2003 Land Rover Discovery
2003 Land Rover Discovery. Click image to enlarge

Manufacturer’s web site

Land Rover Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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Land Rover Discovery, 1999-2004

Where reliability is concerned, few vehicle manufacturers have a worse reputation than Land Rover. This famed British marque builds some of the most luxurious and capable off-roaders around, yet the company seemingly cannot shake its durability problems.

The Discovery II – the second generation of Land Rover to carry the nameplate – is no exception, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The Disco II (as the truck is known to many enthusiasts) went on sale in 1998 as a 1999 model; Land Rover promoted it as being significantly different from the Disco I that it replaced, but most of the modifications weren’t readily apparent from the outside.

2003 Land Rover Discovery
2003 Land Rover Discovery. Click image to enlarge

The Discovery II used a 4.0-litre V8 engine producing 188 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, and a four-speed automatic was the only transmission available. The 2003 model year brought a mildly restyled exterior and a larger, 4.6-litre V8 whose numbers – 217 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque – were a little more in line with what other SUV manufacturers were offering in similarly-sized trucks.

Like most Land Rovers, the Disco is an attractive truck considering its brick-like styling. Less attractive were the Discovery’s EnerGuide fuel consumption estimates: 18.5 L/100 km (city) and 13.4 L/100 km (highway) with the 4.0-litre engine, and 19 L/100 km (city) and 14 L/100 km (highway) with the newer 4.6-litre V8. Given how optimistic these estimates usually are, it’s not hard to imagine how pricey it would be to keep one of these trucks running.

Verdict
Highs: A terrific used value, price-wise
Lows: Not worth the reliability hassles

Of course, if what’s said about Land Rover reliability is true, it will cost much more than pricey premium fill-ups to keep a Disco going. Consumer Reports reliability ratings are usually a good gauge of what a used vehicle will be like to own, and their opinion of the Discovery is not good. The dreaded black dot abounds here; the Disco scores average in about a third of the categories, and better than average in just a couple.

One specific problem spot I found online deals with the “Rotoflex” joint that mates the drive shaft to the rear axle. Apparently, these are prone to failure, primarily in trucks with lifted/modified suspensions and used for severe off-roading. Many owners carry a spare with them just in case, as replacing the part is fairly straightforward. Also, here’s a “trail fix” for failed constant velocity (CV) joints.

2003 Land Rover Discovery
2003 Land Rover Discovery. Click image to enlarge

The two engines used in the Discovery II are prone to head gasket leaks. Drivetrain vibration might be linked to a worn torque converter flex plate. Fluid leaking onto the floor in front could be caused by a blocked air conditioner evaporator drain pipe, or bad heater core o-rings.

This page at RangeRovers.net deals mostly with the upscale Range Rover model, but there is some parts commonality between it and the Disco, so this could be a useful resource.

The Disco II earned an “acceptable” overall rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) offset frontal crash test. A 2002 model tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earned four stars each for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal crash. Neither organization conducted side impact testing.

2003 Land Rover Discovery
2003 Land Rover Discovery. Click image to enlarge

I could tell you you’d be crazy to consider buying a used Disco based on its reliability history, but the other side of the coin says you’d almost be nuts not to considering this truck’s resale values.

Discovery II values range from $6,000 for a 1999 model, to just $18,750 for a 2004 model. That high-end value is for a top-line HSE seven-seat model, which sold for more than $58,000 new. An alternative might be a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland that’s worth about the same today. The Jeep is almost as luxurious, and could probably rival the Disco in the rough, but would likely be the more reliable of the two.

If your self-worth is dictated by the vehicle you drive, then a Land Rover is the truck for you. If you’re just looking for a nice truck that will take you into the woods and out the other side, save yourself a world of (financial) hurt and buy a used vehicle that makes a little more sense.

Online resources

There is no shortage of Land Rover sites on the web; the difficulty is finding one that isn’t based in Great Britain or Europe. Start with a couple of Canadian sites: RoverClub.org is the site for the Toronto Area Rover Club, and there’s also the Maritime Organization of Rover Enthusiasts. Both are fairly active, considering their limited scopes. MuddyOval.com is a good spot, with busy forums and a good selection of technical articles. Other sites, in no particular order, are LandRoverForums.com; LandRoverNet.com; LandRoverWorld.org; DiscoWeb.org (which sounds like a Discovery-specific site, but it’s not; RangeRovers.net; DiscoveryOwnersClub.org and finally, LandRoversOnly.com.

