Project Budget 4×4: In the rough stuff

I’ve spent many days this week writing a Blog all about our new lives, with an in-depth look into our escape from the rat race, changes in personal outlook and what it’s like to live with sod all income. Turns out I’m rubbish at it, but happily my wife isn’t so if you haven’t already, head to Growing Things and Making Things.

I may revisit my feeble attempts at telling our life story at some other point, but for now, it’s back to the cars.

Like an excited child awaiting Christmas, for some reason I was very, very excited about heading out to tackle the Byways of Nant-y-Moch in my budget 4×4. I was joining a trip organised by West Wales Laning, who quickly became essential buddies when I decided that I rather liked getting off the asphalt track. My group was led by a chap in a Land Rover Discovery – they’re very popular as they’re cheap and very capable – with me second and a Range Rover L322 bravely following, as well as a Land Rover Defender.

Ford Maverick laning

This is what it's all about. Off-the-tarmac fun!

I guess some of the excitement was sheer anxiety. I’d done my research, but would the Maverick actually be any good in off-road conditions? Not that it is technically off-road. These are public highways which just don’t have a surface. Ramblers please take note. We are good 4x4ers who stick to the routes we should do. We don’t just go tearing off where we like – though sadly some must always spoil it by doing whatever they want.

I quickly learnt that the Maverick really is very capable in the mucky stuff. The only real downside was a ride which was rather unyielding. By the end of the day, I’d had enough of being bounced around. I’m sure the Range Rover was easier on the spine. The Maverick coped with driving on three wheels at times, displayed impressive axle articulation, refused to conk out when subjected to bonnet-high waves of water and clambered over all obstacles, often with ease.

This is immensely pleasing. I wanted to prove that buying at the bottom of the market needn’t mean a compromise when it comes to green lane fun. Perhaps I have. After all, while the L322 Range Rover was mightily impressive, I bought my Maverick for the cost of a pair of second-hand Xenon headlamps for the Solihull luxury machine. It’s all clever stuff, and very effective, but buying cheap and keeping it simple worked just as well.

And the Maverick really is simple. The basic 4-wheel drive system – rear-wheel drive for most conditions, with selectable four-wheel drive via a high-low ratio transfer box – is similar to that used on Land Rovers for decades. Yes, the limited slip differential at the rear is quite fancy, but it compensates for less suspension travel than a Land Rover possesses. There is no centre differential, no traction control and certainly no Hill Descent Control.

That the Maverick is good off road really shouldn’t be a surprise. While Toyota’s Land Cruiser gets all the plaudits for toppling the once-mighty Land Rover, the oft-forgotten partner in crime was the Nissan Patrol – a car many Australians rate ahead of the Toyota. The Maverick is a Nissan in all but badge and the Blue Oval had very little to do with the design. As part of the first wave of ‘soft’ roaders, the Maverick actually isn’t very soft at all. Few compromises have been made on the off-road ability, even though the on-road performance is surprisingly strong.

The project looks to have been a success then. So far, the only fly in the ointment (other than brake issues…) is a slightly disappointing 22mpg. I look forward to seeing if I can top that figure, as in its off-road ability and in its everyday-practicality and ease-of-use, the Maverick has become a car I really quite like.

Project Budget 4×4: Off the tarmac at last!

I didn’t actually set off from home with the intention of tackling some local byways, but found myself in Nant-y-Moch. I’d gone for a drive primarily to get some new photos of the Maverick and also to help the new brake pads and discs bed in. The Nant-y-Moch area has many byways, though still some idiots insist on heading off-piste. I always stick to the routes signposted by Tread Lightly as I consider myself a responsible 4×4 owner.

On the drive over there, while I checked that my injured back was up to it, I began to compare the Maverick to the Range Rover I owned last year. The Range Rover was the first European 4×4 that made any attempt to behave like a car. It was quick, comfortable and handled well. That was by the standards of 1970 though, and by 2011, my 20 year old Rangie felt far too much like a wallowy barge.

