Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Praise of the Great American Jeep

I Currently own a 1998 Jeep Wrangler. What a hell of a vehicle! That’s it right here after a successful early morning pheasant hunt (Indiana allows two roosters per day) a couple of Novembers ago.

Various 4WD vehicles have been parked in my garage over the years. My first was a 1976 Toyota FJ. It was the Japanese imitation of the American military Jeeps that cruised the streets of Tokyo and Osaka post 1945. Was it in homage? I would say so right down to the round headlights and square upright body styling.

The early Toyots FJ was a cheap imitation of an American Jeep as most Japanese products were at the time. Most early Japanese imported products were cheap, poorly made knock-off imposters and in some categories, still are today. Even early Shimano and Daiwa fishing reels took on the appearance of Abu Garcia and Mitchell reels of the time but today Japanese fishing reels are some of the finest made. Things have changed but I still prefer buying American. And it doesn’t get more American than an authentic Jeep made in Toledo Ohio.

My Jeep has 104,000 miles on it. It has had virtually no mechanical problems, only regular maintenance. It has had three sets of tires and shocks and one total brake job. It still has the original spark plugs and most amazing of all- the original exhaust system. OOPS, almost forgot, a new ragtop too. What I love most is taking the top down and the doors off during the summer months after a good Saturday morning washing. It’s as much fun as a full-dress Harley Road King! Safer too.

I prefer to buy my cars new instead of renting or used. I take good care of my babies by scheduled changing of the lubricants and a weekly washing even in the winter. They get waxed by hand and detailed by me twice a year.

If you can put a nice down payment on a vehicle the monthly payments are low and it can get paid off in about three years. After that the yearly mechanical repair cost should be far lower than buying another and making monthly payments all over again. I try to keep my rides for ten years. That’s been my plan on auto ownership forever. Unless you have deep pockets an automobile is simply a bad investment.

Sad to say my Jeep died yesterday. Well, maybe not dead but seriously ill.

I knew it was coming. On the way home Monday night I smelled the kind of smell you get downwind of the Whiting IN BP refinery. It’s unmistakable. I thought, how can the wind blow that odor 40 miles southeast? It turns out the smell was from the overheated rear gearbox lubricant. Tuesday morning I took off from home with some strange sounds coming from the rear axle. I knew the end was near.

When I got off the train last night and left the parking lot the racket coming from the rear end was not good. A grinding and bumping and hissing sound took me three miles before I clutched and limped into the Indiana Dunes visitor center parking lot. Placing a handwritten note on the dash I went home and planned on calling for a tow in the morning.

Now I don’t think it’s really the end but it may cost over a thousand if my worst fears are correct. It could be a universal joint, an axle bearing or God forbid, the gearbox.

There comes a time when the end of a vehicle is near. Just like dogs or people. The question is do you spend a lot to lengthen the life or do you pull life support.

Time will tell but I can say this…IF I need to buy a new car it will be another Jeep Wrangler.

Maybe the Rubicon model =)


Carl from Chicago said...

If you seriously want to fix the jeep my father in law fixes everything and just rebuilt his 1970's era jeep from scratch... more or less for fun. Else good strategy on the buy and hold - a lot better than a car payment.

jti said...

I have a 2004 Wrangler X with only 25k on it. Living in the city, I refer to mine as an "Urban Jeep". The plan is to always keep it, but maybe not drive it as my primary vehicle. Being a Jeep owner though you know that will be very hard to do.

My cousin has a 1998 (I think) and his engine just blew at around 110k. He bought a used engine with 60k on it, and now he's back in business !

gerry from valpo said...

The Jeep is in the shop. Today I get the diagnosis but thanks for the offer, Carl. Maybe next time.

jti, I have been told that the 6 cyl in thia jeep is a very old model virtually unchanged from the early 60's but with modern emission garbage attached. It is nearly indestructable. I will hold my breath for another 6000 mi.

Bullish Man said...

As an engineer, Jeeps are bad vehicles for these reasons:

1. Unreliable. The engine is poorly designed. The suspension is poorly designed. Many other smaller parts are poorly designed and break regularly and don't function well (e.g. side view mirrors, wipers, etc.)

2. Inefficient. This needs no explanation.

3. Poor performance. I feel sick just from thinking about Jeeps suspension system. It is the pits. The vehicle is good neither for city driving, highway driving or even for what many owners claim they are great for off roading. The suspension system is not adequately sized for the vehicle and is far too stiff. This is why Jeeps roll, have terrible handling and are uncomfortable to be in. In addition, Jeeps are huge vehicles that have no interior room. They are big cars with small interiors ... very bad design.

4. Price. These are expensive vehicles. That would be fine if they were good. But they aren't. Everyone knows that when you buy a Jeep you are getting ripped off.

My suggestion. Buy a Toyota they are cheaper, more reliable, more efficient and perform better than Jeeps by a mile. If you don't believe me, read the consumer reports or talk to anyone who knows what they are talking about.