Despite the amazing friends, incredible adventures and technical education my Land Rovers have given me for almost a quarter century, I sometimes think that I’d be much better served if my parents bought a Land Cruiser instead of a Discovery in 1994. I’m an extremely anxious person, with some strong OCD traits. A truck that can always break down randomly — and has on me — is a challenge to these personality characteristics/flaws. It’s also been a bit therapeutic over the years to go through these incidents.
As I’ve been working through these issues, both as it relates to Land Rovers and my life in general, I thought it might be good to write up some things I’ve figured out that have helped make it easier to balance my love for these British pieces of crap with my personal issues. Going through these things gives me a feeling of control over the vehicle and the situation that calms my nerves a lot.
1 — Know Your Truck’s Systems
I don’t mean just how to make the heater work. Know how the thing is put together. Read the service manual when you aren’t fixing anything. Understand how the axles go together, how the driveline works. Read up on message boards and find out about common issues you may encounter. The more of a knowledge base you have about the function of the vehicle, the more you might be able to sense what that clunk or squeak is…and whether it’s critical, or normal considering what the vehicle is going through. Also, remember that these things are trucks, and until the 2000s, Land Rovers still used driveline components derived from decades before.
2 — Read, but Not Too Much
The worst thing I can do when I’m worked up about an issue is read technical forums. The worst situation for this is when you’re looking at going against factory spec for some installation technique or part. I can drive myself into a complete anxiety attack over what sealant or gasket to use on a stub axle. Once you know enough about these materials, you can take a few ideas from people and make an educated decision on what to use. Eventually, just pick one. If it becomes a total mess, you can change it later, probably.
3 — Keep Your Truck in Shape
The best thing to do is keep on top of preventive maintenance. This really has two benefits for me; it of course keeps the truck in tip-top shape, and it also gives me a feeling of control over its state. I change my gear oils and grease my U-joints more than most people, and I’m always “that guy” that changes his coolant and brake fluid every two years like the manual says you should. I stick to Genuine or OEM parts whenever possible; even if it has no benefit, the perceived benefit (as long as the price difference is not unreasonable) is worth the placebo effect.
4 — Have a Support Group
I have a few Land Rover friends who I know I can always vent my anxieties to. I think sometimes it gets a bit old, but they’re good friends and they deal with it in stride, and I reciprocate. Having someone else who knows the situation you’re in, with a little more level a head, is a great asset to tell you that RTV is fine for the stub axles and put the damn thing on already.
5 — Take Care of Yourself on the Road
The biggest “risk” for a breakdown being a major issue is on a roadtrip — the whole reason you have the Land Rover. I’ve been through plenty of roadside mishaps, and none of them are fun in the moment, even if they make great stories. One of the things I’ve found, at least, is that I can eat like crap on the road very quickly. Gas station convenience stores tempt me with Red Bulls and Milky Ways, and a Burger King seems like a great dinner choice. But that burger never sits right with me, and a Red Bull is great until you get a sugar crash about an hour later. Eating more balanced meals helps keep your mood stable. Bring snacks from home, and either eat as healthy as you can at the services, or try eating local — still a crapshoot, but sometimes the food is better for you.
6 — Get Top-Tier AAA Membership
Not the middle one with the 100-mile tows, get whatever the top-of-the-crop option is in your region. In the Mid-Atlantic here, it’s one with one 200-mile tow per year, and 100-mile tows for the rest. I upgraded to Premier from Plus a few years ago when I broke down about 150 miles from home in Eastern Connecticut. If I’d had the 200-miler, I could have gotten the truck home for free in one shot. Instead, it became a bit of a production shuttling it across the Tri-State area. AAA is great, but many of the tow services charge for extra mileage (in that case, $5/mile). That would have racked up to a few hundred dollars that I didn’t have at that point; the small upcharge to Premier would have been a different story. Not having to worry about that kind of expense helps when you’re already in the stress of a breakdown.
7 — Carry Lots of Tools and Spares
This applies to everyone, but a good repair cache is a valuable thing. Make sure you have proper sealants; extra hardware, gaskets and seals for anything you have spares of; and all the major fluids for the truck (oil/gear oil/brake fluid/ATF/grease). A basic electrical kit with spare wire is valuable too. If you break down and can’t fix the issue with what’s on hand in the truck, add that to your kit when you get home if it’s a reasonable carry. I also carry major spare parts for the Discovery that can at least let me stumble on, and again I add these as needed to the cache after a breakdown.
8 — Avoid Rush Hour if Possible
I really, really like night driving — as in, my favourite time on the highway is either 4AM departures or 2 AM hauls. I like to time it to avoid most of the traffic, and at that time of night in more remote areas, traffic is very thin. You do have truckers hauling ass, and you do have an increased risk of drunk drivers, so there is a tradeoff. Also, make sure your headlamps are in good shape and are bright (uprated if need be), as that really helps with fatigue. I’ve also found that if my prescription for my glasses is ready for a recheck, things can get a little wonky and blurry after the rest of the day.
9 — Do a Thorough Pre-Trip Check
I’m refining this technique for the upcoming big trip, but at the minimum check the basics. I think the best pre-trip checklist is on TeriAnn Wakeman’s Expedition Land Rover page, and it’s the one I use for every trip as a base. (Her book, The Essential Guide to Overland Travel in the United States and Canada, also has a lot of very useful and thorough prep resources.) For the Mother Country Trail trip, I plan on also doing little things like checking the torque on all the suspension components…little things. It probably won’t be an issue, but if you want to spend a night in the garage before a major trip, it’s not the worst thing.
10 — Shotgunning Can Be Okay
There’s times that I just haven’t been able to pull repairs off in time to get the truck safely to an event. In June 2017, even after weeks of heavy work on the Discovery, I broke down 80 miles into the trip to the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers Birthday Party in Ontario. I got towed home, and after a half hour of despondency, went to the local Enterprise branch and rented a Nissan Frontier with rights to drive to Canada. It was the best $275 I ever spent; I still got to spend the weekend with my friends, and I just jumped in their truck to do the wheeling. Some events have gotten so big that shotgunning is good to control congestion on the trail. As long as you don’t become a mooch, split the fuel, and share any driving the driver may ask you to, most of your friends should be okay with this every now and then. One day, these being Land Rovers, you may have to reciprocate for them.
11 — Enjoy the Journey
If you’ve done everything you’ve done before the trip to prepare your vehicle, have everything you need to fix most issues on the road, and feel confident, get in the damn truck and drive. The situation is as much in your control as it can be, and you have contingencies for everything else. It’s a Land Rover; it creates its own campfire stories. As long as you are prepared to tackle the situation mentally, physically, and with the right tools, you can turn a major disaster into a manageable one.