I had wanted a Land Rover for a long time but I never liked the Discovery because of their suburban mall-crawler image. I was well aware of the problems and tribulations associated with owning British vehicles, having worked on MGs, Series Land Rovers, Triumphs, etc during my aspiring mechanic phase. But you all should know by now that I don’t let little things like reliability deter me.
I stated in a couple of posts back that we wanted something more comfortable and modern after the Suburban. But I placed this story after the Ford van even though it came before it due to certain clerical errors. We actually purchased that van to replace this Land Rover, though for a time we had both of them at once.
I’d been having some thoughts about an older Discovery for some time. So having some cash to spend, one day we found a Land Rover Discovery for sale, and on a bit of a whim (what else is new?), we purchased it. It stuck with us for quite awhile and carried us through several adventures; some of them were my doing, others of them thanks to the Land Rover.
The Land Rover was in Portland so we drove up to see it in my 79′ Suburban which by then was getting to be a bit of a problem. It was dark when we arrived and the Landy looked pretty good (they always look better in the dark). The owner was a car salesman who worked at a local dealership. His son had been driving it since he had gotten a new car. It was apparently his son who put the dent on the front driver’s side of the bumper. We drove it around the block and I noticed the steering was very stiff. He said something about having replaced the steering gear box, but to little benefit. None of the power windows worked either. When we took it for a drive, I found that it was pretty gutless. I had heard that they were not to powerful due to their massive weight and all-wheel-drive.
Nevertheless, after a brief inspection of the engine and such I purchased it. Driving it back home was a good deal different than driving the Suburban!
After getting it home I changed all of the fluids, which I quickly discovered to be a rather expensive and troublesome project given that the engine alone takes nine quarts of oil. Add to that the differentials, transfer case, transmission, steering knuckles, etc! The steering knuckles of course leaked like crazy. I “cured” this by using a combination of 600 weight Model T gear oil and Molybdenum Disulphide assembly lube. Apart from the knuckles it never leaked a drop, which is pretty amazing for a Land Rover.
I took the windows apart and found that everything in them was bad: the mechanisms, the motors, the switches. So I put them back together and left them as-is. I did make a little wedge out of steel bracket and electrical tape to let me lock the drivers side window up or down though.
It seemed to me that the engine was more gutless than it should be, and the idle was pretty rough at times. And then I discovered the IACV clean out ritual. The Idle Air Control Valve gets carboned-up quickly and must be cleaned every few months, I now discovered. The rest of the engine was a different story. The Rover V8 all aluminum engine was a former GM product and the management system was all very Bosch LH Jetronic-like (pre GEMS Land Rover used a Lucas system) and it was very familiar to me. I set about checking and adjusting. The thing that made the biggest difference was actually resetting and adjusting the MAF. After that it had a lot more power; not a lot of power, but more.
That is, until the fuel pump started dying. It’s an in-tank unit, but Landy was nice enough to provide an access hatch for it on the rear floor. The pump comes out as a typical GM style assembly and costs in the neighborhood of five hundred bucks. But through the help of the interweb I discovered that the actual pump motor could be replaced inside the assembly. It was essentially the same as any GM car from the 90’s with a large V6 or small V8, and in the end it cost me forty eight bucks.
The first real adventure was a scouting trip over the summer in preparation for hunting season. My oldest son, two friends and I scouted the Oregon coast range. We soon discovered that the tires were not up to the task. We got a flat on our first trip down a logging road. Gravel had penetrated between the treads making a nasty hole. So down came the spare. But the lug nuts had stainless steel coverings on them. The thin covering material was all bashed up from someone using the wrong sized socket. Our lug wrench would not fit! So we got out our air pump and tire plug kit (never leave home without them). After three plugs, we got it up and going.
But on the very next road we turned off on, we got another flat. This time in the other rear tire! Five plugs, more air and we were up and going. But as we continued on, the other tire began to leak around the plugs. The hole was tearing larger and larger. We were out of plugs and it was not repairable anyway. So we tried to get the wheel off but were having no success. Finally through the judicious use of a hammer we were able to force the lug wrench on the the nuts. But getting it off was now the hard part! We eventually got it changed and immediately went home, fully defeated in our scouting efforts.
