The Jeep came to be mine in the fall of 2000, almost nine years ago. At the time all I had was my car, which would have been silly to drive in the winter, so I needed to get something suitable for year-round driving. My Dad found the Jeep on my behalf. It went down to MSU with me and my car went into the garage for safe keeping. It was nothing special, but in an environment where you’re lucky to have a car at all, it served me well for driving around, carting friends around, trips to Meijer etc.
Sometime that winter, I was sitting around debating whether or not to drive up North for the weekend. I finally decided around 10 at night that I would go and headed up. Having missed my M115 exit, I changed plans to continue north and head toward Traverse at Gaylord. I almost made it to Gaylord. There were wisps of snow blowing across the road, but nothing concerning, until the road turned into a solid sheet of ice. Suddenly I found myself sliding sideways down the freeway at about 60-65mph. I slowly drifted from my lane, across the left lane and into the far snow bank. The front right corner of the Jeep caught the bank, sending the Jeep into a sideways roll. As best I could tell I went over twice before coming to rest right side up in the middle of what used to be four, and had been turned into three, small trees.
The damage to the Jeep was primarily to the front driver side and rear passenger side. The windshield was cracked, but no other glass was broken. I had been wearing my seatbelt as usual and sustained only a small (about 1”) impact scratch to my right leg – it’s still a mystery to me where it actually came from since there was nothing in the front of the vehicle to fly around.
There had been many accidents in that area that night, and police of various sorts were out patrolling. A state police office picked me up and took me and the bit of stuff I had packed the last few miles to Gaylord where my parents came to get me. Then they arrived, we took a loop back to see the Jeep and determine if there was anything that we could do about it. A wrecker was already there pulling it out of the ditch, a process which involved, at some point, inadvertently tearing the trailer hitch off. I’m not sure how it was held on, but I’d have expected it to hold up better than that.
Over the summer, my Dad and I (mostly my Dad) pounded, bent, welded, etc. the Jeep back into useable condition. There was a parts Jeep acquired to provide replacement structural members and other essentials that had been broken in the crash. The oddest maneuver was using a chain-binder to bend the back end back to square so that the hatch would open and close appropriately. Some of the replacement parts came from a junkyard and had lettering on them which I did not remove for several years after.
That was a big event for the Jeep. It had to take a break from the excitement for a few years. The fun would ramp up more slowly from this point forward.
In summer of 2004 I was on another trip up north when a fluid line of some sort broke. It was a hard line and apparently there was some latent damage (a bend in the line) from the accident. I was only about 5 miles from home when it happened so it was easy to tow the Jeep the rest of the way and replace the line.
Sometime in the winter of 2005/2006 the locks started to stick enough that the power lock/unlock would not always be enough to move them in one hit. Usually, several presses would do the trick, but eventually the passenger door lock quit working all together. While the failure was primarily the fault of the solenoid losing power, the total cause was something more since it couldn’t be manually unlocked either. At the time, I rarely used the Jeep and didn’t really have people riding with me, so I was content to ignore this problem until summer. When it was warm enough to work with bare hands I pulled the paneling off and, finding nothing obviously wrong with the mechanism, cleaned the old grease out of the latch and applied new to restore function.
Summer of 2005 marked the start of my foray into kayaking, so the Jeep was seeing more regular use. On one early trip to Mackinac Island I noticed that the Jeep was running a bit hot so I checked the oil when we stopped for gas. Turns out I was about a quart below the add line so I added some and we continued on. It’s probably a bad idea to drive a vehicle fully loaded hundreds of miles with the oil below the fill mark, but the Jeep’s inline 6 was built to take the abuse.
Sometime in summer of 2006 I learned that my radiator had a slow leak. This discovery came in the form of the Jeep overheating on a routine trip to Meijer. I limped it home (getting pulled over for running a red light along the way) and when I added coolant found it to be about 1.5 gallons short. Apparently Jeeps can run 1.5 gallons short on coolant before it matters. Since the leak was slow one, I put some sealant in which held for several years.
On a return trip from Traverse in later summer 2006 I ran over a nail coming down M115. I put some sealant in and inflated the tire, but made the mistake of removing the nail. The sealant couldn’t keep up with this and I ended up with a flat a few miles down US127. Fortunately, I had the spare and a mid-night in the dark wheel replacement commenced. I continued on with the spare, and found when I fixed and inflated the flat that it was damaged beyond repair. I later had a different wheel/tire sent down, probably with my uncle who was coming from TC to a MSU football game.
It was somewhat commonplace for us, meaning me and whoever else wanted to participate, to collect loft lumber at the end of MSU’s school year. This is technically illegal, so it was usually done in the middle of the night. Well, this one night was highly lucrative, and in one trip I ended up with in excess of 500 lbs of lumber on the Jeep’s rack. The rack is rated for something like 150 lbs. It held up for the most part, but this started a break at the plastic foot which connects the crossbar to the roof.
Early in Winter 2007 I went to use 4WD and discovered that the Jeep no longer had that feature. Apparently a seal on the transfer case had blown, and I had been running it without oil for some unknown amount of time. Normal drive worked fine, but the 4-wheel components were worn beyond repair. This cost $500 for a parts-Jeep replacement and was fixed the following spring.
That summer I realized that the engine was now burning, leaking or otherwise expending oil. Semi-regular oil changes were replaced or supplemented by semi-regular oil additions.
Mark at some point around this time wanted to reduce the interior noise in his Jeep so he grabbed the lift gate upholstery from my Jeep, which was removed, and put it in his. Somehow, he declared squatters rights and I ended up putting a red one from the parts Jeep in mine. It matched the likewise attained spare wheel cover.
