Buried and forgotten


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Tom tells us why sometimes it might be better to hang on to what we've got

If you are of a sensitive disposition, it’s probably best that you don’t read on, as this month I will be telling you an horrific story about the wilful destruction of 39 innocent Defenders in the prime of their lives.

Still here? Then this is the tale which still keeps me up at night.

Back in the late 1990s, an old school friend of mine called me from Hong Kong. He was travelling the world having adventures and had stopped on the island for a few months to top up his bank account by working on the massive project to build the new airport. Space is in short supply, so they’d just made some new land in the sea by using a lot of rocks and concrete.

A consortium of British companies had the construction contract and they had brought with them a fleet of Defenders to drive around the site. All were UK registered, white, with air con and a mix of 90s and 110s.

At the end of the project, the contractor didn’t know what to do with them. They all worked fine except for being grubby and battered, but the paperwork needed to sell them locally was immense and no one could be bothered to ship them back to the UK.

My friend was calling to suggest that I help him try to repatriate some to Britain somehow, as otherwise they were “going in the foundations”. He asked what they would be worth in the UK and if I knew any shipping agents.

I didn’t, but I made some enquiries. It soon became clear I was out of my depth and didn’t really know where to start. A week later he called to say he had watched 39 of them being bulldozed into a hole and slowly swallowed by concrete.

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It made me angry of course, but there was little I could do without the expertise I needed. Even the experts would have struggled to get them out in time – the contractor just wanted them gone. They had become a nuisance and the thought of a few thousand pounds and the promise of some bloke in the UK who thought it was a waste wasn’t enough to make them wait.

This nuisance factor has a big influence on the used car market, and if you learn to spot the signs you can pick up a real bargain. Most owners of cars like the L322 Range Rover and Discovery 3 and 4 live in a permanent state of fear that the money pit is about to open up beneath their feet and swallow their bank account whole.

In some cases it does, and rather than accept it and move on with a car which now has lots of new parts, they will convince themselves that this is the beginning of the big bill period and decide to spend thousands on a newer car instead.

There was such a Range Rover advertised this week which tickled my fancy, mainly because it was Aintree Green with tan leather and had the privacy glass delete. The vendor had listed the recent expenditure which included £6000’s worth of new turbos, which tend to go at around 100,000 miles. This obviously proved to be the straw that broke the back of his bank account and now it was up for sale. I can’t help thinking it would make a far better bet than a car with 20,000 miles less which has all the bills to come.

There are other vendors who can’t face the idea of spending any money at all on a car they’ve fallen out of love with. A neighbour contacted me for advice when his son’s Freelander Td4 needed some work for an MoT. He’d been quoted £600 for repairs to get it through the test but was told it really needed at least £1200’s worth of work to get rid of the more serious advisories for brake discs and pads. They’d also quoted full main dealer prices to replace a cracked rear lamp lens.

Rather than take the plunge and pay the cash, he asked me whether it was worth it. He explained that the last service had cost £800, and he was worried it was now a money pit. I told him how he could do some bits himself for a fraction of the cost, including buying a used tail lamp from eBay. I reckoned £400 would do it and it would be a nice car, ready for another year at least.

He nodded semi-enthusiastically but then seemed to be avoiding me for the next couple of weeks. Then I spotted why – there’s a brand new Audi Q5 on his drive and the Freelander is gone. He’d decided the drip of a PCP was less troublesome and he’d left the Land Rover at the MoT station for them to dispose of. At least it didn’t end up underneath an airport.