What Are The Worst Conditions In Which You've Ever Had To Fix A Car?

Illustration for article titled What Are The Worst Conditions In Which Youve Ever Had To Fix A Car?

December is here, meaning Michigan has shifted into a wintry hellscape. And, because of some poor planning on my end, I’m now wrenching on my $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer in my rock-solid, snow-covered backyard instead of in my garage. It’s true misery.

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One hundred yards. That’s all that’s separating my 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer off-road proejct, Project Redwood, from the lukewarm comfort of my garage. OK, actually, there’s a little bit more than just 100 yards in the way, namely a charred carburetor and a seized rear brake drum. Also, there’s no room in the garage right now, because my Willys CJ-2A has no fuel tank and worn kingpin bearings:

Illustration for article titled What Are The Worst Conditions In Which Youve Ever Had To Fix A Car?
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Looking at that photo above, I’m reminded that my garage is a bit of an oily shithole, anyway. So it’s just as well that I’m stuck wrenching in my yard in 20 degree weather. Still, I keep dropping sockets into snow, and it takes five minutes to find them. Also, every time I grab a wrench or any metal part on my Jeep, my hand goes numb. That’s normal, right?

Illustration for article titled What Are The Worst Conditions In Which Youve Ever Had To Fix A Car?

Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling a lot in December and January, and since the Easter Jeep Safari is earlier this year (it’s in late March), I can say with certainty that I’m already way behind on getting this Grand Wagoneer ready to not just off-road, but tow the Willys 1700 miles.

Illustration for article titled What Are The Worst Conditions In Which Youve Ever Had To Fix A Car?
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The plan was to get the woodie into my garage so I could walk in there during work breaks and tinker a bit. But now, after The Great Fire Of 2017 set me back a bit, there’ no way in hell I’m just nonchalantly going to wrench on the SJ-platform Jeep. Any work I do in these conditions requires at least an hour of loin-girding, another hour motivating myself by listening to the sweet rumble of a running AMC 360 on YouTube, and maybe a look at that motivation Shia LaBeouf video.

Illustration for article titled What Are The Worst Conditions In Which Youve Ever Had To Fix A Car?
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Suffice it to say, progress is slow over here on Michigan’s premier hospital for ailing Jeeps. But I’m sure I’m just being a baby, and that many of y’all have had to deal with worse. So let’s hear it: what’s the worst environment you’ve ever hard to wrench in?

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

SmugAardvark
SmugAardvark

I already shared the story about getting heat stroke and having to go to the emergency room from working on an acquaintance’s car in a miserable Florida summer.

Other than that, only one other incident springs to mind. I visited a friend up in Syracuse in January almost a decade ago (okay, so it was my ex’s friend. We’ll just stay vague on the specifics as to why I visited). After a series of flight delays getting in there because of lake effect snow, I finally reached the airport just after midnight. This friend was a nervous wreck when I finally found her outside the terminal. This was her first winter living in upstate, and wasn’t used to driving in blizzard conditions, especially at night. Even though I’m pretty exhausted, I offer to take the wheel.

Once we make our way off the airport and get onto I-81, traffic is at a near dead stop. As we inched forward, we realized that this was partially because of the snow, and partially because there was a minivan with a flat tire stuck in the slow lane. People tend to be bad at the zipper merge technique even in pleasant conditions, and of course no better late at night with nasty wet snow pouring down.

Rather than just laugh and press on, I decided to put on the hazards, pull up right behind them, and lend a hand. There was a woman, probably in her 40's, trying to get home from having just worked a receptionist shift at a nearby hotel. Her husband wasn’t answering the phone, and she didn’t have AAA. I’ve driven plenty in the snow, but never wrenched on a car in the snow. As such, I was ill-prepared for the sort of hell that was there to greet me. Everything frozen to everything else. Ice, salt, and grit filling every nook and cranny. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever used such colorful vocabulary for a simple tire change.

Thankfully, I eventually got the spare on and got her on her way. Didn’t even realize until I got back in my friend’s car that my hands were bleeding from the nastiness I encountered. At that point, however, I figured that I owed the universe one for having been pretty good to me around that time.