After all the rubbish I get from drivers of mostly Japanese cars, all the jibes about my car’s reliability resembling a long and winding dog turd, all the should-have-known-better’s and I-told-you-so’s, it takes a bloody non-Land Rover Discovery 3 part to almost kill my Disco. The German made and globally praised ZF 6 speed automatic gearbox.
Its death throes were easy to tell, as it slipped in second up the steep driveway out of our apartment complex, resulting in an embarrassing reverse down hill to start again. Much like a retreating turtle-head you could say. If it wasn’t for the low range box, and that I could at least lock it in first, I would have been royally buggered. Worse still, I would have been at the mercy of my neighbours’ snickering as they passed me in their reliable Subaru’s and Toyota Echo’s, there was even a Holden Barina. A Barina I tell you, a 1990’s model to boot! Oh the humanity.
At least it got us through Christmas and returned us from a family camping trip.
Nonetheless, the question of whether it was worth fixing or that it was time to bite the bullet and call it a day, did raise its head. My Disco’s value, given it has almost 300k on the clock, would barely scratch 20 grand if I was lucky. So the cost of a replacement transmission, or a rebuild at around $7k, was a conundrum indeed.
That was the situation I was posed with a little over a month ago and after consideration (and much persuasion of the wife), we decided that it was indeed worth repairing. You see, it’s not my style to offload such trouble, whether in part exchange or at an auction house, so I had to do something to recoup any part of my investment. A lengthy search around wreckers yards yielded just one suitable used replacement, but it was a thousand kay’s away and would cost $3,500. Even though it came with a 6-month warranty, I would then most likely have to replace the transmission pump at around $1500, and have it all put together for another $1200-1500. When you also consider that it is best to use a part that is already married to my car, rather than something that isn’t and would possibly cause more woes, $7k for a rebuild began to look a lot more attractive. I even found a specialist who would save me a further $500 (CATS of Rosebery), and that was a figure I was not going to sniff at.
Thankful for small mercies? Too bloody right
So it took a week and my Disco is back on the road and seemingly stronger than ever. It now takes the ascent out of the driveway with aplomb, and that smugness of being able to tackle tough (albeit urban) terrain has returned.
So why the comment about Audi Q5’s? Well, apparently, had its DSG 4×4 ZF box gone similarly haywire, something that is beginning to happen at an alarming rate according to my transmission guy, it would cost me somewhere between $20-25k, not the paltry $6.5k I paid. Audi had hoped that an after-market would have arisen since 2009, but as the box is a sealed unit for life, nobody wants to touch it.
It’s been service time for the Disco. Basic oil change and new air filters. Ignoring the binging and warning light for the brake pads is not advised, certainly not for the few weeks I have done. It means that the pads have chewed up the disc rotors and they need replacing. The wife managed to puncture a tyre and so two new ones have been sourced from Tempe Tyres and a new screeching sound has been heard that points to a problem with the electric handbrake. This could mean a very expensive change if the whole system is up the spout. Hopefully, the handbrake just needs realigning and a quick service. Obviously I’d prefer the latter, for a replacement system costs something like $1600. Ouch.
Whilst removing the wheel Graham Cooper Automotive discovered one of the wheel nuts had been so badly damaged that, if it had been missed, the chances are it would have fused to the wheel completely. So a very difficult and stressful job avoided then, because I know that a puncture would have happened one wet and windy night on a busy road. The family would have been subjected to a tirade so incandescent I would have frightened them for months.
The time has come to replace the compressor for the air suspension. After 2 years of incessant binging I think it has finally given up the ghost. Fair enough really, it’s only a small thing intended to raise and lower a 2 tonne vehicle every time the ignition is turned. It has done so heroically for nigh on 8 years and 272,000 km now. The system works exceptionally well, but the amount of bad press Land Rover have had over its suspension system makes me wonder if a more conventional set up would have been more reliable. Then again, I would not be able to raise or lower my vehicle on a whim, and its off road abilities would be curtailed.
The decision was made because for only the second time in the last 2 years the suspension bottomed out leading the car to bunny hop over anything more substantial than a manhole cover. This in itself is not so much a problem at low speeds, bouncy but manageable. But at 30, 40, 50 km/h + it’s nigh on dangerous, certainly when my wife is driving and the kids are in the car.
As before however, you only need to switch off, let the car cool down for a few minutes and then start up again. The system seems to right itself and you can be on your way. However, just the very next day the same problem occurred, so perhaps it’s telling me something. It’s as if the car can sense that my bank balance is marginally more healthy this month and intends to raid it as soon as possible.
On top of all this the immobiliser key has started to play up and a new one has to be sourced from the UK, proof of ownership spied and a fee to calibrate the software to my car. All up it takes 10 business days to arrive. An 8 year battery life seemed reasonable, but at a cost of $500? There’s much to be said for the simple life and I don’t see my insurance premiums improving with all this electronic gadgetry either.
