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'An ageing Range Rover can be a reliable car, especially if you carefully categorise your idea of reliability'

Porter’s old Range Rover is proving the doom-mongers wrong. Kind of

Richard Porter opinion

If you announced that you’d got a new puppy, it would be a cold-hearted person who responded by saying, ‘Lovely dog… has it got leukaemia yet?’ Yet when it comes to cars, especially cars with a flaky reputation, it’s amazing how many people’s thoughts head straight for the doom-laden. I know this because last year I bought a 12-year-old Range Rover. ‘Heh heh, has it broken down yet?’ comes the inevitable reaction to which, I’m delighted to be able to reply, the answer is no. Well, not really. Allow me to explain…

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When you drive an older car, it helps to slot malfunctions into different categories. For the sake of argument, let’s give them numbers. A Category 1 problem would be something that stopped the car from fulfilling the basic function of allowing you to drive somewhere, either because it wouldn’t start or it conked out during a journey. These are bad things and will cause you, when asked, to confirm that, yes, your car has indeed broken down. Look, it’s over there, with steam coming out of it. 

> ‘Driving connects you to your journey. Flying feels like an awkward stasis to be endured’

At the other end of the scale we have Category 3 malfunctions: those tiny glitches and flaws that don’t impede the function of the car in any way and don’t warrant a special trip to the garage or even a weekend spent dismantling things yourself. Just recently my Range Rover developed one of these when I realised the driver’s door window had lost its one-touch facility, but only on the way up. It’s barely any inconvenience to hold the switch for a little longer and certainly isn’t worth pulling apart the door card to investigate. The car is 12 years old, it’s entitled to have a few things that aren’t as limber as they would be, in the same way that, now I’ve crested my mid-40s, sometimes one of my thumbs hurts. 

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In between these two extremes we have Category 2 problems. That is, things that don’t cause your car to grind to an immediate stop but do come tainted with a certain urgency that says you probably should get them looked at. And here the chortling internet experts with their dim view of Range Rover dependability can have their fill; I have experienced a little bit of middle-category aggro. Soon after I bought it, a low coolant warning came up, which was swiftly traced to the water pump weeping fluid in an unhelpful manner. It’s a known issue with these cars and, one new pump later, it went away. Shortly after that, the dashboard would occasionally flash up a message saying only normal ride height could be used. Making that one disappear for good required another new pump, this time for the air suspension. Then, during an improbably vigorous overtaking manoeuvre of the kind you can pull off when you have a 5-litre, 503bhp supercharged V8 in a car the size of a chapel, the check engine light came on because, as it turned out, one of the fan blades had snapped off and slashed some wires so the ECU could no longer ‘see’ the fan. Thankfully it defaults to running rather than shutting down, so the motor doesn’t roast. It happens with old plastic fans, apparently. And after that? Good as gold. Honestly, not a blip. Yes, I’m typing one-handed while touching the wood table.

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The thing about reliability is that, as long as you don’t clatter into Cat 1 problems, you can brush away the idea that your car isn’t dependable. It just sometimes needs to visit the hospital. But the reasons for those visits, they’re merely snagging. Inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as standing by the M6 in slashing rain while green fluid drips out of the bottom. If you’ve never been left stranded, psychologically the car is a faithful ally. And the Range Rover has earnt its ally status because in the past year we’ve been all over the place in it. 

I once said in a column that sometimes the best car in the world is the car that safely gets your family home, but it’s also that the best car in the world can be the one that takes you on new adventures, crammed full of kids and dog and the mountains of stuff that seem to be required for even one night away, to distant beaches and far off fields, and the mostly reliable Range Rover has done all that brilliantly. It’s a fabulous family car, being big and glassy and possessed of a sort of easy utility that makes it a useful part of our lives. 

There’s no such thing as a perfect car, but there are cars that can meet your specific demands at specific times and our old Range Rover does that perfectly, more so than the new model by dint of feeling less posh and therefore less precious so you don’t mind throwing half a hedge into it for a trip to the tip but then vacuuming it out for a weekend at a country hotel. I’m very fond of it and I hope that doesn’t change, if only to prove the doubters wrong. Turns out an ageing Range Rover can be a reliable car, especially if you carefully categorise your idea of reliability.

This story was first featured in evo issue 301.

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