Photo by Fred Paulussen

So you want to buy a Land Rover Defender, but the price of a brand new one isn’t necessarily within your budget. That leaves you with the next best thing; buying a second-hand Defender. And as much as we wish it were that easy, most first-time buyers need some schooling when it comes to purchasing a second-hand car.

Defenders are subjected to a higher amount of off-road travel than the average car. It means that most second-hand Defenders on the market have had more exposure to the elements and rocky terrain. Whichever second-hand Defender you choose to buy, there is a great chance that the car has had an eventful life. We’re here to tell you what you need to know before purchasing a second-hand vehicle:

1. Check the Mileage

Let’s start with an obvious one to warm you up. Sellers often charge a significantly lower price for vehicles with high mileage. However, you need to consider whether it’s worth paying a smaller amount now and being stuck with a broken-down car later.

If the car mileage is over 100 000, there is a higher chance of it giving out on you within months of your purchase. But also keep in mind that the Defender (and most 4x4s) are designed for long-distance travel. If the owner took good care of his vehicle, the mileage might not be an issue.

Enquire how often the seller did a full-service on the vehicle as well as the number of oil changes. If the car received service regularly, it might be reliable for another good few years.

2. Inspect the Exterior

You can’t expect a used Defender not to have a few scratches here and there. Corrosion, however, is a problem. This car tears through a lot of mud in its lifetime, so corrosion is always a possibility.

Luckily, a Defender’s high ground clearance makes it easier to inspect the chassis, outriggers and rear crossmember. Most outer body panels of the vehicle are aluminium, which provides maximum protection against rust. However, its foundation is a selection of steels welded together, with a bare minimum of corrosion protection.

Any vehicle older than ten years is prone to suffering from chassis corrosion. And despite having easy access to underneath the car, visible body panels provide no guide to the state of the chassis. Keep in mind that chassis replacement is quite expensive and should ultimately be a deal-breaker when buying a used 4×4.

3. Check the Air-Suspension

One of the most common problems with older models (built from around the 1990s) is the air-suspension system. The system itself is an efficient amenity that offers a smoother ride. However, it is also one of the systems that become more prone to performance issues as the Defender ages.

The average life expectancy of an air-suspension system in a Land Rover is about six to ten years. Once it fails, the car will start to sag to one side, and its endurance on bumpier roads decreases.

A common solution to this problem is converting the air-suspension into coil springs. If you want to buy a Land Rover Defender, that’s been around the block; it’s best to make sure the conversion already took place.

4. Test Drive

Test-driving a potential vehicle is essential to determining whether it’s worth the price. If a seller won’t let you test-drive the car, that is a major red flag. A vehicle can appear to be in good condition at first glance, or even after a thorough inspection. However, you won’t get a feel for the engine or gearbox without actually driving the car.

Here are the things you need to look out for when performing a test-drive:

The Interior Systems

Before you even start the car, you need to check if all the basics are still functioning. Check that the dashboard lights, the radio and even the aircon are in good working condition.

The Sound

Pay attention to how the car sounds from the time you start the engine. How does the car react when you brake, change gears or accelerate? This gives you a good indication of the vehicle’s internal condition.

The Steering Wheel

‘Wheel wobble’ can only be identified when driving at high speed. It often indicates issues with the tires, steering or suspension. Pick up the pace a little and pay attention to how the steering wheel reacts.

Make a Smart Choice

If you’re not a first-time car buyer, you know there are a lot more things to consider. However, you may find that buying a second-hand Defender most often has a happy ending. This is because most Land Rover sellers are people who have cared for their off-road vehicles.

You have a higher chance of finding a quality second-hand Defender online, more than any other car. This is because of the large number of enthusiasts that exist in the market. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious when buying a second-hand 4×4. Learn more about the model you’re interested in so you can better determine whether you’re getting value for money.

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