1990-2016 Land Rover Defender Buying Guide

When it comes to go-anywhere motoring, the Land Rover Defender remains king. Here's how to bag one of the most iconic vehicles ever built

How much to pay

• Project £3000-5000 • Good £6500-28,500 • Concours £9500-60,000 •
• Most expensive at auction: £400,000 (Defender One Million)

Practicality ★★★★★
Running costs ★★★★
Spares ★★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

Arguably, no vehicle is more widely recognised than the classic Land Rover, which for the last 25 years of production was sold under the Defender name. Bluff and boxy, the Land Rover was one of the most versatile, practical and impressive work horses ever created. It wasn’t fast, refined or especially comfortable, but when the road ran out, where other 4x4s struggled to cope, the Defender would just soldier on.

The Defender looked like it barely changed in three decades of production, but very little was interchangeable between the prototypes built in 1983/4 and the final ones that rolled off the lines in January 2016. However, while the engines and transmissions evolved along with pretty much everything else, what stayed constant was the Land Rover’s basic design and construction.

If you’re after a true go-anywhere classic that can venture off the beaten track for some real adventure, look no further than Land Rover’s finest creation. There are very few unmolested, unrestored cars to choose from, though some later examples were bought as style statements rather than pillars of labour, and several earlier examples have been restored superbly – although you’ll pay accordingly to secure a really nice one.

Your AutoClassics 1990-2016 Land Rover Defender inspection checklist

Engine

Apart from export models and a few special orders, including the highly soughtafter 50th anniversary model, made to special order with a V8 petrol engine, all of Solihull’s Defenders came with diesel power. Initially there was a 200 TDi engine that was superseded by a 300 TDi unit. This in turn was replaced by a TD5 diesel, then a 2.4 TDCi Ford-sourced unit. The final cars were fitted with a 2.2 TDCi engine. The 200 TDi and 300 TDi are both fitted with a timing belt and a new one is required every five or six years or so.

Oil leaks are common on TDI and TD5 engines but they should be minor; check carefully around the flywheel housing – oil there might mean a more serious leak, probably from the crankshaft oil seal. Earlier engines can suffer from weeping core plugs, but any coolant loss should be minimal. Early Defenders used sparingly can suffer from oil being burned under acceleration; the rubber valve guide oil seals dry out then disintegrate. Regular use keeps these in good condition.

The 200 TDi is the most reliable engine of all; it will go on forever if it’s looked after. The 300 TDi is an easier engine to service, but the ‘P-gasket’ at the front can fail resulting in coolant leaks and overheating, then head gasket failure.

The TD5 engine is tough but fuel pumps and fuel pressure regulators are weak, while the fuel injector O-rings and seals give problems, as does the loom. The TD5 engine is the one most likely to be tuned as it’s easily chipped, but things are often turned up too much, leading to breakages and head gasket failure.

Gearbox

The five-speed gearbox fitted from the start of Defender production is strong, but it tends to be notchy and the synchromesh on second and third eventually wears out. According to Land Rover, the transmission should be filled with automatic transmission fluid, but manual fluid seems to work better.

There are differentials front and rear; the latter is the one most likely to give problems. The pinion seal tends to leak, allowing the diff to run dry, which leads to rapid wear or even complete seizure.

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Suspension and brakes

The Land Rover’s steering box can wear, although there’s a certain amount of adjustment available to tighten things up. However, there’s an idler (or steering relay) which also wears, along with six ball joints. While the latter are cheap and easy to fix, the box and relay are more costly.

The front hubs leak oil onto the brakes, so look for signs of lubricant everywhere. Also check the condition of the swivels, which should be shiny rather than pitted; replacing these is an involved (but DIY) job. A kit that does both sides doesn’t cost much, but don’t be tempted to fit cheap pattern parts – they won’t last.

Bodywork

Rotten Land Rover chassis are common. Focus on the box sections, which corrode from the inside out; tap as much of the metal as you can. There should be a bright, clear ring when you strike the metal; a dull thud points to corrosion or filler.