The Maverick behaves much more neatly, with controlled bodyroll and a surprisingly comfortable ride for such a short 4×4 – though it can’t match the Rangie for sheer comfort. It beats it hands down for handling though, with a delightfully sharp turn in. You do have to be careful though. It’s rear wheel drive only on the road, with a limited slip differential and the short-wheelbase combining to make a spin an easy possibility if you aren’t careful. I am careful, but I do bear it in mind.

After a pause for photos, I decided to tackle one of the Nant-y-Moch lanes. I know it pretty well, so I knew that there shouldn’t be anything too challenging. Heading away from tarmac on your own is always a risk though, especially in a new vehicle.

Ford Maverick green lane

The Maverick tackles a Nant-y-Moch byway

Once on to the rock and gravel track, I dropped it into 4-wheel drive and the low ratio gearbox. That gives greater control and as this lane is mainly rocky, and I was not wanting to damage my back, I would be travelling slowly. Initial impressions were good. While the ride was firmer, I wasn’t in any pain and a few tricky sections were tackled without a lack of traction.

Pictured is a sinuous, rocky climb up a very narrow passage. The Maverick seemed to be handling this fine, and while the petrol engine lacked the lugging torque of the Range Rover’s diesel, it was making light work of this. All good.

Then I got stuck. One very rocky section required maximum flex from the suspension. I hadn’t considered that it would struggle here as the Range Rover just plodded through here using its massive axle articulation to keep all wheels on the ground. The Maverick came to a wheel-spinning halt. I tried a bigger dose of power, but it was no good. No traction here, despite that limited-slip rear diff.

The only option was to reverse. This is the good thing about getting stuck on an incline. It’s usually quite easy to get yourself moving again. I then tackled the section with more momentum, in low second. This time – and no doubt with at least one wheel waving in the air – it cleared the obstacle. Phew!

For a modern 4×4, the Maverick actually has pretty decent axle articulation, but chatting with friends on the Nissan 4×4 Owners Club, it seems likely that the rear anti-roll bar is hampering flexibility. The advice is to remove it, but I shall consider this decision for a little longer yet.

There then followed some icy fording sections, reminding me that it had been very cold out this way recently. Thankfully the depths were not an issue and I was soon able to return to the beaten track once more.

So, there we have it. My first off-road spell and I’m pretty impressed. It struggled with axle articulation, as I suspected it might do, but I did not get irretrievably stuck and it felt very capable. A longer, more challenging route will be attempted as part of a group this coming weekend. I shall report back.

Project Budget 4×4: Budget gets stretched

Brake work on the Maverick continues, but all is not well. After the horrors of finding one front brake pad worn down to the metal, the overhaul has revealed further issues.

Ford Maverick tinkering

Yet more brake trauma. It should be great after all of this work! (axle stand more secure than it looks...)

The first step was to pull apart the offside brake – the one with the faulty caliper. During this work, it quickly became apparent that the slide pins that the caliper moves on were totally seized up. This is what caused extreme wear on one pad – the seized caliper pistons just exaggerated the problem. The advice on the Nissan 4×4 Owners Club forum was to remove the entire caliper assembly, so it can be worked on away from the vehicle. If I had a big vice, this would have worked nicely, but I only have a battered Black & Decker workmate, which wouldn’t really help.

The caliper itself is a unit that holds the pads. There are two caliper pots on one side which act directly on one brake pad. The pressure then pulls the whole caliper towards the inside of the car, which thereby acts upon the opposite brake pad. Presumably this is an economic measure as most 4x4s would have four caliper pots per front brake, rather than the two used here. I consider it a fairly flakey idea as it just allows something else to go wrong – the sliders in this case which prevented the caliper from moving correctly.

So, the caliper was quickly lifted out of the way. The next challenge was to remove the slider pins from the caliper carrier. Brute force was necessary, all the while bearing in mind that there’s a good chance of snapping the pins if you get carried away. The pins have a 17mm nut at the end, which initially made me think they had to be unscrewed. No. This is merely to allow you tighten up the 13mm headed bolts that hold the caliper to the carrier.

