Home » Here’s What It’s Like Owning A Land Rover Discovery That’s Older Than I Am

Here’s What It’s Like Owning A Land Rover Discovery That’s Older Than I Am

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“Why didn’t you buy a Wrangler like a normal teenager?” asked Joe, my local tow guy, as he unstrapped my Land Rover Discovery from his flatbed. I chuckled and replied, “Because then you’d have no business!” Joe shrugged his shoulders and muttered something along the lines of “kids these days” or some other cliché. 

[Editor’s Note: Everybody, say hello to Rob! He’s a car-loving 20 year-old living in Long Island. He makes bad car choices, is studying to be a teacher, and will be hanging out around here on weekends. It’s my goal to get him to buy a Jeep to go along with his 4Runner and Discovery. -DT]. 

I Couldn’t Resist The Lure Of The Mighty Disco

This past July, I whimsically purchased a 2001 Land Rover Discovery. The Facebook Marketplace advertisement pictured it in a beautiful grassy meadow—if the meadow was Shrek’s swamp. It was surrounded by crooked trees, all presumably afraid of the potential of leaking oil and coolant entering their roots. It had under 100,000 miles. No scary check engine lights. No air suspension to collapse it into a mush pile. No rear chassis frame rot. 

I had to have it.

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Sparing you from my relatively unexciting purchase experience, I reached out to the seller and was driving it home less than 24 hours later. As I cruised down the Long Island Expressway, I felt the spirits of Queen Elizabeth, Doug DeMuro, and all the other Rover cult members take over my perception of what defines automotive reliability. 

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The first week was smooth sailing—if the boat in this metaphor was the Titanic. I drove it to the Subaru dealership, where I work, for a New York State inspection, and laughed with my coworkers about Subaru head gaskets. Then I turned around and looked at my Disco. I went home after that. 

The Three Amigos

Then I got paid a visit by three old friends— the “three amigos.” Well, imaginary friends. Actually, they’re not friendly, but rather a group of frightening, intimidating, enemies who suddenly appear when you’re thriving along the road.

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For those unfamiliar with these rigs, the “three amigos” are a trio consisting of the ABS warning light, Traction Control, and Hill Descent Assist. They’re about as unpopular in the Rover community as cops are with Hellcat drivers. And here, they can be triggered by a bad bearing or a speck of brake dust. So normal driving. I had my shuttle valve rewired and that fortunately kicked them out. For now. 

August rolled in and my Disco enjoyed light driving, which consisted of me mostly running it during the day on roads with a shoulder large enough to fit a AAA tow truck. I also went on a family vacation to California and rented a Ford Explorer from Hertz that smelled like feet. So the Disco sat some more. I had a nice time admiring the rust-free California Rovers of San Francisco. 

As August ended and September started to creep up, I decided to take my Disco on errands to prepare for the start of a new semester at school. After loading up on snacks, a few spiral notebooks, and an M&M McFlurry from McDonald’s, my Disco and I began to head home. Or so I thought.

The Dreaded Land Rover Problem: Overheating

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Cruising down a street in my neighborhood, I glanced down at my speed and did a double take when I noticed my engine temperature needle rising as I watched it hit the red mark. Then what I like to call “Rudolph’s Nose” appeared: the red warning light telling the driver to stop the truck immediately.

It had overheated. I pulled over to the side and put on my hazard lights and shut off the truck. I stepped out and opened the hood to a cloud of smoke. I then heard something dripping and looked under my truck to find the Niagara Falls of coolant pouring out of the truck. I watched in horror as my coolant reservoir emptied itself all over the street. Less than a minute later, a local police officer rolled up and checked on me and noticed the coolant. He laughed at me. He then told me to clean up the coolant since it was in front of a school.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I had broken down in front of where I attended elementary school… the day before starting classes at a new university. I was also in the middle of my small neighborhood, so as I sat on the curb next to the now-drying puddle of coolant, I was frequented by friends and neighbors concerned about my “Jeep.”

Eventually, AAA came and Joe the tow truck driver hauled my Disco to my mechanic (shoutout to Bart at Independent MotorCar of Smithtown NY) where they replaced my thermostat, water pump, engine timing and front gasket.

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My wallet was so sad that day. You’re also probably thinking this foolish kid probably could have prevented this and known it was going to happen. Well, you are wrong. This was nothing short of a surprise. Welcome to Land Rover ownership. 

Classes started and I elected to drive my 2010 Toyota 4Runner with double the Rover’s mileage to prevent any future incidents. I occasionally took my Disco to school where my friends admired it and laughed about the Honda Crossroad from the 1990s, which was just a Discovery 1 underneath. This made it the most unreliable Honda ever, even though it’s one of the more reliable Land Rovers. 