When you look at the outgoings this quarter, the Disco is proving to be a very expensive car to own. I had budgeted between $2-3,000 for maintenance a year, but costs are exceeding that now. However, let’s put it into perspective. The suspension compressor will last another 5-8 years, the key likewise. If I had not ignored the brake pad warning for so long I could have avoided paying for new discs, and tyres are tyres. If the wife is just a little more careful and stops thinking she’s driving at some monster truck rally, we won’t be having many more puncture incidents. Regular servicing at a specialist, like Graeme Cooper, who doesn’t rip the customer off will help too. So with any luck the next couple of years will be a little more reasonable.
The car feels more planted since the new compressor has been installed and it’s a joy to drive without the binging. The new tyres up front have helped too and now it’s a bit of trial not to play with the settings and raise and lower the car much like those low riders in the States. On a recent trip out with my son, one of his mates called out as we drove past, “cool car,” so I am happy with that, for now.
Costs this Quarter
Servicing – $275
Front discs and pads, air filter and sensor – $613
Remote Key inc. programming – $480
Air Compressor for suspension – $1360
Labour – $262
Tyres x2 – $500
Faults to be diagnosed:
Electronic Handbrake (replacement – $1600) or service ($150)
Discovery 3’s are not a cheap vehicle, that has to be said. They require diagnostic tools for major services and therefore a dealer is often the first port of call. However, costs can be minimised by finding a specialist with the correct equipment. For minor services a local mechanic, such as Ultratune for instance are perfectly acceptable. But if parts are needed it is better to seek out a specialist.
There are a few things to look out for if you are looking to buy a Disco. Firstly a full service record. For the reasons stated above services can be expensive, ranging from $400 up to $1500, so it’s possible a few may have been skipped. The auto transmission needs an oil change every 75,000 kms and it has to be synthetic, which can be pricey. For diesels its timing belt has to be changed every 160,000 kms so for higher mileage examples, make sure that has been done. It’s an expensive job and would be part of the $1500 service. If, like our long termer, it’s eclipsed a quarter of a million kms, then the alternator may pack up, but you should be warned in advance by a poorly charging battery. The air suspension system can have a few problems and may need changing every 4 to 5 years.
Listen for knocks from the suspension – they eat lower wishbones quickly, and at £300 ($500) per side plus a full alignment check, it can get pricey.
Make a point of engaging and disengaging all functions when looking at a potential Discovery. If the warning lights and noises come on, you may be looking at a new compressor.
BIG, ISN’T it? You can’t really see much of the TDV6 lump under all the plastic cowlings, but it sure fills the large engine bay well.The 2.7-litre engine is shared, in Land Rover form at least, with the Range Rover Sport and has proven to be generally very reliable. A common problem is the failure of the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) valve leading to a loss of power and lots of smoke. A blanking kit is avaliable, but only for Euro 3 engines – otherwise you will have to replace the valve. A criticism aimed at the 2.7 is that it can feel a tad sluggish, and many have been chipped to boost performance.
A COMMON fail point is the electronic handbrake. On well off-roaded examples it can be prone to sticking on or failing completely due to mud and water ingress. You’ll often hear a horrible screeching and grinding as a D3 goes to pull away.
Model Year: 2005 Bought: May 2011
Kms: 135,000 Current Kms: 155,000 Price: $27,000
OK, I’ve probably always wanted a Range Rover, but sadly they have only 5 dedicated seats. My family requires the extra couple these days. Initially my choice seemed stark and somewhat depressing. Was I really going to consider a Tarago? Did I really want to stoop to a Chrylser Voyager, quite possibly the worst vehicle ever built, save for British Leyland’s Allegro of course.
Well no, I didn’t have to because these days there are a number of interesting choices. The Volvo XC90 for instance, or Honda’s Odyssey, Mazda’s CX9, Hyundai’s Sante Fe, Nissan’s Dualis, I could go on. But none of these were dream cars. To come close to my vision, it needed to offer something outstanding, needed decent looks, and though I couldn’t expect a 7 seater to perform well around a race track, I would take a fire track or a beach instead.
Enter the Land Rover Discovery 3. A car that in Australia polarizes the population like no other. Even Ford and Holden fans can agree on it. Its looks for starters. I used to think it reminded me of an old-school bread van before it started to grow on me. I guess when Nissan started making its Pathfinder to look like it, particularly its rear end, is when its styling for me hit home.
Then there’s the internal space. Its seat configurations are second to none and, when all are flattened, the load space is simply cavernous. There’s no loss of space due to an after thought third row hanging on the sides. It is so large it swallowed up an oversized 3-seater sofa with room to spare.
