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Just under a year ago, I wrote an article about why I love my Land Rover Freelander. It was as much a reassurance to myself as it was a genuine post about the virtues of this much-maligned vehicle, and for much of the time since then, it accurately described how I felt. Unfortunately, that time has passed.
My vehicle purchases tend to be influenced by what I disliked about the vehicle I was replacing (or the vehicle I owned at the time). When I chose my Integra, it replaced a Honda Accord that was boring and uncomfortable. When I bought my first Land Rover, it was to augment the Integra's complete inability to handle winter weather. When I bought my Crown Victoria, it replaced the much smaller Integra at a time when I was spending the vast majority of my time behind the wheel. The purchase of my Freelander was no different; in this case, to replace the Crown Victoria, which I actively disliked, I desperately wanted a vehicle I could feel passionate about, and that had more luxury features than the very bare-bones sedan. I greatly missed the love I felt for my old Land Rover and for my Integra, a love that, while irrational, made the very act of owning and driving the car a joyful indulgence every time I did it. Additionally, this love made it easier to justify routine maintenance, something I didn't have money for throughout much of my life.
I had a few options when I was shopping for my Freelander, but ultimately chose it because, within my price range (less than $8000), there simply weren't many vehicles that met all of my criteria, and the Freelander appealed to my longing for another Land Rover. I didn't go into it completely blind; I did the research, I knew the stories, and I knew the odds. Based on the mechanical problems known to occur with the Freelander, it was a possibility that it would suffer catastrophic engine issues around 60,000 miles, and if it made it to 100,000 miles, I'd be one of the lucky ones. Despite the fact that luck has almost never been in my favor, I went into this purchase thinking I could beat the odds, and that through the power of being a die-hard Land Rover fan, I'd be able to keep it going.
In retrospect, it seems as dumb as it sounds to type it out.
In my defense, there was a lot of information witheld from me at purchase time. The dealer failed to disclose a number of known mechanical problems that I discovered quickly afterwards, including a heater core leak (which, two years later, has not been fixed), a failing power steering pump, and a few other small issues that were discovered and addressed in the course of repairing other problems. Of course, the biggest issue was the seized camshaft, which cost $5000 to repair (and that was after the mechanic cut me a break). I can't prove this, and thus can't pursue legal action against the dealer, but there's no way the dealer didn't know there was a problem with the oil. Either the oil change they performed was incomplete (didn't replace the filter), or they saw evidence of the previous owner's severe neglect and said nothing. Regardless, I had a massive repair bill that nearly exceeded the value of the vehicle six months after purchasing it.
At the time, I was faced with three options: Have the engine repaired by a specialist for about $5000-6000, have the engine replaced by a specialist for $6000-7000, or scrap the truck, default on the loan, and destroy my credit. My payment was at the absolute limit of what I could afford, and the loan was at the limit of the credit my bank would extend to me, so rolling it over into another car was not an option. Since my engine had about 46,000 miles at the time, and most rebuilt engines were at 60,000-80,000, I chose option 1, and my family helped me pay for it. But, I almost went for option 3. I was desperate at the time, and while I was exceptionally proud that I had been able to maintain near-perfect credit through circumstances that would drive most people to bankruptcy or worse, I did still have my Crown Victoria, and ultimately could have survived.
When I chose to have the engine rebuilt, I did so with some mental caveats. The mechanic made no secret of the fact that this would very likely not be the end of my issues with this truck, but he also took it as a matter of personal honor to get it running well. With that in mind, I spent a lot of time thinking about the decision, and chose to fix the truck with the hope that there wouldn't be any further catastrophic failures or major maintenance for at least a couple of years. For awhile, that was the case.
The work was completed in March 2012, just before I wrote the aforementioned article about how much I loved it. And for awhile, things went exactly like I wanted. There were a few issues - failed fuel pump, which turned out to be a recall unaddressed by the previous owner, and a failed oil filter - but for the bulk of 2012, it was exactly the truck I wanted it to be.
Until it started getting colder.
Just before the engine rebuild, I noticed that it often ran rough in cold weather. I assumed this was normal, and it was never particularly problematic, so I ignored it. After the rebuild was completed, the mechanic observed that the truck practically wouldn't start at all on cold mornings, and held it for months trying to diagnose the issue. As the weather warmed up, the problem decreased, and he eventually released it to me, leaving the truck with a residual glitch that, while slightly inconvenient, didn't present much of a problem. And during most of the summer, I didn't notice it at all. But, as the cold weather became more prevalent, the problem worsened.
