Yes, I bought a Range Rover and it has problems. This story may sound familiar, but not at the absurdly low price I paid for my Rover, and how cheaply I am able to repair the issues.
As I settle into the groove of my side gig at Jalopnik, I can’t help but notice the shadow of Doug Demuro. I feel like I’m living the Jalopnik version of the movie Meet the Parents. I am Gaylord Focker meeting my girlfriend’s family for the first time, doing my best to fit in. My nervousness is made worse by the constant comparison to my girlfriend’s previous lover. He is a highly intelligent, highly successful man who creates beautiful things and is fantastic in bed.
I don’t know about Doug’s prowess in the bedroom, but he is successful, intelligent and created beautiful things for Jalopnik. The readers are like Robert DeNiro, sizing me up to see if I’m worthy of entering the circle of trust.
When I saw this Range Rover at the local dealer auction, I couldn’t help but think about Doug. His exploitation of the extended warranty on his Carmax purchased Range Rover made him a legend. Over the course of several articles, Doug chronicled his $3,900 Carmax warranty quickly paying for itself, then continuing to pay thousands in repair bills for years to come.
Now these Range Rovers are getting ancient enough to be wholesale auction cast offs, not worthy of reconditioning and resale by a major franchise dealer. I spent a long time looking over this particular 2004 Range Rover. It had a decent amount of issues, but if the price was low, I was crazy enough to think it was worth the risk.
The Range Rover eventually went across the auction block, and with no serious competition, I was the high bidder at the crazy low price of $2,800.
$2,800 bought me a Range Rover, and a pretty nice one at that. I’m not exaggerating. It has a clean title and history report. The truck runs and drives great with 150,000 miles. The undercarriage is super clean with zero leaks. Cosmetically, I have little to complain about that wouldn’t be solved with a good detail. So what got me this fantastic deal? This picture should explain.
Most used car dealers have a good base knowledge of common problems specific to a particular model. Any dealer attending the auction who inspected this Range Rover and saw “Suspension Inactive” flashing had the good sense to run away.
Rather than dismissing the car over a single message, I thought of it as an opportunity. If the rest of the car is sound, and no other dealer takes a serious look, it may sell cheaply enough to justify fixing the suspension. Other than the fault message, the air suspension seemed to be working, making me hope it was a minor fix. If the rest of the Rover was road worthy, it was worth rolling the dice.
Unfortunately, my close inspection found a number of other problems that needed sorting. Like I said before, the drivetrain was solid, but a number of peripheral issues was like death of 1,000 cuts to this neglected off-road conqueror. Other than the suspension message, the driver’s side headlight was burned out, and the AC, tilt steering column adjustment, radio, and hood latch were all broken.
A smart man would have walked away rather than deal with all of these problems, in addition to the suspension message. I’m an idiot. I thought if all these issues were insurmountable, someone would buy it from me as a cheap project. At my high bid of $2,800, I surely couldn’t lose, right?
I decided to make mending this Range Rover a personal challenge. I had just purchased the truck for $2,800, with an additional auction fee of $135 putting the grand total at $2,935. This number is $965 less than the $3,900 Doug paid for his Range Rover’s Carmax extended warranty. Could I fix all of the issues on my Range Rover and still own it below the cost of Doug’s warranty?
For those who followed Doug’s Range Rover shenanigans, this seems like a hopeless suicide mission. Through his ownership, he experienced two of the same problems my Rover currently has (air suspension and tilt steering adjustment failure) with the repairs costing thousands. His Carmax warranty has paid over $9000 in repairs so far.
Fixing all of these issues for a little over $900 might seem hopeless, but it’s actually possible with someone who is good with wrenches and swear words. I sure as shit have the second part down.
First, I had to diagnose the air suspension. Thanks to the aftermarket, you are no longer totally screwed when the air ride fails. Complete air suspension conversion kits are available for about $900. While this completely busts my budget, it was nice knowing that number is the worst case scenario. A friend of mine with a Rover computer scanner pulled the fault codes, and found the suspension pump wasn’t happy. The warning light never returned when the computer was reset, but to be safe I should replace the pump, which is easily located under the spare tire. A new pump costs $360, not the end of the world.
The suspension repair leaves me $605 to fix the other issues. I checked out the headlights next. These Rovers are equipped with expensive xenon bulbs and equally pricey parts that make them work. I switched bulbs from side to side and found they were working, so the fault lies with the bulb’s ballast and igniter. These sell together used for $120.
With $485 left it was time to diagnose the broken air conditioning. I charged the system to found it functional, but with a large leak in one of the lines. This was very good fortune. The line is only $60, and with about $20 worth of Freon, I have cold AC. The hood latch is another easy fix only needing a $10 cable.
With those thrifty repairs out of the way, I am left with $395 to beat Doug. Next, I investigated the non-functional power tilt steering wheel adjustment and found the tilt motor had failed somewhere internally. A good used motor to repair this costs $185.00. Getting close!
For my final issue, the dead stereo/navigation system, I am left with $210. An internet search for common issues found the most likely suspects are the head unit or control computer. Since the display was still lighting up but not getting a signal, I suspected the computer, which is located in a rear storage compartment. Much to my excitement, I could source this computer for under $200. Victory was in sight until I opened the storage compartment to inspect the computer and discovered this shit show.
The computer was completely gone, and the wiring harness connecting it was cut to bits and balled up. At some point, this Rover had an aftermarket sound system that was hastily removed before the previous owners traded in. The original navigation screen was put back to simply fill the hole left in the dashboard. With the factory system completely lobotomized, there was no hope for repair. The cheapest aftermarket navigation radio with a Land Rover mounting kit I could find is $500.
I was dejected, but then I had a brilliant idea!
Look at my Range Rover’s new Sony stereo with an Apple infotainment system. This elegant repair makes my Range Rover better than new, for less than the cost of a Carmax extended warranty.
Suck on that, Doug!