After that trip I went out and got some better tires. The previous owner had installed load range B car rated tires. Anything under a load range C is far to light duty for most SUVs especially a heavy old Landy!
We used it on a good hunting trip that year and then came my eldest son’s illness. One day he had a stroke. We rushed him to the hospital where they sat around wondering why. Eventually they said things like that just happen. So he recovered to about ninety percent. His speech was slightly slurred now but he was OK. And then one morning several weeks latter he woke up with very little feeling or motion on his right side and heavily slurred speech. We took him back and they once again were at a loss. He grew progressively worse and was finally sent to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
During his time at OHSU the Land Rover had plenty of opportunity to show off its poor fuel mileage. The highest I ever achieved on the highway was seventeen with a tailwind. But it normally averaged about fifteen. Michelle was staying with Ace (that’s his middle name, which he goes by) while my mother (who was still alive during this time) watched the other children and I worked. I was not making much money then, but the boss very nicely let me use the company fuel card to fill it up several time in order to make the trip.
Parking in the city with very stiff steering is a real hassle. I latter figured out the steering problems, but the solutions were so expensive that I just lived with it. Eventually Ace underwent brain surgery and made a good recovery. He is now mildly disabled on the right side but is a fully capable and intelligent young man.
After Ace healed up from his surgery we planned a big hunting trip of at least a week long. For the the first few days we would host six friends. And then when they left we would host two more friends. All of this was done in our big tent. But we discovered that there was not enough room in the Disco to carry everything. So we hauled most of the gear in the Ford van.
We drove back and swapped for the Disco which carried our water supply and other odds and ends.
The Disco worked great showing off it’s incredible factory suspension travel and its sure footing as well.
After the first few days our first bunch of friends left and it was just myself, Peter and Ace. We awaited the arrival of our friend Reginald, who was due in a couple of days. But before Reginald showed up, our starter died; luckily in camp!
One problem was that for three days we had no means to get out of camp. We had plenty of supplies but I needed to ask Reginald to bring some tools and to have him get a starter. Unfortunately we had no cell phone coverage. After day one I decided to walk the ten miles or so out to a house . But just as I was setting out, the first car we had seen all week came up our little road. He was a local and was very nice to let me use his phone which had coverage. I made arrangements to get a starter in the nearest town. I also would need to buy some tools because the starter used recessed hex key bolts. It was a very boring three days waiting for Reginald and the hunting was no good around camp. We took some shots but never even scored a grouse for the pot.
Eventually Reginald showed up with his pickup and ATV. We fixed the starter and had lots of fun not getting a deer as usual. We hauled our gear out in his pickup this time.
After one more year of hunting, the Landy was starting to wear on me. There are a myriad of reasons not to own one, and they were all becoming more and more apparent. So I sold it for about three quarters of what I’d paid for it and got something much more reliable, if quite a bit slower, and way less comfortable. Discover and learn.
You are probably the only person in North America to buy a used Discovery and actually attempt to use it for the intended purpose.
Those starter changing photos scare the hell out of me. I hope there was a very large flat rock under the jack. I don’t trust “just” jacks for support. I would have built a pile of rocks where the spare tire is because I’m paranoid.
my thoughts exactly concerning the jack but considering all the nonchalant stories i have read about your hairy adventures, i’ll just assume that you had this aspect of things figured out. sorry you went through such an ordeal with your son. it puts the rest of life’s difficulties in perspective.
Exactly, my sentiments. That prolonged experience w/ Ace must have taken years off your life, Michael.
The way the tire is positioned, it would have been impossible for it to crush me. There is also a bottle jack on top of the spare, but it worried me as well.
I thought that was a can of penetrate or something on the tire. That makes things a bit better.
Those jacks are indeed scary and that photo made me cringe I never trust those jacks either!!
Wow you actually went hunting in a Disco. You da man!
My uncle actually bought a new ’95 Disco in Portland; one of the first to hit the US.
Everything that wasn’t the engine or the transmission broke in his 3 years of ownership. Really.
