Shed Buying Guide: Land Rover Discovery 3

Every now and then, probably once every five years or so, Shed leaves the dusty environs of his countryside retreat and jumps on the train to London.

He does it partly to get some respite from Mrs Shed, and partly to see how the other half live. Nobody in his village owns a car worth more than ยฃ3,000. As there are only two buses a month there (and only one in February), that might seem a bit risky. In reality though, none of Shed's fellow villagers ever seems to have a problem getting about the place, which says something about the value and worthiness of old motors -ย as long as you pick the right one, of course. Which, as they all know Shed, they always do.

Being quite a kindly old soul, Shed is always willing to share his insights on old bangers -ย sorry, fine examples of pre-owned motors -ย especially when his clack is being lubricated. Having secured a goodly supply of Scruttocks Old Dirigible Ale, PH is now in a position to launch Shed's Buying Guides.

One objective of these guides will be, as the name suggests, to point out the stuff you need to look out for as a potential purchaser of a shed-value car. Unlike Shed of the Week, though, no specific sum of money will be pinned to any of the cars Shed will be gabbing on about. He's just going to pick out some motors that he thinks are surprisingly affordable but that might not ever be seen in Shed of the Week, either because they're outside SOTW's ยฃ1,500 maximum or because people aren't selling them. Then he'll give you a few reasons why people aren't selling them and a few why they might be.

Welcome, then, to the first Shed's Buying Guide, which for no particular reason is on the Land Rover Discovery 3, a vehicle that can now be picked up for ยฃ3,000 or less. Which, if you were around in 2004 when the 3 was launched, would have seemed unlikely.

Land Rover's earlier Discos 1 and 2 were very competent, but in their design philosophy they were nearer to the Defender than they were to the Range Rover. The first version of the D3 which ran from 2004 to 2009 was a whole new ball of wax. It was a handsome, refined and tech-packed planet-straddler that, thanks to its rigid new body and (on all models bar the most basic) air suspension and all-new Terrain Response system, was as good on the motorway as it was on the moors. It could tug 3.5 tonnes from a dead stop on a 12 per cent slope and stomp over an ice-covered sand dune (eh?) while hosting a quiet cocktail party in the cabin.

Terrain Response might have been a nonsense phrase, but there was no arguing about how well it worked. Automatically picking the best mix of ride height, engine and transmission responses, hill descent and traction control settings to give the D3 the best setup for five different scenarios -ย general driving, 'grass/gravel/snow', 'mud/ruts', 'sand' or 'rock crawl', it really was quite something.

D3 prices started at a fiver under ยฃ27k for the most basic 2.7-litre, 206hp, 320lb ft TDV6, while the top-spec 4.4 petrol V8 HSE was a then-dizzy ยฃ48k. Most sensible buyers opted for the nicely equipped TDV6 SE at ยฃ37k, which was still a lot of money at the time, but it did give you touchscreen satnav, leather, automatic headlights and rain sensorsย on top of the S's cruise, climate, park distance control and bi-xenon headlamps.ย The HSE sat on one-inch bigger 19-inch alloys and threw in a posher nav system, pano roof, and a harmon/kardon LoGIC7 music setup.

Shed remembers the first time he drove a Disco 3. It was What Car?'s long-term test vehicle, run by the editor of the moment. Given that editors always give themselves the best and most attention-grabbing long-termers, and quite rightly too, Shed is fairly sure it was a ยฃ41,995 top-spec HSE.

The ride on that car was amazing. Shed knew that the phrase 'velvet steamroller' was too daft to use in public, but it did sort of sum up the D3's imperious disdain for road imperfections. Somehow Land Rover managed to find a fully-independent hieght-adjustable suspension solution for this 2.5 tonne beast that worked in just about every respect.

Great though the suspension was, it couldn't disguise the weight or rescue the ruinous economy. The 304g/km automatic diesels delivered 27.2mpg and a puckering 18.8mpg for the auto-only V8s -ย but considerably less in the real world, especially if any off-roading was involved.

