[originally published May 2003]

The used Land Rover marketplace — buying a late model Land Rover

The downturns in our economy in recent years have produced a number of bargains in the used car market. Lots and lots of Land Rovers are being dumped on the market as they come off lease, and the slowdown has produced a significant rise in repossessions and trade-downs as well. So buyers with cash or good credit can find some real bargains today on our favorite vehicles.

A large percentage of Land Rover sales in recent years were to lease customers. Most of those lessees are turning their cars in rather than buying them out, and the market is flooded with three-year-old trucks. As a result, wholesale prices have fallen sharply on late model Range Rover and Discovery models. The biggest price drops are on the 1999-2000 vehicles that are flooding the market in the spring of 2003.

In many cases, trucks that are still under manufacturer new car warranty are selling at auction for less than half their original sticker price. For example, 2000 Discovery IIs that sold for over $40,000 new are selling at auction for less than $20,000 today. Range Rovers that originally cost near $70,000 are selling for just a few thousand more.

When buying a former lease vehicle, you need to pay attention to the care the truck received. Sadly, many lessees treated their Rovers like rental cars, in some cases turning them in after three years with the same oil and filter they left the factory with. Rover engines are particularly susceptible to damage from sludge buildup, and such treatment will guarantee problems for the second owner.

I suggest that anyone buying one of these vehicles check the serial number with your local Land Rover dealer for a service history. I’d stay away from any vehicle with no dealer service history unless it had credible records from the owner. There are a few other areas to check as well. The original equipment tires develop a choppy wear pattern unless they were rotated regularly, something that rarely happens on lease trucks. Usually, the original tires are all done by 35,000 miles. Also, many Rovers need brake pads and rotors at that mileage.

The potential high cost of repairs on 1995-1999 Range Rover models has driven their prices down near those of Discoveries. Range Rovers can be an excellent value provided you buy a vehicle that was kept up. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find Range Rovers in need of $3,000 or more in service. The biggest problem areas are:

  • Oil leaks — leaks from intakes, head gaskets, rear main seals, oil cooler lines and oil pans;
  • Electronic problems in the climate control — servos, blowers, panels;
  • Air suspension troubles - bad air bags and sensors;
  • Engine trouble — carbon fouling of the exhaust valves causing misfire and ragged running;
  • Neglected maintenance — the original lessee’s failure to perform scheduled services can cost a second owner quite a bit when he has to pay to catch up, doing a major service, brakes, tires, and various repairs all at once.

Discovery II models do not use the Range Rover’s air suspension, and they have a reliable climate control system. As a result they are quite a bit more trouble free, and they cost less to repair than Range Rovers. This is true of the older Discovery I models, too. However, the fit and finish on pre-’99 models is poor. The shriveled up dashboards and terrible oil leaks found on many older Discos are examples of this. The Discovery II, introduced in 1999, is vastly improved. From a reliability and functionality standpoint Discovery II is the best Land Rover product to date.

Freelander models are also beginning to appear on the used market. The basic S models are selling at dealer wholesale auctions in the mid-to-high teens, so some bargains are out there. The better SE and HSE models are wholesaling in the low $20,000s. Freelanders are a best seller in Europe, but they really haven’t taken off here quite the same way.

The later 1999 and newer Range Rovers, and all Discovery II models use Bosch electrics in place of the British (GEMS) system used previously. In addition to the revised electrics these newer trucks have numerous other Ford inspired design improvements. If you can afford to you should choose one of these newer trucks.

As of April 2003, 1999 Discovery I models are currently wholesaling in the mid-teens. 1999 Discovery II models are wholesaling in the high teens. 1999 Range Rover 4.0SE models have a current wholesale value in the low $20,000, while 4.6HSE models wholesale in the mid-to-upper $20,000s. 2000 year models are $3-6,000 more. All represent excellent value.

Defender 90 prices have also softened. 1997 Defenders that were selling in the $40,000+ range a couple years ago can be had today in the $30,000 range. 1994 and 1995 Defenders seldom sell for more that $25,000 today.

When buying a used Land Rover I always recommend buying a good service contract. Such contracts, often called “extended warranties”, will protect you from cost should a breakdown occur. Many companies offer such contracts today, including a number of online vendors. I recommend buying the longest term you can get (usually 4 years/50,000 miles) unless you have a specific reason to do otherwise.

As you look over various plans, there are a number of areas you should pay attention to. First — look to see if you are buying an “included component” plan or an “excluded component plan.” Included plans have a list of items that are covered. Coverage is strictly limited to those items. Excluded component plans cover the whole vehicle except for the excluded items listed. Such plans don't usually cost much more, and they are much better as a rule.

Be sure the definition of when a part is considered “failed” refers to manufacturer specifications or tolerances…rather than gray area phrases like normal wear and tear. Makes sure seals, gaskets, thermostats and over-heating damage are covered. These components/problems can trigger major engine/transmission claims, and if they are not covered, you claim will be denied.

When seeking advice on a plan the best people to ask are service managers in busy facilities. They see them all and will steer you clear of the ones that over-promise and under-deliver.

Premium used Land Rovers are offered by Rover dealers under the Land Rover Certified program. This program combines a thorough inspection and service with a service contract. Dealers are supposed pick the best units for this program. Vehicles offered under LR Certified are likely to be in the top range in terms of both quality and price. By shopping around you may find better value with equal quality from reputable independents.

More and more, we see Land Rovers being auctioned on eBay. I strongly advise a pre-purchase inspection before bidding on such a vehicle. All too many times we see customers come to our shop with horror stories about supposedly great cars they bought on eBay, supposedly at bargain prices. There are many reputable people selling quality products on eBay, but folks often just can’t resist those so-called bargains. All too often you get what you pay for. With something as complex as a Land Rover knowing what you are buying is critical.

The best Rovers will come from enthusiasts, people who see the cars as more than just a source of income. Some franchised dealers have enthusiasts on staff but for many “it’s just another car line.” In England there is a big network of independent Land Rover shops run by enthusiasts. Such shops are beginning to appear in America. Our shop, Robison Service, is one example. Other enthusiast’s shops are Copley Motors (sales only) in Boston, and Cityside Garage (service only) in Ashland, Massachusetts.