Still in summer ’07 the Jeep developed the famed “death-wobble” in which a bump in the road could start it bouncing violently left and right at any speed beyond 45mph. This was eventually fixed by replacing the front shocks and steering damper, but not before an intermittent incident. I was driving home from work when the wobble started and I had to slow down to about 40 to stop it, much to the curiosity and annoyance of the car behind me. On the freeway on-ramp a coolant hose blew, sending coolant spraying onto the engine with the associated cloud of steam/smoke. The car behind me stopped and turned out to be one of the few people from work that I knew through Josh. He took me back to the nearest car parts store for a length of hose and some coolant to patch things up.
As the final event of ’07, the muffler and associated exhaust components took their leave of the Jeep on that same fateful on-ramp. All the retaining brackets including the pipe leading up to the muffler had simply rusted through. It was shortly replaced, but for a few weeks the Jeep was appropriately dubbed the “thunder bus.”
In Spring of 2008 the roof rack finally broke completely after too much kayak hauling. I temporarily fixed it with some small steel strips and a hose clamp appropriately cut and drilled to replace the broken bracket. It was soon replaced all together with a solid Yakima rack found on craigslist.
April 25th, 2008 (with the exception of the trade in, this is the one date of certainty for the Jeep). I had made a trip up north sometime shortly before and had swapped wheels on the Jeep. Apparently I am not familiar enough with my Dad’s impact driver, because while my concern was over-tightening, it turns out my lug nuts were under-tightened. They managed to hold out for a week or so and finally gave out about 1/3 of the way down the driveway at work. At that point, as one would expect, the front left wheel proceeded to fall off. This got an interesting reaction from the security guard when I walked up to the guard shack on foot and directed his attention to the Jeep. Four of the lug nuts had come off cleanly and had fallen out of the socket when I made the turn into the driveway and were easily reclaimed. The fifth blew off the last few threads just prior to the incident. Security brought over a floor jack and I put the wheel back on. The only lasting damage was a slight flat spot on the brake rotor where it met the pavement and some deformation of the frame which made the driver’s door hit the body when ever opened or closed. At this point, I got my own floor jack and jack stands which, along with a full toolbox, became full time residents of the Jeep.
While fixing this, I did notice that the anti-sway connector bolt had sheared. This was easily replaced, but appeared to have no bearing on the performance of the Jeep.
As the last event of 2008 I replaced the spark plugs and wires. I don’t know exactly why I decided to do this bit of routine maintenance while ignoring so many others, but I did note that the old plugs were well beyond their normal spark gap.
In spring 2009 the Jeep was up on the lift for one reason or another and Michael noticed that the upper control arm for the driver’s wheel was completely sheared. Looking at the damage, it was almost impossible to figure out how this had happened, since it was a three inch deep, inch and a half wide piece of U-channel. Regardless, it was replaced with an arm off one of the parts Jeeps.
When I went to change the snow tires out, I discovered that my summer tires were worn down to the steel belt in places. I decided just to drive on the winter tires for a bit since $400+ for new tires wasn’t an investment the Jeep was worth at the time.
Shortly after this I found out that the right front wheel hub had self destructed. I replaced it, but the process (specifically, removing the rusted on hub from the axle) took more than a week. Since it was summer, I was able to retrieve the my car for this time.
The last major trip for the Jeep was to Muskegon for the 2009 Western Michigan Coastal Kayaking Symposium. Josh and I got on the road before we discovered that the rear shocks were all but useless with the amount of weight we had in the back and on top. The trip was successful, but a bit slower than planned due to a significant amount of sway at high speeds. On the return, we were driving across a small two-track when there was a loud clunk from underneath. I looked for any apparent damage, but there was none to be found so we continued on. It was also noted on this trip that the rails were starting to come loose from the roof.
Sometime shortly after the trip, the passenger door lock failed again. Since it was summer, I couldn’t blame it on the cold. Minor efforts toward repair were taken, but by this time the CARS bill had been announced, so motivation was less than 100%.
On the return from the Jeep’s final trip to Traverse City I noticed that it was running significantly hotter than usual. I was suspicious of being either low on oil or on coolant. I added about 1 gallon of coolant and a quart of oil, again noting the Jeeps tolerance for abuse, but this did not fix the problem. I never did figure out what the issue was.
On Thursday July 23rd, the CARS bill went active. I considered a new Jeep, since this one had served me so well, but for various reasons ended up settling on a new Outback. That Monday I swapped the wheels out for the worst set we had which required air every two days to stay useable. On July 29th my Dad came down to sign the paperwork with me (the Jeep was still titled in his name) and the Jeep officially became the property of Delta Subaru. I was told that they were required to drain the oil and put in a solution which would cause the engine to seize up, which is unfortunate, because the engine might have been the only part of that vehicle that was not complete junk at that point.
Why did I keep the Jeep so long if it was such crap? It’s not that I couldn’t buy a new car, I just didn’t want to. Cars are a losing investment, so as long as any given repair didn’t cost more than $500, I was going to keep it running. The fact that my Dad has a shop, a lift and two parts-Jeeps to make certain repairs easier helped. I also don’t think any other vehicle could have handled half the abuse the Jeep saw. As of trade in, I needed new tires, new rear shocks, new rear brakes, a new radiator, possibly a new alternator and a fix for whatever problem was causing overheating. It was a good time to get rid of it. Still, I was a bit sad, I had truly hoped to see all systems simultaneously fail, turning the Jeep into a pile of disconnected and useless parts on the side of the road.