Search for Land Rover Discovery 3s here

As a general rule, don't go for a Discovery 3 if you're frightened by warning lights or other failure indications coming up on your info screen, because you will be seeing a fair few of them. The good news is that there is a wealth of experience out there to help you sort things out, so Shed still reckons D3s are great value at ยฃ3k or less.

What should you expect, apart from the unexpected? Let's start with a quick gander at the engine and transmission. The first thing to say about D3 mechanicals in general is that it's best not to try and save money by neglecting servicing (especially oil changes) or by opting for pattern parts. Don't skimp on batteries either because by gum if ever a car needed a dependable source of electricity it's this one. And D3 alternators are not that clever.

We'll ignore the petrols, as most sane buyers did (495g/km anyone?) and concentrate on the diesel versions, which were powered by a single-turbo version of the two-turbo 2.7-litre V6 diesel that had worked very well in the Jaguar S-Type. Fitting the TDV8 3.6-litre grinder from the Range Rover would have produced much better performance with no real penalty in economy, but that evolution never happened. Shame.

Back on the 2.7s, dual mass flywheels and clutches have been known to blow at quite low mileages. You'd like to think that the cars to which this was going to happen have all been mended by now, but of course transmission parts are to some extent consumables and that goes double on cars that have been used for towing.

Engine gas recirculation valves are famous for fritzing out on the TDV6. There are two of these EGR valves, one for each bank of cylinders. Replacing one like for like is a pricey job, but on the earlier 3s that we're looking at here it's possible to do a much quicker EGR delete with blanking plates for not a lot more than ยฃ100.

Don't allow the belt, tensioner, all small pulleys and waterpump to remain in your Disco for more than 6 years or 60,000 miles. Turbo oil seals are not everlasting either. Intermittent failure of the crankshaft sensor can cause some intermittently scary cutting-out, and the engine oil pump casing to which the timing belt tensioner is bolted can snap off with predictably nasty results.

More happily, there are no diesel particulate filters to get clogged up on 2.7 TDV6s. Less happily, both the manual and the automatic transmissions have had their fair share of woes over the years. The autos in particular can develop a judder, especially if you pay any heed to LR's advice to change the tranny oil every 150,000 miles. Divide that number by five and you'll be nearer the mark.

Watch out for coolant finding its way into the gearbox through the radiator heat exchanger. While we're on the subject of leaks, there were a couple of recalls in 2006 and 2007 after splits started appearing in the section of pipe between the filler neck and the tank.

If your D3 is running sweetly but, you feel, slightly wanly, iberating another 38hp and 88Nm of torque is easy via a remap by someone like BAS (Bell Auto Services - other tuners are available) at a little over ยฃ450 including VAT. That will give you a nice extra spring in your step between 2,500rpm and 3,800rpm.

Looking next at the bodywork and interior, if you're looking at a non-leather D3 the cloth seats are almost certain to have been creased at some point in their life, a consequence of poor seat heater design. Most should be OK now because LR did a recall on the cushion design.

The position of the spare wheel under the body was another bad bit of planning as they're pretty easy to nick from there. Protection kits are available but they're over ยฃ200 a go. Mind what you're doing when you're jacking up a D3 because it's not that clear where the points are, especially at night which is the time when we all like to do most of our jacking. Get it wrong and you could easily do for the aircon compressor, which is already fairly susceptible to going wrong on its own account without any extra help from you.

Inside, that damp feeling down the back of your neck could be down to a leaking sunroof. That absence of noise from your stereo could be down to your CD player having given up the ghost.ย And that not knowing where you are going feeling could be down to your satnav screen conking out. D3 satnavs sometimes carry on draining the battery even when they're switched off, which is a bit naughty of them.

Keep on top of smooth door lock operation, as you may find that the security codes that you'll need after replacing them aren't available from your friendly LR dealer. Also, keep the factory towbar clean, because this is a classic portal for the transmission of rust to the rear chassis member, and from there to your rear passenger family member if they have an old-fashioned cast iron prosthesis.

Finally, let's have a gander at the external spinny and bouncy bits, ie the brakes, wheels, and suspension. As mentioned, D3s are heavy. That means they are also heavy on just about every component involved in keeping it rolling comfortably: bushes, brakes, wheel bearings and ball joints.