In 1998 he traded it for…wait for it…a new ’98 Disco. Apparently, that one’s been much better and he still owns it. He makes enough coin to purchase a new Range Rover but apparently he likes his Disco. Go figure.
The ’95 had rear jump seats that I rode in a few times. I never get carsick, but after 30 or 40 minutes of driving around NE Portland, I wanted to hurl.
The children felt the same way in the jump seats. I totally believe you about everything breaking!
I saw one of those sitting in a guy’s driveway with no headlights in it, and looking like it hadn’t discovered anything in many a day.
I was very seriously considering one of these before buying my Xterra. Then I wised up, the whole reason for dumping my 79 Chief and 98 Ram was to not spend $100 in parts and countless hours every weekend working on something. And the midwest wasn’t kind to the few I looked at either. It’s amazing how beat up LRs can get even on “solid” roads!
Like the XJS and 928 I still want one though..
You are a brave man, MF. I wouldn’t attempt to take a Limey car ANYWHERE…not even to the dealer…in a city…paralleling bus routes.
It may well have been a good design. When the British motor-industry meltdown happened…maybe the smartest thing would have been to contract out assembly to the Japanese or Koreans; let them fine-tune the engineering as well.
Think where THAT could have gone! Discovery by Hyundai; licensed by Land-Rover. Thing would have broken records…endurance and sales…
Discovery was also badged Honda for JDM part of the Ronda tie up.
Called it the “Overland.”
Longtime reader, first-time commenter.
I had a ’98 Disco that I loved dearly, almost identical to the one you have here. I did many of the same repairs, too: replaced the fuel pump (actually used a “high-performance” pump intended for the mid-to-late-90s Impala in mine). That thing would WHINE when you turned the key to start it…you could hear it in the cabin over the rest of the noise! But it worked great. I also fixed my leaking steering box…by filling the pump with Lucas Oil Power Steering Stop Leak. It never leaked again, and worked perfectly. To be honest, that vehicle drove very well for me in the five years I owned it, and I was an idiot to get rid of it.
Thanks for finally speaking out! Mine was pretty dependable as well, except the one time with the starter. Sure parts are high priced but alot of them can be sourced from other things.
These cars are a bad deal even if they are free, I work with someone who inherited one, it still cost him an arm and leg to keep running.
A couple of weeks ago, I made a comment about not wanting to take a Range Rover off road without cell phone coverage. I was told I was being mean for saying this.
I have now been vindicated.
You have indeed! Ironic too. And I’ll keep my mouth shut.
I would. Did’nt you see Jeremy take one through South America on Top Gear? “Most dependable truck in the world” ; )
It is extremely rare that I see any Land Rover that displays any evidence of having been off the pavement.
The same car be said of any recent Land Cruiser, Grand Cherokee, Hummer, etc. The ones that seem to go offroad are the Cherokee, Wrangler, older Land Cruiser, Xterra. older 4Runner, i.e. generally all the stuff that does NOT have $40k+ invested in it while still carrying a monthly payment…
That being said, there is a guy down the street from me with a Discovery in his garage with a lift-kit, skidplates all over/under, cage, shovels, winches etc. In the 18months I have lived here, I have never seen it leave the garage….
If its lifted with a cage too, it might not fit through the door anymore… 🙂
Or I guess it might not run… LOL
You might be right! They actually have it jammed in the garage into the space between the doublegarage door and the single garage door – it’s the strip of no-man’s land that in my garage I use for the garbage cans and the winter/summer tires….If they ever want to get it out, it’s at least a 48pt turn and…When all the garage doors are open you see one headlight peeking around each side.
IN this neck of the woods it all Cherokees, Subarus, 4runners, and Yota pickups.
That’s something I’ve never understood; not since the “Luxury Jeep” concept started surfacing thirty years ago.
You have a very, very expensive…car, truck, whatever. Leather seats, power geegaws, all the bells and whistles. Cut-pile carpeting. And you’re going to run it on a fire trail, or climb rocks with it? To do what? Go kill and gut a deer, or load a dozen stinking fish, and put them in back with malodorous waders and muddied laundry?
DOES that make SENSE? That’s the kind of thing you buy an old Forest Service truck for. Or, if you were better heeled, you bought a(n older type) Suburban, or a Wagoneer with rubber floor mats.
