Defender Disappointments
- the grumbles after four years ownership 
added September 2003
(click on images to view large version)


Let me start by saying that my Defender 110" CSW TDi300 is the most pleasurable, durable and reliable vehicle I have ever owned! Apart from a faulty generator and a defect headlight switch, this vehicle has given completely unfailing service for four and a half years - and the vehicle starts, runs and handles every bit as good as the day it was delivered back in February 1999.

This is my company's most important vehicle - we use it as our unit vehicle to transport a TV crew - 1 - 5 people) complete with equipment around Denmark, and occasionally to other destinations in Europe. Currently (Sept. 2003) this truck has clocked up 82000 km since delivery in Feb 1999 - that's under 1500 km per month.

 


VIN number SALLDHM68WA141042
Registration number CY 79 239 (1999)

Currently (Sept. 2003) 82029 km
since delivery in Feb 1999


The vehicle is reserved for this purpose, and is rarely driven for other jobs. Before every assignment the engine and fluid levels are fully checked, and because we are proud of this truck and our work depends on its reliability, we pay great attention to detail. Small faults or damage are immediately rectified, the vehicle has been subjected to a complete routine service history by the original supplier (Team-Bertelsen - one of Denmark's most experienced and dedicated official Land Rover sales and service centres, with whom I have done business for 20 years - this company have always offered excellent support) in complete accordance with the manufacturer's specifications. Unlike our series vehicles, all service and routine maintenance on this vehicle is carried out by our supplier. 

The vehicle is washed thoroughly every week in our own workshop - and once a month we take a trip to a local service station where we buy the best automatic wash with all the frills - underside pressure wash, extra wax etc. And when the vehicle is not out on a job, it is parked in a warm, dry garage away from the elements. Yes - we spoil this truck!

And yet - despite over 20 years experience of Land Rover ownership (we run three other series trucks and handle our own maintenance - everything from changing a sidelight lens to a complete frameover - we are disappointed with the cosmetic quality of this vehicle after four-and-a-half years of very careful and considerate ownership.

The following images speak for themselves - though I add my own comments and descriptions. 

(CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR A 1024 X 768 PIXEL VERSION)

GENERAL VIEWS OF VEHICLE

Here's a shot of the Defender back in February 1999 - just after delivery.


This is what the vehicle looks like today (September 2003) No bumps or scrapes!

 

 


From a distance, the only noticeable deterioration is the wheels, which have become engrained with dirt and which are very difficult to clean, despite weekly cleaning

This vehicle does not get heavy use. It is fitted with furniture in the rear seat area to accommodate our camera and sound equipment.

Notice that the rear cab floor and stock carpet is protected by a rubber mat - and the front and centre seat areas also have genuine LR mats on the floor to protect the carpet.

In wet or humid weather, these mats are removed to allow the carpet to dry out and air when the vehicle is between jobs in the garage - even for a single night or two.

 


These 4 images illustrate the way we pack the rear compartment with equipment.


REAR CROSS MEMBER


The paintwork on the rear cross-member deteriorated very quickly - within a few months - and is now a disappointing rusty colour.

I have smeared the cross member with oil to delay corrosion. It would be easy to paint the outside face, but what concerns me is that this illustrates the general quality of the chassis finish.

Compare the finished of the cross-member with that of the handles - genuine LR spare parts, which were fitted immediately when the vehicle was purchased - nearly 5 years exposure to the elements and still in perfect condition. Why should we settle for less?

I would have preferred a galvanised chassis but this was not a factory option - and replacing the chassis on a 4 year old vehicle here in Denmark costs a lot due to the new chassis incurring an exhorbitant registration tax. (The chassis is NOT a spare part, it is the actual vehicle - seen from the taxman's point of view)

I have series trucks with painted rear cross members that look excellent after several years of daily exposure to salt, snow and dirt. 

The Defender chassis finish is - by comparison - no way close to the quality of good marine grade machine paint!


BODY PANEL & CHASSIS CORROSION


In keeping with Land Rover tradition, the greatest problem is that of galvanic corrosion due to the proximity of dissimilar metals - steel frame, casings and bulkhead meeting aluminium body panels.

Corrosion has always been a Land Rover issue - and on rebuilds I have always used silicon mastic, mastic tape or rubber sheeting to buffer the mechanical junction between steel and aluminium - as well as using stainless steel or galvanised bolts and fittings.

One would expect that Land Rover would have addressed this issue - but on the defender, the problem is - in my experience - far worse than on the earlier Series trucks - as the quality of the paintwork (which acts as a separator between dissimilar metals) is poorer, and the steel cappings around the rear tub are mild steel - fitted before the tub is painted and thus offering no separation. On previous series trucks the cappings were hot dip galvanised and resulted in very little corrosion.