I used a lot of penetrating oil, and one pin responded well to a chisel and a hammer – eventually coming free. The top one was very, very stuck though. I tried waggling it back and forth with a spanner, then tried the chisel and hammer approach, all the while soaking it in penetrating oil. After a very lengthy battle, it finally came out. No wonder the caliper wasn’t working! On the passenger side, the pins moved beautifully under no more than light finger pressure.

Then I could remove the caliper carrier and then the hub and brake disc. This isn’t too tricky, though there are lots of bits to keep an eye on and remember where they live. The auto-locking hub has to come off (an ideal opportunity to lubricate), then a circlip and some washers, followed by the outer wheel bearing and finally the disc/hub.

Separating the disc and hub proved very tricky, on both sides. For a start, the 14mm headed bolts were a pain to undo. If I’d remembered the instructions I’d seen online, I would have undone these bolts while the brakes were still fitted. As it was, I had to use a bar to prevent the hub from turning. Then the hub and disc seemed almost welded together with rust and friction. It took another serious bout of hammer-and-chisel work to separate the two parts.

Then it was quite easy to fit the hubs to the new discs and re-assemble. A good opportunity to repack the bearings with grease.

Sadly, I ran into problems locating new sliding pins, so work drew to a halt. I thought I’d try reassembling the nearside caliper, but then realised that the pistons were seized here too! Annoyingly, I’d already ordered a new caliper for the offside, so missed an opportunity to combine postage. The calipers cost £67 each delivered. I did consider rebuilding the calipers, but I’ve done it before and it’s not much fun. The parts were proving almost as expensive as a remanufactured caliper anyway, so the bullet was bitten. That means that total expenditure is now past my original £800 desire. I am left hoping that future months will be much cheaper!

And that’s where the project remains for the moment. I’m awaiting parts and just to make life even more interesting, I strained my back badly while clearing up. I hope to recover in time to get the brakes completed this week…

Project Budget 4×4: More brake woes

Last time I took the Maverick for a drive, it made such horrible grinding noises that I quickly turned around and came back home, being rather gentle with the middle pedal. It was the unmistakable grind of metal on metal, which surprised me as a sneaky peak at the pads with a wheel off (for a tyre change) had shown plenty of life left.

Very worn pad

Jeepers! Very glad I didn't try driving further with this

Today, I got the wheel off during a service and was horrified at what I found. The inner pad – very difficult to see on a casual inspection – had no pad material left on it at all! No wonder it was noisy. It seems that the common issue of caliper pistons seizing had jammed the inner pad against the disc. What I find surprising is that this binding generate only a small amount of heat – usually if a brake binds severely, the wheel becomes too hot to touch. Another clue that all was not well was the fact that it was pulling to the left under braking. The left-hand brake was clearly doing most of the stopping.

I’ll have to order a replacement caliper as the pistons are very seized. Naturally, the metal pad grinding on disc means that new discs and pads will need fitting too. I’m amazed that this didn’t cause a grinding sound on the test drive, nor the drive home…

New discs and pads are getting on for £60 – not too bad really – but the caliper may be more tricky. Reconditions replacements start at £58 plus delivery, rising up to as much as £100. Due to the budget nature of this project though, I’m going to first see if I can find a good second-hand unit.

Other work has progressed rather better. The oil was disgusting – looking like something you might find in a neglected diesel. That had to be changed, and a new oil filter was also fitted – a right pain due to exceedingly poor access. I also changed the coolant, spurred on by the fact that the coolant in the expansion tank actually froze last night. It has been very cold. I’m not sure this was as serious as it first appears as it looks to me like a one-way expansion tank – so isn’t actually part of the ‘live’ cooling system. I feel better knowing there’s a stronger mix in there now though, and the coolant change seems to have boosted heater output, so I suspect I’ve removed rather a lot of silt from the system.

