It’s already November and my Detroit-based fleet of cars is in disrepair, meaning I’m going to have to engage in a practice only the toughest of souls ever dare to undertake: Michigan outdoor winter wrenching, also known as “frostbite.” That is, unless I can get these things done first.
Last winter was horrible. All five of my cars broke down simultaneously, leaving me stranded in a snow-covered department store parking lot, begging for a ride home from my friends. The winter before that, I had to swap an alternator in a freezing McDonald’s parking lot in the middle of the night, only to have to again be rescued by a friend. (Who was eight months pregnant.)
Surely it can’t get any worse this winter, right?
Well, I’m not so sure. It’s not looking good right now.
My biggest issue is that my garage is occupied by a 1966 Mustang that has neither a running engine nor functional brakes, and a 1985 Jeep J10 pickup without a functional transmission. Both cars have bodies that are in great shape (by Michigan standards at least), and must therefore be preserved from treacherous road salt.
This leaves me with no garage this winter, a situation which some might say is a fatal blow to my winter wrenching plans. But I won’t really have much of a choice if I don’t get these things done:
I need a car that will drive this winter. And even though there are six cars in my collection, only one is fit to become the sacrificial anode for this winter’s slushy, salty mix: my $600 Jeep XJ.
The problem with winter beaters is that they have to be cheap and shitty. (Who wants to spend lots of money on a nice car that’s going to be eaten away by cancerous corrosion?) But winter beaters also have to be really tough and reliable, because winter driving is harsh and nobody wants to wrench in the cold.
It’s a bit of a Catch-22, really. And that’s the problem with my Jeep; I need it to be in tip-top shape so I don’t have to fix it in -30 degrees, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is a heavily-rusted $600 vehicle. And because of that, I’ve got no heater and no taillights.
I need to get those fixed right now, because without lights, I can’t drive the Jeep, meaning I’ll have to rust out one of my other, nicer vehicles. And that’s not an option. Plus, it’s starting to get cold, and without a heater, there aren’t enough blankets in the world to keep me from freezing off the tips of my fingers and toes in a Michigan winter.
Sadly, it’s not just a matter of swapping parts, either. I have no clue what’s causing my alternator to overcharge and blow my taillight fuses, and I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to fix this heater blower issue.
But I’ve got maybe two weeks. That means I’m motivated. The clock is ticking.
The clock is also ticking on my Moab project, a 1948 Willys Jeep CJ I bought from a farm. That’s because the Easter Jeep Safari, a massive off-roading event in Utah, is in late March. And while that sounds like a lot of time, the four months preceding the event are going to be ice cold. Sure, I’ve still got another few weeks before it gets frigid here in Michigan, but that’s not nearly enough time, I’m afraid.
The Jeep’s transmission is sitting on a shelf, the engine needs to be removed and rebuilt, the brake lines and wheel cylinders are gone, the gas tank is rusted out, and there’s literally no sign of any functioning part of the electrical system.
So basically, I’m screwed. At this point, I don’t have a car to drive once it snows, and my Moab project is not even close to finished, meaning I’ll inevitably be wrenching on it in February. By myself, because there aren’t enough beers on earth to pay my friends to voluntarily get hypothermia while lying my driveway.
I’ve clearly not planned this out properly.