Used buying guide: Land Rover Defender
25 October 2021 - autocar
Every petrolhead should own a Defender at least once in their lives, but which one to get and what to look out for?
My dad bought my mum a Land Rover Defender to teach her a lesson after she kept scraping her car down the side of the house. (It was an awkward driveway.) She was horrified and demanded its immediate return. He lost a wedge but she never scraped her car again.
A Landie can have that effect. Some people love them (a family friend had a County that he wouldn’t shut up about) while others loathe them (see above). If you have a proper job for one or just buy into the whole ‘one life, live it’ thing, you’re probably of the former persuasion.
We’re considering the Defender here because it’s the version that most buyers are likely to encounter. It was launched in 1990 as the replacement for the prosaically named 90 and 110 (the numbers refer to the length of their wheelbases in inches), its name prompted by the new Discovery.
Fortunately more than just a new name, it featured a new, more powerful and economical 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine called the 200 TDi, coil suspension in place of the old leaf spring set-up, the option of power steering and updated styling, all without diluting its predecessor’s legendary off-road ability.
The next big event for the Defender was the 1994 arrival of the 300 TDi – still 2.5 litres but comprehensively reworked and deemed good enough for the Discovery as well. Four years later, this was replaced by the all-new 2.5-litre five-cylinder Td5. Designed to conform to tough new emissions rules, it relied on more electronics than before. Grizzled Landie buyers feared the worst, but the engine has proved to be reliable.
Skip forward to 2007 and the Td5 got the heave-ho in favour of Ford’s torquier 2.4-litre Puma diesel engine (as used in the Transit van), mated to a six-speed gearbox.
It’s fair to say that with this combination, the Defender came of age – sort of. It was still composed of a collection of separate parts and could be dismantled and rebuilt as required, but it was now more powerful, more frugal and more refined, at least in Landie terms.
That said, diehards bemoaned the new, full-width dashboard, a combination of Discovery and Transit components with a few Austin parts (switchgear from the Metro and the ignition switch from the Marina) thrown in for good measure that they claimed was inferior to the old one.
Whatever the truth, the heating and ventilation system was a big improvement. In 2012, the 2.4-litre engine was replaced by an equally powerful 2.2-litre one, still by Ford, designed to meet the forthcoming Euro 5 emissions rules. And it was this that powered the final Defenders to leave the Solihull factory in 2016.
Whatever your opinion of the Defender, it’s undeniably a practical, modern classic that can be driven in all weathers. Prices are high, but buy a good one and look after it and it’s unlikely to depreciate. Fit mechanical steering and transmission locks and you might get to keep it, too.
An expert's view: Chris Boyer, Quantock Classics
“A well-looked-after Defender will look after you, so favour service history and condition over age and mileage. A lot can go wrong if the car is neglected or abused. My pet hate is a roof carrier, as I worry the extra payload will damage the chassis and suspension. I also worry about what kick plates and sill covers are hiding. And don’t get me going on over-size tyres, which ruin what little ride comfort there is and drown out conversation. Parts availability is excellent. Just be wary of poor-quality parts masquerading as official ones.”
Engine: Issues include oil and water leaks, hesitancy, turbo smoke, perished or detached hoses, hot-starting issues and blocked catalytic converters.
Transmission: Check for oil leaks and ensure that the low-ratio and differential locks work. Check the operation of the clutch, as it can fail in as little as 35,000 miles.
Wheels and suspension: Front-wheel swivel joints wear, get pitted and then leak, affecting thesteering, which has a lot of rods whose bushes and bearings also wear and leak. The hubs can leak oil onto the wheels.Check none of the coil springs are broken. Inspect the unions at the end of the copper brake lines, as they can rust and leak. Do an emergency stop to check the car pulls up straight.
Chassis: Rust attacks whole chassis sections, including the rails that support the engine, rear springs and axles, plus the outriggers, which support the body (and, in the worst case, must be cut out and replaced). Check the condition of the exposed wiring loom.
Body: The floor corrodes underneath. Replacement back ends, floors and reinforcing cross-beams are available but expensive to fit. Steel door inners corrode where wet and dirt is thrown up from the wheels. The front bulkhead corrodes around the windscreen and fresh-air vents and in the footwells.
Interior: Heavy use quickly takes its toll on the seats and dashboard. Check for damp carpets and broken window mechanisms and door catches.
Also worth knowing
It’s crucial to get a Defender up on a ramp. Leaks from the engine and transmission will be much easier to see, as will rust. You will also be able to easily inspect brake unions, steering and suspension joints and springs. Seller not keen? Look elsewhere.
How much to spend
£6000-£9999: High-mileage 90s; those with a galvanised chassis from £9000.
£10,000-£14,999: Scruffier 110s and tidier 90s
£15,000-£18,999: Well-sorted, lower-mileage 90s from the 1990s; 110s from the 2000s.
£19,000-£24,999: Low-mileage 90s from the 2010s and desirable 110s.
£30,000 and above: The best cars for the deepest pockets.
One we found - Defender 90 300 TDi, 1994, 164,000 miles, £13,995:
This tidy example has a fresh MOT, a good service history and a galvanised chassis. If you lack experience with the Defender, this is the way to buy a respectable old value-for-money one.