Journal: Fix it or ditch it?

Fix it or ditch it?

By Benjamin Shahrabani
May 29, 2015

How does one tell when it is time to give up on a car? The car in question is a 2004 Land Rover Discovery II (Pictured above and below)…that is primarily driven by my mom. Purchased new, and with a mere 120,000 miles, it has like most Land Rovers led a somewhat pampered existence.

And while I can’t quite say my mom has adhered to the adventurous Land Rover slogan “above and beyond”, I can’t say it wasn’t used exclusively for runs to Main street, the mall or supermarket, either.

It more than occasionally brought garbage to the town dump, went off road, hauled stuff from the Home Depot, and—perhaps most importantly—tackled snow-packed east coast roads with ease.

It might have been, in Land Rover’s words, “The Best 4x4xFar”, but today it’s causing my parents a lot of grief—which means I hear about it as the resident car expert in the family. My parents need something they can depend on, but sadly, the Land Rover isn’t cooperating. And it might be banished from the family fleet.

Worse, to some degree, my mom’s automotive identity is inextricably linked to green Land Rover Discoveries. For the last twenty-years, she has driven one green Discovery or another. What would she replace it with? And should my parents give up on it?

To be sure, it has never left my parents stranded. The body, lustrous paintwork, and interior are in great shape, evidence that this car was cared for. It’s everything else that is starting to fail systematically, one at a time, much like organs shutting down in a person’s body towards their end of their life. You fix one thing, and another problem rears its head.

The car experienced almost no problems during the warranty period, but a little while after, the first to go was the heater matrix, filling the passenger side footwell with water. Next, brakes and wheel bearings. Then it overheated (cured with a new radiator, and expansion tank).

In addition: the radio’s reception went fuzzy, the heated seats stopped working, the airbag light came on, the oil pressure sensor needed replacing, and brakes, bearings, and rotors needed replacing again. The check engine light went on, only remedied after replacing all four Oxygen sensors. Twice. In time, other things will go wrong.

Finally, the engine has developed a knock. My parents recently took it to a dealer where they pronounced the patient…errr…car has a “death knock”. The old Land Rover has a bad ticker, and it could go at any moment. We can have the engine rebuilt, or get a remanufactured unit, but the old Land Rover’s blue book value isn’t very high to begin with and its dealer-appraised value is even less.

Now, I’m not the sort of person to give up on a car, but there is a point when costs trump memories and emotions?

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2 years ago

For a car with that mileage I always figured if the cost of repair was more than the monthly payment on a new one it was time to start looking for a replacement. Of course, this is trumped by emotional attachment; I replaced the engine on my 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer at 120K and drove it for another 110k miles. Primarily due to the fact it was out of production by that time and we had a lot of memories tied up in it.

4 years ago

Don`t waste your money on any euro. crap japanese is the only way to go in this class of vehicle

4 years ago

It always kills me when the decision to fix a car or not is based on what the “value” of it is. Who cares! The value should be based on what it means to you not what it could sell for. I believe in keeping as many older cars on the road as possible and it’s sad to me that many people give up on a vehicle that has given them lots of miles and many memorable moments. I have a ’91 Honda that currently has 384k on it and when the motor goes out I plan on spending the 3k to put another motor on it. So what that the car is worth $1,000, it’s gotten me through thick and thin and the things that have broken are things broken due to age and not due to quality. I would rather keep it going than spend $200 or more on a monthly payment for s new car not to mention higher reg fees, insurance fees, etc. I say keep the Rover and create more memories (good and bad) and to keep a clssic from days gone by!

4 years ago

I can understand the feeling of nostalgia for a car, but it seems like the car won’t be making a recovery. If you want to stay true East Coast and ride in style, I would recommend waiting for the new 2018 Volvo XC60.