During the winter, additional problems developed. The windshield cracked, which is no cheap repair on a heated-windshield vehicle. The climate controls jammed in a way that's left me baffled, and left me unable to use the defroster. An oil change at the dealership resulted in a series of catastrophically-failing oil filter seals. While all this was going on, I was settling into a new job, new apartment, basically a whole new life, and while I had a vastly higher salary than at any point in my life, I also had a lot of residual moving expenses, and didn't have much for car repairs. Thankfully, I also didn't have to drive for work, but I did have to drive for anything social, and I'm a rather social person.
The game-changer, however, was when I had an oil change performed by a specialist, instead of the dealer, after the second failed filter. They did an excellent job, but they discovered a fair amount of coolant in the oil. Combined with rather obvious oil seepage from the head gaskets, the diagnosis was head gasket failure (albeit a minor case, since it still runs). I was never given an estimate for repairs, but it's a procedure known to cost upwards of $1200-1500 on cars far easier and cheaper to work on than this one, and it was a very expensive specialty mechanic.
Throughout December and January, the cold-start issue and head gasket issue seemingly teamed up to make the truck borderline undriveable. It now takes upwards of 15-20 minutes to cold-start it, a process that gets worse the longer it sits between drives, and once I do get it running, it runs rough at highway speeds, in a way that makes it feel like it may not bring me back home from my destination. I've gotten oil changes every few hundred miles as a precaution, but obviously, I avoid driving it as much as possible, knowing that it's in no shape to be driven.
The combined cost to fix all the current, known problems is somewhere around $4500. Not counting the cold start issue, which will need to be diagnosed all over again by someone different. The truck is barely worth $4500 in perfect condition, and no amount of love can justify sinking this much money into repairs for a vehicle that, in all likelyhood, will only continue to have major mechanical issues on a regular basis. I mentioned 60,000 miles as a milestone earlier, because most Freelanders that aren't scrapped for seized camshafts at 40,000 miles are typically scrapped at 60,000 for slipped cylinder sleeves. Without taking the engine apart to replace the gaskets, there's no way to know if this is what happened to mine, but given its symptoms and the fact that it just rolled over 60,000 miles, it's a realistic possibility.
More importantly, with all of this going on, my Freelander has lost my trust, so to speak. Even if I were to fix everything, I would no longer have faith that it will get me from point A to point B without catastrophic mechanical issues, especially for the long roadtrips I miss taking. And as it stands right now, I don't even trust it to get me to and from locations within the DC metro area. A few days ago, I missed out on a party at a friend's house, because it was 20 miles away, I had trouble getting a ride, and I didn't trust my truck to get me there and back (mostly back). While I do still have affection for my truck, that's unacceptable.
So, my current options are: Sink thousands of dollars cash into repairs, to fix the current problems. Keep driving it as-is until it's completely undriveable, leaving me with a worthless vehicle that I still owe money on. Or trade it in on something more reliable, now that I'm in a position to afford a higher car payment. Option 1 is borderline impossible, since I don't have a particularly large cash reserve yet, and the assistance I previously received from family is no longer available. As for option 3, I'd mostly be rolling the entire balance of the current loan into a new one, but given the low value of the vehicle and the relatively small amount still owed, it wouldn't affect a new loan much.
I still have a great deal of affection for my Freelander, but I'm giving up. I can't keep throwing money at a vehicle that was so poorly designed that its lifespan is half that of comparable vehicles. I can't keep paying for a vehicle that doesn't serve the fundamental needs of a vehicle, transporting me from point A to point B. And, I can't keep missing out on life because of transportation issues.
I learn lessons from every vehicle I own. My Land Rover Discovery taught me to recognize trouble spots when purchasing a high-mileage vehicle. My Crown Victoria taught me that a car needs to be enjoyable on its own merits, not based on psychological/societal associations, and it taught me the difference between car love and car lust. This Freelander taught me a great deal of things, probably more lessons than any previous vehicle. It taught me that I am not a mechanic; I can perform some tasks and some diagnostics on my own, but I'm dependant upon others to do the dirty work, and therefore, a vehicle that can't be worked on by most mechanics probably isn't a good choice. It taught me that love for a car doesn't make it a good car, and love for a bad car can be extraordinarily expensive. And, it taught me to never, ever buy a car without examining it for myself first.
With these lessons in mind, I have a short list of candidates for my next vehicle, and I'm already in the process of arranging purchase of my first choice. We'll see how things play out. As for my Freelander, it pains me to see a car I love go into the hands of someone who won't love it as much as I do, but I'm done with this chapter of car ownership, and I can accept sending it into the trade-in auction system. I'll even eat the entirety of the current loan, rolled into a new one, if I can be rid of the Freelander and not have to put another dollar into that toxic money-sink.