For Landies I've only ever done Defenders - never taken to the Freelanders.
Main bit of advice - make sure you get underneath with a torch when you're looking. Major dings where someone has overestimated its off-roading capacity and oil leaks. Listen out for bent drive shafts on your test drive.
Friend of a friend had a Freelander which cost him a fortune over the first six months because he didn't do these checks.
Of course for your £4K you could get a nice mid 90s Defender 90 or 110 .....
I had a TD4 freelander as a company car a few years ago, I never had a problem with it and it towed as well as a Range Rover or my disco. They do have poor ground clearance for a Landy so it would be worth heeding DaveWL's advice.
tomongoose is spot on.. there are lots of cars that are crap off road out there, but try to be 4x4's to attract the Chelsea Tractor brigade.... The main thing is to ask yourself what you want the car to do. If its have loads of space, tow ...but never get off the tarmac then forget any of the proper 4x4 cars with low ratio, diff locks etc....The Freelander is good in the snow, and can tow fine, but don't expect a 4x4 or you'll be disappointed. A Subaru will probably do the job as well and be more reliable.
If you want a bone fide 4x4, and the Missus doesn't wnat a Defender..(understandable as its a truck) ... look at the Discovery, Pajero, Landcruiser, Terrano II or a pickup from the main manufacturers... Nissan Toyota,Masda,Mitsubishi....
I actually got a low mileage Terrano II Station wagon and it is excelent for towing a horsebox, has so far never let me down off road..(and it goes there every day) and is quite civilised on the blck stuff...
I think research as to what you need is the key, and if the Freelander suits then make an educated choice..
right, mechanic hat on, do you want an automatic? if so check the gearbox oil was changed every 60000 miles because the auto gearboxes are weak and if it hasnt had the oil changed as part of a service you will be having a new gearbox in it.
of all the freelander 1 series, the TD4 is definitely the best engine, i have only ever heard of 2 being beyond repair through engine failure, and one we are rebuilding at the moment using an accident damaged one.
the bodies are very rot resistant, however on a budget of £4k i would be looking for an early (old style lights) Discovery 2.
when checking the car over before buying, apart from the obvious, like massive knocking noises and handling difficulties, make sure you reverse it into a parking space, if it feels like the brakes are being applied when they arent, it means the viscous coupling is on its last legs.
also, watch out for uneven tyre wear, if you run your hand along the tyre and its wavy, it means the IRD (intermediate reduction drive/transfer box) is failing.
I get the right hump when people say freelanders are rubbish offroad...
I've had a TD4 since 2007 - 120,000 miles and never missed a beat! It's an auto, and I take her offroad with a local club - last year the big girl drove straight up a wet grass slope which beat a Disco 3, so
In fact, she surprises a lot of people over the courses - but as has been said, you have to watch ground clearance. Been lucky with my back box on a couple of occasions
The old gal had nothing but problems with hers, it got to the point where she bought a cheap banger as a backup car for the next time the Freelander failed.
Yet a mate has had one for around 5 years and has not had a single problem.
Driving wise, on the road they're pretty good for a off-roader, decent steering feedback and handling and the engine is perky enough.
Space is also pretty good.
If your intending on doing a fair bit of off-roading then personally i'd be more inclined to head towards something like a Pajero/Shogun.
If your not then i'd really not bother with a 4x4.
They're heavier, have less room and cost more to run.
Bar the most extreme of off-roading a decent fwd with decent tyres will got you through stuff you wouldn't believe possible.
As an example, when we had snow here t'other year i drove up a hill past a struggling Nissan X-trail in my MX5 (not exactly a car renowned for it's off-road or snow driving abilities being rwd).
So i'd advise to sit and think about what you intend to do, as unless your doing some pretty extreme off-roading a 4x4 is more often than not a waste of petrol, running costs, parking spaces and money.
i bet the nissan was flooring it in a low gear though, its not the car its the person behind the wheel.
a freelander will be good if it has been looked after, same as any car,and full service history with a good landrover company is a good thing, though most people will take them anywhere to people who dont really know what needs doing.
there is no minimum level for a service, as long as the company does what it says it will do its legal, so full service history with a rubbish/inexperienced company can be as bad as no service history.
best thing you can do is raise your budget and get a low mileage discovery 2/late freelander 1 or get a normal 2wd car and just be aware of where you are parking (no boggy fields, though as a bushcrafter this may be an issue) and dont even bother trying when it snows.
if you get something old you have to accept the problems as they arise, and get AA warranty, pretty much all the others are rubbish and cover everything that wont go wrong. if your going for something old and are prepared to fix it regularly (but cheaply most of the time) then get a nice Discovery 1 ES with the leather seats and air conditioning with a 300TDI engine which will be cheap to fix and if you need to you can get all the expensive bits second hand easily. they should cost between £700 - £1500 depending on mileage and depth of rust.