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Where does the Isuzu Dmax fall short?

I’ve been a Toyota fan for a long time. They make great vehicles, and I’d happily own most of their range. That said, our replacement 4WD from the 80 Series Land Cruiser was an Isuzu Dmax; a step in a very different direction.

I’ve had the Dmax now two years now, and clocked up nearly 40,000km in it. They are a great vehicle, with a solid foundation, great engine and reputable gearbox (if you get the auto) and good quality gear used overall.

However, I’m not brand biased, or so attached to it that I fail to mention its shortcomings, and every single 4WD out there has at least a couple. Sometimes their owners will acknowledge it, but more often than not they don’t!

Isuzu Dmax offroad

Our 2016 Isuzu Dmax

Please note this post is my opinion only, and its up to you to do your own, independent research. I’m more than happy to share my opinion, but don’t base your decisions off them without doing extensive research elsewhere.

Frills and fancy bits

There’s no doubt that the Dmax lacks in the fancy bits department. If you want a Ute that has all the bells and whistles, a Dmax is not it. They are a bit agricultural, truck like if you will, and that’s exactly what a select portion of the market wants.

I couldn’t care less about chrome bits, fancy dash boards, leather seats, lights that come on when you unlock the car and the long list of other things that some people find important. I wanted a solid vehicle, with vinyl floors that could be taken away with minimal fuss and relative comfort. Being the SX version (base model) our Dmax has a similar interior to that of a 15 year old vehicle, and that’s OK with me. It might not be for you.

Our Isuzu Dmax

Electric windows are about as fancy as this one gets!

Power

At 130kw at the engine, and 380NM of torque, the Dmax is not leading the market here either. It’s got enough power to be reasonable, and a lot if you are used to some of the older diesel 4WD’s, but its got nothing on  other Utes like the Ford Ranger, Ford Raptor or V6 Volkswagen Amarok.

If you are towing anything heavier than 2.5 tonne (which you probably shouldn’t be with a Dmax anyway) you are going to feel it, substantially. You will not be able to sit on 100km/h when there are hills at all around; it just won’t happen.

Our Dmax has bigger tyres, a big canopy and a fair bit of weight, and you feel it towing a camper trailer around the 1.5 tonne mark. We’ve just recently gone and bought a Lifestyle Reconn R2 Hypercamper which is about 2 – 2.5 tonnes loaded and you really notice it!

It will sit on 100 most of the time, but it has to work hard to do so. Of course, there are lots of options when it comes to improving power and the 4JJ1 motor is extremely popular for getting huge power figures from with reliability remaining largely unchanged.

Dmax motor

The 4JJ1 motor. Bulletproof, but not the greatest power house on the market

Weak CV’s

Independent front suspension vehicles are notorious for breaking CV’s, especially when a lift is fitted. The Dmax CV’s seem to be at a disadvantage from the factory though, with the differential sitting slightly further back than it other vehicles, and this puts more stress on them to start off with.

Some people have broken CV’s with factory tyres and no lift. Touch wood, I’ve had no issues with bigger tyres and a 30mm lift kit, but I drive it as carefully as possible and have installed a diff drop kit. The thing to remember is that if your wheel comes off the ground and lands hard when the tyre is spinning your chances of breaking a CV increase hugely. I know a number of people who’ve hammered their vehicles and not broken anything, so maybe its part luck/driver ability too.

That, and don’t hop the vehicle; as soon as it starts to bounce, stop and re-think what you are doing. Keep bouncing the front end and you’ll end up in broken CV territory very quickly.

Dmax diff drop difference

We’ve fitted a diff drop to the Dmax

Weak tie rods

If you see a broken Dmax on the side of a 4WD track, there’s a pretty high chance the two front wheels are pointing inwards towards each other. This is because the tie rods on the steering rack are not very strong, and have a habit of bending/breaking. Again, this happens when you are 4WDing and giving it a bit too much. I’ve seen a few cases of this, but again know plenty of people who give them a lot of work and have never had a problem (and neither have I). A bit of mechanical sympathy goes a long way.

I’ve just recently seen much heavier duty options to remedy this, and will be keeping an eye out on it, and driving with care.

Early differential failures

I have read of a surprising number of Dmax’s with rear differentials that have failed before 80,000km. Apparently there was a batch of ring and pinion gears that were made with poor hardening properties, and the gears essentially chop out and become a pile of metal shavings in the bottom of your differential. Mine will be getting checked shortly with a camera through the oil fill hole, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see damage.