Here are some close-ups of the cappings under the right-hand window panel - serious rust is already bubbling up under the paintwork, and the junction between the tub and the cab is a water trap. Galvanised cappings would have prevented this.

Such a problem is difficult for the owner to prevent on a daily basis, as dirt gets trapped between the components and they cannot be cleaned or repainted without removing the hard-top.

The only cure for this problem is to remove the hard-top, then remove the cappings and strip and re-paint. 


Door hinges are a typical Land Rover problem - hinges can be metalised to prevent rust, and fixing screws could be stainless steel. But this modern Land Rover is fitted with cheap electroplated screws and untreated cast-iron hinges, which rust badly - and which cause staining of the paintwork. 

The only workaround is regular application of oil, which also stains the paintwork.


The sill of the rear door shows clear evidence of corrosion - again due to the marriage between dissimilar metals.
 

 


And the rear door itself is badly corroded after only 4 years. Corrosion develops inside the door metalwork, at the junction between the steel frame and the aluminium classing, causing metal salts to drain out of the door and stain the paintwork.

The door hinges show clear signs of corrosion, paint bubbling up around the hinges. 

A rubber seal between the hinge and the door, (like on the Series III rear doors) and the use of stainless or galvanised screws and bolts would obviate this problem.


The rear door handle and lock mechanism is an eyesore - it is almost impossible for the owner to cure rust on a door handle that is almost inaccessible. 

The handle recess collects water and corrosion at the bottom of the well is the inevitable result.


The aluminium window retaining profile at the inside bottom of the rear window is beginning to show signs of corrosion - despite weekly cleaning and liberal application of lubricants such as light oil or WD40. Another typical Land Rover dissimilar metal interface problem.

POOR QUALITY DESIGN, FINISH AND COMPONENTS

The quality of the plastic door handles leaves much to be desired - these parts lose their black colour after only a year or two, and look like cheap faded plastic from a 70's Ford Cortina!

The white stains are difficult to remove - the only cure is replacement.


Only months after delivery, the rubber cladding around the pedals began to fall down on a regular basis - usually whilst driving, which impedes operation of the pedals and is extremely dangerous. 

We have to hold the cladding in place with duct tape, which also fails periodically due to the heater softening the tape and adhesive.

The front seat safety belts continually foul the door catches, which damages the belts and results in the buckle captive stud falling out, so that one has to open the door to get hold of the buckle.

This problem is further complicated by the belt roller behind the seat being damaged by rear seat passenger feet due to poor placement of the mechanism.


The mounting fixture for the safety belts is electroplated steel, and causes severe dissimilar metal interface problems with the aluminium seat box, steel door rails, and doorpost. 

Corrosion is further complicated because the metal oxide salts are absorbed by the carpeting which results in a "culture" of corrosive salts and water in the area. This photo was taken only 1 week after the entire area had been cleaned, dried and the metal parts sprayed with lubricant.


ENGINE COMPARTMENT

The engine compartment of this vehicle is washed thoroughly at regular intervals to remove all dirt and excess fluids - after which the parts are coated with a liberal application of WD40 - a technique which has proved extremely reliable on my Series engine compartments.

But the quality of paintwork on the Defender components is of a poorer quality - most components are painted with a matt black finish, which is less capable of repelling moisture. The paint coating is also thinner than on earlier models, so the coating corrodes much quicker.

It is a pity that such a good engine is marred by cosmetic deterioration after such a short period of use. Deterioration is especially noticeable on the top of the radiator console, the heater battery enclosure, and other black-matt finished parts. 

 

 

 < radiator console

 

 

 

 

 

 < heater battery enclosure

 

 

 

 

 < The bulkhead transmission arch also shows    signs of corrosion


POST IMPORT ELECTRICAL MODIFICATION FOR THE DANISH MARKET

The standard Defender has a traditional three position headlight switch on the left side of the steering column 

- OFF/Sidelights ON/Headlights ON


To comply with Danish vehicle regulations, which proscribe that the headlights must be on at all times when the vehicle is on the road, the importer modifies the lighting circuit with the addition of a relay circuit. This relay is not located on the main fuseboard and relay panel, but is hidden in a heat-shrink sleeved enclosure lying loose inside the instrument panel. It is also protected by a local in-line fuse, which is also hidden behind the instrument panel.


Unlike most other land Rover electrics, this relay uses a small circuit comprising several discreet electronic components - transistors and diodes which form a logic to control the relay, and which constitute an otherwise unnecessary potential failure.


