Land Rover Discovery (Series I)
The Series I Discovery was Land Rover’s first attempt at bringing the comfort of the Range Rover and the off-road capability of the Defender 90 together. Built on the same platform as those two, the “D1” or “Disco,” as it is affectionately called, was a workhorse which could double as a comfortable daily driver, and could be had as an ultra-basic vehicle or loaded with all the amenities a person in the mid-90s could want. Although Land Rovers are famed for their unreliability, the 3.9L and 4.0L engines on offer in the D1 are stout, provided owners keep on top of oil leaks and don’t let the car overheat – it’s not unheard of for these cars to hit 300k miles on their original engine. Despite its smaller size, the D1 featured full-float axles (unfortunately with the brake discs located inboard of the hubs, making brake disc replacements take far longer than most cars) and a towing capacity of 7700 lbs.
Unfortunately, most of these cars have fallen into neglect thanks to uneducated or uncaring owners over the last couple decades, and most are “projects” at best. When well-sorted, however, they’re very comfortable, and are one of the most capable off-road vehicles ever made. Many off-road enthusiasts in the Land Rover community prefer the D1 to its successor, the Discovery 2, due to the dependability of the chassis and the simplicity of its engine management system (not to mention the relative strength of its engine blocks in comparison to the “Bosch” Rover V8 in the D2). Despite this, a clean Discovery 1 often sells for far less than a comparable Discovery 2, making it a bargain for someone looking to get into wheeling.
- The community’s desires for some features is counter-intuitive, as their opposites are usually preferred in other vehicles:
- Cloth seats – many enthusiasts greatly prefer these over the much more common leather seats, as they tend to stand up to abuse better without ripping
- Sunroof delete – extremely rare (though more common on MY94-95 vehicles than later model years), and saves you the hassle of dealing with failing seals and jammed guides
- Manual seats – the power seats are slow and the switches easily break. Manual seats can be moved quickly and the adjustment levers are robust.
- Rear A/C (especially in hot climates) – identified by a third button on the climate control panel and the presence of vents in the roof of the back seats
- Rear jump seats
- LSE trim – adds wood trim everywhere, and replaces standard door panels with ones that have leather and wood inserts. It’s a nice cosmetic upgrade.
- Manual transmission – rare, and the transmission itself is worth money, as many in the community transplant them into the Range Rover Classic
- Off-road gear:
- Steel bumpers – these were not original equipment, but many cars have aftermarket ones as the factory plastic bumpers are easy to rip off while off-roading
- Skid plates
- Roof rack
- Rock sliders
- Off-road lights
Click the links below to see common problems specific to the engines available on this vehicle.
- Rover V8 “Lucas” 3.9L (MY94-95)
- Rover V8 “GEMS” 4.0L (MY96+)
- Low-range – linkage can seize if never used. Sometimes, this can be broken free by soaking the linkage in PB Blaster from underneath the car and working the shift lever back and forth. Ensure that it not only shifts smoothly between high-range and low-range, but also from unlocked to locked.
- Front swivel balls – the seals tend to leak with age, and refilling them with “one shot” grease or gear oil is a routine maintenance item. If all the grease/oil is allowed to leak out, then the balls can get pitted and rust, necessitating their replacement. Most mechanics won’t touch this job – only specialized Land Rover shops and some 4×4 and import shops will. Expect about $1500-2000 for parts and labor to replace the balls and all seals, depending on the condition of the CV joints and drive hubs.
- Ignition cylinder – it will probably be binding and require some fiddling to start the car or remove the key. Most cars have some special method to do the above, but eventually, the cylinder will fully bind or break and require replacement. NAS (North American specification) Discoveries with automatic transmissions have a unique ignition cylinder that can cost upwards of $600, but you can use a replacement lock cylinder from a manual Discovery (among others) without issue for $70 or less.
