Having a breakdown

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Steve tells us that his Defender is very reliable. Mostly… : credit: © Steve Miller
Steve’s mission to collect his new trailer doesn’t quite go to plan

I often hear – and regularly get told – how unreliable Land Rovers are. Often, this is said to me by people who have never even owned one – but their mate’s brother’s cousin twice removed has had terrible trouble. This knowledge alone qualifies them to offer me their ‘advice’. Let’s be honest here, we all know the truth. Land Rovers can, and do, let you down from time to time. But then again, name a car brand that isn’t without issues?

I’ve enjoyed 28 years of Land Rover ownership to date, with the odd break of a few weeks between selling one and inevitably buying another. Also to date I have, like many, had a few technical issues, but I have always made it to my destination. Until the other day… My run of good luck came to an abrupt end on the busiest section of the A45 on the roundabout next to Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre in Northamptonshire. My Td5 90 decided to go into limp-home mode as I was in the middle lane, just entering the roundabout to head towards Wellingborough. I had to indicate to the left, to firstly cross the queuing traffic on the nearside lane, and at less than walking pace, to attempt to drive up the road to the left to a safe place. It’s at this point I was reminded how impatient most other road users can be. Despite my hazard lights being on, I was given the death stare by many as they tried to work out what the heck I was doing; I was simply trying to get to a safe place, well away from the mayhem that is that particular junction.

There isn’t really a lot that can stop a Td5 engine, save for major mechanical catastrophes, so I switched the engine off, left it a moment then restarted. It proceeded to rev on the pedal once or twice, before tripping back into limp mode. The last time it did this was way back when we first bought it, and the diagnosis then was we needed a new throttle pedal assembly, which contains a potentiometer to tell the engine ECU how fast you want to go. Of course, the weather outside was wet and rainy, and trying to decipher what this new issue might be was somewhat stressful. After a while, we gave up looking over what appeared to be a perfect Land Rover and gave in. The breakdown service was called. After approximately a two-hour wait, the AA arrived. Our new ‘friend’ proceeded to look over the motor. His first thought was, let’s check the oil! I was rather perplexed at this and asked if he could just plug it into his diagnostic gear as that would give me – and him – far more knowledge. But strangely, before doing that, he wanted to remove the sound insulation shroud that fits over the rocker cover, just to ‘have a look’. I was beginning to get a little frustrated. Firstly, we were getting soaked, and secondly, I knew all he needed to do was plug it in… Eventually, when he found nothing obvious – I mean, the conrods weren’t hanging out of the block or anything – he decided to plug in his diagnostics machine. It was obvious this poor chap had never seen a Defender before, but what was more annoying, his machine couldn’t talk to the Land Rover either. He said there must be a fault my end. LRM editor Martin had no issues a few weeks prior, nor did he in the weeks coming, but more on that later. The AA man fiddled with the connection on the throttle potentiometer as I told him that area was likely the culprit. I still had my doubts, but when starting up the engine again after letting it sit for a few minutes, it seemed to run and rev up perfectly. We agreed that we would continue on our way – the AA man happy that his ‘fiddle’ must have fixed the issue, but he would follow behind until we reached Olney, on the road towards Milton Keynes.

I couldn’t believe it – we were merrily on our way, and I was scratching my head how he had managed to fix it by fiddling with the connector, when it hadn’t worked for me. Then, all of a sudden, back into limp mode for us. This time, though, we were miles from anywhere – no shops, facilities or anything – stuck at the side of the A509. Disaster! A recovery lorry had to be called, which we had to wait a further two hours for; the only entertainment was watching all the ridiculous automotive creations that were leaving nearby Santa Pod; the inclement weather ensured an early finish for what appeared to be a Run What Ya Brung event, as they sped away from a nearby junction. Most of the cars had obnoxious exhausts… I must be getting old.

I should be thankful – I was actually en-route to see my mate Mark Canvin to collect a Penman trailer from him – and had the breakdown happened on the way home with it attached, it would have proved problematic. The AA won’t tow a military trailer with pintle, as per its small print.

After a very long day waiting for recovery, we were soon back home, and the flashing of orange lights from the recovery truck gave my neighbours reassurance that Land Rovers are proven unreliable pieces of junk.

The next day or so saw editor Martin head round armed with a Britpart Lynx Evo diagnostic tool to properly diagnose the issue. And, like I thought, it was throttle-related. Code 3141 revealed itself, meaning driver demand fault. Basically, we were losing signal between the pedal and the ECU. Ian Baughan of IRB Developments was soon on Facebook telling us it would be a break in the wires between the two – likely as they run over the gearbox and water ingress on that particular day could have caused it. This is something becoming ever more common in Td5s he said. Anyway, look out for the repair in a future issue of LRM, as Martin will explain all.

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New trailer settled in and ready to become a camper

So, a Penman trailer? After our Camping without Compromise feature on Nene Overland’s Camelbac trailer we covered back in the June issue of LRM, it inspired me to have a go and build my own. I have often admired various camping trailer set-ups, and one thing it proved, a Penman derived version would fit my needs perfectly. And who doesn’t love an ex-army trailer? I know I do. I don’t for one moment imagine ending up with anything as grand as Nene’s professionally built offering, but a simple clad steel frame, with my Frontrunner rooftop tent atop, will suffice. Luxuries such as a hob, sink, battery management, etc, can come at a later date – but with the need to camp out at numerous times of the year at our own 4x4 Spares Days and LRM Live in May 2024, a few creature comforts wouldn’t go amiss.

 

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