously and adversely affected. What is needed is a deep cycle battery, designed to deliver lesser current over a long period and be capable of effective recharging..

On older vehicles – like the Classic Range Rover and Discovery 1, fitting a charge-splitter was a reasonably straightforward job, requiring the addition of an isolator unit to separate the two batteries. The better units offered automatic monitoring of battery state to direct the charge to whichever one needed it. They combine diode protectors and solenoids, a large heat-sink and are relatively easy to install.

Vehicles after about 2000

NEVER attempt a DIY solution. Every vehicle model is different and wiring in the wrong equipment can mean disaster because the installation on these models is usually complex

Consideration must be made for the existing circuitry because even if the computer controlling the vehicle-charging is adjustable, a “one size fits all” arrangement is hardly ever appropriate. The wrong setup will mean at best, the second battery is never charged to its full capacity or in a worse-case scenario means an ineffective setup can kill the computer.

This is especially the case with 2010 and later models (both common rail diesel and petrol engines) fitted with variable voltage alternators that will output a voltage anywhere from 12.3V to 15V. For this reason it may not charge either the starting or the second battery effectively. It also may apply too high a voltage and shorten the life of the auxiliary battery.

Graeme Cooper Automotive will not only help you to select the appropriate system for your particular vehicle, but will install it professionally and safely.

Where to put the second battery

Up to and including the Discovery 3 and Classic Range Rover models, it is possible to fit a second battery in the engine bay, though this may mean selecting a small sized unit and invariably repositioning some components. In later vehicles, the only real option is to locate the second battery in the load space at the rear of the vehicle, though this means losing some effective storage space and running long cables. The second battery must be located in an accessible position and it must be firmly secured to prevent it from being thrown around or turned over.

In conclusion

The emergency starter pack is the best all round solution for most situations, but if serious long range trips involve running a 12V fridge OR if an electric winch is used frequently, the installation of a dual battery system may be a worthwhile investment.

Consulting GCA is strongly recommended

Common problems with Range Rover Sport we have rectified

An annoying “chirping” noise when engine at idle was fixed by changing the drive belt idler pulley to a later type

If the parking brake fails to release reject any attempt by a mechanic or tow truck operator to cut the cable because this will invariably cause failure of the control module. That is completely unnecessary because there is an emergency release under console near the hand brake switch.

A knocking sound from the front suspension at low speed, also when applying the foot brake proved to be worn lower suspension arm bushes. Rather than just replace the bushes  – a complicated procedure, GCA replace the complete arm assembly prior to a 4 wheel alignment to prevent uneven wear on tyres.

 

Land Rover LIghting Upgrade options

Around the mid 2000’s vehicle technology took a huge leap – not necessarily forwards but certainly into the realm of complexity, Things you could do to a vehicle built any time between the 70s and around 2005 are just no longer possible due to the electronics and computers in the latter. These issues are covered below.
Because every vehicle is essentially built to a price and market niche, only the top models are likely to have the best lighting available at the time of build and even that tended to favour cosmetic appearance over practicality.

Pre 2005 options
Tweaking the lighting on pre-2005 models is relatively straightforward but the starting point is an objective appraisal of what is needed for the intended driving conditions. Let’s face it, many of the available upgrades are essentially cosmetic and not everyone wants something that looks like a rally car that got lost in the city. Also, if most driving is done on main roads, expressways and major highways, the standard lighting is usually adequate..
If driving on “B” or bush roads, however, effective lighting takes on an entirely new meaning. Anyone who does this regularly will know the perils of having a fallen tree, a big ‘roo, a wombat, or even a cow in the road ahead and the sooner the danger is seen, the better chance of evasive action.
Wiring a pair of 150W lights into the existing loom is a recipe for burning out the wiring, killing the battery or both. Lights must be installed with separate fuses and relays to perform effectively and safely. Also, the switching must be arranged so the lights can be turned on only when the main beam is activated, so this involves locating a switched wire in the loom to power the relay. However tempting it may be to have the lights wired to work on low or high beam, this is illegal, as well as potentially dangerous. You do not want the spots to turn on when the vehicle is travelling in traffic. The location of the various wires will vary from vehicle to vehicle and guessing at a solution may cause more trouble than paying the cost of professional installation, Also, one light pointing into the trees while the other highlights the potholes is interesting, but not desirable.
Spots, pencils, floods, fogs and other toys
The availability of 12V LED lighting has completely changed the ability to get excellent, reliable daylight-quality lighting onto your vehicle. Many of these come as complete kits that include the relays, switch and wiring. Graeme Cooper Automotive supplies the THUNDER brand of LED lights
Pencil beams and spots are excellent for long-range vision but are not of much use for general illumination close up. Conversely, floods will provide good close-up illumination, but not much range. An effective compromise it to fit one of each, suitably aligned for maximum effectiveness OR a dual layer LED light bar will do both but these need to be mounted (legally) onto a bar
Driving with fog lights is illegal other than in appropriate conditions. They need completely separate wiring, in this case (only) with the ability to turn on with low beam. The fitted position should be as low as possible to minimise glare.

