Problems with Sterlin

This is a blog post about the things that have not quite gone right with our Sterlin. We have completed 55,000 kms (35,000 miles) over some pretty unforgiving terrain. We have had only one major failure but did have lots of little minor issues. Here are all the messy details below.

Dead Engine Battery

September 11, 2013. Adelaide, South Australia

Sterlin broke down in one of the busiest streets of Adelaide. We had just driven from Mt Gambier and parked in the center of town to pick up an ATM car from our bank. When it was time to go, Sterlin would not start. Clearly an electrical problem. Lifted the bonnet and my multimeter quickly told me that the issue was with the engine battery. To get us going again, I swapped the engine battery with the auxiliary battery, which took about 5 minutes.

Being in a major city, it did not take long to find a replacement battery. In fact we had a new battery in less than 2 hours which was later fitted in the basement of the Hilton Hotel.

The original battery was less than a year old, and really it should not have failed. Maybe the three month journey from Los Angeles did not help.

Fridge/Freezer Draining Auxiliary Battery

September 25, 2013. El Questro, Northern Territory, Australia

Our ARB fridge/freezer was not holding the 4 degree C target temperature. The problem seemed to be with the auxiliary battery, which was getting depleted during the night. Maybe there was a problem with the split charger and the charging of the auxiliary battery.

After watching the fridge and auxiliary battery for several weeks, I could find nothing actually wrong. And now that we are in a cooler climate, it seems that the system is working well again. So, I am going to assume that the very high temperatures in the north of Australia were just too much for the overall system and everything will be fine in cooler climates. It has now been two months and all is well.

Transfer Case Oil Leak

October 6, 2013. Gnaraloo, Western Australia

A small oil leak from the transfer case appeared. Very hard to actually determine where the leak comes from, probably one of the seals. The transfer case had a leak a few years ago, and the seals were replaced at that time, so this was a little unexpected. It is however a very minor leak.

Thursday, October 10, 2013 Update: While in Perth we had a mechanic take a better look at the leak. The verdict was that it was too small to worry about. And as a general rule, Land Rover’s leak oil. So, just going to have to watch this one.

Wednesday, January 15, 2013 Update: While we were having the rear brakes fixed, we got the mechanic to check the transfer case levels. All fine.

Friday, March 28, 2014 Update: While in Laos we had a Land Rover mechanic check the fluid levels in the transfer case again. With another 15,000 kms since the problem was first noticed, the area is clear of oil with no signs of a leak and the oil level is just fine. Never heard of a leak fixing itself, but not complaining. The leading theory now is that the breather at the top of the transfer case got blocked by all of the Australian dust and this caused a build-up of pressure in the transfer case. Just a theory.

Bad Smell from the front air vents and leaves in the blower

November 19, 2013. Seremban, Malaysia

Every time we started the ventilation fan, we got a nasty smell from the right side front vent. A quick inspection revealed some nasty stuff growing in there. And some on the left side as well. Caroline and I spent an hour pulling the vents apart and giving them a good old clean. At the same time we cleaned out the ventilation blower to remove some leaves that had managed to get in there and were making all sorts of noise.

Something nasty in the vents.
Leaves in the blower.

Rear Passenger Side Running Light Blown

November 19, 2013. Seremban, Malaysia

Ok, not a big deal. Changed the blown bulb from the stock of spare parts. And I guess this why we carry spare parts.

Squeaky Brakes

January 15, 2014. Chiang Mai, Thailand

After a week of enduring a squeaky right rear brake over the hills of Northern Thailand, we took Sterlin into a garage to have this checked out. The brakes are fine, but the rotor was a little worst for wear. So after a little grinding, all was good again. The garage also took a look at the transfer case oil leak, and not problems there. So knock on wood, Sterlin is doing ok.

More Battery Related Issues

January 22, 2014. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sterlin failed to start just after we finished filling up with gas in the morning. Everything went dead, all the lights on the dashboard went out along with other car electrics like the clock/radio. After waiting a few minutes, everything reset and Sterlin started fine. Well, this is a bit concerning.

January 27, 2014 Update: We were 20 kms outside Nong Khai at a Buddist Temple when Sterlin failed to start again, and just like before did self-reset and returned to normal. But this time after two re-start attempts. Once Sterlin was running, we did not stop until we made it to Nong Khai where we had already planned to stop for the night. Based on more internet research, the leading theory now is battery leads. So, I disconnected the two leads and re-connecte them, this time nice and tight. The orginal Land Rover battery leads are not very good, even our mechanic Philippe had trouble. So here’s hoping that this is the problem.

