Buying A Crappy 1990s Jeep Has Historically Proved To Be A Great Career Move

Art: Justin Westbrook
Art: Justin Westbrook
Image: JerryRigEverything, OklahomaHorizonTV, David Tracy

Wait wait wait! Don’t “x” out of your browser yet. I know you read the headline and thought “This is total bullshit.” But hear me out! I believe that buying a junky 1990s-era Jeep is the ultimate career jumpstarter, and I have concrete examples to prove it.

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Recently, while browsing YouTube, I came across the story of Porsha Lippincott, an Oklahoma aircraft technician who, when she was younger, dropped out of high school and lived in a cardboard box while working at Sonic. How did she get out of that situation? Well, for one, she got help from a counselor at a local high school. That counselor got Lippencott in touch with a homeless shelter, who gave the teen an apartment to stay in as she finished up her high school degree.

But the real turning point happened when she bought a crappy 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

“It had like seven different colors going on. But I was okay with it. I paid $1,000 for it,” Lippencott says in the YouTube video above by OklahomaHorizonTV, before mentioning that the Jeep had a bad fuel gauge and other janky qualities, but it did run.

“But as the time went on, my car...started to break down, and then one day, it just didn’t start at all,” she continues. The mechanic says in the clip that she took the car to a shop and received a $1,907 estimate to replace the oil pan gasket. That was way too much money, so Lippencott took to YouTube to see how hard replacing the gasket really was.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing ever. I could do this!” she concluded after seeing that swapping the gasket simply required draining the Jeep’s oil, removing a bunch of little bolts, and scraping an old gasket before throwing a new one on.

Though it took her a while (since she was a novice) Lippencott managed the job on her own. I bet there’s more to the story — since $1,907 for an oil pan gasket is egregious, and because Lippencott says the car ran better than before, which is odd since an oil pan gasket really shouldn’t affect how a car runs (maybe it was the fresh oil?) — but in any case, this wrenching experience on a crappy old Jeep changed Lippencott’s life.

It started her down the road to become an aircraft technician. Oklahoma CareerTech, an organization devoted to helping workers in the state get the training they need to build strong careers, describes how far Lippencott has come since the Jeep breakdown:

When that car broke down, she taught herself how to repair it. That motivated her to enroll in Moore Norman’s automotive technician training program after graduation. After completing that program she:

  • Earned her ASE certification.
  • Was referred to the aviation maintenance technician program at Metro Technology Centers.
  • Learned about assistance programs that would help her pay living expenses while she trained at Metro Tech.
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The organization says on its site that Lippencott later became an aviation maintenance technician at Tinker Air Force Base, and an instructor at the aviation campus for Metro Technology Center. “One of her process improvement ideas is already saving Tinker $2.5 million annually, which she considers a small way of paying back for all she has received from CareerTech and others,” Oklahoma CareerTech’s site reads.

It’s an incredible success story, and it all started with a broken 1990s Jeep.

The same can be said about JerryRigEverything, a YouTuber named Zack Nelson who makes videos about do-it-yourself projects and who has over six million subscribers. How did Nelson build his video production empire? Well, it all began with a broken, piece-of-crap Jeep.

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“I had a really old Jeep that broke down, and I’d never really worked on cars at this point,” he says in the Q and A video above after being asked why he started making videos in the first place. “They wanted $1,000 for it, and I was like ‘there’s no way. This Jeep isn’t even worth $1,000'” he continues.

After finding a video on YouTube showing the repair procedure, Nelson fixed his Jeep for $80. He thanked the person who’d made the repair video, and ultimately was inspired by the experience, deciding that YouTube would be a great way to help people and also to make money. So Nelson, then a student working full time at a cell phone shop per the East Idaho News, jumped into the YouTube space, and began repair videos about Jeeps.