I also ordered vanity plates back in August that finally arrived in mid-October. When I first got my Disco, friends and family remarked on how squeaky it was. Sitting down in the seats emits a loud creaking noise like an old rocking chair. Every HVAC system button results in a creak. The harsh NY roads result in a symphony of rattles, creaks, squeaks, and mildly-concerning noises that I pretend not to hear. This prompted the vanity plate idea of “CREAKY.” I had wanted “LEAKY” or “NEED TOW” but I guess my fellow New Yorkers (probably Rover owners, honestly) beat me to it. The state rejected my application for “WANKAH.” I guess that was offensive. Sorry, British people.

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A few people on the road and at gas stations have chuckled and given thumbs up to the plates. I enjoy them. Better than the boring white “Excelsior” design of the new New York plates. 

The more my semester picked up, the more time my Disco spent parked. Parked on the street of course, as I don’t think my family would enjoy oil and coolant stains on the driveway stone. I enjoyed a trip out to the North Fork of Long Island, where I was living the “wealthy Upper West Side Manhattan-ite travels to weekend home on the eastern end of Long Island” fantasy as I cruised past vineyards in my Disco. 

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I also met up with a group of fellow Long Island Rover owners in the middle of November. Except I was the youngest one by probably at least 30 years. I was also the only Discovery in a sea of the ultra-exclusive “NAS Defenders.” I still had a great time. A lady in a relatively newer Wrangler pulled up and asked to join us. We shooed her away. I felt the Rover cult in me rise up a few notches. 

And then it must have been the 1980s, because the Disco died. Yet again.

‘You Land Rover Owners Keep Us In Business’

After picking up my younger sister from school, I felt a sudden loss of power and the lovely check engine light appeared and started flashing. Each flash was another laugh in my face. I pulled over and called up AAA and spoke to the same woman from a month ago, who said “you Land Rover owners keep us in business!” 

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Of course Joe the tow guy showed up and brought me and my truck home. My Disco sat for most of December as I was knocked out from contracting COVID and preparing for the holidays. I scanned the codes and received a cylinder six misfire. I replaced the plugs, wires, and coil pack. That eliminated the problem. I had never heard it run so well! But not for long.

I noticed a slight coolant leak from the throttle body heater plate. I ignored it, as I wasn’t losing a significant amount of coolant to care. But then it got worse. I hopped on to Atlantic British Rover Parts and ordered their “kit.”

I assume this is a common problem. The 100,000 YouTube views on the repair video also suggest this. Thankfully the repair was simple and shockingly cheap. I also cleaned out my throttle body and replaced the gasket. No leaky coolant for now. 

Things Are Actually Fine…For Now

That brings me to today. Within the last two-ish weeks, I can hopefully say that my Disco is mechanically sound. Yeah, it creaks, parts fall off in the car wash, the sunroof doesn’t open, and the headliner tickles my hair each time I drive it. It feels good though. Like a cheap hotel massage. I don’t know what that feels like. I’m just guessing. 

I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when I purchased this truck. That’s why I drive a Toyota. That Disco is a special truck, especially where I live in a sea of Chevrolet Traverses and Honda Pilots, it certainly sticks out. I am hoping to take it to the Vineyard Series on Martha’s Vineyard over the summer if it can make the five-hour drive from Long Island. It may have the aerodynamics of a high-heeled shoe and the performance of a garden hose with 15 leaks, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Unless that something was an NAS Defender. Then maybe we can talk. 


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58 Responses

  1. I’ve seen several of my friends and relatives slip into a Landie addiction. My commiserations to your wallet.
    (Brilliant vehicles though, for the five minutes when everything is working.)

  2. As the owner of a 94 range Rover classic,
    Welcome to the cult. Don’t plan on being anywhere on time and just be thankful if you make it at all.
    However… More than any other vehicle I’ve owned. (A sizable number) This is the one I look back at when I walk away from it in the parking spot.

    1. Words of wisdom! Enjoy your RRC. They’re neat trucks. Take a peek at Congleton up in Vermont… they restore them from the ground up. Awesome stuff they do.

    1. If the main jist of this article, and the well deserved horrid reputations of RR/LR products is any guide, you’ll see lots more of Robs contributions in the future!


  3. Not gonna lie, I love Discos and I still miss the one I used to own. But it was a Disco 1, and for anybody considering a used Disco for fun, I’d suggest sticking with the 1’s. Ironically, the Lucas electrics in Disco 1’s are more reliable than the Bosch stuff in the Disco IIs.

