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As arguably one of the most iconic SUVs in history, the Land Rover Defender holds a special place in every off-road aficionado’s heart. For a vehicle that’s spanned generations, a wide range of problems doesn’t come as a surprise. This time we’re focusing on the Land Rover Defender’s common problems.
Being very different in terms of technology, the all-new L663 Defenders from 2020-onwards exhibit a different set of problems compared to their old-school spartan brethren produced between 1990 and 2016. While the former experience problems with new tech, software, and other “little things,” the latter are known for suspension, transfer box, transmission, and engine problems among others.
While owning an older Land Rover Defender can be either a pure enjoyment, a nightmare, or something in between, the jury is still out for the all-new Landy Defenders. In this article, we’ll look at the issues of both the new Land Rover Defenders L663 and the older Defenders with 90 and 110-inch wheelbase.
Common Problems of the Land Rover Defender (1990-2016)
The Original Defender is a continuation of the Land Rover 90 and 110 models, initially introduced in 1983. The name change coincided with the introduction of the Land Rover Discovery, and since the Land Rover finally became a fully-fledged brand, the new name was the natural move forward. The new nameplate didn’t change Landy’s reputation, however, as the SUV continued to exhibit a reputation for unreliability throughout most of its run. Further down, you’ll find the Land Rover Defender’s most common problems.
Body rust is a common problem in many older vehicles, and since the previous generation Defenders can be as many as 30 years old, corrosion issues shouldn’t come as a surprise here. What’s more, the Defender is known for its chassis corrosion as well, and the rear cross-member is typically the first of its components to exhibit it. You’d be advised to thoroughly check the Landy you’ve set your eyes upon, as corrosion issues can get expensive quickly.
Water leaking into the cabin
Cabin leaks are rather common in older Land Rover Defenders. The water will typically leak into the cabin through the windshield seal, but it can also force its way inside through the sunroof visor. Although such an issue doesn’t affect the vehicle’s performance in any way, it can still be extremely annoying from the perspective of passenger comfort.
Land Rover Defenders can exhibit different sorts of brake issues depending on model year, but most have to do with the loss of brake fluid. Rusty brake lines in older models are common culprits, but even newer Defenders from near the end of production (2014-2015) are known for brake issues due to loss of brake fluid. Their flexible brake hoses are known to chafe and leak the fluid, leading to brake problems.
Differential problems are common in Land Rover Defenders of old and range from whining noise and leaks to complete breakdowns. Older, pre-2011 models relied on Salisbury differentials which were sturdier, heavier, and typically more durable than their P38 successors. They had one major flaw in the face of thin crown wheel teeth that were prone to breaking under heavy load. The mentioned P38 diffs, on the other hand, aren’t as bulletproof as the Salisbury units. Although more advanced, they’re also breakdown-prone and can be the cause of many sleepless nights.
Transfer case issues
A failing transfer case is a known early 2000s Land Rover Defender defect and one of the most notorious problems a Landy owner will likely ever face. Due to insufficient lubrication of transmission and transfer case shafts during the assembly, the corrosion sets on, and the transmission output shaft strips out the transfer case input shaft. Aside from being a known defect, this is also a safety concern as a sudden transfer case failure can leave you stranded in the middle of high-speed highway traffic as easily as at the red light on a busy city crossroads. Sadly, this happens to every 2002-2006 Land Rover Defender without exception, and if you’re lucky, you’ll only have to replace the transfer case. If you’re not, on the other hand, you’re looking at a $10k – $15k transfer case and transmission replacement.
By the time Land Rover had finally addressed the issue, other problems with the transfer box had arisen. Transfer box oil leaks became a concern in 2007-2010 Defenders. The oil would leak into the handbrake mechanism, rendering it useless. The leaks can be addressed with a new oil seal, but the handbrake mechanism has to be rebuilt.
Aside from the above-described transmission failure due to friction between transmission and transfer case shafts, the older Land Rover Defenders have other transmission issues to worry about. The diesel-powered Defenders are known for flywheel issues which were a reason for one of the numerous recalls in the past years. The transmission’s synchromesh is also prone to failure, and in general, the old Defender might be more trouble than it’s worth, considering how expensive the gearbox-related repairs can get.
Over the years, the Land Rover Defender was powered by a wide assortment of powertrains of both the petrol and diesel persuasion. Sadly, many of them tended to be problematic. Issues with timing belts and head gaskets seem to be predominant among the Land Rover Defender common problems, but there are others too. Without going into the specifics of Land Rover engine problems, know that there’s a wide range of things that can go wrong, including faulty fuel injectors, failing turbochargers, etc.
Common Problems of the Land Rover Defender L663 (2020-Present)
The all-new modern iteration of the Land Rover Defender made its debut in 2020 after a five-year-long hiatus. It’s a fully modernized SUV that finally brings the Defender into the 21st century but doesn’t part way with its spartan predecessor’s off-road abilities and heritage. The jury is still out on its overall reliability, but some problems have already surfaced in a short span of time.
Although software issues were non-existent in Defenders of old, the modern version of Land Rover’s go-to off-roader introduces them as a common problem. The inaugural models from 2020 were especially susceptive to software bugs and glitches, and although some of them have been addressed by now, others persist. The extent of the problem went so far that affected vehicles weren’t even able to receive the software updates that were intended to fix the issues, to begin with. The irony of the situation is pretty much self-explanatory.
Although the similarities between the new and old Land Rover Defender pretty much end with their nameplate, some things never change. Sadly, one of these omnipresent Land Rover Defender perks is a shared problem with windshields and wipers. While the old Defenders were notorious for failing windshield wiper motors, the new ones have already built a reputation for cracking windshields. The windshield crack tends to appear out of the blue, even if the vehicle is stationary. Some owners have already undergone multiple windshield replacements; chances are, the issue won’t be properly fixed until the root of the problem has been identified.
The L663 Land Rover Defender’s taillights are prone to failure, which represents a severe safety hazard. A voltage spike can cause the rear light assembly failure, which could leave you without the brake lights, taillights, and even the rear turn signals. There’s currently a recall issued to address the problem. Still, such an oversight hardly instills confidence in the new Defender’s abilities to provide the minimum amount of safety to its occupants, as well as other parties in the traffic.
Lane Keep Assist issues
Electrical issues are another one of Land Rover Defender’s common problems. Aside from the already singled-out failing taillights, the new Defender also exhibits problems with the Lane Keep Assist. Considering how this particular advanced safety system is connected with steering, the problem can be exacerbated by the steering wheel’s unintended operation. Whether it’s the unintended swerving or refusal to steer altogether, the consequences of failing Lane Keep Assist can be dire should they occur at high speed.
Throughout history, the Land Rover Defender was always considered one of the best rugged off-road no-nonsense SUVs. The mantra of invulnerability, however, didn’t always translate to impeccable reliability as Defenders typically suffered from a wide range of problems across different areas. Even the all-new Land Rover Defender L663 introduced for the model year 2020 carries on with Landy’s tradition for impeccable off-roading abilities and not exactly stellar reliability. If the Defender is your vehicle of choice, make sure you’ve prepared yourself for the possibility of living in a spiral of constant visits to the mechanic. This, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as well-maintained Defenders can be pretty reliable. The issue with their age (1990-2016 models), however, is such that some problems will rear their ugly heads no matter how well-maintained the car is.
Meanwhile, it’s still too early to judge the new models, but the sheer quantity of common problems observed among them is worrying, to say the least. All in all, the new Land Rover Defender continues where its predecessor had left off. While modernized and packed with gear previously unavailable in the Defender range, it suffers from problems of its own and doesn’t seem much different than its predecessors in that regard.
Is the Land Rover Defender a reliable car?
There’s no definitive answer to that question, but the Land Rover Defender isn’t typically considered a reliable vehicle. Way too many issues have plagued it over the decades, and a shaky debut of the all-new models doesn’t instill that much confidence either.
How much does a Land Rover Defender cost?
Used Land Rover Defenders can be found for dirt cheap, but don’t forget that the most expensive cars are usually the ones that come cheap. Especially if they carry a badge such as Land Rover’s. On the other hand, a brand new Land Rover Defender starts from $53,500 and works its way from there.
Is Land Rover Defender maintenance expensive?
Depending on age, the Land Rover Defender maintenance might either be within average maintenance cost values or quite expensive. The all-new Defenders are costly to maintain, much like most Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles. The older Defenders, however, don’t necessarily have to be expensive to maintain, as they’re mostly pretty straightforward in terms of mechanical complexity. However, a lot of things can go wrong with them, and when problems pile up, so will the bills.