My unreliable vehicles have turned my garage into a veritable prison from which I simply cannot escape.
Night after night, I go to bed with aching elbows and shoulders, wondering if I’ll ever be done fixing these machines. I’m starting to lose hope.
As a single guy with no kin nearby, my cars are pretty much my family. And if we’re going to use that metaphor, then I must have the most dysfunctional automotive family in history.
Every now and then, my mom calls and asks if I’ve met any girls. “Mom, I haven’t left my garage in 91 days. So no,” I respond. Contact with human beings, male or female, is rare. I have too many Jeeps, and this one Honda, to fix first.
I can imagine her rolling her eyes on the other end of the phone, wondering how she, a lady from a small town in Bavaria, ended up producing offspring with such strong redneck tendencies.
And honestly, you might be right. I spend so much time working on my cars, my right arm has evolved into an adjustable wrench. It’s pretty useful in the garage, but something tells me it’s not going to work out so hot in the bar setting. “Hey there, can you please spin that little adjuster thing for me. I’m trying to grab hold of that drink. Thanks.”
But the reason why I’m always wrenching is because my cars are total clunkers. Piles of USDA prime choice, grade A crap. And somehow, I only made this realization just yesterday while struggling to remove a broken bolt extractor from my engine block.
Yes, I think I just realized I’m in over my head. Look at my garage, for instance. There’s a cylinder head on the floor, rocker arms and pushrods on the hood of my busted-ass Jeep truck, the front end of a Jeep, a random exhaust manifold (what’s that doing there?), and an engine on a stand.
There’s lots of stuff going on in there, and while I’m good with a wrench and usually a “Don’t Worry, I Got This” kind of guy, I need a second opinion from readers.
Here are the main things wrong with my fleet of problem-children, ranked in order of Oh Shit This Sucks-ness. Read these, and let me know if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.
Will I ever emerge from the bowels of my garage and eat things other than Spam, canned beans and hardtack? Will I ever interact with people other than the mailman, who brings me car parts I order from RockAuto?
Introducing My Five Junkers
Okay, so now for a brief introduction to my fragile cars before I go into their faults. There are five in total, which is definitely too many.
1. The Most Unreliable Honda In The World
This is my 1995 Honda Accord EX, my new winter beater; it is the only two-wheel drive vehicle in my fleet. By all means, it makes no sense, but I’ve clearly lost my mind. I bought this VTEC (Yo)-equipped Honda from my new frenemy, Freddy “Tavarish” Hernandez, whom I used to really like until he sold me the least reliable Honda in the history of humanity.
I’ve already had to replace the thermostat (which was stuck open, causing me to freeze my butt off in this Michigan winter) and a destroyed upper ball joint (which required the replacement of the entire control arm.) I’ve also had to do some exhaust work to prevent the muffler from banging the body when I turned right. But of course, there’s still plenty more to do.
Thanks a lot, Freddy!
2. My First Car, A 1992 Jeep Cherokee XJ
I love this old red Jeep so much that last year, I undertook the arduous task of removing and refreshing the engine. It’s got a 3.5-inch lift and 31-inch all-terrain tires, and it has been very reliable over the last year or so, mostly because this is the car I learned to wrench on, so pretty much every component has been replaced by now.
Since I blew up the engine last month, the list of replaced components will soon include a four-liter inline six.
3. The $600 Moab Jeep XJ
You’ve met this Moab-bound basket-case before, but just in case, here’s a refresher: it’s a gigantic rust-buck that only cost me 600 smackers, but will undoubtedly cost me a lot more in heartache as I start wrenching on this thing and prepping for Moab.
4. This Jeep J10 Pickup
Then there’s my Jeep J10 pickup, which I picked up from small-town Yadkinville, North Carolina and which came with a free gallon of moonshine.
Looks nice, right? Don’t let the picture above fool you, this thing needs work.
5. A Manual Jeep XJ that I Spotted On A Forum
Finally, there’s my white XJ, which I couldn’t resist buying after seeing “rust free manual XJ” on a local forum (“rust-free” is a rarity around these parts.)
It ended up having a cracked cylinder head (which the previous owner decided not to disclose), so I had to swap that out. It is a five-speed manual 4.0-liter, and it’s lovely, but not perfect.
Junker Problems, Ranked
You’ve met the cars, now meet some of the problems with this fleet of junkers.
The key word there is “some,” because there are plenty of other issues with these vehicles that I either can’t think of right now, or that I’m just not going to bother fixing, or that my brain has blocked out entirely like a horrific childhood trauma.
I’m looking for you, esteemed readers, to look at my struggles and let me know approximately how many months I’ll have to spend in my garage before I can see the light of day. Feel free to propose a garage-withdrawal plan on how to get all of this stuff taken care of as quickly as possible so I can go on with being a normal human being.
