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Freelander: Initial Thoughts

Posted: April 16, 2011 22:52:39 • By Natasha L. • 1179 words

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I posted a picture of it in my last entry, but it's a 2003 Land Rover Freelander SE3, which is a pretty rare configuration (only 2000 were sold in the US) featuring a 2-door body with a removable roof in the rear and T-top-style removable sunroof, instead of the typical 4-door SUV body. Admittedly, I was never much of a Freelander fan, or a fan of small, urban SUVs in general, but I always thought the SE3 version was a really cool design. And it's so cute! :-D

Beach Freelander

I found it on Ebay, and I was actually eyeing it over a month ago, when it was first listed. I had no income at the time, and therefore no way of getting a loan, but when it didn't sell the first time, I wondered if it would be re-listed. Sure enough, it was, the day after I signed my contract for my new job, and right about the time I discovered exactly how severe the Crown Vic's oil burning problem is. So, I applied for financing, which I almost didn't qualify for, but a combination of awesome credit score and awesome bank made it happen. Unfortunately, I didn't get it when I placed my bid because I didn't meet the reserve, but I contacted the seller afterwards, and we arranged a deal. A couple days later, I took a train to New York City and drove it home, which was quite the ordeal; thanks to either a wrong turn or GPS stupidity, I ended up living my vehicular worst fear, driving in Manhattan. What I expected to be I-95 (or some other highway) turned into 34th street at 3pm. Followed by the infamous Lincoln Tunnel. Suffice to say, I will never, ever do that again. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was uneventful.

With such low mileage (40,460 at time of purchase), it's by far the closest thing to a new car I've ever had, but unfortunately, it's not perfect. Aside from a small power steering pump leak, the fact that it's a Freelander means I have to make up for the awesome price with a very high level of diligence when it comes to maintenance. There's a design flaw in the engine that makes the engine prone to self-destruction; in the hands of someone who doesn't know this, the engine has a disturbing tendency to be irrepairable around 60,000 miles, but with careful attention paid to the cooling system, it's not terribly difficult to get them to last far longer. Basically, here's the short version of what I've found from reading technical articles about the engine:

  • To reduce emissions (allegedly), the engine runs on the high end of its temperature tolerances, and hotter than most other vehicles, putting an extra strain on the cooling system.
  • While it's considered normal for a car to lose a little bit of coolant over time, the Freelander loses it faster, for a number of reasons, including the higher temperatures.
  • The design flaw is that any overheating, even by a small amount, can cause the cylinder sleeves to loosen from the engine block and slip into the engine, compromising the head gasket seal in a way that's impossible to repair without a new engine.

The good news is that, from what I can tell, there's no problem if the engine never overheats, which means checking the coolant as regularly as possible and ensuring it's never, ever low. And, thankfully for me, the coolant is so easy to check that anyone with eyes can do it, all it takes is popping the hood and looking at the overflow tank. So, I don't anticipate any problems in keeping up with this. I knew about this issue long before bidding, which is why I chose this specific Freelander; not only is it from a relatively cool climate, but the mileage is well below the problem-threshold. To be sure, I had a local mechanic go over it very closely for any signs of head gasket leakage while the deal was still easily reversible, and he couldn't find even the slightest hint of a problem, confirming what I already assumed before buying.

So, as long as I'm careful with it, it'll easily last long enough to be a trade-in for something else, and this will be a great way to improve my maintenance skills; I'm a little ashamed that I'm so horrible at vehicle maintenance, but I could never get motivated to care with the Crown Vic, and by the time I learned all the things I needed to do for my last Rover, it was beyond repair. In this case, a vehicle that I'm passionate about and that will literally self-destruct if I neglect it at all, it's a hell of a motivator to learn from my mistakes and treat it with the love I claim to have for my cars. I even have an official Land Rover shop manual on the way, so I won't have to rely on Google searches for everything.

Back to good things, to say I'm in love with this car is an understatement, it's the best thing ever! Fragile engine aside, it's by far the best vehicle I've ever owned. The removable roof is tons of fun, with a surprising lack of turbulence, and I can even remove and re-install it by myself, though it's far, far easier with someone to help; it's not terribly heavy, but its weight isn't trivial and it's quite awkward to manuever. A soft-top kit is pretty high on my list of upgrades. My longing for luxury features is more than satisfied, it has every feature that my Integra and my last Rover had, plus quite a few others, including heated windshield. To top it all off, it has the most comfortable highway ride I've ever experienced, and despite the removable roof and what-not, it's amazingly quiet inside. Which is awesome, because the factory stereo has a spectacular 9-speaker Harman-Kardon sound system! Of course, I'll be replacing the head unit, but I picked up an amp interface kit so that I can connect to all of the existing speakers, including the factory subwoofer. A speaker system like that would be silly to remove or bypass.

And, of course, it's quirky and weird, in proper British vehicle tradition. Perhaps I'm a natural masochist, or I'm just a rebel who likes to go against conventional advice ("don't buy a British car"), but I adore British vehicles. But this time, I'm prepared to give it the attention and love it needs :-)

Oh, and before anyone says "Why'd you get a gas guzzler?", I'm coming from a Crown Victoria with blown piston rings, every mass-produced car made in the last 10 years is a significant improvement in fuel economy and emissions. Even most full-size pickup trucks get better gas mileage than my Crown Vic. And, in this case, the Freelander's fuel economy is vastly improved by comparison, 16/22mpg is much more tolerable than 10/14mpg :-)