Bruce Gieger
Bruce Gieger(@bruce_gieger)
4 years ago

Ironic… My wife and I had the brilliant idea of starting a company DiscoTech for these wonderful vehicles. We bought one 2000 SE7 with 125k on it that was beautiful but “volá” blown head gasket. I was ready for a little challenge so I drove it in the shop and tore it down. I read all of the articles and tragic stories about Discoveries hitting that “magic mileage” and blowing head gaskets. I did some research about performance modified 4.0 & 4.6 engines and decided to have a go at it. I had the heads checked and decked ( in very good condition…), pressure tested the block with a home made block off plate kit (also excellent for finding leaks elsewhere like the timing cover…) and blowing out and checking the radiator. The worst parts were getting the back stretch bolts loose (many 5/8s sockets gave their lives…) and the 8mm bolts holding the coil packs on ( I still swear I have a permanent indent in my forehead…). A set of new Victor gaskets & ARP head studs and she was running like a top again. We drove and loved our Discovery and thought – what a great business opportunity! What happened next was anything but heart warming. Our next Discovery was purchased from a woman who had just had her land rover fixed but it again had overheating issues. We bought it with 128k, new brakes and tires perfect black on black 99. During the teardown I stumbled on a beautiful MAC 10mm wrench… (a flashback to a indy track safety crew man delivering a wrench to a team saying “good thing you left your name on your wrench so we knew who to give it back to… and a mortified mechanic red faced embarrassed…). Diving deeper I found the culprit – a tab on a head gasket folded under allowing a leak at the head & intake gasket. Here is a woman who spent $3.500 to fix her beloved rover and screwed by a bad mechanic. We ran through the same scenario time and time again… Lack of maintenance letting thermostats fail, slipped sleeves, band aid fixes (crap in the cooling systems to seal the breaches) & on & on. Word spread around town and people started coming to us wanting their Discoveries fixed. I had to charge a tear downs to cover my labor only to find out they had a cooling passage crack or slipped sleeves. Some had additional double whammys of spun bearings, bad cam bearings, stretched timing chains and badly worn oil pumps. Looking into the owners eyes was akin to watching the end of Ol Yeller when they knew it was the end of the car from a financial stand point… just put it down and move on.

Avinda Perera
Avinda Perera(@dimitries115)
6 years ago

Do they still have the Lexus GX in the US? It’s either that or a 4runner.

David Allison
David Allison(@porkchopious)
6 years ago

The first new vehicle my wife and I bought when we finished our residencies was a 2003 Land Rover Discovery. I had never had a new car and we were so proud! It had some minor issues under warranty such as the driver’s side electric window that failed twice. Only just when the warranty was up did we really get our asses handed to us. Many things went wrong culminating with a very ominous engine knock. We decided not to throw good money after bad and sold it at CarMax. We took a beating, but went directly to Mercedes and picked up our new C300, which turned out to be a superb vehicle. Did I learn my lesson? Of course not! I’m now on my second Range Rover Sport Supercharged which has been awesome, but I wouldn’t have one out of warranty…

Mohammad Akbarpour
Mohammad Akbarpour(@fb_10203914536934938)
6 years ago

I somehow have the same problem with my 1986 Chevy Nova. While I spend a lot on the beast, another part woill start to playing up !! Even after fixing them for three times…
Bad mechanics is d main reason for sure !!!
I think about giving up on d car too.. But who’s d next victim after me?

John Emrich
John Emrich(@jaemrich)
6 years ago

Dump it! I was in the same situation a few years ago-2000 disco w 120k miles, 8 years of ownership, $12k in repairs. Love hate relationship. It needed $3000 of work when I sold it for $2000. Freed at last I did the sensible thing and bought a 2004 Tahoe. It ain’t slick or refined but I have a smile on my face knowing I have more cash in the bank. Sometimes our egos keep us from making the right decision sooner. Your Mom should consider a Lexus.

Bob Kellerman
Bob Kellerman(@bob-kellerman)
6 years ago

WHAT AN INSANE ASSUMPTION — “ONLY 120,000 MOM MILES” — as if that were low mileage

If Mom was making 11 years of short trips around town, that is like 160,000 road miles or more.
If Mom in financially set, tell her to trade it on a new one with better safety, much nicer interior, much nicer climate control, etc. and take the worry off her. Her car is from “before the big fix on reliability”.
Does she not deserve a modern ride in her golden years?
Would you not feel horrid if Mom were injured in the old car, when a new one would protect her better?

