Preventative maintenance is a big deal, especially on older Land Rovers. They are big, tough vehicles, but things wear out. Things get loose. It’s something we as owners need to keep on top of – especially if we have older trucks.
As an example, as soon as Covid lockdown was lifted in the UAE I went out on a desert trip with three Series Twos – two 109s, and a standard 88 with the nose from a Lightweight. They were maintained by an Indian mechanic who’s standard of maintenance is sketchy at best. So despite his assurances that the three trucks would be ready and checked over, good to go, on the Saturday morning, the first rule is to double check! Sure enough, though tyres were at sensible pressures, and they were all full of water, clutch and brake fluid, the semi-Lightweight and 6-cylinder 109 had oil levels that barely reached the “minimum” mark. The 4-cylinder 24 volt 109 had no oil in it whatsoever. Does the mechanic have a stash of oil we can use? No. Of course not. So, off to the nearby filling station for oil.
And then, the dunes. The six-cylinder led, driven by my friend Mark; the steady roar of its engine a reassuring growl as it coped with soft sand drifts and steep dune sides. I drove the 24v 109, an ex-Trucial Scouts desert patrol vehicle which had been a stalwart of my series desert trips for months. Tail End Charlie was the semi-Lightweight, tentatively driven by a desert newcomer who tended to ease off when confronted by hazards. Pretty soon we swapped the travelling order, and I took the rear of the column so we kept everyone together, and I could keep an eye on the smaller Land Rover.
As the morning went on, I started to worry about the 109’s power. I tend to travel the dunes in low box second or third, and I started to worry that she seemed sluggish. Initially I put it down to soft sand, or told myself I was imagining it – but no, foot flat on the boards and she was barely scraping 1200 revs. Instant suspicion…… pulled in, and lid up. Sure enough, the nut holding the throttle return spring was loose, so she wasn’t able to give me full travel on the accelerator pedal. We’d specifically asked the mechanic to check these nuts on each vehicle. I headed for the toolbox in the back of the truck….which was empty. Turned out the mechanic had taken all the tools out. Obviously. Did I check? No. I “assumed” that the mechanic would leave a full toolbox in a truck that he had been told to get ready for the desert. But, as an American mate told me once, “Never Assume – Assume means to make an “Ass of U and ME””. Luckily I had a Leatherman which sorted the offending spring and nut but still…….
In time we pulled in under the shade of some small trees that ring an oasis, and fired up a BBQ. Mark, a Zimbabwean, prides himself on the standard of his BBQs, or “braais”, and sure enough, the rare and thinly-sliced steak wedges, dipped in salt and then home-made chili, went down a storm. In time dark started to fall, and we packed kit away – no overnight trip this, as some passengers had to be back in Dubai later. We fired up the Rovers, and started out into the night…. Only to find that between three Land Rovers we had one working headlight, by chance on my 24v 109. Outstanding. So we had to drive back through a dune field with one working headlight, and none at all for our newbie driver. I led the drive back to base, in a nearby town not far distant, but I had to keep circling the other two Land Rovers like a sheepdog – I needed my single headlight to pick the best route through the dunes but I also needed to use it to cast a beam of light in front of the other two trucks, so they could see where they were going. The six-cylinder had sidelights, but the semi-Lightweight had nothing. In the past, in a similar situation in Kenya, I strapped a headtorch to the bullbar of a 45 year old Range Rover with a dilapidated wiring loom, and drove on that illumination. However as we hadn’t intended this to be a night-time trip the headtorches we had were inadequate!
After a very tentative and slow desert crossing we made it back to base, but with rather shorter tempers that we set out. Yes, there’s an argument that we should have checked the vehicles more thoroughly before we set out, but in that case, why pay a mechanic?
There’s certainly a lesson here though. Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail! Older vehicles need attention, and more checks than more modern ones. The “Land Rovers are unreliable” myth is simply that – but it’s certainly true that individual Land Rovers are as reliable as their owners make them…..