DOMINIC LAWSON: I thought my old Land Rover was dodgy

DOMINIC LAWSON: I thought my old Land Rover was dodgy until I met the lock stock geezers who took me for a ride!

Mail readers are not omniscient. But I’m always open to your advice. I got a lot of it when back in August I wrote about the hopelessness of the AA after our family car broke down with transmission failure during our return from summer holiday in Cornwall.

I had mentioned that our car was a ‘somewhat battered 14-year-old Land Rover Discovery’. And it was this, rather than what I had thought was the point of the article — the AA’s inefficiency — that provoked numerous readers to respond.

Here are just a few: ‘Land Rover Discovery gearbox failure. No news there, then.’

‘I wouldn’t attempt such a journey in a new Land Rover Disco[very], let alone a 14-year-old one.’

I had mentioned that our car was a ‘somewhat battered 14-year-old Land Rover Discovery’. Stock image

‘Never buy a Land Rover Disco. You will be on first-name terms with the main dealers, due to being on their forecourt so often.’

‘Next time buy a Japanese car. We got to know many AA relay drivers when we owned a Land Rover.’

‘When you get rid of your clapped-out Land Rover, buy Japanese: they are far more reliable.’ 


The bit about my familiarity with the forecourt of my local Land Rover dealer was on the button — but I was happy to be on first-name terms with their mechanics, as they were all so friendly and helpful. On the other hand, the bills were less of a pleasure to deal with.

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In fact, I have had one or other of the generations of the Land Rover Discovery for almost a quarter of a century — since we moved to the Sussex countryside, and a house not even on a road but half a mile down a track.

And it was the ideal vehicle for shifting the odd sheep that we kept in our field. But they are no more, long ago eaten and not replaced. 

In fact the older — pre 2004 — Discovery never gave us any trouble. Simply put, the earlier models weren’t fitted with the technology that seems to be the source of so many problems now — electronic rather than mechanical.

And so, with Alan’s help (and infinite patience), I identified the perfect replacement from a garage in neighbouring Kent: a 2008 Lexus RX400h SE-L, on offer for £7,400. Stock image

On the other hand, as readers pointed out, the Japanese seem able to build cars which are both technologically sophisticated, but also completely reliable — more so than the vaunted German manufacturers, too. And the most reliable of all the Japanese brands is Lexus.

This is not an advertisement: it is just that I have finally done the basic research, and this wing of Toyota has headed British and American owner-reported ‘reliability’ ratings for year after year, both those conducted by JD Power (the biggest such survey) and by What Car?

Meanwhile, Land Rover continued to bump along near the bottom of the ratings, even though they have apparently improved since 2012, when What Car? concluded they were ‘the UK’s least reliable manufacturer, with a shocking 71 per cent of cars breaking down at least once every year’. 

So, this month I finally decided to replace my Disco with a Lexus — with the aid of my Sussex neighbour Alan Judd. 

Alan is an ex-paratrooper turned novelist — one of his books based on his army experiences, A Breed Of Heroes, was made into a film.

More relevantly in this context, he is a motoring columnist. And so, with Alan’s help (and infinite patience), I identified the perfect replacement from a garage in neighbouring Kent: a 2008 Lexus RX400h SE-L, on offer for £7,400. 

It had just over 102,000 miles on the clock, but Alan reassured me: ‘These cars are so well made, that is nothing. They will go on beautifully for ever, provided they are looked after.’ And with a high wheel base, it would certainly have no problem negotiating our track.

The ‘h’ in Lexus RX400h stands for ‘Hybrid’: at low speeds it operates on twin electric motors, which means it won’t be heavily clobbered by the ever-increasing emission charges penalising those who drive stonking diesels (like my old Disco) into London. 

Anyway, I’ve owned it for a couple of weeks now: its padded leather seats are so comfortable and its multi-speaker sound system so sumptuous, I might well move into it full time. 


There was only one problem. What to do with the now 15-year-old Discovery HSE Turbo-Diesel, with 157,000 miles under its (increasingly smelly) belt?

Of course, I wanted to get what I could for it, but when I asked the garage selling the Lexus whether it would part-exchange, its owner shook his head: ‘Almost any other sort of car, yes. But not one of these. The amount of money and time it takes to make them saleable…sorry, we’ve stopped even trying.’

So I consulted our dog-sitter, Jane, a stalwart of the community, to see if any locals might be interested. She put the word out. One came to have a look; otherwise, nothing. 

But Alan said — he knows about such things — that it should fetch up to £2,500, if I was prepared to advertise and wait for a decent offer.

I didn’t want to wait, however, not least because it was quite an expense to keep it insured. 

And then, flicking through a local paper, I saw the following: ‘Cars and vans wanted for cash today. Good, clean, or damaged. Call now for the best prices paid from a reputable, honest and well-established company.’

So I called the mobile number provided and a few days later, two men turned up. Jane stared at them as they got out of their car and muttered: ‘Blimey, straight out of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.’ 

Well, they did have London accents, and one of them looked and sounded as though he might have been hit around the head once too often, but I still thought she was being a bit harsh.

Anyway, the other — a smooth talker with chiselled looks, I’d guess in his 50s — inspected the car, pointed out that it was battered (a fact already disclosed to Daily Mail readers), that its seats had clearly been chewed by dogs (mice actually, but I allowed him the point), and said it was hardly worth his time.

Then, of course, the real negotiations began. Eventually, we shook on £2,100. He went into the back of his car, and pulled out two thick wodges of £50 notes, each apparently amounting to £1,000. He handed them to me, along with £100 in £20 notes. 


I invited him into the kitchen, so I could count the notes out on a table. Sure enough, they added up to £2,100. After a brief chat, I put them in my pocket. Deal done. And off the London geezers went, one driving the Disco.

‘Well, that was easy,’ I said to Jane. Then I pulled the money out of my pocket, and, for some reason, decided to count the notes again. It came to £1,650. Again. Same result. ‘I could have found some local villains for you, if that was what you wanted,’ said Jane.

I rang one of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. He pointed out that I had counted the money in front of him. I said I couldn’t argue with that, and had concluded that he was a magician — as I couldn’t work out how £450 had disappeared between me counting the money and putting it in my pocket.

‘Mate, if I was a magician with money I’d be living in Monaco,’ he replied.

I rang Alan. ‘The oldest trick in the book,’ he said, ‘and you never think it can happen to you.’ But I still have no idea how the trick worked.

When my wife got home and I reported all this to her, she called the mobile of the ‘reputable honest and well-established company’ (the reason why there was no landline, or indeed name, was now evident). 

The smooth talking one suggested to her that the money was short ‘because your husband might be holding some of it back from you’.

Though my wife was furious, I was beginning to find this quite funny: both my own naivety and the rapid East End wit of the new owners of my clapped-out Disco. And, to be fair, the sum I had actually got for it was probably no less than it would have realised in part-exchange.

But I am a bit concerned about whoever ends up buying it off them (after they have hammered out the bumps and repaired the damage the mice inflicted). It can only be someone as foolish as me.

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