It’s a Jeep Thing


It was a sad day a couple of weeks ago. I finally bit the bullet and got rid of my 1990 Jeep Wagoneer Ltd. Sad day indeed. The Wagoneer wasn’t my daily driver. Actually, it was a really nice Jeep when I bought it in 2001. Sight unseen off eBay no less. Yes, I had it shipped cross country from some dealer lot in New Hampshire after I had them do a bit of work on it. Then both I and others did a bit more work on it once it got here.

About a year or so after I got it I ended up putting a new engine in it. No fault of the Jeep or previous owners. Like I said, this isn’t my daily driver. It sits in a shed for months at a time while I’m away doing IT consulting. This was my batting around the farm, towing mowers on a trailer between farms vehicle. Actually, I also had a 1990 Jeep Grand Wagoneer at the same time. Yes, I put a new engine in that as well.

Old Jeep = Boat

Boat = Bust Out Another Thousand

Mixing technologies with a hobby type thing is never good. I had come back early in a winter for a long weekend from my current consulting contract. The 1990 Jeep Grand Wagoneer had a carb while the 1990 Jeep Wagoneer Ltd. was fuel injected. Both had sat in the back of the shed for months. They needed to be started and driven. Starting the carbed vehicle required slamming the foot feed to the floor at least once to set the choke. It also generally required pumping of the foot feed while cranking, especially if it had sat quite a while. Once I had it running I climbed into the Little Guy kicked the foot feed to the floor and took my foot off. I hit the ignition, it rolled over a few times then it started and instantly revved out past red line.

You see, a good many XJ Jeeps had this idiotic dual cable throttle system. The cable from the foot feed curved up and turned down to the bottom of the engine where it hooked to this loaded rotating metal square. Another cable attached to the rotating square and went to the actual throttle body. Being down by the oil pan and completely unprotected meant this metal square suffered horribly from salt, rust and road grime. When I kicked the foot feed to the floor then took my foot away, I failed to notice the foot feed never came back up.

After its ice cold trip past red line the engine dripped a bit of oil from the head gasket. It wasn’t much oil but it dripped right onto the exhaust. After a while I got seriously tired of smelling burnt oil. If I didn’t have a sense of smell the engine which was in it probably would have lasted until now.

I think I paid less than $2300 for the Little Guy delivered to my door. Over the 15+- years I had it I easily put 5 times that into it. Just last year I spent a good bit of time and parts chasing the infamous 4.0 overheating problem. Replaced the entire cooling system twice, including electric fans and sensors. Even paid big bucks for a 3-core radiator. Finally, an after market sensor placed on the hot side of the radiator, wired into the existing electric fan control system “fixed” that problem. There is something about the XJ with a 4.0 that, no matter what, after a certain age they overheat. Neither a new engine or cooling system truly fixes the problem.

This summer was shaping up to be another round of scrounging through parts warehouses on-line finding parts for it. Dropped about $650 putting new steering gearbox, tie-rod, dampener and other steering parts into it, then the air conditioner started not cooling, again. No problem, I topped it off and things were fine for about a week. When the next heat wave hit the A/C no longer worked. The gauge which comes on those A/C Pro cans said it was low again. Topping it off didn’t fix the problem. Hundred degree heat with no air finally pushed me over the edge.

Buying an around the farm Jeep is a special balancing act. Most would just get some lifted beater Wrangler with a soft (or no) top and call it George. I can never do that to myself. There is always the part of me which wants to get one nice enough I “could” take it to a client site if needed. This was especially true now because my Avalon is not all wheel drive. Sometimes snow and ice makes all wheel drive a necessity. Not nearly enough to justify what people spend on a brand new AWD or 4WD, but sometimes.

NOTE: The difference between AWD and 4WD is that AWD is _always_ in all wheel drive mode. 4WD means the vehicle has the option of either 2 wheel drive or “part time” 4 wheel drive. Some AWD vehicles claim to be part time 4WD meaning they monitor for wheel slippage and while in rear wheel drive mode and engage the front wheels automatically if slippage is sensed. In theory the Quadra-Trac operates much like that.

So, after the A/C appeared to be failing I opted to dump the ride. Naturally it failed during near record heat. I had been looking on-line for the past month or so trying to find a Jeep Commander but it appears either everybody wants a Jeep Commander or dealers simply don’t wish to sell them. One dealer wanted north of $7K for one with 288K miles on it. Yikes! Vehicles priced below that all seemed to be parts vehicles. Finally I decided to call about then go see a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. It wasn’t what I was really looking for, but didn’t appear to have been abused.

Ask any old farmer and they will tell you “Never start a job on Friday.” You can start 1 minute before midnight on Thursday and be fine, but start a job on Friday and you will have nothing but trouble until you are done. I have grown up knowing that pearl of wisdom and for whatever reason I chose to ignore it.

Everything seemed to go wrong getting out of here. I left far later than I wanted. Got stuck in construction traffic on I-55 heading up to Downers Grove. Being stopped on the Interstate in near 100 degree heat with the windows down sucks. It doesn’t, however, suck as bad as being on the side of the road overheated and waiting for a hook as quite a few vehicles were. The stop and go traffic had me using the brake a lot. About the time I got onto Ogden I noticed my right front brake seemed to be hanging a bit. By the time I got to the dealer lot the right front brake was stuck on and stinking bad. Yes, there was a Midas or Meineke or something like that just up the block, but it was after 5 and the odds of them having the little rubber connecting line was slimmer than the chances of getting in. Besides, the dealer lot closed at 6pm on Friday.

There are lots of dealer lots on that section of Ogden, but, I had not unlocked my credit before leaving AND I didn’t want any payments. I’m at the age where I always pay cash for a car. Doesn’t matter if it is brand new or used I simply won’t make payments on one. If I can’t write a check for it I don’t bother with it.

Needless to say I got rectally violated on my trade in. Thieving little dealer only gave me $200 for it knowing my Jeep wasn’t going far until it got fixed and that I was exhausted from the journey.

Oh no, we haven’t gotten to the true insult yet. My new beater Jeep currently had the infamous blend door problem. For those of you who do not know about the blend door problem, it impacts seemingly every Chrysler and GM vehicle made since 2000. If you have dual climate zone in your ride you have something like a 1000% greater chance of having the blend door problem than the single zones. What is the blend door problem you ask? The tiny cheap pieces of plastic inside of the duct which rotate on a shaft to blend air between floor, vent and defrost. They are sooooo cheap that after a year or two they become brittle and break. When this happens they fall down and block the air flow. You can hear the blower motor spinning for all it is worth but nary a wisp of air comes out of the vents. How do you fix it? You have to take apart the _entire_ dash.

As a result, even though the air coming out of the vent was cool there was so little of it my ride home effectively had no air conditioning. The only saving grace was that this Jeep had a moon roof so I could get more air flow. I did poke around on-line and found some places selling aftermarket aluminum blend door repair kits. While they recommended cutting a hole in the blower box to do the repair then Gorilla taping the plastic back in place, I opted to take it to my local mechanic who has taken many of these dashes apart. It is up there right now which is why this post doesn’t have a picture of the new beater Jeep. I must admit it is not really fair to call this one a beater yet. It still looks pretty nice and runs good.

Why did I hang onto the other Jeep so long? Because it mostly met my needs and it was still getting 23 MPG. This new one doesn’t have a prayer of hitting 23.

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