24 May 1996



Specialist Tim Pilbeam

of independent Land

Rover agent Roberts Country

Vehicles takes Andrew Pearce through

the finer points of buying a used Range Rover

THE original Range Rover sums up a slice of Britain.

Conceived as a farmers vehicle yet moved swiftly upmarket by non-farming buyers, its continued existence was as much a triumph of marketing as engineering. And although production of the old model stopped earlier this year, its strengths – interior space, comfort, basic toughness and fine off-road ability – endure.

The second-hand buyer has plenty to choose from, starting with sub-£1000 bangers to air-sprung, air-conditioned plush-mobiles. Here we concentrate on 1986-95 models, which includes all the factory-fit diesel versions. Prices quoted are for repair work in Roberts workshop and, unless specified, include labour costs but not VAT.


Petrol versions first. V8 capacity increased from 3.5 litres to 3.9 litres in Oct 1989, lifting power from 165hp to 188hp and bringing more torque at lower crank speeds. Unleaded fuel consumption stayed in the 14-20mpg band.

Engines should do up to 180,000 miles, should start promptly and not blow blue smoke – although black smoke on cold-start is normal. A burst of clacking on cold start or, more likely, continuous soft clicking with a warm engine means a camshaft change is due; expect one every 70,000-80,000 miles and budget £400 for parts and labour. Missed oil changes mean faster cam wear, so look to good service history.

Oil leaks are common, especially from the valley gasket between cylinder banks. Leaks can often be stopped by spring-cleaning the engine breathing system. Most people forget the manifold plenum chamber ports, says Tim Pilbeam, so the problem persists. Other troubles are few. Head gaskets can go (look for bubbles in the radiator expansion tank and expect a £225 bill to do both heads) but otherwise the V8 is a tough old lump.

Four different diesels have been used. Forget the 2.4 and 2.5-litre VM units used from 1986-92, suggests Tim Pilbeam – both are prone to cylinder head trouble and short on low-end torque. Land Rover fitted its own 2.5-litre 200Tdi from November 1992, then changed to the quieter, smoother 300Tdi in March 1994.

Both are reliable if served good quality fresh oil and a filter every 6000 miles and a new cambelt at least every 48,000 miles (200Tdi) or 72,000 miles on the 300tdi (£130 including labour). Expect 28-35miles/gal in a manual car and an engine lifespan upwards of 160,000 miles.

Tdi checks are straightforward. Anticipate combustion clatter but no underlying clicks, rumbles or knocks.

Cold starting should be good, with blue smoke emission normal until things warm up. Oil use in the 200Tdi will be significant, especially if the sump has been filled to more than half-way up the stick. Otherwise you should expect to add 0.3 litres every 1000 miles, maybe more. Tdi engines weep oil but should have no big leaks.

Clutch and gearboxes

Diesel vibration at idle wears the clutch release fork pivot from 50,000 miles onward, generating a £270 bill for replacement, with a creak on pushing the pedal or clutch drag the first clue. All manual gearboxes are five-speeders. Life is usually around 120,000 miles in petrol versions but about 80,0000 miles on diesels. Layshaft bearings can wear (listen for rumbles which disappear on shifting into top) and synchromesh on second often disappears. Both cases call for an exchange box at £700 fitted.

Automatics are four-speed ZF units. Reliability is potentially high if service is regular and the screen filter is changed on time. Look for clean-smelling, red fluid on the dipstick and watch for smooth shifts on a test drive. If the rev counter needle soars during a change a clutch pack is slipping and an exchange box will soon be due (£750).

A word about clacks and clonks in the transmission. All Range Rovers clonk to some extent when driveline loads are reversed, usually when coming on or off the throttle, shifting gear or changing direction. Cars after Oct 1988 carrying a Borg Warner viscous centre differential are better but still do it, and on all models one can drive round the problem with practice. Only worry if the noise is loud and centred between the seats, which suggests the gearbox-to-transfer case splining is worn. Left alone, all drive will eventually be lost. Manual cars will need an exchange box, probably, plus a new top transfer gear as well, while automatics just need a new gear plus output stub shaft. Thumps further back are probably coming from the A-frame ball joint (see Suspension).

With post-1988 viscous-diff cars, groans on the move from the transfer box suggest it is about to expire (£800). Earlier gear transfer boxes whine but tend to last.

Propshafts and axles

Check propshaft joint wear by wriggling each. Judge differential play by turning each propshaft by hand with the gearbox in neutral. Much more than 25mm (1in) rotation suggests an exchange diff (£220), though slack and the resulting clonks and whines can be left if your nerves can stand it.

Drive round on full lock. Clicking points to front axle CV joint wear, fixable for £200 each side. At each end of the front axle big chromed steering swivels are likely to pit with rust and their oil seals leak, especially on 3.9-litre cars. Replacement is £200 a side fitted, though changing seals alone is much less.


