I know I have a problem; I’ve always known. My brothers, parents, and even readers remind me all the time: “David, you need to stop buying Jeeps. You’re in over your head.” So a few days ago, I took one step to try and deal with my addiction. But now I just feel terrible.
My heart sank this morning as I looked out my window. There in the driveway where a beautiful 1996, manual transmission, rust-free example of perhaps the greatest SUV of all time once sat, was an empty spot; only a small stain from a leaky oil pan gasket to remind me of the glory that once stood there. It was as big as the hole in my heart.
Now I’m sitting here in my suburban Detroit house feeling like I’ve just finished a boxing match with a giant. I’m a wreck, struggling to come to grips with the fact that I just sold part of my car family for some cash. I’m a monster.
Why I Did It
Over the past few years, my Craigslist Jeep buying habit has morphed from a casual hobby to a downright obsession, with me scouring every Craigslist ad across the country trying to get ahold of the finest junky old Jeeps a couple of bucks can buy.
After my fourth or fifth dysfunctional vehicle, family, friends and you readers all began questioning my sanity, and for the longest time, I didn’t understand why. More Jeeps can only be a good thing, right? That was what I thought.
But recently, I’ve awoken from my trance. How it took so long is beyond me, as there were some very clear signs. Like when I wrote that post about all the problems plaguing my cars at the time (there were lots of problems).
There was also that time I had to ask my eight-months pregnant friend to pick me up from the McDonalds parking lot after my Jeep’s alternator crapped out (that’s pretty messed up, I’ll admit). Oh, and then there was that embarrassing article I wrote after getting stranded in a grocery store parking lot in the middle of the winter because all five of my cars were on the fritz.
Clearly I’ve been over my head for some time now, but somehow, even as I stood there in the icy cold Michigan winter, with snow floating down on me as I waited for my friends to pick me up (out of pity), I never really thought there was an issue.
But recently—perhaps because I’m older now, having entered the second half of my 20s—I’ve become wiser, deciding to heed the advice of my family, readers, and poor-bastard friends who have had to pick me up or tow me all around southeast Michigan.
A year after I made the New Years resolution to downsize my fleet by selling my beloved white Jeep, I finally did it. It took me months to take the step, but eventually I convinced myself that I’ve got a Jeep J10 pickup that needs transmission work, a Willys CJ-2A project that needs basically everything to be ready for Moab in March, and two Cherokees that are over 20 years old and will need my attention now and then.
But sadly, as much as this “logic” reassures me that the white Jeep had to go, I can’t stop the fond memories of that gorgeous Jeep from flooding my mind, wreaking havoc on my emotions.
A Love Built Through Wrenching
“The white Jeep,” as I lovingly called it (creative, I know) was the nicest vehicle in my fleet by far, both mechanically and aesthetically. It was my rock. But it didn’t start out that way, and I think the bond created by all that wrenching is why I feel so terribly right now.
I bought the white Jeep just after graduating from college. I had just started as an engineer at Fiat Chrysler, and finally had a bit of change in my pocket, so I figured I’d splurge and get a Cherokee without acres of rust on its underbelly.
After six months of searching, my friend found my gorgeous manual, rust-free Cherokee on a forum. I contacted the seller, drove out to rural Michigan, test drove the boxy Jeep, and fell in love. I handed over $2,400 in cash and drove to my house beaming with the pride of a father holding his newborn child for the first time.
Right off the bat, though, the XJ started having problems. The worst of it was the death wobble, which sent the front of the Jeep bucking like an angry Mexican riding bull anytime I hit a bump in a turn. It was downright terrifying, with the front end of the car slamming hard against the road over and over as I desperately tried slowing down from highway speeds. I eventually spent $100 on steering and suspension parts, and enjoyed a beautiful Sunday afternoon wrenching the Jeep back to health, after which it rode like a magic carpet.
Another fond wrenching experience happened after I noticed a knocking noise coming from the motor. Fearing the worst, I wondered if the previous owner had somehow managed to kill the venerable four-liter. I told everyone at work about my worry, as I just couldn’t get it off my mind.
