Known Defender Problems

Defenders and their predecessors 90/110 and 130 are the most associated with "Land Rovers". They are so widespread and used so hard there's almost no component that hasn't been broken by one or another bloke 'round the world. But, as an old saying goes "A lot of shadows mean a lot of light" or so...

I own an 90 myself so I think I may criticise them as well as anybody.


It's a problem caused by either water accumulating in places or by contact corrosion between steel and aluminium.

Doors and capping sections often show this contact corrosion by bubbles raising from under the paint (photo below). and sorry, there's no immediate cure for this other than to replace the part and make sure the new one is treated immediately with some sort of prevention. This sort of corrosion can show up as early as on a 6 months old car or only after 10 years. Once it shows it can only be slowed by treating the part with liberal amounts of Waxoil or similar to keep water awy. This may help or may not. It depends on how much water is still trapped between the metals.

The bulkhead around the front windscreen hinges is also a vulnerable area. Although repair sections are now available it's only a temporary solution and fitting a new one will be very expensive, both in material and in work.

Contact corosion is also frequent on rear doors where you will see the amount of damage only when removing the trim. Extended damage has been reported from cars less than 10 months old.

Above: Oxidation from contact with aluminium and steel on front doors.

Left: Beginning oxidation at the doors lower leading edge.

Driveline slack

Clonks in the transmission, the famous "knock of death" is caused by wear between the gearbox tailshaft and the transfer case input gear. It's heard as a sharp, short knock when accelerating or decelarating from the area of the gearbox. You can also feel it. The wear comes from the lack of lubrication on the meshing gears. Recently kits have been available that feed oil to those places eliminating the problem- if the gears are still fine. The only cure for this is changing those 2 meshing gears BOTH. For this the transfer box has to be removed. prepare for a considerable bill. This does not mean it will break immediately when you notice this slack in the driveline. You can probably still drive thousends of miles. If you are used to drive them appropriately (without sudden shifts and clutch operations) you can probably still drive for years. It does not mend itself however. The wear will continue and get worse until it suddenly brings you to a standstill without too much warning signs. The gears usually start to make a lot more noise before immediate faillure.

However before attempting this first make sure your propshafts are fine. To check them you have to lift one or more tires off the ground to remove tension.

Also a common cause for a similar "clonk" are the A-frame and trailing arm bushings. Those locate the rear axle and do wear away. if in doubt replace them with Polybushes. The ball joint in the middle of the A-frame also wears and is very hard to replace so I leave this to a poor soul in a shop.

Left: A-arm bushing. It's almost impossible to get at that nut or to push it out of its seat.

Leaking power steering

Leaks in the power steering box are quite common. Try to avoid turning at standstill. Most boxes are slightly covered with oil but drips are a sign for immediate action. First make sure the lines are fully tightened. If that's ok your box will probably need an overhall. Look at the fluid. If it contains small silvery or golden flakes it's a really bad sign. In that case prepare also for a new pump.

There's an repair kit for the box containing new seals etc but it only works if the surfaces are still unworn. It's about a 50/50 chance but it only costs 1/10th of a exchange box so it's worth a try. You will need some professional puller to remove the drop arm as it sits on the box as if welded in place. I used a hydraulic press and it only gave up at 30 tons of pressure. The trick in mounting the new bottom seals without damaging is to cover the splines on the lower output shaft with some sort of tape and grease. Once you remount it you will know what place I mean.

Timing belt faillure

200 and 300 TDi's use a rubber timing belt. This can and will break if you don't replace it in time. Usual intervals are 80.000 Km although I've seen some snap at less than 60.000. If the belt breaks with the engine running as they do usually you are most likely off for a very expensive repair if not a complete new engine.

If you buy a car with an 200 or 300 TDi make sure the job has been done or do it immediately. 300 TDi's have a built-in problem so they eat up the timing belt way too soon. A correction kit is available to rectify this and if you own an 300 TDi make sure you have that kit fitted. Even as a Rover fan I think this should have been a factory recall if there ever was one. It's a shame to ruin an engine capable of doing 300.000-400.000 miles just for a 15 pound timing belt. Replacing the belt is not that much work but you will probably need a special puller for the lower crank pulley.

Rubber belts wear not evenly (picture) and therefore tend to wear onto the gears. Not quite logical at first as the gears are solid metal. So the new timing belt will ride just on the higher edges of the gears and wants to move. So he rubs against the cover or the back, wearing down VERY quickly until it reaches the state the old belt had. So inspect the upper and lower gears very closely for any signs of wear. If in doubt replace them or your new belt will wear out in a couple of hondred miles. You must also replace your idler pulley that makes the tension on the belt in 90% of the cases. The handbook does not make this clear but look at your belt. The wear on the BACK side is only due to the idler pulley rubbing..

