04 August 2023
Fuel remains at a high price, but there’s plenty we can do to reduce the running costs of our Land Rovers, as Alisdair Cusick explains
Need to know
Cost: See below
Difficulty: 1 out of 5
Models: All Land Rovers.
Tools: Basic workshop tools.
Parts and costs: Much of this work costs very little, but shop around for materials and professional help.
Work safely: See our safety tips on LRM Technical intro page.
We’re currently in a cost of living crisis affecting the majority of the UK and beyond. Land Rovers have never been a cheap car to run, but against a background of a financial squeeze, 10 per cent inflation and record fuel prices, it isn’t an easy time to own an example of Solihull’s finest.
Four factors affect our running costs and fuel bills: usage, maintenance, the vehicle’s rolling resistance and aerodynamics. Let’s work through what we can do about these and, as an example, we’ll keep in mind a typical modified Land Rover that we might see at a show, with roof rack, specific large off-road tyres, roof lights. A typical enthusiast’s truck.
Reducing fuel costs
First, look at how much you’re paying for the fuel you buy, and consider where is the cheapest in your local area. Saving just four pence per litre adds up; for instance, over a year and 10,000 miles you could save £70 or more. If your petrol-engined Land Rover isn’t compatible with E10 fuel containing up to 10 per cent ethanol, then don’t buy the cheaper E10 to save money, use the correct E5, and shop around. The same applies to diesel fuel grades.
Tyre pressures are of vital importance for fuel consumption
Tyres are critical to good fuel economy. Correct inflation means the correct footprint on the road, balancing the grip, braking ability, tyre wear, but also rolling resistance. Check weekly that your tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure, because even four psi low increases rolling resistance, so the car uses more fuel. Over 10,000 miles, even gaining a single extra mile from each gallon could mean a £109 saving. Never overinflate tyres though, as this reduces grip and increases braking distances, both of which are especially dangerous in the wet.
Chunky tyres look great but use more fuel
Every tyre design differs in fuel economy, wet grip and noise levels. So check the rating sticker on the tyre for each of these areas to objectively judge one tyre against another
We can’t financially justify swapping the tyres we currently have fitted if they are in good order, but when they wear out (1.6mm of tread is the legal limit, but 3mm is the advisory tread depth at which to change a tyre) consider what might be the best replacement. If you’ve fitted chunky off-road rubber, but don’t need it, you may be paying a heavy price in fuel consumption. Consider a more efficient all-terrain pattern rather than an aggressive mud pattern if you go off-road. For my Range Rover Classic, only used on road, I stayed in the standard 205/80 R16 size, choosing a tyre that was the highest for fuel efficiency and wet grip, with the lowest noise. This means my 27-year-old car benefits from the most modern tyre technology. Tyres last a number of years, so an informed tyre choice, coupled with correct inflation, has a lasting effect on fuel economy.
Eliminate the shortest journeys where possible
To get the best fuel consumption, the engine needs to be operating at optimum temperature and in the most efficient rev range for the conditions, which usually means top gear. The quickest win comes from reducing the number of short trips, so we lessen the time we’re using the car in its inefficient warm-up phase. That could be as simple as thinking ahead to link journeys together, rather than driving out and back on individual errands. The more you can use the car in longer, steady speed driving, the better, as the inefficient warm-up condition becomes a smaller part of the journey. Saving just five miles per week, could save £75 per year.
Some Land Rovers are relatively low geared but, with any truck, stopping at every roundabout and accelerating vigorously uses more fuel than necessary. Get up to speed and into top gear smoothly, maintain that speed, and think ahead, so you minimise the time you’re in the lowest gears. This will all help reduce fuel consumption. On motorways, you can back off the throttle a surprising amount and still maintain speed.
Your car uses fuel in pushing air out of the way and overcoming air friction, drag and turbulence. JLR’s aerodynamicists work on the design of the body, underbody, wheels and fittings to help the vehicle slice more easily though the air, subject to passenger and load carrying and styling needs. If you open a car window at speed and hold your hand out (assuming it’s safe to do so) and hold it horizontal, it will slice easily through the air. Turn it vertically, and you’ll have to fight to maintain a position. The more such intrusions into the airflow, the more fuel is used.
Shaped efficiency: The Disco 5 is the most aerodynamic vehicle in Land Rover’s fleet. Adding a roof rack could spoil all that and increase the fuel consumption
Aerodynamics isn’t just about a curvy body, but encompasses details such as slotted spoilers on the Discovery 4, aerodynamic wheel designs and smoothing the underside: the engine undertrays on modern Land Rovers are principally to reduce drag. Then there is active aero in which the air suspension lowers at speed, a trick first applied on the Range Rover Classic to reduce fuel consumption.