I also changed the gunked up air filter, but not the spark plugs as I was sent the wrong ones. Therefore, this project is on hold until items arrive. And snow is forecast this weekend…

Project: Budget 4×4. Hiccups

There is always a danger when you buy at the bottom of the market, especially when you do so sight unseen!

Ford Maverick swb

Brake issues strike the Budget 4x4

The Maverick has a brake issue, that wasn’t revealed until long after I’d paid my money and got home. In fact, the problems started when I went and bought some new tyres. Two of the wheelnuts on one rear wheel were missing! I opted to take the spare wheel off the rear door and stash it inside so I could safely make it home. The owner of our local hotel has a Terrano that’s going to be scrapped, so I was able to pinch the nuts. Thanks to the Hafod Hotel! This hotel is also responsible for supplying our wood burning stove. Lovely people. They also have beds and a bar, providing rather more traditional hotel services!

I decided that the poor handbrake needed attention on the Maverick, as it resolutely refused to hold the car on the slope our driveway has as it joins the road. I’m a fully signed up member of the Nissan Owners Club – remember that my Ford is entirely Nissan beyond the badge – and downloaded a useful guide on how to adjust your handbrake. This was delightfully simple to do. You remove the centre console, which is held by four screws (you can leave in situ and get under it, but it’s easier with it out of the way). This enables you to slacken the handbrake cable, so you can easily remove the rear drums. These are self-adjusting (ha!) but the trick is to tweak them up until you can just get the shoes on. All well and good. Pump the footbrake a few times, then check they aren’t binding. While the back end of the truck was safely and securely raised, I decided it’d be fun to put it in gear and really get the rear axle spinning. It’s a good way of checking the brakes work! Sure enough, a slight tug on the handbrake and it stalled. Excellent. the footbrake however did absolutely nothing at all. Hmmm. That’s not right. I repeated my adjustment procedure to make sure I hadn’t got something badly wrong. Nope. Handbrake was working fine and a test drive revealed that it (just about) held it on the steep slope.

So it seems the rear brakes are not working at all when operated by the footbrake. This is a dual circuit system (front/rear) so suspicion is focusing on the master cylinder at the moment, though the clearly-very-seized bleed screw on the top of the rear load compensating valve is a cause for concern. The rear pipes have all been removed, but if there’s air trapped here, the brakes will not work.

Investigations are continuing. Incidentally, the new tyres cost £150 fully inclusive, with another £60 (!) spent on the necessary fluids for a service – including 3-litres of Limited Slip Differential oil for the back axle. Another £15 has been spent on other service items – plugs and filters – bringing total expenditure so far up to £725. Still some room  for whatever brake parts are necessary within my £800 budget.

I’m not too disheartened at this stage. Without a rolling road, it’s nigh on impossible to check whether the rear brakes are working on a car as the fronts do most of the stopping. When you buy cheap, you always run the risk of there being issues – there almost always are. I’ve spent a lot of time crawling around beneath my new purchase and I’m pleased to note that it is very solid. I may need to buy some anti-corrosion products to make sure it stays that way…

Project: Budget 4×4

After the massive enjoyment factor delivered by my Range Rover last year, I decided I just had to get another 4×4. You may recall that the Rangie had to go due to a heater problem and the onset of winter. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but too late now…

After anxiously enjoying a mild winter, that has generally failed to deliver OMG SNO KAOS thus far, I felt it was time to get another 4×4. A sensible person would wait until March, because 4×4 prices tend to slump as the weather gets milder. Not me though. I reckoned that if I was lucky, I’d grab a bargain despite the season. I was helped by mild conditions that have left people less desperate to get a 4×4 themselves.

Ebay is just one tool for finding a car. I’d also gone along to a Brightwells 4×4 auction for a magazine feature (to be featured later in the year in 4×4 Magazine – another reason to get a 4×4 again!), and watched the bidding with interest. Very little was coming into my meagre budget in either avenue, though perusing many classifieds sites left me in hope that I could achieve a purchase. The question was what do I go for?