Expect rust in the spring mountings, rear crossmembers, shock absorber mountings and bump stops; the rear bump stops can be pushed through the chassis on a really rotten car. Chassis outriggers also rot badly, but the biggest problem is corrosion behind the spring hangers; poor accessibility makes repairs costly. The rearmost crossmember gets plastered in mud then left to rot, with repairs potentially tricky – especially on long-wheelbase cars, as the fuel tank has to be removed first.

Most external panels are aluminium, but some are steel, so look for electrolytic corrosion between the two metals. The bulkhead can be the trickiest to repair due to the limited access in places. It can be patched up, although if the top section has corroded badly you’re better off letting in fresh panels. The door pillars can rot badly, but repairs are easier than you might think. It’s the same with the footwells, which rot badly once they’ve filled up with water – also have a close look at the various mounting points, where the bulkhead is attached to the chassis.

Scrutinise the bodywork alignment too, as the chassis might be twisted because of poor repairs or a hefty shunt. Misaligned doors could be down to worn hinges, which can be replaced, although this might mean having to cut open the pillar if the captive nuts have broken free.

Interior

When it comes to minimalist interiors, few can compare with the Land Rover. But an army of specialists can provide anything you might need to keep a Defender in good condition, including a raft of upgrades if you want them.

The Defender’s cabin may be basic, but bodged electrics are still common so look out for random gauges having been spliced in. The same goes for accessories such as roof-mounted lighting bars, winches and other electrical accessories.

History

  • 1990: The Defender replaces the 90 and 110. It’s little different, but power steering is now standard and the diesel option becomes the 200 TDi 2.5-litre unit.
  • 1992: The V8-powered 110 is available only to special order from now on; the 90 V8 was killed off in 1987.
  • 1993: A more muscular belt-driven 300 TDi 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine is now fitted, which is cleaner, more refined and smoother. The 300 TDi engine is mated to a slicker five-speed gearbox dubbed R380. Disc brakes are also now fitted at the rear.
  • 1998: The all-new TD5 engine replaces the 300 TDi unit, and electronic traction control plus anti-lock brakes are now standard.
  • 2006: There’s an all-new 2.4 TDCi engine, six-speed gearbox and a heavily revised interior.
  • 2012: A new 2.2-litre diesel engine offers the same power and torque as before, but with far greater refinement.
  • 2016: The last Defender is built, but not until Land Rover has offered three run-out limited editions. These are the Autobiography Edition (80 built), Heritage Edition (400 made) and Adventure Edition (600 produced).

AutoClassics says…

Few classics have a following that’s as enthusiastic as these Land Rovers. As a result there are plenty of examples that are arguably better than when they left the factory, in terms of upgrades fitted. What you want to use your Defender for should dictate what you buy.

If you’re planning to do lots of off-roading don’t be averse to buying a modified car. However, if you want something for occasional show use, the odd bit of towing or to cart the family about you’ll probably want something more original.

The newer the car the more usable it is, as engines became more refined and efficient as time went by. The long-wheelbase models are more comfortable and more usable than the short-wheelbase editions, but if you’re set to go green-laning it’s the short-wheelbase editions that have the greatest off-road ability – and even if you don’t set out to take your Landie off-roading, the chances are that you’ll soon want to explore because the Defender is just so versatile.

Specifications

Defender 200 TDi
  Power 80bhp
  Top speed 80mph
  0-60mph 17.4sec
  Economy 27mpg

Defender 300 TDi
  Power 111bhp
  Top speed 84mph
  0-60mph 16.2sec
  Economy 26mpg

Defender TD5
  Power 124bhp
  Top speed 86mph
  0-60mph 16.0sec
  Economy 27mpg

Defender 2.2 TDCi
  Power 120bhp
  Top speed 90mph
  0-60mph 14.7sec
  Economy 28mpg

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