At a certain point, a vehicle is “too far gone.” It cannot reasonably be brought back to operational status because of major problems like frame rust, body rust, or engine problems. In 2018, I bought a $500 Postal Jeep that suffered from all of those ailments and yet, through all of the bleak faults, a glimmer of hope always shone through. That glimmer led to the video series you can now binge watch from start to finish. I’ve embedded all episodes at the bottom of the article.
(We’re taking today to celebrate Juneteenth, a day on which we celebrate the emancipation of Black people who were held as slaves in the United States. We will be celebrating, but we will also be taking time to reflect on the history and legacy of slavery, as well as the ongoing structural, institutional and systemic anti-Black racism that continues to be a defining characteristic of the United States today.)
There were some strange moments in my 3,500-mile road trip in an extremely worn-out 1976 Jeep DJ-5D Dispatcher mail carrier. I can’t recall them all off the top of my head, but one that comes to mind was a result of my Jeep’s clogged crankcase ventilation system. The crankcase vent basically takes engine vacuum from the intake manifold and uses it to suck high-pressure air out of the engine (air gets pressurized by reciprocating pistons and heat buildup). The vent system also feeds clean air into the crankcase via a tube between the air cleaner and the top of the engine.
If one of the lines in this vent system get clogged, the high pressure in the engine will have no choice but to blow through the motor’s seals, making it seam like the engine is leaking from every gasket. I’d just replaced my crankcase ventilation filter, so I didn’t really think that was the issue. So I just drove. And as I cruised farther and farther, oil consumption increased until it was unsustainable.
I recall standing in a small fuel station in Illinois at around midnight, calling my friend and saying: “Look man, I can’t keep driving this Jeep. I’m so close to finishing this trip, but I’m using a quart every 50 miles. That’s not only expensive, but it’s also bad for the baby seals. I happen to like seals, baby or adult.”
I drove through rural America on back roads, choosing a route based on where I could find Tractor Supply Company (TSC) stores, as oil there is only ~$11 for five quarts. That’s dirt cheap, and that was important, given how much oil I was blowing through. (I thought I was burning some and leaking some. Turns out, I was leaking all of it. I’m not proud of this, of course.)
The filter ended up being the problem, allowing me to change my route so that it no longer had to pass through a series of TSC locations. I eventually made it home in what remains one of my toughest and most fulfilling automotive challenges yet. And that’s the whole point:
Anyway, as you can see in the video above, the Jeep beat the odds and drove farther than just to the end of my block. Much farther. It made it to Utah and back. And though it got scrapped in the end after the new buyer apparently damaged it and sent it to the junkyard, the machine had accomplished something remarkable. Starting in Michigan, it had driven 3,500 miles to and from Utah, and it had gone off-road. What a tank!
Watch the entire series here:
More wrenching projects are underway. Expect to read about me fixing up an impossibly worn-out Willys FC-170 in the near future.