Russ Smith

See other Advice articles filed in ‘Used tow car buyer’ written by Russ Smith
   
Bargain heavyweight tow cars don't come much better than the 2003-2007 Hyundai Terracan, reveals used car expert Russ Smith, if you can live with its looks

The Hyundai Terracan seems to have a lot of fans – we’ve even been asked by several people to review it. What a shame there are so few of them about. If we start a rush, some people will be disappointed, and it may even push up prices. So what is the Terracan?

It’s an old-school Tonka toy of a 4x4, built on a separate chassis. It’s big, rugged and short on looks, but in an action hero way. If you dressed one, it would be in a torn vest, an ammo belt and a bandana.

It’s no pretend off-roader – these were built outback-tough as a proper Land Rover/Land Cruiser rival, just a lot cheaper to buy. Even the range-topping Limited version cost £19,995 in 2006, which was two-thirds the price of an equivalent Discovery, but the Hyundai was probably better equipped as standard.

They quickly built themselves a reputation as good tow cars for weighty stuff – horseboxes as well as caravans. The only complaints we’ve heard from owners is that Hyundai let the model die without a replacement in 2007.

Model history

The Terracan was sold in other markets around the world for two years before arriving in the UK, so it was well tested before we saw any. Other markets also got more engine choices – such as a 2.5-litre petrol four-pot and a 3.5-litre V6. Those were mentioned at the UK launch in July 2003, but none appear to have been sold, leaving us with the actually excellent non-choice of a 2.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel.

It isn’t the most refined of units, but it does seem to be practically bombproof and kicks out a steady 161bhp and 253lb ft of torque. Transmission options were a five-speed manual and, for £850-£1000 extra, a four-speed auto. It’s no surprise, then, that less than 20% of buyers went for the self-shifter.

That was about the only important option for the first five years of the Terracan’s UK life, but it did come very well equipped in standard form. Just some of the kit included for your £18,495 posh hatchback money was ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, climate control, roof rails, electric windows, rake and reach steering adjustment and electric heated mirrors.

Only in September 2006 did a higher specification level arrive: the Limited. For just £625 more than the standard car that gave you two-tone grey-and-black leather seats, tinted glass and a DVD player. Again it was available with the manual or automatic gearbox.

Production ended in May 2007, but you can find the odd Terracan registered on an 08 plate. Around 4200 were sold here, and such is their toughness that those numbers are only now starting to decline, though you rarely see many for sale.

Trouble spots

Make sure you test drive the Hyundai Terracan with the radio off and the chattering owner/salesperson turned down so you can listen for any whine from the rear differential. This was a weak point from the off and many were replaced under the five-year warranty, but that’s long gone now. The whine can sometimes be cured by using LS-90 differential oil, which is now known to be the right grade to use here. Check the history file to see whether any bills mention that this has been added. If so, and there’s still a whine, move on.

Something else to look for in the history file is when the cambelt was last replaced. This should be done at 60,000-mile or five-year intervals, whichever is sooner. It’s around a £400 job, and should include replacing both tensioner pulleys. When it hasn’t been done, they’ve been known to fail after 70,000-80,000 miles, throwing the belt off. So you want to see bills that mention those pulleys, too, or at least budget to have them replaced as soon as possible.

Luckily, it’s easy to see under the car, where there are a few things to check. One is for damage caused by more adventurous off-roading. Even moderate scrapes can compromise rustproofing, and it means that mechanical parts will have been under more than average strain. Also look for rusty brake pipes, which are now a common MoT fail or advisory issue. You should check for fluid leaks from the engine, gearbox and axles. If bad, they can be expensive to rectify, depending on how hard it is to get at a particular seal.

At the prices they now fetch, don’t underestimate tyre wear in the deal; a new set is about £350.

Verdict

Having written this and seen how cheap Terracans have become – even for what sound like good ones – I’m a convert myself and am now wondering about a purchase. This is a real low-budget, pull-anything-anywhere tow car. The only reason for not buying a Terracan is that you can’t live with something as ugly and image-free on your drive. But if you don’t give an aardvark about what the Joneses think, and don’t mind being edge-of-the-herd, this is an excellent choice, especially for twin-axle action.

We think the top tug of the range is the Hyundai Terracan 2.9 CRTD Limited – well, it's hard not to be a sucker for leather trim and matching mats, and there’s little price difference between this and a standard one.

On the other hand, we'd advise walking away from any example with differential whine. It will only get worse and will cost a lot to repair.

What you need to know

Right now, you're looking at about £1250-£5500 for a 2003-2007 Hyundai Terracan.

You can gather almost all you need to know from the following ad: “2004 Terracan, one lady owner, full history, recent cambelt, 92,000 miles, looks and drives good, long MoT, £1999.” And that was from a dealer. There are yet more attractive deals for not much more; there was even a 48,000-mile, one-owner car being offered for under £3000, and an 82,000-mile Limited with good history for the same money.

If you want one of the newest you may need to pay as much as £4500; higher prices are being asked, but the cars they’re attached to don’t look any better.

Here are some useful figures (for a 2006 Terracan 2.9 CRTD Limited):

  • Kerbweight 2265kg
  • 85% match 1925kg
  • Towing limit 2800kg
  • Towball limit 112kg
      

If you're going to tow with a Terracan, as many owners do, and you need to fit a towbar, according to quotes from PF Jones, a Witter flange towbar will cost £125.12 to fit, while a Westfalia detachable towbar will be £186.00, fitting extra. And what about servicing? An interim service on a Terracan is £130.50 and a full service is £193.14 (quotes provided by Servicing Stop).

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