Manufacturer’s Website
  • Land Rover Canada

    Recalls

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004148; Units affected: 88
    2003: On certain vehicles, the throttle could stick intermittently during operation. The exact point of sticking is not predictable and can result in a higher engine speed than expected. In the case where a throttle fails to return to idle, particularly after a high degree of engine throttle application, the driver will experience difficulty bringing the vehicle to rest. Correction: Dealer will inspect the manufacturing date of the throttle body of vehicles within the referent VIN range and replace those with a batch number between B4 and B11, inclusive. This recall supersedes recall 03-097.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003097; Units affected: 10

    2003: On certain vehicles, the throttle could stick intermittently during operation. The exact point of sticking is not predictable and can result in a higher engine speed than expected. In the case where a throttle fails to return to idle, particularly after a high degree of engine throttle application, the driver will experience difficulty bringing the vehicle to rest. Correction: Dealer will inspect the manufacturing date of the throttle body of vehicles within the referent VIN range and replace those with a batch number between B5 and B11, inclusive. This recall is superseded by recall 04-148

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004023; Units affected: 3,527
    1999-2004: On certain vehicles, the ABS Modulator valve cover retaining bolts can crack due to stresses transmitted by the flexing valve covers. This is a result of significant operation of traction or hill descent control, primarily associated with extensive off-road use. This defect can produce an unexpected increase in stopping distance, with the potential for total loss of service braking function, which would increase the likelihood of a crash. Correction: Dealer will strengthen the ABS Modulator assembly valve covers and replace the retaining bolts.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004024; Units affected: 511
    2000-2003: On certain vehicles, the ACE (Active Cornering Enhancement) pump banjo bolt looses torque and allows fluid to leak past the joint. When the fluid supply is exhausted, a diagnostic warning light will be illuminated and the ACE system will go into a fail-safe mode. The leak of fluid from the pump joint can ignite resulting in an underhood fire. Correction: Dealer will inspect for leakage of fluid or wetness around the joint area. If no leakage or wetness is evident, banjo bolt will be re-torqued. If a leakage of fluid or wetness is evident, the banjo bolt and Dowty washer will be replaced.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002079; Units affected: 2,542

    1999-2002: On certain sport utility vehicles contamination of an anti-lock braking system (ABS) sensor can cause the ABS electronic control unit (ecu) to incorrectly interpret the sensor signal, resulting in inappropriate abs activation. This can lead to an increase in braking distance that is unanticipated by the driver. Correction: Dealers will install a new ECU.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999182; Units affected: 484
    1999: On certain vehicles, the contacts of the relay, which operates the ABS pump, may stick and remain closed when commanded to open by the ABS Electronic Control Unit ECU. This will cause the anti-lock braking to cease to function and in certain circumstances the vehicle may experience inadvertent braking without activation of the brake lights. Such braking, without attendant brake lights, has the potential to cause an impact from a vehicle which is following too closely. Correction: A new specification ABS relay will be installed on affected vehicles.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000165; Units affected: 643
    1999-2000: On certain vehicles equipped with the Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE) system, the left side engine idler pulley can fracture and ultimately fail. This would cause the pulley to throw off the serpentine belt, which can result in loss of auxiliary functions (power steering, water pump, alternator, air conditioning and ACE). Loss of steering assist would require increased steering effort and create the risk of a vehicle crash. Correction: Plastic idler pulley will be removed and replaced with a newly designed steel pulley.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002078; Units affected: 2,326

    1999-2002: On certain sport utility vehicles the accelerator cable could have become kinked during vehicle assembly, resulting in chaffing of the cable. Continued chaffing can lead to breakage of the interior cable strands. Breakage of the cable strands can result in the throttle being stuck in the open position, increasing the risk of a crash. Correction: Dealers will inspect and replace the damaged cables where necessary.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001123; Units affected: 2,010
    1999-2001: On certain vehicles, water contamination of the automatic transmission oil can lead to various failure modes of the transmission. One of these failure modes results in incorrect operation of the park lock function that could allow a vehicle to roll away if parked without the handbrake properly set. Correction: Dealers will check the park lock function; reposition the automatic transmission breather tube; and test the automatic transmission fluid and flush if necessary.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000059; Units affected: 242
    2000: On certain vehicles, vibration in the Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE) high pressure hydraulic tubing can result in a leak and loss of system fluid. Low fluid levels can result in system pump failure which will throw off the auxiliary drive belt, resulting in a loss of engine auxiliary functions (power steering, water pump, alternator and air conditioning). Should this occur, steering effort will be increased, which may increase the risk of a vehicle crash. Correction: Dealers will install new specification hydraulic tubing.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001121; Units affected: 19

    2000: On certain vehicles equipped with Active Cornering Enhancement (ACE), the high-pressure hydraulic pipe that runs from the ACE pump to the ACE valve block could fracture at its union with the pump. This will result in a loss of hydraulic fluid. A low fluid level can subsequently result in system pump failure which will throw off the auxiliary drive belt, resulting in a loss of engine auxiliary functions (power steering assist, water pump, alternator, and air conditioning). In extreme circumstances, there is a possibility that the hydraulic fluid could ignite, resulting in an engine compartment fire. Correction: Dealers will install new hydraulic tubing.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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