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.