So, you want to buy a Mahindra? What? Are you mad?
The reason I'm asking is if you are expecting any comparison between a Jeep, any other 4x4, or in fact any 'modern car' built after 1990, then you will be bitterly disappointed. You are basically buying a car, though built in the 90's, owes it's origins to a 1950's design, and it drives and needs attention like one.
Before we begin, let's get some facts straight.
First, check out your prices and work out for yourself exactly how much you are prepared to spend, and above all else, how much work you are prepared to put into the vehicle. Spare parts are not cheap, and some may even be unobtainable as new. However, we have managed to source a lot of alternative parts that can be used and are found on this site. Mahindras need regular greasing and maintenance and to all intents and purposes, they are a real enthusiast's car. There is no dealer network or any service agents in the UK, and if you are not prepared to get your hands dirty, or you don't know one end of a spanner from another, then forget it, a Mahindra is not for you. But if you are prepared to spend some time, effort and money, and get your hands dirty, then a Mahindra will reward you with years of faithful service and above all, great enjoyment and fun - which is really what it's all about. Add to that the fact that the Mahindra Register was formed expressly to keep the Marque alive in the UK, and the membership will go to great lengths to help other owners with all sorts of problems.
Mahindra imported several models into the UK between 1989 and 1997. The mainstay of these where the SWB CJ340, the Brave and the LWB CJ540 version, the Chief. The Stockman model was originally designed for the Australian market for allegedly military use, but was rejected and a number of them were brought into the UK. They are virtually Braves, but with twin fuel tanks, revised dashboard and several other embellishments. The De-luxe model and Bahia where again derivatives of the Brave and Chief models but with sloping bonnets and in the case of the De-luxe square headlights and the Bahia, a revised front grill similar to the Jeep Wagoneer station wagon. The Bahia is the rarest of all Mahindras, and if you are offered one – grab it!!! Late in 1996, the final Brave/Chief derivative was imported in the form of the CL540 Classic. Revised dashboard, simplified single lever gearbox, front disc brakes and a genuine Peugeot 1.9 diesel engine where the main changes here. Another popular model was the Marksman, which was based on the Jeep CJ5/6, and was longer and heavier than any other Mahindra. The Marksman was the Rolls Royce of all Mahindras, and included proper steel doors with wind down windows. Three models appeared in the Marksman range, all with different tops, either full canvas, full fibreglass, or separate cab and rear fibreglass tops. The Marksman, for all it’s apparent luxury is the one model that does not fetch very high prices in comparison to other models.
So, what to look out for when buying a Mahindra. Well, for the purposes of this article, we are going to look at the CJ340/CJ540 models. There are small differences in other types of Mahindra, but the pitfalls are usually the same. I'm not going into details of HPi checks and condition of the tyres etc., but general points that are known problem areas.
The body tub should be in good condition and it's worth checking for any rust or damage that might affect the price. Notorious rust spots are the windscreen, especially around the seam welds and the soft-top rail above the glass. The front wings, especially where the wing joins the body tub and the seam weld half way up the wing should be given a good examination. The seam along the bonnet can be a rust trap as can the bonnet hinge mounting, Check the seam weld just behind the doors for corrosion and, moving round to the rear of the vehicle, the bottom of the tailgate, While looking at the tailgate, check the condition of the welds on the spare wheel carrier, which are not really up to the standard, especially for the weight of the spare wheel. Inside the body tub, check the condition of the rear wings where they join the body, and lift up the rubber matting or carpet if there is one and check the weld across the body tub floor just behind the front seats. Other inner welds and joins should be checked but are not generally bad areas for rust.
This is a very strong ladder frame construction which is welded and riveted together. Generally speaking, there should be no major problems here, and no major corrosion or rust holes. Look at the spring hangers though and the shock absorber mounts. Also check the spring grease nipples have plenty of grease around them, as it is a sign the car has had some maintenance at least. Check for any off roading damage to the chassis or underside of the car. Most Mahindras will have been used at some time or another off road, as they are so capable when taken into the mud, none of your namby-pamby school runs for these vehicles.......... On Marksman models, the fuel tank is slung under the rear of the chassis, and this should be checked, along with the fuel lines that run along the chassis rail for damage or any leaks.