Eventually, word about my plight made it to a technician, who felt pity for my anguished soul. So he decided to take a look, walking out to my Jeep, listening for five seconds, placing his hand on the distributor, and pushing it rearward a bit. The noise stopped! “It’s your distributor,” the veteran wrench said casually, and he turned and walked away like a boss. I stood there, mouth agape in amazement.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. After swapping the distributor in the employee parking lot, the Jeep kept cutting out on the highway, leaving me on the shoulder until the engine cooled down and I could fire her back up again. Eventually, the car just refused to start, and I found myself stuck on the side of the road in Detroit.
Again, my friends came through, and this time, one of them had the badass Ram Long Hauler for the weekend. So he wrapped a nylon tow strap around my front axle, and tugged me through the city, back to my apartment.
Then, within weeks, the starter motor decided to crap out, but this time, I was in a slightly more convenient spot:
That’s not the end of my peril. Last winter, all hell broke loose. My ‘92 Cherokee was down for the count after breaking its engine mounts, and at the same exact time, I found out via an oil analysis that the sexy white XJ I had just bought had a cracked cylinder head (a fact that the seller conveniently forgot to mention, despite me pointing out the white smoke coming from the exhaust).
At the time, I was living in a small apartment in downtown Detroit and it was the coldest February in 140 years. Up until then, I did all my wrenching in the Fiat Chrysler north parking lot, but there was just no way I was going to swap a cylinder head when it was 20 degrees below zero. So I moved.
Yes, I literally moved out of Detroit and into the suburbs so I could swap a cylinder head on this white Jeep Cherokee in the comfort of a warm garage.
I invited my friends over to my new abode. They all came over, probably partly because they were tired of giving me rides, and we cranked some tunes, broke out a few beers, and replaced the cylinder head in no time.
Between that session with my buddies in my new garage, all the wrenching I had done in the Chrysler parking lot, the starter motor swap in the O’Reilly Auto Parts lot, the tow through downtown Detroit, and the death wobble that nearly broke my spine, that Jeep was a total brat.
But it was my brat, and I loved it.
Selling the Jeep took months, in part because I didn’t want to do it. I posted ads on Craigslist asking far too much money, and nobody called. Then, because I felt guilty, I lowered the price to a reasonable number, and posted the car for sale on Craigslist, Facebook and an off-road forum. I even parked the car on the corner of the street with a big “For Sale” sign asking $3,750. This way, I convinced myself I was at least trying.
Some people called and took a look at the Jeep, but they all tried convincing me I was asking too much. “Oh, but I can get a Cherokee for $1,000 anywhere,” they all said.
After three months, nobody seemed interested, and I was totally fine with that. Then, just as December came around, I got a flood of calls from people desperate for four-wheel drive goodness. A kid from Chicago (who actually reads Jalopnik) wanted a car that could handle the winter, so he had his dad stop by and take a test drive before another potential buyer could also have a look.
Yes, two different people wanted to look at my Jeep the same day. I grew worried:
The kid’s dad and I got along very well, as he—like myself— had lived on military bases in Germany when he was younger. But my social skills that day may have been my undoing, as the dad reported back to his kid that the Jeep was tip-top.
I only had one line of defense left: I wouldn’t budge a cent on the price. Surely this would offend the buyer enough to get him to walk away, as it is an unwritten rule that all prices on Craigslist, unless preceded by the word “firm,” are highly flexible.
But somehow, the kid was unfazed when I stuck to my guns, buying the white Jeep for the full price of $3,750.
His father came Friday evening and took my beloved Jeep away from me. This is the last I will ever see of my darling white Jeep:
Okay, so this is where my mother—who is undoubtedly proud of me for downsizing my fleet—stops reading. Because all that stuff I just wrote about me being wiser is a gigantic, steaming load of bullshit.
I’ve now got $3,750 in my pocket, and I’ve been surfing Craigslist like a madman. Do you know how many $600 XJs I can buy with these funds? Uh, about a million, friend.
Check out these two for sale near Detroit:
Only two grand for both, and there’s a two-door! Or maybe I’ll buy this gorgeous Willys CJ-5:
Oh man, but what about this awesome SJ Wagoneer?:
Sure, I’m sad about losing the white Jeep, but just think of the possibilities this money can open up! I can go from owning five Jeeps to owning seven or eight, and still be out on top.
For everyone who thought selling this Jeep meant I was a reformed man: I’m sorry to disappoint. I’m unfixable.