Range Rover Buyers Guide (1995-2002)
From the time of its introduction as a 1995 model year vehicle to the end up of its production run in 2002, the P38 Range Rover was one of the only luxury SUVs on the market. It combined a number of standard features you’d expect out of a high end luxury car, the off-roading capability of the best four wheel drives available, and the exclusivity of a Range Rover. Nearly two decades later, well maintained P38 Range Rovers are still excellent driving vehicles (both on and off-road) with many of the luxury appointments that you find on new cars today.
If you are in the market to buy a used P38 Range Rover, there are some things you need to know before making a purchase to ensure an enjoyable ownership experience. Some of the information you’ll find in this article will be specific to P38 Range Rovers while other sections will be general advice to consider when purchasing any used vehicle. Please note that this is neither meant to cover every potential problem you might have, nor to tell you which year(s) or options are “best”; the focus of this article is to highlight some of the expensive repairs these cars might need so that future P38 owners can focus their searches on cars where these items have already been addressed.
Unless you have deep pockets or you are specifically looking for a project Range Rover to work on yourself, the best single bit of advice to take is to buy the best car you can afford. There is no such thing as a “good, cheap” Range Rover. In the long run, you will save thousands of dollars if you spend the extra money up front on a well maintained Rover rather than buying a “fixer upper” and spending more money on repairs. Even though many parts for these cars are affordable, some can be quite expensive. So, how do you tell if a Rover has been well maintained? The best way to determine this is to see maintenance/repair documents from the past several years. Given that many of these cars are now 15-20 years old, many parts with rubber components such as gaskets, seals, hoses, bushings, etc. will have undoubtedly worn out. Additionally, routine maintenance such as oil changes, brake jobs, and belt replacement should be up-to-date. If there is no evidence that most of these items have been addressed, then it’s probably best to move on to the next one. While P38 Range Rovers aren’t terribly common vehicles to see out on the road, the right one will come along if you’re patient enough. Many P38 Range Rovers that you’ll find for sale have not been maintained well and rushing in to buy the first one you see will likely be an expensive lesson.
Once you’ve found a Rover that’s been well maintained, get a pre-purchase inspection done on any car you are serious about buying. Many people who buy P38 Range Rovers do so thinking that a rough idle or an illuminated ABS light are minor issues that can be fixed with a tune up or a new sensor. While that may be true, these are also early symptoms of major issues that cost thousands of dollars to fix. While no one likes to spend $100+ on a car that they don’t even own, consider it money well spent to ensure that you don’t buy someone else’s headache. Furthermore, a pre-purchase inspection can be a good bargaining tool when negotiating price, so you will oftentimes recoup the money spent when you buy the car.
Head gasket failures are probably the most common big problem that these vehicles are likely to have. Depending on where the gasket failed, this may show up as nothing more than an oil leak, or it may cause internal engine issues that result in overheating and potential engine failure. This is a common issue that arises on many of these vehicles once they get close to 100k miles, and the cost to replace the head gaskets can exceed $2,000. Outside of head gasket repairs, engines are pretty solid and are known to go 200k miles without other major work needed. Oil pumps are integrated into the timing cover and are expensive to replace, although this is far less common than the head gasket issues mentioned above. These engines are prone to oil leaks around the crankshaft seals, timing cover, and valve covers. Valve cover gasket repairs are more expensive to do on these vehicles than on many other cars due to the difficulty in replacing them without removing the intake manifold. Other major drivetrain components are generally pretty solid as long as they are serviced regularly.
The ABS pump is the source of most major failures with the braking system (the accumulator fails more often, but is far less expensive to replace and is easy to diagnose). As a preventative measure against pump failure, replacement of the pump relay is highly recommended. A defective relay stuck in the ON position will cause the pump to run constantly until it burns itself out. If the pump does fail, expect to pay approximately $2,000 to have it replaced with a new unit, although used units can be had for significantly less. If you are looking at a vehicle with any warning lights illuminated related to the braking system or traction control, be sure to have it diagnosed prior to purchasing it.
Heater cores are common failure points on these vehicles that can lead to several different issues if not addressed. If you notice that the carpet is wet around the center console or if you notice a strong coolant odor when you turn the heater on, a leaking heater core or heater core o-rings are likely the culprit. A leaky heater core can also cause electrical issues with in-dash electronics. Repair costs vary widely on this because many repair manuals call for the complete removal of the dashboard to the tune of $1,500-$2,000. However, some Rover specialists are able to replace the core without removing the dashboard, thus saving you quite a bit of money. However, even then it’s a major repair that you want to avoid. The HVAC control panels also tend to fail from time to time. Either the displays will go out or the unit will just quit working. While it’s not a difficult repair, the panel itself can be pricy ($1,200 from Land Rover at the time of this writing). Also, the three motors that direct the flow of air throughout the HVAC system (called blend door motors) are known to go bad from time to time. Even though it’s usually only one of the three motors that go bad, they are generally only sold as a set of three and require quite a bit of work to replace.
Most steering components have a low failure rate, although the steering arms (known as track rods and drag links) do tend to wear out rather quickly. The electronic air suspension (known as EAS) is subject to a lot of criticism-some deserved and some not. While most of the high price components tend to be fairly reliable, it is a complicated system with a lot of failure points that potentially lead to high repair costs. Perhaps the most common issues are air leaks, either in the air supply lines or in the air springs themselves. While these repairs are not particularly expensive or difficult on their own, they are not infrequent and if they go unaddressed they can cause the suspension compressor to fail. At this point, many vehicles have been converted to the standard shock/spring setup found in most cars on the road today. If you are considering a P38 with the EAS system, you’ll either need to budget approximately $1200 for a shop to do a coil spring conversion for you or be prepared to regularly repair the small issues that are likely to crop up with it.
Melted fuse boxes are common sources of a number of electronic issues. Be sure to have the pollen filters replaced to help prevent this. Though not extremely common, window switchpacks and window regulators aren’t infallible. Interior trim and leather pieces may not seem like major repairs, but many of these components are exorbitantly priced through Land Rover. If interior cosmetics are important to you, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run if you find a vehicle with these items still in good condition. Make sure that the instrument cluster surround and the panel underneath the steering column are intact and secured properly.
We hope that this has been informative to anyone looking to purchase a used P38 Range Rover. Once again, this is not an exhaustive list of common issues with these vehicles but rather a manageable list that prospective buyers can look at and determine whether or not a particular Rover is worth purchasing. Please don’t get the wrong idea and think that every P38 Range Rover out there will need all of these items addressed sooner rather than later. Many P38 owners will go 100k miles while only seeing a couple of these issues crop up, so just as long as you make a smart, informed purchase, you should enjoy owning a P38 Range Rover for a fraction of the price that you’d pay for a newer luxury SUV.