There are a number of reasons why Land Rover had built up a reputation for poor build quality. Some of the reasons are justified whereas others may lift an eyebrow or two. Lets first start with one of those …
Now, most offroad enthusiasts know that there is a bitter rivalry between Toyota owners and Land Rover owners. If you ever mention the word “Defender” in front of a die-hard Land Cruiser owner, you better have your running shoes on. Much of the poor reputation of Land Rover is a fiction spun by people who have never even been behind the wheel of a Defender.
Of, course the brand-bashing also goes in the other direction, as depicted by the sticker on the Defender below.
The justified reasons
Land Rover made poor choices, especially with three models over the years. These vehicles tarnished the reputation of Land Rover for many years to come.
Range Rover Classic and P38
Image credit: Used car buying guide: Range Rover P38 | Autocar
In the Top Gear Bolivia special Jeremy Clarkson remarked that his vehicle had the reputation for being the most unreliable car in the world. Oddly enough, all three presenters agreed at the end of the show that the Range Rover performed the best out the three vehicles that they had selected.
So where does the reputation come from? The Classic had relatively simple electronics but the P38 started to bash new ways into motoring technology as far as electronics go. It also sported air suspension, a feature that left more than one owner stranded next to the road.
Land Rover also started to put a different type of coolant in their vehicles and subsequently, some of the V8 engine blocks started to slip liners due to bore corrosion.
The general consensus seems to be that if you choose to own an early Range Rover, you better know a mechanic that understands and loves these vehicles.
Image credit: Land Rover Freelander | Junk Mail
I used to work with a young lady that had her heart set on buying a small 4×4 as she loved to go on holiday in Mozambique. She asked me to help her make a decision. Her first choice was was a Pajero IO. Unfortunately, the ones we could find for sale were all rather long in the tooth and we were both wary of her buying a beaten-up piece of scrap.
I suggested that she consider a Disco 1 – lots of car for the money and there were some viable prospects on Autotrader. I knew someone on our local 4×4 Community forum that did a million kilos in his Disco and he raved about the truck. She didn’t like the idea of such a big vehicle though and after that, the conversation kinda went dead.
About a month later she shyly confessed that she had purchased her car. Upon asking she said that it was a Freelander 1 and then she immediately became defensive, listing reasons why it was the ideal purchase. It was bought from a trusted family member who just had the gearbox overhauled and this family member would never cheat her.
Famous last words … the last time I spoke to her she just meekly remarked that the car had been in a couple of times for repairs. One of our mutual friends told me later that the car had been with different mechanics for the largest part of the year that had gone by. She ended up spending more on repairs than the purchase price of the car. And the end was not yet in sight with repairs …
I think this was the typical experience for many Freelander 1 owners. It appears that anything that can go wrong with these cars does tend to go wrong.
Image credit: File:2004 Land Rover Discovery 3 TDV6 HSE 2.7 Front.jpg
The first Disco was almost as rugged as the Defender but it provided a more luxurious ride. They completed the Camel trophy in Discos, after all. Then came the Disco 3 TDV6. Hailed all around as a luxury SUV that is still a capable offroad vehicle, many people bought this model.
Then the problems started. The offroad forums filled threads with countless pages of the dreaded Disco 3 crank failure. Eventually, the vehicle earned a reputation as a ticking timebomb – without warning the crankshaft would break and thereby destroy the engine. If you were fortunate enough to buy one of these cars that were out of warranty, the engine transplant procedure could set you back with a repair bill that equalled the purchase price.
Sadly Land Rover does not feature well in consumer indexes with their current line-up. Perhaps the new Defender will change that but it is still too soon since the release of the vehicle to tell.
Even the final incarnation of the classic Defender, the Puma, was not well received. Numerous factory recalls tarnished the owner’s experience and there were complaints all around about the Ford engine under the hood. I have seen a number of forum members expressing their regret that they “upgraded” from a Tdi or Td5 to a Puma.
Which are the Land Rover gems then?
Surely, Land Rover could not stay in business for decades if all their vehicles were crap? And why would there be such a loyal following if they consistently produced below-par products?
Disco 1 & 2
Think of one of the most challenging endurance offroad contests ever concocted. Think of mud and forest and snakes and a million other things that are out to get you.
Think of the Camel Trophy.
Do I need to say more?
Image credit: Camel Trophy
Defender 300Tdi, Td5, V8 & M52 2.8i
Had there ever been an offroad truck that inspired so many tales of adventure as the legendary and iconic Defender? A rugged beast of a truck that is virtually unstoppable, even in stock-standard format.
Image credit: 1994-1998 Land Rover Defender 300Tdi 4×4 Review — LRO
The 300Tdi has been a favourite to overland across Africa due to its simplicity. Parts are available everywhere, it can run on low-quality diesel and even serious breakdowns can usually be fixed with simple tools. There is a saying that you just need to carry a roll of wire and a pair of pliers in your Defender and then you can bush-repair virtually any component in the truck. There is a lot of truth to that, I speak from personal experience here.
300Tdi’s in relatively good condition are scarce as hen’s teeth and highly sough-after.
The Td5 was more refined and contained an engine ECU that turned off many die-hard 300Tdi fans. But the reality is that apart from the well documented oil-in-loom failure, these trucks generally don’t have that many problems.
The interior was much more comfortable than the 300Tdi and the engine relieved the truck from its “donkey” status. It was also fairly economical for a truck with the aerodynamic properties of a brick.
Image credit: 1993 Defender 110 V8 Blue : Leox Rovers
Although the V8 is heavier on fuel than the diesel models, it has the advantage that a gasoline engine is generally easier and cheaper to fix than a turbo diesel. Added bonus is that you don’t have to worry about turbo failure, something that tends to be rather expensive.
For this reason, many people prefer the V8 variants of the Defender and Disco models. Even the dreaded crank failure mentioned earlier with the Disco 3 is only a flaw inherent to the diesel model, people who own Disco 3 V8’s tend to rave about them.
Currently, there is quite a demand internationally for quality refurbished Defender V8’s. I have seen some of these trucks being advertised for well over the $150k mark.
Image credit: 1997 Defender 90 328i Black : Leox Rovers
The most elusive Defender of them all – the South African built Defender 2.8i that sports an M52 328i engine under the hood, the same engine that featured in the Z3.
This is the holy grail of factory-built Defenders but finding one is almost impossible as only 645 90’s and roughly the same amount of 110’s were ever built.
If you ever find one of these for sale, you should buy without hesitation.
Verdict – does Land Rover deserve its reputation?
Yes and no. As illustrated above, Land Rover went through ups and downs over the years. If you know what to buy, you have a chance to end up with a truck that you will love with every fibre inside of you.
If you pick a lemon and you hate it … remember that you have been warned what to look out for.