COAL: 2001 Range Rover HSE – Pushing Our Luck With A High Mileage Brit?


After an almost trouble-free existence with a German super sedan with well north of 100K miles on it (COAL), James wanted to move on to something different. His next purchase actually came from the same co-worker we purchased the 1995 S420 from, and it followed very close to the same formula as the Benz. Black, check. Black full leather interior with upgraded wood accents, check. Dark tinted windows, check. Huge blinged out chrome rims, check. 100K+ miles, check. Only this time it wasn’t a full size German sedan, but a full size British SUV. Were we nuts? Pushing our luck going from German reliability to British reliability?


The Range Rover we purchased was a 2001 year model, the second to last year of the second generation (P38A). It was the top of the line HSE model, with a 4.6L V8 Rover engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission. Just as he had done with the Benz, the previous owner had purchased it stock, and sank some coin into it upgrading it in a similar fashion to his previous (and now our) Mercedes. It was clear he had a particular taste in cars, and James seemed to follow in his footsteps. In addition to the wheels and tint mentioned above, the Rover also had some additional modifications. An off-road brush guard was installed at the front, with two huge driving lights mounted in the middle. Out back, the taillights were bare but a set of gaurds were included in the purchase. All the Range Rover badging was replaced with chrome badges, an additional “XXX” badge was added, and the front grille was upgraded to one that also had more chrome on it. With the chrome rims and all the chrome updates, it contrasted very nicely with the still shiny black paint. It definitely was a So-Cal on-road SUV.


On the inside, things were just as nice. The black leather interior did not show any signs for the mileage the car had on it. There were additional wood pieces installed inside, and the wheel was upgraded to a wood/leather two-tone wheel. Everything was power and heated. Even the windshield had a heating element embedded in the glass to melt ice (not that we ever had that experience in San Diego). The stock stereo had been ditched, and it was replaced with an aftermarket unit that featured a DVD player, GPS Navigation, and an XM Satellite radio receiver. Including the stock navigation system, the car had 3 different satellite receivers in it. Speaking of the stock navigation system, What a joke!!! It was so user un-friendly. It was so difficult to enter in a destination, and being that it was already a 7 year old vehicle the maps were somewhat out of date. It was like looking at an old CRT monitor with the monochrome display.  Its only redeeming quality was the Hansel & Gretel feature, which was appropriate for an SUV of this caliber.  If you went off a marked road/trail, activate this feature and the nav system would leave a trail of “breadcrumbs” for you to follow back when it was time to head home.


The coolest feature that the Range Rover had on it was the Electronic Air Suspension (EAS). Instead of coil springs at each corner, there was an air spring. There were 5 different suspension settings. In order from lowest to highest, they were Access, Highway, Standard, Off-road, and Off-road extended. When starting off, the Rover started in Standard. When traveling above 50mph for more than 30 seconds, the suspension would lower about 1” for improved aerodynamics and better fuel economy. The highway setting was automatic, you couldn’t manually select it. Unless you were really paying attention by watching the indicator, it was hard to tell when it hunkered down on the highway.  When the vehicle was stopped, you could use the selector switch to drop the truck down about 3” to ease entry/exit to the vehicle. When off-roading, you could use the selector switch to engage the Off-road mode. This gave you an additional couple of inches of ground clearance. Off-road extended was an automatic mode only. If a wheel was in the air and unable to get traction, the suspension would raise a little more to try and put that wheel to the ground.


The V8 had adequate power for it’s size. I really wasn’t expecting it to be a muscle car. Even though the engine was the same displacement as the one in the Mustang, it was down about 40 HP with roughly the same amount of torque. Yet, it was adequate for the job of the Rover. It never felt slow, but never felt quick either. On the road, the air suspension made for a very nice and supple ride. It soaked up bumps with ease, even with the harsh sidewalls on the tires. I think those sidewalls did help with cornering as well. It didn’t feel like it wallowed through corners, it was a very stable truck. The one thing that it took a little bit to get used to was the seating position. The windows sills and base of the windshield were very low compared to where you sat. This provided for a very airy greenhouse but it also felt like you were sitting way up in the air. The dash sometimes felt like it was at knee level. I also noticed this when riding in my friends Land Rover Discovery. I attribute that to how Rovers were built during that era, and once I was normalized to it I never thought about it again.

