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The Most Common Problems on Early Mitsubishi Delicas

Even off-roaders with a reputation for reliability have their faults. The Toyota 4Runner and Mitsubishi Montero, for example, are both rugged SUVs. Both, however, have had model years prone to engine issues, as well as other problems. Luxury off-roaders aren’t immune, either. And neither are alternative off-roaders like Japanese vans. The Mitsubishi Delica is a prominent Japanese van in the overlanding scene. But, although it offers quite a few cool features, it also has its share of flaws.

The Mitsubishi Delica L300

1992 Mitsubishi Delica
1992 Mitsubishi Delica | Toprank Importers

The 25-year rule means 3rd-gen L300 Mitsubishi Delicas are now import-eligible. Although some versions were sold in the US as the Mitsubishi Van, if you want a true four-wheel drive model, you’ll have to go JDM.

Autotrader reports the L300 was available with both a gasoline and diesel engine and in one of two wheelbase lengths. Gear Patrol notes it has seating for 7, with swiveling, 2nd-row seats. Higher-level trims like the Super Exceed offered a limited-slip rear differential, a refrigerator/heater box, Alcantara seats, digital temperature gauges, an inclinometer, and roof skylights.

There was also a Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix, named for a French ski area, designed for colder climates. In place of the skylights, it had additional roof insulation, as well as dual batteries, a beefed-up alternator, and waterproof carpets. It also came with a limited-slip rear differential.

In addition to these ‘luxurious’ features, the Delica was a proper off-roader. Hagerty reports the van’s chassis was based on the Pajero, the multi-Paris-Dakar winning SUV. Crankshaft Culture does note that the suspension doesn’t allow for Jeep Gladiator levels of articulation. However, Overland Way reports the van offers a proper two-speed transfer case and locking center differential.

Nevertheless, if you are interested in the Mitsubishi Delica, there are some issues that can crop up.

Known issues with the Mitsubishi Delica L300

1991 Mitsubishi Delica Super Exceed L300 4x4 diesel
1991 Mitsubishi Delica Super Exceed L300 4×4 diesel | Bring a Trailer

One Delica owner forum user did report their van suffering front brake failure at speed. However, this was also after the pads had overheated due to extended mountain driving, and doesn’t appear to be a common complaint.

Instead, the majority of the L300 Delica’s issues center around its diesel engine. Although diesels, in general, are fairly durable, they also make less power than similar-sized gasoline engines. So, diesel Mitsubishi Delicas are rather slow—but lack of speed isn’t actually the problem.

Diesel woes

According to ADVRider forum users, pushing the Delica’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel causes the exhaust temperature to spike. The excess heat then leads to the cylinder heads and head gaskets cracking and failing. In fact, according to Difflock and Off-Road Express forum users, cracked heads aren’t exactly an infrequent problem with the Mitsubishi 4D56 diesel engine.

In addition, the 4D56 is an interference engine. What that means is, as NAPA and Jalopnik explain, is that if the engine’s timing belt breaks, the pistons and valve stems could potentially collide. This isn’t a flaw in engine design: not only do other Mitsubishi vehicles use interference engines, according to CarGurus and Mitsubishi owner forum users, but other manufacturers also use them.

Off-Road Express forum users also report the Mitsubishi Delica’s diesel engine has a secondary belt for the balance shaft. Balance shafts are common in many smaller engines to help decrease engine vibrations. However, the forum users noted that if the shaft’s belt breaks, it could cause significant damage to other engine components.

Finally, users on the Cummins diesel forums claimed that Mitsubishi diesel engines, as a whole, can suffer turbo failure.

Can these issues be repaired?

Fortunately, many of these issues are fixable if caught in time. ItStillRuns reports that symptoms of cracked heads include oil and coolant leaks, misfires, as well as white exhaust smoke. But, as long as you don’t let the engine overheat, your Mitsubishi Delica won’t risk that kind of damage. The same issue applies to the brakes.

If the turbochargers fail, it is possible to purchase rebuild kits for them. In addition, several owners simply upgraded their Delicas with better turbos, which also boost performance.

Even the interference engine issues aren’t quite as scary as they seem. Forum users report that the Mitsubishi diesel engine has a specially-built failure point. Rather than the valve stems bending, as in the Montero, the valve rocker arms will break instead, sparing the engine from internal damage. In addition, removing the balance shaft belt entirely is a common modification, which doesn’t appear to cause any engine issues.

The Mitsubishi Delica was sold in a wide variety of countries, so while parts may take a while to arrive, they’re still readily available. So, while the Delica does have its faults, they’re nowhere near as catastrophic as the Mercedes R-Class’ or 996 Porsche 911’s.

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