Tanner Bond
Tanner Bond(@bondtanner)
6 years ago

I was in your place 8 years ago. I had just bought a 2000 Disco with 98,000 on the clock that looked great, drove well and seemed to be a good choice for a long term do-everything-car. Within a month, the heater dumped water all over the passenger footwell. Easy enough fix with a new hose, clamps and a shop vac. (Turns out that is was just a clogged drain hose and the other hose was the point of failure). Six months after purchase, she overheated on me. I performed a head gasket job in my parents garage and as I was driving it from Dallas to Houston, low and behold, the forward prop shaft u-joint exploded and impaled the transmission housing. (Of course I was towing a Uhaul trailer while this happened). These problems forced me to park it for a handful of months while saving up the cash to repair it. As soon as she was back up and running, she was gone. Sad thing about all of this was that the vehicle had a full service record prior to my purchase. Even worse was that a few years later, I inherited my dad’s 2000 Range Rover that required the same head gasket job and was never fully operational as far as vehicle accessories go. That one lasted a year before I threw in the towel for a Merc C280 that was bulletproof. I had always heard people say, “Never own a Land Rover outside of its warranty” and I have two first hand experiences to confirm that statement. I’ve had a slew of older “Cash Cars” with high mileage that showed their age. All with entertaining stories of their own. Just glad that I can afford newer cars with less problems now. Can’t say that I didn’t learn some things along the way though!

6 years ago

Benjamin, like you I am also the main “car person” in the house and closely follow my parents’ car tribulations.

In your case I think that the choice depends on two factors: how attached your parents are to this particular car (is it them or you?) and will they still have faith in it if they spend $$$s to get the engine fixed.

Undoubtedly buying an equivalent new Discovery would cost many times over the cost of any repairs, current and future, due on this one. You can’t really take into consideration KBB values when making such as decision as they’re irrelevant, its not an investment, its a tool.

It also depends on how many years of driving your parents still consider having in them. If its more than 10, then they might want to buy something new altogether (I suspect that they wouldn’t want to buy a used car).

At the end of the day I think that for a mature, “non car” couple the most relevant aspect is relaibility, knowing that they won’t be stranded in the middle of somewhere when its least convenient. A new (green) Discovery will be very nice and likely more reliable than their current one has ever been too, all the rest will follow. There will be excitement of the new car, additional creature comforts to help out aging parents, all of this will lead to bonding with it over the next 15 years of use.

M Webb
M Webb(@adkskier)
6 years ago

I think there are way too many options out there to stick with the Land Rover brand. British cars are nice second cars but never leave home without your AAA card in your pocket.

W Grochowski
W Grochowski(@wojo)
6 years ago

I will second JE Robison in Springfield MA. While John is a world wide known Bentley authority first and foremost, he has had quite a few Land Rover products in his care. As a young man I drove by his shop weekly to look at the various cars in his care. There was always a great selection of British and Italian automobiles and motorcycles…worst you will do by visiting is leave with a great story and photos about a quality shop (mechanic in a white lab coat with a pipe protruding from under a John Bull mustache is not to be missed).

J Lipton
J Lipton(@lippy)
6 years ago

Honestly I think you are lucky to get 120k miles out of a Land Rover. My friends that have had these cars started having trouble almost immediately and they were all sold by 50k, having been deemed not worth the pain in the tail. Used trucks are relatively expensive, and the value of that one tells you something. If I were you, and if your mom still wants a truck/SUV, have her buy a Chevy or Ford. They last *far* longer and will little trouble.

Randy B
Randy B(@carguy101)
6 years ago

They make Ford 5.0 conversions w/ T-5 swap adapters. Low cost, and cheaper to maintain. The body looks good, I’d try that route if it was me.

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson(@dandydoug)
6 years ago

Boy does this subject hit home for us.
Last year i needed to replace the Cat converter on my 2001 Volvo S60 , the car was in great shape and had less that 150k miles , without replacing the cat it would not pass NC emissions inspection. The part alone was quoted from two dealers as costing over $1600.00 , If I replaced it at my age I would need to drive the car until i was 140 years old to recoup the investment , so I decided to whole sale it and bought a used Ford Ranger. ( I do not like this truck, it’s ok for around the house job’s but that’s about it)
This past week while moving my mother in law from Detroit to NC. we were looking at everything on the road to see if anything caught our attention as a replacement for either the Ford Focus ( wife’s car) we were driving, or the Ranger.
We did not like anything we saw, ( frankly they all look pretty much the same ,ugly, plain ,and not inspiring)
So we are now thinking since we are retired and will only drive /travel limited trips we should consider some sort of 80’s or early 90’s car . ( Think Cadillac, Crown Vic, Grand Marqui, Buick, Old’s , Mercedes , maybe even a BMW ) we would try and find as clean a number as we can , then upgrade the suspension,brakes , air con etc.
So we are open to suggestions as to potential candidates that have a bit of class , can be made reliable, relatively safe, but are over all comfortable on the road, and above all some real style !!
Your suggestions are welcome.
Thank you .

