Ever Had a YJ?

Ride Along as the Road to a head gasket repair Gets Rocky

42w ago

My 47k mile ‘91 Corvette blew a head gasket recently. I had a car on loan to drive while I did the repair, so I was able to take my time doing the repair. Weeks went by before I even got the heads off; not because it took me weeks to get the heads off, but because working on a C4 Corvette plain old stinks. During this time I was able to reflect on the shackles in which I had put myself by buying 1980’s to 1990’s state of the art American technology. The few repairs I had done prior had all been nightmarishly overcomplicated and entirely unnecessarily complicated. The C4 Corvette is a blast to drive, especially around the twisties; but make no mistake, it is a beast of burden to the driveway mechanic whose pride and wallet recoil at the thought of another man getting his grubby hands all over his pristine maiden. Being that my headaches under the hood outweighed my pleasures in the cockpit, I decided to get on the interweb and see what was on the market. One of the first “hits,” after having only set the filter to 1999 and earlier, was a ‘93 Jeep Wrangler.

The asking price of the Jeep was neither so dear that I would be unable to pay cash for it, nor so low that my eyebrow met my hairline. The purchase of a Jeep was also one on which I had meditated for over a year, when a coworker became a friend and camping had become our setting for friendship. (As an amusing anecdote of fact, there is now a giant boulder at a camping site where I managed to get the Corvette around the outside of a trail access-gate). This Corvette was in showroom condition when I bought it, and though the scratches from the aforementioned anecdote did come out with a professional cut and buff, the sting of someone setting an aluminum can on the paint or leaning up against it in jeans, never has subsided. Washing and waxing the Corvette was a four hour ordeal (two or more hours, biweekly just to wash). Every grain of sand rubbed into the carpet made me flinch. The only redeeming quality I enjoyed about the Corvette was blasting around turns at impossible speed; and this, I could only enjoy in impossibly remote areas of the state and with great fear of reckless driving tickets and the suspension of my license.

The C4 Corvette in its natural habitat

The C4 Corvette in its natural habitat

I am planning on selling the Corvette, and in writing this I am rationalizing my responsibility to rid myself of a childhood dream car. But this story is about the Jeep.

Fed up with the Corvette, I went on the interwebs and found this ‘93 Jeep advertised at a dealership. I set up an appointment and drove down to see the Jeep. My heart said I would buy it, but my head said to be cautious. The Jeep had racked up over 200k on its clock and sported a rebuilt power plant with 80k under its belt (which later became 85k speaking with the salesperson). I showed up with a muffled grin, which very quickly became a stifled frown. As soon as I turned it over, I knew something was not right. A sniff of the oil and my suspicions became more pronounced; the oil smelled like gas. On the test drive, I only took it around the block and not onto the nearby highway, per the directions given by the salesperson. When we got back to the dealership, I told him that we could discuss price and do the dance after I had had a night to sleep on it.

The salesperson replied that he did not have the margins to do the dance, and that the price was firm. Genuinely disappointed, I had no choice but to walk away, get in the car which I had been lent, and drive away. Halfway down the road leading to the freeway, I got a call; $8,000 out the door, nearly $3,000 less than the asking price after taxes and registration fees, as long as I could put $400 down. I made a U-turn, put down the retainer and drove home. Less than a week later, I showed up with $7,600 in literal cash and the day after, when my insurance had cleared, drove it home. I felt like a complete and total sucker.

The Jeep at the Dealership

The Jeep at the Dealership

Going from a V8 in a Corvette to a 4 cylinder Jeep is one thing; it is another matter entirely not to get past 50 mph on the highway, foot to the floor in top gear while sounding like a junkyard Civic. My seatbelt, which had required a number of attempts to buckle, unlatched with the first bump. The Jeep barely made it up the slightly inclined 35 mph stretch of road to my house, and was screaming about it the whole way up. My friend came over when I got it in the driveway and after complimenting its aesthetics, asked whether I had noticed the ticking noise which had apparently been masked by the loud blurting noises coming out of the tailpipe. After a couple of mornings spent waking up the entire neighborhood (and neighboring neighborhoods), I made an appointment with the local muffler shop.

Once the experts (genuinely not sarcastic) at my local mom and pop muffler shop had gotten the Jeep onto their lift, they sent one of their guys to talk with me about my options. The options were to drive away, or to have a catalytic converter installed. I gladly chose the latter option, and having had the factory back pressure restored, drove away in a much happier and much quieter vehicle. (Side note--- though a catalytic converter “stifles performance,” simply removing the catalytic converter does not enhance performance, in fact it hinders performance if the air/fuel ratio is not adjusted, and properly. The uninformed (including the previous owners of the Jeep) suffer their engines to run lean and hotter, and achieve nothing more than a loss of horsepower and a loss of engine life by making uneducated modifications).

Delighted with my happy little four cylinder, I drove home with a self-assured grin on my face. It wasn’t until I got into a left turn lane that the person who’d driven behind me had the uncommon courtesy to let me know that my brake lights were not working. The short version of that story is that my hazards, turn signals and reverse lights all worked, that the stop switch was good, and that apparently the Stop/Haz fuze has nothing to do with the Hazard lights There were a few more comedies, like when the clutch pedal pad fell off, the random wires under the dash fell apart and the lake which appeared on the floor and seats after a gentle rain (it is a soft top, after all). But I also discovered that the ooooo ga horn under the hood is hooked up to one of the random buttons under the dash, and that alone was enough to make me smile.

I changed the serpentine belt today with my at-home tools, and that was a laugh. Next up on the list is fixing the fuel gauge, the door ajar dome light (the harness for which gets kinked by the e-brake pedal), the radio which doesn’t work, new tires, deciding the best route to cure the lifter tick, sealing the very leaky excuse for a roof, replacing the seatbelts, putting in a new starter, and lord only knows what else.

The reason I’m selling the Corvette and keeping the Jeep, is that the Jeep makes me smile. The reason I’m keeping the Jeep is that I love doing fun projects. The reason I’m selling the Corvette is that in the Jeep, I don’t have to be doing twice or triple the speed limit to put my driving skills to the test. I can hardly wait until summer to take the top off and go camping. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a YJ; but I got one, and I sure as hell am glad I did. I’d recommend getting a YJ to all my friends.


(Here’s something you don’t get in a magazine):


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Comments (21)

  • Over 27 years as my one and only daily driver! Her name is Betty and she's worth every penny I put into her. She's getting a new remanufactured engine this week for even more miles of smiles!

      9 months ago
    • I completely understand why you've kept it all these years. Nothing makes me smile quite like a YJ!

        9 months ago
    • Got my baby back! Ready for another 27 yrs together

        9 months ago
  • One of the best cars I ever owned!!!

      9 months ago
  • We'll see who rusts out first!

      9 months ago
  • My dad gave me his '95 Wrangler Rio Grande a few years back and I'm also going through those fun little weekend projects every month or three as something else goes wonky. And I love tinkering on this thing! Nothing fancy, no creature comforts, but such a basic engine, transmission, and chassis that its easy and fun to work on and around.

    Hint for the radio: check the mini-fuses in the engine compartment behind the relays in that fuse box. Bloody thing took me a few weeks to track down

      9 months ago
    • I'll make sure to check that fuse! Haha and that was a huge selling point for me; power nothing!

        9 months ago
  • Loved my YJ when I had one. It was my first car. I sold it when the frame eventually rotted and the engine gave out.

      9 months ago