Buying a used…. Land Rover Defender

Date: Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Do you really need one? Due to its unique design that’s the first question you should ask yourself if you are contemplating purchasing a second-hand Land Rover Defender, writes Steve Banner.

Owning a Land Rover Defender is a radically different proposition to owning just about anything else on the highway. On the plus side, its off-road ability remains unequalled for a vehicle of its size: it will tackle terrain that will leave the majority of other 4x4s bogged down. But there are some serious negatives. While the most recent Defenders are far better put together than their predecessors, build quality over the years has ranged from mediocre to appalling. Driver comfort is not a priority and fuel bills can be steep given that Defenders are about as aerodynamic as a breeze block and are equipped with permanent four-wheel drive.
While the Station Wagon may be the most familiar model, remember that it is also sold in commercial guise as; for example, a Hard Top and a Pick-Up, which are the vehicles favoured by gas, water and electricity companies that need an all-terrain/all-weather capability.
Buy the most recently built used Defender you can afford and consider condition rather than mileage: low-mile examples that have spent all their lives at the bottom of a quarry can be in a terrible state, while high-mileage models that have spent more time on the motorway can be healthier.
One of the most important changes to the Defender occurred in 2007 when Land Rover installed a 122hp version of the 2.4-litre diesel that was also used in Ford’s Transit at the time. It was married to a six-speed manual gearbox and the changes were accompanied by revisions to the interior, including a much-needed new dashboard. At the time the 2.4-litre was the best diesel engine ever to have been installed in a Land Rover and has more recently been succeeded by a 2.2-litre from the same stable.
Before buying a used Defender find out whether the previous owner subjected it to arduous off-road use, then see if the underside is caked with mud. If so, ask the vendor to hose it off and look for any corrosion, advises Used Van Expert, the first port of call when contemplating buying a second-hand LCV. Places to check include the chassis rear cross member – get the asking price cut by £600-£700 if it is rotten – plus the out-riggers for the fuel tank. If they have started to corrode then somebody will face a £400 bill. Also look under the rear wheel arches for a triangle of metal at the back of the arch. If there is rust around it the C-section will need replacing, grounds for negotiating a £350 price reduction says Used Van Expert. You may also want to check the springs and shock absorbers and see if the gearbox and transfer case are showing any signs of leaking. Do not forget that the bulkhead separating the cab from the engine can rot too.
Check that all the electrics work – lights, indicators and so on – as well as items such as the radio and the booster fan for the heating/ ventilation system. Usually items such as these function on a pre-owned Defender, but sometimes they do not.
Test-drive the Defender and pay especial attention to the ride. If it tends to wallow around and lurch into corners then there is a suspension problem. Worn bushes, weeping shock absorbers and even a broken spring could be among the culprits.
The six-speed gearbox we referred to earlier should offer a smooth change, but check the diff locks can be engaged. If the vehicle has been used primarily on the public highway you may find they have seldom if ever been deployed and the levers have stuck.
One advantage of acquiring a Defender is that spares – and you will probably find yourself buying quite a few over the years – are universally available. Furthermore, there are plenty of independent Land Rover repairers around, especially in rural areas.

How much should you pay?

Decent examples from authorised Land Rover dealers do not come cheap, but if you go for an approved used model you should get some back-up if things go wrong. Stratstone of Cheltenham was recently offering a 2011 90 Hard Top on a 60-plate for £16,500 with 25,000 miles on the clock. The same dealership also had a similar Hard Top that was a year older, on a 10-plate, and with 56,000 miles for £1000 less.
Over in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough Land Rover was selling a 2010 Utility Wagon, which had covered 11,051 miles, for £24,995.

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