4WD PARTS & SERVICE
Regular trouble-shooting at home, and servicing by a trusted professional at a workshop, can prolong the usable life of your 4WD by thousands of kilometres. NZ4WD magazine editor Ross Mackay explains why.
I’ve bought and sold enough vehicles in my life to know the value of a regular (and verifiable) service history. Yet circumstances have forced the odd lapse which – sadly – I have ended up paying through the nose for. There was the ‘deal-too-good-to-be-true’ involving (ouch, the pain is still raw) a Subaru Legacy, and more recently the ‘shitI-can’t-afford-that’ choice where I delayed a cambelt replacement when I was ‘between jobs’ and short of money only to lunch the engine less than 12 months later (and back earning) when the water pump failed. I raise these two issues willingly because I know I am not alone. Years ago I bought a Mazda 626 station wagen off a mate who – in three years of ownership – had collected over $12,000 of receipts for work done (two engine tear downs after the original cambelt snapped and bent all the valves, plus two auto trans ‘rebuilds,’ etc) and just wanted to be shot of the thing. More recently a workmate went out on a limb to buy a Nissan Terrano at a ‘bargain price’ only to end up having to shell out
more than half what she had only just paid for it when – surprise, surprise – the diesel pump cried enough.
Everyone in our (4WD) game seems to have a ‘Jap import Range-Rover horror story’ too. Mine involves an industry high flier of some note who got what he thought was a bargain. Where a NZ-new Rangie at the time was going to set him back $120K he got an earlier model ex Japan in beautiful as-new condition for (If my memory serves me correctly) under $50K. Problem was it had one of those persistent and apparently untraceable and ultimately unfixable electronic glitches which cost him the best part of $20K (not to mention weeks of inconvenience when it was in dock) before he put up the white flag and, er, traded it on something, hopefully, less taxing on his wallet, and state-of-mind. Blame life, blame easy consumer credit, blame our half-arsed ‘third-world-masquerading-as-first’ economy. Whatever the reason, motor vehicles are costly things to own and run, more so if your eyes are bigger than your stomach and you stretch beyond your pay grade to own ‘the vehicle of your dreams.’ One of the many life lessons I have learned from motorsport, however, is that it doesn’t really matter how old, how grungy and horrible a vehicle looks. If you maintain it as if – as it does – your life depends on it, it will reward you with reliability. As the old sayings go; ‘to finish first, first you have to finish,’ and ‘chrome won’t get you home!’ The same – not surprisingly – goes for 4WDs. And it all boils down to parts and service.
A second chance
Over the years; for instance, I have bought several clunkers and given them a second chance. The best – both in terms of bang-for-your-buck and satisfaction for a job well done – have had what to the seller was a fatal flaw. One was an auto that was stuck in second gear, another had a blown head gasket. In each case rather than seeing a problem I saw an opportunity, particularly when the sellers realised I was the only serious player in a sea of stupid-question-asking Trade Me trolls! Once safely trailered home and in my shed the process of rehabilitation would begin. First I’d start with a good, thorough (steam is great here if you can borrow a rig and hoist) clean. Then I’d do a thorough visual check before writing up a list of things bent, broken or on the blink. Mechanicals would be next, and once a basic audit was completed I’d then order the tasks in terms of WOF-ability, i.e. rips in a CV boot guarantee a WOF failure, faded paint or peeling clear coat don’t so CV replacement would always come before a repaint.
I’m constantly amazed, in fact, how easy it is to rehabilitate an otherwise saggy, baggy old car with a simple fluid (engine, trans, radiator) and filter change. New brake pads and a full bleed and fluid change also makes a quantifiable difference. As does a fresh set of (even cheapies from China) balanced tyres and wheel alignment. Then there are shock absorbers. Swapping out a front set (of inserts) is a pain if you are not used to using a spring clamp but the difference four new (even the ones you buy at Repco or Supercheap) dampers make to the driving experience can be night and day. Even something as simple as topping up the windscreen washer reservoir (with water and a Bars Bugs or similar additive) and replacing the wiper blades (Repco staff even offer to fit them these days) makes a huge difference. So my message, as we talk about 4WD Parts & Service is simple. Just do it. Sure, we might all dream about our ultimate ‘Tuff Truck’ but the reality we are much better off buying down rather than up. For a start, your chances of finding and being able to afford to buy a good base vehicle go up with its age. Just look at all the mid-‘90s Nissan Safaris and 80-series Land Cruisers still doing sterling service out there at the moment.
When they were new they were priced at the premium end of the market. They were built tough though and 20 years on are – if maintained correctly – a great buy, even at the $20+K I see some optimistic dealers listing them for. In theory, if you want to keep your 4WD in tip-top shape you shouldn’t have to deviate too far from my (let’s call it) 2K Cup list. Perhaps the only real difference is how much harder you have to work to keep a regularly bush or beach-based truck clean. Therefore you should make buying a decent pressurised mobile water blaster (see ads in the mag for the ones Briggs & Stratton make) a priority. Then it is just a matter of getting into the habit of regular (and not just pre and post use or events) checks and sticking strictly to your vehicle’s factory maintenance schedule. I often joke with my mechanic mate that it’s me who is paying to put his kids through Auckland’s exclusive Kristin School. But I also know that my life is in his hands. So, really, it is money well spent. And don’t get me started on the government’s hare-brained idea to increase WOF periods on newer vehicles from six to 12 months. You only have to walk past a line of ‘newer’ vehicles in a supermarket car park these days to see the sense in that move... tyres with bald shoulders and way-past-minimum tread depths (go on check for yourself!) are now the rule rather than the exception where I shop!
Story by Ross Mackay Photos: NZ4WD files
Regular servicing and new parts can give older 4WDs a new lease on life.
Regular servicing is a key to prolonging the usable life of a 4WD.