A vehicle’s drag coefficient, or Cd, indicates how efficiently its shape moves through the air: the lower the number, the better. The Discovery 5 is quoted as being the most aerodynamic Land Rover ever, with a Cd of 0.3. The P38 Range Rover, in comparison, is 0.38; the Discovery 4 is 0.4, The Defender is quoted as 0.59, which is exceptionally high in car design. But it is a tall, flat-fronted, two-box shape, with a complex-shaped exposed drivetrain, so can never be expected to be efficient.
Anything that sticks out of the car will increase fuel consumption
Understanding this, we should appreciate that anything we put on the vehicle that protrudes or alters the shape will increase drag, and therefore increase your MPG. A bull bar, roof rack, roof tent, hanging bag on the rear spare wheel, all require more fuel to maintain any given speed because it’s a more complicated shape to push through the air.
To minimise that effect, we can remove items when they’re not being used. Fit the roof tent only when camping and remove the roof rack when you don’t need it. Doing so could give you back three or four miles per gallon, or £300 per year. When considering modifications, weigh up how far they protrude from the body. Roof-mounted spotlights will cause more drag than bumper-mounted lights, for instance. A low-profile roof rack will minimise airflow disruption compared with an open-frame design that sings at speed.
Servicing and maintenance
Maintaining your vehicle properly means it will operate as Land Rover intended
A poorly maintained Land Rover will be inefficient compared with a well maintained truck with its free-breathing engine working at the optimum temperature, burning fuel efficiently, and correctly lubricated to minimise mechanical friction. So change oils, filters and fluids and grease the propshafts using the recommended grades at the recommended service intervals. Good maintenance means less chance of failures resulting in expense.
For older, less-used Land Rovers, service intervals – which are time-based, as well as distance – can be extended. For instance, a Range Rover or Series only used in the summer could safely have engine oils changed just once per year, rather than every six months. We’d advise sticking to 12- and 24-month interval schedules for gearboxes and axles.
Also think about preventative maintenance. A can of cavity wax in a Defender bulkhead, or a rub down and repaint of a crossmember or axle case helps maximise the life of the truck. There are costs in the materials for this, but they’re small in comparison to future corrosion repair costs.
Check the details
These fouled plugs suggest the rich carburettor mixture needs leaning out, but it could be from excessive idling, too
Periodically check the state of key components, such as spark plugs and the ignition system on petrol engines. Spark plug tips give an indication of fuelling and engine timing. Make sure they are correctly gapped and have a nice dark tan colour on the tip. Sooty black, oily or corroded tips mean problems to investigate. On diesels, look for excessive black exhaust smoke, suggesting over fuelling.
Check tyre wear patterns every month. Uneven wear on the inside or outside edges of any tyre suggests the suspension/steering geometry needs adjustment. Incorrect alignment will shorten tyre life and increase fuel consumption.
Never ignore a warning light, and investigate anything that comes up, because some issues can cascade leading to a more expensive fix. For instance, a leaking air spring that is ignored makes the compressor work harder, eventually causing that to fail. Ignore a failing turbo and it could destroy your engine.
Check that drum brakes are adjusted correctly, not dragging. For disc brakes, check for even brake pad wear, and no grinding or screeching sounds, suggesting pads are worn out and are about to damage the discs. With a firm pedal press, your Land Rover should pull up quickly and squarely, not pull to one side. The handbrake should engage and fully disengage smartly. All this matters because we want to make sure everything is correctly adjusted, not dragging, which increases rolling resistance and uses more fuel.
Dragging brakes make the engine work harder to move the car
Test for dragging brakes when rolling to a halt – just before the vehicle stops moving, release the brake pedal. If it continues to roll, the brakes are clear; if the vehicle stops with a slight lurch, a brake is probably binding, in which case the engine will be using more fuel to overcome the drag when driving.
Five-litre fluid containers are convenient, and readily available, but buying larger quantities lowers the price per litre
Along with fuel, prices of oils and lubricants have also increased massively of late. This is difficult to beat, as they’re both linked to the price of oil along with fuel. One thing we can do is to buy in bulk. Rather than buy two five-litre containers of engine oil on a high street, look at buying a 10- or 20-litre container. The factor to check is the cost per litre: the more you buy, the lower it becomes. Shopping around can find reductions say, from £5.99 to £4.15 per litre; online offers can bring further savings.
More miles for the money
We all love driving our Land Rovers and, whilst they will never be cheap vehicles to own, by using these tips we can make every pound go a little further. Taking our example of the modified Defender we started with, by taking off the roof rack, fitting factory-spec all-terrain tyres, removing a suspension lift, bull bar and roof tent, we could easily get another three miles from every gallon. By then cutting out the odd small trip and striving to use the truck only on longer, steady speed journeys, we’re doing all we can to make sure the car is at full operating temperature, minimising the warm-up cycle and improving efficiency. We can still have an individual looking vehicle, but make it an efficient one. Done right, it’s possible to save up to £400 per year. Even if you only use one of our tips once per week, we’re still confident you’ll save money.
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