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson(@dandydoug)
6 years ago

Thanks for the kind words Benjamin;
Most of the cars/trucks i have owned have been modified to some extent over the years. At first it was for speed , then handling , and after too many close moments braking became important 🙂
As a Detroit born boy with a Highland Park born wife we are partial to American iron in our later years.
( I have owned three Porches, a Jaguar, multiple models of VW’s ,two Japanese cars over the last 40 years or so , plus numerous domestic stuff)
My heart is always torn between sport’s cars and lead sled’s.
If i had enough disposable income i would own at least one or two of each.
She would only own domestic cars that float down the road ( although she was quite love struck by the XJ6 Jaguar) at this point , so that’s most likely where we will be heading. Rest assured it will be at least slightly modified , it will turn , stop , sound like a proper motor car , be classy, and not look like anything else in the lot when we come out from the super market .
Life is too short to drive boring cars 😉

6 years ago

I have a similar Disco in Epson Green, and it is a long term keeper. Your parents engine was probably terminally damaged when it overheated. Slipped liners are the frequent result from warped aluminum block and heads, and lead to the noise you describe. To get more information on the various issues with this engine and the potential solutions, google JE Robison service, and look for an October 29, 2013 post called “Should You Rebuild or Replace Your Land Rover V8?”

JE Robison has worked on these engines for years, and there is plenty of information in the above link to make an informed decision. If you decide not to spring for a rebuilt engine, the new LR4 is a great vehicle, and much more reliable than the older solid axle trucks although some of the charm is lost. It even comes in a similar shade of Verde Inglese.

Jeremy DeConcini
Jeremy DeConcini(@ymeabay)
6 years ago

What about using this as an opportunity to do something crazy like a TDI engine conversion?
I imported an old Defender with a TDI and that engine was great, sipped gas, had plenty of power and if I wanted to drive myself mad with hunger I ran it on biodiesel and smelled French fries all day long….

Richard Tack
Richard Tack(@fb_100001412133086)
6 years ago

Trade in is around 2000 to 3000; that’s ACV, Actual Cash Value, IOW, what the dealer books it into the company accounting for. That’s for one that’s running and driving properly. Remember, the car doesn’t know that you own it. The only [u]true[/u] love that vehicle is going to get is from the repair facility that hands you the credit card printout for you to sign.

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa(@genovevo)
6 years ago

To see a loved car failing is allways sad. And a Discovery (or any Land Rover), makes it worse. Well, it reminds us of something: you need a bit of luck in everything in life.

You can have a bad car, treat it like a baby treats his toys, keep it dirty and full of trash in the interior, and drive it for years and years without problemas. And you can have a great car, keep it clean and in the garage, drive it with care and service it well… and it goes silent without notice…

6 years ago

Are there any non-dealer specialists in your area? You may want to try AtlanticBritish [url=””]Your text to link…[/url]
and see if they have or know of any specialists in your area that aren’t the dealer. The Dealer’s service department may be spot on with their diagnosis – but a 2nd opinion won’t hurt. In the end a cost/benefit analysis might be good to make sure you aren’t putting $7,500 of engine work into a $2,000 vehicle. But if the costs are closer to what it is worth . . .
Atlantic British also have lots of tech articles on youtube that are helpful even if you aren’t doing the work yourself I find.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
6 years ago
Reply to  Brent

Thats the best bit of advice so far : slapping myself for not thinking of that first . Before making the decision look into independent Land/Range Rover specialists . If they’re honest and good they’ll come up with options I’ll bet none of us have considered . To find a good one I’d also inquire with the local Land/Range Rover Owners club . They’ll know who’s playing it straight and who to avoid .