Then there’s the engine. Granted it’s the older 2.7 litre turbo diesel that is perhaps not as powerful, refined or efficient as the new 3 litre in the series 4, but my word it’s a fantastic engine. Frugal on longer trips, sometimes returning less than 10 litres per 100 km for a car that weighs in at a tad over 2,400 kgs and fully laden with wife, 3 kids and all our camping gear. Around town it’s more like 13.5 but I can forgive it for that on Sydney’s clogged up arteries. And when you need to pull out sharpish the turbo kicks in and you’re away with a real shove in the back. Gone too are the days of a diesel sounding like something off a farm, certainly from within.
Then there’s the ride. The air suspension system has to be one of the most accomplished around and it is without doubt the most comfortable car I have ever owned. It’s so nice I almost forget my hatred for automatics as I waft here and there, serenely surveying the road ahead. Its all terrain system is a joy to use, as you simply select the setting for the road conditions ahead and let the car do the rest. Though so far I have only needed to use the sand option, I have witnessed others tackle every imaginable surface and it just works. I guess it is not an eight time winner of Australia’s best large 4×4 for nothing.
So then it’s a fantastic vehicle and it never goes wrong. Well not exactly and this is where Australia is polarized. Yes it does go wrong. Not smoking by the side of the road wrong, but its complex electronics are prone to gremlins. Take its suspension system for instance. Land Rover forums are full of problems with the car’s air suspension compressor. Warning lights and noises abound regularly it seems, particularly in the earlier models from 2005 to 2008. Mine being a late 2005 model is no different, but talking with the guys at Graeme Cooper, a wonderful Land Rover specialist I may add, its hardly surprising. The little compressor has the weight of the whole car resting gingerly on its shoulders and after a few years the poor thing wears out. A change costing around $1100 should sort it out, but others have not been so lucky. Diagnoses have included faulty wiring, faulty looms, corroded points and computer bugs. However, unlike the Disco 2, when such a problem would mean the car lowered on to its suspension rods and would become immovable, the Disco 3 merely continues at normal ride height and pings you incessantly about its problem. On the odd occasion that it does lower itself to its minimum, I have found that you simply stop, switch off, let it cool for a few minutes and the system rights itself.
I guess it’s a victim of its modernity. It knows when things are wearing out and tells you about it. Brake pads need changing, it pings you. Battery not charging, it pings you. Tyre pressures not perfect, it pings you. On long drives it sounds like you on a plane with the seat belt sign going on and off, and it becomes almost comforting. In other cars, say the Prado, there is no such system, and so you can be driving around without a care in world with the exact same problem as the Disco driver, the only difference being Prado man is ignorant of the problems and therefore thinks his car never goes wrong. Disco man is all too aware of them.
I’ve tried a friend’s Prado and I know it’s a great 4×4. It can go anywhere, like the Disco. It seats seven, like the Disco, but the sixth and seventh passenger had better be a person of restricted growth or a small child. In the Disco, fully-grown men of 6 feet or more can fit in the third row without a hint of discomfort. But as soon as the key was turned I knew which one I preferred. It was a case of: one is a tractor, the other is a limousine. The difference is that stark.
I bought a high mileage vehicle fully aware I was purchasing someone else’s problem. At 235,000kms it was very high indeed for a 7 year old car, but all of those kays were motorway miles meaning the engine would have been spared the stop start of city driving. The previous owner had also liked to go bush bashing, though you’d never guess externally. Internally the bull dust told a different story. So I was prepared to pay for a few repairs and at $27,000 it seemed a steal. I had ensured the timing belt had been changed and the transmission was in good spirits and off I went.
So far, over 2 years, I have needed to replace the sway bars, both front and back ($50 and $90 respectively), and the serpentine belt ($56). The alternator gave up the ghost not long ago as well ($850). Yet these should go after so many kilometres, so I don’t feel too bad about them. The suspension compressor needs to be changed but I have put up with this warning for over a year now and will do something about it when it suits me. It certainly doesn’t need to be imminent. Servicing is not cheap on Land Rovers, but talking to a Mercedes GL owner recently, I began to feel a little smug. Oh and the cable that operates the tail-gate snapped and meant the rear door would not open. Luckily that was only a $90 repair bill. There was a $250 charge for taking the ignition barrel apart, clean and replace it, but that had nothing to do with the car and everything to do with a small lego sword my son saw fit to insert and attempt to start the car. Needless to say his name was mud for a day or so.
Along with small boys, tyres, I read on the web, are also a bugbear, due the 18inch rims and therefore difficult to source. After a brief search I found a solution and can recommend Kumo Roadventura’s, fine for road and sand and a snip at $250 a corner, half the price of the more expensive all terrain tyres. That being said, if I were intending to go bush bashing I would probably source some 17inch rims and fit a Cooper or Wrangler tyre.