4x4Pride-1162[First set of better rims/tires for offroading.]

After a run in with a former off-roading buddy, we got the itch to go offroading again. I mean, why not when you have one of the most capable off-road machines in your hands. First up, those 22” chrome rims had to go. We pulled them off and replaced them with a set of take-off rims from a Land Rover Discovery. The rims still had the factory installed tires on them.  Even with these on-road oriented tires, the truck had no issues on our first few outings in the desert. We never encountered an obstacle we couldn’t cross, and it was a much more luxurious place to be compared to our former xTerra (COAL).


Our first mechanical hiccup occurred with the Mass Air Sensor. The check engine light came on and we pulled the code for it. I can’t remember the code, but online sleuthing pointed to a fouled mass air sensor. This was replaced, but the problem soon reappeared. More investigating found that the oil from the K&N Air Filter (installed by previous owner) was causing the mass air sensor to get all messed up. Another sensor (and a replacement of the air filter), and never had another issue with it.

[Video of one of our off road trips with the Range Rover.]

[Be kind, it was my first video like this.  Lots of shakiness, sorry.]

Then one morning, the angry Range Rover gods struck. James went out to the truck and it was “layin’ frame”, or as much as one could in a stock Range Rover. After starting it up, the suspension slowly aired itself up and was ready to go about it’s way. James had been noticing that periodically the air compressor would come on to charge the system.  Somewhere there was a leak in the system, and it was getting worse.   The next morning, we found the same thing. Sitting overnight the system would fully drain. We traced the leak to the junction block under the hood. The junction block is what directed the air to the different corners of the suspension based upon the ECU, switch, and sensors.


[The better offroad setup.]

While researching the air suspension and what was going to be needed to fix it, we also looked at conversion kits. We decided to ditch the air suspension and convert over to a lifted coil spring setup, to improve on the already impressive off-road characteristics of the Rover. We purchased the kit and performed the conversion ourselves in the course of a weekend. At the same time, we also purchased a set of 16” Land Rover rims and some meaty BFG Off-Road tires. The truck had been transformed from on-road poser to a full fledged off road machine.


We took the Range Rover on a few more off-roading trips with the new set up. The trails we were on weren’t too challenging, but again still didn’t encounter any hang ups or problems with it. The video above is one that I took during one of our treks into the desert with our off-roading group. While it did great off road, the on-road ride definitely deteriorated. The ride became very choppy, it wallowed in corners, and wasn’t a very fun vehicle to commute in.

It was maybe a few months before we had enough with the coil suspension. A new junction block was purchased online, and we put back all the air springs and sensors. With the new junction block, the air system worked like a charm. It provided the smooth on-road ride we missed, and was still plenty capable off-road for what we were doing. The coil suspension kit sold swiftly on eBay, and we recovered most of the original cost of it.


[Still cleaned up quite nicely for 130K miles.]

So up to this point, I still think we had lucked out with British reliability. We were pushing 130K miles, and only had to replace the mass air sensor (not RR fault, it was the fault of the K&N) and the junction block on the air suspension. Again, after 130K miles that’s not bad. Like with the Benz, we started wondering when the luck would run out. In the situation that we found ourselves in, and the economic climate of early summer 2008, we decided it was time for a change. We made a deal on a brand new SUV, and listed the Range Rover for sale. With gas prices what they were, especially in Southern California, it actually was a bit of a challenge to move the Range Rover. No one was biting. We sat on it for awhile, and eventually we found a buyer. A dad was buying it for his daughter to head off to college in Orange County. We know that she enjoyed it for at least a year, because we got notices for two different outstanding parking tickets mailed to us from the Long Beach police department. They came to us because they never registered the truck after purchasing it from us. Thankfully I held onto the Release of Liability form when we sold it. A copy of that sent back to the LB police department took care of each ticket.