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
6 years ago

… is in case you/she chose new : may I heartily recommend your mom checking out the Mercedes GLK . The wife and I in our late 50’s absolutely love ours [ 2011 GLK 350 4Matic w/AMG sports kit ] Why ? Because the footprint is smaller than a C-Class making it great in the city . Its luxurious enough to be smooth as silk on the interstates . Its a blast to drive in the twisty’s and mountains : out handling many so called sports and performance cars . 0-60 6.4 and 21 mpg average [ those are my numbers and have been verified ] Honestly ? We call it our Goldilocks car . Because in every way shape and form its just right . For us at least .

One more thing . My favorite comment that comes up time and time again in GLK reviews is ;

” Its the car you’d love to hate : but in the end will hate having to admit you love it ”

And not that this’ll probably matter much to your mom but : a GLK is Nico Roseberg’s preferred daily driver .

Don Antonio Buffalo
Don Antonio Buffalo(@fb_647040234)
6 years ago

Petrolicious just made my Monday,I’m going through this right now, :/ some time ago I bought a 95′ BMW 530i ( E34 5-speed) ; Engine just gave up and replacing it would cost me the same amount i paid for the car. I dont know what to do. Is it really worth it?

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss(@itsnicolas)
6 years ago

Once a car reaches this state, the only way to see it through is love and determination. We are talking about the emotional bond here. I agree with John, as long as the body and interior are solid, if the chemistry is right its a car worth loving. It sounds like maybe your parents aren’t there. In which case if they can afford a new car and have a generous nature, sell their current headaches low to a local enthusiast who can embrace the pain and make the bond. Then its off for a feel-good trip to the dealer for a gift to themselves.

Raúl Cázares Domínguez
Raúl Cázares Domínguez(@fb_10152938630603170)
6 years ago

I’m currently in the same issue as you are. My SEAT Ibiza 6L has become part of my identity. I have it since I was 16 yo back in 2008, and some things started to fail, mostly the interiors. But I think in two solutions:
1. Make a cost comparison. Maybe will be cheaper to run the new car, and give you some advantages over the old one.
2. Maybe it’s something all petrolheads will pass. Ditching a car is maybe our worst nightmare, but well, we will be happy and fell in love with the new car again.
Now I havw a question, Ibiza 6L 1.8T 20V swap or Abarth 500/New Ibiza Cupra?

John Stoj
John Stoj(@fb_10153087099559580)
6 years ago

Really, the mechanicals are the easiest part to repair (as is almost always the case), so if the interior & exterior are in good shape, I’d lean heavily toward fixing it – or selling it to someone who wants to do the engine swap, etc.

John Stoj
John Stoj(@fb_10153087099559580)
6 years ago
Reply to  John Stoj

PS – I’d love to find a Disco like this to work on myself.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
6 years ago

The maths sounds like a comparison of repair costs on the Disco vs purchase/ lease / depreciation costs on a new car?

Maybe another option instead of a replacement Land Rover engine could be the usual US approach to an unreliable British engine – swap it for a Chevy V8? Chevy V8 conversions on Land Rover products are not unheard of in the UK (tuner Overfinch made a name for itself swapping Chevy SBCs into Range Rovers in the 1980s) so I can’t believe that someone in Socal hasn’t done something similar already?

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger(@gtrslngr)
6 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

I’ll tack my two cents onto Mr Lange’s comment since they’re somewhat related ;

Your cost of repair vs purchase/lease cost is a good starting point . Second question and more importantly though should be : just how attached to the car is your mom ? If she loves it . Fix it . If she’s had enough of it . Its time to seriously consider replacing it . Also once the emotional issues are settled you need to factor in the cost of repair vs residual value before choosing either option . Remembering the Disco’s have never retained their value and have zero probability of attaining the dreaded ( in my opinion ) collectable status

As far as the motor should you go with the repair ? Forget the Chevy small block and keep it within the [ former ] family . There’s at least a couple of companies here in the US that make great Ford small block conversion kits . With a plethora of reconditioned and used low mileage Ford small blocks available across the country . Alternatively , assuming you’d prefer to keep a British S&M motor under the hood ? Scour the wrecking yards for a low mileage Range/Land Rover V8 . Also , perhaps a Jaguar V8 ? A little down on torque , but it could be fun

Another good option , albeit a much harder one to find ? Try and track down either a used or reconditioned Lincoln LS motor . If you do then the conversion will be a cinch because guess where that motor came from !

Ultimately though , as the older man giving advice to the younger ? Seriously , its all about the emotions in this case and to heck with the numbers . Let us know what happens .