Alisdair Cusick checks out a Defender wheel carrier that mounts to the chassis, removing load from the vulnerable rear door
Carrying a spare wheel on a Defender usually means utilising the structure of a rear door. Factory wheel carriers mount straight on the door frame itself which, over time, weakens from repeated slamming or jolts from driving the vehicle. Throw in the passing of time, some wear and tear, a larger than standard tyre and the door will surely either begin to crack, or the hinges will wear.
Aftermarket solutions to the problem often involve drilling extra holes in the bodywork, and still require the vulnerable and tired door to bear some weight of the heavy spare wheel. Before long, the door and hinges require replacement anyway.
Not everyone likes to drill extra holes in bodywork, but here is a design that leaves the body untouched. ORE 4x4’s proudly British-made single-point carrier mounts solely on existing holes in the Defender’s beefy chassis structure to bear the weight of the wheel. The weight is carried by the crossmember and chassis rail areas via a hinge that utilises two beefy bearings commonly used in vehicle axles.
Here’s how to fit one on a typical Defender application. In this case, a 2003 Td5 90. This feature was photographed during Covid restrictions, and all government Covid-secure guidelines and testing recommendations were adhered to, with all work undertaken in a well-ventilated workshop, with open roller shutters.
Need to know:
Time taken: 2 hours.
Difficulty: 1 out of 5 stars
Models: Defenders, Ninety, One Ten.
Tools needed: Socket set, Allen head sockets, extensions and universal joints. Metric spanner set, grease
gun, trim tool, Phillips screwdriver, anti-seize paste.
Parts used: ORE 4x4 wheel carrier, £569.
• Always wear gloves when handling or manipulating corroded metal
• Use the right tool, for the right job.
• If grinding, be fire safe in the workshop and wear thick gloves and eye protection.
• Use two people where necessary – don’t cut corners.
• Get an expert to do the job, if in any doubt.
Thanks to: Oak Ridge Engineering (ORE4x4) and IRB developments for their help with this feature:
Factory job: This is the standard Land Rover carrier. Functional, but all the weight is borne by the door frame itself which eventually cracks, or hastens hinge wear.
Get in there: Unscrew the grab handle, then remove the rear door card by removing the flap behind the interior handle, then prising off the card with a trim tool.
Fracture point: This is usually where you’ll spot stress fractures beginning to appear. Also check the hinges for play. There should be little up/down movement when wiggled.
The standard Defender and Ninety/One Ten doors tend to develop cracks at stress points on the inside. It’s not so much the static weight of the standard wheel that causes this, more the inertia of the wheel as the vehicle bounces, especially off road, or when an oversized wheel and/or tyre is fitted. A chassis-mounted wheel carrier removes this loading from the door.
Carrier off: Unbolt the factory carrier. Aftermarket types may have extra bolts, or bolt to the rear tub or be heavy or unbalanced, so get a helper to assist.
What, where, how? The ORE 4x4 carrier comprises: carrier arm, door plate and wheel mount. The methodical mechanic always takes time to stop and visualise what goes where, and how.
Door plate: First to go on is door plate. ORE use stainless fixings, with increased tensile strength where needed. Washers have correct orientation: shiny/smooth side against coating.
Vital job: Stainless fixings should be lubricated, to prevent issues: ‘Galling’, where the nut and bolt fuse on tightening as if welded, and more familiar electrolytic corrosion.
Plate on: The plate goes on the door. It is slotted to allow adjustment, but is initially positioned with the screw heads in the middle of the slots.
Carrier next: The carrier has the rubber stop fitted to the end then, at the other end, it is positioned on the rear crossmember using two top bolts in existing chassis holes.
Look inside: On the inside face of the crossmember, a spreader plate goes on. If your crossmember is severely corroded, you should be sorting that. But you’ll know that.
Initial tightness: The two lower bolts go in now, but access is tricky. A two-person job: one reaches through with a socket and extension, another tightens from the crossmember.
Positioning: The carrier is positioned with the bolt heads in the centre of the slots, and the other, smaller fixings go in. Fixings are just tight enough to hold the carrier in position.
Reference point: The top of the carrier mount is lined up with the top edge of the crossmember. This is the starting point for most vehicles, and it’s usually correct, but they can differ.
Full torque: Tighten the fixings firmly, but not fully. The universal joint and socket extension bar is critical. Without it, you’ll really struggle, as access is very limited.
Regular kit: For the larger bolts, use a regular socket and ratchet. Having two people will definitely help make the job quicker than it took me to type this caption.
Plate position: At the door end, the plate is moved up or down to line up with the top of the buffer mount. When happy, fully tighten the (pre-lubricated) plate fixings.
Link the two: The door and carrier are linked by a pair of adjustable joints. This is bolted to the carrier and door plate next. Tighten the fixings, but it needs adjusting yet.
Easy work: The joint has a special quick release clip to save unbolting it to adjust. Simply prise out the retainer spring, and lift the joint. When done, refit the spring.
Torque: Happily, their operation is correct. The fixings can all be fully torqued up using the same tools, and the two-man approach as before for each set of fixings.
Mind the gap: The joint needs to be adjusted until you get this: the rubber stop just touches the plate when the door is about 50 mm from the body as it is closed.
Mount: The wheel mounting head is fitted to the carrier arm. It’s adjustable for varying wheel offsets. Even a 315/75 tyre won’t touch the body with the door fully open.
Nearly there: The last jobs are the nut covers for the bearing shaft, and to grease the bearings. Fill them with grease, don’t overfill, which invariably ends up forcing seals out.
Admire: Completed with 275/70 16 tyre. Redundant holes from previous carriers need sealing; a bolt, washers, nut and PU sealant should prevent water ingress.
See more essential LRM Technical features here.