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Buying a Used Range Rover: Everything You Need to Know

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2015

Although a used Range Rover might look alluring when you see an advertisement for an inexpensive one on Autotrader, a vehicle -- and especially a large luxury SUV -- should not be an impulse buy. Range Rovers can be complicated, costly vehicles, and are loaded with very expensive parts, so you should be sure to do your homework before buying one. This is a good place to start, as we've rounded up all the important things you'll need to know before purchasing a pre-owned Range Rover.

Which One?

Although the Land Rover Range Rover originally came out in Europe during the 1970s, the luxury SUV wasn't offered to American buyers until the 1980s. By then, the once-basic farm truck had already become rather luxurious, featuring leather upholstery, power accessories and a brawny V8 engine. Even early Range Rovers were considered status symbols -- a reputation that has only increased in the years since.

The first-generation Range Rover was sold from the mid-1980s until the 1995 model year, and it's affectionately dubbed the Classic (or Range Rover Classic) by the brand's enthusiasts. Range Rover Classic models in the U.S. only offered four doors (some overseas models had two doors), though 1990s versions touted short- or more desirable long-wheelbase body styles. All U.S. models featured a V8 powerplant and an automatic transmission.

Beginning in 1996, the Range Rover's second-generation model, dubbed the P38 by Land Rover geeks, made its debut. Sold through 2002, the P38 Range Rover dramatically upped the luxury quotient, adding a far plusher interior and many more modern comfort and convenience features. Only one wheelbase was offered, but two V8s (a 4.0-liter and a 4.6-liter) were available.

The Range Rover received its third full redesign for the 2003 model year, using architecture largely developed by BMW during that automaker's stewardship of the Land Rover brand. Initially powered by a BMW V8 engine, the third-generation Range Rover earned a face-lift for the 2006 model year that saw the arrival of a new transmission and a more powerful Jaguar-Land Rover V8. The SUV was face-lifted once again in 2010 to offer more power and additional equipment.

The Range Rover's most recent redesign came for the 2013 model year, when it morphed into the ultraluxurious SUV it is today. Power, equipment and luxury touches are virtually unparalleled in its segment, and the Range Rover's image remains iconic. We suspect that's one reason why you might be considering one.

Common Problems

Unfortunately, Range Rovers aren't known for their reliability. It's quite the opposite, actually, as used models are known for "typical British engineering," which means leaks, breakdowns and various other mechanical issues and unusual malfunctions. I've now owned two Range Rovers, a 1995 model and a 2006, and I strongly suggest that you don't approach Range Rover ownership thinking it's going to be easy.

One common problem on virtually every Range Rover is the air suspension. Standard on all Range Rovers since the early 1990s, the air suspension adds an improved ride and adjustable ground clearance, but brings with it a host of other problems. Most notably, it seems to fail after about 6 to 10 years, leaving the Range Rover awkwardly sagging to one side. As a result, most owners replace the air suspension with traditional coil springs once it fails. If you're looking for an older Range Rover, we actually recommend finding one that's been converted rather than dealing with the myriad of air suspension issues that may crop up.

Beyond air suspension issues, each Range Rover generation seems to have its own unique set of problems. The Classic was known for electrical issues and oil leaks. The P38 also had a series of issues, including electrical problems and costly head gasket and heater core failures. And while the 2003-2012 models were more reliable, earlier models seemed to have issues just about everywhere, including the differential, the transmission and the electronics. The jury is still out on new Range Rover's reliability, though the Land Rover brand seems to be improving every year.

Uncommon Problems

Another interesting thing about Range Rover ownership is that you will likely endure a few uncommon problems that you aren't expecting. My 1995 Range Rover once wouldn't move out of park because a small piece of plastic had been wedged in the gear lever; my 2006 model's horn once stopped working; the door locks in my 1995 would lock and unlock, repeatedly, without cause, until the battery drained; and the electronically adjustable steering column in my 2006 Range Rover once failed in the low position, which put the airbag roughly even with my stomach.

The simple truth is that you have to be ready to expect the unexpected with a Range Rover. While they're enormously fun to drive -- visibility is excellent, the driving position is unparalleled, the V8 is muscular and the styling is handsome and classic -- you have to understand that a Range Rover may not always be working to its fullest capacity.

Other Resources: Forums and Mechanics

The good news is that you have many resources at your disposal both before and after you buy a Range Rover. Before you buy, we strongly suggest a mechanical inspection from a trusted mechanic. These are complicated, costly vehicles, and a mechanical inspection is a very good idea considering the potential repair costs and issues you could have down the line if you don't know how your Range Rover has been maintained and what problems it might have.

Once you make the purchase, we strongly suggest consulting Land Rover forums for any problems or issues you might have. Many of the issues you'll experience have happened to other drivers, which means they'll likely have some support on how to solve them. But just in case you have a rare issue, such as a small piece of plastic in the gear selector, we have one more suggestion for anyone thinking about buying a used Range Rover: Find a good mechanic.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Used Range Rover: Everything You Need to Know - Autotrader