Few vehicles, with the exception of the Mini, are as famous and familiar as a Land Rover. From the first so-called ‘Series’ Land Rovers that ran from 1948 to 1983, through the 90 and 110 models that replaced them in 1983, to the renamed Defender 90 and Defender 110 ‘Landies’ that were produced from 1989, the model barely changed, at least outwardly.
Throughout, it remained true to its initial design brief, being a rugged, uncomplicated, simple-to-maintain, go-anywhere vehicle when rivals, some of which were equally capable, were becoming complex and more sophisticated.
Eventually, time and emissions legislation caught up with the Land Rover. Production ceased in January 2016 but the legend lives on and the versions under consideration here are as popular, and possibly more so, as the day they rolled off the production line.
Those versions are the 90 and 110 and their successors, the Defender 90 and Defender 110. The numbers refer to their wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear wheels – in inches. With its larger cabin, the 110 is the more versatile and practical choice; the shorter 90 is the work tool.
The 90 and 110 of 1983 saw the arrival of permanent four-wheel drive, coil spring suspension in place of leaf spring and some interior updates. Further improvements, largely engine and trim focused, followed with the change to the Defender name in 1989.
The 90 and 110 were each offered with a choice of diesel and petrol engines but the former are the preferred option for their greater pulling power and better economy. Their appeal only grew with the introduction of turbocharging in the mid-1980s.
The arrival of the Defender in 1989 saw the introduction of the new, more powerful 200 TDi engine. It was followed, in 1998, by the all-new five-cylinder, 2.5 Td5 that was more powerful still and, crucially, cleaner.
In 2007 this engine was in turn replaced by a Ford 2.4-litre diesel engine offering a wider spread of torque, and mated to a six-speed gearbox with a super-low first gear and a high sixth for more relaxed cruising.
This was replaced in 2011 by a new, more refined (in Land Rover terms) Ford 2.2-litre diesel that despite being smaller was just as powerful. It also had a diesel particulate filter (DPF).
Throughout, the Land Rover was, to varying degrees, a slow, noisy and poor riding vehicle, heavy on fuel and expensive to tax. And so it remains but if you have a job to do, from hauling a family over hostile terrain to dragging a boat out of a slipway, and you like the idea of a vehicle you can largely maintain yourself with a few well-chosen tools and a trusty workshop manual, there’s nothing to touch a Land Rover 90, 110 and Defender.
What goes wrong with a Land Rover Defender?
Its reputation for toughness can be the Landie’s undoing. Many examples have been used and abused, previous owners assuming the model can take everything in its stride. It can’t. Like any car, a Land Rover thrives on regular, routine maintenance.
Bear in mind, too, that a Land Rover is one of the few off-roaders that has probably been off-road as much as on. For this reason, it pays to check the aluminium body and the separate, ladder-frame chassis for damage, as well as the steering and suspension system.
A valid MOT certificate is no guarantee of the car’s condition since the vehicle could have been used off-road many times since it was awarded.
Over the course of 65 years of production, a large network of parts suppliers and repair specialists – for those jobs you don’t feel comfortable doing yourself – has developed, so as a Land Rover owner you should never feel unsupported.
A few versions have experienced serious, official safety recalls [check the government recall website] but be advised that online recall records only go back to 1992.] If you’re buying from a dealer, check they are aware of any recalls and whether they have attended to them.
If you are buying privately, check whether the seller knows if the work has been carried out. If they don’t, contact Land Rover customer services (0370 500 0500) and ask if they have any records of the work having been carried out. Note that often, only specific build dates are affected by a recall notice.