If this circuit fails, the headlights main beam circuit will not work, and the relay will buzz and chatter. The buzz audible is the only indication that this circuit even exists, as there is no documentation for this modification in the users handbook or on the nomenclature of the fuse panel.

 


The relay circuit is inserted into the main headlight switch wiring on the switch side of the removable switch connector - the connections are accomplished using soldered joints and heat shrink sleeving. Similarly, the relay itself is not a pluggable device, but is soldered to the wiring and sleeved.

If the headlight switch fails (Whish is common on Defenders especially those which regularly tow a trailer and have the additional lighting load through the switch), the switch cannot be simply replaced by plugging in a new switch, as the original design allows - instead additional workshop time is incurred, and the task is not easy for the average owner, as there is no documentation of this modification.

This switch failed last week on my Defender, causing damage to the relay circuit also. The switch is obviously overheated as the contacts have moved in the melted housing. This switch costs over 80 as a genuine spare, and necessitates a similar cost for workshop repair due to the bad design of the relay modification.


I have discovered that removing the fuse which protects the relay disables the modification circuit and restores the lighting circuit and main column switch to standard functioning.

This circuit should be designed using passive components, and should be located on the main fuse-board and relay panel (on the bulkhead above the gearbox tunnel). Documentation of all modifications prior to delivery should be given to the owner on delivery.


CONCLUSIONS

This vehicle cost nearly 25,000 inc. VAT in 1999. We are fortunate that our company can register a vehicle for this purpose without having to pay the otherwise exorbitant Danish 180% import duty, which together with VAT would have brought the capital cost of this Defender over 70,000 - (approx. DKr 700,000) - for a vehicle of this price, one expects a certain level of quality and finish.

Because of the Danish import regulations, the duty exemption to which companies like mine are entitled applies only to new vehicles. Few companies are entitled to this exemption. If I chose to sell this Defender, the purchaser would have to pay the import duty to which I am exempt. This would put the second-hand price of this Defender way above the market price for a used vehicle - so when buying a truck to be used as a TV unit vehicle, we must expect to keep the vehicle on the road for a period of something like 10 years, as we cannot realise its resale value when upgrading every 5 years like many owners - so here too we expect a level of quality and finish which will be sustained throughout the useful working life of this vehicle.

The engine, drive chain, suspension and other installations on this vehicle work perfectly after four and a half years use. The cosmetic deterioration is not due to lack of maintenance or care on our part, neither is it in any way due to lack of workmanship or dedication on the part of our supplier. We are completely confident in the ability and workmanship of our supplier, and we have a trading relationship with them that goes back to 1984 when we purchased our first Series III from them. Team-Bertelsen is without doubt a highly experienced and reputable Land Rover supplier and service workshop, with two generations of Land Rover experience behind them.

The deterioration on this Defender 110" CSW are - in our opinion, and based on 20 years Land Rover ownership - the result of bad design and poor workmanship by the manufacturer - most small and economically insignificant details, which given the experience of the Land Rover heritage since 1947, should have been eliminated when the Defender was designed and targeted to the marketplace.

Having restored several Land Rovers, we know that the problems of dissimilar metal interfacing can be eradicated or mitigated to a great degree. We also know that paint quality and the use of galvanised cappings can reduce corrosion.

We have been dismayed by the poor quality of sealing around doors and windows, which allows water to enter the vehicle. Similarly, the cosmetic finish of the interior is disappointing - rubber cladding around the pedals falls down, seat belts fail to rewind adequately and thus get trapped in the door latches, plastic parts such as door handles discolour, and the paint on the rear cross-member disappears. This is simply shoddy workmanship and bad design.

The modification of the headlights circuit for the Danish market is a cheap and tatty solution, leaving the unsuspecting owner with an undocumented modification which is hard to find and even harder to repair, and which is undertaken in such a way as to incur unnecessary workshop costs when replacing something as simple as a switch. And that a switch that costs over 80.00 cannot last more than 4 years is a clear indication of bad component or circuit design.

I feel that Land Rover should address these issues and compensate customers who have suffered such a disappointment. The Land Rover heritage, and the goals of the company (Adventure, Authenticity, Guts and Supremacy) are greatly devalued by a product which cannot hold its value and appearance after such a short service life and given such care and attention.

I don't expect a nearly five year old working vehicle to look like it did when it left the factory, but neither do I expect it to look like a ten year old truck that has never been maintained. When I compare a five year old Defender with second hand vehicles of a similar vintage, that also have been regularly cleaned and maintained and driven carefully, I am disappointed!

Maybe Land Rover would care to comment on the above and explore the possibilities for rectifying this situation?

See vehicle data & specification


Adrian Redmond

Channel 6 Television Denmark
e-mail landrover@channel6.dk

 
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