With only 10 days left before my $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer has to drive 1,700 miles from Michigan to the off-road trails of Utah, I’ve been desperate for wrenching help lately. Luckily, this past weekend, some friends noticed this desperation, and helped me defeat my arch nemeses: electrical gremlins.
My initial plan was to hire a witch to brew up a special potion to extract the electrical gremlins from the soul of my 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. But I didn’t have to take that spiritual route, as a Jalopnik reader named Brandon volunteered to conduct the exorcism with nothing more than a Haynes repair manual and a multimeter.
Brandon was a beast at electrical diagnoses. He had emailed me last week offering to help wrench, and even volunteered to take point on the electrical system, which—at the time—was in peril. I had no taillights, no turn signals, no brake lights, no trailer brakes, no HVAC blower fan and no rear window control.
But Brandon came over, swapped out some fuses that I could have sworn I checked, and got the taillights and turn signals working great. The brake lights, however, were still malfunctioning.
I showed him the trailer harness at the back of the Jeep; there were tons of wires dangling below my bumper. Brandon checked out the wiring diagram in the repair manual, and figured out that the pink wire was probably the brake light wire. I hopped into the driver’s seat, pressed the pedal, and he confirmed with his multimeter that the broken pink wire was indeed the culprit. He spliced the wire back together, and now all is well in this world.
One of my biggest electrical concerns was the electric rear glass. Not only have I read dozens of horror stories from folks who have tried to fix it, but with a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, it’s fairly critical, as the rear tailgate will not open unless the glass is down, and I’ve got some big things I need to load up for this trip.
But I got lucky. A Jalopnik reader named Bryan joined Brandon, and the two figured out how to access the innards of the window regulator (there’s a convenient access panel). Here’s a look:
Bryan removed the motor, and he and I hooked it directly to my 12 volt battery. It worked fine. What, then, was the issue? Perhaps the regulator had seized up, we thought. So Brandon and Bryan sprayed it down with some white lithium grease, reinstalled the motor after discovering that it was indeed getting current through its connector, and prayed. It worked. But then it didn’t. But then it did again. But then it didn’t.
Dammit. Intermittent failures: the most gremlin-like of failures. Almost ghostlike. But, as I had done some research on the rear tailgate prior to our wrenching, I decided to test the ajar switch, ultimately finding that it had a ton of play. This meant that, even when the tailgate was closed, the switch sometimes registered “open,” and thus shut off power to the motor.
After using electrical tape to act as a temporary fix, we headed to the junkyard for a better switch, and now I’ve got one of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer’s coolest features back up and running:
Another issue I had was with the HVAC blend switch, which was stuck in place. So I popped under the hood, and found the cable going to the heater box. This cable was clearly seized, so Brandon and I worked it back and forth, with him pulling and pushing the cable with a pair of vise grips while spraying PB Blaster penetrating oil down the sheath, and me hammering the HVAC switch inside the cabin (after breaking the plastic button off).
Eventually we got the blend door to work beautifully, which means I should have heat during this 10 day-long trip to and from Utah. This is a godsend, considering it will be in the 30s when I leave next Thursday.
So now I’ve got lights, a harness, a rear window that works, and a functional heater. Plus, there’s more good news: Brandon and I scored some inner and outer window seals for that rear glass at the junkyard (the old ones were basically nonexistent):
Plus, I snagged spare alternator just in case mine fails soon (yes, I broke the mounting bolt off; I’m not looking forward to drilling that out):
And I found this giant transmission oil cooler on a second-generation Dodge Ram 1500 at the yard for only $10. It needs to have some fins straightened, but it looks good otherwise:
To add to the pile of good news, a reader sent me a fan shroud!:
But I’ve still got lots of work to do. I’ve been dragging ass on the brakes and on the driver’s side ball joints, I haven’t even looked into the huge transmission oil leak, I need to adjust the transmission’s bands and install the cooler, I’ve got some driveshaft u-joints to replace, and I still need to find some 30 x 9.5 tires.
My biggest concern, though, is finding a fuel tank skid plate. They’re impossible to get in Michigan, as they’re all rotted out from the dirt collecting between the frame and the tank. And without protection, that fuel tank is just asking to be punctured as it gets dragged over those rocks in Moab.
I’ve got 10 days. That’s not a lot of time, but thank god I don’t have to deal with any more electrons. I hope.