I don’t get it.
We’ve all seen YouTube videos or “America’s Funniest” clips, of guys with new Wranglers who go out rock-crawling, and roll or flip their relatively-new, decked-out, $20k machines. What the HELL are they thinking?
I don’t either. I would have loved to have had steel wheels, rubber floors, vinyl seats.
I leased a ’98 Discovery on one of those super cheap Rover subsidized deals… it was cheaper to lease and insure the Disco than other SUVs that were half the price of the Rover. It never left me stranded, although once the master cylinder went and I had to limp it to the dealership, luckily only a cpl miles away. Maintenance wasnt cheap, but it was no worse than my current VW GTI. I drove it everywhere; towing, off roading, mudding, road trips, etc. It wasnt gutless, but it did have some trouble climbing the really big mountain passes on road trips to West Virginia from Florida. Off road it was amazing, and bone stock, even the tires; my son and I have some wonderful memories in that thing… I loved that truck, even with the potential issues. I would have kept it, except the buy out on the lease was about $18k, and the KBB value at the time was maybe $12k tops. When I dropped it off at the dealer, they were extremely easy on the inspection, no charges. Then offered to lower the buyout to $15k if I would keep it, but I turned that down too.
I often consider buying another one, a newer Disco II, which are supposed to be more reliable. I hear the 2004 model is the best, the last year of the Disco II, with a 4.6L V8 and some Ford electronics. Sure, I know they are expensive to maintain, but I do my own work, I have a good friend who is a European car mechanic, and you can buy Discos super cheap, and nothing in that price range wil have the style, the quality interior, and the off road capability.
They are quite easy to work on as well. I too loved mine. It was pretty dependable overall. If you get a II you might want to switch out the GEMS distributor-less system though and put the CDL back in from a series 1.
I saw one of these things in a parking lot awhile back, with all of 4″ of clearance (less than most cars surrounding it), and a nice big aftermarket winch on the front. You couldn’t even mount a curb in the thing.
Generally speaking, there are many FAR better on/off road machines out there. I’d take my hardbody style Pathfinder over a disco 10 times out of 10. Has every bit as much off-road capability, with the added bonus of starting ever time I turn the key. Gets middling mileage, and can cruise 75/80mph all day long on the freeway.
Which is completely beside the point. Of course there’s always something, “better”. But you gotta hate something a little bit to really love it, so the flaws really aren’t flaws. Call them points of interest.
But, IMHO, the reason discos are so cheap now can be directly attributed to their overabundance of “points of interest”.
You sure it was a Disco? The LR3/4 is the one that sits lower to the ground, all of the Discovery models had quite a lot of clearance, and very few options for the rapper wanna-be crowd to lower it or even change out the rims. I tried to find replacement rims for mine and no one made the bolt pattern… IIRC it was different from even the same year Range Rover.
And you are right, there are far better off road vehicles. I LOVE the hardbody Pathfinder, especially the 2-dr model; thats an iconic Nissan from the glory days. But it has been years since I have even seen one, and the ones I did see back then were rusted and beat to crap.
If you want to know what makes the Discovery so good off road, look up the stock RTI scores (Ramp Travel Index). There are myriad people who have and are driving them around the world under the worst conditions. Sure, they leak, rust, and not all of the doodads work all of the time. But for for off road prowess they can’t be beat, except by an early Defender. All that being said, I would much rather have a current 70 series Toyota Land Cruiser.
I loved that when I leased my Disco, the dealer actually showed me the RTI scores, and then took me on the back lot test track to demonstrate. Sure, hokey, but a really fun! And still great on the road, not many “real” off road vehicles can do both tasks so well.
The Land Cruiser is amazing as well, and reliable. But at least 3x the price for a used one in similar condition, maybe even more. IIRC, even when new back in 1998 they were nearly double the price. Thats why I still think the Land Rover is a pretty good value given the right owner and situation.
