Piston Slap: Um, Like, No!

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap um like no

Luke writes:

Hi Sajeev:

Unlike a lot of those seeking your sage advice, I’m not going to ask you whether or not I should buy a different car. I know I am buying a different car. My mind is made up, so don’t take any of my words as a question about soldiering on with what I have. My summer car is a mint, nicely upgraded 1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 (full Spohn/Strano suspension, hopped up LT1, Corvette brakes, etc) with 60K miles and it is not going anywhere. What I need is a new winter/utility vehicle…

Since my wife and I got married 5 years ago, I have been facing Minnesota winters with a series of beater trucks. I started with a 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 with nearly 300K miles. Enough said about that! I moved on to a GMC Sierra with over 170K. It was a great truck, but rust holes in the bed and the “deferred maintenance” sins of the previous owner eventually claimed that one too. I now have a 2001 Jeep Cherokee with about 140K. It’s a cool little truck with 2 doors, a 3 inch lift, and big tires, but it’s hit that point where nickel and dime maintenance and the persistent force of oxidation will start to suck me dry. I recently invested about a thousand bucks fixing the rusty rocker panel and driver’s floor pan, so it’s a good time for it to move on to a new home.

My wife and I are both gainfully employed professionals in our early 30’s with a healthy bank balance, no debt except our house, and exceptional credit scores. We own a small house on a small lot in the city, have a pair of dumb dogs, and do not yet have children. My wife feels that it’s time I put the beaters behind me and buy “a nice truck or SUV that we can drive and not spend a ton maintaining for at least 5 years”. I agree with her on most of that statement – I am tired of whipping rusty, dirty cars wondering what will be the next thing to break. I would like a real 4×4 vehicle that can 1) take me to work through the sometimes brutal winter weather, 2) take me down muddy, rutted farm tracks and 4-wheeler trails to hunt deer and pheasant on the family land in central MN, 3) haul dumb, dirty hunting dogs, stuff from Menards, and pull a small utility trailer, 4) have reasonably nice creature comforts, and 5) be of reasonable size to fit in the garage next to my wife’s Volvo S80.

I’m looking at used trucks in the $15-20K range with 50-80K miles or less. So far I have looked at a couple WK-era Jeep Grand Cherokees, a JK Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, a Chevy Trailblazer SS, a Nissan X-Terra, and a Land Rover LR3 V8. God help me, I loved the Land Rover. What a sweet, sweet truck! The 4 wheel drive system and air suspension are amazing! It has a huge, flat load floor when you flip the seats down! The driving position feels so right and everything is draped in leather! It looks so cool and tough! But then this voice in the back of my head says “you are considering a British truck, with lots of sophisticated electronics…you must be on ‘shrooms.” I have been reading the message boards and reliability reports, and from what I’ve seen the LR3 looks fairly average as cars go, and definitely better than the old Discoveries. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m crazy for looking at and falling in love with these trucks.

So what do you say? Is buying a used Land Rover financial suicide? Do these trucks still have a bad reputation, or are they better now than they used to be? Is there anything else I should be considering? Keep in mind that we have a local Land Rover dealer, and I will be soliciting a PPI on anything I get close to buying.



Sajeev answers:

You want me to justify LR3 ownership? You obviously haven’t met my friends (all 6 of them) who know I care more about their wallet than I for their automotive spiritual wants and desires. Combined with what I’ve seen in modern Land Rover ownership and a quick look at Mr. Karesh’s TrueDelta data, it proves my point: NO FUN FOR YOU.

For peeps in your situation, it’s all about the Money, Honey.

You obviously shouldn’t spend your money here, unless I missed the part where you said “short term lease.” Parts are expensive. Labor will be expensive. Electrics shall get wonky. It’s just not a good idea for someone in your position.

I admire you mentioning a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) as I recommend that for almost anyone looking at a used vehicle. But that so won’t cut it here. Every electro-mechanical bit on the PPI should have an asterisk at the end, mentioning this inspection point could be wrong several months from now. Or several weeks.

Even though I hate the Trailblazer’s interior, I like the idea of owning one of those with a hot F-body partner to go with. Or maybe the SAAB version. Yeah, get the SAAB, that might put your Land Rover lust at bay. Or come close enough.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

Join the conversation
2 of 56 comments
  • Andy D Andy D on Jul 23, 2012

    15 Gs will get you a Grand Wagoneer in very good shape. Oodles of iconic charm too. Kinda old, but parts are still available. Driven rationally, I've gotten as much as 15 mpg. Stock they are great in snow and rain. Make sure to have the car inspected by someone knowledgeable in old school cars. Find somebody with grey hair to keep it going for you. In MN you have a better shot of finding a good Jeep mechanic than you would find a Land Rover shop.

  • Brendon from Canada Brendon from Canada on Oct 10, 2012

    Having owned an LR3 for 5 years (mostly out of warranty), I still quite like the vehicle. We've hit our first major repair (front diff is starting to go) @ close to 100k, and it'll likely be 1k-2k if we proceed with the work, depending on whether we rebuild or replace the unit (LR sells diffs as a sealed unit, aftermarket you can replace internals). We'll likely buy an LR4 at some point, just for their versatility; notably, the total cost of ownership has actually been quite low, given the infrequent repairs - and also that most work like fluids, brakes, etc, are done in my garage at home... I'd likely recommend an extended warranty when buying used along with the PPI, if you're not a DIY sort of person - most LR folks from the forums like the Ford extended warranty (don't remember the exact warranty name) that can push out OEM style coverage to 120k miles or 96 months from new. To be honest, I haven't found parts overly expensive (haven't needed anything yet, other than this diff issue, but have been looking, just in case!), as long as you look to the UK; prices are a fraction of the NA costs. It's probably also worthwhile noting that TrueDelta has the 2011 LR4 rated at 43 trips, where the 2011 JGC is 67! (the 2012 JGC is currently @ 34).

  • Statikboy Those tires are the Wrong Size.
  • Mustangfast I had an 06 V6 and loved that car. 230k trouble free miles until I sold it. I remember they were criticized for being too small vs competitors but as a single guy it was the right size for me. I recall the 2.3 didn’t have a reputation for reliability, unlike the V6 and I4. I think it likely didn’t take off due to the manual-only spec, price tag, and power vs the V6 engine and the way it delivered that power. It was always fun to see the difference between these and normal ones, since these were made in Japan whereas all others were flat rock
  • VoGhost Earth is healing.
  • ToolGuy "Having our 4th baby and decided a camper van is a better use of our resources than my tuner."Seller is in the midst of some interesting life choices.Bonus: Here are the individuals responsible for doing the work on this vehicle.
  • MaintenanceCosts Previous owner playing engineer by randomly substituting a bunch of components, then finding out. No thanks.