I decided I didn’t much care as long as it was within budget, and this technique can be useful. I still drew up a short list. I decided I wanted reliability, solidity, a low-range gearbox and something that wouldn’t be horrific on the road. Mitsubishi Pajeros were an early contender, but they’re not as reliable as you may think. Both 2.5 (head gaskets) and 2.8 (cracked heads) have their issues, and they’re a bit blingy. Vauxhall Fronteras looked to fit the bill, but they’ve always been a bit agricultural, and they’ve had some poor engines fitted over the years.

A forgotten vehicle is the Ford Maverick, also known as the Nissan Terrano II. In fact, Ford’s input was a heap of cash and a box of blue oval badges, so the design is 100% Nissan, down to the engines and the factory they were built in – Nissan’s Spanish one. I’d never driven one, but they were well regarded when new for good road manners and decent off-road behaviour – the latter due to low ratio gears, a separate chassis, good ground clearance and a limited slip rear differential. I began to cast around for an example and had a look on Ebay. I was surprised to find one up for auction in Swansea. It had two minutes to go but hadn’t managed to attract an opening bid of £500. This despite MOT and Tax. Sure, the pictures weren’t brilliant and the text ran to an entire 74 words, but surely this was a bargain? I clicked ‘bid’ and began to very much hope so!

I didn’t have long to wait to see if anyone else would bid. No-one did. I was the winner! Now the anxiety really began to kick in. I’d not bought a car blind since our Mini in 2006. It’s generally a bad idea I think, but 2 minutes didn’t give me time to drive to Swansea and back. I had to be brave.

Maverick 2.4i petrol swb

New purchase seems actually quite good...

I also had to plan how I’d get there. Public transport in Wales is very hit and miss and Arriva didn’t really help by refusing to indicate what their bus fares were. Happily, a friend of a friend offered me a lift for fuel money. A lot easier, even if it was in a Vauxhall Tigra (not a bad little car really, bar the horrific ride). There were issues getting hold of my money (thanks to banks) but eventually the amount of £500 was acquired and I could go buy a car.

On arrival, it certainly looked good. There was a dent (as shown on Ebay) below the left-hand rear side window, and a few scratches, but otherwise all was well. It started first turn of the key, ran smoothly and a quick test drive failed to reveal anything suspicious. Cash was handed over, the V5 was signed and we were on our way. After a cup of tea… (some sellers are very nice!)

I really wanted a Maverick or Terrano with the excellent 2.7 Turbo Diesel engine, but this £500 Maverick had to make do with the Nissan 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. That means torque is not exactly prodigious, but it’s possible to make good progress without having to wring its neck. In fact, my pal in the Tigra was surprised at how quick it could be – though that’s often said of people trying to keep up with me in the 2CV as well. It’s not what you’ve got…

Not that I was hurtling into bends with reckless abandon. You can’t help feeling that it’s going to fall over if you really push it, though I’m sure it’s more stable than it appears. Certainly, I was able to push on a bit later in the journey, encouraged by accurate steering and reassuring grip.

The ride was a touch bouncy, but not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s some way short of Range Rover composure, but then it handles far less like a wallowy barge. One real surprise is how tight the turning circle it is, especially after a day behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Delica L400! (see separate Blog once I’ve written it…). The gearchange is as I like it. Very tight but quite clunky, as if you can feel the cogs merging when you change.

In fact, the only downside was very squeaky windscreen wipers. They were horrific! Happily I cured them with some spray grease when I got home.

There are some other minor grumbles, but way fewer than you might expect of a cheap ‘banger’ such as this. Some interior trim is broken and the electric windows are both slow. More grease should help here. I’m also slightly concerned at the lack of a ‘following’ for these vehicles. Forum help and advice is never in short supply if you own a Range Rover or Pajero.

I reckon it might just be the perfect car for me at the moment though. I look forward to putting it through its paces off-road!