Originally introduced in 1989 in England, the Land Rover Discovery Series I (known as a Disco I or a D1) came to the US market as a 1994 model year vehicle. The drivetrain and chassis were borrowed from the more upscale Range Rover County, but with a [slightly] smaller body and a lower price, it was designed to be more competitive against other sport utility vehicles on the market at the time.
Unlike most of the Land Rover Buyers Guides we have posted on our site which focus primarily on the big ticket, specific repairs to be aware of when buying a used Rover, this particular guide is going to focus more on general advice on what to look for, where to look and pitfalls to avoid when buying older (15+ years) vehicles in general. This will be aimed toward buyers who are less experienced when it comes to owning and maintaining an older Rover, but hopefully even Rover veterans will find it useful.
Before setting out to buy a used Disco 1, there are some important things to keep in mind, particularly if you plan on making this your primary vehicle. Although Land Rovers have proven themselves to be very durable vehicles over the years and are capable of going well over 200k miles, they do require more maintenance and are subject to higher repair costs than many cars out on the road today. If your goal is to find the most economical form of transportation around, not only in terms of fuel mileage but also in terms of overall cost of ownership, then a Discovery 1 or any other used Land Rover is probably not the right car for you.
Conversely, if you understand that owning a Rover is not just about finding the car that is the cheapest to keep on the road, and that you actually enjoy and appreciate the way these vehicles drive (both on-road and off-road), then read on. Just know that unless you have deep pockets or you’re looking for a project car that you can work on yourself, the best single bit of advice you can heed is to buy the best car you can afford. In the long run, you will save quite a bit of money if you spend a little extra up front on a well maintained Discovery rather than to buy a “fixer upper” and pay for all of the additional repairs yourself. Quite simply, you don’t want to buy someone else’s headache.
Once you’ve decided that a Discovery 1 is the right car for you, you can start to narrow down your search. Although you can certainly find used Discoveries on popular websites such as Ebay or Autotrader or Craigslist, your best bet for finding a well maintained D1 in good condition is on various Land Rover enthusiast internet forums or from shops that specialize in working on Rovers. While websites like Craigslist will be where you find the largest number of used Rovers for sale, there’s a good chance that many of them will be neglected, high mileage models that need major repairs that will cost you quite a bit of money in the long run. Like many older high end vehicles in the used car market, many people purchase used Discoveries for very little money only to find out later that maintenance costs are much higher than what they expected for a car they bought for only a few thousand dollars. Because of this, many owners tend to only have work done on them when it’s absolutely necessary (i.e. when the car doesn’t crank up or drive properly) and forego most routine maintenance. Land Rover enthusiasts (both specialty shops and individuals) are more likely to have maintained their vehicle better and are less likely to have abused or neglected it.
So now that you’ve found a nice Disco 1 for sale and plan to go test drive it, you need an extensive checklist that you or your mechanic can use to determine whether a particular car is in good condition. Here’s one that is highly recommended, although there are plenty of other ones available on the internet that will work just as well:
The link above is an excellent checklist for most used cars in general and is a great place to start for any prospective Disco 1 buyer. However, being a general checklist and not specifically written with Disco 1s in mind, there are some issues common to D1s that should be highlighted. In no particular order, they are:
• Rust. These vehicles are prone to rusting along the inner fenders, around the wheelarches, and in the cargo area floor. Run (don’t walk!) from any vehicle showing extensive amounts of rust.
• Cooling system. Overheating is one of the most common causes of major engine damage in Discovery models. Water pumps and radiators should be regularly checked for leaks and old hoses should be replaced before they rupture.
• Head gasket leaks. Though maybe not as prone to head gasket leaks as later Discovery 2 models, it can be an expensive problem to address. If the head gasket is leaking either internally or externally, budget accordingly.
• Steering box leaks. Chances are that unless the steering box has been replaced/resealed recently, it’s probably leaking. The steering box is the most common and most expensive source of power steering leaks.
• Rubber pieces. These cars are now 15-20 years old. Rubber doesn’t tend to last 15-20 years. If it’s made of rubber and it’s never been replaced, chances are it’s worn out. Suspension bushings, motor mounts, hoses, belts, driveshaft couplers, and weather seals all fall under this category. Helpful hint: A sign of a well-maintained vehicle is that many rubber components have already been addressed.
• Power accessories and electrical components. Power windows, power seats, and power sunroofs are all common failure points on these cars. Make sure they function properly and smoothly.
• Interior trim. While most parts for Disco 1s are reasonably priced, some interior/trim components can be very expensive to fix. If it’s important to you to have an interior in very good condition, buy a car that doesn’t need much interior work.
Once you’ve found a Discovery seems to be in good condition, get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) done by a mechanic who is familiar with Rovers. Many people disregard the pre-purchase inspection because they don’t like the idea of spending $100-$200 on a vehicle they don’t even own yet. However, it can potentially be the best money you will ever spend on a car. If it confirms that the car is solid and in good condition with just a few minor issues, you can use the PPI to negotiate a better price depending on the cost to repair the issues that it brought to light. On the other hand, if a PPI reveals that there are some major underlying problems with the vehicle that you missed upon your initial inspection and test drive, you can either walk away knowing that you didn’t buy a vehicle that would need thousands of dollars in repairs. If you are willing to buy a car with major needs, you can try to negotiate a substantial discount off of the price now that you have documentation indicating the car isn’t worth what the owner is asking for it. No matter how it works out, a PPI is always a good idea.
Hopefully this has been informative to anyone looking to purchase a used Land Rover Discovery 1. This article is not meant to scare anyone off from purchasing one of these vehicles. On the contrary, this article was meant to inform, and an informed buyer is someone who can buy a used car confidently, knowing that they got a good deal on a good vehicle.