Engine and Gearbox/Drive Train
The Peugeot XDP 490 2.1 Ltr engine that is fitted as standard to all UK Mahindras is generally regarded as bombproof, but it does need regular attention and maintenance. In the Peugeot 504/5/7 (the taxi drivers favourites in the 80's) for which they were designed, mileages in excess of 200,000 where the norm, provided they had been well looked after at regular intervals. However, the engine in the Mahindra is mated to a KIA built gearbox which is incredibly low geared, and no matter how much attention you lavish on the engine, this low gearing can cause the engine to wear out prematurely. Fortunately, spares for the engine are readily available from most good motor factors, and it's not a difficult engine to work on.
When starting from cold, a small amount of blue or white smoke is normal which should disappear very quickly. Black smoke or any knocking or rattles from the engine could mean a costly overhaul, and don't be fooled by any low mileage examples - mileage in a Mahindra means nothing as if the engine hasn't had regular oil/filter changes every 3000 miles, it could be worn out by the time it reaches 15000 miles. Check the oil cap and dipstick for any white traces in the oil - this could be due to a cylinder head gasket leak. Check the oil pressure gauge works and reads between 2 and 4 BAR when the engine is idling at working temperature. Oil leaks from the front and rear main oil seals are not uncommon, but most engines will have suffered from this in their early life and will have had genuine Peugeot seals fitted which are of far superior standards than the Indian ones originally fitted. Unscrew the radiator cap when the engine is cold and check the coolant. It should be just covering the bottom of the radiator pipes and should be blue or green, showing it contains anti-freeze, which must be left in all year round. Failure to keep the cooling system with an antifreeze mix can make the cylinder liners rust and drop into the sump. Check the condition of the top radiator hose as these are difficult to replace and you might have to make one up yourself if you can't find a replacement.
The gearbox is a four speed manual transmission, which does not have synchromesh on first gear. This is generally bullet proof, again providing it has been properly maintained and the oil changed regularly. Some models may have been fitted with an overdrive unit which aids fuel economy and prolongs engine life as it in effect acts as a fifth gear. Looks for any oil leaks, especially where the Speedo cable enters the gearbox as the fibre washer can perish, although this is not a major job to repair. The four-wheel drive system is a part time one, which is operated by two separate gear levers. One for 2 wheel, or normal driving and four wheel off roading operation, and the other lever for high or low ratios. Some models may be fitted with Free Wheeling Hubs on the front wheel, which can be distinguished by a dial.
To check the operation of the four-wheel drive system, turn the dial to the four-wheel drive position - it should be easy to turn (if fitted) and engage four wheel drive low or high ratio. If you are on a road, drive the car in a straight line, don't under any circumstances turn the steering wheel or take any corners as you might wind the transmission up causing very expensive damage to the four wheel drive system. The car should move forward slower than in two wheel drive mode. If possible, you should find some gravel, or a grassy area to test the four-wheel drive system. Remember when you have finished testing it to return the free wheeling hubs to their normal position. Check for oil leaks on the front and rear diffs, and the front inner hubs and CV joints.
Brakes and Clutch:
Both of these are operated by separate hydraulic systems and the master cylinders should be checked to see if the correct amount of fluid is in both of them. The braking system is servo assisted via a compressor running from a drive belt on the engine. This operates onto two drum brakes on each wheel. Don't expect any wonders from these and you can expect the vehicle to 'wander' when braking and pull to one side. This is usually caused by badly adjusted brakes and is an easy, if not time-consuming fix. Always allow yourself plenty of time for braking in a Mahindra, so beware, as they will certainly not be to the standard you might be used to in your everyday car. The clutch, which is hydraulically operated, should be easy to operate and all gears should engage with the minimum of fuss. There might be a slight grating when first gear is engaged, but any heavy crunching of this and any other gear could be due to a major gearbox or clutch problem. Watch out for any sign of the clutch slipping as you pull away or accelerate. Clutch kits are available, but are expensive.
The cable-operated handbrake operates on a drum, mounted on the propeller shaft and can only be described as "as much use as a chocolate teapot". If it holds the vehicle on even the slightest gradient, then it can be regarded as being in good order. Personally, I always make sure I put the car in first gear when parking as well as using the handbrake, just to be on the safe side........
