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Broken Roof

Posted: July 17, 2011 5:06:22 • 1172 words

Recap: I own a 2003 Land Rover Freelander SE3, which is a 2-door half-convertible SUV. The roof it came with is the standard hard-top, which is awesome because it's well-insulated, but it weighs over 60 pounds and it's basically the entire rear quarter of the truck, so removing it is a pain, especially by myself.

Well, yesterday was a pretty beautiful day, and the urge to drive around with no roof was particularly strong, so I decided to take the roof off in the afternoon, in time for a bunch of afternoon errands. Unfortunately, despite the air temperature being relatively decent, it was a beautiful sunny day, and the removable part of the roof is made of aluminum. Painted flat black. And the back of the truck faces southeast when parked. So, it was hot enough to cause genuine burns if I handled the outside of it for too long. Ouch!

I managed to get it inside my apartment, and I have a perfect spot for it, between the couch and the wall next to the door. Except, with the roof so hot, I couldn't get a proper grip on it to get it into place. When I initially set it down, it was too close to the door for the door to close, and I couldn't get my hands on it long enough to move it to the side without scratching it. Finally, out of desperation, I grabbed one of the clamps to use as a handle; I wasn't planning to put a full amount of force on it, I just needed something to hold onto, to help lift and slide. Unfortunately, I didn't make it that far; it seems the clamps are held on with a flimsy plastic hinge, and the material is heat-sensitive (which explains why the roof rattles so badly on a hot day). The simple act of pulling on it in the same direction it's pulled on when the roof is attached caused the clamp to snap off like a toothpick.

Crap.

Now, if this were any other vehicle, my first step would be to check used parts dealers, Ebay, and other assorted places. Even for a Land Rover, a pretty oddball/exotic make in the US, parts usually can be found if you're an enthusiast and know where to look. However, the Freelander SE3 was an extremely rare version; less than 2000 were ever made, worldwide, and while I can't find exact figures, I know it was a popular option in Australia, so I'd guess that maybe half of that 2000 made it to the US. If that. On top of that, anyone parting out an SE3 model isn't going to want to disassemble the roof, since that would kinda make it useless. Sure enough, a cursory search yielded absolutely zero results, so I called the dealership.

I've dealt with the dealership before, with my old Discovery, and it was never a particularly useful experience. They're the most friendly car dealership I've ever had the pleasure of working with, awesome customer service, but their prices are so nightmarish that even BMW owners would cringe. This is the same dealership that wanted over $800 for an alternator, $350 for a windshield wiper switch, and $250 to install a pair of headlight bulbs. So, for a rather complex roof latch on a vehicle that even makes Land Rover enthusiasts say "WTF is that thing??", I was expecting a pretty painful price quote, if they could get it at all.

The parts guy I talked to was awesome, but as I expected, he had no idea what I was talking about, and hadn't seen one of these in-person since they were new (Fun fact: Land Rover Richmond has only ever had 1 Freelander SE3, the showroom demo). So, while it took over an hour to find the roof clamp in their catalog (and confirm that it was the part I was looking for, thanks to Rover's cryptic component names and diagrams), we did eventually track it down, and by some miracle, they even had one in their warehouse (the alternative is to have it ship from England, which can take weeks, as I discovered with the aforementioned wiper switch). Yay! I went ahead and ordered it, and it should be here around Wednesday. The price? $100. Not that I could afford $100 right now, but I was able to borrow enough to cover it. And, really, that's an acceptable price. Still kinda high for a plastic lever-thingy, but for a dealer part that I can install myself and that I can count on receiving in a few business days, it's not too awful.

I initially thought this meant I'd have no roof until Wednesday, which was rather nice today, and I figured I could cover it in a tarp if needed. But, after examining the clamps in greater detail, it looked like I might be able to get the broken one to close; all that silly-looking design complexity turned out to be useful after all! I figured it was worth a try, since we'll have rain on Tuesday and painfully-hot temperatures until then, so with my mom's generous help, we put the roof on and tried to clamp it down. Nearly an hour of struggling later, I finally got the darn thing to latch, yay! Definitely still getting the replacement clamp, I like taking the roof off too much to deal with that every time, but it'll hold until I get the replacement.

All this got me thinking about the soft-top kit again. It was an option that the previous owner of my truck either didn't get (I don't think she even removed the roof the whole time she owned it), or kept and sold separately when she traded it in. Either way, I don't have one, and with the rarity of the vehicle combined with the initial expense of the soft top, they're essentially impossible to find. When they do come up, they typically cost upwards of $500. But, it's tempting, especially if I do end up keeping this truck long-term (it's my current plan). The hard top is quite nice, and very comfy; it's well-insulated, so it's considerably quieter than a convertible rightfully should be. However, it's such a pain to remove, and it obviously can't be stored in the truck, so I can only take it off when I'm at home and have a safe place to put it. If I want to go out to the woods with the top open, for example, I have to leave the roof at home. And, even if I had triple the strength I do, it'd still be near-impossible to install it myself, due to its bulk. With as much as I love opening the roof, the soft top would be really fun, even with as complex as it is. Plus, I could sell it later for probably what I paid for it or more. I just don't have that kind of money right now, or likely anytime soon.