20. Valve Cover Leak, Honda
This one doesn’t matter that much, and I could probably get away with just not doing it. But the leaky valve cover does drip oil onto my exhaust, so does smell like burnt oil when I’m at a stop light with my windows down. That’s not a common occurrence, though, because my windows don’t go back up on their own.
I think the burning oil smells good, but my passengers generally disagree. Either way, this one’s easy and cheap, so it definitely falls in the “I Got This” category.
19. Neutral Safety Switch, $600 XJ
The Moab XJ isn’t going to do me any good off-road if it doesn’t start, so this Neutral Safety Switch problem needs to be resolved soon. It’s a common issue for XJs, as the switch gets dirty inside and isn’t able to recognize if the shifter is in drive, neutral, park or reverse.
Right now, I’m just jiggling the shifter, and eventually the XJ starts right up. That’s probably not a great plan for the off-road trails of Moab. The good thing is that replacing the switch is definitely something I can do, though it can be a pain in the buttocks. I’ll throw this into the “I Got This, But It’s Not Gonna Be Fun” category.
18. Blown U-Joint, Red Jeep
My beloved red Jeep developed a pretty nasty banging noise during the off-road journey that later claimed the life of its 250,000 mile motor. Prior to the hydrolock incident, the front-end banging had gotten to the point where the Jeep was borderline undriveable. There’s a bad U-Joint somewhere, but U-Joints are an easy fix. I got this.
17. Shot Tie-Rod End, Honda
The “World’s Most Unreliable Honda” is shaking and shuddering at highway speeds from the front right tire. I took a quick peek, and I saw that the tie-rod end boot was torn. Maybe that’s on its way out, or maybe it’s the tire, which, as can be seen in the picture above, is clearly deformed.
Tie rod ends are easy, so I got this.
16. Clutch Master Cylinder Leaks, Honda
At first, I though the Accord’s clutch was on its way out, as it was slipping severely. That’s when I realized that it only slipped when my foot was lightly touching the clutch pedal. Upon further inspection, the clutch master cylinder is leaking all over my firewall.
It’s not a terribly difficult fix, so I think I got this one.
15. Leaky Wheel Cylinders, White XJ
Especially when it rains, my rear brakes lock up, sending my white Jeep’s ass-end out of control. Based on the moisture on my rear drum, it looks to be a bad wheel cylinder. It’s a straightforward fix. I got this.
14. Front Pinion Seal Blown and Other Leaks, $600 XJ
There are certain things that you don’t want happening to a Jeep you’re taking to Moab, and among them is the front diff going bad because it’s bone-dry.
Before my XJ vs KL off-road comparison, I went ahead and filled the $600 XJ’s front diff just to make sure I didn’t destroy it on the two hour drive to the off-road park. I ended up emptying an entire pint of 80W-90 into my diff, so it was thirsty. Clearly, this is a significant leak.
I’ve heard these aren’t too difficult to swap out, so I think I got this.
13. Timing Adjustment and Carb Tune, J10 Pickup
The J10 doesn’t run quite right. Not only does it feel sluggish, but it won’t shut off. When I turn the key to the “off” position, the engine keeps on running in a phenomenon known as “dieseling.”
I think the culprit is ignition timing. I’ve never done this one before, but I’ve got friends who have experience doing it. I think I’ve got this.
12. Driveshaft Pops Out Of Transfer Case, White XJ
You know the leaky wheel cylinder I mentioned above? Well, one day when it was raining, I applied my brakes, the rear end locked up, and the axle twisted just enough to pull the driveshaft out of my transfer case.
The driveshaft started flopping everywhere, banging against the underside of my Jeep. It was scary and loud, and I thought something had exploded.
The problem is that the little two-inch block-lift on my XJ wasn’t accompanied by a longer driveshaft, so there’s only about a half an inch of driveshaft spline engagement, making it very easy to pull the thing out of the T-Case.
The solution to this one should be getting a longer driveshaft, or getting proper lift springs that won’t allow the axle to twist as much. In reality, I’ll probably just fix the brakes and hope this doesn’t happen again.
I got this.
11. Rear Springs Are Sagging Heavily, $600 XJ
My Jeep XJ is getting a junkyard lift before Moab,but I was planning on combining a Chevrolet S10 leaf pack with the existing springs on the XJ.
The problem is, the existing leaf-pack is verging on useless. It’s bowed the wrong way (sad face), and it looks like my Jeep is dragging its ass all over southeast Michigan.
I’ll be sure to get a nice, happy-face S10 leaf pack, and hopefully the lift will work out fine. I got this.