March 28, 2014 Update. It has been 2 months and no further problems. I am chalking this up to a loose battery terminal lead.

Secondary Air Injection Pump maybe blocked

February 4, 2014, Nang Rong, Thailand

For a few days we have noticed a strange noise coming from the glove box just after we start the engine and which disappears after a minute or so. After popping the hood, the sound was clearly coming from the large black thing with pipes coming out of it. So I just needed to find out what the large black thing with pipes coming out of it was. Consulting my handy dandy workshop manual soon revealed that it was the Secondary Air Injection Pump, and it is probably blocked. Fortunately the Secondary Air Injection system serves no useful purpose other than to help the catalyic converter to lower emissions during the first 60-90 seconds after a cold engine start. Hardly useful here in South East Asia where fuel emissions are part of the fabric of life. So, will need to take a quick look at the pump filter when I get a moment. Land Rovers do like attention.

Fridge/Freezer Stopped Working

April 1, 2014, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Problems with the fridge/freezer again. Opened the back door of Sterlin after hiking around the ruins to find our fridge/freezer not running. The multimeter is handy and it took less than 2 minutes to isolate the electrical fault to the fuse in the power supply cable. Earlier in the day I managed to jam the power supply cable for the fridge in the mechanical slide and must have damaged the cable. The cable did not look damaged but the fuse did its thing so there is probably some internal short in the cable. The unfortunate thing is that ARB uses some weird fuse in their 12v adaptor, and I did not have a spare. But I did have a spare 12v socket adaptor, so later that night I replaced the ARB supplied adaptor with a Blue Sea adaptor and was up and running again albeit with a slightly shorter fridge cable now.

Rear Door Would Not Open

March 7, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Arrived at the hotel after a long a dusty drive from Kompong Thom. But unable to open the rear door, which is a major problem. The shelving system is designed to keep the luggage safe and secure unless the rear door is open. It is not even possible to acces the luggage from inside the vechicle. So a little panic set in.

After calming down I got out the WD40 and started spraying madly. We had spent the last 180kms and 6 hours on dusty dirt roads and I was convinced the dust had caused the door mechanism to fail. The WD40 did not help, so I started the process of dismantling the shelving system. Not that this would actually help, as the shelving system is design is such a way that it can’t be dismantled from the inside. But had to try something. And it was getting late and dark and we needed our luggage for the night. Worst case I could saw through the shelving system. About 20 mins into the dismantling process I tried the rear door again, and unbelievable it just opened. I guess it took the WD40 a little time to work its magic.

With the luggage out I was a little afraid to close and lock the rear door. Took the rear access panel off and gave the whole area a good old spray. It was extremely dusty.

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 Update: Although we have not had any more problems with the rear door, we now WD40 the lock and have installed some foam to prevent further problems. The foam is at a proof-of-concept stage, if it helps will replace with a more permanent solution.

New black rubber strips and proof-of-concept anti-dust foam.

Throaty Exhaust Sound

April 13, 2014. Luang Prabang, Laos

In the last week we have noticed a throaty sound coming from the drivers side engine bay when the engine is under load (that is, going up the steep northern Laos hills). The noise is not noticeable when Sterlin is at idle. A quick look under the car revealed that one of the stud/nuts joining the exhaust manifold to the catalytic converter and the rest of the exhaust system was missing. The experts on the land rover forum suggest that most likely the stud has sheared off, so this is not a straight forward job to repair. And I could to more damage than harm trying to fix it. So, for the moment we are going to live with the noise.

The missing stud/nut. I think that this is the problem.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 Update: I finally crawled under the car to see if the stud was missing or snapped off. Good news it was just missing and quickly replaced it with a bolt from the spare parts collection. I also found the two remaining nuts were loose, which would clearly cause the throaty sound and even venting hot exhaust into the engine bay, which is not a good idea at all. After tightening the nuts, the noise went away. Surprise surprise. I will add a bolt to the vacant hole another day.

Friday, May 9, 2014 Update. Stephen finally broke out the bag of spare nuts and bolts and found one that would fit where the stud was missing.