Other options
The simplest upgrade will be new bulbs, with a wide range of choices including LED, halogen or quartz-iodine bulbs to replace the existing bulbs. For some models, a replacement sealed-beam assembly could be an effective solution.

Seeking expert advice from specialists familiar with your model of vehicle is strongly recommended. The Graeme Cooper team includes experienced drivers who have tackled everything including the outback, mountains, beaches, snow, ice, mud and country roads.

Land Rover after about 2005
As noted above, vehicle technology changed dramatically with the “L” series and “Sport” Range Rovers and with the Discovery 2. The electronics in these vehicles are far more complex than earlier models and it would be foolish for any owner to attempt to add after-market lights or even to change the existing headlamps. Just finding the switched wires to activate the relays can be a major challenge, but far more critically, many of the vehicle’s functions are computer controlled, so it is all too easy to damage one of these systems.
Graeme Cooper Automotive personnel are not only expert in recommending and fitting lighting upgrades, but are personally experienced in extensive road and off-road trips that they can provide practical and cost-effective advice to meet each owner’s specific requirements.

Trip Preparation

Graeme Cooper Automotive experts are frequently asked what spares to take on an extended trip. While we certainly could compile a list and supply a kit of the most likely components, there are too many well-documented stories of trips being undertaken with loads of spare parts, only to have the one item for which no part is carried being the cause of a major problem. Additionally, consideration must be given to the tools needed and the mechanical (and increasingly the electronic) knowledge and skill of the driver or crew. The simple question is “where do you stop”?
There is no substitute for a professional pre-trip inspection. A really competent mechanic with extensive experience of the marque will have the specialist knowledge of what to look for on each vehicle type and model.
By identifying when components and systems have failed, or are nearing the end of their effective life, they can be replaced and/or spares provided, thus eliminating many potential problems that otherwise might occur.

Common spares & back-up equipment

Of course, there will always be “common sense” items to carry – mostly those that could fail or be damaged regardless of how well the vehicle is prepared in advance. The following list is by no means complete, but covers most of the basics:

Spare battery: Any battery more than 12 months old is suspect and the workshop should change it before you depart. Either way, a spare is cheap insurance

Air filter: An essential item if you will be driving on dirt/gravel or sand

Oil filter: Depending upon the planned length of the trip, an oil change will be highly desirable and having the correct filter will make things much easier

Fuel filters: Blockages are not as uncommon as many believe, best to be prepared

Silicone “rescue” tape can be used successfully to repair radiator hoses and this will save having to carry all the various hoses that could potentially fail.  However, the workshop will inspect the hoses and change any that are defective.

Set of fan belts: Ditto

Spare rims & tyres. Anyone going far from home and/or your regular tyre service should seriously consider carrying TWO spare (full size) wheels. Never assume some rural tyre service will carry your size and brand

Tyre repair kit. Might be overkill if carrying two spare wheels but for serious off-road travel, having a repair kit (and knowing how to use it) can literally save lives.

Engine & gear oil: Take whatever grade your vehicle needs

Transmission & brake fluid: Ditto

Water: As much as you can carry safely

Radiator sealer

Fuses

Headlamp & other bulb replacements

Brake pads

SHOULD YOU SELL OR REFURBISH YOUR LAND ROVER?

So what do you have now?

Let’s face it – you have spent a fortune on the vehicle you currently drive but the time will come when some serious refurbishment is due OR this vehicle has to be replaced

Consider that the cost of a replacement vehicle, registration, transfer costs and, in particular financing the purchase may be significantly greater than the cost of refurbishment. It all comes down to what the vehicle is worth to you and what is the overall condition. While there is little point in spending thousands on something that will never hold its value, if the vehicle is a rare model and/or is in generally good condition a refurbishment can easily be justified. This is especially true if the work and cost can be spread over months or even years.