Left: a typically worn timing belt. This one probabbly had only a few weeks life left. What's frightening is that this had done only 27000 miles, half the life expectancy landrover gives.

Right: The timing belt in it's housing. Red arrow shows idler pulley, white arrows point to gears you must inspect. Note the black rubber dust covering everything- that was once part of a belt

Right: The belt replacement kit made by Zeus. Solid metal gears replace the rubber belt, decreasing also side load on all bearings. Disadvantages are a bit more noise outside the vehicle and the high price - around £600 + VAT

V8 problems

The V8's are good engines but helplessly outdated. They accept a lot of abuse but are very sensitive to oil change intervals. If you miss them or use cheap oil a black sludge will quickly build up. This starts to block oil passages so some components will no longer get enough lubrication. First to go are the hydraulic followers (lifters) and they wear immediately the camshaft. This is hard to detect at first but once the wear starts it can't be repaired. Once the polished surfaces are worn the process will go faster and faster. All you hear is a slight ticking noise as the followers won't pump up so giving a ticking. It can be seen when you remove the intake plane. There's a great power loss but as it comes very slowly you can only feel it when comparing to another Rover V8. Idle will not change much, it even may run smoother. And you must change the cam and the followers together as the hardened surfaces work on eachother and will not accept an used counterpart.

Also the V8's are more sensitive to overheating. Look at the special page for this.

Another design "fault" is the outer row of cylinder head bolts. If you torque them down as described in the repair manual they will exert enough leverage to slightly push up the middle side of the head. This is only measured in 1000th of an inch but if you push the throttle high pressures in the cylinders will push a very slight amount of burning gasses into the water/oil galeries. This makes for a very hot running engine if you push it but it behaves normal under standard situations. Also oil gets burned and turns into a sort of tarmac, covering the internal surfaces and blocking oil galleries

Make sure you always have antifreeze in the coolant, even for short tests.

Left: Worn followers (lifters). Anything except a very slight depolish of the surface is not acceptable

left: The cam still looks good but...



below: ...look at those lobes. The arrow indicates the edge where the follower rode on. A single damaged lobe like this makes a cam fit for the scrapbin.

Failing clutch release arm

This applies not for V8-engined Rovers as those have a different arm. All others have only a stamped metal sheet arm that pushes onto the release bearing. This wears out and leaves you without clutch. Sometimes you get warning signs as sticky or rubbing but usually it just breaks through and you're stranded. So if you have your clutch changed always change the release arm too or have it strenghtened by welding a thick washer to it.

VM Turbo Diesels

I've seen some fitted to the Defender range but if you accept any advice: Keep off. This engine is a can of worms.

Tired Turbo Diesels

The simple Turbo Diesel wasn't the best engine they ever made. Most blow oil into the air cleaner. They easily catch splits in the block, have pistons broken and, of course, timing belt faillures. The normally aspirated Diesels and the TDi's don't have these problems.

Sticking transfer box levers

Diff lock and High-Low lever may stick if used rarely. A good squirt of penetrating oil usually sorts out the problem. To prevent this use your transfer box from time to time. What do you have if for anyway?

Water leaks

Almost no Land Rover is watertight! A small intrusion may be acceptable as long it doesn't drip on your head. A common fault is water dripping from around the sun roof area or from over the doors. Most noticeably when cornering- you get a stream of icy water on places you don't need it. Most people think it comes from the sunroof. It may be, so put some silicon sealer around the rubber strip on the roof. But in most cases it comes from the front. If you look exactly over the windshield you will see that the roof is made of 2 halves clamped together. They join at the rain gutter over the windshield. After some time (faster if you often drive over bumpy roads) this joint will open just a bit, enough to suck water in. When driving you may stay dry as often the wind drives water away from the tiny cracks but on others it was the opposite. The water then creeps inside, accumulating on the inner roof liner. Here it sits and waits until you corner or brake. Then it sloshes around and finds the most unpleasant place to exit.

Try putting a thin coat of clear silicone all over the front rain gutter above the window after thoroughly degreasing. If it does not help it can't hurt either. A similar effect happens on those who have air vents above the rear door. Also check around the front windscreen rubber. Rust may push it up and allow water to come in. Once behind the dash it can find an completely different place to exit

Indicator and position lights

They are a constant hassle on elder vehicles or those used in mud. They corrode between the bulb's metallic foot and the housing thus making it impossible to change the bulb. If it doesn't come out easily, don't insist as the glass will break before the rust let go so cutting your fingers. Get a new complete lamp and put the plastic "glass" aside for later use. If it still doesn't work it's almost always a bad ground. Check the connectors in the wiring and put some Vaseline in them.