Monday, May 19, 2014 Update. During the service inspection in Ulaanbaatar, the mechanic found a damaged nut in the same place again on the exhaust manifold connection, but this time on the passengers side. He quickly found a replacement nut and had it installed.

Front Prop Shaft Vibration

Sunday, April 13, 2014. Luang Prabang, Laos

A noticeable vibration through the chassis and steering wheel indicated we had an issue on our hands. The next few days were spent working out what was wrong and trying to get it fixed. Turned out to be the Universal Joints forming the Hookes or Double Cardan joint on the rear of the front propellor shaft. The timing of this failure was incredibly bad as we were due to cross into China in just 4 days. The timing was further compounded by the fact that Laos and most of South East Asia were on holiday from April 14th through 16th. The blow by blow description of events can be found in the Luang Prabang blog post.

The failure was ultimately repaired by creasing the joints. A simple repair that we hope will hold until replacement parts can arrive.

Monday, May 5, 2014 Update: The parts from Australia turned up this morning. They went on a bit of a tour of South East Asia and China to get here, but it was good to finally have them. The temporary repair has lasted 3,500 kms and seems to be holding. After consulting with others on the convoy, we all felt it was a good idea to replace the suspect UJs with the new parts, so I went directly to a Land Rover mechanic to get them replaced. After five hours working on the car, they still had not got the replacement parts fitted. They finished the job the following day.

When in Ulaanbaatar, got the mechanic there to check and grease the joints. Everything seems fine.

The broken bit. The Hookes Joint.

Rear Passenger Side Brake Light Blown and Rear Driver Side Running Light Blown

April 23rd, 2014. Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

Ok, not a big deal. Changed the blown bulbs from the stock of spare parts.

P0307 Error Code from Onboard Diagnostics

May 10, 2014. On the way to Hunyuan, China

The onboard diagnostic tool we had reported a P0307 error, which is a mis-fire on cylinder 7. I had no idea that Sterlin had a misfire detection system.

While in Ulaanbaatar we had a local garage inspect and then replace the spark plugs. The old plugs looked in good enough shape, but better to replace them. The error code was thrown 1,600 kms ago and never returned, so maybe also ust a glitch. Then on June 19th on the way to Almaty the on broad diagnostics tool reported a misfire on cylinder 1 this time. Now we are thinking it might be mixed octane fuel. Will see if the issue continues.

The old spark plugs.

Drivers Side Electric Seat Blown

June 22, 2014. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Tried to make the seat lean back when there was something behind it and popped the fuse. Unfortunately the fuse is 40amps, and we do not have a spare. Did blow a 30amps trying to see if that would work, it obviously didn’t. Not sure if any damage was caused or if I just need a correctly rated fuse. Looking for a 40 amp fuse now to check.

Thursday, January 22, 2014 Update. Finally was able to purchase a 40amp fuse. Popped it in and the seat worked fine.

Leaking Coolant

August 13, 2014. Hamburg, Germany

The pre-start morning inspection revealed a noticeable drop in the coolant levels. It did not take long to fine the source of the leak as there was coolant dripping off the manifold cover. The leak was coming front the de-icing unit gasket located under the throttle body. The coolant level was topped up and this repair with have to wait.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Update. Land Rover garage in Gent disconnected the coolant hoses from the leaky deicer and by-passed the unit. Problem solved for now.

A New Oil Leak

September 24, 2014. Eeklo, Belgium

The day before taking Sterlin in for a routine service, we noticed a new yet small oil leak on the passengers side of the gearbox. The following day the Land Rover mechanic dismissed the leak as too minor to worry about. I guess we will just keep an eye on this for a while..

Post Trip Review

February 10, 2015. San Francisco, USA

Finally crawled under Sterlin to complete a post-trip inspection. The gearbox oil leak detected in Belgium is still present, but it is minor and has not got any worse. Unfortunately the Transfer Case oil leak has returned and seems to be more problematic. Although it is not dripping to the ground. There is also a new leak from the brake fluid reservoir, but is very minor. All these three leaks sound like typical leaky land rover issues and nothing to worry about.

Otherwise Sterlin seems to be in fine mechanical shape. The rear two tires were very beaten up and they were replaced with the front tires which were in fine shape. The front tires were replaced with new tires. The rear tires probably had 45,000 miles on them anyway. During the trip we only had two issues with punctured tires and both were fixed with a plug kit.

All in all, Sterlin performed magnificantly. We are so proud of him.