Not good enough Isuzu; absolutely no leg to stand on in your defence. I don’t know how many of these have been covered by warranty, but often by the time you reach those sort of kilometres the warranty is long gone.

Cracked inner guards

This point is super scary. A number of Dmax’s and MUX’s (I’ve seen about 10 online) end up with the inner guard cracking, above the front wheels. This seems to stem from vehicles that spend a lot of time on rough roads, have heavy bull bars and winches mounted and that stick out a long way. The repair is not pleasant; it requires the engine to be removed, and the cracks welded up, but there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again.

I did read from an Isuzu technician that it is caused by soft body mounts that wear out and are not replaced often enough. Apparently this is something all dealerships are required to check and rectify on a regular basis now.

We’ve gone with the lightest steel bull bar I could find, opted not to install a second battery under the bonnet (which I reckon is a daft place to put one anyway!) and will keep an eye on the body mounts regularly. 

Leaking rear main seals

Early on, there were a number of Dmax’s that had rear main seals replaced under warranty. I was told that the robot applying the sealant to the seal was missing a small portion of the seal for a huge number of vehicles. I’ve not had mine leak so far, and hope it stays that way!

Open rear diff

The Isuzu Dmax is one of the few 4WD’s on the market that doesn’t come with a diff lock, or an LSD as a factory fitted install. Instead, it comes with traction control only (which most vehicles also come with). It works OK, but isn’t as good as some other variants on the market. A rear diff lock makes a big difference in these, and I suspect we will end up with one down the track. 

Drive your 4WD carefully

The Dmax comes with traction control and no diff lock or LSD

The hands free sucks

If there is one thing that is a total and utter flop on my model Dmax (2012 – 2016) its the hands free. It is absolutely useless. You can adjust the settings, but its just terrible. Who ever has the bad luck of trying to talk to you on the other end of the call will have major issues hearing what you say. Of course, you can rip the dash out and replace the head unit, which is what we will be doing soon.

For me, this is not the biggest issue in the world (and I knew about it when I bought the car) as I don’t use it too often to make or receive calls, but if you were using it for business purposes it’d be the first thing you would fix.

Turbo failures on DPF Dmax’s

I specifically bought the older version Dmax. I could have paid the same price for a brand new one, but opted for the last of the pre DPF models. The reasoning was simple; a DPF (or DPD as Isuzu calls them) is just another thing to go wrong, and I know Isuzu have issues with them in their trucks (despite being one of the better DPF’s on the market today). 

At the time of purchase, I’d heard of a couple of turbo’s going on the newer model with the DPF, and since then I have heard of a huge number. Every week there are a couple posted online about turbo’s that start to wail like a police or ambulance siren. These are being replaced under warranty, but it takes time and means you are without a car for a while, and some people are on their second or third turbo’s!

What’s gone wrong with our Dmax?

So far, I’m pretty pleased with my Dmax, but having only done around 40,000km its not really a great form of evidence just yet.

The turbo was replaced when it was first delivered to me (faulty waste gate actuator), and I had the transfer case seal on the rear weep, which was replaced under warranty, and kept leaking (we are on seal #4 now, which seems to be holding). I’m fairly confident the first 3 seals that were installed were not done properly (pushed too far in). You can read more about that here; Dmax leaking transfer case seal.

Nannup caravan park

Our trip to Nannup was nearly cut short by a transfer case seal failure

Beyond the above though, these are solid vehicles. I’ve been on various Facebook pages of different makes and models, and the Dmax page seems to have very, very little issues overall. Those that are made a point of are not major (like Ford Ranger engine failures, for example, which are posted on the Facebook page just about every week!).

Overall

If this post comes across as saying the Dmax’s are not a good vehicle, I apologise. This is not the case; they are brilliant vehicles with a few little flaws (on the whole) that can be easily worked around. There’s no perfect vehicle out there, and plenty of other rigs have a lot more, worse issues.

Would I buy another one? Sure. Would I look at alternatives? Absolutely. The game is always changing, and there’s no perfect 4WD for everyone out there. Overall though, I’m pleased with the vehicle, and it is serving us well. We will have this for at least another 5 years, so lets see how it goes by the end of it.

Have you got a Dmax? Have you had any issues with it? Let me know below!

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