    Glad you found Atlantic British… Also get to know the folks at Rovers North. Between those two outlets, you’re pretty well-covered for parts and know-how.

    Also for those wondering, the frame and suspension of a Land Rover is only vulnerable to road salt-induced rot on the rear half. The front half will never rust due to a near- inexhaustible supply of protective oil film… courtesy of the engine. Land Rovers don’t leak — they mark their territory. If you see your Land Rover leaving various liquids on the pavement, don’t worry; everything’s fine. If it stops, it’s a sign that service is needed…

    Joking aside, I found that wrenching on old Rovers is generally straightforward. You may find you’ll need to invest in some larger wrench and socket sizes, though. They’re built with rather large, heavy truck parts. (That’s a good part of why I like Disco 1’s more; they’re primarily mechanical, not electronic beasts.) You’ll also want to keep some spare 10mm sockets on hand. For Reasons.

    1. Nailed it. The DI’s are stripped of some of the more “posh” comforts found on the DIIs, but for the better. 100% agree in the Lucas vs. Bosch electrics. Ironic is an understatement! I’ve got the ins with AB, Rovers North, Goldwing Rovers, and all the DII owners south of Westchester County NY! Luckily the previous owner had the rear quarter chasis coated. Saves me a headache.

  4. Oh, the Autopian has a weekend contributor now? Far out. Welcome to the site Rob!
    These early Discos are probably my favorite Land Rover. The Spanish teacher at my high school used to own one, it was always neat to see it in the parking lot amongst the sea of Grand Ams and hand-me-down Buicks. Though how she was able to keep it going in out tiny rural town hours for any metropolitan area is anyone’s guess.

  5. As a fellow college freshman who also bought a heinously unreliable car from the same year I understand the pain but also the fun of having an interesting car. Unfortunately for me, my jetta was my only car throughout high school, and having to leave the car at school overnight was never a fun experience, and I’ve since also replaced it with a toyota having gotten fed up with german unreliability and passing it on to my brother.

      1. With every unreliable German, British, or French car, comes a trusty, reliable Japanese sidekick. I rock my Disco and 4Runner. They keep each other intact. Thanks for the kind words, appreciate the comment!

        1. I once got myself an Alfa Romeo as the trusty, reliable sidekick to an unreliable French minivan. No punchline there; I’m the joke.

          Although you may be happy to know that I’ve since upgraded and I now own a reliable late 90s German car and a reliable early 90s French car. And yet, I still miss my French Minivan From Hell. I do not miss the Alfa Romeo.

        2. Somehow for my parents the german car is the reliable one. The 3 series is 12 years old now without issues while the newer subaru is already starting to show its age.

  6. Well, hey, at least you have the 4.0-liter and not the 4.6-liter (as used on the 2003-2004 Disco II) that was known for cracked blocks and slipped liners.

    But yeah, it’s amazing how much time Rover Group got out of their modified Buick 215 V8 which is what this engine was.

    1. That’s true. I do prefer the facelift on the 2003-2004 DII’s in comparison to mine. But I’ll sacrifice looks over engine performance. Actually scratch that, how about engine simply running!

  7. So in spite of being aware of Doug Demuro’s experience, you still bought one of these POSes?

    Doug bought it so he would have material to write about.

    What’s your excuse? You also trying to build a writing career by writing about owning a terrible vehicle?


  8. Welcome to the Disco club! As per the usual, I feel that I should provide a ton of unsolicited advice!

    Sucks about the overheating, as you’ve probably read with the all-aluminum engine you generally get a few overheats (the rule of thumb is one) before you lose the head gaskets. Luckily they tend to break in ways that don’t cause fluids to mix. On mine it was leaking on the back of the heads where I couldn’t see it. Keep an eye on your coolant level as you may start losing it going forward and overheating again would be bad. I ended up putting a FlowKooler high flow water pump in mine and have been really happy with my idle temps since.

    If you haven’t already, the Disco people highly recommend picking up an UltraGauge, a simple OBDII gauge that you can set alarms on any parameter it can pull and also gets real-time data from the ECU. Highly recommended as the Disco’s coolant temperature gauge is software smoothed and generally considered useless. If you start to see it move you’ve already overheated, so the UltraGauge can give you an early warning of issues.

    Other than that I’ve had my 2001 since 2017 and put about 30,000 miles on it with few issues. I did the head gaskets in 2018, which was a huge pain but worth it to keep it on the road. (The shop wanted $4k+) The only time it has stranded me was when the crank position sensor went out without warning, at the Land Rover dealer of all places. (I was there picking up parts for an equally old Jag because I am a glutton for punishment) After the car/sensor cooled off I was able to drive it home, so that is good. You might consider doing a transmission service as those should technically happen every 20k/2 years and literally no one does them that often, but your transmission will thank you.

