Disco 5 at death’s door


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Alarm bells are ringing for Tom when a 2018 D5 comes up for auction : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen
Our resident market expert is back. But this time, he's definitely just looking.

As I type this, I’ve got the live feed from my local car auction open on my phone’s screen. It’s a small, local sale from an independent company rather than one of the big chains and as such the cars going through are more varied and the fees cheaper for buyers who just make a few purchases a year, such as me.

There are always a few Land Rovers and this week is no exception. The car I have my eye on is a Discovery 5, but I certainly don’t want to buy it – I’m just curious to see if anyone else will.

This particular 2018 HSE SD4 stood out as it is at the top end of what usually goes through this auction, as it has an estimated price of between £24,750 and £26,000 despite having covered 92,000 miles.

That sounds reasonable, especially as the car looks shiny and smart. But this car has struggled to reach £20,000 on the two other occasions it has been through the ring. The reason is some very loud alarm bells have been rung about the mechanical condition which piqued my interest enough to ask around.

The first alarm is the fact it has only had three services – never a good thing on a Land Rover which has done more than 90,000 miles. It is also overdue for its second MoT. But then there is a mechanical inspection report which will have anyone without a masochistic love for spanners running a mile.

First, the inspector noted: ‘Coolant leaking, vehicle overheating, further investigation required’. He also clocked a fault with the heater, weak brakes, an off-centre steering wheel and an electric window which wouldn’t close.

Any one of these could be a repair which costs someone thousands and probably why the owner traded it in in the first place. The dealer – a posh 4x4 specialist which would usually scoop this up for stock – decided to trade it on rather than attempt to fix the issues.

Because I’m nosey about this sort of thing I called a friendly expert who chuckled as he told me about the woes which afflict the 2.0-litre SD4 engine. In this particular case, his remote diagnosis was a failed head gasket caused by a cracked block – hence the coolant leak and heater issues. He told me the local main dealer had several cars with this fault shoved in the corner of the yard awaiting parts, which don’t seem to be available. When they are, the repair bill is five figures.

Start adding that to the other potential costs to fix this poor Discovery and it starts to look like a write-off, unless it can be bought seriously cheap and fixed by someone with access to used parts and an underused workshop.

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I asked the expert what he thought would happen and he told me that a bottle of Radweld and some gentle driving would hide the fault for long enough for someone to do something very naughty if they were so inclined. It could then bounce around the trade for a while until someone decided to fix it or some poor warranty company was hoodwinked into paying the bill.

These kind of scare stories are what puts buyers off cars like this and has contributed to the Discovery having one of the strangest value depreciation curves of any car on the market. The first-generation cars are rightfully considered classics these days, and to prove my point there’s currently a G-WAC early three-door in fully restored condition on offer on Car & Classic for £25,000 – the same as the quoted value of that poor D5.

The interesting prices are for D2s. The last-of-the-line versions in straight order are now hugely sought-after as they are seen as a more reliable – or at least more fixable – option than the more advanced but comparatively complex D3. Nice D2s with 100,000 miles or less are creeping above £10,000 now, whereas a comparable D3 is half the price.

The priciest D2 I could find was a 2003 E manual model which was the most basic I’ve ever seen. The dealer proudly boasts that is has ‘factory coil suspension, no sunroofs and factory steel wheels’. It even had non-metallic green paint. This simplicity obviously appeals to buyers enough to justify a £10,950 asking price.

The contrast was another auction lot from two weeks ago. This 2006 D3 hadn’t moved far since its last MoT which expired in 2020 but it was running – albeit with sagging suspension and an engine fault light showing. Crucially it was registered in early March so has the cheaper road tax rate. The potential repair and refurb bills were clearly adding up in bidders’ heads as the hammer fell at £1400. I was left with a lingering regret – surely it would be worth that in parts alone, but could be a nice car with a bit of investment.

Unlike that dying D5. Sadly it has just gone through the sale again and the webcam from my feed showed the dealers dispersing as soon as it drove in, just in case their nose twitch was mistaken for a bid and they were lumbered with it. The auctioneer’s weary tone suggests he is resigned to the fact that this car was going to be hanging around a while too. It seems the fear of fixing means we would all rather have a 30-year-old Discovery than one which is three-years old.


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