A Scary Halloween Tale Of All The Electrical Gremlins In My Jeep

Tonight, millions of American kids will knock on random strangers’ doors begging for those sweet, tooth-eroding monosaccharides. But none of those children will have the gall to knock on my door, because out in my driveway sit monsters that breath fear into even the bravest of souls: electrical gremlins.

We’ve all heard the stories. The tales of people waking up one morning in horror as they find their battery inexplicably drained; the stories of folks whose dash lights blink every time they take turns; urban legends of innocent people whose windshield wipers turn on when they hit the brakes; fables of citizens with radio speakers that only function when driving over speed bumps.

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These stories all describe the work of viscous beasts called electrical gremlins. These demons have been haunting me in my sleep ever since I first learned to drive on a gremlin-ridden 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee. And now, nine years later, my nightmare is back:

Way back in March, I took my $600 Jeep Cherokee—dubbed Project Swiss Cheese—on a trip to Moab, Utah. After some awesome off-roading, I pulled my Jeep to the side of the road, and filmed the conclusion of my trip, ending the clip with a joke about how, because I had blown a blinker fuse, I’d have to scrap the Jeep and fly home.

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Obviously, I wasn’t serious, because replacing a fuse is a two-second job. But little did I realize that my sarcasm was misplaced, and that later, that popped fuse would ruin my life.

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Well, really it wouldn’t be the fuse that would ruin my life, but rather the underlying problem causing that fuse to burst.

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The problem, as I found on my journey home, was that my alternator was somehow overcharging my battery, causing the latter to boil over and produce the most putrid, noxious gas I have ever had the misfortune of breathing into my lungs—an event that definitely reduced my life expectancy significantly.

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I replaced that battery on the trip home, and continued on my way, swapping the turn signal fuse every few hours. But eventually, that method became unsustainable, as new fuses began to pop within minutes of installation.

No matter, I simply signaled turns with my hands (just like the old-timers do in their Model Ts and Willys Jeeps), and drove all the way home to Michigan with nary a problem.

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But lately, this electrical gremlin has come back to steal more of my soul.

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For some reason, my reverse lights are now always on, my brake lights don’t work, my running lights also don’t work, and my turn signals are toast.

To figure out what’s going on, I checked the wiring at the rear of the vehicle, and discovered a total disaster. The wire for my right rear light, for example, just haphazardly crosses my cargo area, and has been crushed numerous times by the door latch and by all the crap in my trunk.

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There’s also some very janky trailer wiring wrapped in electrical tape routed along the inside of my rear quarter panel:

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And look at this snipped-off trailer harness coming through the bottom of the Jeep:

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Add to those messed up rear lights the fact that my gauge lights don’t work, and the car is frankly undriveable at this point, especially after sunset.

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Worse yet, my HVAC system is now on the fritz, meaning there’s no air coming from my vents. And if that doesn’t sound like a huge deal, consider the fact that temperatures in Michigan can sometimes reach below -30F with windchill. I am going to die.

Here’s a picture showing the hole burned into the fan speed selector button, and the melted connector behind it.

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A closer look at that jacked-up connector:

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I’ve been trying to track down the source of these problems, investigating grounds on the engine, in the car, and all throughout the vehicle for corrosion.

In my search, I’ve found more poorly-installed wiring, like these cables that run along the bottom of the Jeep’s interior, and have so much slack, the wires have escaped the plastic trim and been eaten up by the sharp, rusty floorboards.

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Then, underneath the driver’s side dash is this mess:

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I don’t even know where to begin with that. Why are four brown wires just cut off and dangling in thin air? Why isn’t anything in a conduit? How many times has my left foot accidentally yanked on these loose wires, and pulled them out of their sockets?

This whole this is a nightmare, and I’ve spent weeks trying to track down and murder these darned gremlins, but to no avail.

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What’s worse is that I know that, in order to eliminate these electrical gremlins, will require me to work along side an even more terrifying, more devastating monster than any gremlin: a wiring diagram.

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So to all children out there Trick-Or-Treating, you’d better skip my house, or the spaghetti monster that is my Jeep’s wiring will get you. And if somehow you make it past that, I’ll have my wiring diagram sitting on my front step.

There will be no saving you then.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio