Thoughts and advice on the care and feeding of fine automobiles from Machine Aficiionado and bestselling author John Elder Robison, owner of JE Robison Service in Springfield, Massachusetts

We are independent restoration, repair, sales and service for Audi, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce automobiles.

Bentley archives

Land Rovers

Letters from the mail bag - maintenance frustrations

Here is a letter from a frustrated Land Rover owner:

Dear John,

After a lot of conversations my husband and I decided to have a new engine installed in our 2002 Landrover Discovery because the old one had died.  We've had the car since 2006.  The car was in beautiful condition and the service manager stated that with a new engine the car would virtually be like a new car.  He felt it didn't make sense to spend the money on another used car and not know if we'd be purchasing new problems.  With that said we spent the money and invested in the new engine.  Since then, we have experienced numerous issues with the car including the need for a new catalytic converter, exhaust system and just recently we had to replace the crankshaft engine sensor.  This seems odd to me because if we just got a new engine why would this be a problem.  I understand that all cars have problems but is it customary for a service manager to check out all of the other issues a car may have prior to having their customer invest so much time and money into the vehicle.  If we'd known about the other issues we definitely would not have replaced the engine but would have sold the car for parts.  My husband and I are experiencing a significant amount of stress because there always seems to be a problem with the car that requires significant dollars to be spent to repair it.  I feel as if we're being used by this service manager. I am at my wits end.  At this point I know we won't be able recoup what we put into it but we cannot afford to keep spending money on this car.  Help!  What do you recommend we do? 

My answer:   
You ask if it’s customary for the service manager to check for other problems before doing a big job.  That is a very good reason to get to know your service manager, and have him to get to know you.   Then, you would not ask such a question.  

An even better piece of advice would be to assume nothing, and make your wishes explicit and clear.  If the work order for the engine job had a line item that said:  “Check car for other problems and report to owner,” you could have a reasonable expectation that was done.

Otherwise, what you should expect is that the shop did what you paid them to do.  No more and no less.

Some shops (like ours) have a reputation for being thorough but many motorists are simply annoyed when they come in for brakes and get told they have an oil leak.  It may be true but they do not welcome the news and many service managers simply do what’s requested as a result.

You cite a few problems you have had since the engine was changed . . . they are not inside the engine, and hence, probably were not within the scope of the original repair.  You say "I feel the service manage rid using us."  How do you think he would feel if you said that to him?  He isn't the one who caused things to break on your car.  All he's doing is responding to what breaks, and you do not like the cost of that.

It may be that he is not the right service person for you and your car.  But it may also be true that your expectations of what upkeep *should* cost on an old Land Rover are not aligned with the reality of what proper upkeep *will* cost.  In my experience it's going to cost $3-5k per year in repairs and maintenance to keep a ten year old Disco in good order, provided it was well cared for up till now.  If it was neglected, costs could be far higher.

Finally you say you could not recoup what was spent on the car . . . you are not making an investment.  You are keeping your car on the road.  It's important to keep that in mind.   If you owned the car five years and spent a total of $18k on upkeep that would be normal.  When cars are new you spend money invisibly on depreciation.   When cars are old, you spend money visibly on repair.  Either way, you pay to keep a car on the road. 

You buy a vehicle like that new for $45k.  Five years later, it's worth $15k.  So you spent $30 in depreciation, and probably $5k in upkeep for a total of $35k.

Now it's ten years old, and it's worth perhaps $6k.  Let's say you spent $20k over the next 5 years.  At the end of that time, it's probably still a $5k vehicle.  You total cost to run it was $21k.  So the repair costs "skyrocketed" but total cost of ownership dropped.

As much as you feel stressed about repair costs, the depreciation when cars like this are newer costs far more.

If the total numbers are too high, I suggest you get a car whose total cost is lower.  Examples would be a MINI, or a Prius.  In both cases the cars have very low depreciation combined with minimal upkeep.  You have to look at both things when considering the cost of a car.

Neither of those vehicles has the attributes of a Land Rover, and indeed there is no heavy duty four wheel drive that is inexpensive to keep on the road.  The maintenance on a domestic vehicle may cost less but depreciation is even more, so it balances out.

I hope that gives you a different perspective.  At Robison Service we specialize in major jobs on Land Rovers, and people bring them to us (in Western Massachusetts) from all over.  Consequently we hear stories like yours all the time.  In some cases the cars have not been well cared for, and you pay to fix neglect.  Other times, it's just bad luck.  Without seeing your truck it's impossible to say much more 


Bryce Oliver said...

Nicely done! I always try to keep this in mind when maintaining my '04 LR Discovery and my '01 BMW 740i, it certainly helps to keep things framed in the proper perspective. They are both remarkable cars, and consistently reward me with a very pleasant driving experience. People tend to forget that just because a car no longer costs $70,000 does not mean it no longer requires $70,000-car maintenance! I think the BMW E38 cars are a huge bargain as long as one's expectations are realistic. Pay cash for the car, keep it maintained instead of making payments, and be rewarded with daily enjoyment of one of the coolest full size sedans ever built.

OkieRover said...

Indeed, nicely done. I'm going to bring my wife up there so you can explain it to her. "That old piece of junk, costs too much to fix." But the cost per year is less than the car payment of a new vehicle. Not to mention, the cost of a replacement Land Rover of any model.

I caution people all the time that call me and ask about 7-10 year old Land Rovers. They see Land Rover "X" for 7000$ and think bargain. They have to realize the cost of repair is going to be crazy expensive to them with that mind set.

Well done sir.

daphne sy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
edrm08 said...

I do understand how she has been stressed about car maintenance. She hasn't decided whether to replace the engine or buy a new car. But since it's getting harder to maintain recent cars I would say replacing engines are unrealistic. First, there is no guaranteeing if it would work properly like it used to. Second, it may take extremely longer to get the engine fitting the car because it's old and it's likely to be out of stock and no longer will be made. For these reasons, I can't promise she'll get what she wants 100%. She may have to change into another car or a more inexpensive one if she wants to buy a new car. Or other car trouble may happen if she replaces the engine and finds it defective later.

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