I’ve had a 96 Discovery for about five years, and it’s still my favorite car I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong: I totally hate its guts half the time, but the other half I can’t imagine ever parting with it. And yes – it has many of the usual Disco foibles. Windows never work right, sunroofs leak, door latches are crap and break all the time, alarm system is very tempermental, seat electrics don’t work right sometimes, etc etc. But mechanically it really has been quite solid. I’ve replaced the alternator, but that’s it.
I still prefer my other Rover, of course, a ’67 Series II. It never breaks down – but then, there’s nothing there to break.
I currently own 2 96 discos. One I’ve owned for 8 years and only thing i had to replace was the fuel pump for it to run anyway. I have put this truck threw its paces from mud bogging to hill climbing to traveling at like 40 down a rough trail hitting jumps getting even air borne at moments and all with stock tires and suspension and that particular day I was with a lifted cherokee and a 22re yota both on 33s. These trucks both could not keep up with me by any means and every time I stopped to wait for them to catch up we would all be laughing our asses off at the beating this rover was taking and even made them believers. I still own this truck and she stills runs and drives just needs brakes, exhaust leak and the other older disco bs. My second one I recently picked up last year has 90k and was for sale for 2,500.00. In near new condition no leaky roof, all buttons, doors, windows function good even the carpets and headliner did not have a stain. Upon running the truck it was over heating but it had a new water pump and thermostat it was odd . But I didn’t care the truck was to mint and rust free to pass up. So after upon closer inspection I spotted the problem and got the owner to knock of 600. bucks. So for 1900.00 bucks I got a truck that all I had to do was put the serpentine belt on correctly so the water pump would not be running in reverse !!!!. Which people commonly due on these trucks. So as far as value goes I love my Discos. Show me a more capable truck for the money.
I own a 2.5 TDi Disco 1 that I “inherited” after my dad bought a new car. It has 250,000 km and has done A LOT of offeoading and it has never given my any major trouble. Apart from the breaks that wear off quite fast considering its a big car. The garage where I take my car for the inspection says that my car can go another 250,000 km without any major problem.
Cant understand why you people are complaining. Either I got lucky and bought the only Disco that just wont break down or you people are lousy drivers…
I am planning on buying a 95 discovery and planning on replacing the whole engine and transmission to be on the safe side, because I love its looks and when it works, performance.
Well I went out and bought myself a 1995 TDi Land Rover Discovery 5 years ago and can categorically say that it has been THE BEST CAR I`VE EVER OWNED B-)
I use it every day as a work-truck out in some pretty rough terrain and it takes me everywhere I want to go and always gets me home reliably.
I must admit I do look after it and makes sure it gets a well earned service every 6 months – I figure the deal is that if I look after it – it will look after me – Which it does admirably.
Land Rover – THE BEST 4 X 4 X FAR – Period
Mark Opie NSW Australia
Recently bought a 1995 Land Rover Discovery with almost 230,000 miles. I bought it from someone who bought if from an auction. Talking about a bad history. It would not shift from 1st to 2nd gear, but I drove it home anyway.
Paid $1000.00 for it with good tires and a nice interior. The headliner is in need of repair from leaking sunroofs, and the two rear windows do not work. The power steering has a slight leak which I will run down post haste. Tomorrow I will change out the differential oil and the manual transmission oil. When I bought this, I thought I would need to change out the transmission, clutch, and throw out bearing.
Strange: After driving it home it has started to shift–with some finesse–through all of the gears without grinding. It does make some noise when I let off of the gas, but it runs smoothly. I think that this SUV was driven by someone who did not know how to drive a standard and had no feel for what this vehicle wants in an owner. Cars are funny about who drives them.
At this point in time, I am not planning on replacing the transmission. I am going to drive it until it dies on me, and in truth, I do not expect that to happen any time soon. I could probably drive this vehicle for another 30,000 to 50,000 miles with the current transmission. The engine is freaking smooth and starts without having to give it any gas.
It is really weird to think that a vehicle can appreciate how you drive it, but I would swear that this thing loves me. If I can drive it for even 30,000 miles without having to do anything major, then I could just park it on the side of the road and walk away without feeling like I had made a bad investment.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress without lying about it. I was really looking for a Toyota stretch cab 4×4, but could never find the right one.
Thank you for posting your story and images.