This is specifically aimed for those buying Land Rover Defenders, but certain points are applicable to other vehicles. It is skewed towards those buying a Defender for an overland expedition, but is applicable to all potential buyers.
- Buy early, ideally 6-12 months before your trip. This gives you loads of time to get to know your vehicle and iron out any problems
- Have a read of the basic anatomy of a Defender before you go and look at one. Better still, get someone to show you around one that you’re not intending to buy
- Make a list of things to look at and tick them off as you go along
- Go and look at a couple of vehicles before going to see ‘the one’ – the advert that sounds like it’s the perfect car
Vehicle Identification & Paperwork
Check the DVLA Vehicle Registration Document (V5) details are correct. Compare the chassis number on the V5 with the vehicle its self. On Defenders, you can find the vehicle identification number (VIN)/’chassis number’ in two places: on the VIN plate, located on top of the brake master cylinder at the rear left of the engine compartment on RHD models, and stamped into the chassis on the driver’s side. Look at the chassis under the front wheel arch; it should be in front of the wheel and behind the towing eye. You may need to use a wire brush!
Also check the engine number on the V5 matches the vehicle. This number should be punched in to the engine block.
Ask about service history. These are often non-existent on old Land Rovers as many owners service themselves. Engine oil and filters should be changed every 6,000 miles, differential and gearbox oils and brake fluid changed every 20,000 miles. When was the timing belt last changed? Have the universal joints been replaced on the drive shafts? Does it have the original brake/clutch lines? When were the brake pads last replaced? A good service history/working knowledge of the car implies it’s been well taken care of.
- Is the car level? Sounds obvious, but unladen, it shouldn’t tilt to one side!
- Look for any leaks on the tarmac under the car (oil drips etc)
- Start from COLD
- Does it idle OK?
- Is the engine block very clean? If it looks as though it has been wiped clean recently, it may an attempt to conceal an oil leak
- Oil leaks, sprays, drips
- Air filter. Take it out and have a look. If it’s full of oil, this implies the engine is running at too high a pressure, suggesting work piston rings or other major issue. If it’s dirty and clogged, it’s a good indicator that the car hasn’t been looked after.
- Inspect all the pipes in there – radiator pipes, oil pipes, fuel lines, fuel injector lines, intercooler pipes. Check for leaks.
- Check the oil level. If it’s low, again this implies the car hasn’t been looked after.
- Check for smooth gear selection
- Test both the High and Low Ranges. Do they select easily, do they jump out gear at all?
- Check for correct selection of the differential lock
- Make sure the diff lock light works on the dash board
- With the car stationary, put the clutch in and select 5th gear. Bring the clutch up slowly. It should stall the car. If now, it implies the clutch is slipping.
- Test the handbrake on a hill
- Look for play in the steering wheel
- Turn the wheel to the extremities – listen for any new squeaking. This implies the steering pump is on the blink
- Veering on driving implies poor tracking/laxity in the track rods
- Inspect the brake lines as already mentioned
- Does the pedal feel spongy? Implies old brake fluid or master cylinder fault.
- Have a look at the condition of the brake disks
Underneath the car
- Lubricant leaks – from plugs, gaskets, brake or clutch lines, or oil seals (big job).
- Chrome swivel balls – rust, oil seals
- Play in steering mechanisms – pull hard on the track rods looking for any play
- Lubricated drive shaft? Well greased universal joints implies a well looked after car
- Check for play in the universal joints. To do this, put the car on the flat and chock a wheel, put the car out of gear and take off the handbrake. Use a flat headed screwdriver or similar to rotate the UJs. There shouldn’t be any play/give in the joints.
- Condition of brake lines and clutch line, including flexible brake hoses (one at the back, two at the front)
- Chassis. Classically rusts on Land Rovers! Have a really good look at the front cross member, outriggers, and inside edge of the rear cross member. Use a brush and don’t be afraid to scrub away dirt! Tap with a hammer on any suspicious areas.
- Exhaust. Make sure it isn’t loose, look for leaks (puffs of smoke on starting the engine)
Bodywork & Chassis
Land Rovers rust. Despite their aluminium body panels, the framework is steel, as is the chassis and the bulkhead (the large vertical divider between engine and passage compartments). They classically rust through the bulkhead or on the chassis cross members (horizontal bits connecting the left and right main parts). Any serious rust/holes require major welding, which is going to cost an absolute minimum of £100, much more if serious. Galvanised chasses are amazing if you can find them, but bear in mind they won’t have a chassis number which is a problem for African borders!
- Bulkhead. Remove carpets, look under the bonnet, check for paint bubbling
- Chassis. Inspect rear cross member, tap along with a hammer. Look the whole way along either side, especially in the wheel arches.
- Doors. Big security issue. I would recommend removing the door cards and inspecting the internal framework. Replacing a door costs £100 or more each.
- Tyres are expensive. Five new BFGoodrich Allterrains cost ~£625! Factor this in to the total price – if the car’s going to need new tyres immediately, it’s a considerable amount on top of the asking price
- Ideally you should jack up each wheel individually and check for vertical and horizontal play in the wheel baring
Any Land Rover over 10 years old is at risk of electrical problems. They’re renowned for being very simple circuits (pre TD5) that often fail.
- Check all the lights.
- Dashboard dials
- Diff lock light
Potentially costly little things can be worth looking out for if the MOT is about to expire!
- Seat belts. Do they retract independently?
- Vibration – can be expensive and difficult to find and correct!
- Temperature – make sure your test drive is long enough to weed out any overheating issues.
- Wheel hub temperature. A hub that is hotter than the rest can imply a failing baring.
- Have another look under the car after it has stood for a while post test drive. With the lubricants warm, a leak might be more obvious.