[originally published Spring 2006]

How Land Rovers get here… driveshaft troubles… fluid recommendations

Well, spring is in the air and the Land Rovers are twitching their tails and bouncing on their springs, rarin' to go out and play in the mud. I'm glad to see this because I find winter depressing, and I really welcome the brighter sun and the longer days. We've already done two off-road events and a car show this year and we're looking forward to more.

As I sit here, sweat dripping from my forehead, struggling for something to write, I realized we have never addressed an essential question. How do Land Rovers get here?

I'm sure all you of you wondered how YOU got here. Some of you grew up thinking the stork brought you, and a few of you were purchased on sale at Kid-O-Rama. Just as you take your own existence for granted, many of you assume Land Rovers are "just here." But is there more?

We all know Land Rovers are born in a British factory, the pride of the Kingdom. But how do they get here from there? Yes… there is an ocean between here and there. Do they swim? Do they fly? I'll bet most of you have never considered that important question.

If you've got a regular US market Rover, it arrived by sea, inside an oceangoing car carrier. Car carriers are like overgrown car ferries — up to 700 feet long, and capable of carrying over 6,500 cars — ten times the capacity of a ferry.

Land Rovers are stacked in these ships nose to tail and door to door — rows and rows of Land Rovers. These ships are so big that a single one can supply the Land Rover needs of the eastern United States for a month or more.

They call modern car carriers RORO ships, for roll-on, roll-off. The cars are driven on ramps into the ship and then tied to the floor. This saves on shipping costs because they don't actually pack the cars.

Ships like this sail year round, in any weather. Summertime sailings can be like a trip on a cruise liner, but a crossing in January can include sixty mile per hour winds, ice, and waves taller than a four story building, hitting the ship at 30 miles per hour. It can be a rough ride. Car carriers will try and avoid the roughest weather because the cars will get slammed around and damaged. There have been storms so severe that the ships limp into port with all the cars in a pile. Hopefully your Land Rover wasn't one of those. Actually, I know it wasn't because when stuff like that happens they scrap them. The cars, that is, not the ships. The ships themselves are a lot tougher — they will take those beatings through twenty-plus years and millions of miles of sailing before they get scrapped.

Ever wonder what happens to scrapped ships? Most of them get beached in Bangladesh and India, where barefoot workmen cut them apart with 19th century hand tools. The steel gets melted down and turned into girders and rebar and plate that end up in buildings all over Asia. So the steel is a ship one year, and an apartment complex the next.

And what happens to Land Rovers when they get scrapped here? My friend Gordy owns a salvage yard here, and he's shipping his steel to Asia where it feeds the building booms in China and Korea. Ships to Indian apartments and Land Rovers to Chinese high rises — who'd have guessed?

If you're one of those suburban Land Rover owners that never drive over anything rougher than a shopping mall speed bump I suggest you buy a Land Rover that arrived here in winter. You can be secure in the knowledge that the hills and valleys it crossed at sea were rougher than anything you will traverse and rougher than anything your sportier friends drive over at Moab every summer.

Some of you have more unusual Land Rovers — ex-Army trucks, 130 pickups, and other exotica. Most of those Rovers came here by container ship. Most of the exotic Rovers were actually shipped here as piles of parts that were reconstituted in some American garage. A few were shipped whole but most came in pieces to get around the import regulations.

Some of the stuff these container ships sail through is really incredible. One of the biggest container ships, the APL China, got caught in a typhoon a few years ago. The engine lost power when a wave rolled over the ship and flooded the smokestack with seawater, drowning the engine. The smokestack on that ship is 500 feet from the bow, and 95 feet above sea level. Cargo damage from that storm was almost $200 million dollars, including damage to some vintage Land Rovers riding the containers on the back of the ship.

It's not the calm and docile environment you think of when you see cars lined up at the dealership, is it?

Driveshaft troubles — a cautionary note

1999 and newer Discovery II and Range Rover models were equipped with a new style of front drive shaft. This new part was supposed to be service free — the grease fittings found on older Land Rover shafts were eliminated. And they are service free. Until they blow up.

We are finding that these shafts wear as they get older. In some cases the grease is lost from the joints, and water gets in and causes rust. When this happens the joint can freeze up. In normal operation the joints flex constantly as the suspension works up and down. When the joints bind up they can't flex any more, so they come apart.

When the joints get tight you may feel a vibration in the floor of your truck. But that feeling may not last long — the joint will fail in short order and when it does it will usually fail in an explosive manner. This seems to happen as the vehicle approach 100,000 miles.

