At the top of my list of “nightmare car scenarios” is someone in a three-ton Hummer H2 failing to notice me in a rusted-out version of a vehicle that, even when new, was highly unsafe. But that’s what happened last week as I piloted my $500 Postal Jeep from the Detroit area to the Toledo Jeep Fest. Somehow, I survived the crash. And so did my Jeep.
My $500 Postal Jeep is basically a rusted sardine can loosely bolted to a flimsy and highly oxidized frame. Even when new, it was a deathtrap, having been purchased by the U.S. Postal Service with low cost in mind. The doors are paper thin, and there aren’t even shoulder belts or disc brakes. Hell, the brakes themselves don’t even have power assist, and neither does the steering.
The DJ-5 is extremely tall, and, combined with a narrow track, highly flippable. That is unfortunate, because if this Jeep flips, the weak pillars—which look like hat-channels welded to sheetmetal—are not going to hold up so well.
Anytime I drive the DJ or any old car, I have in the back of my mind an understanding that I’m taking an unnecessary safety risk just to enjoy driving, and as a result, I’m always on the defensive.
Unfortunately, that didn’t help me on Friday. As I drove toward Toledo, Ohio from Troy, Michigan on a 45 mph road only a few miles from my house, the light ahead of me turned red, and I stepped onto my brake pedal. That pushed my brake pedal arm, which shoved a rod into my master cylinder, pressurizing the brake fluid inside and in my wheel cylinders, which pushed the Jeep’s brake shoes against its drums and slowed down the White Cube On Wheels. It was a quiet Saturday morning, with few cars on the road, but as I slowly coasted to a halt, the mood changed.
My Jeep lurched forward with an acceleration it had almost certainly never experienced in its entire 43 years of existence. My head pressed hard against the seatback, as I careened forward. It was over quickly, and by the time I stopped the vehicle on the shoulder, I wondered how I’d just gotten hit by what felt like a wrecking ball, and survived. Surely, I thought, with a collision that violent, this Jeep must be ruined.
I slowly slid my door open, unbuckled my lap belt, and stepped out. I felt fine. I was a bit dazed, and my heart was pounding, but my neck and back felt good. Though I was a bit worried that there might be a delayed response (as I’d experienced before when I got whiplash in a snowboarding incident), it was immediately clear to me that this collision could have been a lot worse.
That became more apparent when I stepped out of the Jeep and looked at what had hit me. My initial thought immediately after the crash had been correct; I had been hit by the automotive equivalent of a wrecking ball. It was a 2003 Hummer H2, and it looked to be in perfectly fine condition.
One thing I’d never realized about the Hummer H2 is that it comes from the factory with, essentially, a giant battering ram on its face. Look at that huge bull bar up front; under it is a thin little bumper cover with fog lights, and then below that is a gigantic steel lower bumper with a little metal skid plate below that has “H2" stamped on it.
That giant steel lower bumper and that bull-bar are what hit my Jeep, though you really have to look closely at the H2 to see any indication of a collision. Here’s a look at that steel lower bumper:
You’ll notice a couple of minor scratches near the center, and even a scratch (and what appears to be some rust from my Postal Jeep) on the driver’s side tow hook.
Here’s a look at the rear bumper damage to my Postal Jeep, as shown from above:
It’s been bashed in just to the right of the license plate, and the bracket that a previous owner welded to the center of my bumper to receive a tow ball has been pushed down. Here’s another angle:
Looking closely, it’s pretty obvious that the Hummer’s steel lower bumper hit the jutting-out tow bracket, and then rode up onto it. Then the tow hook slammed into the bumper, just to the right of what was an already existing rust hole.
There’s even some of the Hummer’s lower bumper paint on the tow bracket:
And the indent in the bumper matches exactly with the shape of the Hummer’s tow hook:
Looking closely at the Hummer’s bull bar, I noticed some white paint on the two rectangular bits:
That bull bar rammed into the Jeep’s rear door. Here’s a look at where the driver’s side rectangular bit hit:
It’s not as obvious where the passenger’s side collision occurred, but it did bend the door just to the right of the handle.
Here’s another angle:
Though this doesn’t look too bad, the bull bar actually appears to have pushed the Jeep’s body forward about a quarter of an inch on the frame.
What’s worse than that, though, is that the bull bar bent the pillars that support the back of the roof and also the rear door. It’s possible that some of this damage existed before, since this vehicle is truly a shitbox, but I think the crash impact broke a weld and caused the bend shown in the image below:
I know for certain that the impact caused my poor welds on the left side of the vehicle—which I’d made myself just to hold the door in place—to break:
The door never really fit the body particularly well, but after the collision, the rattle from the rear end was so loud, I had to use a piece of vacuum hose to shut that door up:
Despite this damage, I’d say overall, the Postal Jeep didn’t get too badly hurt, considering it was rammed by a 6,400 pound brute, and also considering that the fuel tank is literally four or five inches in front of the rear bumper:
The H2 driver and I exchanged information. I took a quick glance at his license, and noticed the number 1936, initially figuring that it was his address. But then I looked closer, and actually, it turns out, he’s an older gentleman. I’m not going to knock him for being an 82 year-old driving a three-ton SUV. I myself would love to still be driving at that age, but I will say, it concerns me that he rammed into me at such a seemingly routine traffic light stop. I hope he stays safe. (Though, in his defense, there’s really no great public transportation around here, should he even want an alternative).
After asking if I was okay, the man offered me an unspecified amount of money. When I declined, and asked to just exchange insurance information so we could go on our ways, he looked at my Postal Jeep and said something to the effect of: “Come on, this thing’s not exactly a Cadillac.” He’s right, but come on, you’re going to hit me with your H2, and then insult my vehicle? I found that funny.
We exchanged insurance info, but the man was not happy that I had my proof of insurance on my cell phone, and concluded that—because the physical insurance card I had in my vehicle was expired—I must not have had valid coverage, so he insisted I call the police. I waved an officer down who just happened to be driving by, and she had us write statements on what happened. She then gave the man a ticket for rear-ending me, and we went our separate ways.
After going home to rest for an hour, I inspected my Jeep from underneath to look for frame damage. Luckily, the frame made it out completely unscathed, and the only real damage was to the bumper and the rear section of the body.
The Jeep drove just as well as ever, so I took it on the 80 mile trek to the Jeep promised land, where I unfortunately missed the parade at the Jeep Festival, but saw some truly incredible machines nonetheless:
You may be wondering why I took the Postal Jeep when I wrote recently that “I’m In A Mad Dash To Fix My Long-Dead Jeep J10 By Friday’s Toledo Jeep Fest.” Unfortunately, while I’ve made remarkable progress on my pickup thanks to a 10-hour wrenching session with reader Urambo Tauro, I failed to meet my deadline. The J10 was not ready by Friday.
But I did manage to get it running perfectly, and that means it’s only a matter of time before it’s back on the road after four years of just sitting.
More on the J10 later.
Right now, I’m just counting my blessings, happy that somehow, a vehicle that I figured would turn into dust upon impact with any vehicle not made entirely out of pillows, took a blow from a 6,400 pound Hummer H2 and not only survived, but drove 160 miles to and from a Jeep show with no problems whatsoever.