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.

Hor­ror story

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.

Con­stantly amazed

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.

Built tough

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.

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