These are very simple and basic and do have a mind of their own on occasions. Intermittent faults can and do appear, and are usually caused by poor connections or short circuits in and around the rear lights. Water can get into the light fittings causing short circuits. The connections for the rear lights are very prone to corrosion due to their location on the insides of the rear crossmember. The front side repeaters are prone to intermittent faults as they are exposed to a lot of water in bad weather conditions and are a simple push fit into the lenses.
Gauges are generally ok, but the Amp meter can be 'lazy' and the fuel gauge needle bounces around a lot. As a general rule of thumb, if the needle shows between quarter and three quarters full, there is plenty of fuel in the tank. The fourteen warning lights should all work as should the four rocker switches for the cab heater, front spot lights if fitted, hazard and rear fog warning lights. It goes without saying that you should check all the lights work properly.
The ignition barrel and lock fitted to later vehicles were made by Fiat and are of better quality than the original ones fitted to early cars.
The starter motor solenoid has been known to play up on most Mahindras and it is almost standard practice to get a solitary click on occasions when trying to start the car. Pushing the gear lever through the gears without using the clutch usually cures this for the car to start. In reality though, at some stage, the starter will have to be taken off and looked at.
This can only be described as heavy, vague and just about adequate. Expect the car to wander a bit on tarmac. Check the track rods and ball joints. They should be well greased and should only have a little play in the track rod arms when you push and pull them. One very suspect part of the steering is the relay box. This is bolted to the crossmember just below the radiator grill on the off side of the car. There is a Pitman arm, or bell crank leading from the bottom of this to the main track rod. Standing above this arm, reach down and try to move the crank up and down. If there is any movement here it means that the relay box bearings have gone and will have to be replaced. Power assisted steering was not fitted as standard to these cars.
Soft-top and doors:
Most original soft tops and doors will be in very poor condition by now. Replacement tops are readily available, and budget £300 at least for one. Doors, however are a different matter and can be hard to find. The metal frames tend to break around their welded joints, but the covers can be replaced – at a cost…If the doors that are on the car are in reasonable condition, check the window zip fasteners are working and that the doorframe welds, especially in the middle of the door are not broken.
I've deliberately left out the obvious things to check like the vehicle has the correct documentation and the chassis numbers and engine numbers match up, and the fact that it should have four wheels and a spare, concentrating on the major things that you should be aware of when buying a Mahindra.
Driving the car on the road is very agricultural and tractor like. Mahindras are slow and noisy, with a top speed of around the 55 MPH for those not fitted with overdrive. Yep, 0 - 60 in about three weeks.........Fit some larger tyres though, especially Mud Terrains and they are remarkable off road, rivalling the best anywhere, which is what they were designed for in the first place.
Some basic spare part prices as at January 2002
Soft top £300
Steering Relay £60
Track rod ends £15 and £40
Brake Shoes £ 32 per axle
Exhaust System £260
Clutch kit £135
Starter Motor £40
Windscreen - less glass £120
Front wings £ 110 each
You might have to wait for some of these parts to arrive, so be prepared to order them early.
Fortunately, most Jeep/Willys parts will fit and you can source these through the specialist 4x4 magazines.
So, there you have it. A rough guide to buying a Meccano set, I mean Mahindra. They are easy to work on, a joy to drive, and I mean drive and you don't half get a lot of funny looks. If you want a 4x4 that is reliable and you can work on quite easily yourself, then a Mahindra could just be what you are looking for, but remember - A Mahindra is not just for the summer months - so don't let your heart rule your head.
If after reading this you decide to buy a Mahindra, then you are going to buy a car with a huge amount of endearing qualities and, given the proper care and attention they deserve, will reward you with a lifetime of motoring enjoyment. You are joining a small and select band of happy nutters, who would rather sell their own Grandmother than their Mahindra. Welcome to the mad-house, which is where we came in!
This article is purely intended to give general guidance to any person who is interested in purchasing a Mahindra and who is not aware or does or has not owned a Mahindra in the past. Its contents are written purely on the basis of personal observation and owning several Mahindra vehicles myself.
The place to discuss the Register itself
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Dug out from the archives, Martin Gliddon's article about buying a Mahindra. Written 10 years ago but still makes a lot of sense now.
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