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Here’s a fairly in-depth one from 2012 showing an engine swap:

Here’s a simpler one, also from 2012, showing a fuel filter change:

These days, the JerryRigEverything channel includes all sorts of DIY-themed content. This video about how to install an elevator in a home is the channel’s most popular to date:

With 6.64 million subscribers, it’s no surprise that quite a few of the channel’s videos have been viewed over 10 million times. JerryRigEverything is a truly enormous YouTube presence, and a great success story that began underneath an oily, questionably-engineered 1990s Jeep.

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Screenshot: JerryRigEverything

Another person who owes their career to poor 1990s Jeep engineering is me. When I was a kid, I had a dream that I’d someday become a Jeep engineer. On the way towards that goal, I began reading automotive publications to become better-versed in cars, and in so doing, I decided that becoming a car journalist would be my pipe-dream.

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I achieved both my dream and my pipe dream with a lot of help from this 225,000 mile junker, which I bought in college, and couldn’t afford to take to a mechanic:

Image for article titled Buying A Crappy 1990s Jeep Has Historically Proved To Be A Great Career Move
Photo: David Tracy
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About a year ago, I wrote the article “How To Become An Automotive Engineer At A Major Car Company.” In the story, I describe just how valuable that burgundy 1992 Jeep Cherokee was in my career growth. From the piece:

I cannot downplay how important my $1,400, 225,000-mile Jeep Cherokee XJ was in helping me get that gig. Because of its age and mileage, the Jeep forced me to spend every waking moment that I wasn’t studying, not going out with girls as I should have, but rather wrenching on that Jeep (some things never change).

The benefit of this was that I not only got extremely well-acquainted with how cars work, but my wrenching stories were a hit with both the Cummins and Chrysler recruiters. Both interviewers loved hearing about my old junky Jeep and recent repairs, so I have to give some credit to the shittiness of my 1992 Jeep Cherokee for helping me get those internships and my full-time gig at Chrysler.

Never stop being unreliable, you beautiful old box.

From Chrysler, I used my engineering experience to become Sr. Technical Editor here at Jalopnik.

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What’s The Takeaway?

What’s the common thread, here? How is it that crappy 1990s-era Jeeps help people build careers? More than anything, I think what it comes down to is just building a valuable skillset. Lippencott, Nelson, and I are all taking full advantage of the wrenching skills we gained by fixing our crappy machines. Lippencott wrenches on planes, Nelson now Jerry Rigs Everything, and I fix crappy old cars (mostly Jeeps). The fact that all three of us have been able to build careers by using the skills we gained by being too cheap to have a shop repair our broken vehicles is a blessing.

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I think there’s more to it than just learning how to fix things, I think a big part of these three stories has to do with building a problem solving mindset. Fixing cars requires 1. Understanding the problem (which, if it’s done properly, means understanding how the full system works) 2. Developing a solution (whether that means going to YouTube for guidance or using a service manual) 3. Executing that solution a 4. Checking your work and iterating as necessary.

These problem solving steps apply to almost all facets of life. If you have a goal you want to accomplish, chances are, the easiest way to do it is to understand the system you’re working with as completely as possible, leverage resources to develop a plan, execute that plan, and make sure you didn’t screw up. If you did screw up, start back at step one.

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Obviously, none of this applies solely to old Jeeps —this is really just a coincidence that I’m milking so I can write a silly article aimed at convincing you all to get on my crap-can Jeep bandwagon. But Jeeps parts and service information are both plentiful, Jeeps break a lot, and they have a cult following. Buy a junker, learn how to fix it, become part of a big Jeep community, and leverage that skill-set and community to accomplish your dreams.

Or, if you’re a real weirdo like me, the act of fixing these Jeeps could itself be your dream.

DISCUSSION

By
IstillmissmyXJ

How many of us started wrenching on cars because we had to and we couldn’t afford someone else to do it?
 
My XJ was purchased for a cross-country move, which less than a year later let me to changing careers from the hotel industry to... something that isn’t. If I was still working in hotels I’d be unemployed now, so I too claim the Jeep Cherokee boon.