I have been in the 4x4 arena for over 10 years. I have owned a Nissan Sani, Toyota HiLux, Jeep Cherokee, and my latest acquisition a Land Rover Defender 110 TDi (1998). Having been very active in the 4x4 world for more than a decade I was well aware of the numerous and significant shortcomings of the Land Rover range. Why did I buy one? I am a partner in a 4x4 entertainment business that gets non-4x4 owners to drive 4x4s. We need the passenger carrying ability that only the 110 offers.
In terms of off-road ability, the 110 has some unique features, but so do the others. As I'm sure you and your audience are aware, every 4x4 is a compromise. There is no "best 4x4". Based on my experience in the field, my experiences as a Land Rover owner, and my exposure to other makes, I would advise anyone who is going to use their 4x4 as a family/work car NOT to buy a Land Rover. The Jeep Cherokee (for example) is about the same price as the 110, offers far more luxury, safety, and reliability, and is extremely competent off-road. My partners and I have actually tested the Cherokee 2.5 TDi against the 110 V8 and the 90 2.8i. On the same (extreme) mountain trail, and the Cherokee out performed both of them.
Here is my "Land Rover Experience":
- The vehicle was trouble-free until its 90,000km service. At this service Sandton Land Rover (the dealer) changed the v-belts. A few days later the belts started to squeak - chi,chi,chi.
- I returned the vehicle to the dealer. They sprayed the belts with a 'lubricant'. This is a no-no! All the 'lubricant' does is pick up more dirt in the v's. Needless to say, the squeak returned a few days later.
- I returned the vehicle once again. This time they diagnosed the pulleys to be a problem. They replaced them all! I couldn't imagine that they all needed replacing, but seeing the parts and labour were covered by warranty, it wasn't costing me and all I wanted was the problem to go away. A few days later the squeak was back.
- I returned the vehicle for the 3rd time. This time they diagnosed the belts and replaced them. This after having replaced them only about a 2000km previously during the service. They tried to charge me for the belts as a wear and tear item, but as I had already paid for new ones at the service I was having none of it, and they eventually agreed to reverse the charge. A few days later the squeak was back. However, this time a small disaster struck. The squeak returned on a weekend, and whilst at a mall on the East Rand the belts mounted the pulleys, shredded, wrapped themselves around the viscous fan coupling and destroyed the bonnet lining. The vehicle had to be towed (at the dealer's expense), stored for the weekend, and transported to Sandton on the Monday.
- Back at the dealer for the 4th time, they discovered that a bolt on the steering pump mounting had sheered, causing the pump to sit skew. They replaced the mounting, belts, damaged viscous coupling and bonnet lining all under warranty. That night when I got home the vehicle was loosing coolant. Guess what. You got it! The squeak returned within a few days.
- My 5th visit prompted the workshop manager to take a personal look. His diagnosis was that one of the pulleys had been fitted with an spacer that was too small, resulting in the belt rubbing against an engine component. He replaced it free of charge. Yet again the squeak returned within a few days.
- My 6th visit was the 100000km service. I dropped the vehicle at 07:15, and asked them to address the squeak. At 16:00 I called to see if the vehicle was ready. According to the service agent, they hadn't touched the vehicle! After expressing my disappointment they undertook to complete the service that same day. This did not excite me. They were going to hurriedly, near closing time, service my vehicle. I collected the vehicle at 18;30; 2,5 hrs after my call only to find they had charged me for 3hrs labour! After some negotiating they finally refunded me the extra hour. However, they had not managed to get to the squeak. I had to return the vehicle.
- My 7th visit: They now discover that the shaft inside the steering pump had bent. It would take about two weeks to get the part from the UK. They hire me a car - my business comes to a standstill. As they haven't returned my vehicle to me yet I have no idea whether the problem will be resolved.
Some questions related to the above experience:
- Why does it take 7 visits to identify the problem (Assuming they've identified it)?
- How did the steering pump shaft get bent? It's a component that can only be stressed by the belts. Were the belts over tightened? Is that perhaps what caused the bolt to sheer?
- What level of quality assurance takes place after services, especially when a vehicle has been back so many times?
Some peripheral observations:
- I spent many hours in the reception either waiting for a lift to work or to collect my vehicle. I have never spent less than an hour there. On two occasions I spend 2 hours waiting.
- During these long waiting periods I have observed and talked to other customers. my experience is not the exception. Almost all their customers have complaints of varying severity. Many of them have said they regret buying a Land Rover and will not buy another. Avis, from whom they hired my car are seen regularly at the dealership. It seems their inability to accurately diagnose problems is prevalent. One customer told me he had been to Botswana a couple of times in his Discovery, but had never driven back. Each time he had to be towed. On the last occasion he went with a friend who also owned a Disco and they both had to be towed back! I personally have seen Disco's stranded in Botswana.
- The service agents are quite full of themselves and are often abrasive. On the occasion I got home to find the coolant pouring out, I called the service agent I'd dealt with. He reluctantly came out to my home to repair the damage one of their service staff had done. he told me that they had decommissioned the roadside assistance because it was costing them too much!!! But worse still, he told me I was lucky that I'd been nice to him otherwise he wouldn't have come out!!!
It is no wonder that Land Rover continues to loose money and is being passed like a contagious disease from one owner to the next. Let's hope Ford can do something with this marquee. In the meantime, why don't the competitors come up with a matching product and take full advantage of the opportunities Land Rover is presenting them with.