Land Rover Defender recall notices
Recalls Model build dates
Engine flywheel may fragment (Td5) 01/09/98 – 30/06/99
Left-hand front brake flexible hose concern no date given
Possible loss of service brake (ABS models) 01/10/98 – 01/12/03
Parking brake may become ineffective 07/06/07 – 13/02/08
Parking brake efficiency can be affected 05/10/07 – 04/11/10
Seat belt mounting bracket may fail 01/02/10 – 31/01/12
Front wheel may detach 01/09/10 – 05/07/11
Braking imbalance may make vehicle unstable 04/12/14 – 06/01/15
What to check when buying a Land Rover Defender
Diesel particulate filters (DPFs) are known for giving trouble on many cars, not just Land Rovers. On the Land Rover Defender 2.2 TD4 from 2012-on, incomplete regeneration of the DPF (regeneration is the process whereby collected diesel soot is burned off at high temperatures, perhaps during a long run) could cause unburned diesel fuel to drain into the sump and contaminate the engine oil, causing the oil level to rise above maximum.
This could trigger engine problems including an unprompted increase in engine speed and running on of the engine after it’s been turned off.
The 2.4 TD (07-11) can suffer problems with the turbocharger leading to power loss and fault code P2562. Problems with the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve can cause power loss, and trigger the engine warning light and ‘limp home’ mode.
A faulty fuel flow regulator can cause a catalogue of problems ranging from a fluctuating idle speed, no fault codes to jerky performance. Ultimately, a new FFR may be the only solution.
Finally, a knocking noise from under the car when off-roading is possibly not the vehicle striking rocks but the driveshaft and oil sump coming into contact.
It was the subject of a technical service bulletin or TSB (a non-safety related ‘recall’ instigated by the manufacturer) and the solution was to replace the existing sump with a modified version.
Like the 2.4 TD, the 2.5 TD5 (98-06) can also suffer a trio of engine problems. First up is oil contamination of the engine control unit (ECU), originating from the fuel injectors and entering the writing loom.
The first you know is the engine warning light coming on and a lack of power when you press the accelerator. Fault code 20 should show on your diagnostic readout.
The next problem concerns the fuel pump. The engine will refuse to rev above 2600rpm and clouds of white exhaust smoke will billow out behind when accelerating.
The third and final problem concerns difficult starting. Of course, there can be many reasons for this but faulty wiring in the engine speed sensor is one of the more likely ones. A clue will be no fault code showing.
The 2.4 TD was the subject of a TSB regarding an occasionally difficult gear change, accompanied by transmission noise. The cause was a faulty clutch and the solution was to replace it.
Steering and suspension
Some examples of the 2.2 TD4 (2012-on) and 2.4 TD (07-11) were recalled to have the front axle tube checked. It could break, leading to the wheel and hub becoming detached. Check the recall list for build dates affected. The fix was a simple case of fitting additional securing brackets.
Other examples of the 2.2 TD4 were recalled when it was found the front and rear hub assembly fixing bolts did not conform to specification, causing abnormal noise and vibration, and the hub to loosen. Renewal of the hub fixings was the solution.
Some examples of the 2.4 TD (07-11) were the subject of a TSB concerning possible leaks from the brake vacuum pump. The front oil seal was the culprit and renewing the pump, the answer.
Others were recalled for reduced parking brake efficiency. The problem was that the transfer box output shaft did not conform to specification, allowing oil to leak from between the output shaft and the drive flange. Cleaning and resealing the flange, and replacing contaminated brake linings, was the answer.
Some examples of the five-cylinder 2.5 TD5 (98-06) were recalled for the same reason with the addition of a further recall for the same problem but this time due to fluid leaking from the brake modulator. Fitting stronger valve covers to the brake modulator was the solution. The same recall applied to examples of the 2.5 TDi 300 (96-06) and 4.0 V8 Anniversary (98-99).
Exterior and interior
Examples of the 2.2 TD4 (2012-on) and its predecessor, the 2.4 TD (07-11), were recalled when it was discovered the seat belt mounting bracket bolt and studs might not conform to specification. Affected brackets were renewed.
Thanks to their relative lack of creature comforts, electronic problems are few and far between but the 2.5 TD5 (98-06) was the subject of a TSB concerning an intermittent fuel gauge reading. The fault was traced to a faulty fuel level sensor and the solution, simple replacement of the sensor.