- Window regulators (very easy and cheap to fix – see this video)
- Door lock actuators – much easier to fix than on the later Discovery 2
- Cruise control – the cruise control system is vacuum operated; a D1 with functioning cruise control is a unicorn
- ABS faults – usually caused by a failed wheel speed sensor or bad hub
- SRS faults – can sometimes be caused by a dirty/corroded connector somewhere or a bad spiral cassette in the steering wheel
- Miscellaneous electrical issues may be caused by bad/corroded grounds or blown fuses (especially the #12 and #13 fuses). Check fuse panels underneath steering column and in engine bay as a first step in any electrical diagnostic work.
Body & Cosmetic
- Rust, especially on the floor pans and around alpine windows and wheel wells. It is a good idea to lift the carpet in the footwells and the cargo area if possible to inspect for rust.
- Hood release cable may be seized – if this is the case, have someone push down on and hit the hood while you try to pull the lever. If this does not work, try spraying a lubricant like PB Blaster (NOT WD-40) through the grille onto the latch, and repeat the process. Once hood is open, remove any obstructions to cable and fully lubricate both it and the latch. As you might imagine, the ability to open the hood is important when owning an old Land Rover.
- Door latches (interior and exterior, especially the exterior cargo door latch) can seize if not used for long periods of time. If the exterior cargo door latch is seized, simply pop the Land Rover badge off the license plate cover with a flathead screwdriver, then soak the hinge in a lubricant like PB Blaster while working it back and forth until it moves freely again.
- Clear coat is susceptible to peeling, especially if car was not washed often
- Drooping headliner – requires removal of headliner panel and reupholstering of headliner. Stapling the fabric down is only a temporary measure and won’t work long-term, as drooping is due to degradation of the insulating foam rather than an issue with the adhesive itself.
- Vehicles in warm climates may have warped dashboards
- Broken sun visor clips – these get brittle with age, but they are cheap and easy to replace
- The front seating position means that occupants can comfortably rest their arms on top of the door panels. This causes discoloration and eventually cracking.
- Vehicles with autodim rearview mirror: It is not uncommon for the ink to leak out and leave the mirror permanently dim
- Vehicles with seat heaters: The heating wire that runs across the seat usually fails
- Vehicles with sunroofs:
- The general rule of thumb is that if they work when you test them, then never use them again so they don’t have a chance to break. If you must use them, then lubricate them once a month.
- If the headliner is stained around sunroofs, chances are that the seals leak. This is a huge job to fix because it requires dropping the headliner and removing the entire sunroof assembly to replace the seal.
- Vehicles with leather seats: The leather is susceptible to wear/cracking/tearing
- Vehicles with power seats: The seat adjustment switches tend to break. It is highly recommended to replace the switches entirely rather than try and rebuild them, as they have tiny springs inside that are very easy to lose and very hard to put back where they should be.
- “Service Engine” light is different from a CEL and should be disregarded – its sole purpose is to remind the owner every 50k miles to visit a Land Rover dealership so that they can check the catalytic converters
- The SRS warning light will illuminate when the battery is disconnected or fully dies, and a trip to the dealer can reset it (or you can do it yourself if you have the proper diagnostic software). An illuminated SRS warning light does not necessarily mean there is a fault with a component.
- ABS warning lamp may illuminate on startup but disappear once vehicle starts moving – this is normal and does not indicate a fault in the system
Other Tips & Tricks
- MY94-95 vehicles don’t have OBD2. The Lucas 14CUX ECU has a small display underneath the passenger seat to display diagnostic trouble codes should you have a check engine light. The diagnostic connector is located underneath the passenger-side footwell cardboard panel, and requires a special cable.
- ABS faults can be diagnosed without special software using the blink method
- If you want to replace the seats in your Discovery 1, bear in mind that power seats have different brackets than manual seats, and that MY94-95 vehicles have different brackets than MY96-99 vehicles. Swapping between either of these categories (for example, replacing your car’s power seats with manual ones) requires cutting out the old brackets and custom-fabricating new ones.