One of the most common and cursed-at D3 issues concerns the electromechanical parking brake, possibly the auto industry's stupidest invention yet and particularly so in the Discovery, where it gets clogged with everyday crapola let alone the icky sort of crapola that you encounter off road.

Regularly blowing out brake dust and dirt with an airline falls into the category of advice we all nod sagely at but never follow through on.ย Thankfully a seized EPB can usually be manually released by flipping the plastic panel in front of the switch to reveal a metallic loop into which you can insert the D3's jack arm. Give it a yank and you should be rolling.

But even that is not necessarily going to help you if your system encounters sensor/actuator maladies and refuses to release the EPB. If you or your dealer didn't know better, you might find yourself shelling out over ยฃ1,000 on a new EPB unit. In typical Land Rover beardy fashion, owner chat has uncovered a bonkers fix, which basically reprogrammes the so-called 'xyz' gear position switch to trick the ECU into releasing the brake. This involves selecting all the gears one by one until the telltale 'R', '1', '2' signs appear on the dash screen, stopping the engine, locking and then unlocking all the doors, and then turning the ignition back on. Seriously. Or you could just never use the EPB and simply leave the trans in gear instead. Other brake issues can come about if your back plates are rusty.

Suspension problems often arise from wiring faults, but also because of the D3's inherent heftiness and of some owners' belief that you can crash over sleeping policemen and the like at whatever speed you want because, well, it's a Disco innit. This is not the case. Impacts or exposure to the elements as a result of worn rubber protective casings will damage the special oil-filled bushes LR fitted to the D3 and cause excessive movement in the lower suspension arms. You can get around this by fitting specialist aftermarket lower control arm bushes that are designed to flex and replicate the feel of the OE bushes. Factory wishbones are expensive.

What else? Well, as you might expect, the Terrain Response system is capable of failing. Fitting big wheels and unusual profile tyres can lead to problems in the steering box area.ย 

Shed rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Discovery 3 is, or certainly was, a fantastic do-everything sort of car, something that would fit into just about anyone's life or indeed lifestyle, whether they've got a family or not. An early Mk1 will be remarkably cheap for what it is, values having been dealt a big blow in the late 2000s by a combination of the global financial crisis and a lot of contemporary hate for 4x4s.

Eeeh, them SUV-hating days seem a lifetime away now. The Disco 3 looks almost small next to some of the positively Gulliverian stuff that's on offer today. Well, not small exactly, but less conspicuously large anyway, and as noted earlier remaps are available to level up the weight/performance equation a bit.

Even so, a phase-one D3 is a high-risk purchase. Even if you buy on condition, the vehicle's complexity and the factory's somewhat cavalier approach to nailing it all together means there's no guarantee you won't end up with the mucky end of the stick. In 2012 it scored an unwelcome win in the Warranty Direct survey with the biggest number of policy warranty claims of any used car by a European manufacturer.

There again, you might buy a high-miler and get relatively lucky. Go into it with a happy-go-lucky attitude and your eyes and wallet open and you'll enjoy it. If you're the sort who gets angry when things go wrong, you might be better off looking at warranted Dacia Dusters.

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Comments (141) Join the discussion on the forum

  • HorneyMX5 12 Mar 2019

    I have always loved the design if these. Like a real life Tonka Toy.

  • Water Fairy 12 Mar 2019

    Like the styling of these, but having driven and valeted many over at my local RR dealer it's a no from me.

  • Twoshoe 12 Mar 2019

    So much better looking than its hideous successor. The new one may be better in almost every way (much lighter for example I believe) but I know of several farmers round here who are hanging on to their 3s as they can't abide the looks of the new one.

  • Krikkit 12 Mar 2019

    Twoshoe said:
    So much better looking than its hideous successor. The new one may be better in almost every way (much lighter for example I believe) but I know of several farmers round here who are hanging on to their 3s as they can't abide the looks of the new one.
    They'd be buying the 4s instead, surely?

    I quite like these, green with a splash of mud takes all the Cheshire off them. Plus the cool body-off thing for engine work.

  • sparkythecat 12 Mar 2019

    A great concept, but they are borktastic.

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