aka, Junk In the Trunk...
By David Bobeck ©2019
I don’t know if this applies to earlier models that didn’t incorporate the soft-close feature that I think started in 2008. And I also don’t know if it applies to later L320 trucks that apparently had a one-piece tailgate. But, in any event, this happened to me and was a royal PITA (at least a 9.5 on the PITA scale) and there was very little info on the net to guide me, so here goes.
For starters, if you own a Range Rover Sport and you have been having trouble opening the lower tailgate, fix it NOW. It’s pretty easy if you catch it before the gate gets stuck closed. My symptoms were as follows, and others have reported the same to me: When you push the big 1” round button on the lower tailgate, sometimes the gate doesn’t open and you have to push the button again. Or, you have to push on the tailgate a little bit, or pull on it, or whatever. Fix it NOW, because it won’t get better on its own, and it will break. When it breaks, the gate won’t open, massively complicating the replacement. Did I mention, fix it NOW?
Now, have issued that PSA, let's move on. Like me, you ignored all advice and chose not to replace the lower tailgate latch in a timely fashion. And now the gate is stuck closed. It may even be stuck “halfway” closed, as mine was. It wa slatched, but not “sucked down” by the soft close motor. (a separate motor from the latch actuator btw).
Because the car doesn’t think the lower gate is closed, two things will happen. One, you will not be able to open the upper gate either, and two, you will get a “tailgate open” error which will keep you from setting the car’s alarm via the key fob. The big tailgate button will just make a grinding noise.
Now that you have been chided, let's move on to solutions. The first order of business is to get the upper gate open. Using a set of plastic trim tools, pop off the small plastic cover at the center of the upper gate. This exposes the wiper motor. Carefully, without breaking it, lift up the edge of the lower trim right above where the upper gate latch is. You will see a little white square thing on the metal part of the latch. Using a small screwdriver or other suitable tool, move the square over. This will pop the upper gate open. If you then close it, the lower gate will suck down. Don’t ask me why. That will at least allow you to set the alarm and will also get rid of the rattling from the loose lower gate. Now, you will be able to operate the upper gate normally from outside.
Next, with the upper gate open, begin popping the lower trim loose. Start at the outer edges, there is a fastener right where it meets the D-pillar trim. Then work your way along the top edge. It will be hard to get the clips to pop once you are done with the two that are closest to the D-pillar. If you can peel the trim back enough, you may be able to see where the fasteners are and pop them the proper way using a trim tool. They make remote, cable activated trim popper pliers that might work really well for this, but I forgot to use mine. I broke the carpet panel away from the plastic surround in a few places, but I was able to repair those using regular nylon “fir tree” fasteners later on.
So, now you have the lower trim panel mostly free, and you can see the subwoofer and the three Torx screws holding the latch in place. You won’t be able to remove the panel completely until the gate is open, because there are two screws on the left hand side that hold it in place and are hidden until the gate is open. Your goal now will be to get the lower gate open. I have seen one thread on rangerovers.net where someone had to break apart the plastic body of the latch actuator to access the innards of the latch and pop it open. I just looked at the new latch and figured out where the release tab is. It is possible, using a thin, bent-tip tool, to pop the latch. Here’s how I did it:
Once you successfully pop the lower gate open, you can open it, remove the two screws holding the trim panel in place, and remove the whole trim panel. Try not to lose the little plastic clips. Remove the six torx screws holding the subwoofer, release the snap ring holding it in place, noting the orientation (it says top and should have a paint alignment mark. I just let the subwoofer dangle but you can unplug yours if you like. Remove the 3 torx screws holding the latch, along with the wiring plug, and remove the latch through the subwoofer hole.
Install the new latch, trying to get the alignment close to the original one. Leave the bolts slightly loose. Reinstall the subwoofer and close the lower gate. With the lower gate sucked down by the soft-close motor, fully tighten the 3 latch bolts. Replace the trim- it was easiest for me to do this with both gates opened, that way I could access it from above and below to make sure all the trim clips were aligned with their holes before pushing them in. Reinstall any remaining trim and fasteners and enjoy your happy new tailgate latch. A bit of a plug- given the high PITA factor of this job, go with a Genuine latch. For US-based owners, Atlantic British has them for less than the dealerships, and the UK vendors were almost as high before shipping. Ask for Eric at extension 231.
Thanks to all who came before me without this kind of information and those who helped point me in the right direction. Life is good, so is saving $1000 in parts and labor!