Image: David Tracy

There’s this Jeep Cherokee that I love dearly—one that I bought for only $600, fixed up using junkyard parts, and drove all the way to Moab, Utah. But ever since that epic trip, the XJ has been falling apart, and now I’m wondering: is it time to send the Project Swiss Cheese to the ol’ off-road park in the sky?

This Jeep has served me well, driving 4,000 miles on a road trip to and from Utah, and conquering off-road trails I never thought possible. But now, the poor Jeep is sitting in my driveway, plagued with a number of illnesses.

The first issue is coolant making its way into my oil, a fact that I had confirmed by a Blackstone Labs oil analysis a few months ago. This head gasket/cracked head failure was my own fault, as I took the XJ off-roading in some sand without turning on the auxiliary fan—a boneheaded move. One bout of overheating was all it took to bring the trusty four-liter to its knees.

But I’ve got a beautiful cylinder head from a 1992 Jeep Cherokee (the one I hydrolocked) just sitting in my living room ready to be plopped onto that 1995 block. The question is: is this Jeep worth my time?

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Of course, the head isn’t my only issue. The interior looks like crap. It’s so bad that, when my dad had a short layover in Detroit a few months back, and I picked him up in this Jeep, he felt so bad for me that he offered me a wad of cash.

The seats are stained, the whole cabin reeks of gear oil, there’s no handle for the passenger to use to close the door (“Dad, just grab the cloth trim and yank it. It’s fine.”) none of the power windows work, the rear driver’s side door doesn’t work at all, the heater blower only works on high (and even then, it’s not particularly hot), the radio shorts out in turns, the overhead dome light flickers when I accelerate, and I have no turn signals.

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Yes, my turn signals are toast. But so are my brake lights, because some electrical gremlin that I simply cannot seem to track down has been over-charging my battery for months, and popping my fuses. My solution thus far has been to just replace the fuses every few weeks or so, but now the problem has gotten so bad, the fuses pop as soon as my engine speed exceeds about 2,000 RPM. Clearly my voltage regulator is borked; look at this silliness:

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Electrical gremlins are my biggest nightmare, and this one has had me perplexed for far too long.

Then there’s the copious rust, the muffler that’s falling off, a bad u-joint in the front driveshaft, power steering that takes a while to start functioning, and my cracked windshield.

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The thing is, this Jeep is just my winter beater. It’s not supposed to be great; it just needs to drive, stop and turn. That was the whole point of that article I wrote a while back about “changing [one’s] definition of reliability.” And as of now, my Jeep does manage to turn when I spin that wheel, stop when I push that left pedal, and go when I touch the skinny pedal; is that good enough?

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The answer to that is “no,” because driving without turn signals or brake lights is unacceptable; it puts me and my fellow drivers at risk. The head issue and the propshaft u-joint are totally no big deal—I could fix those in a weekend. But it’s those pesky invisible electrons—combined with the other issues—that have me considering parting this baby out before sending her to the junkyard.

And by “parting this baby out,” I mean to myself, of course. I’ll buy another XJ (a cheap one that needs a new motor, axle or transfer case), and use this green mean machine as a parts vehicle. That’s definitely the way to go, here, right?