Some jobs are more cost-effective than others

Bodywork options are limitless, ranging from wet-sanding and buffing the existing finish through to a complete new paint job.
Plastic trims can be given a serious lift in appearance by applying water-transfer (hydrographic) printing. The process requires sanding, priming, applying a film of your choice, and clear-coating. The results are like magic (This author had all interior trims of a P38 re-finished in burl walnut adding thousands to the eventual sale price of the vehicle).
Headlining, carpets etc can be replaced, Seats can be changed or re-trimmed. Suspension and steering can be repaired or upgraded, sound systems upgraded and so on

Engine work is a more serious matter

Rebuilding an early diesel engine is going to cost far more than an old vehicle is worth but maybe (just maybe) it may be feasible to change the engine if something compatible is available as a donor unit
If the cost of running your petrol V8 exceeds that of a politician claiming entitlements, changing a 3.5 unit for a 3.9 or even a 4.6 may be worthwhile, but not cheap. A reputable specialist Land Rover shop (not a dealer) will occasionally get an known engine from a vehicle they have serviced for years. It is a classic case of the “devil you know” versus something you buy without any real knowledge of the history. Though an engine swap is not cheap, it will be worthwhile if the rest of the vehicle is a trusted item.

Aesthetics & technology

Probably the worst reason for changing vehicles is that yours is no longer “cool” compared to the later vehicles driven by your peers. It lacks the latest styling, ultra low profile tyres on wheels that would struggle getting into the Coles car park, let alone into the mountains. The other consideration is the ongoing march of technology into every vehicle. A 10-15 year old car is generally easier to fix than a later model.

Some simple upgrades
Leather electric seats
Two-tone paint
Long range fuel tank
New light lenses
Side-steps
Light Bar

Do this first

Take the emotion out of the decision as much as possible. Do your homework by checking prices being paid for vehicles like the one you already own. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much yours is worth if it is in top condition.
Then – and this is the most important advice of all, GET A “PRE-PURCHASE” INSPECTION on your current vehicle. A specialist workshop will give you an honest appraisal of its condition and the approximate cost of any repair work.
Then, if you are really going to replace the vehicle, ALSO get a pre-purchase check on the new one. See the separate article on the website www.graemecooper.com.au explaining how that works.

Conclusions

It certainly is a dilemma and ultimately, it will be a lifestyle decision as much as a financial one. Only you can decide what the vehicle is actually worth to you, regardless of the street value.

Always get a pre-purchase check

When considering the purchase of a second-hand Land Rover (or any other vehicle for that matter) the value of a pre-purchase check cannot be overstated. Do NOT get this done by a mate, or the local friendly service station. Go to a Land Rover expert shop and pay the money. The cost might seem like a lot, but it is nothing compared to the potential cost if you buy something with problems you do not discover until afterwards.  However, be warned that even the best of specialists cannot diagnose every problem, even if potentially major.

Be sure to drive the vehicle in as wide a range of conditions as possible just to satisfy yourself that the vehicle is not obviously defective – things like serious steering shakes, suspension, brakes and water in the footwells. Check the bottom of the door frames and any other readily accessible areas to detect rust. That will be about as far as you can go yourself without applying tools. If the vehicle passes these simple tests, insist on taking it to a specialist for a more complete check. If the seller refuses, walk away.

The value of being suspicious

It is better to be difficult to please, than to be destitute. Assume the worst then whatever actually happens will be a pleasant surprise:

  • Serious RUST is the number one reason to reject a vehicle. The alloy bodies on Land Rovers are commonly fixed to steel frames and it the latter that rust – sometimes beyond easy repair. A vehicle that has been driven on sand can be an absolute rust bucket and will literally be un-roadworthy. Door frames, sills and the floor are most common areas of serious rust.
  • When test-driving the vehicle, consider that ANY and every noise, vibration or misfire is worth serious attention.
  • Vibration or wandering steering could be tyre damage, a bearing, worn bushes or a cracked universal joint.
  • Blowing smoke is not a good idea. If it is black, the injectors need work, or replacement. If blue, a new set of rings and bearings can cost thousands
  • Overheating can mean many things, from a viscous coupling on the fan, a blocked radiator, defective thermostat or a blown head gasket (plus several other causes). However, some overheating problems may not be detected until the vehicle is pushed hard, like steep uphill climbs –something a pre-purchase check may not reveal. This is especially true of early diesel engines that take a long time to get to normal operating temperature. Be sure to test it yourself under these conditions.
  • Heater hoses that are hardening, or coolant hoses softening should be considered minor but necessary repair jobs
  • Loss of coolant means trouble. It can only go two places – onto the ground via a busted hose, leaking radiator, worn water pump etc OR through the engine. The latter is by far the more expensive fix, usually involving head and/or valley gaskets.
  • Water on the floor of the car may be rainwater coming through a sunroof or window but more likely, a blown heater hose or heater core. The parts to fix these problems are cheap, but the labour time to fix them is frightening
  • Cutting out at traffic lights could mean several things, mostly expensive to fix. The modern vehicle is highly complex and repairs can be very costly.
  • If the vehicle has air suspension, don’t believe it is just a leaking air-spring. It could be, but it might also be the valve block, compressor and/or EAS computer.
  • Braking must be smooth and efficient. Pulling one way might be a worn pad, but it might also be a leaking hub seal or ball joint. If there are nasty noises, assume that the disks (rotators) need replacing or maybe a calliper is broken.
  • If the air conditioning doesn’t work, it is not as simple as topping up the gas. There has to be a reason. With luck it will be a loose junction or worn O-ring, but it could be the compressor and if it is an old system, it will need a complete overhaul and new parts..

