PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE IS GOOD maintenance, and so it was when I opened the bonnet of the D3 for a general look-see. That, and I needed some handy 12v power to activate a reversing camera I’d just bought to determine the best location to mount it.
Pretty soon the work was done, and I was about to close the bonnet when I saw this.
The useless furred and clawed creature my wife refers to as her pet was lounging on the second battery cover, balefully regarding Useless Thing! me. In fact, it has no other look than baleful. The creature had, as is its wont, been silently sneaking around the car and, again in typical behaviour, ended up somewhere it wasn’t meant to be. I honestly do not understand the point of such an animal as a pet.
After all the marque horse-trading of the last couple of decades, Jaguar and Land Rover have ended up together happily married under Tata as JLR. Two British brands, and while I’m not enough of a PR person to employ ‘iconic’, they are nevertheless famous names. Naturally the two share resources, and now it appears also a little engineering philosophy.
Regular readers of this column know that while I appreciate Land Rover’s design ingenuity, I do lament the loss of driver control and thus challenge which, for the enthusiast, equates to fun. Clearly, the most capable 4x4s today are those with least driver involvement, and while a ‘drive’ or perhaps ‘ride’ in the latest Range Rovers leaves one impressed, it’s not fun in the same way a more involving vehicle would be – say, a Series I. And not only is there less and less for the driver to do, there’s increasing interference from the electronics, something also common to Jaguars as I found out while belting the new F-Type V6 and V8 around a local racetrack. Tough life I have, but the daily crust needs to be earned. Anyway, I’m out there on the track, which I know well, with the Jag in manual mode, controlling the eight speeds by the paddle shifters which, in the case of the V8, exercises the fingers quite a bit as the time to change gears arrives rather rapidly.
Two new but very different Land Rovers were brought along for an instructor training day I ran last Sunday. The D90 is available in Australia but only to special order as there are few Defenders sold, and even fewer 90s. The D4 is a relatively high-volume vehicle and is as popular in Australia as anywhere else. This one is nicely kitted out, and proves the point that if you want a European luxury tourer then the D4 is the only realistic choice as the competition – Cayenne, Touareg, X5 and the like – simply do not have available accessories such as long-range tanks, wheel carriers, bull bars or dual battery systems. On the day both vehicles performed superbly, but again I have to say the D90 did it easier than the D4. A weight difference of around 700kg would be part of that, along with incredible ramp, approach and departure angles mated to that amazing low range, and beautifully tractable engine.
Training. You can never do too much of it, and even as an instructor I learn things on every course I teach. This month I’ve been running an intermediate-level course where we leave the safe confines of the testing ground and head ‘bush’, into the real world, where there’s unpredictable terrain that changes each visit. The students got a lot out of the day, so I thought I’d write about some things we learned – that started with a straddling exercise.
This is an easy climb, but that’s not the point. When training, the idea is to learn, not merely to get the car from A to B. The idea behind this exercise is for drivers to learn how to straddle ruts, which means keeping all four wheels out of the centre rut and the car out of the panel shop. In the photo, the two front wheels are out of the ruts, but the rear left is well and truly in, so had this been an enormous chasm, that would have been disastrous. What’s wrong here is that the driver has not ‘driven the back axle’, but focused on the front wheels. A much later turn into the corner would have worked, and the right front wheel should be on the verge of tipping into the rut. This is demonstrated graphically.
That initial rut was just to demonstrate the technique. Later on more difficult terrain arrived.
It is a rare day when my Discovery 3 arrives for a service with nothing else to be done other than routine maintenance. This time it was a 144,000km service and a park-brake light that came on and stayed on, a suspension fault light that appeared after a while in Off-Road Mode and an engine system fault accompanied by a loss of power and black smoke. I don’t think Land Rover ever designed the D3 to be used off-road to the extent that ours is, so it’s not really a surprise that maintenance is higher than normal.
But this time it was all pretty easy. The engine-related symptoms described above are well known to Discovery owners and indeed the cause was the lower turbo hose splitting, so that was replaced. The other fix was updated software to the ECU which solved both the park-brake and height fault display. One of the design faults with modern Land Rovers is that everything is unnecessarily interconnected, from the overlander’s point of view anyway, so a fault in one area can trigger faults in another or even shut down otherwise perfectly good components of the vehicle. Imagine if you broke your left arm and your body decided to shut down your right leg too, on the basis it’s all connected by the same blood system. Well, that’s modern Land Rovers, and to be fair, modern vehicles. A real overlanding vehicle would follow the principle of ‘graceful degradation’ where key functions of the vehicle are preserved at all costs, and the driver is given complete control over the vehicle. For example, let’s say you’re stuck in the middle of the desert with an overheating fault. Modern vehicles go into limp mode and refuse you any more than say 1,500 rpm. Not enough to crest a dune. But what if you could have 3,000 rpm, and then you rested the car for five minutes? You could make slow, but sure progress. That’s what you’d do with an older vehicle, but you just can’t with a newer one.