10. The Interior Is Gone, Jeep J10
My J10’s bench seat needs to be re-covered, and I need to find some carpeting or vinyl for the floor. There are also a few trim-pieces broken on the dash.
I may just rhino line the floor and throw a cover on the bench. I’ve so got this.
9. Fifth Gear Synchro Is Shot, Honda
The most unreliable Honda ever has a bad fifth gear synchronizer, partly because of what many forum-goers say is an engineering design flaw with the shifter fork.
Everytime I go into fifth, I hear a horrid grind. My solution is to double-clutch and slowly shift into gear. It seems to work fine, and I’ll probably just leave it as it is. I got this.
8. Broken Engine Mount Bolt, White XJ
Jeep 4.0-liters are notorious for breaking engine mount bolts into the block. That happened to my white XJ, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to access it while it’s inside the Jeep.
Seeing as I don’t want to pull the motor, I’ll probably just end up throwing an aftermarket bracket in that ties into additional holes on the block. It’s expensive, but I got this, no problem.
7. Broken Seat Bolt, White XJ
Ugh, my seat brackets on my XJ have been overtaken by the cancer that is “rust.” Because southeast Michigan.
I tried removing the brackets so I could replace them with nice, clean ones, but ended up breaking a bolt right into the body. And, lucky for me, this is the only seat-bracket bolt that does not go all the way through to the bottom, so I can’t just grab the shank of the bolt from underneath with a vice grip and spin her out.
I’ll have a friend weld a nut to it, and get it out. I got this.
6. Transfer Case/U-Joint Noise, $600 XJ
I haven’t diagnosed this problem yet, but what I can tell you is the transfer-case handle used to be the sword in the stone: I simply couldn’t budge it no matter what I did. Then, with a bit of PB blaster, I got her to move. It worked just fine for a few weeks, but now when the $600 XJ goes into four-wheel drive, it makes a horrendous noise.
It could be a bad u-joint somewhere, or maybe the transfer-case is screwed up. Worst case, I just grab a T-case from a junkyard. No big deal. I got this.
5. Blown Water Pump, Honda
You know what really stinks in the winter in Michigan? When your heater stops working and your engine’s coolant temperature gauge goes through the roof.
Yup, those are tell-tale signs that your “most unreliable Honda” has a bad water pump.
How hard is it to change a water pump in a 1995 Accord? Well, if you believe this guy on YouTube, it’s damn difficult and will take an entire weekend. It takes this long because it’s driven by the timing belt, which must be removed through the driver’s side wheel-liner. There’s a special tool required to remove the crankshaft damper, but I can rent that.
It’s going to be a pain in this ass and I’m not sure on this one. Maybe I’ve got this? Yeah, I’ve probably got this.
4. Blown Transmission, J10 Pickup
My Jeep J10’s transmission is shot, and not just because I sheared the threads off the shift lever. Nope, the transmission input-shaft bearing has crumbled like Humpty Dumpy, and makes a grinding that wakes up the neighborhood when I drive down the block.
A rebuild kit for this transmission is only $100, and these old manual transmissions are probably very simple, so I probably got this.
3. Blown Engine, Red Jeep XJ
The red XJ was never supposed to be a project. Last year, I put a lift and some tires on it, and pretty much washed my hands of all red-Jeep wrenching. It was all good.
But of course, life doesn’t work out that way, and now I’ve got a grenaded engine (see above). The new engine that I got from Craigslist looks okay, but the cooling jackets look very rusty:
So, all I’ve got to do is flush the rust out of the cooling system, throw the engine back into my red Jeep, and I’m good to go. I got this.
2. Rust, Jeep J10 Pickup
Oh boy, I hate rust. Hate it. There’s some on the back of my J10’s cab, and it’s not just on the surface— it’s deep. So I’ll need to bend some metal and weld it in.
Unfortunately, the rust isn’t on a flat surface (it rarely is), so replicating the unique contours of the body will be a struggle. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.
I got this!
1. Rust, $600 XJ
The biggest problem I have right now is rust on my $600 XJ. Particularly in the region near the right rear leaf spring attachment point. That leaf-spring takes a lot of load, particularly when off-road, so it’s important that it attaches to the Jeep in a very sturdy fashion.
There’s nothing sturdy about the way that leaf spring is bolted down right now, and it’s not going to be easy to bolster that area with additional metal. But I have some friends with welders and expertise. I’ve got this. I hope.
I’ve Got This, Right?
I rated every item on the list above “I’ve got this,” but I would, wouldn’t I? Isn’t that exactly what someone in denial would say? Am I in that long north-flowing river in Africa?
Hit me with the truth. How long will I be living like a hermit in my garage?