At highway speeds the driveshaft is spinning pretty fast — about 300 rpm, ten times the speed of the records the DJ spun in your disco days. If the joint on one end of the shaft breaks the shaft becomes a ten pound steel billy club slamming your truck's soft underbelly at that speed. In a matter of seconds it can smash your transmission case, your catalyst, your floor, and even the transfer case.

The repair bill can reach $7,500. How can you prevent this?

Unbolt the front driveshaft and twist the joints through all their ranges of motion. If you feel any binding the joints need to be replaced — right away! There is some skill involved in this check, because you need to know the difference between the "bump" you feel when the joint centers itself and the "bump" of a bad bearing.

If your joints are getting tight you can buy u-joint kits and press them in, or you can buy a complete drive shaft assembly.

Fluids, for you and your Rover

During the winter of 2005 Land Rover issued a bulletin on correct fluids for the different models and I'd like to repeat some of that here with my own opinions added in…

For the New Range Rover — 2003 and up — Land Rover recommends 0-30, 0-40, 5-30, or 5-40 API SJ engine oils. Most of the oils that meet that spec are synthetic. The brands we see are Mobil 1 0-40, Mobil 5-30 Extended Performance, BMW 5-30 synthetic, and Castrol Syntec. We prefer the Mobil 1 0-40.

Land Rover specifies synthetic oils only for the Freelander, in 5-50, 0-40, or 5-40 weight. We prefer Mobil 1 0-40 for Freelanders.

For all other models Land Rover calls for a SJ/SH oil in 10-40 for summer and 5-30 or 5-40 for winter. We recommend full synthetic 5-40 year round for most Rovers. Engines that have sludge buildup from a lack of maintenance earlier in life often benefit from the faster flow rate of 0-40 Mobil 1. Engines in cold climates do well with this oil, too.

Land Rover calls for 75-90 GL5 lubricants in all axles. They specify full synthetic for the 2003-newer Range Rover. Irecommend full synthetic for all Land Rover models.

The older Land Rover models with oil-filled swivel housings can use the Land Rover STC3435 grease or (our recommendation if used in water) Mobil 1 gear lube.

Land Rover specifies DOT 4 fluid for all brake systems. The brake fluid sold in many parts stores is DOT 3 - be careful not to use that as it can boil and cause brake failure on hills. We recommend Castrol LMA. Land Rover has recommended both that and Shell ESL. I think you'll find Castrol LMA is more readily available in the USA.

Land Rover recommends "generic" Dexron III ATF for the automatic transmissions in all but the new Range Rover and the Freelander. Land Rover has special transmission fluids for those models — STC4863 for the Range Rover and LRN402 for the Freelander. For all the other models we've had good experience with Mobil 1 ATF.

Land Rover now recommends Type F ATF for both the LT77 and R380 manual transmissions. We agree — Type F provides for smoother shifts than Dexron.

For your transfer case Land Rover has the following recommendations: New Range Rover use special STC4861 fluid. Discovery II uses fully synthetic 75-90 GL5 gear lube. I also personally recommend this fully synthetic lube for Defender, Discovery I, and 87-88 Range Rover transfer cases. Land Rover recommends Dexron III ATF for P38 and Range Rover Classic transfer cases, 1989-2002. I prefer the synthetic Dexron ATF there too. Freelander has a special fluid for its intermediate drive, LRN7590.

I've covered coolant recommendations in my other article in this issue, a few pages in. So keep reading to find that.

The final question

Next I'd like to address the big question… what do I know, and how do I know it? We had a similar question lead to a presidential impeachment a few years ago… this one is not such a big deal. I've been asked this question a few times recently on Internet posting, so I'll answer it here…

As some of you know, I'm not just a journalist. Not that there's anything wrong with journalists. After all, my brother's one. I'm a Land Rover service manager. Our shop — Robison Service — does general repairs, routine maintenance, anything a Rover owner might need. We've been taking care of Land Rovers since their return to North America in the late 1980s.

So I see what goes on in the shop, and I have a good memory. I try and note what we call pattern failures — things that seem to happen all the time on a certain model or under certain conditions. Some of those things get reported in these articles.

Nowadays, as a result of my writings in print and on the Internet, people from all over the world send me questions and comments on Land Rover service issues. I hear from both owners and service people, and those conversations further expand my knowledge.

Years before, I grew up around Land Rovers and other European cars in Georgia and western Massachusetts. I drove 1960s Rovers in the woods as a kid, and I still do it today.

So I have a long history with Land Rovers. Does that mean everything I say is right? No, it doesn't mean everything is right. But I do try and offer my best judgments and advice, and unlike certain popular culture columnists, I don't make it all up.