Emotion versus science

Be suspicious of massive suspension lifts, ultra wide tyres, roof-bars with a zillion driving lights and so on.  These may just be urban-cowboy enhancements, but it might also mean a hard life. That is not a reason to reject the vehicle if it has been well maintained, but once again, assume the worst.

Of course, you will want to customise your new vehicle. However, be careful of spending money on upgrades until ALL of the essentials have been done. Never kid yourself that the purchase price will cover everything that is needed. If you get the vehicle at a reasonable price, it is prudent to spend a bit more money with a professional Land Rover specialist to ensure it is safe and totally roadworthy.

Genuine vs aftermarket parts

“Genuine” parts are inevitably more costly than aftermarket ones, even if they appear to be identical. Legal liability is the absolute fundamental issue underscoring parts selection. In the event of a component failure, the results may vary from minor annoyance to life threatening peril.
Trivial versus non-trivial components
Only a professional workshop has the knowledge and experience to decide which components meet this fundamental criterion. They will also know when an after-market part is actually better than the original and is non-critical for safety and operational reasons. In some cases, the after-market part may be better designed and more robust than the OEM version. After all, technology improves and difficult-to-fit parts may be redesigned for easier installation Therefore, the legal liability aspects may not apply to some components, but it is the experience of the specialist that is critical. Sourcing your own parts then expecting the workshop to fit them is absurd. No professional shop is going to take the risk
It is also worth considering that every vehicle is built to a price and market niche. The engineers and accountants will inevitably have different views not only on the level of inclusions, but also on the cost of each and every component. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) may source parts for virtually anywhere but they have the responsibility of testing, ensuring compatibility with other vehicle components and above all, the effect on vehicle warranty.
Some examples
For critical systems, engine, drive train and brakes are just some of the vehicle components where OEM parts are essential, not the least for the warranty and legal liability issues described above. It does not matter where the OEM sourced the part, it complies with manufacturer specifications and warranty.
Conversely, suppliers like Maxidrive, Bilstein, Hella, IPF, Haltech and others provide components that are tried and tested, with years of satisfactory service. Their products often out-perform the OEM versions because they are engineered for performance, not just price.
Best advice
The law makes independent workshops accountable, but accepting substitute parts from any unqualified supplier is seriously bad policy. Specifically, the Graeme Cooper team includes qualified experts who know exactly what best suits the circumstances.

Tyre inner tubes

Virtually all tyres are now fitted without inner tubes but this does not mean they should be considered obsolete. Also, unless you have owned the vehicle for a considerable time, it is entirely possible that a previous owner had one or more tyres fitted with tubes to overcome the problem of a sightly damaged rim or a cracked tyre wall and so on.

In an extreme case where you are forced to effect a repair yourself, a tube might be your lifeline. This is not as silly as it might sound. It will not be the first time that TWO punctures occur on a bad stretch of country gravel road when you only have ONE spare. In country like that, it is wise to be prepared for the worst and just having repair plugs may not be enough.

Even if you are not that far from a town when a problem occurs, the local tyre dealer may not carry your brand or size of tyre, so unless the damage is beyond any repair, having an inner tube handy might save you having to purchase a different brand of tyre just to keep you mobile.  Constant 4WD vehicles must NOT have different sized tyres so you may be forced to change all four – an expensive fix when there may be a cheaper solution. A patch and an inner tube will probably get you home, or at least to a dealer who can match the other tyres already on the vehicle.

A final note about valves. It is now standard to use those round plastic covers over the valve stem and they do NOT have the tool requires to remove and replace a valve. Most auto-accessory shops sell valve tools or you may be able to buy or scrounge one from a friendly tyre dealer to carry in your tool kit. Like many tools, you may never need to use it, but if you do, virtually no other tool will do the job!