Most Range Rovers wander and feel vague on the road even when all is well, and wear in steering and suspension only makes things worse. Some steering wheel shimmy over bumps is normal and it grows if the steering damper is not damping (take off to check), the front hub swivel bearings are loose (jack up and look for play) or the steering box is worn (look for big oil leaks and the central shaft lifting as the steering wheel is swung about the centre position).

Steering boxes tend to leak and, if the MOT man objects, a replacement is £220 fitted. Should the steering groan going from lock to lock, and the fluid level is OK, expect to fork out £150 for a new pump. To find play in the system generally, lay under the front of the car and both watch and feel as someone rocks the steering wheel from side to side. Concentrate on the track rod ends, steering drop arm and Panhard rod bushes.


Rubber bushes feature heavily in the front radius arms and rear trailing links. With the car on its wheels use a lever to find slack in the front bushings round the axle. Wear in bushes between the chassis and rear links is rapid, leading to the rear axle steering the outfit – find it by rocking the vehicle while holding the bush assembly. New bits are cheap but labour adds up – expect a £100 bill for the front end, half that for the rear.

Sitting over the rear axle, the A-frame ball joint is a fine clonk-producer when worn – check by levering it upwards. A new one is £75 fitted. Other rattles can come from the central self-levelling struts balljoints, which are a pain to change so the job costs about £75. The strut itself should not leak significantly – a fresh one is dear, at £200-£350 plus fitting, depending on source.

Shock absorbers, too, should be dry. Rear coil springs usually sag after much hard towing, though £75 for a new set is not too painful. Cracks in the front door pillars are common on cars up to 1987.


Discs all round should give straight stops on test for little pedal effort. Feel disc surfaces; bad scoring means MOT-time replacement at up to £175 fitted an axle. ABS was a complicated option from Oct 1989. See that the panel warning light goes out above 5mph as the self-check system satisfies itself – if not, life will become expensive. A vocal ABS pump behind the bulkhead can be lived with if the warning light is happy, a fresh one will set you back £750.


The petrol injection control unit (£300) can give up the ghost at any time, though 3.9-litre versions are more reliable. Switches for window lifts, central locking and the like can give trouble, so check that everything works before buying. Suspect a sunroof that needs help to close, as a tired electric motor costs £300 to swap, and be sure to run an SE models electric seats through all adjustment ranges – those simple-looking switches are £90 fitted.


Hardwearing sums up Range Rover cabin materials, though the trim tends to fit where it touches, particularly on earlier multi-piece dashboard cars. Front footwell leaks are common, leading to smelly carpet and eventually a rust hole. Suspect the door seal (£50) or possibly the windscreen. Water coming through the sunroof is usually nothing worse than blocked drain channels.

Body rot

Chassis and sill corrosion are rare in cars of this vintage. But white-bubble alloy oxidation on exterior panels is very common and hard to eradicate. Typical zones are along the door bottoms and over wheel arches, though the favourite is where the front wings meet steel inner panels. Go to a specialist for respray work, as techniques differ from steel.

Look into the engine bay, where rust usually bites the inner wings. Other rust attack points are the front footwells and the inner rear wheel arches.


Range Rover popularity over the years means a big used vehicle pool, though Tdi diesel versions are relatively rare. Values below are for clean, independent dealer cars with mileage averaging 14,000 a year. Main agents may ask more. Specification can vary greatly. Automatics are the most popular, with SE trim (leather seats, sunroof, air con, more soundproofing) a bonus.

1987 3.5 Efi auto (hidden fuel filler model)£8,000

1988 3.5 Efi manual (viscous transfer box)£10,000

1989 3.9 Efi auto, SE trim


1992 200Tdi manual£17,000

1994 300Tdi auto£25,000

Roberts Country Vehicles (01424-893280/893318).

Above left: Durable interior hasnt changed much over the years, though post-1994 cars gained a one-piece dash. Above right: Tired front door seals are a prime cause of damp footwells. Below: Aluminium alloy outer panels succumb to bubbly white oxide, particularly along door bottoms, over wheel arches and (as here) where the front wings bolt to steel inners.

Above: Light oil stain on turbo outlet hose is normal but heavy pollution inside suggests turbo wear. Lift unit shaft to check. Below: Steering checkpoints are Panhard rod bushes (horizontal link, centre), the steering drop arm joint (top left) and all track rod ends (horizontal links, top and bottom).

Check radius arm bushes by rocking car while feeling for slack. Polybushes (inset) are a synthetic, long-lasting alternative to standard rubber items that tighten handling but stiffen ride.

Above: Levering front radius arm bushes finds wear. Chrome steering swivels (behind) often leak and produce MOT failure. Seal changes are cheap but new swivel balls are not. Below: Play in the rear axle A-frame balljoint is found with a lever.