16 February 1996



Key points to watch when buying a secondhand Defender are detailed by Hants-based Keith Gott. Andrew Pearce takes notes

LATE in 1990 something momentous happened. The Land Rover – for decades the farmers first choice as a work tool – suddenly turned into the Defender. Interested parties might have spotted new badges and cocked an ear to a different diesel note, but had to lift the bonnet to find the big news.

Instead of the old willing-but-frail indirect injection turbodiesel, there sat the newly-minted 200Tdi. Designed with turbocharging in mind, direct injected and intercooled, its 111hp knocked spots off the old unit and took it to the top of the 2.5-litre class.

Since then nothing quite so drastic has happened. The familiarly pugnacious body is just the same, coil springs still handle suspension and the interior is as chaotic as ever. True, disc brakes replaced rear drums in late 1993 and in one late-1994 swoop, the marginally-quieter 300Tdi took over as power unit and reverse moved opposite to fifth in the five-speed gearbox. Engine outputs stayed the same at 111hp and 195lbf ft torque, though.

So vehicle supply permitting, life should be straightforward for the buyer looking to find a good used Defender. And thanks to the proliferation of models – 90 ,110 and 130; soft top, hard top, pickup, station wagon and high-capacity pickup – its easy to match a vehicle to farm needs.


Whereas buyers of the old turbodiesel needed to be certain of engine mileage and service history to avoid trouble, no such worries attach to the 200 and 300Tdi. "Its an engine without big problems," says Keith Gott. "So theres no need to be frightened of high mileage. We know vehicles that have covered 200,000 miles and are still going strong, even where servicing has not been regular. Head gaskets very occasionally give trouble, but thats it."

Expect a cold engine to start promptly. Some blue-white smoke until the unit warms up is normal, with a puff of black on acceleration taking over as the temperature gauge climbs. Also expect fair combustion clatter, but be cautious of an engine which ticks from the top, rumbles from below or blows much blue or black smoke when warm. Performance should be brisk, especially in the lighter 90 variants. If the motor fails to impress, check the turbo-to-intercooler pipework; leaks here produce a major lack of go but are simple to fix.

Also be concerned about significant oil leaks – Tdis are not yard-polluters – and check the service history for cambelt changes every 60,000miles/5years. If this is imminent or overdue get it sorted straight away, budgeting or negotiating for 4-5hours labour.


High-mileage cars are likely to produce a sharp clack on letting out the clutch. Listen hard for the origin; if it comes from the gearbox area, the mainshaft splines and their counterparts in the upper transfer box gear are worn. If the noise is more of a clonk and comes from the rear, suspect the A-frame balljoint – see Suspension.

Mainshaft/transfer gear wear is very common, and will continue for some time until either a) the splines finally strip and you go nowhere, or b) you find around £1200 for an exchange gearbox, new upper gear and the labour to change them.

By contrast a wobbly gearlever is cheaper to fix, with around £16 buying an unworn turret for it to sit in. Moving the transfer lever leftwards should summon up a dashboard diff lock light, and pushing the stubby stick forwards should find low range. Confirm the former by steering a gentle circle on tarmac, when you should feel the steering stiffen though driveline wind-up. If the lever is reluctant its linkage has probably seized – common with cars used mainly on the road.

The transfer box should be quiet during a test drive. Clonks and vibration from the nether regions suggest propshaft joint wear, commonly stemming from lack of grease. Lay under the car and tug each joint in all directions; play means a new part at £15 plus £25 labour.

Axles give clues to a previous life, so check the front diff housing for wrinkles which suggest hard off-road use. The diffs themselves should be quiet during a test drive. As with children, whining noises can be stopped by applying money; a good secondhand diff erential costs £150-£175. But no harm will probably come from leaving things as they are.

Leaks around the axle input pinion or its outboard ends may be nothing worse than a blocked breather pressurising the seals. The front driveshafts have CV joints at their outer ends to allow steering; you cant see them, but will hear £200-sized trouble clicking away on hard lock.

Moving out into the wheel bearings and front steering swivels, check for play in the time-honoured fashion by jacking up each corner and rocking the wheel. Rumbly bearing will need to be changed before MOT. Swivel bearing wear is sorted from wheel bearing play by having a mate plant a foot on the brakes. If movement goes away its in the wheel bearings, but if it stays the swivel races are worn.


Defenders use the all-coil setup of the previous 90 and 110. Saggy or broken springs are reasonably cheap to change at around £20, while oil-streaked dampers will set you back £25-ish.

Just about all suspension joints are rubber-bushed. Wear produces very odd handling and an MOT fail, so check all before buying. Start at the front with the most likely trouble spot – the Panhard rod linking body to axle. Have someone rock the steering wheel from side to side while you watch the rod ends. More than a trace of movement means new bushes at a bank-threatening £2-3 each.

While youre there put a lever to both sides of the front radius arm bushes, the ones in the big castings which loop under the axle. Some elastic movement is OK but slop means replacement.