    If you plan on doing some offroading (and you should! it is fun!) you should check to see if your 01 is equipped with the center differential lock (CDL). 2001 was the year they started to remove them, so it is 50/50. If you have it, adding a linkage is a complete and utter pain involving drilling out 24 rivets, but really helps with offroad performance. Of the ways to add the linkage, I’m a big fan of getting the correct one from a 04, but those can be really pricey. Sway bar disconnects also help, but can be a pain to use. I’d also suggest aftermarket TPMs as the times I’ve lost a tire I didn’t notice until I’d been driving for a bit.

    This concludes this episode of Unsolicited Advice With Akio! Good luck, have fun, don’t die!

  9. Well done, Rob!
    I really enjoy your sense of humor, which I’m sure is a necessity when you own a Land Rover! ヽ(ヅ)ノ

    I’m looking forward to more Land Rover adventures!

  10. Thanks for write-up, I’m loving the Autopian more and more as each new addition gets started. The more the merrier!

    If you get stranded in Westchester county on the way to Martha’s Vineyard, give me a shout and I’ll come to rescue in my Wrangler… well, that is when I get the new one since the current one is stuck in the driveway awaiting being lemon-lawed.

    I guess the reliability of offroad cars is inversely proportional to the fun you can have in them?

    PS: I have a Defender 110 HCPU in Europe pending to be imported, once my local friend and I find the parts/money/time to rebuild the leaky steering box. Hopefully I’ll see your Disco and you on the road soon while I’m driving!

  11. Awesome write up, and really good to see The Autopian giving voice to younger car people. For all the worry in the community about how younger generations don’t care about cars*, we rarely seem to be willing to hear what youngsters that actually do have to say.

    (*) just to make it clear I don’t think this is necessarily true. I think the last few generations simply got to car-buying age with less buying power and with cars being more expensive than the previous one. That keeps more and more people away from cars from one generation to the next. I’m an old millennial who’s always loved cars but didn’t get a driver’s license and a car until I was 30 mostly because car ownership is expensive.

  12. I’m like “oh he’s on Long Island I wonder if I’ll recognize the locations in any of the pictures *sees Jamesport country store* oh shit I recognize one of the location lol”

    1. He used his luck with the shake, so the Rover ran low on luck.
      Side note: If you ever witness the gloop they pour into those machines when filling them, you will never order another one.

  13. I had a disco1 v8 for a couple of years and man those years were exciting. Not knowing if you would get to the destination, not knowing if it would start, beeing towed many times, having a 2 ton lawn ornament for the winter.

    But when it ran it were the best car, cool and funny. I got to tick off owning a v8 too.

    The guy I sold it to tried to get trough inspection almost ten times before giving up and scrapped it instead.

  14. I have an 01 disco with the mileage of your Toyota. Don’t despair, they can run forever with a little mechanical know how and lots…all…the parts.

    1. I enjoy how even now Rovers are one of the few vehicles for which purchasing those extended warranties actually makes financial sense. Even the most futuristic one seems to have an unintentionally retro feature.

      1. Yes. According to my client—which is a Jaguar/Land Rover shop—even the new Ingenium I4 and I6 engines are proving to be problematic. And now, they’re using a BMW V8 on the new L460 Range Rover and L461 Range Rover Sport, in place of the Jaguar 5.0-liter. BMW has never made a particularly reliable V8 (including the M62 that was in the 2003-2005 L322 Range Rover), so I wonder how that’ll play out.

        Yeah, get the warranty.

      2. Working in the industry, I’ll recommend the good extended service plans for prettyuch everything nowadays.

        The cheapest good ones are around $1.5-2K for common Toyota and Mazda models (the vehicles with the fewest and least-problematic issues I see in my shop, coincidentally enough), to $6-8K or so for the European luxury models (a little less for the Volvos, mostly because they use so many parts in common with each other in a good way).

        Yeah, you could stash that much money in the bank for eventualities (and should do, anyway, if you can, if not more). But when even the infotainment systems for the Toyotas (far and away their most common issue of late) are ~$2K for common models (yes, even the Corolla, Camry, and RAV4) and ~$4K for the Prius and some of the less-common models – especially if they have navigation, ugh – the service plan pays for itself in one visit, and there’s still years of coverage remaining. Doug DeMuro’s Range Rover is also an excellent example of how useful – financially at least – these ESPs can be.

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