Rear trailing arm bushes get a much harder life, and need to be in good order as they stop the back axle steering the car. Find them where the rear links meet the chassis. Put the car in gear (handbrake off) and watch what happens as someone rocks it to and fro. Visible bush play means replacement, but as with the front versions, parts are quite cheap.

The final suspension hotspot is the rear A-frame balljoint – that producer of clonks on setting off or lifting off the throttle. Slide under the rear, find the joint over the diff housing where axle and A-frame meet, and lever it. Slack means replacement at around £25 plus £40 labour.


Power steering box weeps are normal, but budget around £300 to change a box which drips oil on the floor. Leaks often go hand-in-hand with wear, so watch the boxs vertical sector shaft while someone swings the steering wheel about its centre point. If the shaft still jumps up and down after adjustment, then the car needs a new unit.

Steering joints can be watched and felt for play during the above wheel-swinging. Steering swivels – the big chrome balls at the front axle ends – must be changed if rust pitted, as seal leaks will soon start and be impossible to cure.


Nothing much here, other than feeling the face and outer lip of each disc. Scoring and a big step at the lip imply new discs (roughly £25, plus pads at £20), and are a guide to true mileage, so check that the speedo reading agrees with your fingertips. Stand hard on the brake pedal with the engine running. If it creeps to the floor, something is leaking and must be sorted out pre-purchase.

Bodywork and chassis

A Defender chassis should still be sound. Rot appears first where mud hangs in the rear crossmember, so look hard at the small chassis-to-crossmember stiffeners and probe the back panel carefully if these are moth-eaten.

Electrolytic corrosion is normal where the steel interior frame meets aluminium cladding panels, and is hastened by fertiliser juice, slurry and salt water. Common zones are door lower edges; pay less for a car with big problems, as fixing it properly involves new panels. Furry patches elsewhere are oxidation, which re-appears unless treated the right way (Country Car, May 19 1995).

&#8226 Prices quoted in text are for good quality non-genuine parts, many of which come from the same source as Original Equipment spares. Beware of cheap pattern parts which may not fit, can be short-lived and may compromise safety. Labour charges are approximate and relate to the Gott workshops.

Dixon-Bate kits cover all Land Rover (incl Discovery and Range Rover) plus

other 4x4s.

Sample prices (kit only, less coupling and wiring)

Land Rover 88/109£72.50

Land Rover 90/110/Defender£80.00

Range Rover/Discovery£84.00

Landcruiser lwb 1991-on£150.00

Patrol GR 1992-on£145.00


Universal coupling (3.5t)£48.50

Shocklink to fit adjustable bar£266.30


1. Hardware: Dixon-Bate (01244-288925)

2. Hardware, electrics and fitting, incl on site:

Phil Taylor Towbars


Thanks to Joe Publics current bubble of enthusiasm for 4x4s, quality Defenders can be hard to find and prices are firm. The following asking prices reflect forecourt reality more than book figures, says Keith Gott, who points out that while guides assume average mileages of 10,000/yr, many cars will have covered up to twice that.

Defender 90 or 110 hardtop,1991 H£8500

Ditto1993 K £10,500

Ditto1995 M £13,000

Notes: 1. Above values assume average mileage. 2. Commercial vehicles must have VAT added.

Keith Gott (01420-544330) operates from Alton, Hants and generally has a selection of Defenders, as well as offering advice, parts, repairs and complete rebuilds.

Brake discs with a big step at their outer edge point to plenty of work and high mileage. Worry if the speedo total says otherwise, suggests Keith Gott.

Forgetfulness with the greasegun produces worn propshaft UJs. Fitter Edward Carroll tugs in all directions to find whereabouts of slop and play.

Lacklustre performance on a test drive could be nothing more sinister than a split intercooler hose (horizontal, top and bottom). Tdis are generally reliable.

Looking up under the rear crossmember shows where chassis rust is most likely to start.

If the triangular brace (right) is moth-eaten, look hard at the mud-trapping crossmember alongside.

A pitted steering swivel soon produces leaks where shown, though this one is fine. A worn seal or damaged/ misadjusted swivel bearings give the same result.

Racing car-type suspension has made it off the circuit and onto the nations highways. Citroen says its new Xantia flagship, the Activa, is the worlds first production car to incorporate active roll control (ARCS) – a system designed to dramatically reduce body lean when cornering. The system works in two phases. As the car first enters a bend both front and rear anti-roll bars automatically stiffen. Should that not be enough and the body still starts to lean, two hydraulic rams actively maintain the cars level stance. Available in the UK for the past four weeks, the 150hp

2-litre Citroen Xantia Activa is priced at £18,480.

Levering the rear A-frame balljoint with a hefty crowbar finds play. A new joint stops clonks and passes the MOT.

If the steering box positively drips fluid and its vertical sector shafts jumps on rocking the steering wheel, negotiate a replacement before buying.

A continuous gap round the rear trailing arm bush suggests its sell-by date has come and gone. Play means replacement. This one shows a gap only at the top; full check procedure is in text.

The Panhard rod (horizontal, next to axle) stops the body shifting sideways as you steer, so its bushes must be sound. Oil from a leaking steering box will rot the offside one in no time. New bushes cost £2-3 each.